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Yes, A World Without Prisons And Police Is Possible

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“Police were never meant to protect and serve me and you. They started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners..and the first American prisons started as work camps for newly freed slaves…Plantation owners have turned into prison owners…Police and prisons, since their founding, have always been about safety for the haves while wreaking havoc for the have-nots. We deserve better…Police and prisons have no place in “justice”. Police and prisons aren’t just racist but they work to enforce the separations of rich and poor. True safety can’t be found where it was never meant to be” – Dream Defenders, Freedom Papers (Freedom from Police and Prisons)

As I’m sitting in a circle of radical, revolutionary organizers from all over the state of Florida, for the first time, I’m introduced to the idea of prison and police abolition actually being possible and attainable through the efforts of a collective of abolitionist organizers. For a long time, I knew that the U.S. prison and policing system were flawed and I believed that those systems just needed to be “fixed’ and “reformed” which is largely what pushed me into the realm of social justice and activism. However, all of my ideas and what I thought was right were challenged when I thought long and hard on it if truly made sense to resort to prisons and policing in a society that has the capability to function without them, with much better alternatives.

When I think of police, I reflect on its roots of capturing my enslaved ancestors that transitioned into various continuous methods of brutalization today. I think of all of the women who become victims of sexual assault while in police custody. I think of people who intentionally don’t call the police in dangerous situations, because they know there’s a possibility police presence can result in them getting killed. When I think of prisons, I wonder why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world while only accounting for 5% of the world’s population, yet makes up 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. I think of the people who die in prison because they didn’t have enough money for bail. I think of the people who come out of prison with severe mental health issues such as PTSD and trauma from experiencing intense dehumanization.

What Abolition Means

Abolition is about transforming the types of systems many currently consider as “safe”, and reimagining a world without them from an analytical, solution-oriented perspective. When the idea of prison and police abolition is brought up, the question of “what would happen to the bad people” is usually posed, which is a reasonable stance to consider. To the people who ask these questions, I encourage you to think about some of the questions that police and prison abolitionists are focusing on answering: What resources and systems need to be in place to eliminate the need for prisons in the first place? How can we solve the issues prison is supposedly solving? What needs to happen to erase the need for prisons?

Why Abolish Prisons And Police?

The general idea of what “safety” means to most people is usually thought of in terms of prisons and police. The notion the police was founded to “protect and serve” has people blindsided from how the system of policing operates on enforcing racist, sexist, and unjust laws. Remember, slavery was once legal (really, it still is). Legality does not equate to morality. We have been conditioned to believe that keeping the “bad” people in cages away from society and being policed by other individuals as the utmost form of safety. We’ve been conditioned to believe those are the only and best options when they are not. From a historical perspective, systems designed with harmful tactics in mind that have continued to disproportionately affect Black people, poor people, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and more, have no place in a nation that claims to be a just society.

What are the alternatives?

We are told to call the police and rely on the criminal justice system to address violence within our communities. However, if police and prisons facilitate or perpetrate violence against us rather than increase our safety, how do we create strategies to address violence within our communities, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse, that don’t rely on police or prisons? – Transformative Justice EU

So, what is the alternative you ask? How would our society function without prisons or police? Transformative Justice and Community Accountability.

Transformative Justice: a liberatory approach to violence which seeks safety and accountability without relying on alienation, punishment, or State or systemic violence, including incarceration or policing.

How it works: “Transformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long-term healing and reparations while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities.  This accountability includes stopping immediate abuse, making a commitment to not engage in future abuse, and offering reparations for past abuse.” – Transformative Justice EU

Community Accountability: A community-based strategy, rather than a police/prison-based strategy, to address violence within our communities. Community accountability is a process IN which a community – a group of friends, a family, a church, a workplace, an apartment complex, a neighborhood, etc – work together to do the following things :

  • “Create and affirm VALUES AND PRACTICES that resist abuse and oppression and encourage safety, support, and accountability
  • Provide SAFETY AND SUPPORT to community members who are violently targeted that RESPECTS THEIR SELF-DETERMINATION
  • Develop sustainable strategies to ADDRESS COMMUNITY MEMBERS’ ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR, creating a process for them to account for their actions and transform their behavior.
  • Commit to the ongoing development of all members of the community, and the community itself, to TRANSFORM THE POLITICAL CONDITIONS that reinforce oppression and violence.  ” – Transformative Justice EU

This article wasn’t written just to spew anti-police and prison rhetoric. It’s much bigger than that. I published this post to show that we can imagine and create a world where we use practical and effective solutions that don’t involve oppression and dehumanization to solve real problems. We can live in a world where locking people up in cages is no longer seen as the go-to option. We can create a world that benefits the greater good of all.

Havana Chapman-Edwards Is The Student Activist We Need Right Now

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Source: Teen Vogue, Jessica Holmes, Megan Landmeier

7-year-old student activist Havana Chapman-Edwards (@TheTinyDiplomat) was the only student at her school to participate in the school walkout to honor the victims of the 1999 Columbine school shooting. Her story went viral and captured the attention of CNN, Refinery29, The Washington Post, USA Today and more. With her honorees Nupol Kiazolu, Naomi Wadler, and many others, she is a part of Teen Vogue’s 2018 class of 21 Under 21, which spotlights extraordinary young women, girls, and femmes making waves in their industries or passions of choice. She was also featured on the cover of Time Magazine’s ‘Guns in America‘ issue.

Havana was born in Cairo, Egypt three weeks before the Egyptian Revolution started, in which the Egyptian people were fighting to be treated fairly by their government. “My dad was deployed, so it was just my mom and me. There were tanks on our streets and my mom rocked me to sleep with gunshots and Molotov cocktails going off in the background. It got really dangerous in Cairo, so my mom and I had to evacuate. Before we could fly back to the United States, we had to go to the middle of Tahrir Square where the fighting was happening to get my emergency passport.” The United States Marines, who were armed with assault weapons, escorted Havana and her mother, Bethany Edwards to make sure they were safe.

A few years later, Havana and her family moved to Mauritania, a country in the West coast of Africa, where they often have to do safety drills, where there were schools with safe rooms, gas masks, and bulletproof doors. “The Marines would come to my school with their rifles and riot gear to practice evacuations and lock-downs.”

While Havana understands, that guns are necessary under some circumstances, a man killed her cousin Tony when he was only 17 years old. “Tony was taken from our family because of how easy it is to get a gun in America.” She speaks up about gun violence because she believes that America needs to have better gun laws to make sure innocent youth stay alive. “I always want to stand up for Tony and all kids to be free from violence because it is our human right to be free from violence,” Havana tells Black Feminist Collective.

Havana first made headlines in April of this year when she was the only student at her school in Alexandria, VA to participate in the National School Walkout protest. Even though she was alone, she knew in her heart that it was the right thing to do by honoring the youth killed in the Columbine massacre.  “I wanted to honor them as well as the 1st graders at Sandy Hook because I was in 1st grade just like them. I also wanted to walk out to honor my cousin Tony.” Her story went viral and captured the attention of many news platforms like CNN, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and Teen Vogue.

“Being brave is doing what is right even when no one is watching.”

To Havana, a world without gun violence is possible if adults vote for lawmakers who believe in a person’s right to live, regardless of the color of their skin color, their zip code, or home country. “We all have the basic human right to live, and that means all of us, all the time.” She also believes it’s important to listen to girls and people of color, especially Black girls since they experience gun violence at disproportionate rates. According to Everytown, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth. Everytown also states that Black women are twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner compared to white women. The Violence Policy Center and the CDC reported that the highest amount of gun-related homicide out of every race of women were Black women. According to Mic, 72% of transgender victims of homicide between the years of 2010-2016, were Black women.  

“Black girls in America like me are most likely to be hurt or killed by gun violence. Adults and lawmakers aren’t fighting for us. So we have to fight for ourselves. All girls can change the world, but Black girls are the ones who have always fought the hardest because we had no choice. “I think Black girls and womxn know the most about how to solve gun violence, so we should always listen to them first.”

With Mari Copeny, (@LittleMissFlint), she is doing a book drive and hosting a screening of the Nutcracker and the Four Realms in Flint, Michigan. “We raised $6,000 to buy 180 books for Flint Kids by Misty Copeland from my Black-owned local bookstore MahoganyBooks in DC.” Havana also entered in the #MyGivingStory contest to donate a reliable vehicle to the 17 girls in Accra, Ghana at the St. Bakhita orphanage that she and Taylor Richardson (@AstronautStarBright) visited this summer.

“Currently all 17 girls walk 2 miles each way to school. When they go long distances for events, all 17 girls ride without seat belts in a 7 passenger SUV if they don’t have money for a taxi. The top 20 projects that get the most votes by December 10th are considered for a donation of up to $10,000.”

In 15-20 years, Havana sees herself graduated from college, working on her Master’s Degree for Art or Engineering, and writing her book about girls’ education. “I will also continue to travel to as many countries as possible. I love traveling and learning about other cultures.” Havana looks up to many girls and women, including Naomi Wadler, Marsai Martin, Yara Shahidi, Malala Yousafzai, the women in her family, and so many others. Her message to girls who are underestimated is, “you might be tiny, but your voice is not”. You can keep up with Havana by following her on Instagram and Twitter.

“People will try to silence you with words, but you can silence them with your big, giant actions.  Malala is one girl. Beyoncé is one girl. I am one girl. And I believe one girl is powerful, but a movement of girls is unstoppable.”

Schools Need To Guide Black Girls, Not Criminalize Us

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LA Johnson/NPR via The Untold Stories Of Black Girls

My advocacy for juvenile justice is heavily influenced by the discrimination I experienced growing up in school by my peers and teachers. Feeling unaccepted by my White peers and profiled by my teachers, I quickly internalized the notion that my Blackness wasn’t desirable. I was so consumed with the self-hatred I internalized that I lost my desire to thrive and excel in school. In elementary school, I remember being called a monkey on the playground.  My peers would gather behind me to touch my braids without permission, and exclaim how gross and ugly my hair was. My reserved personality came from the experience of being branded as “aggressive” when I would defend myself. While I had positive experiences with some teachers, I often experienced adultification and was wrongfully disciplined for actions my White counterparts engaged in, being the only Black child in the whole grade.

When I disclosed that I was mistreated to one of my teachers, she would tell me, “They treat you that way because they like you and want to be your friend”. I recall being exclusively disciplined for playing in the hallway with a White girl who wasn’t disciplined and accused of lying when I reported a White student for calling me the N-word. Around that time, three White teachers accused me of threatening to kill a White girl simply because we didn’t get along. On that school’s robotics team, my coaches showered my non-Black teammates with positive attention, while I only obtained negative attention or no attention at all. When I was the only Black student to have earned a school honor, I was excluded from being placed on the wall with my fellow honorees. In middle school, one teacher tried to prevent me from completing work required to move up to the next grade.

My encounters with discrimination are not unique, but my experience with being a Black girl in school differs from the experiences of many Black American girls. Now that I am homeschooled and almost out of high school, I want other Black girls to have the support I did when I was experiencing racism in schools, so I created a project to raise awareness about the school-to-prison pipeline while centering the voices of Black girls. I began campaigning and lobbying and eventually organized a march with RISE For Youth, a nonpartisan campaign in support of alternatives to youth incarceration.

While it’s important to regard how Black boys are affected by racism in schools, it’s critical to acknowledge how this affects Black girls in a state that has the most referrals from school to law enforcement. In legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, she regards the significance of including the voices of Black girls in conversations such as the push-out.  According to the African-American Policy Forum, Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended, while Black boys are only three times more likely to be suspended than their White counterparts. When Black girls defend themselves, especially their communities, they are labeled as “aggressive,” “rude” and “angry,” and robbed of their innocence at a shockingly young age. In 2017, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality released a report entitled Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood’. The report stated that Black girls experience adultification, meaning that adults view them as less innocent and believe that they need less nurturing, protection and comfort than their White counterparts.  

India Williams

India Williams is a 16-year-old who attends RPS schools and has been criminalized for defending her community. She remembers being overpoliced as early as middle school and checked for drugs even though she isn’t involved.

“MLK middle is set up like a jail. We were locked in classrooms, escorted to the restroom, the cafeteria always surrounded by security guards,” she says. “It always bothered me, but one day, on the way to class, I knocked on the door,  a security guard said I was “being aggressive”…the door is really heavy and you can barely hear when people knock. He was closer to me and said stop, I stopped. He came closer and closer so I decided to move ‘Buck on me, and watch me drop you like a man.’…I received a letter saying I was suspended for five days.”

India has even been silenced for her work in the community. When she organized a Walkout, she and her classmates were threatened with suspension, while every other RPS school got to participate in this act of solidarity.

“Security guards created a barrier so we couldn’t get out. Teachers told us it was because “we didn’t really care about the cause”. My school is across the street and surrounded by areas that have gun violence.” The following week, India organized another walkout, this time, with faculty involved. “Teachers helped us make signs, gave tips and more. A couple of teachers were even willing to risk their jobs. That day security pushed us, yelled, threatened and took our phones. We remained silent for seventeen minutes and then went back to class. Teachers called us stupid for doing what we did, but they also don’t deal with the amount of gun violence we deal within our community.

India tells me her experience with being criminalized by her school has influenced her advocacy for justice, human rights, and Black lives. “I’ve become more aware of the other injustices in The RPS school system & I started using my voice. I stand up for myself and other kids done wrong.”

School is not a place for Black girls to be silenced, overpoliced and criminalized. When Black girls are criminalized by their schools and excluded by their peers and profiled by their teachers, they are robbed of their self-worth and their desire to thrive. Neglecting and severely punishing Black girls for “having an attitude” and “being aggressive” are the root causes of the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools in Virginia need to properly address these injustices against Black girls by listening and guiding, not criminalizing.

India Arie, What If I Am My Hair?

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Black Hair Illustrations Courtesy of ShannonWright.com

A significant wedge of my childhood was spent sitting on a pillow in between my mother’s legs as she pulled and tugged at my hair. “Ava hold still!” were the words that had almost become synonymous with getting my hair done. You see though, I could never stay still, I was too jittery and too eager for the next, my eyes were widened to explore the wonder of the world, or rather the realms of a Louisville, Kentucky suburbia. In the nook that was between my mother’s limbs, this hummingbird energy was rewarded with a smack in the head with a brush, yet in the ins and outs if my life, that readiness vibrated throughout the colorful beads that dangle from my braids and marinades in the colorful barrettes that frame my face. Nonetheless, I grew out of the beads. I got too old for the nook between my mother’s legs.

As my hair journeyed into relaxers, the chemical straightening of hair, I journeyed into to a similar straightening. That light that glistened in my eyes had turned gray, as the only thing I seemed to value was the acceptance of my peers. The burning that penetrated my scalp as I lied through my teeth in saying “Oh no, It doesn’t burn” to Miss Nichelle, who did my hair, was almost a reflection of the passive-aggressive dissecting of who I was and my co-signing of that. I was no longer a safe vessel from the world that I once was in my youth. I was undoubtedly trapped in a world both bettered and worsened by my ancestors and feared the direction in which my peers would take it. I was on a dissection table and I lived for other people. The days my relaxer would get old and I’d have traces of my natural were like the days of my passive lifestyle in which I would give in to my passion and look up from my phone during dinner and watch MSNBC with my mother. I lived in this bubble. This bubble that only had limited oxygen.

I was holding my breath, tightening the seal that locked my mouth closed with every comment by a “friend” that told me my conflictions made me an “angry Black girl” and that my looks were “pretty for a Black girl” or that any mention of mine or my skin folks struggle was playing the “race card”. As the chemicals broke off the strength in my hair, the pieces of me that remained continued to chip away as well. Maybe you are reading this and you don’t understand how words chip away at a girl being. But then again maybe you don’t understand what it is like to be faced with the idea that who you are is the equivalent of a pungent smell, and that those around you act accordingly. That feeling, that feeling is one of being suffocated, but having to act as if your breathing supply is perfectly fine. This made internal acceptance seem as distant as the sun during a thunderstorm. Like hair growth, it took time for me to be okay with me. Even if I didn’t know who “me” was. I got braids put in and I grew out my relaxer. I cut off the straight pieces that hung on to my coils, weighing them down. This was my Britney Spears moment. Well, it was not as dramatic or played out as your thinking. It wasn’t “snip snip, I am a new person, I love my culture, I love everything about me internally and physically”. I didn’t cut my hair off impulsively. It was a year-long process, one enabled by experimenting with braids and twists. In this time, like my hair, I separated myself from all that limited me. I learned to seldom silence the voice I was blessed with to appease a standard that will never accept me without alterations. The twists that met my coils and curls and the gel that smooths my nappy edges are the brakes I removed from my ambition.

Yes, my hair is a manifestation of my culture, something I will never place on a back burner, as who I am intertwined with the coils that spiral my face. But that is not why I am my hair. Hair, like faces, refuses to be costumes you masquerade in to shut out other attributes of your flaws. I am my hair because like my hair I am ever changing and uncertain. Yet through it all, the experiences, even the ones we seek to forget, are the pieces that create who we are. I am carefree like the little girl with cornrows I see in pictures but seldom remember. I am introspective like the girl with the relaxer who was not broken but needed direction. I am the girl with the braids and the tiny afro pushing and pushing myself to be unapologetic and outspoken. And the most beautiful part that I selfishly yield pride for, is that I am all of these things and more. And like my hair, I will keep growing. The most powerful part of my hair is its growth. As as I love my hair, I will love my growth. My growth is the best part of being as it is the only thing that is constant in who I am. Of course, my experiences cannot be straight explained like the strands that lie embedding in tiny coves of my scalp. I am complex, I do not have a monetary purpose like hair, I have many purposes, ones I’m still discovering. But like my hair, I will keep moving towards those purposes and will accept any Biotin that will support that growth.

Yes, The U.S. Criminal Justice System Is Still Racist

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It is a commonly-known fact that there are dispositional rates of convictions for minorities in comparison to white-Americans, as well as harsher sentences. In other words, based on one’s race, they are less or more guilty in the eyes of the law. This poses the question: does one’s race give them power within the justice system? The answer to this simple yet complex question is yes, but this unbalanced power is yet to be acknowledged by the American judicial system.

Despite having a systematic racist history, some people believe that racial discrimination
is no longer an issue within the United States Justice System. Their reason for this is because laws, amendments, and supreme court rulings within the country have made racial preference within the courts illegal. These such regulations include, but are not limited to the US Code Title 42, Chapter 21- Civil Rights, laws in relation to civil rights within the United States of America and its territories, which prohibits discriminations in public accommodations and federal services. (Civil Rights Act 1964) In other words, it’s a federal offense to discriminate in a judicial court, a public accommodation, and within the criminal justice system, a federal service. Not to mention, no scholarly journals agreed with this point of view, and the only article that had any, falsely used, evidence was one from thoughtcatalog.com, stated that “Events such as the Civil Rights Movement, laws such as the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act…They have helped to end most forms of racial inequality and thus to end institutional racism.” That is a quote written by Dave Nappi who classifies himself as an N.E.E.T in his journalist ‘About Me’ section. To explain, N.E.E.T. stands for no education, employment or training. All of which makes him an incredible and biased source without argument.

However, despite persisting bias in the article, this claim can easily be disproved false because of the fact no laws can restrict the subconscious. A statement made by Dr. Rachel A. Feinstein, an assistant professor of sociology and Criminal Justice at Carthage University, brilliantly summarized why one’s race will always give or diminish their power in the eyes of the law because of the racial stereotypes and framing in the minds of, predominantly white, attorneys, legislators, and judges. “[These people] provide a strong advantage to white male youth who are viewed more easily than Black and Latino male juveniles as good kids who are simply enacting ‘normal’ adolescent behavior.” This goes to show how a person’s whiteness gives them the power to be viewed as irresponsible for their actions in the judicial system and, in other words, not guilty.

Another perspective on does one’s race affect their power within the criminal justice system is that it does affect their likelihood to be innocent or guilty, but this bias is acknowledged and restrictions are in place. This perspective is similar to the previous one in the sense that both believe that racial discrimination is restricted by the law; however, this perspective addresses the fact that racial preference exists within the justice system. These restrictions consist only with the fact that there are a maximum and minimum length for sentencing based on the crime a person was convicted for. Unfortunately, these restrictions do not affect the rate of arrest or convictions, only the harshness of sentencing. For example, arrest rates are, up to, 400 percent higher for Black Americans compared to white Americans when it comes to drug charges even though whites are more likely to use drugs. This is because police are known to selectively target Black areas in which drugs are known to be sold, and it’s not illegal for a police officer to search any random citizen as long as they have a motive which can
be as vague as ‘I had a hunch.’

In his article, ‘White Power, Black Crime, and Racial Politics’, Robert Staples, a writer for ‘the Black Scholar’ and Professor Emeritus of the University of California, states that “More affluent[ly] whites use powdered cocaine while less affluent[ly] Blacks consume crack cocaine that, until 2010. Carried a penalty 100 times higher than [the penalty for] the same amount of powdered cocaine.” To clarify, until seven years ago, it was lawful for crack cocaine, predominantly Black, users to get a harsher sentence for basically the same substance as powder cocaine, predominantly white, users. This is a prime example of how someone’s race can give them power when it comes to the harshness, or lack thereof, of punishment for their crime.

The truth of the matter is, that based on one’s race they do have the power within the justice
system, and that power is ignored. This correct, and final, perspective is similar to the others
because of the fact that it answers the question of how does one’s race give them power within the United States justice system, but it is different because of the fact it recognizes that racial bias is alive and thriving, and is supported by well-researched facts on sociology. The reason this type of racial based power is ignored because of United States’ history of systematic racism which allows for legislation to be made that target to arrest of minorities, and the predominantly white judges, attorneys, and police officers. In his book White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide, Dr. Naomi Zack, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon, states that when white people talk about ‘white privilege’ it, “tends to be self-indulgent and, while apparently self-blaming, [they] actually cast white people as helpless beneficiaries of an unfair system, rather than what they (also) usually are—people whose apparently innocent choices (of friends, of recreations, of places to live, etc.) tend to favor white people like themselves.”

In other words, the real reason race gives people power in any circumstance is because people tend to favor others that are similar to themselves, which is why white policemen are less likely to arrest or search other whites just like how white judges are less likely to be given harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to minorities such as Black people and Latinos. A prime example of this kind of racial bias and power is in 1989 when a name named Charles Stuart killed his pregnant wife and blamed it on a Black man. Stuart did not have a name or any kind of identifier, only that the man was Black, so the local police began a ‘stop and frisk’ of Black males in their search for the killer. The racial panic only stopped when “ Stuart’s brother confessed to assisting with covering up the evidence…”(Staples) This incident was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a suburban town near Boston, that is historically known for racism within it, majority white, population. In other words, white privilege and systemic racism are recognized by the masses and the system, but there is nothing in place to stop it.

Police can search anyone they so choose as long as they have a reason, no matter how vague, and judges can give light or heavy sentences to criminals as long as the punishment is in the jurisdiction of the crime he or she committed. However, the fault to this claim is that the same goes for minority officials and that they are more likely to use their power within the justice system, but only 27% of police officers are from minority groups, according to an article published by the United States Department of Justice and written by 5 other official government offices within the department. On the other hand, 27% is not the majority or even close to even with the overwhelming 73% of white police officers, so, overall there is no opposing power to the white privilege within the justice system.

To conclude, one’s race does give them power within the criminal justice system, if they are white, and this power is not acknowledged, and this kind of power is legalized because of the majority white officials within the judicial system on top of the lack of unbiased views of minorities.

Why Some Black Women Feel Like Feminism Isn’t For Us

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Kyra Henry, 17, holds her sign on Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington via Slate

I know, it seems like a redundant question right? Feminism is all about empowering women and standing up for our equality in society but it seems as if some women are capitalizing off of the less common daily struggles of other women, that being women of color.

I hate to break it down to a “race thing” but it is what it is. The facts are there and it is clear that white feminists’ attitudes towards the injustice of Black women are not at all proportionate to matters explicitly affecting them.

“To be a woman in America is like being Black twice.”

I’m sure we all heard this phrase at least once in our life as well as the notion that we have to work twice as hard just to get the bare minimum of acceptance. Being a Black woman in America means encountering both racism and sexism. All of this simply is that we were born female, possessing a darker skin complexion and Afrocentric features. It is something that we can never forget because we are constantly reminded of our place in society by doing simple things like going to school, watching tv… or scrolling on Twitter.

I don’t know if sis was TRYING to relate here, but she failed. White feminists think they can make comments like this when they feel like it and disappear in that same convenience. There has to be an understanding that even though white feminists “stand for all women”, they are still white. That in itself should change the way they speak on certain issues. They need to understand statements like this are not empowering at all. They are insulting. White feminists are there for the #BlackGirlMagic when everything is love and light. They’re there to tell us we slay and they love our hair (that no, you still can’t touch) but when things are not so pretty, what happens BEFORE the magic… they wouldn’t know because they disappear.

The #BlackLivesMatter Movement took a lot of criticism when it first started gaining attention from the media. In backlash, we received the whole “all lives matter” rebuttal, as if we were saying Black lives were any more important than anyone else’s. They didn’t understand our cries for equality. They didn’t understand that Black lives were, and still are at a place where they don’t matter. You telling us that “all lives matter” is like saying “shut up we all have problems” but the difference between living white in a white world and living Black in a white world is that you never experienced these problems simply because you were white.

White feminists still have not understood the concept of equality and equity. You telling us to stop fighting for OUR equality because our fight should include EVERYONE is oppressing. It is silencing our voice once again, in the name of white feminism as they capitalize off of it.

Despite all the criticisms received in, and following September 2016 about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem, white feminists are planning to do this same demonstration to express their feelings of contempt towards potential Supreme Court judge, Brett Kavanaugh. Women everywhere are appalled and disgusted that a man accused of rape would soon potentially hold one of the highest judicial powers in the nation. The Supreme Court’s influence on society is so heavily evident in various cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Plessy v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court has the power to literally change lives and this is very frightening for many women. My question is why did it take something like this to happen for white feminists to finally open their eyes. Black women have no choice but to see and acknowledge white supremacy. We are born into and is shoved in our faces, no matter where we go.

Ringwald, who as far as we know, never publicly knelt with Kaepernick, wants to use his symbol—one that he decided upon after input from a veteran, one for which he suffered financially, to promote a movement inspired solely by the suffering of a White woman. It’s self-centered, unimaginative and a reminder that far too often, White women really aren’t our allies if they’re only concerned when injustice comes to their doorstep. – Veronica Wells via Madame Noire

Not to mention, the whole #MeToo Movement was created by a Black woman, Tarana Burke. I personally did not even know this until I watched the Black Girls Rock award show on BET. There was so much use of this phrase and hashtags by white feminists after the Weinstein incident [exposed of sexual harassment and assault] that it took me seeing her get an award for creating the organization to finally put a face to a cause. This is what Burke was afraid of. She put down all of the groundwork for white feminists to run with it. This movement was under works for 12 years before it finally took off.

The idea of attending the Golden Globes was a challenge. “When Michelle called me and said: ‘I would love to take you to the Golden Globes,’ I said: ‘Why? I’m trying very hard not to be the black woman who is trotted out when you all need to validate your work.’” – Tarana Burke

What white feminists need to realize is that just like we cannot change the fact we are Black, they cannot change the fact that they are white. When standing up for injustices, it is imperative to not take credit for all the groundwork. It is completely inappropriate to want to be included in demonstrations that they otherwise would have no intention of being in if it didn’t directly affect them They have to understand that they have had a certain amount of power when they speak, being that they are white. They need to use their power for the good, not just when they feel like it. Black women are always seen on the forefront, fighting for EVERYONE’S rights. That is the true definition of feminism.

The Top 4 Struggles Of Having Natural Hair

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Courtesy of @NIaTheLight via Instagram

Black Girl Hair: the struggles, the problems, the trials, the aches and the time inputted for the controlling and styling of it. Not to mention, the social implications of it. Now first, a quick
lesson on some of the basic functions and different types:

1. Curly
2. Kinky
3. Coily
4. Permed
5. Damaged
6. Transitioning
7. Ect ( the list goes on for a while)

Then, there are the styles:

1. Straightened
2. Braided
3. Twisted
4. Locked
5. Wash and go’s
6. Weaved
7. Extensions
8. Shaved
9. Ect ( once again, a long list)

For anybody who is reading this and is not apart of the Black community, imagine that one friend. You know, that friend that cancels because she is having a bad hair day or the one that doesn’t show up to school for a day or two to complete the entire hair chronicles process. And for those of us who are the friend, I’m sorry. Our hair is resilient, nonconforming, strong, beautiful, elegant, and difficult. What are the struggles we might face? A list shall we!

1. People don’t understand

For us within this community, we can clearly understand the different hair textures,
styles, and what goes into them. But most people don’t get these basic ideas. You have
no clue how many times I’ve been asked if I “cut my hair” when I took my weave out, or
if my hair has “magically grown” when I put it in. My favorite is when someone asks me
if my box braids are my hair. Clearly, they are not seeing as my hair was a whole of 4
inches yesterday, and now it’s 12. But it’s okay, I know that this may be too complicated
for some people to grasp, and I like announcing to the world that my hair is indeed
fake. (hard eye roll).

2. People like to touch

Yes, my hair is bouncy. No, it is not a toy. Yes, it does always poof like that. No, you may not touch. Common questions and common answers, unfortunately. It is unnerving and frankly annoying to be constantly asked about the composition of my hair, not to mention when people act like its unusual. I’m not some rare specific species with an unheard hair type, I’m just Black. It’s common, touch someone else’s. In fact, touch your own. And I know this sounds mean, but to be fair, I honestly struggled this morning to get it to stay like this, touching it increases its chance of messing up. Thank you, I approve this message.

3. People never believe the truth

I am always having to offer an explanation as to why I missed a day of school or why I couldn’t make it to those plans. Well, the simple truth is, I was probably having a bad hair day. For most, a bad hair day is just a term used when their hair is not as perfect as usual, but they can still function normally. No, this doesn’t apply to me. A bad hair day means level ten bad. So bad that I can’t walk out of the house. Talk about missing school, try having 4C hair, and needing to wash it, comb it and have it all braided. That’s a whole workout. No, that’s a whole battle, and people never believe me when I say my arms are tired. Well not only are my arms tired, but my scalp is sore, I now have abs on my arms and frankly, I need a nap. This is why hair day is worthy of being a school missing occasion. Those who don’t understand aren’t meant to.

4. The stereotypes

This is quick, easy and simple. Just because it’s not my hair, doesn’t mean it is horse hair. Just because I’m wearing weave doesn’t mean I’m “ghetto”. Just because I wear braids doesn’t mean my natural hair is ugly. Just because I press my hair doesn’t mean I’m trying to be something else. Just because I wear an afro doesn’t mean I’m trying to “fight the power” on every little subject. Just because I’m texture 4C doesn’t mean I have “bad hair”. Seriously, it’s just hair, stop making assumptions. Black girl hair is everything. It rocks, slays, levels up, glows, is goals and is simply beautiful. That does not mean it doesn’t take a lot of work. I love my hair, but I have seriously considered going for a Wakandan warrior look and giving up on this whole “having hair” thing. But that’s just the Black girl hair chronicles for you.

What Bill Cosby’s Conviction Could Mean For Black Victims Of Sexual Assault

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Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison for the 14-year-old crime of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. 81-year-old Bill Cosby, seen as a father to the Black community for decades, is officially a convicted sex offender. This means a lot of things to a lot of people. To advocates of the MeToo movement, it means justice. To some older members of the Black community, it means a disappointment. But, to Black women who have been victims of sexual assault, it means hope.

Black women have a 21% prevalence of rape, and for every Black woman that reports rape, at least 15 do not. Of the reported assaults, most were committed by someone the victim knew. So the question arises of course if these women know and are therefore able to identify their rapist, why don’t they report them? The answer to this question lies in the culture of silence perpetrated and cultivated by Black women for generations. Black women are raised with the mentality that they must protect and are engrained with the Strong Black Woman stereotype from a young age. Being a Strong Black Woman means that you push through, that you pick up the slack of the Black community and are in a sense it’s backbone, and that there’s no time nor room for emotions or vulnerability. There’s a saying in our community that rings true in dark ways, ‘Black women raise their daughters, and love their sons’.

That isn’t to say that Black men glide through their lives with ease and privilege, in fact, the exact opposite is true. What it does mean, however, is that Black women are taught to shield Black men in ways that are not only destructive to Black men themselves but also contribute to the ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ mindset that Black people have used as a rule for keeping their issues within the community for generations. When Black men set off a bomb, Black women are taught to immediately jump in front of everyone and protect the community, if not always themselves, from destruction.

That mindset shows itself, even more, when Black women are sexually assaulted. The rape culture in the Black community rears its ugly head in the form of the responses of members of the community that a victim feels safe talking to. Whether that be family, a friend of the family, a pastor etc. Often times victims are met with remarks that blame them for their assault in the form of phrases like ‘you were being too grown’, or ‘you knew what you were doing dressed like that’. If not told that it was their fault that they were attacked like implied by the aforementioned examples, victims can also be met with outright disbelief. Black people for some reason seem to recoil at the idea that men they just ‘knew’ to be upstanding in the community are in fact, rampant predators. This proves itself true in the case of Mike Tyson. In the early to mid-1990’s, Mike Tyson was convicted of raping beauty pageant contestant, Desiree Washington. And in response, the largest Black religious rally welcomed him home in Harlem when he was released from his 3-year prison sentence. Black churches and men’s shelters came together in advocacy when they claimed Tyson had to a second chance as a brother, as a member of the Black community. In their minds, Tyson was the hero underdog in need of a warm welcome and a blank slate. I wonder if Desiree Washington shared the sentiment if any Black woman who’d experienced assault at the hands of a Black man did.

If Mike Tyson is the brother of the Black community, as stated by one of the reverends who organized his rally, then Bill Cosby is the father. Bill Cosby created a cartoon called Fat Albert, hosted a show called Kids Say The Darndest Things, and produced A Different World, the spinoff of is most famous work: The Cosby Show. The Cosby Show is an 8 season long sitcom that ran on NBC in the 1980’s, a time period where most of the portrayals of Black people on TV were extremely negative. The Cosby Show changed that, it provided America with a different way of looking at the Black nuclear family, a positive way. Cosby played Heathcliff Huxtable, a caring father and successful physician whose loving demeanor led Bill to later be known and remembered fondly as ‘America’s TV Father’. In April 2018, Bill Cosby now in his early 80’s was found guilty on 3 counts of aggravated indecent assault, and on September 25th, 2018, America’s TV Father was sentenced to 3 to 10 years of prison.

Many influential  Black celebrities including rapper Waka Flocka, actress, and show host Whoopi Goldberg, and actor and comedian Damon Wayans have been outspoken in their support of Cosby.  Keisha Knight Pulliam, who played the youngest daughter on The Cosby Show walked Bill into court. The same way many Black churches gathered to rally in support of Mike Tyson, the same way many members of the Black community shame their daughters for dressing ‘too grown’ and causing their own assault. But no amount of support, no rally, no handheld walk into a courtroom, could change the fact that Bill Cosby is a convicted sex offender. No amount of denial can change the fact that the father of the Black community was sent to prison in handcuffs at 81 years old.

Bill Cosby’s arrest and sentencing have changed everything. The door of the Black community has been kicked down and the dirty laundry that we’ve hidden under the beds of our Strong Black Daughters has been tossed into the front lawn exposed for the world to see, and for us to face. Bill Cosby being convicted of sexual assault as an 81-year-old man, and respected member of the Black community gives hope to the Black women who’ve been denied justice because their abuser is a ‘good man’, because they were ‘being too grown’ and in turn asking for it, because Black women’s first duty is to the protection of Black men and in turn the sacrifice of their own security. It tells Black women that we hear them and that it’s never too late to grant them peace.

Oreo: A Damaging Title

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What does it mean to be white in a white world? Well, that’s easy, it means privilege in every aspect. What does it mean to be black in a white world? It means being set up to fail from the day you took your first breath. What does it mean to be an “oreo” in this world? It means never fully fitting into the black or white around you. It means to always be caught between two worlds that will never fully accept you. It means finding a way to accept your truth.

When you think of an Oreo, what do you see? The crunchy chocolate outside covering?
The smooth white creamy sweetness inside? Yeah well, that’s great, except I’m not
talking about that kind of oreo. For those of you reading this who lack the experience or knowledge of the word oreo, a definition shall we:

Oreo: Black on the outside, white on the inside.

Most who are commonly called an ‘Oreo” have the basic features of an educated
person, except for one thing, they are black. People who have dark skin but don’t speak
with a ‘twang” and pronounce all of their syllables are somehow seen as missing a
piece of their blackness, as ‘Whitewashed’. These terms… THESE TERMS! Where did
they come from? I can tell you. They came from the stereotypes us as black people hold
such as less educated, less classy, less intelligent, ghetto etc. Because of this, you would think most would be able to understand how the word “Oreo” is offensive.

Beginning with the implication that in order to be black you must be “hood” and ending with the idea that only white people can be intelligent, well spoken, well educated, and if you are any of those things you must be in some way white. You would think people would be able to see how discriminatory the statement “Oreo” is, but no, they don’t. Instead, they say: “Oreo, is a good thing, I’m calling you smart, take it as a compliment. You speak white and get good grades” First, what is ‘speak white”? How can one speak a color? Second, why can’t I be black and smart, why must I be white in order to achieve what I want to achieve? These types of comments infuriate me on a daily basis, yet they aren’t even the worst.

When a fellow black person says this to me, it strikes a chord. I feel this sudden urge to give up on the human race as a whole. I not only have to defend my color and my race against the other races but now I have to fight for my blackness against other black people, within my own culture. They of all people should know better or at least feel pressured enough by the color of your skin to not label someone like me as such. Guess not! Do not get me wrong, I love being black, being me. I have a father from Africa, a mother who is a product of Detroit, born and raised, and both have completely different ideas of what it means to be black. My moms side of the family has the barbeques and reunions. My father has more of the ceremonial roles, always friendly but never too often. Both went through some very difficult times. My father grew up in just say Detroit.

They both instilled in me the importance of education and respectfulness. They
taught me how to speak, how to act, how to carry myself, how to be diligent, they take
the most pride of ingraining in me the concept of balance. “Semayah, you must be balanced, you must be able to walk in both crowds and be okay”. What they didn’t know, is having both sides inside of me would leave me out of both crowds. I’m in all honors classes, with all white kids, then come home and nod to Tupac with my mom. It seemed natural to me, that was my everyday life. It wasn’t until I got older and met the world that I realized it was quite unusual for a black kid to have both.

In the end, it’s a small matter in comparison to other problems we black teens see and
live through every day. We are failing, falling, dying, being stomped out, locked up and
prosecuted. I feel like those could be categorized as a little more urgent, but it was a
matter that was pressing my heart. So, what does it mean to be an “oreo” in this world? It means learning to fully accept who you are and your own truth, no matter what anyone else says.

Why Isn’t Anyone Addressing Transphobia In The Hip-Hop Community?

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Hip-hop music: as Black people, and Black teens specifically, we know it, we love it, and we are its main consumers. Hip-hop music is in some ways synonymous with the rich cultural history of the Black community and has evolved over the years to represent what it means to be Black in the modern era. But, hip-hop in all its wondrous, melodic beat, glory has fallen short in making all members of the Black community feel included. Specifically, Black people who identify as LGBTQ, and it’s been excluding us for years.

From Eminem’s song ‘Criminal’ on his 2000 ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ album in which he not only used two homophobic slurs but also professed his hate for gay people. To rapper Trick Trick-Trick expressing hatred for gay people and banning them from buying his 2008 album ‘The Villain’. Artists Snoop Dogg and Timbaland both received backlash for their remarks on the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. Snoop Dogg calling her a science project, and Timbaland saying he would deadname her.  At one point in January, rapper Nipsey Hussle posted a picture on Instagram with the caption saying that being gay was equivalent with negative stereotypes against Black men. The most recent development, however, was Cardi B posting a transphobic meme on her Facebook page.

Both Cardi and her husband Offset have been called out for using slurs against the LGBTQ community in the past. Cardi chose to play the ignorance card then, saying that she had no idea that the things she said were offensive, and even said she had trans friends who never explained it to her. As a trans person, I was not only offended and disappointed but a little curious as to why her own friends hadn’t corrected her. But the answer was clear. It was the same reason why any person from a marginalized community might not vocalize their discomfort in a casual situation: they didn’t feel safe doing so. That’s only my opinion of course, but as someone of multiple intersecting marginalized identities, I definitely think it’s a valid guess. Sometimes those identities can cause someone to rely on the old rhetoric of ‘choosing your battles’. When you’ve found someone that you genuinely enjoy being around, it’s hard to express that you’re uncomfortable with something problematic they may have said because it’s scary. The world isn’t always the safest place for queer people or anyone of an oppressed community we can barely feel safe casually walking the streets at night. But having someone in your circle do something offensive can make you feel even more isolated, and sometimes it’s just easier to choose companionship. So maybe Cardi B’s trans friends didn’t trust their friendship enough to feel safe telling her she was wrong. Or maybe they genuinely didn’t have a problem with her saying the things she did. What remains not up for speculation is the fact that when Cardi as a grown woman took their silence as a representation of the whole LGBTQ community and decided to do the things she did, it contributed to something bigger than her saying she didn’t know could fix.

Hip-hop runs so deeply through the veins of the Black community that it’s easy for queer kids who feel isolated from one identity to feel just as isolated from the other. Rappers and other hip-hop artists who say homophobic and transphobic things online casually or even who take rampant angry stands against the LGBTQ community are not only pushing us away from our own culture but also basically giving the world the okay to isolate and oppress us. Hip-hop was the highest consumed music genre last year and continues to climb as it gains more and more listeners, making it the most influential genre of music. The impact of hip-hop can even be seen outside of just music, it also has influenced fashion and pop culture with things like street style and slang words gaining in mainstream popularity.

What the hip-hop community doesn’t realize, however, is that most of their slang and influence are popularized by the LGBTQ community, more specifically the gay and trans communities that they’re ever so active in offending. Drag culture has been appropriated by straight people for decades, and drag was started by no other than queer Black people. So, for the hip-hop community to berate us even though we practically give them the slang and fashion that they use to stay so popular is more than hurtful, it’s them biting the hand that feeds them, it’s ungrateful. For popular rappers and hip-hop artists to publicly disrespect our community is also damaging to young Black queer children who not only feel separated from hip-hop and in turn their Blackness but also remain ignorant- along with a large percent of the Black community- of its queer roots.

On top of rappers popularizing that it’s cool to oppress the LGBTQ community, they also receive no punishment for doing so. Cardi B has received 90 awards and nominations for her music and continues to be recognized for it, which is wrong. It’s always been wrong for privileged people to remain in places of power and influence while benefiting off of the oppressed. We continue to call out white people for appropriating Black culture and benefiting from our maltreatment, so why should we do any different for our own people? Why should we allow for the consumption and appropriation of our Black queer culture under the reign of homophobia in the Black community? Why should anyone get to watch RuPaul, or use a gif of Rickey Thompson, or quote Angela Davis, or laugh at Wanda Sykes, when our mainstream culture is openly bigoted? When will allies step up and acknowledge that there’s a problem? When will we finally start calling out the hip-hop community instead of reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to laugh at our own people because being queer and Black are supposedly separate? It’s up to us to make the change, and that doesn’t mean it has to be all at once, but we can’t progress towards the future if we stand divided in our own house.