Grief, cont.

Grief, cont.

I should have known better than to watch that video. I regretted it the second I clicked on it. What good could come of watching another black man become hashtag? Stephon Clark’s murder has kept me awake at night. I have dreamt of him,of his children and loved ones, woken up gasping in the middle of the night with rage in my heart and tears on my face.

And yet, I have never met him. I wouldn’t even know his name if he hadn’t become another tragedy. God, I wish I never knew his name. Carrying it in my mouth feels uncomfortable, as if I don’t deserve to utter it with such ease. Have you ever grieved a person you did not know? Whose life was so far removed from yours? His body, his life and legacy do not belong to me anymore than they did to the officers that snatched the life from his body.

And yet, he seems to belong to all of us now. The boy treated like nobody’s child will be grieved by the people of a nation that refuses to learn its lesson. When we are handed picket signs instead of flower arrangements at the funeral, can we even call it grief? If a camera man isn’t around to exploit a brown girls cries, did she even make a sound?

Perhaps this is the price the survivors must pay. Every day we are punished for having the nerve to feel deserving a piece of the pie we baked. And so the nation built on bones and blood thirsty soil claims another soul as a reminder. A warning. Perhaps I mourn my hope for a griefless life more than the man.

As I write this, I sit in a Starbucks full of people that don’t look to be grieving. I look at the only other black girl in the room and wonder if she’s holding this grief. I pray she is not. When there is so much to grieve, however, I wonder how it’s possible not to be.

This grief is exhausting. It will kill me one day, of that I am sure. But who am I to not feel this pain? No one. This whole wide world reminds me of that every day. I hold my breath when my little brother doesn’t answer his phone in the first few rings. I yell at strangers when they call my nephews big for their age. Am I still grieving if I can’t move through all the stages? If all I feel is anger? The Universe seems to be mocking me with every murder video turned non conviction. We can take them, it’s saying, and we will.

If rage let’s two officers and twenty bullets turn somebody’s everything into a hashtag, can mine change my reality? Can it save me from a fate of giving birth to coffins instead of children?  I don’t know. I do know that I am ready for the violence against us to be called what it is.

No white officer murdering an unarmed black man fears for their lives. No white officer murdering an unarmed black woman fears for their lives. This is gun violence. This is a hate crime. This is worse than a nightmare. There is no law or order in headlines discussing a white man’s fear of a black boy he used for target practice. There is no justice in that.

I wonder if America is truly worth saving. I wonder this often, if I am so blinded by dreams of retribution that I can’t see the day of reckoning simply isn’t coming. Does this country deserve the compassion of protest? Perhaps this damned land deserves to be remembered for what it is. Thirsty for blood and incapable of serving justice.

Today, I have decided it is not worth it. I will not continue to work to make this horrible place liveable. With its violence touching the whole wide world, I’m not sure where I will go. With an ancestry of resistance in the most impossible situations, I’m sure this decision is the most selfish one I have ever made. Grief has the power to make people do curious things. Mine has granted me a divorce from my obligation to this country.

 

On Building Community with White Women Who Have Never Uttered Sandra Bland’s name

Recently,  I was blessed enough to share space with Professor Angela Davis and listen on as she spoke of her upbringing, activism, and education. One of the things Professor Davis spoke on was the importance of building consciousness and community. As I snapped in appreciation for her words, I tried to swallow a deep rooted shame that bloomed from my chest.

I have attended exactly one protest since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I simply cannot bring myself to. I am not sure I want to build community anymore. I am not sure I am able to. I don’t know who to trust. I don’t know who’s here for the long haul instead of the Trump show.

I never questioned whether I would be attending the White Women’s March. In my time as an organizer I have learned a hard truth: it is impossible to march beside a white woman. It is always behind. Always an afterthought. Always a “we will get to” your issue. It will be hard to get to me once I’m dead, but they conveniently forget that our deaths are a women’s issue.

The capacity we have to forgive white women disgusts me to the point of wonder. How do the majority of you vote for hate and escape accountability? How do you never utter Sandra’s name and escape accountability? Why are you here? Oh yeah, for Trump. How many of you will march once the boogeyman is gone? How many mimosas will you throw back reminiscing about that time you were a part of the resistance? Will you wear your pink pussy hat to my funeral?

I wonder, more often than I’d like, if I owe these women community despite my aversion to glass ceiling feminism. Who am I to turn my back on anyone when I’ve spent the last four years asking people to become political? I wish I knew the answer to so many questions. I wish I knew how to de-center Trump from all this activism.

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If Hillary was President, and you were all at brunch, would I be able to lure you away from waffles to lend your labor to brown women being abused and detained? It is so much more than Trump. I need a community that understands that. Perhaps it is my responsibility to build one, but I’m not sure if I can build community with women who think it appropriate to put place a pink hat on Harriet Tubman and call it solidarity. There is nothing a white woman can teach us about solidarity. We were born knowing instinctively that our freedom and justice was tied to others. It is the only way we can get anyone to listen, in any event.

…and counting

230 days, 4 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds

Since That Man officially became the President of the United States of America.

I told myself I would write about this at the six month point, but July is my birth-month so forget that. August was the last bit of summer so I couldn’t think about all the things I need to think about to write this and taint memories like that. In the past week, September has let us all know that she will Not Be Ignored. She is cold. Which makes me think about homeless people that none of us seem to center enough in our justice, and all the pop punk I used to listen to, and my old job at my college Women’s Center for some reason.

I had the most amazing bosses there. We spent a lot of time talking about intersectional justice, and what it would look like if we could get it right. Every time a liberal tells me that love will win, or that we must fight with love, I try to reconcile those two things in my head. Is love what it looks like when we get it right? Am I really The Real Problem as all these internet trolls would have me believe; what with my relentless dedication to call out culture? Have I alienated the friendly whites?

Today, it is warm again. I’ve been lounging around most of the day, ate a 20 piece chicken nugget with no regard, have plans to make cornbread and fried chicken for dinner but eat ice cream first. I’ve been listening to Beyonce, and Sza, and noname on repeat. In an announcement of a review of Obama-era sexual assault guidance, Betsy DeVos said “if everything is harassment, nothing is”. There is no part of me left unscathed by the policy of this administration. We were once so hopeful, weren’t we? I hope somewhere out there you still are. I have no desire to love today. My blood is attempting to escape my veins. Have you ever seen a body willing to sacrifice itself? It walks gingerly as if not to damage the goods before the offering.

Today I did not attempt to gather myself. I’ve stopped saying how I feel about what’s happening because I no longer know. The word disgust starts to lost its meaning. At what point does this become the status quo? Has it always been this bad? I’ve never been more fearful of being correct. If love is what gets it right. I want you all to know that not all love is toxic. We don’t have to love things that want to swallow us whole.

On the day that love wins, we will cast Tina Fey and her sheet cake following onto an island and tell them to stay indoors while we threaten their means of survival. We will tell them to learn to love the beasts that don’t bother with sheep clothing. We will punch EVERY. SINGLE. NAZI. We will stop pretending there is a middle ground. We will stop worshiping Barack Obama. We will stop worshiping Bernie Sanders. People will be decent, or be gone. Not everyone is worth loving, and that is okay. We will love ourselves too radically to love them anyways. We will learn to stop saving the asshole that keeps putting holes in the boat. We will push him into the water.

There is no passive love like the one we will have for self. We will love each other fiercely, readily, but never more than self. We will learn that forgiveness requires genuine regret. We will learn that forgiveness is not given when 9 bodies are not yet cold on the floor of a Charleston church where the devil himself did not bother to repent his sins after delivering slaughter as if it were sacrifice. We will learn that there is no getting over slavery, not only because we are still oppressed, but also because our ancestors deserve memory.

On the day that love wins, we will be honest about this trauma. We will take a part the grenade before it implodes on another generation. We will give birth to babies and not coffins. There will be joy, there will be love, but it will be earned.

Today is not the day that love wins. Today is a day to fight for a love that is deserved and not freely given. Today sexual assault survivors were told that their attackers mean more, again. Today we were told we live in a world where “everything” is harassment. Where everything is force, and pain, and trauma. By people who will never understand how triggering that is. By people who will mock us for being triggered.  

We will not all survive this. I will not pretend that casualties aren’t already happening. I will promise, though, that I will not love away your memories. I will not forgive your murderers. I will not forget this pain. I will give you a splendid funeral, and on the day that love wins, it will be because they have paid.

230 days, 5 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds

a love letter for black girls, or gratitude.

a love letter for black girls, or gratitude.

Dear Black Women,

You are magic. You are love and joy and faith. You make me dance. You are cause for celebration. Everything good I have ever known has come from you. And you don’t even know it. Because you just are. You don’t know how to be anything less.

Thank you for A Seat At the Table. Thank you for Lemonade. Thank you for Bodak Yellow. Thank you for For Everybody. Thank you for ctrl. Thank you for imperfection. Thank you for being you, every day, in a world that tries to tell you who you are. Thank you for refusing to be apologetic. Thank you for apologizing. Thank you for waking up this morning. I know it was hard. I know that step felt like ten. I know you carried us all with you. I know. I know. I am grateful for you. I too am trying to find the joy in self. I too am trying to find self. And I thank you.

I keep saying that, because no one ever does. And I know you’re tired. Tired of being written out of the history you make. Tired of being called magic when you’ve only ever asked to breathe. But there is so much magic in your breath. So much magic in swimming in the poison, in making rainbows out of chains. In waking up as revolution. In daring to be vulnerable when always under threat. You have made home out of  an un-free place. Have convinced us all you are free. And I thank you.

Thank you for raising the man I hope to marry one day. I know he is not grateful enough, but I am. I hope he never fixes his mouth to talk back or to talk smack. I hope he wakes up every day and thanks you for eyes he uses to see the starts, and muscle that was once fat from black nipple. In long tradition of brown women I will share with him my warmth. You need yours. It is okay.

Thank you for giving me a voice to write with and the spine to shoulder myself from the worst of it. Thank you for always being honest. Thank you for being the first to clock in. Thank you for never clocking out. I am so sorry to be thankful for your trauma. I am so sorry for being unable to imagine a way to express gratitude without asking so much. I ask me, too. I never say no. But I hope you do.

You are the eyes across a crowded lecture room my own can watch with. You are the arms I link with at protests, and in malls, and in life. You are my President. You are the only example of selfless love I have ever bore witness to.

Thank you for not electing President Donald Trump. Thank you for not electing President Donald Trump. Thank you for not electing President Donald Trump.

Today I rode a city bus home from work and no one called me a nigger. And no one felt me up. And no one spat on me. And that is not everyone’s reality. But it is only mine because of you. Your tired hands and spirit that doesn’t quit because no one ever told you it could. You have made Sunday dinner and childhood memories and jump rope and soft, soft love out of an un-free place. And I thank you. And I love you. Like I wish to love myself one day. With no conditions and without expectations. I wish only that you are as whole as you make the world. I wish only that you were the world, and all the joy in it.

xoxo

That Man

I can not protest anymore. There was a time when I could stand in front of my people and tell them we would overcome. Before That Man was in office, I could stand in a sea of organizers, of black and brown bodies, and feel our collective strength at my core. I could close my eyes and imagine the love and determination radiating off of those surrounding me, lifting me, keeping me whole. That time is a distant memory.

On the morning of November 9, 2016 I lay in bed and turned my cell phone off to avoid seeing posts and texts from my friends encouraging me to attend a rally on campus. Fits of rage and grief kept me in tears all morning as I tried to understand what was happening. When I finally left my apartment, I attended ten minutes of the rally, sobbing the entire while. Everything was depressing shades of gray that day, as even the Earth seemed to be in mourning. Things still look that way to me.

I have not been able to pick myself up by my bootstraps since That Man knocked me down. My steel spine has taken a leave of absence. I left my strength at a protest, I think. I like to imagine it lifting someone else up and filling up their empty spaces. I am not ready to march in solidarity with white women who have never uttered Sandra Bland’s name, who have never talked to the black women in their offices or classes, who have not raised their children to be radical rather than just nice. I am not ready to stand unafraid in international airports chanting and steel-spined.

I am afraid. I am ashamed. My entire life feels like an out of body experience. Everything, everything is shades of gray. How do you hold someone with no conscience accountable? How do you threaten the power of a politician who was elected as a lying, racist, rapist, con man? Who carries his skeletons on stage and tosses them at his supporters; vultures who pick at the carcasses of lives he has destroyed and grin with their bones in their teeth.

When they came for the Muslims, I wondered out loud how long it would be before we were registered. Before America made a disappearing act out of what’s left of my humanity. This is hell. This is the reckoning. This is every white man who has ever sneered at me in an elevator or conference room being given nuclear codes. This is my Black President’s legacy spat on in shades of red, white, blue, white, always white.

The first Muslims in this country worked on plantations as slaves in the land of the free. Centuries later, we are still welcome as prisoners but not as those who seek refuge. There are children drowning in a sea of America’s hate.It is an issue complex in its simplicity. The situation renders us helpless, and yet we must help ourselves. Those who house bodies more vulnerable than ever, must again sacrifice ourselves to show America how to be humane and decent. I fear that we have gone too far. I fear that we will never know decency again. There is no poetry in a country that refuses to learn its lesson. There is no justice in that.

They will try to find meanings in our deaths. We must remember this violence as senseless. We must remember it as violence, Whether with a stroke of a pen, a wall built brick by brick, or a missile launch they are killing us. Do not seek meaning in it. Seek justice. Do not watch children drowning and families ripped apart and feel as though your pink pussy hat and clever sign at the airport have absolved you. Be a body in every room the most vulnerable need you to be in. Be a body that asks others how it can be of use. Find your strength. Find mine, if you must. I left it at a protest, I think.

Truth Teller Series: Tahir Asadullah Lee

Village+Pics5.jpgTahir Asadullah Lee || 27

Documentarian

B.S. in Journalism || Florida A&M University

Favorite Activist: Malcolm X

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Website: www.goinghomeghana.com

Ain’t no fun when the rabbit gets the gun.

That’s the lesson that Tahir Asadullah Lee; truth teller, Philly native, and Florida A & M University graduate has been teaching his less than objective peers in the media business. An AP award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated documentarian,  Lee has dedicated his work to shining light on marginalized voices. I was able to speak to Lee at some length regarding his career and what it’s like to be a black Muslim man working in media, and was inspired to say the least. This is a peek into the mind of Tahir Asadullah lee: photojournalist, documentarian, and intellectual.

Q: How did you make the decision to go into media? Was this a childhood dream? Did you enter school with a major related to news and media?

A:  I made the decision in high school that I wanted to go into the journalism field. I grew up in a household with all women that loved to watch the news and know about what was going on in their community.  It had always been a dream of mine to work in the news media. When I first entered college at Florida A&M University, I had aspirations of becoming a foreign correspondent or news anchor. My major was Broadcast Journalism with a concentration in Photography. After getting some hands on experience I realized that shooting and video editing are my strengths.  This led me to pursue a professional career as a photojournalist.

Q: There is a popular video that details the ways in which racial fatigue and intergenerational trauma can impact blackness in the workplace when the reality of communities of color is often waking up to headlines about our kinfolk being murdered by law enforcement and vigilantes. What is your experience as someone with a complex intersectional identity who also plays an important role in communicating narratives to the public at large?

A: I recently left my job in television news to pursue freelance endeavors full time. There are many contributing factors that led me to make this decision but the main reason has to be the constant bombardment of stories that pertain to people of color and how there is no objectivity in reporting on the stories.  Each day I would work on stories that dealt with Muslims being labeled terrorists, but not white nationalists; stories that dealt with demonizing police officers, when they are the ones that are sworn to protect and serve; and stories of young black boys being gunned down in the street, as if it’s being reported on so heavily to normalize the action. I’m a Muslim, African-American and son of two police officers. The overwhelming amount of connections I would have to the stories being reported on in the news got to a point where it just felt like I was keeping up a narrative, that I didn’t believe was right morally or ethically. So I did what mattered most to me, which is leave my job to pursue a career as a international documentarian, that will give me an opportunity to showcase my real talents and abilities. I’m a humanitarian at heart and being able to work with NGO’s, non-profits, foundations, and outreach organizations as opposed to a news organization, will give me that intimate setting I desire to impact the lives of the voiceless.

Q: Can you describe a time, if such time has ever existed, where you were the target of microaggressions or higher levels of discrimination in your field?

A:  There’s been numerous times where I’ve been faced with direct and indirect racism. Sometimes I show up to shoot an event solo and the interviewee says to me, “who will be asking the questions”? Often times, I would only be referred to as a “cameraman” as if I wasn’t a college graduate from a prestigious school of journalism that has enough intellect to ask questions for myself. When going door knocking through some neighborhoods I’m often stared at because of being a tall black man with a beard and ‘locs. I welcome the prejudice of my surface appearance because it allows me to show people the kind of person I really am on the inside. Once I begin to speak, I show a level of thought that catches them off guard every time. I’m known to be vocal on various mainstream topics and current events. At a number of news organizations that I’ve worked at, I’ve been called into the news director’s office and asked to remove something I said or shared on my personal page. Each time, I stood my ground knowing that whatever it is they’ve seen is a representation of me and not my employer. I am a media professional and objective journalist that likes to engage with the masses about crucial social injustices that are constantly played out through mainstream media, something of which I was apart. Whenever there’s an incident that occurs and it has to deal with what some people call radical terrorism, I would hear the most blatant disrespectful comments from prejudice people in the newsroom. Most knew I was Muslim, and still showed no compassion from the statements they openly made displayed clear ignorance and hate towards an entire religion as opposed to those individuals responsible for their own actions. You just have to always pay attention, watch your surroundings and know that everyone you work with is not meant to be your friend. You go to work to do a job, being a photojournalist is something I do extremely well. By staying true to yourself and gaining the most valuable experience you can to further my career was my main focus, and in that regards TV news gave me what I needed in order succeed independently.

Q: Do you ever feel typecasted, or as if you are expected to have some uncanny ability to Black-splain or Muslim-splain certain situations to your coworkers?  Do you feel like you have mastered code switching? Is there room for unapologetic existence for those working in the media?

A:  My coworkers and me have had plenty deep rooted conversations where I highlight how they convey the facts of stories is very important. Honestly, those that aren’t completely stuck in their ignorant ways are actually receptive when they hear things come from me to give them a different perspective. That is one thing I appreciate from the reporters that I’ve worked alongside of. I don’t believe that there is room for a person being unapologetically black within a newsroom. Realistically, the two can’t exist without one side being forced out by the other. I’ve seen this happen firsthand at different stations. When you become to vocal, they’ll do anything to silence you. That’s why I’ve made it my objective to speak out against of the negativity that goes on inside of newsroom in America and how the success of blacks is always limited up until a certain point unless you give up apart of yourself to the larger agenda. I believe that alternative news sources are becoming the new norm and traditional journalism is facing extinction the same way the newspaper has. When you want more for yourself and can’t stand to see your people suffer through a lens or on a screen any longer, it was time for me to get up and make a real impact that can provoke positive change on more levels than I can imagine.

Q: In what ways is your field affirming and empowering to you as a Black Muslim man?  Do you consider yourself an activist? How are you able to center your personal values in your work?  

A: I wanted to be a journalist because it afforded me the opportunity to become well-rounded and diverse in different roles throughout a newsroom but most importantly the chance to speak with some of the most interesting people in various fields. Having the chance to interview people about the things they do on a daily basis is something that’s always intrigued me. I have a strong thirst for knowledge and through journalism, photography and film is how I chose to express using these mediums. Photos, video and writing are all ways to express viewpoints. It becomes empowering when you can touch a diverse audience based off the content you place online. I would consider myself an activist; for change, accountability, humanity, ending mass incarceration, putting an end to gun violence, discrimination through law making and a long list of other things. But being an activist and a journalist some would say is a tricky situation. So in my eyes, I prefer to be called an agent for truth. Truth isn’t always the most pleasant thing we want to here, but the truth can set us free. If we weren’t living our lives constantly today based off of the notion of class division and race, I strongly believe that the human race would be further along. We lack compassion and that is truly the downfall of humanity. I don’t allow the work to affect me because the reality is what makes it to the screen. I like to shoot in real life situations, documentary-style. Not staging anything but being there to witness things unfold. That’s why I choose to fall in love with photography, videography and journalism. Those are what truly display my personal values in and outside the workplace.

Q: If you could offer any piece of advice to members of marginalized communities who would like to pursue a career in media, what would it be?  

A: The advice I would give to individuals of marginalized communities that have an interest in pursuing a career in media is to go for it. Everyone’s path to uncover the mask of lies pumped out by the media happens at a gradual pace. The industry is not the same it was 50 years ago, just like the police force.  Things evolve for better or for worse but to ultimately gain the wisdom needed to prosper, the ugly truth must reveal itself. There was a lot about the media I was blind to. As a minority faced with obstacles and having to be ten times better than my counterparts, it made me a stronger individual in the long run to stand my ground when necessary. I would strongly urge members of the minority community to be cautious of what they say and be ready to answer for it at any moment. We live in a sound bite world and as such we must conduct ourselves in a way that projects a objective image of blacks, Muslims and police officers on a worldwide scale. Making generalizations is the worse thing that someone could do. I’m an AP award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated photographer, but when people look at me they always judge a book by it’s cover and I welcome that.

Q: When you look back on your growth to this point, what do you attribute your success to? What is your project that you are most proud of? Who would you consider your support team? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How about 10?

A: When I look back on my growth I have to honestly say that my mother has been an amazing support system for me. Being an only child and raised by my grandmother for a portion of my life they always instilled in me the importance of respecting others and being strong-minded at the same time. Secondly, I would have to say God plays a pivotal role in much of my success. The project that I am most proud of is my latest documentary film titled: Going Home | GH | Ghana, which I shot, narrated and edited from my 15-day experience in West Africa. This was the major project under my freelance production company: Virtuous Lion Productions. My support team is close family and friends that keep me motivated and constantly going after my next challenge to prove that there is still good in this world. In the future I see myself inspiring the youth, although I’m not sure exactly how I will do so, I am a firm believer in the youth being our future.

_________________________________________________________________

As we continue to seek liberation, it remains of utmost importance that we speak our truths into existence and find power in our voices. The Truth Tellers represent the best of us, those with the courage and talent to not only lift their own voices, but seek out the silenced and center their stories. Thank you to Tahir for being the first subject, may Allah swt make you successful in all endeavors.

Stay tuned for more!

Photo  courtesy of goinghomeghana.com

 

 

Hey New New, it’s me Hadda…

Hey New New, it’s me Hadda…

…I know I already said happy birthday, but I had to tell the world how obsessed I am with you, k? humor me for a bit.

When I was six years old, I told my first grade teacher that I wanted to be Yasmine when I grew up. She laughed indulgently and cooed about how cute it was that I loved my big sister so much, but I knew then as I know now that Yasmine is so much more than a big sister, she is the ultimate role model.

Yasmine taught me what friendship was all about. There was a period of time, I believe around 7,  although I remember most of my childhood based on what house rather than age, so around Wadsworth street, when upon seeing Yasmine I would scream “CLINGY” and run as fast as my little legs would carry me to wherever she was. As I launched myself onto her, all wild grin and unruly limbs, she would always be waiting with outstretched arms and a toothy smile. She was never embarrassed of me, or too busy for me, she was always just my sister. My person.

It’s been 20 years now, and Yasmine has never stopped catching me. She is the most amazing person that so many people will ever have the honor of knowing. Her intelligence, endurance, compassion, faith, strength, and unfailing wit know no bounds. I have never met a person with such a profound capacity for love and generosity, and I don’t think I ever will.

When I started this blog, and decided on the Toni Morrison quote for the home page, Yasmine was who I had in mind. She is the bomb black hijabi and my friend of mind. She gathers me, and takes pieces of herself to give me what I am missing.

And so to my big sister, my person, on your special day, I want to thank you for letting me hang out with superwoman. I don’t know many people who get to watch Gilmore Girls and eat junk food with their heroes. I am so lucky to bear witness to all your triumphs, as you deserve every single one. From graduating with two degrees in three years, to helping end Veteran’s homelessness in Connecticut, to taking on the big city with your special mix of quiet determination and razor sharp foresight, you make being an audience to your existence a joy.

Let’s embarrass Mama with our grocery store dancing forever, kay?

love always,

your baby sister.

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