Essays

That Street Harassment Video – another look – first published on Tumbler

So let’s say the video wasn’t presented to mixed company. And let’s say the video wasn’t edited to purposely remove white men (and if it needs reminding since there are not just black and white people in this world, possible other POC men) hitting on this woman. And what if the woman wasn’t white but any woman of color or size?

And just as a random sidebar: let’s say the time of day isn’t what they imply or (viewers assume) that its broad daylight on a WORK day and brothers don’t have any other job but to harass white women. And let’s also consider that she didn’t actually walk for 10 damn hours…because who just walks for 10 hours? She didn’t look tired, hungry, or thirsty for all the effort it took to create this proof of the evil that black men do. Which would only reinforce what we already know; that the media lies with very specific agendas and sometimes even just for the fucking sake of it because propaganda is real in these streets.

Now that we got through all of the “what if” everything about this video, from the actual footage to the behind the scenes editing wasn’t all kinds of questionable, racist, bogus, inflammatory, prejudiced, stereotypical, etc. etc. etc. as it was presented.

When do we* address, atone and hold ourselves* accountable enough to promote change that protects our women (any woman) from this sort of menacing, obnoxious, disrespectful and entitled behavior.

Our women are waiting.

Our boys and our girls are in need of our adult “know better and do better” leadership by example.
When are we going to put as much emphasis and focus on challenging the misrepresentation of our men to address the fact that despite the trickery – We* were actually caught on digital behaving badly.

I’m (and from the looks of it so is most of social media) here for addressing the people behind the video’s fuckery but no more than I am here for addressing our bullshit ass treatment of women.

When does that begin or at least when does that get equal criticism, evaluation and call to action?

*Using “we, us and our” not because I or any brother I know personally disrespects woman in this manner but as a general and universal term — always being mindful that there is no “they” or “them” when it comes to US as a people.

Resting in the Power of Legacy

It was June 1990 that I, along with my mother, sister and hundreds of other people stood around the fountain and along the pavement of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, waiting to see a 71 year old man, beautifully tempered from the strain of revolution.

Mandela had just been released, February 11, 1990 after serving the last 18 years of his 27 year sentence imprisoned at Robben Island, which began its history of Dutch settlers imprisoning indigenous Africans in 1652.

The heat draped us all like warm hospital blankets as we waited with only faint chatter amongst the crowd to rush away the time. We envisioned him stepping out of his chauffeured vehicle prepared to grace us with his physical presence. Hours passed before the atmosphere changed from anxious waiting to charged anticipation.

Mandela was on his way. His convoy began to parade past us down Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in a procession of swirling red and blue lights and sirens. When the cars slowed, we chanted, roared, applauded and cried. Tears fell, feet stomped and Black Nationalist flags and power fists impelled the air.

A hand we believed to be Mandela’s waved at us from a small space in the tinted window but the motorcade never stopped. No face, no eyes, no touch or words from the living legend…just a hand. I was 14 at the time and was left disappointed and confused. However, Mandela’s “freedom” trumped those feelings, he saw us, knew that we stood with him, supported and trusted him as a leader amongst us who had survived all that was set up to break him and that would be good and close enough.

Three years later, in 1994, I met him in the flesh at the church I attended. There, I along with a small assembly of youth listened to him as he addressed us regarding our responsibilities as black girls and boys and the importance of education. We shook his hand or embraced him and took a group picture that I recently saw posted on a friend’s Instagram page.

December 4, 2013, Tata Madiba – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is dead at 95 years old, soon to be buried where he began.

The world celebrates the life of Mandela, the national media honors the South African “icon”, and thousands of people take to social networks to repost articles and pay their “R.I.P.” respects to South Africa’s first black president.

Insert *cough*, *blink*, *side-eye* and anything else that can express the sentiment of “not this time!”

Madiba was an active participant in the fight against white supremacy. A soldier on the frontlines of anti-apartheid movements, comrade and leader in both the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) and voice for a racially and economically oppressed people by a foreign system that sought to commit genocide on black Africans.

The tendency to white wash and choose our leaders is historical. How many of us know more than what the media has filtered to us?

What’s the problem?

What’s wrong with world’s media celebrating the life of Mandela?

Nothing, that is, if you are accepting of being told how and what to think.

As we celebrate Mandela’s legacy, let’s not forget that his name and efforts are synonymous with everything ugly in the world.

Remember, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising and if that’s too far in the past, the 2012 Marikana Massacre. Nelson Mandela lived through all of these as both a free and imprisoned man.

Remember, apartheid came to an official end in 1991, with the first democratic election in April 1994, when Mandela became the FIRST Black president in a land of Black people until 1999.

Remember, as a member of the ANC, which South Africa’s apartheid government labeled a terrorist organization, Mandela remained on the US terror watch list until 2008.

Remember, that today Mandela’s beloved South Africa remains fractured, economically and racially; with very little national media coverage.

It is categorically dangerous to allow others to interpret and glorify Mandela, in that, it dupes us into believing that we are incapable of rebelling with the same ferocity, powerless to stand up for injustices, defenseless in the fight against those who will power.

How do you keep the average man or woman from becoming as great or greater than other average men/women? Celebrate and construe them as not just an average man, with a dream, political or moral belief system or confrontational aversion to oppression, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

Mandela fought against colonial and racial oppression for the working class and the poor and his revolutionary sacrifices made him an enemy of the state and a political prisoner from 1962 to 1990. Where were the allies? Where was America? Where was the celebratory media? The people freed Mandela and the people (you, me, us) truly love and honor him as a revolutionary not as a pedestaled icon; yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I implore you to not just read and listen to the mainstream media’s perception and interpretation of Mandela, the below sites provide different perspectives:

www.nelsonmandela.org

THE PASSING OF CDE NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA

Nelson Mandela Day: Celebrating Madiba’s Revolutionary Legacy

Nelson Mandela was a member of our CC at the time of his arrest – SACP

Just as Mandela participated in the homage of Malcom X at the end of Spike Lee’s movie “X”. We owe it to Madiba to honor him through realizing our own greatness and abilities to stand firm and upright against our present day injustices.

We are all Nelson Mandela.

Let your homage, celebration and respect be personal and on your own terms from the knowledge of his struggle, fight, imprisonment and triumphs. Read him in his own words.

For those of us who participate in ancestral worship (not to be mistaken with god/God worship), to pour libations, speak the names, acknowledge, honor and respect legacy. We are now closer to the essence of Mandela than ever before.

Rest in Power Tata Madibe.

Amandla ngawethu! Power is ours!

Copyrighted 2013.


“Who Can You Be?” – written for HarlemS.E.A., an art collective

“I wonder what my life would have been without the darkness of oppression in my life,” words spoken by George D. Monroe, a survivor of the 1921 “Black Wall Street” race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

90 years later and we ain’t in Oklahoma no more. It’s 2011 in Harlem, NY – the faces look similar though our struggles have evolved with the times. Professionals, artists, politicians, students and educators – still here, in this city known for its brownness. In 1921, Harlem steamed with artistic culture and those who lived then still remain in the paperbacks crowding our bookshelves, melodies escaping our one and two bedroom walk-ups, and artwork competing for space on our walls. Tulsa, much like Harlem, was a world of its own, teeming with people determined to fly out of the shit intent to stagnate their forward movement.

Today, many people of color wonder what life could be without unequal opportunities, systemic poverty, inadequate educational platforms and unjust judicial system. Who could we be if…? The answer quite simply is, Giants! Our inheritance is colossal. The only “if” should be, if our people could create beauty out of darkness than, certainly, we – the beneficiaries of their labor – can ascend higher, almost a century later.

As I watched the Black Wall Street documentary and listened to Mr. Monroe’s assertion it roused me as if Dap in School Daze was shouting; “Wake up!” with just him and me in a room. I became angry with myself. Never have I had to lower my eyes in public, sit in the back of a bus, drink, piss or eat under a “colored-only sign.” Still a young man, these words aren’t written in expiration, plaintive about the barefaced acts of oppression that halted me from realizing anything I envision. The opportunity to live out our lives as Mr. Monroe could only dream of is now. Yet, we convince ourselves that it’s impossible to be great. That it’s impossible to fly.

Harlem S.E.A. wants to bring that creative culture back at a time when unemployment is high, when there are more brown folks in prison than were on plantations, when AIDS, crime and drugs is taking us out of the game one after another. Yes, in the midst of all of this Harlem, we still got us. We still have art, intellect, culture and the ability to change not only our life but the lives of others.

Who can you be? More important, what’s stopping you?

Copyrighted 2011.


The Wealth Within: The Past Will Set You Free – written for HarlemS.E.A.

What is poverty? Merriam Webster suggests, “The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions,” but poverty and how it’s defined within a community, family or as an individual is subjective at best.

Whenever poverty is discussed, the parallel subject is how it manifests itself within any given environment – crime, unemployment, addiction, public housing, illiteracy, homelessness, consumerism, etc. Such issues are a relatively new phenomenon. New as in, the epidemics that plague our community today has not made our history books because that generation of people who resorted to criminal means of survival are still alive and their legacy evident in the prison system, street corners and unemployment lines. What is rarely discussed is how poverty wasn’t always the propagation of everything wrong with urban areas but how it use to serve as a catalyst for art, music, entrepreneurship, networking and community building.

We’ve all heard, at some point in our lives an elder stating that, they didn’t know they were poor until someone told them. How did they not know they were poor? The answer is obvious yet subtle. In the past, the “Haves” lived obscurely from the “Have Not’s”, the lives of the wealthy only imaginable with access to media outlets. For most people, who did not have the luxury of adding an entertainment line in their budgets, wealth was as abstract an idea as equality.

What the elders were actually saying is where ever they turned there was a kinship of struggle and perseverance. There were villages of adults watching over and raising each other’s children, holding down one another and having each other’s back. It wasn’t the best of times but with each other it wasn’t the worst either. No one felt poor because wealth didn’t resemble money or material things. Wealth existed in friendship, spiritual beliefs, family, laughter, and children.

Fast forward several decades and separate and unequal is no longer America’s theme for the races but for economic status. Nearly 48 million Americans live in poverty and according to the Pew Research Center, Blacks and Latinos remain at the bottom of the economic ladder. Black families lost 53% and Latinos 66% of their wealth in 2009. So many Americans however, were already too deep in poverty to even recognize the recession taking over our political debates and media outlets.

Today, bring me an impoverished child who isn’t fully aware of his economic plight and I’d expect him to have a walking stick and be hearing impaired. The inundation of wealth has become our daily diet. It’s on our big and small screens, radio, in print, online – everywhere we look we are reminded of what “they” have and what “we” don’t. The image of wealth is as familiar to us now as our own reflection in the mirror.

To that point, Merriam Webster your definition is wrong! Yes, there’s a lack of money but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with having an ‘acceptable’ amount. Not having an amount to put food on the table (if you even have a table), pay rent in a decent living environment (if you even have shelter); get sustainable health care (if you even have insurance). For most people living in poverty, a socially acceptable amount of money is eleven on a top ten list – enough resources to stretch from day-to-day and month to month is far more important.

In 2011, the influx of reminders in our music, television and movies have replaced the vernacular from ‘back in the day’, when freedom and empowerment was the name of the game, “Black Power”, “People Power”, “Economic Power” and “Knowledge is Power” were the every day politicking of POC communities, in the streets of Harlem, D.C., Washington Heights, Detroit, Chicago, South Central, etc.

Now, the conversation in the average neighborhood, household and social media spaces is all about what Wu Tang said best in 1993, Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Don’t get stuck on the hip hop reference however, greed and consumerism reaches far beyond color lines and generational gaps.

Unfortunately, Wu Tang was right but the meaning was lost in translation – cash does rule everything around us and no one understands this better than the working, low-income and middle class, who at the beginning of the recession were coined as the “nouveau poor” because of their recent job losses, foreclosures, and new-found need for government assistance.

As I write this piece and consider what I want people to take away from it. I remember a story from my own childhood.

Growing up in a rural area on the Eastern Shore of MD my twin sister and I lived a life contrary to poverty or urbanism. Supported by my working parents, grandparents and great-grandmother, the latter we lived with from six months to seven-years-old, we lived a life full of childhood amenities. A fenced in yard, with a swing and slide set and two of every thing – tricycles, sit and spin, inch worms and a house full of toys. Four acres of land sat just beyond our closed in play land brimming with fruits and vegetables and a chicken coop provided eggs and meat on a daily basis.

Our days were filled with the constant companionship of neighborhood children generously enjoying the carefree world our yard offered. At dusk, we parted ways all of us retreating to our modest homes, some more modest than others. At some point, it became clear that while my sister and I shared all of our toys, it wasn’t mutual.

“Is this the only toy you have?” I asked a friend as she played with her dirty, off-tuned Jack-in-the-box. I never saw her play with anything else. Before I asked her this she was humming along with the melody and no doubt pretending that it wasn’t just a jack-in-the-box but some newer, improved toy that only her imagination could conjure.

Instead of an answer she slapped me across the face. That slap not only left me with a stung jaw, but an unexplainable shame that I have yet to entirely release. Years later, I realized my infraction. That question, born out of naivety was her reminder of what she didn’t have.

This personal example, speaks to the broader issues of marginalized people who internalize rage. One of the largest enemies of our culture is self-hate and self-destruction. Our disillusion with society is often displaced on those with no fault in the structures of poverty that’s got us so pissed off in the first place. Poor people victimizing other poor people is simply the latest form of divide and conquer. When will this change?

Collectively, we must recognize poverty and economic disempowerment as a formidable act of oppression. The sooner this is understood, the quicker our instincts will call us to action, rage will replace victimization and movement will replace complicity.

Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Campaign for Poor People declared, “It is my hope that powerful poor people will really mean, having the ability and the aggressiveness to make the power structure of this nation say yes when they may be desirous at saying no.”

Poverty is not of our own creation nor is it a necessary struggle. Public housing was constructed to subjugate and concentrate poor people. Unequal education was constructed and sustained to justify the working poor.

Get it?

Poverty begets impoverished states of mind and being. When do we say enough is enough? When do we take action against those who created our historical structures of poverty? More importantly, when do we, once again become our own source of sustainability and economic empowerment?

The list of what we need as People of Color has been written and rewritten by people other than us since we were either brought here against our will or migrated from our respective corners of the earth. The standard wish list reads – higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, etc. That would be nice and is indisputably needed. However, we could learn a lot from our older generations who didn’t wait around for others to decide when and how we should receive our just deserve.

It’s already been done, here in Harlem, Jersey City, Tulsa, Chicago and hundreds of other cities where brown people make-up the majority of the landscape. It was our culture and traditions that sustained us. Right now, some of the hottest designs are being drawn and sewn in a one bedroom in Jackson Heights, the best food being cooked in a small kitchen in Jamaica, Queens and the greatest visual artist’s work sits in a studio in the Lower East Side.

Back then we didn’t wait on a two-year list for an apprenticeship we learned from our Uncles and Aunts how to create, build and fix things. We worked in our own family businesses and employed our neighbor’s friend’s cousin. We fundraised and supported each other’s children to go to college. We produced and collaborated together.

WE.

Our inspiration to become better and have more came from watching ourselves shine despite our struggles. All we ever needed, then and now, is each other. Let’s rewrite our own future by taking what makes us great from the blueprint of our past.

Copyrighted 2011.


I am Not a Writer

I am not a writer. I have tried. I have failed. Failed to keep my commitment to the craft, only answering the call when a deadline arises which isn’t often because I am not a writer. I say I’m a writer – it’s even on my business card but in truth there is only a storefront with bullshit inside. I first got the notion that I could call myself a writer in the 7th grade. I had written a poem about drugs and crime using my adolescent naivety as a voice of change. It received the attention of my teachers and principal who told me that I was a great writer and powerful speaker because I read it out loud with such pride and adamancy. It was the start of a dream that I could change the world with words.

A few months later, self-confidence persuaded me to write a short story about a white girl in a black neighborhood inspired by my “best” friend at the time who just so happened to be a white girl in a black neighborhood. Creative, I know. The d in the “THE EN” wasn’t a second on the page before I enlisted the praise of my mother. I watched her eyes as they scanned every letter that incepted a word that conceived a sentence and birthed inadequate punctuation marks. I’m sure she saw my heart in my eyes and the pride that held its breath waiting on her but she was never one for sentiment, “You want to be white?” My face felt swollen as if beaten, I looked at my handwritten words on the paper and back at her, my smile turned into a defensive “No!” The story was about love and acceptance, I remember because I too wanted that. Not to trade the color of my skin. I could say at that moment my dream deferred but I can’t really pinpoint it to be honest. It was however the first time I realized that not everyone will like what you write and criticism effectively hurts.

My great-grandmother was a writer, in fact, she quoted some of her poems to my sister and I to prove this point… she quoted a line about “time and a schoolhouse” or was it a “clock and being on time for the school bell.” I can’t recall, but there is a rumored book of poetry she wrote fading somewhere in a small town library in Maryland. Intentionally speaking, I’d love to get lost in it – but it’s lost – and we lost her five years ago – so it’s lost forever. I’d love to sleep with it beside my bed so that I can dream of her and me writing across from one another, sneaking glances of cleverness as we fill pages upon pages with double meanings and irony. Words would float around us as we allowed our hearts to bleed in black ink, gray lead or times new roman font – as writers we would have that choice. If I held possession of her book I would carry it close to my heart like a badge that proclaims – writing is in my DNA. Sadly, that will never happen and this perhaps is reason 1909 of why I am not a writer.

Our fourth generation matriarch or Mama Lena as we affectionately called her, would caution, “If you don’t want something found out, don’t write it down.” She meant it for my sister who had a terrible time keeping me out of her diary that she so freely told her secrets too. It was I who took it to heart though. For years I struggled to writhe loose of her warning and it inadvertently caused me to never have a sense of freedom when I write. I live in constant distress of the familiar numbness my mother’s reaction gave me years earlier when she rejected and misinterpreted my words. Watching my mother’s back as she left me standing there with my crumpled leaf note papers, the pencil marks weakening from my tears, I simply felt irreparably broken.

Still…to this day…my writing process is sanctioned and guarded, enslaved, and carefully contrived each stroke of the pen or keyboard enforces the fact that I’m no writer. Backspacing and deleting a hundred times wondering if I should go there, demystify, tell the truth – speak from my heart. I have countless unfinished thoughts filling up my memory. There is a sense of deception whenever I utter those four words, “I am a writer.” In truth I gave up the idea of writing a long time ago not wanting to  hurt, confront, or worse – believe that I am a writer when I’m not, because writers, I’ve discovered write their best when they are free.

I am not a writer

I am not free.

I’ve read Freedom is needed

That just ain’t me

Bound mind

Heart on ice

Which decision?

When do I decide?

Die a writer

Live dreaming I’m one

Copyrighted 2012.

(c) Talib Jasir                                 All rights reserved.                                2015

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Essays

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both
    equally educative and entertaining, and without
    a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem
    is something too few men and women are speaking intelligently about.
    I’m very happy I came across this in my hunt for something relating to this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s