Under (de)Construction

A critical examination of society, doing good, and making change

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Like all profound repression, my rage unleashed made me afraid. It forced me to turn my back on forgetfulness, called me out of my denial. It changed my relationship with home - with the South - made it so I could not return there. Inwardly, I felt as though I were a marked woman. A black person unashamed of her rage, using it as a catalyst to develop critical consciousness, to come to full decolonized self-actualization, had no real place in the existing social structure. I felt like an exile. Friends and professors wondered what had come over me. They shared their fear that this new militancy might consume me. When I journeyed home to see my family I felt estranged from them. They were suspicious of the new me. The “good” southern white folks who had always given me a helping hand began to worry that college was ruining me. I seemed alone in understanding that I was undergoing a process of radical politicization and self-recovery.

bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the transformative and healing powers of radical rage. I’m often told that I’m too angry, too filled with negative emotion, when in actuality, I genuinely believe that rage - beautiful, healthy, necessary, and healing rage - has kept me alive and provided me with the strength to keep going. 

Rage gets shit done. 

(via callmebrandy)

(via greydotmatters)

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Bronx Students Release 10-Point List of Demands to Reform NY Public Education

From Colorlines.com: 

  1. We demand free quality education as a right guaranteed by the US Constitution.
  2. We demand the dismantling of Bloomberg’s Panel for Educational Policy. We demand a new 13 member community board to run our public schools (comprised of parents, educators, education experts, community members, and a minimum of 5 student representatives).
  3. We demand quality instruction. Teachers should ethnically, culturally, and racially reflect the student body. We demand experienced teachers who have a history of teaching students well. Teacher training should be intensive and include an apprenticeship with master teachers as well as experiences with the communities where the school is located.
  4. We demand stronger extra-curricular activities to help stimulate and spark interest in students. Students should have options, opportunities, and choice in their education.
  5. We demand a healthy, safe environment that does not expect our failure or anticipate our criminality. We demand a school culture that acknowledges our humanity (free of metal detectors, untrained and underpaid security guards, and abusive tactics).
  6. We demand that all NYC public school communities foster structured and programmatic community building so that students, teachers, and staff learn in an environment that is respectful and safe for all.
  7. We demand small classes. Class sizes should be humane and productive. We demand that the student to teacher ratio for a mainstream classroom should be no more than 15:1.
  8. We demand student assessments and evaluations that reflect the variety of ways that we learn and think (portfolio assessments, thesis defenses, anecdotal evaluations, written exams). Student success should not depend solely on high stakes testing.
  9. We demand a stop to the attack on our schools. If a school is deemed “failing”, we demand a team of qualified and diverse experts to assess how such schools can improve and the resources to improve them.
  10. We demand fiscal equity for NYC public schools: as stated in the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007 by the NYS Legislature, NYC public schools have been inadequately and inequitably funded. We demand the legislatively mandated $7 billion dollars in increased annual state education aid to be delivered to our schools now!

A Video of the students available is at: http://youtu.be/hXUtIFrmn18

    Filed under education equality NYC

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    Occupy Berkeley & Police Brutality

    This video from the Occupy movement on Berkeley’s campus along with other videos from the Occupy Movement(s) should spark a long overdue conversation about police brutality, ESPECIALLY in California (i.e. police treatment of Oakland residents)

    Filed under Berkeley Police brutality OWS

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    There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all….

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    Body and Soul: The BPP and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination

    Following up on the post about Alondra Nelson and her new book about Medical Discrimination and the Black Panther Party is an interview with Mark Anthony Neal and Jonathan Gayles

    Filed under Black Panther Party

    3 notes

    The Issue That Occupy Wall Street Missed: Homelessness

    Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue

    Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com by Barbara Ehrenrich

    As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided — to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1%. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?

    Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the U.S. have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in D.C., a twenty-something occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues — arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome — should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.

    Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities — “as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,” travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed.  And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalizing Crisis,” to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:

    Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing.

    What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets — not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities” — that is, to build a latrine — cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

    It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

    The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Wal-Mart.

    As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy” — the stock brokers and investment bankers — were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.

    No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown — the deaths from cold and exposure — but “Criminalizing Crisis” offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina: 

    During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be ‘squatting.’ In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

    Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules — such as no drugs, weapons, or violence — enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

    There is nothing “political” about these settlements of the homeless — no signs denouncing greed or visits from leftwing luminaries — but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the “American autumn.” LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

    All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying, “The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight.”

    What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

    But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards — from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure — leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.

    In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed — the 99%, or at least the 70%, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior — unless this revolution succeeds.

    Filed under occupy wall street homelessness criminalization of poverty

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    The Penn State Scandal & the Eroticization of Black Male Bodies

    Today my boss pointed me to an article that connects the recent Penn State Scandal (information and a timeline of events can be found here: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/08/142111804/penn-state-abuse-scandal-a-guide-and-timeline) to the historic eroticization and homo-eroticization of black male bodies. I found it really interesting and decided that I would re-print the blog post. Give thoughts.

    Old White Men, Young Black Boys & The Sexual Legacy of Slavery.. In Light of Penn State

    In my experience, it’s been one of the most unspoken taboos in both gay and African American communities: White men’s consumption and fascination with black male bodies.

    My first real experience with this was when I was at Arby’s in Midtown, years ago, after I had just moved to Atlanta. I was sitting in Arby’s eating a grilled cheese, and from nowhere this middle aged white man, maybe in his 50-60′s, comes and stands above me, lurking down upon me a like a parasite longing for new blood. His behavior initially puzzled me. I asked “Can I help you?” and he just stared at me and licked his lips, then he flashed me several dollar bills. Recognizing this was some sort of sexual innuendo that I had no interest in, I grabbed my food and walked out of there.

    At this point, I did not know that the Spring Street Arby’s and the subsequent area around the club 708 is a space where many sex workers, most of them African American boys & trans women, are solicited. I had no idea as I would learn later through my work in HIV & AIDS prevention & education, that most of those young African American boys and trans-women would report that the majority of their clients are middle aged white men. At first I thought little of it. I mean, why wouldn’t the majority of them be middle aged white men, who in this country would be more likely to have the disposable income? As I continued my studies in African American literature and history I found a few things that took me somewhere else. Where to you might ask? Why to Slavery my dear friend.

    You see, when reading over various slave narratives in undergrad and beyond, their is evidence to suggest that young black boys, and black men of all ages, were often forced to have sexual relations with their white male slave owners.

    While the innuendos are mild, and likely doctored by both historians and African American studies professors who fear exposing such a history that they perceive would further “shame” black men, the likelihood of such things happening doesn’t at all seem far fetched.

    Because same sex desire is an expression of humanity that conforms itself to the structural social hierarchy of the day, it would make sense that  many white male slave owners, corrupted by racism and bigotry, would use black male bodies, of which they had authority and control, as a site to express their same sex desire. It would also make sense that, like most of the social patterns from that not too long ago period, those patterns persist in dynamics today. This has hardly ever been spoken of but as James Baldwin would say: The consumption of young black male bodies by white men, is “The Evidence of Things Unseen.”

    This is not just in the gay community, oh no. I think about the porn industry, of which I’ve been doing a lot of research on, and the very famous series “My Wife Likes Black Dick”.

    In this porn series, which is not the only of it’s kind, white men look on as their white wives are penetrated, often aggressively by black men. The white men are present in the space when this happens, and in some clips, the white male looks on with fascination saying : “That’s right, take that Black dick/you like that black dick don’t you?”. Fawning over the male’s performance and focusing on that “big black dick”.

    In other scenarios, the white male is seen crying or sobbing as he witnesses his white wife penetrated;and while she makes comments on how his “little white dick” is nothing like this. So why would white men want to consume a product of a conjured storyline of having their wives penetrated by a “black dick?” How is this not projected homo-erotic desire?

    Let me make this clear, because unfortunately, many of us may be going there already-this is not some diatribe to suggest that white men should not date black men. What it is, is an invitation for both white men and black men, to further explore our relationships with each other and the  the historic social, spiritual pain and eroticization that exists between us.

    What it is, is an opportunity for us to understand that patterns of sexual exploitation are not so rapidly dissolved, and maybe ponder, that the consumption of black male bodies by white men and white culture is not only almost always exploitative, it is, in a male context, almost always homo-erotic; it is an expression of the white male unconscious desire for the black male body, a body which has had a construct of “raw masculinity” projected upon it; a masculinity that in America, is deemed highly desirable no matter what your sexual orientation.

    There is a lot more to be explored here, this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

    But I think this maybe might open up a chapter…Much more to come…but for now..
    What do you feel?

    Filed under privilege oppression Penn State scandal

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    5 Questions Dr. King Might Ask About His Memorial Dedication Ceremony (by Dr. Boyce Watkins)

    I really appreciate this post because it hints at the ways we white-wash and mis-remember Dr. King’s message beyond the ‘kumbaya let’s all hold hands despite our color’ message we’re taught in grade school and beyond. Read below:

    It only makes sense that we show respect for those who have chosen to participate in the Martin Luther King Memorial Dedication ceremonies this week. Millions of Americans truly appreciate the legacy of Dr. King, and their involvement in the ceremony is reflective of this sentiment. So, my desire not to participate in the commemoration is out of respect for Dr. King’s principles, but with full understanding of those who choose to disagree.

    As a people, I argue that too few of us possess the passionate desire to fight the tough battles necessary to see Dr. King’s dream come to fruition. No differently from those who attend church every Sunday vs. those who do the hard work to live a good Christian life, America gives us a license to embrace rampant hypocrisy. America has not taken very many steps to fulfill the dreams of Dr. King and in some ways, we are worse off than we were when he was alive. It is for this reason that I question our decision to celebrate the building of a group of granite statues paid for by those who continue to treat black people as second-class citizens.

    It is because of my concern for this hypocrisy that I’ve chosen to stay home on the day that the Dr. King Memorial is dedicated. I am not sure if Dr. King would attend this ceremony himself if he were alive today. I speculate that instead, he might be spending the week protesting on Wall Street, fighting for labor rights or battling the epidemic of mass incarceration.

    Here are a few questions I think Dr. King might ask about this memorial if he were alive today:

    Dr. King Question #1: Is there anything better we could do with that $120 million dollars, given that 40 percent of all black children are in poverty?

    The MLK memorial is going to cost a cool $120 million. That’s enough to pay $10,000 on the mortgages of 12,000 Americans who’ve lost their homes from foreclosure and predatory lending, enough to buy a meal for 24 million hungry children, or enough to pay the salaries of 2,400 inner city school teachers who’ve lost their jobs due to budget cuts. I’ve always been impressed with Dr. King because he seemed to work to embrace the spirit of Jesus, another revolutionary who was rarely welcome into anyone’s fancy church. Although not a perfect man, Dr. King fought for the poor, stood up for children, and did what was right without concern for the consequences.

    If Jesus were walking the earth today, he wouldn’t want us to build another temple or statue in his honor. Instead, he might ask us to stay home and do God’s work instead. While Dr. King is certainly not Jesus Christ, he is a man with enough integrity that I believe he would reject this corporate memorial in the same way that he would not accept a BET Award being presented by Lil Wayne.

    Like those men who are conditioned to have sex with any beautiful woman who offers it, some of us are also tempted to accept awards and honors from anyone who gives us a little money and fame. Being honored in this way is good for the ego, but not so good for the soul. So, there are some situations where it might be best to just walk away.

    Dr. King Question #2: Why is Walmart on the list of major donors for the monument, in spite of the fact that they are entirely disrespectful of my positions on labor rights?

    Walmart, who gave a full 10 percent of the funds necessary to build the King Memorial (they actually signed the first letter of credit that opened the door for the monument to be built), has a long list of multi-billion dollar labor and human rights violations that have served to make the company into the economic behemoth that it has become today. They’ve been connected with numerous sweatshops around the world, their workers are underpaid and not allowed to unionize, and they’ve been accused of massive amounts of racial and gender discrimination. If Dr. King were alive today, he’d be standing in front of Walmart with a picket sign, not asking them for money to build a statue.

    I came face-to-face with Walmart power when we fought on behalf of Heather Ellis, the college student who was going to get 15 years in prison after cutting line in one of their stores. I watched as the host of a major Black radio show seemed to throw Heather’s life and future under the bus because Walmart was one of his major corporate sponsors. I also watched as Walmart (a company that is notorious for having intense camera security) “accidentally” lose the video footage showing Heather being slammed to the ground by police outside the store.

    As a Finance Professor, I can tell you that Capitalism 101 teaches us that the King Memorial is an easy investment for Walmart if their $12.5 million dollar donation compensates for the billions they’ve stolen from all of humanity with egregious labor practices. Also, how many Black folks lost their jobs and livelihoods after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast last summer?  The memorial is being built on money from BET, which has created an entire generation of anti-intellectual Black youth and (admitted by Sheila Johnson, the founder’s wife) even served to fuel the Black HIV epidemic by promoting a lifestyle of sexual irresponsibility with non-stop booty-shaking videos.  Accepting money from corporate crooks to build a memorial for Dr. King is no different from praising the local drug dealer for giving away a few toys at Christmas.

    Dr. King Question #3: Do you even have a clue about what my dream really means and do you really think it’s anywhere near being fulfilled?

    Dr. King fought for American equality in all areas that mattered, including education, economics, and incarceration, among others. As it stands, African Americans continue to be oppressed in ways that would make David Duke blush. Black children are not being educated, the wealth gap has grown to a level almost as high as when Dr. King was alive, Black unemployment is the highest that it’s been in a quarter-century and there are more black men in prison than there were enslaved back in 1865.

    Whose dream is this?

    Dr. King Question #4: Why have people come to value style over substance?

    What should a series of Walmart statues and monuments really mean to us anyway? Our anxious, knee-jerk reaction to symbolic signs of respect is in deep contrast to the fact that black folks are rarely willing to collectively fight for any meaningful cause.  Like our teenage children, we’ve become addicted to status symbols and somehow use these symbols to give us the humanity that has been denied us for the last 400 years.

    Any corporation being allowed to donate to the MLK dedication ceremony should be able to show that it has an equally honorable track record when dealing with the issues that Martin Luther King cared about the most.  The company should have a solid track record on corporate responsibility, labor rights, diversity and other issues that would matter to Dr. King.  Would a man let me steal his dying mother’s estate and then use the funds to pay for her funeral?  That’s what we’re doing when we allow companies like Dutch Shell (who was linked to the murders of African activists who peacefully protested the company’s exploitation of the Nigerian people) to help build Dr. King’s memorial.

    Also, black folks might want to stop believing that money is somehow the trump card which justifies any ethically-questionable decision. The choice of powerful companies and organizations to back the King memorial does not, in any way, increase the relevance of the venture itself. It is both sick and sad that we continue to seek validation from the descendants of our historical oppressors, and then wonder why almost no one in America respects us.

    Dr. King Question #5: What are you going to do now?

    Unfortunately, many black folks love to gather for a party and then go home. There is a cognitive disconnect that creates significant distance between what we should be doing and what we choose to do. Even within the most educated among us, we have quite a few PhDs, but very few “Ph-Dos.” Many people have a hard time understanding that ideas without action are effectively worthless.

    Perhaps the day has come for us to practice what Dr. King once preached. Rather than popping bottles at the clubs every other night, we can start filling up the libraries instead. Instead of just politely listening to what the pastor says on Sundays, we can replicate pastors like Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger, who have worked to implement the visions of a higher power. Maybe we can learn that without sacrifice, there is no progress, and that no one will give us respect until we learn to truly respect ourselves.

    It is forgivable that we are choosing to build the Dr. King Memorial under such a dark period in American economic history - I am choosing not to attend the ceremony, but I have complete respect for those who disagree. But like a man with bad credit who’s been given a loan that he doesn’t deserve, America has created this memorial as a promise to reach a higher standard when it comes to our commitment to social justice.

    We must be sure to keep this promise to Dr. King, and truly memorialize his life by making America into a nation that acts on the vision he laid out before his death. But creating that vision is going to require hard work, and it’s not something that we can buy at Walmart.

    Filed under MLK revolutionary

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    How the Black Panther Party Combated Medical Discrimination

    First let me say how excited I am to get my hands on a copy of this book on November 1st. “Body & Soul: The Black Panther Party and The Fight Against Medical Discrimination” sounds absolutely amazing.

    For my Senior Symposium I studied the intersection between civil and human rights, outlining the ways in which the civil rights struggle crippled our human rights, economic rights and access to healthy meals and healthy lifestyles being one of the things we lost in the struggle for civil rights. So of course I can’t wait to read and comment on the book.

    Below is an interview with the author of Body & Soul that I thought ya’ll would enjoy:

    By Guest Contributor Minh-ha T. Pham, cross-posted from Threadbared

    Alondra Nelson, author of the much-anticipated book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press 2011) talks to me about The Black Panther Party’s Free Clothing Program, one of the organization’s many community programs. Nelson’s book, which Henry Louis Gates calls “a revelation” and Evelynn Hammonds describes as “indispensable” for understanding “how healthcare and citizenship have become so intertwined,” deftly recovers a lesser-known aspect of the BPP: its broader struggles for social justice through health activism.

    On a more personal note, I’m utterly thrilled to be introducing Threadbared readers to Alondra Nelson! She’s an intellectual powerhouse of the first order whose research stands as far and away some of the most exciting and relevant stuff I’ve encountered in critical race and gender studies in some time. In addition to her intellectual capaciousness (follow her on Twitter to see what I mean!), she is unsparingly generous in her willingness to share knowledge, support, and tips for the best mascara a drugstore budget can buy. And she’s agreed to sign copies of her book which 3 (three!) lucky readers will win – keep reading to find out how!

     MP: Alondra, as you know I’ve been dying to talk to you about  this photo of the Black Panther Party’s Free Clothing Program by Stephen Shames. It’s one of my favorite fashion photos because it captures so well what I can only describe as a state of sartorial joy – that happy feeling I get sometimes when I’m wearing a favorite outfit or trying on new clothes (even if only new to me). I mean, this kid is seriously feeling his look and himself – and I absolutely love it! What are your reactions to this photo?

    Black Panther Party Free Clothing Program. A boy tries on a coat at a party office in Toledo, Ohio, 1971. Credit: Stephen Shames.

    AN: This Shames photograph is striking and wonderful. There is definitely “sartorial joy” there. And, pure unadulterated happiness, too! The boy in the photo—his smile, his pose, his evident pride—conveys the thrill I think we’ve all felt during some especially successful shopping venture at a sample sale, thrift shop or department store. We unfortunately learn to dim our delight as we get older. This image is a welcome reminder to savor life’s little pleasures.

    The photo also prompts a less cheery reading. The boy is wearing many layers of clothes and here he is adding yet another layer. He’s stocking up. Maybe he is in great need of clothing. Perhaps his enthusiasm is not the thrill of consumption, but the satisfaction of having this very basic need met.

    The Black Panther Party’s 1966 founding manifesto stated “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.” Helping disadvantaged communities to meet these needs was one of the activists’ main goals. To do this, the Party established a wide array of community service or “survival” initiatives, including the People’s Free Clothing Program depicted here.

    Then there are the images within the picture; the images on the wall. There is the iconic poster of Huey Newton seated in a wicker chair brandishing both a sword and a rifle. There are several pieces of art that appear to be the work of Emory Douglas, the Party’s Minister of Culture. There’s also a familiar portrait of Eldridge Cleaver floating just above the boy’s head. This “gallery” links the boy’s sartorial joy and practical needs to the Black Panthers’ style and their politics.

    MP: I love that. It really articulates my sense of the significance of the Black Panther Party’s health-based programs, which I think go beyond physical survival. That Eldridge Cleaver’s iconic image is part of this scene of sartorial joy really suggests to me that the BPP understood the political and psychic significance of clothing, that “health activism” for the BPP had much broader implications than physical health. Can you elaborate on this?

    AN: Yes, that’s absolutely right. The Party appreciated that clothing could be both a basic need and a form of self-expression.

    Also, the Black Panthers’ had a broad and politicized understanding of well-being that I describe as “social health.” Social health was their vision of the good society. The Party drew a connection between the physical health of individuals and social conditions in the U.S. They believed that achieving healthy bodies and communities required a just and equitable society.

    The Black Panthers took a similarly holistic approach with their health activities. They provided basic health care services at their People’s Free Medical Clinics, for example. At these clinics one could also get free groceries or clothing, or advice on how to deal with a difficult landlord or help finding a job. For the Panthers, all of these issues were interconnected.

    MP: Do you think it’d be fair to say that in the popular imaginary, it isn’t the group’s community programs for which they’re best remembered but their distinctive look? I’m thinking about the circulation and consumption of the BPP’s fashion practices and styles (e.g., Afros, berets, and military jackets) today in fashion magazines (under the sign of “radical chic”) and in the Internet (one blogger offers advice on how to “recreate the Panther look”). How important was the distinctive look of the BPP to its political mission and legacy then and now?

    AN: The Black Panther Party emerged during a golden age of mass media: at a time when artists like John Lennon and Yoko Ono were pioneering some of the earliest music videos, when Marshall McLuhan was proclaiming the “medium” as “the message,” and when racially stereotypical television shows such as “Amos ‘n’ Andy” (which ran in syndication until the late 1960s) were giving way to integrated dramas like “The Mod Squad” and “Star Trek” (the latter of which was the setting for American TV’s first interracial kiss). Media mattered; image mattered.

    Given this context, the fact that the Black Panthers were not only bold, but also beautiful, definitely contributed to their association with style in the popular imagination up to today. And, what the Shames photo of the boy captures so well is the fact that the Party’s image and its mission could overlap.

    At the same time, we shouldn’t let our collective memory of the Party be so preoccupied with its imagery that we lose site of the activists’ urgent critique of racial and economic inequality and their efforts to imagine a better society. As Angela Davis stressed in her stirring 1994 article “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia” (a MUST read!), we shouldn’t reduce a “politics of liberation to a politics of fashion.”

    MP: Stephen Shames, the photographer responsible for the above photo, is also responsible for many of the photographs that serve as visual references for “radical chic”. Can you talk about his relationship to and role in the BPP?

    AN: Because of his evocative photographs, Shames has been one of the most important historians of the BPP. Many familiar, iconic images of the Party reflect Shames’ unique vision and talents. He also photographed aspects of the BPP’s work and organizational culture that are less well-known, whether it was decpicting hundreds of bags of groceries spread out like a lawn in an Oakland park or capturing blood being drawn from a child’s finger during at one of the Panthers’ sickle cell anemia screening programs. I am honored that he allowed me to use one of his photographs for the cover of Body and Soul.

    MP: Thanks, Alondra! I can’t wait to read the book!

    Filed under medicine medical access Black Panther Party books

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    I’m particularly proud that young Jews participating in these demonstrations have created Sukkot, the temporary huts that Jews are supposed to live in for 7 days (the holiday started Wednesday night October 12) to symbolize detachment from the material security provided by our homes, to re-identify ourselves as a people that has mostly been homeless for most of our history, and to remind ourselves that all the accomplishments of material security are meaningless unless shared with everyone else.
    Rabbi Michael Lerner

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    The 99% Movement…as ostracizing as the 1%?

    I’ve been thinking a lot today about the 99% movement and going through the tumblr feed with the hundreds of pictures, many of them students telling their stories of debt and broken promises. We have all been fed a fairytale that has told us that if we do the right thing - stay out of trouble, go to college, we’d get the job, car, and home we’d always dreamed of. We walked the beaten path and many of us came out on the other end broke and disenchanted. These are valid feelings and issues that our government must address.

    But I think it’s important to address the fairytale we’re feeding to the masses and ourselves. We are aren’t the 99 percent.

    The majority of the population have not had the opportunity to go to college. They’re not worried about college and graduate school debt. They’re worried about working at a low-wage job that has no future prospects for advancement. They’re worried about taking care of children, families, and loved ones. Worried about themselves or a family member falling sick when they don’t have health insurance. They’re making ends meet. They’re not speaking revolution. They don’t have the time or luxury to sit-out for days on end missing work and having intellectual discussions about overthrowing “the system.” They’re paying their bills and just trying to survive.

    Many college-degree holding intellectuals (myself included) are feeling so high and mighty, as if we’re putting theory into practice, when in fact we are a part of the problem. We are just as privileged and blind as the banks. Yes we’ve been lied to. We’re stretched too thin financially. But we’re also more privileged than the masses of Americans.

    A recent Huffington Post article commenting on the Occupy Wall Street movement speaks to this point:

    When you indulge in revolutionary rhetoric, you risk defining yourselves narrowly as a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals who learned this kind of talk on the college campuses that are beyond reach to many of your natural friends…You make yourselves seem like another kind of elite battling the one with the money: People who can afford to camp out on concrete for days on end without worrying about families or financial responsibilities. You risk alienating the working poor, organized labor and the great mass of everyday people struggling to pay bills on wages that have diminished in real terms over the last quarter century.

    If we want to speak truth to power, we must first acknowledge our own.

    Filed under 99percentmovement speaking truth to power

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    College debt shows up a lot in these stories, actually. It’s more insistently present than housing debt, or even unemployment. That might speak to the fact that the protests tilt towards the young. But it also speaks, I think, to the fact that college debt represents a special sort of betrayal. We told you that the way to get ahead in America was to get educated. You did it. And now you find yourself in the same place, but buried under debt. You were lied to.
    Couldn’t have said it better myself (via thelovebelow21)

    (Source: georgesbirdybirds, via intrinsicintentions)