This winter was, by far, the worst winter I can remember. It started early, it snowed a lot, and it lasted into May. This winter pushed me close to my tipping point. When I got in my car yesterday afternoon, rolled down the windows and opened up the sun roof in my car, the temperature read 78 degrees; I couldn’t help but reflect on how close I had actually come to the edge. It was during this reflection I realized how close we, as a people, are to the tipping point.
In The Wretched of the Earth, Franz Fanon says “[E]very generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it…” Never has this quote seemed more relevant. As I look around my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, and my world I am bombarded with the need for my generation to discover its mission. Everywhere I turn humanity is under attack. While this could be cause for trepidation I am uplifted by the passion of the countless people standing up and claiming their human rights to peace, love and justice. However, too many have, at best, acquiesced, and at worst colluded with the violence. Let me explain.
Earlier this year two young men were held accountable for raping a passed out female in Steubenville, Ohio. While many saw this as a step in the right direction (it wasn’t inconceivable that they would have been acquitted) it was accompanied by mainstream media’s over concern for the perpetrators while ignoring the victim and the effects of the rape on her. Shortly after, rapper Rick Ross caused uproar due to his misogynist, sexist, and violent lyrics promoting date rape. Many answered the voices calling for accountability, and it seemed to me that perhaps we could turn the corner; perhaps we had reached critical mass. This optimism was blunted a bit when in my city, Minneapolis, we had (the first of) our own rape culture controversy. A song was released titled “Ratchet Molly Party” which, for many, myself included, manifested the reality of rape culture. When women in the community via Real Life Athena called for accountability the response was one of elevated disrespect and violence. It was this response that caused me to reconsider my optimism. It seemed we were not as close to justice and equality as I thought. This was followed closely by the public sexual assault of Danny Brown at the Triple Rock nightclub. So many laughed about this, so many gave Danny props, he even bragged about not missing a bar. Yet, according to a member of his crew, he was not proud of it, and feels some kind of way about it. The reality remains he did not give consent, which means hundreds witnessed a sexual assault, and said nothing! Hundreds were thrown face to face with the perverted role of masculinity in this culture: the whole men can’t be raped; he liked it, and other braggadocios arguments and expectations. We have yet to wrestle, publically, with what this all means. There are only a few voices, in the not so metaphorical wilderness of rape culture, calling for a critical discussion of this reality, and they have all been virtually ignored. Ratchet Molly Party, Danny Brown, Rick Ross, nor the two teens in Steubenville created rape culture, and they should not be the sacrificial lambs. They are simply manifestations of the culture we have allowed. The good news is we can and are doing something about it. We must continue.
While rape culture certainly poses a great challenge to my generation it is not the only one; nor is it the only issue where I remain hopeful we approach a tipping point. Last year the country’s outrage was responsible for George Zimmerman finally being charged in the murder of Trayvon Martin. While we can certainly find solace in that we must remember Oscar Grant’s murderer only served two years, and Marissa Alexander remains in prison. Any sort of optimism must also be tempered with the events of the last couple weeks: Assata Shakur’s addition to the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list and Kierra Wilmot being expelled from school.
Assata is the first female to make the list. She is also one of two Americans listed. To understand Assatas inclusion it is necessary to understand the Black Panthers, the FBI, and COINTELPRO . The Black Panthers, while being called terrorists by J. Edgar Hoover, were actually anything but. They provided services such as schooling and breakfast to their community, far from terrorizing the community they provided stability. They were dedicated to justice and equality; so much so that they exercised their 2nd amendment rights (ironically, not supported by the NRA) to safeguard their efforts.They were true threats to the power structure in this country. The FBI proceeded to wage a war on the Panthers which included the murder of Fred Hampton. It is in this environment that Assata Shakur carried out her “terrorism,” which amounted to advocating for justice and not giving up her human rights. For these actions a 67 year old exile is being actively pursued by the United States government for, essentially, being a mirror upon which we dare not gaze. Amidst this fog of racial confusion the hands off Assata campaign sheds some light and offers the glimmer of hope.
Kierra Wilmot on the other hand is not a revolutionary; she is a high school student conducting a science experiment. When the experiment concluded she found herself being expelled and facing criminal charges. The school to prison pipeline in full effect! Not dissimilar to the 7 year old handcuffed in New York. Racial issues plague our school systems, for proof we need look no farther than the events in Minneapolis this last year: hanging of a black doll from a stairwell at Washburn High, a racially charged fight at South, and Hopkins High’s Ghetto Spirit Day.
Looking at the racial landscape leads to critical questions: What does it say that Mumia is still in prison? That we executed Troy Davis? It says the same thing about us that the “achievement” gap and school to prison pipeline, and the disproportionate foreclosures say. What does it mean that, with all things equal, if your name sounds ethnic (whatever that means) you are 50 percent less likely to get an interview? What does it mean that Newtown was worthy of national outcry but the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan and other countries across the global south, who are being bombed by drones consistently, or the children of inner-cities like Chicago are, largely, only worthy of our collective disdain with the violence chalked up to cultural pathologies. The answer: black and brown lives are not worthy.
These things: white supremacy and rape culture exist against the backdrop of an economic system that by definition is anti-equality. Together they serve to justify, or at the very least, veil some of the greatest atrocities committed globally: drone strikes, Guantanamo, 2.5 million people in prison, privatized health care. While voices such as Michelle Alexander’s are ringing loudly in the ears of hundreds of thousands of Americans, it is time to reach the tipping point. There will be pushback such as the new study that found whites believe they are now the victims of racial discrimination. There will be cases in the Supreme Court such as Fischer v. Texas, but all those things show me is that we are making progress and must not stop. The time has come for my generation to push us over the edge, to realize our mission. It is time for us, similar to this year’s summer, to put an end to the long winter of inequality and arrive.