Finding peace, pulling pieces and seeking justice

A lot happened  in the past few days.  My goddaughter was dedicated to God. My baby bro is Dunk Master Flex. I have about five new freckles on my face.

Ok, in all seriousness, my previous post “Putting the BIG in bigotry” garnered more views than anything else on my blog.  It also nearly sent my poor Blackberry into cardiac arrest with all the notifications. I was definitely getting the red light special all through the night. 

The post went viral, especially for an indie blog created a few months ago, with the support of hundreds of people on Facebook and Twitter, through email and search engines. For additional eyes on the thoughts and words that I labor over, I am eternally grateful.

The experience highlighted commonality in people of various backgrounds and with diverse life experiences.

Friends, associates and strangers from the Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University and northern Louisiana community expressed concerns about the need for sensitivity in our dealings with one another. We didn’t shy away from troubling issues of race, responsibility and equality.

The piece was shared in other regions, too, which solidified that staying up in the middle of the night and hammering out a counter-narrative was worth the following day’s exhaustion and post-response euphoria.

This was a teachable moment.

As such, Louisiana Tech responded with a statement addressing freedom of speech, prior review, and why they ultimately pulled the piece from editor-in-chief Rebecca Spence in the online edition of their publication, The Tech Talk.  http://www.thetechtalk.org/?p=5159

The largest issue is the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. Recently, voice analysis experts determined that screams heard at the crime scene could not have been from George Zimmerman.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-screams_n_1394224.html

Also, change.org’s petition for justice in Martin’s case is the largest petition in the site’s history.

http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

That’s pretty impressive considering that the site boasts more than 100,000 petitions. All of these events highlight the need for timely engagement from various constituents. The impact of an engaged audience and society cannot be undermined.

Putting the BIG in bigotry

A routine sufferer of insomnia and social media addiction, I perused my laptop and phone before stumbling across several online references to an op-ed from Louisiana Tech University’s newspaper, The Tech Talk.

Allow me to first say that I am unopposed to this publication. I do not harbor ill will toward Lousiana Tech as an institution or the multifaceted demographic it serves.

But, as a Grambling State University trained journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite, the city and university newspaper, my spirit was profoundly disturbed by the piece “Putting the Hood in Hoodie”, written by Tech’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Spence.

In the piece, Spence aligned Trayvon Martin’s choice of attire on a rainy Florida night with ownership of his untimely demise at the hands of self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman.

Spence made no mention of supremacy, persistent stereotypes or white privilege, a structure that survives on the oppression of the other, in this case, the black body occupied by Martin.

How else could a slim teenager, returning from a cornerstore be blamed for being observed, called a “f*cking coon” in a police call, shot and killed? What’s in a hooded sweatshirt?

A brown face.

She failed to acknowledge that anyone is entitled to shield him or herself from precipitation and walk freely, however the individual chooses to be dressed, and experience a safe trip.

Instead of addressing the shoot-first nature of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a victim blaming and particularly troubling narrative that was too reminiscent of journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments, was the premise of her article.

Rivera has since expressed remorse after his son told him that he went viral for the wrong reasons.

“Graffiti artists, rappers like 50 Cent, actors from the hood in movies and various gas station robbery videos have proven that hoodies are often associated with people who are up to no good,” Spence wrote.

Blondes are also presented as licentious and dim-witted. Should we assume that every flaxen haired maiden lacks cognition and plays hopscotch from bed to bed?

Should we assume that everyone in overalls who has a Southern drawl and sunburn is underexposed and incestuous? Do they live in trailers?

Southerners are familiar with race and subjugation in blatant ways that our counterparts from other regions often do not know.

As such, I was not surprised by the editorial decision to manipulate facts of this case and make the deceased victim the aggressor.

I was called the n-word by a white girl in the South. A white woman told her significant other to watch her purse when I was in a department store in the South. I have been pulled over for driving a big-body, old Cadillac in the South by white officers whose voices ratcheted up several octaves upon discovering that the brotha they hoped to pull over was, in fact, a sista.

While northern Louisiana, home to Louisiana Tech University and my alma mater, attracts minds from all over the world and different points on the ideological spectrum, the area is not noted as the apex of culture or a bastion of enlightenment.

As a result, Spence’s comments are troublesome, inflammatory and naive. But, again, hardly surprising.

As a journalist one must acknowledge not only the premise of an article, the very notion it supports, but also its headline, accompanying photos, and factual basis, or in this case lack thereof, in addition to the author’s voice.

Using the word “hood” as a pejorative term for marginalized communities and people is indicative of a lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

This article is also erroneous. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, underage, 100-pounds slimmer–THE VICTIM. He was approached by Zimmerman, who ultimately shot and killed him.

Zimmerman vacated his vehicle to approach Martin, a pedestrian, after a law enforcement official asked Zimmerman not to do so.

Martin deserved to live regardless of what he wore, and the fact that he was murdered cannot be negated by recent allegations of marijuana possession or suspension from school.

To draw such conclusions is in poor taste.

Spence presented an alternate ending for the slain teen.

“If Martin was not wearing a hoodie with the hood on, his life could have been spared. Hoodies with the hood on have a bad connotation, like it or not.”

If writers, who shape much of society’s dialogue and countless archetypes, do not widen their lenses, they will remain myopic, like it or not.

Note: This post was shared several hundred times on Twitter & Facebook, and garnered thousands of views. When I changed my url to iamfaithspeaks.com the likes/shares were lost in translation. WordPress = hater. Also, after this piece went indie-viral, Louisiana Tech pulled the editorial from its website.

Appreciating BET’s “Shoot First: The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin”

The oft-criticized network BET presented Shoot First: The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin Monday night.

The news special presented facts of the case, interviews with Martin’s parents, and a visual outline of the gated community Martin was visiting. It showed the direct route, a few hundred feet from the home he was visiting, that the teen would have likely trekked uneventfully had he not been gunned down by George Zimmerman.

This story is a tear-inducing reality infusion for all who profess post-racialism, and for all who believe that yesteryear is not happening right now.

One can only imagine the spiritual well the teen’s family must tap into to continue fighting legislation, biased media and obstructionists of justice.

During a particularly chilling segment in the BET special, Martin’s dad, Tracy, said that he lost his best friend. He said that he was supposed to be Trayvon’s protector, and that he was not on February 26, when his son was killed.

Trayvon’s mom, Sybrina, said that her family was “chosen” and that she has faith in God.

Although BET has been criticized through the years for everything from colorism to sexism and the inherent in-betweens, the timeliness, tactfulness and boldness of the special spoke to a desire to promote justice in this case.

Trayvon Martin was humanized in the special.

The human element is a point that New York Times Visual Op-Ed Columnist Charles Blow recently emphasized saying, “It is important to not let Trayvon the person be lost to Trayvon the symbol.”

While right wing diversionary tactics are being employed, some majority members are holding their breath waiting for all this race talk to die down again, and a family grappling with untold loss continues to pursue justice, it is beautiful to see people take a break from social media narcissism, reality tv sound bites and communicative fluff to include Trayvon, Sanford, Florida and hope in their daily interactions with others.

Victim-blamers are another story. I addressed them in a recent post for HBCU Digest.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/blog/opportunity-victim-blaming-and-the-murder-of-trayvon-martin/

Body bashing or banter– when culture and curves collide

To the chagrin of many black women in the cybersphere, the Huffington Post recently reported that black women tend to be heavier and have higher self-esteem than our white counterparts. This “finding” is hardly new, frequently reported, and remotely interesting when relayed to the public ad nauseam.

Black American communities are not the only groups that have celebrated fleshier physiques. In countries with severe developmental concerns, the ability to afford food and the subsequent accumulation of weight are perceived to be signs of wealth. India is noted among these.

Although America is a decidedly anti-fat nation in many ways, with much of its citizenry currently deemed overweight by BMI standards, it is not just a black thing.

Body image issues transcend nationality and race. They trump socioeconomic status, political identity, organizational affiliation, education level, and so on.

Recent research suggests a correlation between the development of eating disorders and one’s social environment. (Not difficult to predict, eh?) I have been celebrated in some majority settings for being on the slimmer end of healthy weight, while studying at a black university in Louisiana I was offered extra servings.

The issues are complex. There’s identity construction in spite of odds, which many communities of color have to do. There’s cultural perceptions of strength and how the trait is physically qualified. There’s media sensitivity and portrayals of communities of color—especially black people.

This post is not designed to demonize the media as solely created by, perpetuated by and suited for Middle American white audiences. Black people often participate in the stereotypical presentations of the black body.

If only I had a dollar for every “Ooh-ughn-ughn” heavyset sista (or man dressed as a sista) on television, I could buy an island unoccupied by body blues.

The media vacillates between telling profoundly honest stories about women who struggle with and/or overcome self-perception issues and sensationalizing cultural norms.

Admittedly, many women within black communities have unhealthy body weights. But, pounds are not always the biggest indicators of one’s quality of life.

All too often, weight-based stressors trump mental health, career fulfillment and familial relations. Sometimes it is easier to exploit weight because it shows. Other health issues, especially depression, are not so apparent.

I have befriended women across color and geographic lines who struggled with the three numbers (and in rare instances, two) beneath their feet on a scale.

I know women of different backgrounds who fall in different size categories, and bring different frames of reference to those categories. So we can’t paint entire groups as monoliths, but we can be sensitive to the effects of environmental influence on one’s ideas.

Plus, it’s getting hot in herrrre. As winter becomes a memory, Vitamin D levels increase, and all manners of sunnin’ and funnin’ become commonplace, spring often serves as a catalyst for less clothing and more scrutiny.

As award season piques the interest of various audiences, who and what people wear become as interesting as how they wear it. How are ensembles adorned? Which builds are (believed to be) most appropriate for certain outfits? What about spring breakers?

Although I have never been overweight, I understand the struggle and choice to work toward personifying who we want to be. I understand being at odds with myself (I have bangin’ collarbones and no cleavage.), but I now choose to dwell in a happier and more satisfied space.

As the United States and world continue to diversify it is my hope that our beauty perceptions are remixed, too. May the people accept difference, and attain what they seek. Here’s to the pursuit of body peace.