This year has been a roller coaster no just because of all that I have accomplished but because of all that has happened in our world. I started 2014 knowing that I would graduate from college and hopefully make it to a PhD history program. I did not know that I would have the opportunity to visit Cuba or that after I visited President Barack Obama would move to normalize relations. On a sadder note, as a black man you always know that there will be another killing of an unarmed black man you just never know when it will happen. Though there were multiple examples, this year three stood out to me the most as a reminder that my blackness is seen first and it makes me a criminal in the eyes of the racial state. The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice made me realize that although I am striving for a PhD, this illustrious degree cannot protect me from institutional racism and the racial biases that many people still carry. Eric Garner’s murder was impactful because you saw him die on camera over some non-existence loose cigarettes that he was selling. Mike Brown’s murder was very important because whereas Garner’s was pretty clear based on the video evidence, Darren Wilson’s testimony was accepted wholeheartedly as fact in a similar way to how George Zimmerman’s was after he killed Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown’s death came on the day I returned to the US from my voyage in Cuba. It was eye opening to hear of how his body laid in the street like a dog for 4.5 hours in the United States and made me question the whole rationale behind the embargo on Cuba even more. If the embargo was in place to punish Cuba for its infringements of basic human rights then what does that make America if unarmed black men are being gunned down and not living to be able to tell their side of the story? Is property more valuable than a life? It appears so in America and that is why #BlackLivesMatter is so immportant. Mike Brown’s death ripped of the racial band aid that had started to peel with the death of Eric Garner and you saw the comments of him being a “thug” and that he “deserved to die” come up. Furthermore, the practices of Bob McCollough and his team during the entire Grand Jury process only showed why we need to get independent special prosecutors to try cases that involve police officers shooting unarmed individuals. Lastly, the shooting of Tamir Rice on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving served as an omen of the coming final month of 2014 since the following Monday there was a no indictment for Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO and on Dec. 4th there would be a repeat with a no indictment of Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, NYC, NY. The death of Tamir Rice showed just how deep this anti-blackness goes as the officer’s description of what happened made no sense. This is not even considering that Tamir was shot after only two seconds after the officers arrived on the scene. There were many more instances this year that forced me to stay woke about my reality as a black man in America and the fact that I my life is viewed as a threat by many.
From this pain I have been able to witness the emergence of something powerful a movement that I feel can really create change. As I speak protestors are preparing to protest in NYC tonight on New Year’s Eve when thousands will fill the streets to ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement should not be seen as a second coming of the Civil Rights Movement but as something unique in its own right. This movement is here for such a time as this. I was having a debate with a friend of mine who felt that the murders of Officers Liu and Ramos in NYC had dealt the movement a crippling blow causing it to lose its power. Many of the people deeply entrenched in the developments of this movement knew that their deaths would have been capitalized on instantly in an attempt to prevent reforms of police departments. Mayor de Blasio has been on the unfair end of the Police unions’ scorn for simply mentioning the real conversation he has to have with his black son (I know he is bi-racial but he is seen as black in the American racial binary) to the point where the officers turn their backs to the Mayor or heckle him at the police graduation. Nonetheless the movement has forced black celebrities more than ever to speak out instead of hiding in the shadows of their wealth, with athletes like Lebron James showing solidarity by wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. So I feel that this movement hasn’t lost its power with the murders of the officers if anything it has become stronger as now activists are critically thinking of what steps need to be taken in order to bring about real change since politicians are dragging their feet. (I feel that we need a well funded grassroots campaign organized by the people because politicians only respect the dollar it seems instead of universal morals). As the movement enters into 2015 I don’t feel it will fizzle out like the Occupy Wall Street movement or the outrage after not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman because many of us aren’t letting these issues go. As we keep marching, organizing and strategizing I will be a little optimistic and say that if nothing else we will force people to see us. They might see us as more “outside agitators” or “thugs” than full human beings but if even for a moment this movement will make people uncomfortable and take away their ability to use their white privilege to ignore these issues that plague that black community that’s a start. Even though it isn’t much, if we can at least start at the root by dismantling the fictional world that white privilege has constructed the movement will be able to create more lasting reforms.,
This section is dedicated to the things that greatly impacted me this year and relate to the subject matter of this blog.
Fiction: Americanah by: Chimanda Ngozi Adichie
This book was amazing to say the least! I read the majority of it when I was in Cuba and it truly highlighted the black immigrant experience through the eyes of Ifemelu and her longtime friend/lover Obinze. The struggle for these two to make it back to one another is epic in of itself but this book is not a basic romantic novel but Adichie provides intense critiques that the reader has to address. This book tackles issues of race in a unique and modern way that forces the reader to look at American racial paradigms from the perspective of a “outsider” who is unaccustomed to the many rules in American racial theater. Strongly recommend.
Non-Fiction: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
Set in my neck of the woods in Essex County, NJ and more specifically Orange, East Orange, and Newark, Hobbs does a great exploratory piece on his friend and college roommate who was murdered despite graduating from Yale with a BS in Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics. Hobbs does the story of Rob Peace justice by showing the complicated relationship that exists between individuals who “make it” and their urban hometowns. While reading this I felt like I knew Rob not only because he grew up in my hometown of Orange but also because of how his story applies to my life with the struggles kids like us from urban neighborhoods face when we go off to college in the suburbs and for the first time are exposed to race in a different way than the institutional version we had grown accustomed to seeing. This books also does a great job of examining the roles cities and more importantly place and belonging play in an individual’s life. Strongly recommend.
Now I know a lot of people had their apprehensions about this show because of the name and they may have been right but I know that for me this show is hilarious in how it handles blackness. At its core, black-ish deals with the real issue of how do African Americans maintain a sense of cultural identity once they’ve “made it”. The show is fresh and handles the unsaid rules such as the “the nod”. The show is needed at times like this because with blackness being so political, it is great when people can see that black people are well just people. All the more reason why #BlackLivesMatter is important.
News Program: The Melissa Harris-Perry Show
I love Melissa Harris-Perry and her show! When I first stumbled upon it two years ago I wondered “who is this black woman on TV rocking he braids talking about race so often?” Since then I have not looked back. Now Dr. Harris-Perry covers a lot more topics than race but he discussions on racial injustice are the ones that get me going the most for obvious reasons. As a professor she is an inspiration as she shows how she is able to tie her academic work to the public and be a different type of public intellectual. She has been a consistent voice in the Obama Era of racial politics and she is the best there is at encouraging these conversations in my opinion.
Character: Papa Pope from Scandal
This was the year Papa Pope stole my heart and the show on Scandal for me. Olivia Pope has been wearing on my nerves for various reasons but I still sort of love her. However, it was Joe Morton’s portrayal of Papa Pope that made me love the character so much. I feared him, hated him but grew to love him for his wicked ways. I will be doing an in depth piece before the return of Scandal as to why Papa Pope is so important for today so stay tuned.
Song: “Be Free” by J. Cole
This is the only song that stood out as a perfect testament for my feels this year as a black man living in America. This song does not spare the pain confusion, and frustration I felt after learning of Michael Brown’s death. It also speaks to the other deaths as well.
Comedy/Satire: Dear White People
So this movie wasn’t the favorite for a few people because it didn’t go far enough but for me it was a great first start. I agree that more dynamics could have been explored but I also see the power in having a film like this in the first place. Winchester and the experiences of the black students on its campus remind me of a lot of the same conversations I had with my black friends at my small liberal arts school concerning racial micro-agressions. I definitely plan on using this movie in the future.
I am just going to give this one to Selma which I have not even seen yet but based solely on the timing and subject matter alone. It is a shame that it took this long for Dr. King to receive a full feature film but I also believe everything happens for a reason. We knew Selma was coming out this year on Christmas for a while but we didn’t know it would happen in the aftermath of Ferguson or Staten Island. I will review the film once I see it on screen.
So this has been my year in review. I wish all my readers and subscribers a very Happy New Year and look forward to your continued support next year as I continue to grow and develop.
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