Socialized through Monk Season 1

All right y’all,

I know it has been a really long minute since I posted. And I know there are a lot of other things that I should definitely be posting about. I do think the work I’ve been doing with my podcast has been a source of letting me get at the original intention for this blog.

There have been a few things that I started to write about and then stopped writing. Because I don’t know. I’m not totally clear on how to process these last few months, so I’m not going to yet. Or ever?

What I am going to do is write about how we get socialized into accepting police brutality without necessarily realizing. I’m going to do that through an analysis of a show that I absolutely love.

The show Monk is one of my favorite shows. I watched it while it aired and have re-watched the series at least once. Recently, my mother started watching it, and because of that, I revisited the show. And I saw some things that had me thinking about the socialization process. So I decided to start the whole series over, but with a new, critical lens.

The first thing that I can definitely say about the show is there are almost no Black people or POCs in general in Season 1.
-Pilot episode: There is one Black detective who has a speaking role.
—Episode 4: There is a Black male nurse who is pretty rude to Monk the whole episode.
-Episode 8: The main character is a Nigerian marathoner who, for parts of the episode, Sharona, Monk’s assistant, thinks might be the murderer. Also, the head of security of a political campaign is Black man who gets mad at Monk for wiping his hands after shaking his hand. Monk does this for everyone, but the security guy gets mad and states, “I’m gonna go… if I stick around I might do something I regret.” After this interaction, Monk spends the rest of the scene dealing with comments from campaign staff like “we’re all just people, Mr. Monk.”
-Episode 9: The Latinx characters are maids at a hotel who commit a murder. When caught, one says to Monk, “You think because you’re rich and white you can accuse anybody of anything.”
-Episode 11: The murderer is a blind, Black woman, and many background actors are black including some reporters. And I would say that in this episode, I can see some concentrated effort to have some diversity in the background actors.
-Episode 12: There were two TSA agents with speaking lines, and a lot of background Black folks.
So if I had to take my lessons on Black folks from Monk, I would think they can be murderers, service people, or athletes.

The show also includes a lot of effed up policing practices, but the two that stood out to me were:
-Episode 3: The suspect is a police officer. There is a lowkey reference made in background news reporting that internal affairs was investigating him for police brutality. Despite this past, a blue wall of silence comes up to keep him quiet while his fellow officers try to figure out what happened. When the officers are talking to the coroner, their first question is “Self defense?” To which the coroner replies, “maybe.”
-In Episode 10: After catching the suspect, Captain Stottlemeyer says, “I’m surprised you can speak with a broken jaw.” The suspect replies, “I don’t have a broken jaw,” and then Stottlemeyer punches him.
And we, the audience, are supposed to be cheering this behavior on.

There are some other problematic things that happen as well.
-Episodes 2: There is a shout out to phrenology, the mother load of fake race science, when a psychic measuring Sharona’s head says she can tell stuff about Sharona from her head size and shape, and that it’s called “phrenology.”

-Episode 8: They assume a murder victim has a boyfriend because she has “Beer in the fridge and cigars in the humidor,” as if women can’t have those things for themselves.
-Episode 11: In this episode, Monk has a disassociation issue and forgets how to speak English. While taking a cab, the driver goes on a racist rant about how people who come to the US not speaking English but are willing to accept welfare.
Most of that type of thing just passes without notice or redirect from any character.

I don’t know if I’m gonna keep doing this for the other seasons, but I needed to write this down because I was way too deep into the rabbit hole of looking at this show with a critical lens.

I kind of see myself finishing this project. When you a nerd, it be like that sometimes

Update: I’m probably not going to finish this because this podcast series does it so much better. Six episodes. Worth the listen.

Harriet

I have really been looking forward to this film. Harriet Tubman is one of the most bad ass people in American history, and as I have gotten older, I have realized how fully robbed of her story I was in schools.

The first time I got wind that I knew nothing about Harriet Tubman was my second year as an Outdoor Afro leader. Our annual leader training was happening near Harper’s Ferry National Park, and one of our pre-training events included hiking on a section of the Underground Railroad. If you haven’t been to that park, I highly recommend you go. Harper’s Ferry (history-wise) is the blackest experience in the National Park Service. I might be inaccurate on that one, but of the national parks I’ve been to, it’s true. Anyway while there, I learned a lot more about Black resistance and realized it was much bigger than rebellions. It was widespread and was the reason so many restrictive laws were passed.

My next realization that I knew nothing about Tubman was while watching the show Underground. And seriously, NETFLIX OR HULU, I AM LOOKING AT YOU. BRING THAT SHOW BACK.

So with said, I was excited as hell for this movie. The very beginning had me worried. The acting of her enslaver, his wife, and his son was trash. They had the n-word flying everywhere. I was like, Great. This is one of those movies full of white devils. And I’m not saying that isn’t historically accurate. I just mean, you know, we know why she would want to runaway, and I tire of trauma porn. I don’t know if that makes sense. I realized fairly quickly that I’m tired of watching these stories on screen.
Despite that, I loved it. I loved it for a few reasons. When she wants to go see her husband, we learn about efforts to quash runaways. In fact, they include historical facts like that throughout that WE NEVER LEARNED PROPERLY. I mean it’s 2019, and folks are out here still talking about the Civil War was for “states’ rights” while fully ignoring things like the Fugitive Slave Act which gave the federal government overreach into “states’ rights” issue. And these enslaving states wanted that “big government” solution . Along with a whole bunch of other reasons (insert other facts here like slavery being mentioned in the cessation declaration or enslaved people being on the money in Confederacy), I liked that this movie helped to show that The Lost Cause and “states’ rights” narratives are bullshit.
I learned some stuff, too. I didn’t know that she had hired a lawyer. Of course, there was a lot that was inaccurate historically. The relationship with the son of her enslaver was exaggerated and Hollywooded. I don’t know how I felt about the enslaved man who was chasing her with him either. Seemed unnecessary to make it a Black man. I don’t know.
Also, the scene at the end about her role in the Civil War ignores much of what her role really was till they realized how badass she was. Honestly, they should really make Harriet 2 about just her role in the Civil War
Some things felt familiar. I knew her husband had remarried, but I was like holy-dating-in-2019! But ultimately, that is how it had to be so she could get to saving lives. And at the station when she first went back South, her papers being checked at the train station felt very much like so many of black and brown folks in 2019 having to prove we belong in spaces in our own country.
In the end, the movie says her last words were “My people are free.” Methinks we need to keep fighting our fights to make her words true.
Because right now, we are only free-ish.

White Violence

When I wrote my review of White Fragility, I wrote, “Robin DiAngelo asserts that ‘You can see how a romanticized past is strictly a white construct.’ In this statement, she undoes the idea that there was a version of America that we can go back to that was great. This statement reminds readers that there are few points of history in America that are not tied to some sort of complicated and disgusting conversation (or lack thereof) about race. In fact, when she states, ‘Today we depict blacks as dangerous. A portrayal that perverts the true direction of violence between whites and blacks since the founding of the country.’”

While writing that review, I had just finished reading Stamped from the Beginning by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and then had started the book White Rage by Carol Anderson. What I realized is that those quotes were a whole blog post among themselves. One thing that I find truly interesting are the ways in which people assert that slavery “ended over 100 years ago therefore [insert nonsense here]” or the idea that talking about race is what has create all this “divisiveness.” That is wildly ignorant logic devoid of all historical understanding.

Anyhow, I had started this post a while ago, and then never really picked it back up. I wanted to share some heinous acts of white violence that I had never, ever, ever, ever learned about in school. In my readings, these were stories that made me do a double-take and go learn even more.

In the end, I never really fleshed out this post. Enumerating these many incidents just got depressing because here we are in 2019-2020 school year, and it is still happening! We are still forgiving and explaining away white violence while criminalizing anything and everything related to black folks.

DiAngelo says, “I believe that the white collective fundamentally hates blackness for what it reminds us of, that we are capable and guilty of perpetrating immeasurable harms, that our gains come from the subjugation of others.” And I struggle sometimes with how true that statement feels and crushingly impossible this work feels.

The Mis-Education of the Negro, A Review

In all, I found The Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson to be a struggle to read for a variety of reasons, namely 2019 eyes on a 1933 book. With that being said, I’m focusing my review or analysis or whatever I should call these types of posts on things that could have been written yesterday, 86 years later.

Firstly, his frustrations on what is (not) taught in school reminds me of my own frustrations. Woodson stated that “Every man has two educations, that which is given to him and that which he teaches himself.” In considering how absent from curriculum black people are, he claims that white educators do not include their histories and stories in the curriculum for “fear of the race question being brought too early.” Through such excuse-making, even African kingdoms are not covered, yet we learn of Mediterranean cultures, for example, but not how that culture was heavily influenced by various African nations. However, to change that or any number of educational malpractice, then “White supremacy would be lost in the negro school.”

This idea of mis-education extends even to adulthood.  When Woodson says, “It is not the Negroes fault; it is the fault of what they have been taught,” I thought of my own role and the frustrations I have with black educators who have problematic beliefs about black children. In thinking of what Woodson wrote, I realize that I really cannot and should not be more critical of black and brown educators than white educators on this front. We are all swimming in the same racist water, and to not drown in internalized racism is nearly impossible because the sunken place is a helluva drug.

In one section wherein he discussed the arguments on what to call black people (Negro or African or etc), he mentioned that the fear of being called a Negro came down to buying into the negative stereotypes that had been placed on black people. So, this discussion at the time, to him, was fueled by internalized racism. While reading, I oscillated between thinking Woodson believed in uplift-suasion (as Kendhi names it) and that he did not. But in places like this or when he discusses how black people want the “pleasure of the master class that will never tolerate him as equal,” I think maybe he knows that uplift-suasion is futile. Ultimately, then as in now, black doctors, lawyers, musicians, actors, and all manner of successful black folk have endured discrimination despite their uplift.

I will end on this most poignant question and thought of Woodson’s: “Can you expect teachers to revolutionize the social order for the good of the community? Indeed, we must expect this very thing. The educational system of a country is worthless unless it accomplishes this very task.”

 

To MM and His Light

One school year, I taught MM.

He was 5 foot nothin’ and soft around the edges. He had been in a sort of alternative placement situation at the school and was being tested out to be in general classes by being placed in my class and a couple others.

I would be lying if I  said I was excited. He had a discipline record a mile long. He was from a low income family. His grades were a mess, and he ran with a “tough” crowd. And I let all this impact my perception of him.

Man, did he prove me wrong. He might have been a bit of a “mess,” but he had a smile that lit up the room. And he was so insanely funny. Every student liked him, and the teachers I was cool with all liked him, too.

And if he ever acted out or cussed in my direction, he always apologized. Maybe not in front of the class, but eventually he would make amends somehow.

I remember during a real life tornado warning when we were all in the hallway ducking for cover (not that far from glass doors that totally could still bust and let in crazy winds). It was not a drill; it was real, and MM was freaaaaaaaking out. He started to confess all kinds of things (“I still haven’t hunched. I wanna hunch someone before I die.” and “Ms. S fine. She got a good booty for a white lady.”) and wish for things and dreams (“Can we go to McDonalds? I want some before I die!” and “Man, I wanted to play football or basketball or something before I die.”). It was so funny at the time, a nice distraction from a scary situation. He entertained us for over an hour with the stream of consciousness of his beautiful, carefree youth.

After he moved on to high school, I only saw him once a few years ago. It was on a day when I was taking a walk through the cemetery. I often walk along the cemetery’s paved, quiet paths. When I was on the side of the cemetery that runs parallel to a side street, I saw him riding down that street on a bike, cruising along with some friends. He called out, “Ms. V!” And we chatted a little as we passed each other by.

I didn’t think about it being the last time I would ever see that grin. I didn’t think about the fact that the universe made my most memorable moment as a teacher one in which this kid, this light told us what he wanted, however funny it might have been at the time, before he died. Even passing him in the cemetery, I didn’t think that there might be significance to that last interaction being there.

I wish I had stopped and had a longer conversation with him to see what life had become for the student who had been such an interesting, frustrating, magnetic, hilarious, and kind presence in my class.

I can’t imagine who could have such a tarnished soul to have extinguished his beautiful light from our world.

Rest in power, MM.

Questions for Workplace Teams

I had a really courageous conversation last month. In the context of this work, you think that you’re ready to jump into those. They’re certainly easy(lol) when the subject is helping other people see their stuff. But, I went in to fix my stuff.

I’m in charge of a team, like a for real team where I am for real I’m charge and evaluate the other members. This is first time for me. I started to sense that something was off with us the last few months, and after checking in with the two, I realized that my leadership (or rather, lack thereof) was a big reason why.

So I called a meeting where we went through some questions from Community Tampa Bay. The twelve questions are called “Dialogue Questions for Workplace Teams” and include questions like “what makes you feel included as part of a team?” and “What are some of your pet peeves of yours when working on a team?” Using Nearpod’s discussion activity, I put each question on its own slide. We’d type out our responses, read each other’s responses, and in many cases, I asked for clarifications so that we could make sure it wasn’t an issue moving forward.

While it brought out a lot, particularly personality differences and quirks, I learned that I haven’t been a leader to them, like at all. The main issue is that my communication has been poor.  My first year in this position it was just me, then the district hired two staff developers to go into classrooms and try to bridge the theory that I train into practice. But to be honest, I didn’t really change much about how I worked even though I now had a team. This was evident because the questions they answered had to do with our unit, and all my responses had to do with working as a part of district committees.

I learned a lot. A lot. A lot. A lot.

One of the questions was “When you receive constructive feedback, what tends to be your primary emotions or reactions?” I said that I am sometimes defensive at first, but then after reflection, can make some change. That being said, I did request that they call me out in real time next school year because I can (and have to) handle it.

I don’t know if we fixed everything, but hopefully we move more cohesively next school year after the conversation. I’m including the questions here because I wish I had used them before we started to work together. As equity leaders, I don’t think we have the privilege to get culture and belonging wrong. We have to always, always remember to try to walk in the ways we are asking teachers, administrators, and district leaders to walk.

So while it was a challenge to hear, it’s not about my ego; there are too many babies on the line.

Antiracism Book Festival

The Antiracism Book Festival was literally just like comic con for us in the field of antiracism work and education. I felt fully seen throughout the day as I networked with other people in my line of work. And I was especially grateful and blown away by getting to listen to the authors whose research guides my training efforts. Along with these authors like Ibram X Kendi and  Robin DiAngelo, I was introduced to more authors, research, and new wonderings about achieving racial equity.

To start, I’ve often thought about how every societal ill can be traced back to white supremacy, our “odious, nefarious product of culture and tradition” as Michel Eric Dyson called it during the “On the rise of Jim Crow and its divisive endurance in our conversations” session. What I have never really thought about is the fact that it isn’t just killing black and brown people. During the session “On the production of Whiteness,” I had an awakening; it’s also killing white people.

Jonathan M. Metzl said that “the GOP platform is built of the disposability of the working class,” particularly the white working class.  For this “wage of whiteness” as he called it, many of these people vote against their own interests to avoid a mythological black or brown person who’s going to come into their house and steal/rape or take from social services that would actually benefit them, too. This mythology of course ignores the “true direction” of violence that DiAngelo discusses in her book, White Fragility. In “denying your mortality because of this ideology to screw over other groups,” Metzl told us of the myriad of ways in which these ideologies (and thus policies) kill white people. He discussed the paradoxes between loose gun regulation and the fact that white men are 70% of those who die in suicide-by-gun.

To that point, DiAngelo posed the question, “Where’s the diagnosis for structural racism?” I think the answer to that lies in the decolonization of history, in policy, and in power. As such, I’ll be thinking about these three things as I process this truly amazing conference, so if you had FOMO as you saw my tweets and others, please keep reading as the post is pretty long. I’ll link the authors to whichever book they were discussing or my review of the book if it exists.

Decolonization of History

In the session, “On using the lyric and the poem to blend the past and the present,” Clint Smith III said that “we have to understand our history because otherwise this country can lie to us.” I think those lies have led to Metzl’s point on how white supremacy is both literally and figuratively killing white people, and of course, all of us.  As educators, we need to be the ones “going back in the past and correcting the narrative,” thus “reconstructing lost monuments to our own history,” as Tyehimba Jess said in the session with Smith.

Thinking about this reframing of history, language matters. During “On new research in enslavers, runaways, and women,” Erica Dunbar said, “We have to say what isn’t spoken” when discussing research. For example, in their choice to use the term “enslaved person” over “slave,” they reminded us that one term acknowledges something that was done to people whereas the other is an identity put on them that isn’t accurate. Stephanie E. Jones-Roger, of the same session, put it best in saying, “Enslaved people always knew they had the same rights that others did, but were denied of.”

I also think about reframing these narratives in education and how we teach our students. I learned about Haitians being the first enslaved Black people to gain their freedom through revolt from home or along the way as we celebrated Haitian Independence over a bowl of Soup Joumou every year. I didn’t learn it in school, but I did “learn” about American slavery devoid of the knowledge of similar attempts here. I wonder what impact that has on African American children that the only dominant narrative of black history they get is incomplete in many ways, but especially as it pertains to the inclusion of all the resistance that led to slaveholders enacting crueler and crueler “slave codes” to try to control enslaved people. What other messages are we sending when we start Black History at slavery or name schools after Confederate generals? Smith said, “Every day, black children walk into schools named for people who didn’t want them to exist.”

This is true even in who is studied and revered in history class and who is read and revered in English class. (I must say, when Smith said, “I can build my own canon,” I got excited for what the future of education holds, what it can be, and maybe what it is starting to be in some classrooms.) Even how we only revere and/or teach certain forms of writing, art, and performance over others is problematic. Jones and Smith both discussed the stereotypes that people ascribe to spoken word or rapping and reminded us that poetry (think Shakespeare’s plays) was meant to be performed because throughout much history, most people were illiterate. So to assume there is something wrong with these styles of poetry that are meant to be performed, Smith says, “One- you’re being ahistorical, and two- you’re being racist.”

When I attended the Racial Equity Institute’s Antiracism Workshop, we did an activity that looked at a variety of American laws, policies, and court cases and considered how they ended up laying the ground work for producing disparate wealth. While we did look at the Antidrug Abuse Act of 1986 and learned how the law specifically targeted black and brown people despite its race neutral language, we did not look at the War on Crime’s policies and what wealth disparities were created out of that.  Elizabeth Hinton, during the session “On the endurance of mass incarceration,” said that “the War on Crime was a job-creating program for white men” who ended up becoming police officers and prison guards, thus being another policy that created disparate outcomes, but if and when we learn of these things in school, we learn the sanitized version that doesn’t include how black people were harmed or left out.

Policy

I think even in considering policy, we have to realize to what extent our ahistorical socialization has led to people believing “the narrative of black pathology” which “excuses policy” as Carol Anderson as said during the session “On racism’s stranglehold on American democracy and antiracist resistance for survival.” Because of that, she found the coverage during Ferguson to be despicable. She said that the media “ignored the kindling, but focused on the fire.” This is what inspired her to write White Rage.  I’m still working on my post for that, but I would say that book definitely gives some context about the historical kindling for the people in Ferguson (and everywhere really) who were “steeped in America.”

During the session “On hope, resistance, and redemption in the face of White Supremacy,” DeRay Mckesson (yeah, I was fangirling hard) made some distinctions about holding people accountable and finding justice that I thought were interesting and related to policy. He said that accountability happens “after trauma has occurred” whereas justice would be to “avoid the trauma to begin with” through policy change. He said after Black Lives Matter, “a lot of conversations are happening, but the outcomes are getting worse” as more unarmed black people are killed by police than when BLM first ignited. This connects to the debates around mass incarceration and the “War on Drugs;” there is a national conversation around prison and sentencing reform, but “even if we decarcerated every person in prison for drugs, we’d still have the highest number of incarcerated people in the world” said Hinton. Again coming back to policy, she said, “We’ve got to rethink what were doing with prison.”

Ultimately, “racism is strategic not pathological” as Alicia Garza, the Kendi/Anderson moderator, put it. Until we acknowledge that, I think the systems stay in place. Kendi said that we have to “base policies on outcome, not intent.” If the policy continues to produce disparate outcomes, then, “there is something wrong with our policies that we thought were just.”

Essentially, “people are never to blame. Antiracists never blame people.” This statement of Kendi’s really resonated me when I think about my work with teachers and pathologies they put on their poor students and on students of color and their families.

Power

When we talk about policy change, I wonder how we make it happen. I thought about this throughout reading Stamped from the Beginning, and spent a lot of the conference thinking about it. Kendi, during the “On racism’s stranglehold” session, said, “In order to have freedom, you have to have power.”

Anderson stated that “It’s in the collective where the power is.” We can’t just hope our leaders will do the right thing. Even thinking historically, Steve Luxenberg, in the “On the rise of Jim Crow and its divisive endurance in our conversations” session, reminded us that “slavery did not end in 1865” if you think about how many Supreme Court rulings and other policies allowed our country to become deeply divided and unequal. In fact, he stated that “They are followers, the Supreme Court justices, not leaders.” Luxenberg blew my mind when he talked about the Plessy case which is the focus for his book. Did you know that Plessy was a volunteer to get arrested for this case? Did you know the trail road company was trying to end the separate train car laws because it was so expensive to run? I did not, and my mind is blown.

While I don’t know what my favorite session was because I loved them all differently, my favorite person to listen to was Michael Eric Dyson who was also in the “On the rise of Jim Crow and its divisive endurance in our conversations” session. The man is a god among men. He talked to us about literary geniuses trying to use their power to get through to JFK. James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and others met with JFK, and “they lit his ass up” as Dyson put it. While the meeting wasn’t successful at the time, their message did eventually impact JFK and influence his policy.

The point of his story was for us to not underestimate our own power, I think. He said, “Sometimes the people who write in the privacy of their homes can shake the world” and to “use your platform to leverage your authority.” Among other things, my favorite and most recent example he gave was Beyoncé’s Coachella performance and her use of “capital for resistance.”

The Other Quotables

“7th grade is just puberty and deodorant.” -DeRay McKesson

“Wealth is not success.” -Carol Anderson

“I get more distraught when hearing people of color reproducing racist ideas. Internalized racism is the real black-on-black crime.” -Ibram X Kendi

“When I hear people say ‘I don’t like politics,’ I hear ‘I don’t like power. I want to be a slave.’” -Ibram X. Kendi

“Poetry is spell casting.” -Rasha Abdulhadi

Born a Crime is Worth the Time

I’ve been working on the idea of self-care this year. I think, as an activist or so-called activist, it’s easy to spiral down into a vortex of pessimism or wade into non-stop existential crises. One of things that I decided to do this year was to actually read fiction. I’m aiming for two books written by authors of color per month. I’m just trying to balance what I’m inputting into my brain because these anti-racists text are rough on my spirit, ya’ll.

I stumbled onto Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. Even though it wasn’t a fiction book, I went in anyway and found myself realizing that I just had to write about it. For one, I have so much in common with Noah and could really relate to many of his experiences especially that of deciding to become a chameleon. He says, “My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color.” While I don’t necessarily think it truly works, I identified with the feeling the need to do so.

This book is a brilliant look at race and racism through a lens of someone who wasn’t raised in the United States, but was raised in a place that co-opted our system of segregation and racism and made it into a legal way of structuring a society.

I found myself learning so much about apartheid that I did not know and realized how insanely recently it ended. So much of what he states about how apartheid works was, to me, poignant explanations of the machinations of America’s systemic racism such as when he says, “The only way to make apartheid work, therefore, was to cripple the black mind.” The South African government, like ours, recognized that “a knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom” which brought me back to Carla Shalaby’s assertions on literacy as freedom and the power it could give students.

Additionally, when he discusses something his mother called “the black tax” which is where “the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.” This resonated with me in considering the wealth gap in the US and the direction in which black wealth flows.

Even in the concept of making the “status” of white a legal definition, I was reminded of the US. Under apartheid a white person was “one who in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person” which reminded me of the variety of legal ways in which the US came to be more explicitly bold and racist in defining who is white through court decisions like Thind Vs Us.

And finally, the way that he picks at the bootstraps myth through analyzing what’s wrong with the saying “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Noah asks us to consider how that’s even possible if you don’t give the man a fishing rod.

I could go on and on, but just believe me, this book is worth a read.

On Stamped from the Beginning

On October 25, I attended Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s talk at Eckerd College. During this talk, he asserted that, “Consuming racist ideas have literally made us crazy” and that “The racial issue has always been a power issue.” While these two ideas were ones that I have come to believe in all my studies, he said something else that shook me. Dr. Kendi asked, “If education and persuasion can’t change racist power, then what can? What historically has worked is people putting pressure on people in positions of power.” While it was an interesting sentiment, it intrigued me and led to my reading of his book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

In the book, Dr. Kendi reminds readers over and over again that there is nothing inherently wrong with any race. But wow has the US tried to prove otherwise.

I especially like the term “uplift suasion” that Kendi used throughout Stamped. It is the idea that if black people act as “model minorities” then prejudice about them will magically melt away, but Kendi proves this false. In fact, he claims, “As much as black firsts broke racial barriers, the publicity around black firsts sometimes, if not most times, reinforced racist ideas.” This was clear in the media coverage of Obama and even the rise in the popularity of white supremacist groups that came after his election. If Obama’s ascension into the presidency didn’t lead to uplift suasion, then what in the heck ever could? Even now, it is just as true in 2019 as it was in the 1800s.

Like most research related to anti-racism work, this book made me rethink so many things I thought I understood. Since finishing the book, I have a variety of things I need to go back and revisit. For example, is the film Crash as powerful as I thought it was when I watched it? (My guess is not at all. From what I remember about it, it’s a movie about race in America that doesn’t acknowledge systemic racism.) Was Kanye West’s assertion about George Bush after Katrina really so crazy? Is the “Southern strategy” only some historical strategy that Nixon used to win or is it actually a page in a playbook that is used for every election? (Based off the Governor’s race that just happened in my state, I’m going to go with a “yes” on it being a constant and current political strategy.) And isn’t “assassination” a more accurate term for what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin?

In the end, the book doesn’t have an uplifting message, so I have to hold onto something else Dr. Kendi said at the Eckerd talk, and that is “The first step of being an activist is believing in the fundamental possibility of change.”

So here’s to believing in that change.

Speech

Last night, I went to the Florida Trail Association’s Scenic and Wildlife Film Festival. They asked me to be one of the speakers, and I liked what I said, so I decided to post it here. The parentheses are places where there was some ad-libbing or words that I can’t quite capture here. Here it is:

My name is Hillary, and I am the leader for Outdoor Afro St. Pete and Tampa Bay. This is (a leader from a different network introduced himself here). Outdoor Afro is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to celebrate and inspire black leadership in nature. We have over 80 leaders all over the country and host monthly events hiking, kayaking, biking, etc.

We ground our events in the history of indigenous people or black people on the land. Since this film festival is an event for OA St Pete, Tally, and Jacksonville, I decided to share the history now. And as the only diversity and inclusion trainer for Pinellas County Schools, this sort of conversation is where I live.

Let’s think about some local history, particularly that of Gainesville and Alachua County.

After the Civil War during which Alachua area soldiers fought for the Confederate army, there was an extremely shortly lived reconstruction era. “During that period, the first school for blacks in Gainesville, the Union Academy, was established in 1866 by the Freedmen’s Bureau to educate blacks.” Despite white aggression towards the teachers at the school and even towards the building, the school operated in that capacity until 1929. But throughout this time and the times that followed, Gainesville schools have remained largely segregated.

Regarding the local history of elections, the Florida Legislature in 1889 imposed a poll tax and a literacy test which effectively disenfranchised most blacks and basically put an end to electing black politicians in Gainesville and all of Florida, really, for a long time.

The Ku Klux Klan became pretty active in Gainesville in the early 1920s. If you’re a history nerd like me and want more info, google Woodrow Wilson and Birth of a Nation to learn more about the Klan’s reemergence. As elsewhere, the Klan was anti-black, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic, and “professed to uphold morality.”

From 1877 to 1950, Alachua County had among the largest volume of lynchings of any community in the country, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. And actually per capita, Florida lynched more people than any other state in the country during that time period. And finally, in 1964, Alachua schools started to attempt integrating after a local court case forced the issue. This was 10 years after Brown vs Board claimed segregation was illegal.

The point of naming this history isn’t about feeling guilt. In fact, author Robin DiAngelo says, “when we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective.” The point of knowing the history is awareness. There is power in realizing that it’s only been 65 years since segregation was deemed illegal. There is power in knowing it’s maybe been 55 years since any real attempts at integrating schools and businesses and recreation sites started. There is power in knowing there have been 0 days since there existed a fully integrated school district.

And there is power in understanding your history, which is deeper and wilder than this tiny picture I painted today, and drawing a straight line from that legacy to why the outdoor industry remains so monochromatic.

If in your head you are asking the question “why don’t they just go outside?” as I’ve been asked a million times before, think about the last time you were ever in a situation where you were the only white person. How comfortable were you? Have you ever actually been in that position? Now consider that this is the story of our lives when people of color choose to go enjoy nature.

“The number of people of color working in top green organizations is shrinking.” From 2017 to 2018, the number of people of color working in these organizations went from 33 to 4%. Thus the number of white people went from 67 to 96%.

Even thinking about the National Park Service, the majority of visitors are white. (Here I shared a story about two summers ago. I went to Mount Rainier National Park, and as we drove to Panorama Point Trail, we stopped and explored some smaller trails and visitor centers. We were in the park for over two hours before I saw another black person. It was actually a family, and when I got out of the car, I hugged them. The reaction of my white friend I was with is one that was funny, but easier to explain than to write out.) In fact, for some parks, the number of white visitors gets up to 90%. And the numbers are equally disparate in your state, county, and local park scene.

Now think about the last hike you went on. Think about the joy you felt when you looked up at how blue the sky was during the hike or how excited, but low-key scared you felt out there when you spotted a gator on the side of the path at Sweetwater Preserve. Think about the last time you kayaked and the serenity you felt on the water as you maneuvered through a mangrove tunnel or got startled by a fish jumping up out of the water. Think about the fact that those feelings and experiences and excitement and moments of healing should be for all people. And join in ally-ship to not let our sordid racial history get the best of us.

Ally-ship doesn’t mean using people of color for flyers or website banners; it’s in the small movements that don’t seem to matter like when I was at the Grand Canyon three years ago. (Here I explained about being at the bookstore at the Grand Canyon National Park. There was one of those things you put your face through there where your face shows, but then your body is whatever the cut out is. These things are always white people or animals or fruit, but at age 30, I experienced one for the first time that was a person of color. Not only that, but the cut out was a female park ranger with natural hair!)

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Ally-ship is in the small things like when you do see us on the trail, treat us like the other humans you see out there. Say “hi” instead of asking us if we are a church group or a family reunion.

Ally-ship is in the big things like doing your homework and seeking advocacy by becoming a real participant of a movement that’s breaking down barriers and working to remind everyone that the outdoors is for all of us.

I wasn’t booed off the stage, and I got a pretty decent clap from the mostly white crowd. I even got some thank yous which was interesting. However, a couple women said, “you go girl” to me afterwards which was problematic, at best.