#AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh

My stomach turned when he violently slammed her desk backward. I could feel my heart rate slow nearly to a stop as he dragged her five feet across the grimy linoleum of the classroom floor. She was young, female, and black. He was older, male, and white. At issue was teenage insouciance. She wouldn’t give up her damn cell phone.

I avoided watching that video for a week. I didn’t want to read the hashtags on Twitter. I didn’t want that weary, impotent rage to blanket my mind once again. I simply wished it wasn’t real.

Why is it that mild rebellion becomes a kindling for violence when it features a black cast? What element comes into play that transforms routine encounters between law enforcement and commoners into theaters for racial animus? What made this particular 16-year-old such a looming threat?

These are the facts: A black female student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina was glued to her cellphone during class time. After refusing to heed the demands of both her teacher and an administrator to leave the class, a School Resource Officer was called in. The officer, Ben Fields, is seen on cellphone video immediately escalating the situation.

After the student refuses to comply with Officer Fields’ demand to follow him out of the classroom, the video clearly captures him grabbing her by the neck, slamming her backwards while she is still seated at her desk, and finally dragging her to the front of the room. Her fellow classmates are shown taking pains to stare at their desks in an effort to avoid witnessing the brutal scene.

Following the incident, the student was released to her parents. Although some students argued in defense of Fields, his brutal tactics led to his termination. Officer Fields has faced lawsuits for excessive force and violation of civil rights. One suit was largely dismissed in 2007. A second suit, filed by a former student at Spring Valley High, will be heard in January 2016.

As I’ve written before, the presence of video thrusts the public into the heart of the assault. The existence of the video shot by the student’s classmate obviates the public’s reflexive need to pretend the officer couldn’t have possibly been that brutal. The dispassionate oculus of a zoom lens is a necessary tool in the fight to expose the heady reality of race and policing in American classrooms.

In widening the scope of the analysis, it becomes easier to understand how punitive educational policies strangle the potential of black students to fully engage in and benefit from school. The ability to test the boundaries of acceptable behavior has become a privilege reserved for white kids merely deemed to be going through a “phase”.

At the heart of this brutal incident is the introduction of school policies that effectively criminalize students for bad behavior. Resultantly, unacceptable behavior is met with criminal liability instead of course correction and empathetic guidance. The pivot toward early criminalization of students is exemplified in South Carolina by the Disturbing Schools Law. This 1962 statute makes it unlawful “for any person willfully or unnecessarily to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college…” Conviction leads to a misdemeanor charge and a fine.

This disturbingly vague law opens innumerable pathways to the criminalization of a significant portion of the 59% of black students served by the school district encompassing Spring Valley High. Indeed, recent studies conducted by the Department of Education bear this out. The data is clear. Black students are 3 times more likely than their white peers to be subject to disciplinary action that separates them from a learning environment. Add to that the introduction of police officers in schools, and the inevitable result is a punitive atmosphere in which disadvantaged students face early forays into the penal system for petty rebellions.

Officer Fields has been fired. Both the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are investigating the assault. Unfortunately, the individual fate of Officer Fields will have a net zero impact on the multitudes of black children navigating an educational system that is not built for their success.

She was young, female, and black. Why did she have to be that?

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Hillary Clinton vs. Black Lives Matter

Just watched this two-part video of a backstage meeting between 2016 Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton, and several activists from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

I actually garnered a lot more respect for Clinton after seeing this exchange. Her focus on relentlessly tackling policy changes was spot on. Obviously, her family’s complicity in promoting race-based mass incarceration is noxious, and her current bid for the presidency is troubling.

I respect the #BlackLivesMatter movement and believe that their existence is critical to spurring the sort of “national conversations” that the corporate media always insists we need. However, we can recite stats about prison populations, the vestiges of slavery, a lack of adequate education and housing, institutionalized racism, micro-aggressions, and anti-black police violence all day long (and those conversations will never stop). The movement is hyper-intellectual, which is critical to its current success and national legitimacy. We know our shit. It’s not simply a swarm of black people running around incoherently yelling about “the man”.

But, what I’m ready to see is a platform. A draft bill. A candidate. A policy roundtable. A white paper. Something more tangible that catalyzes forward movement on the legislative side.

We have the intellectual butter. We need the policy guns.

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Reading is Fundamental: Vol 2

BLM Girlsjpg

Photo/Laura Ming Wong

The New Yorker visits the murderer Darren Wilson in a piece succinctly named: The Cop. Fine work, whether or not you agree with the writer’s conclusions and inferences.

The tension between white libs and the supporters of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been evident almost since the sheet was laid over Mike Brown. Imani Gandy looks to history and finds some parallels in her excellent article, MLK and the White Progressive.

On a related note, the NY Times continues to make pains to demonstrate how “down” they are with a video of some prominent activists of Black Twitter.

Have you seen the Charleston Syllabus?! Amazing. Love the notion of crowdsourced knowledge in the digital age.

Nipsey Hussle is a mysoginistic piece of shit. Read about his hateful, anti-black women comments here. This fiasco is exactly why I identify as a black feminist, and not simply a feminist.

I finally picked up Ta-Nehisi Coates new work, Between The World and Me. I’ve read a few reviews that took issue with his portrayal of women. Which, I think is healthy. We should always challenge our public intellectuals to face their own bias.

Also, there’s this:

ISIS and the Theology of Rape by the New York Times. Made me absolutely sick. Religion, violence, and sex combine into a hellish vortex. Sexual slavery. Prayer and ablutions between rape sessions. Horrifying.

Finally, Big Brother just sold you a new iPhone 6. The New York Times published a disturbing  investigative piece on AT&T’s collaboration with the NSA. At what price, safety? It’s a question we need to relentlessly confront.

Follow me on twitter! @thepolicyfade

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Reading is Fundamental: Vol. 1

Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah is the March pick for The Atlantic’s Twitter book club, #1book140. I picked it up from Skylight Books yesterday, and my highlighter game is already strong! Abunimah is a co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a digital clearinghouse for news, information, analysis, and activism focusing on the issue of Palestine. I’ll be biting off large chunks of his work daily to prepare myself for the discussion. In the spirit of Abunimah’s work, the inaugural post of this new series focuses on Israel and Palestine. The Israelis go to the polls today, in another bid to reaffirm its identity as a Jewish, “democratic” state. Haaretz ran an interesting opinion piece by Amira Hass that places today’s election in the context of the millions of disenfranchised Palestinians that will remain silenced. The New York Times covered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last ditch appeal to the far-right by declaring Palestinian statehood would be verboten during a fourth term. Bibi’s declaration is stunning only in the sense that his earlier attempts to block real reform were veiled in talk of a difficult “peace process”. I’m quite sure the American response to Netanyahu’s stance will be canned criticism followed by absolutely no substantial change in the status quo ante. The Atlantic published a quick primer on the Israeli elections for those of us that demand a little more context with our news. Finally, Foreign Policy ran a piece that really weakens the “terror network” narrative often deployed when discussing violence in Gaza and the West Bank. According to the magazine, “lone wolf attacks” have risen in the wake of the failures of recent peace negotiations. Individuals are carrying out violent attacks in a bid to exorcise the raging despair of life under occupation. Violence as a form of resistance can be debated. However, what’s unassailable is the fact that the hyper-aggressive, militaristic, ethnocentric Israeli misadventure will never lead to anything approaching peaceful.

The Struggle Continues.

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Will Someone Please Think of the White Women?! Or, why Patricia Arquette is a tone-deaf bitch.

Arquette Oscars Speech

Patricia Arquette accepts the award for Best Supporting Actress
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty

During her acceptance speech at the Oscars last Sunday, actress Patricia Arquette made an attempt to rally white feminists by calling for equal pay. On the surface, Arquette’s standard issue rallying cry was the sort of policy-lite that could be hashtagged and memed for days. However, things went south backstage when she was asked to elaborate her onstage comments. In a breathtakingly ignorant move, Arquette asserted that white women had done their part in agitating for the civil rights of “everybody else” (read: blacks and gays)—and now it’s their turn. Her response betrayed a fundamental flaw in mainstream, American feminism—the repeated failure to acknowledge the socioeconomic ramifications of intersectionality. In other words, the movement’s failure to recognize that one can be both a feminist and a poc and even, by god, LGBT. She offered the following wisdom behind the curtain:

“And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now”.

 

In her self-righteous bid to briefly don the “activist cape”, Arquette denied the ongoing struggle of people of color and LGBT citizens. Her reflexive universalization of the experiences of leisure-class white women revealed an unsophisticated understanding of the fight for equality. The actress’s failure to recognize the interplay of race, class, and gender mirrors broader issues within feminist movement.

Black feminists in the academy long ago recognized the immutable reality of intersectional identities. Pioneering work by Kimberle Crenshaw (who coined the term intersectionality) and bell hooks, among many others, attacks the notion that one has to be either a feminist or a woc. Most feminists of color recognize that systems of oppression do not operate in isolation, and thus reject the dictate that the struggle for minority rights is a separate and competing agenda.

Unfortunately, the popular imagination still clings to the framework first put forth by Betty Friedan. This is a framework centered on middle-class, college educated white women. Today, the daughters of Friedan’s peers want to lean in and be compensated appropriately for it. Essentially, these women want to compete on the battlefield of capitalism and achieve financial parity with their white, male counterparts.

Arquette’s appeal conveniently ignored the fact that black women and Latinas routinely earn less, dollar for dollar, than their white peers. An analysis of Census data conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that while white women earn 78% of the earnings of their white male counterparts, black women only earn 64%, and Hispanic women make even less at 53%. A quick look at the numbers muddles Arquette’s simplistic argument for fair pay.

The data collected by AAUW shows that race has an almost decisive impact on the lifetime earnings of women of color when compared to those of white women. Furthermore, deeper analysis of the numbers demonstrates that higher education amongst women of color does little to mitigate the persistence of the pay gap. Arquette’s use of a heteronormative, white, male-vs-female dualist framework to attack gender-based pay discrepancies erases the unique challenges faced by women with intersecting identities.

Ultimately, rather than taking a moment to seriously question an economic system that is highly stratified and marked by crippling inequality, the actress instead chose to unconsciously endorse a mode of production that must necessarily keep a significant percentage of the population on the bottom rungs. Instead of insisting on parity in a grossly unfair system, Arquette would have been better served to call for the structural changes that would make such concerns largely null and void. Perhaps next time Patty, you can struggle for women across the race-class-sexuality spectrum.

Actually…don’t bother. Intersectional feminists can agitate just fine for our damn selves.

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