De Ana Jones

About De Ana Jones

De Ana (contributing columnist) is a writer and podcaster based in Southern California.

After Baltimore: In defense of riots

Since last August, the list of the names of Black people who have been murdered by the cops has multiplied. It’s said that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by the police. It’s also said that in 2015 alone over 300 people, mostly Black, have been murdered by the police – and we’re not even a full 6 months into the year.

Many would say that this information seems incorrect. They imagine that there couldn’t possibly be that many people killed within a year by the Police, who are supposed to protect and serve the rest of us who aren’t in uniform. I would call those people naive. But since there isn’t a formal record of just how many people are killed by the police each year, there’s no evidence to present to non-Black people to illustrate the distrust and fear many of us have of law enforcement.

Unfortunately, because we live in a society that doesn’t believe the lived experiences of Black people, that lack of physical evidence allows most to ignore or remain completely oblivious to something that has been going for generations.

Over the past year, there was a fleeting hope that if people could see the harm we went through, there would be a greater push to stop these extrajudicial murders. There were many campaigns to require law enforcement all over to wear body cameras to record their interactions with people.

Even without this, more and more civilians have been quick to pull out their camera phones to record and upload onto the internet violent interactions between themselves or others and the police. Almost weekly there have been videos of one victim after another being shot, suffocated, or otherwise killed.

Instead of having its intended effect of forcing people to see and empathize with the victims, it seems to have rapidly desensitized people to the sight of Black people dying.

This has been happening for generations. By the time most Black children are in their pre-teens they’re already taught by their parents – or trained by interaction – on how to behave around the police to lower their chances of being beaten, sexually abused, or killed. However, this self-preserving, precautionary relationship Black people have toward the police is largely ignored by White people. They would rather assume that some bad behavior in a Black person’s past is what caused them to be harassed by officers.

There’s a breaking point. After years, decades, generations of abuse, there comes a point where people cannot take it anymore. All that negativity cannot be bottled up forever, all of that abuse cannot be received without boiling over.
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Film the Police

When Mike Brown was murdered on August 9th, 2014, something that the US has been trying to hide for decades erupted. In the town of Ferguson MO, years and years of living under oppressive circumstances was brought to a head in the months after the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old teenager who was walking with his friends. There were what seemed like endless and dangerous marches, where protesters bravely stared down armored vehicles and assault rifles, armed with nothing but signs imploring anyone who could read them to recognize the humanity of Black people. All across the country Black people, as well as other People of Color, began to speak louder to get their message across. Despite efforts, it seems as if nothing is changing. In fact things are getting worse, as more and more are being added to the list of hashtagged names of victims of the police’s extrajudicial killings.

Last Saturday, in North Charleston, South Carolina, a Coast Guard veteran named Walter Scott was killed by a police officer who shot him eight times in the back, but claims to have “feared for his life” — a phrase commonly used in these killings. Someone nearby managed to get a video of the shooting, which shows the police officer not only shooting Walter Scott from a distance, but also apparently planting what people believe is the stun gun that the officer claims Mr. Scott had tried to take from him.

Walter L. Scott was killed on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.)

Walter L. Scott was killed on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard.)

Another video was also released this week of a shooting in Miami FL. In this video, the shooting of Lavell Hall is documented. The police state they shot for fear of Mr. Hall attacking them with a broomstick. In a disturbingly familiar turn of events, Hall’s mother had called the police in the first place because he was schizophrenic, and she was hoping they would take him to a mental health facility. In the video, there’s no broomstick seen, and Mr. Hall is running away from the police.

In a break from the normal course of events, after Walter Scott’s death — or at least after the subsequent release of the video of his murder — North Charleston’s police department has taken quick action, something that is rare in police-involved shootings where the officer is the shooter. After release of the video on Tuesday, Officer Michael Slager was arrested and charged with the murder of Mr. Scott. Whether or not he will be put in jail for the crime is another story, but it doesn’t seem as if Officer Slager will be able to get much help, as a crowdfunding attempt for him was already rejected by GoFundMe.

With more and more people willing and able to pull out cameras and record police brutality, you would think that would mean less frequent incidents of police brutality, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Many people during the Ferguson protests, as well as at other protests for victims like Eric Garner, had their phones confiscated from them during confrontations with the police. Eric Orta, the man who managed to get film of the police harassing and ultimately killing Eric Garner, was arrested shortly after the video was released. The police solution seems to be suppressing the exposure, not ending the problem.

Despite the efforts of so many people, it seems that these murders, arrests, trials and even news coverage of these events are only making baby steps towards progress. Many people, specifically people of color and especially Black people, are left to wonder when will it end. With every passing week and every added name to the long list of those unjustly killed by police, what exactly is needed to convince police departments across the country that there needs to be a sweeping change in the way they handle confrontations? Things like routine traffic stops, as occurred with Walter Scott and so many others, shouldn’t end in the death of unarmed people. Whether their hands are in the air, or they’re running for their life, a Black person’s mere presence shouldn’t be considered life-threatening to an officer with a gun.

More Than A Hairstyle: The Resurgence of Natural Hair

It’s hard for some to believe that something so simple as hair could be so political. It’s something we all have, and seems to be a topic more fit for fashion magazines than serious debate. However for Black people, the subject of hair can be a very sore topic. From tignons to hot combs to chemical straighteners, Black women have been at best enthusiastically “encouraged” and at worst lawfully obligated to alter or even hide their hair to be considered acceptable in society.

Recently, with the rise of YouTube videos and loads of resources on the internet, many Black women have decided to ditch the straighteners and go back to natural hairstyles. ‘Locs have made a comeback in a big way, but more Black women are increasingly enjoying their unbound hair, in the form of twist-outs, braid-outs, wash-and-go’s, and many other different styles. You can find tutorials on YouTube for specific styles, natural hair care blogs for maintenance, and ever ask for advice on Twitter about dying or temporarily straightening your ‘fro without doing the extensive damage that would happen before.

More and more Black celebrities are also showing off their natural hair to the world. Artists like Janelle Monae and Solange are known for their long coils and have no shame wearing them out in public for all to see.

Solange Knowles proudly sporting natural hair at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. (Credit: Georges Biard / Wikimedia)

Solange Knowles proudly sporting natural hair at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. (Credit: Georges Biard / Wikimedia)

Although more Black women are embracing their natural hair, there’s still a stigma about whether or not it is considered presentable or professional. In 2012, after responding to a racist comment about her wearing her natural hair on television, Rhonda Lee was fired from her job as a TV anchor. In 2013, a girl in Florida was told that she would have to cut her afro or be suspended from school. Last year, U.S. Army regulations that seemed to discriminate against natural Black hair types for female troops also earned a scathing Daily Show segment by Jessica Williams, before they were revised.

Most recently, the French magazine Public referred to Solange Knowles’s afro as “coiffée comme un dessous de bras” which translates into English as “hair done like armpit hair.” The article went viral on Twitter, and user @huegolden started the hashtag #TwitpicYourCheveuxCrepus encouraging people to post pictures of their natural hairstyles. Both English- and French-speaking Twitter users shared pictures of their hair, sending the message to the public that Black hair types are just as beautiful as any other hair type.

But it isn’t just Black hair styles that is the problem; the actual problem seems to be the bodies that the hairstyles are attached to. Earlier this year two starlets wore temporary “faux ‘loc” styles and got two very different responses to them. Kylie Jenner, one of the younger sisters of the Kardashian clan, revealed her temporary ‘locs on her Instagram page and was immediately lauded as a trendsetter for her “edgy” new look. A few weeks later at the Academy Awards, Zendaya, a young Black actress, was mocked for her decision to wear faux ‘locs to the show.

The idea that Black hair is unprofessional, unpresentable, or even dirty stems from racist stereotypes and a complete lack of understanding about Black hair. While you can go almost anywhere and find a salon that works with straight hair, salons that work with Black hair textures are almost impossible to find outside of Black neighborhoods, and salons that work with natural hair and not just straightened Black hair are even more niche. It’s that level of isolation that leaves most White people clueless about and prejudiced against the many different kinks and coils that make up Black hair.

It seems, though, that the tide is turning in favor of natural hair, as more and more women elect to wear their curls out, and more and more companies are coming out with products for non-chemically straightened Black hair.

School Desegregation and Its Effect On Black Neighborhoods

In 2012, in her book Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, Condoleezza Rice talked about what life was like for her growing up in Birmingham, Alabama before and during desegregation. In it, she paints a very different picture from what is usually presented when you look into the history books. Condoleezza paints the picture of her life before desegregation as a middle class dream — complete with ballet class, music lessons, and charm school. She talks about a tight-knit Black community that was determined to make sure their children were well educated and prepared for a world that would be hostile towards them.

What’s often glanced over in history books is that many Black people opposed desegregation of schools. While most people’s view of the pro-segregationist is that of the White people we see in pictures, holding signs that say “Keep N—–s Out Of [Insert School Here],” there were many Black neighborhoods that weren’t eager to send their children off to school somewhere else.

A major downside to school integration is that it meant many schools in Black neighborhoods would be shut down. It seemed as if the majority of children being forced to move from one school to another were the Black students. In Tulsa, Oklahoma more Black students were being sent to predominantly White schools than White students were being sent to predominantly Black schools. This led to Carver Middle School being shut down for a year. As recently as 1997, well-performing but predominantly Black schools like Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky were in danger of being shut down because they didn’t have enough White students — due to geographic location — for the school to be considered properly integrated.

The experience of segregation wasn’t exactly the same from state to state after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 and other laws desegregating public facilities, housing, private businesses, and more. In Los Angeles, California (as well as in many other Western and Northern states across the US) people of color — who were now free to live in any neighborhood they wanted — still preferred to live in neighborhoods largely populated by their own race, ethnicity or culture. Many Black people moved to the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, which, during the 60s and 70s, became the hub for African-Americans in the area.

This kind of segregation, known as de facto segregation, wasn’t illegal, but it meant that the schools in the Crenshaw district (and many others like it) had predominantly African-American students because the students living in those districts were predominantly African-American. It became the norm for school districts with this particular problem to employ busing as a means to desegregate these schools. Children in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles were bused out to the San Fernando Valley, at the time a majority-White area that was also a one hour bus trip each way for the children.

In 1981, the US Supreme Court halted the mandatory busing system stating that it was unconstitutional to enforce busing when the segregation in schools was unintentional — meaning it was based on where people chose to live, de facto segregation rather than de jure segregation.
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Beyond SAE: The bigger picture on college racism

“There will never be a n—-r at SAE!” That’s the chant recorded over the weekend that got the University of Oklahoma chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity shut down. In the video that went viral on social media, you see a group of White students on a bus chanting the song to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” They look excited and well practiced at an obviously racist song, as if it had been passed from member to member across generations. They look as if this behavior is normal for them.

Almost immediately after the video went viral, there was a response from both the University and the fraternity’s national president. The closure of the Oklahoma chapter of the frat was quick and everyone from school officials, fraternity officials and even the schools football team severed all ties possible with them. All claiming that the behavior of the members was unacceptable, and that this kind of racism wasn’t something they stood for. The National SAE Organization has permanently revoked the membership of the students involved in the video. The University has reported to have expelled a few of the members, and the SAE house has been shut down, so other members have to find their own housing without the help of the University.

But let’s not act like this is new. This isn’t a lone, isolated, or one-time occurrence on one college campus. This isn’t even the only time Sigma Alpha Epsilon specifically has had issues with racism. Back in 2011, SAE members at Cornell University in New York during a hazing killed George Desdunes, a 19 year old Haitian pledge, by forcing him to drink until he passed out and then neglecting to take him to the hospital. When charges were brought up against the students involved, the students were only charged with misdemeanor hazing.

While the punishment that the students at University of Oklahoma received was justified, it’s clear that this event was far from isolated. Because of social media and sites like Twitter, Vine and YouTube, these random acts of racism are being proven to be less random and more of a product of the institutionalized racism that is still a big problem in the US.

On Tuesday, March 10th a group called NJShutItDown initiated a Twitter conversation about the topic using the hashtag #NotJustSAE that focused on the experiences many People of Color had with Fraternities and Sororities at primarily White Institutions. In the hashtag, people shared personal experiences, as well as news stories about racist themed parties centered around holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King Day. At many of these parties, white students are dressed up in blackface and wearing dreadlock and afro wigs. In all of them, the students seem at ease with their racism.

The ease with which these students can don blackface, chant about lynchings and even murder other students isn’t isolated. It’s a problem, and it’s been a problem for a long time now. To these students, this behavior is thought of as just “college fun,” and before social media it was treated as kids being kids in isolated, disconnected incidents. It’s unacceptable, and while it’s good that University of Oklahoma took action immediately, more schools should follow their lead.

The Oscars and the Pitfalls of White Feminism

After the initial controversy about the lack of diversity in the nominations for the Academy Awards, you would think that the awards show and everything associated with it would have done a better job of keeping away from controversy. Yet it seems the opposite.

Despite their extensive advertising coverage featuring videos of Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington, and Viola Davis being their elegant selves at previous shows and rehearsal recordings — as if to say “Hey! We do have black friends!” — it seems that the show couldn’t help but make one misstep after another. The host, Neil Patrick Harris, opened the show with a very awkward attempt to make fun of just how White this year’s nominees were, and later on baited David Oyelowo into making yet another unnecessary joke about Quvenzhané Wallis’ name. Sean Penn also made an extremely racist joke about Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu that would not have been made about any European, British, or Canadian nominees.

Another terrible incident that happened was some of the comments made about one of the attendees. In an Oscars Pre-Show, Giuliana Rancic made comments about the faux dreadlocked hairstyle that actress Zendaya wore for the awards. In her comments about the actress (which was later revealed to be actively scripted) Giuliana stated that Zendaya’s dreads made her look like she smelled of “weed and patchouli.” Giuliana later apologized for her statements after Zendaya released a statement addressing the disparaging comments. This comes just weeks after several blog posts praising Kylie Jenner and her faux dreads as edgy and innovative.

Although the aforementioned incidents are ghastly themselves, another incident is equally offensive though it tried to hide itself in a positive speech. Patricia Arquette during her acceptance speech called for wage equality for women, a speech that excited many of the folks watching. Backstage, when she received the award and was asked by the press to elaborate, Arquette stated that “men who love women, gays and people of color that we’ve fought for need to fight for us now” (video). She didn’t explain who “us” were, but in her initial speech she was speaking about wage equality for women and in the press conference she seems to be listing the people outside of that group who she believes should be allies, so it’s not a huge leap to assume that in Ms. Arquette’s mind she was referring to White women.

Pictured: Patricia Arquette, file photo. (Credit: / Wikimedia)

Pictured: Patricia Arquette, file photo. (Credit: / Wikimedia)

I’ve written before about what does and does not get to be seen as Women’s or Feminist issues in society, and this is a new case of that classic problem. Wage equality for women is definitely a challenge, but to say that gays and people of color “need to fight” for wage equality ignores the fact that they’ve been doing it all along. Solidarity is important, but you add insult to injury when you ask people who are already working towards change to work harder. Calling for solidarity makes sense, but it’s insulting to demand solidarity from those already showing it and from those who are themselves part of the movement.

Moreover, Women of Color have always had a particularly strong disadvantage when it came to work and wages. Even today Black, Native American and Latina women make less money than even White women, earning $0.64, $0.59 and $0.54 respectively for every dollar a White man makes. In contrast, White women make a total of $0.78 per dollar a White man makes. While that still is unequal, it doesn’t make sense to turn around and tell those less fortunate to help you make it to the full dollar when you may or may not have helped them get only halfway there and seem to believe their struggle is complete.

It’s a shame. In the year 2015, Women of Color, especially Black women, are still not considered part of the movements that should include us. Our fashion and style is considered unique and interesting only when it’s not on our bodies, and our hard work is only used to help folks with more than us to get ahead while we suffer in the background. This shouldn’t be happening — not in media or in any other fields we get into. It’s a shame. It’s a travesty. And it needs to stop.

Black Wall Street: We did it by ourselves and were punished.

When Black people and other People of Color speak out about the lack of representation for them in any medium there is usually a lot of pushback. Replies range from pointing to the one example of non-White representation they can find, to the more extreme and exclusionary “If you want to be represented, make it yourself!” The latter is an interesting piece of advice, but it’s entirely too simple.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that Black people have for many years have been doing just that, only to then be punished for it. Throughout history, in instances where Black people in the U.S. tried to make their own place in society, they were met with extreme opposition.

In Memphis TN in 1889, because the success of his grocery store was taking Black customers away from the competing White-owned grocery across the street, Thomas Moss was lynched.

In 1923, the town of Rosewood FL, a primarily Black town, was destroyed after a rumor was spread that the town was housing an escaped Black prisoner. In both cases, and in many other instances of lynchings or any attack on Black communities, the Black victims were attacked because White people were uncomfortable with the idea of Black Success — or even Black Self-Esteem and Assuredness.

The bombing of Black Wall Street (otherwise known as the Tulsa Race Riot) is a textbook example of the results of this discomfort. In the early 1900s, the city of Tulsa began to grow at a rapid pace. By 1921, just after the first world war, the city was already going through its second oil boom.

The Black neighborhood of Greenwood, although not oil-rich, was prospering in its own right. Segregation meant that the Black residents could not patronize most place outside of the area, but they could own businesses, homes, and more in Greenwood. They did so, establishing good businesses by the hundreds. The neighborhood flourished and became a center of Black affluence, earning it the nickname “Black Wall Street.”

Then, predictably, in May 1921, there was a crime reported. A young White woman was assaulted, and the assailant was said to be a young Black man. The young man under suspicion was arrested and, shortly after the rumors of the events spread, a mob of angry and armed white men decided to take matters into their own hands. They were met by a counter-mob, of Black men, and then the confrontation escalated when shooting broke out.

By the next morning, on June 1, Greenwood had been burned almost to the ground, and up to 300 people were killed. Residents even reported that planes had gone over the neighborhood and dropped crude bombs on businesses and residential buildings. Troops were deployed to try to restore order, but it was too late. The destruction left many of the residents homeless and living in tents for almost a year.

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

There is a lot of speculation on what the actual motivation behind the attack was. Although it was initially stated that it was because of the alleged (and later dismissed) attack of the young White woman, there was already high racial tension before then. White residents’ membership in The Ku Klux Klan had grown rapidly in the few years before the attack, and many of the White people in the Tulsa neighborhoods just outside of Greenwood were poor.

Seeing the neighborhood just next door doing so well probably made the already existing tension even worse. The initial accusation of an assault on a White woman by a Black man was a common trope in, and racist excuse for, lynchings or attacks on Black neighborhoods that were doing well economically in the South.

Whatever the motives behind the attack were, this is still a horrendous moment in U.S. history. Although the neighborhood was able to eventually rebuild itself over the next five years, it still goes to show that even when Black people are able to build their own communities, there is still the threat of people on the outside destroying everything.

Maybe instead of the emphasis just being on Black people “making their own” there could be an equal emphasis placed on others not destroying what we do make.