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Hello Teen Resisters! Happy Black History Month! We've been working on this list to highlight what we should be thinking about and doing this Black History Month. Some of this list is written by our regular staff writers, plus a contribution from Maya Brady-Ngugi. The longer and more historical Part One is written by Tirzah Thomas. We hope this list is empowering and educational. We are deeply committed to the fight for racial justice and are proud to be a part of a generation that is passionate and seeking education.
There are many different proposed ways to fix to the undeniable institutional racism in this country, and while we can clearly say that there must be concrete solutions, we know that people in our community have a variety of views. We try to address that, and provide the best actions we can that we believe will aid in the fight against racism and white supremacy.
Celebrating Black history and fighting for racial justice goes far beyond February, and we urge non-Black readers in particular to continue to stay updated with our actions against racial injustice throughout the year. Please feel free to look at our Index by Issue page to see each list where we have covered institutional racism.
A note: In our last list, we covered the alleged attack on Jussie Smollett. Since then, more information has come out that points to claims that the attack was staged. It’s hard to tell what really happened right now, and you can certainly find information about it online. There is an ongoing process and investigation involving the FBI and the Chicago Police Dept., and the truth is not so clear at the moment. We apologize for any confusion our reporting may have caused. We do not regret our initial reaction of belief when someone told a seemingly credible and certainly feasible story of suffering. We also know that, if this attack did not really happen, it will not deter us from acknowledging and fighting against the numerous hate crimes that do happen, particularly to trans women of color. Thank you for your understanding.
Without further ado:
Part One: The Diaspora Doesn't Fall Short
written by Tirzah Thomas
To many in America, February is simply the second month of the year, significant only in that it has a short number of days and represents the beginning of the end of deep winter. But for me, February means more. February is a month that celebrates Black achievement, Black excellence, and Black history. February is Black History Month. What does Black History Month mean? To me, this month is when I not only recognize my history, but I push myself to recognize others’ Black history.
You see, this month is not called African-American History Month or Caribbean Descent History Month or even Afro-Latinx History Month. This month, we recognize all those histories and many more. We unite as Black people and we reflect on how far we have come and how much farther we need to go. As we examine our history, we also enable ourselves to create a blueprint for our future.
It is clear that African Americans have come a long way, but we have a long way to go in terms of fighting against racism and for equity in addition to equality (more on that later). African Americans descend from people who were originally kidnapped in Africa from the 1400s to the 1800s, put on unsanitary and often deadly ships, and sent to the Americas to be used for slave labor. This practice—commonly known as the transatlantic slave trade—continued for centuries, and slavery persisted in America long after the slave trade itself was discontinued. Slavery is what the United States was founded and built upon and with. Many enslaved people found ways to escape through the Underground Railroad, and many more could not find freedom. As all of this happened, a lot of these people lost their connection to African culture. Thus, African Americans started to create their own culture. That culture developed into the unique Black culture thrives today in the United States.
The Difference Between Equality and Equity (and why it matters)
Although slavery in its traditional form was abolished with the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865, the oppression of Blacks in the United States did not even come close to ceasing. Black people continue to suffer in America; white supremacy has prevented Black people from gaining political, social, and economic power and equality. But that has not stopped them. Instead, it has pushed them to fight harder, each battle bringing us closer and closer to finally establishing racial justice in this country. In 2019, according to law, it seems as though a Black person has essentially the same rights as any other American citizen.
Sounds great, right? Yes! It’s great! But it does not mean that we are done with fighting. Our fight no longer focuses its energy mostly on achieving equality, but rather on achieving equity. The difference between the two ideas is key—while equality happens when everyone is given the same resources and rights, equity happens when these resources and rights are given specifically and intentionally with the mission of getting everyone to the same level. This cartoon explains the difference well:
The equality/equity disparity is epitomized in what the modern racial justice movement fights for. Despite the fact that equal rights are usually written into law, there is so much racist history embedded in our nation—yet to be confronted—that these laws rarely bring Black people and white people to the same levels. Our supposedly fair governing code contains innumerable loopholes: a white cop can get away with killing a Black kid, Black people are put in jail for the same petty crimes that white people can walk away from, and implicit bias is used as a valid justification for the murder of a black person, to name just a few. What we need now is explicit legislation to combat those loopholes and achieve equity. We still have many battles to fight, and we will not stop until we get the equity that we deserve.
A Few Different Black Histories
While some slave ships were taken to the United States, some were taken to the Caribbean. In one instance, a man named Papa York, who lived in Ghana, was forced to move to Grenada as an enslaved person. There, he had children, who ultimately branched into a whole family line. They call themselves the Quashie people. Some Black people are able to trace their history and figure out where they came from, like in this example, which is a wonderful blessing. Those who can do so are able to get a sense of where and how their ancestors lived originally, something that many Black people are unable to do.
The French also brought ships full of Africans to the Caribbean in the 1600s and 1700s. Some of those Africans ended up on the island of St. Vincent. In St. Vincent, African people lived peacefully amongst the French settlers (despite having been taken away from their native land against their will), and as they intermingled with the French and the natives of St. Vincent, they created the new Garifuna community. The Garifuna community created its own language, comprised of languages from different parts of members’ identities.
In 1796, the British arrived on the island and exiled the Garifuna people. The Garifuna were never enslaved by the British, but they were shipped off to the Honduran bay island of Roatan. From there, Garifunas spread to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize, and Honduras. Eventually, the Spanish took over all of these countries except for Belize. This pushed the Garifunas to learn Spanish in order to communicate with the new people. The Spanish discriminated against the Garifunas because of their dark skin color and forced them to live in horrible conditions. Countless Garifunas overcame this oppression and continue to live in these countries today, but their culture is rapidly being forgotten. In each of the countries where Garifunas live, they continue to fight for recognition.
These are only a few examples of the Black history that resulted from the transatlantic slave trade—there is so much more to be covered. Not every Black person has the same history. Not all Black people face the same discrimination. Black people who also identify with other marginalized identities- queer, woman, a religious minority, etc.- face intertwined discriminations in their daily lives. We all have different experiences, but instead of dividing us, our differences push us to unite as one and fight for the same thing: equity in whatever country we live in, because there are Black people all around the world, and there is racism all around the world. As a race, we have come so far, and we continue to fight battle after battle; our resilience and perseverance highlight our strength and beauty. All across the globe, Black people were told that we should be ashamed of what we are. But as we look back to our history, we know that our Blackness is strong. Our Blackness is unique. Our Blackness is beautiful.
Part Two: Modern Racial Justice in the United States
What is Mass Incarceration?
The united states incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world, so while the US contains 5% of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. But the staggering statistics associated with present day mass incarceration in the US didn't arrive overnight. During the 1980s, while Reagan was in office, the prison population doubled from 329,000 to 627,000 due to the ‘war on drugs’ that Nixon started perpetuating in the ‘70s. The roots of mass incarceration, and the racism associated with it, can also be traced back to slavery and systemic white supremacy. African Americans are six times more likely to be sentenced to prison for the same crime as a White person.
There are 536,000 people in the United States who are detained before being tried. This is due to the fact that in most states, a cash bail must be paid in order to return home before your trial. Although its original purpose was to ensure individuals would show up to their trial, the effects of the bail system have disproportionately impacted low income individuals. Often times, individuals who can’t pay bail are arrested due to minor offenses (like petty theft or marijuana charges). In conjunction with individuals’ inability to pay bail, the for profit bail bond industry feeds off of their inability to pay. Instead of a family/individual paying a refundable sum of bail money to the courts, they could choose to pay a nonrefundable fraction of the money to a private bail bondsman in order for them to front the money. The rest of the bail bond would be paid back in installments, typically with high interests and with significant collateral, such as houses, at state. The bail bond industry makes about $2 billion annually.
For-profit prisons, run by private corporations, are yet another unjust part of the US system of Mass Incarceration. Although the corporations claim to be saving money for the state, it is unclear whether that is the case. Additionally, they create a dynamic in which incarcerating individuals is more profitable and therefore incentivizing mass incarceration. There are other aspects of the system that are deeply problematic, including horrible prison conditions and a justice system that often persecutes innocent people.
People have many different perspectives- even in our own TR community- on how to deal with this issue. Some feel that grasping the problem at the root requires abolition of prisons. Others feel that the system just needs to be reformed. And there are a variety of positions in between. We’re providing the realistic action you can take depending on what you feel is the best way to address this. While we can’t give you realistic small actions to take to fully abolish prisons, we highly recommend checking out Close Rikers, which is attempting to close Rikers Island, the highly abusive New York City prison. What we can all agree on is that it will take a lot of work to rid a system of its inequities when the system was built upon the backs of the oppressed using the most glaring example of inequality. But that work must be done.
As a multifaceted issue, there are many implementable solutions that address small parts of the much larger system. Below are a few:
Washington Post graphics showing racial disparity in marijuana arrests:
Nonviolent De-Escalation Tactics
guest written by Maya Brady-Ngugi
In altercations between law enforcement and citizens, nonviolent de-escalation tactics help to reduce the level of intensity and the risk of violence. Central to de-escalation tactics is communication, creating space, and slowing down in order to defuse potentially dangerous situations. In instances where nonviolent de-escalation is used, officers are able to rely on peaceful and functional tactics to de-escalate the situation rather than immediately turning to the violent power of a gunshot. Training police in nonviolent strategies like these could be a major step in improving relationships between police and people of color. In most states, nonviolent training is not required, and in the states where it is required, it is not mandated. Every year around 1,000 people are shot and killed by the police. Police are trained to have very few options in nonviolent handling of a situation. Instead, they are trained to taze, shoot, and arrest people when situations seem out of control (or even in control).
Nonviolent tactics save lives, and there needs to be a greater push to implement policies where officers are trained in nonviolent de-escalation. Police departments in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Ferguson, MI have begun nonviolent de-escalation training and all saw a reduction in the use of force in situations between police and citizens. Dallas, for example, saw an 18% drop in use of force a year after nonviolent de-escalation training was instituted. While other solutions are necessary to address the systemic and deeply embedded white supremacy at the root of the issue of police brutality in the US, this policy would decrease the risk of violence as we discuss more radical solutions to the problem. Mandated nonviolent de-escalation for police will allow for safer communities and better relations with police.
What You Can Do:
Push for nonviolent de-escalation tactics in your area! You can always push for things in your city by leaving a comment on the city gov or police department’s website. Look out for anti-police brutality meetings in your area and remain vocal on social media. And read up! Concrete solutions like these are vital in the fight against racist police violence.
The End Racial Profiling Act
Across the centuries, the criminal justice system in the U.S. has rarely worked in favor of African Americans; in fact, it has more often worked against them. The examples are many and crushing: a decades-long history of police brutality, all-white juries, police violence against civil rights workers, and, of course, laws designed to allow brutal punishment of enslaved people without legal recourse.
During Black History Month, Teens Resist is returning to a bill we highlighted earlier, one designed to combat an issue that falls squarely within this pattern of injustice and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement: racial profiling.
The rate at which Black men and other people of color are targeted by police is hugely out of proportion to the rates of their white counterparts. Black men are more likely to be stopped on the street, stopped while driving, arrested, and incarcerated than whites: while one in thirteen white men spends time in jail in their lifetime, the rate is four times higher for black men, one in three of which are incarcerated at some point. These discrepancies don’t represent the actual crime rate among blacks and whites, especially when it comes to drug offenses, which has been especially present following the War on Drugs the greatest cause for incarceration nationally. While African Americans and whites use drugs, especially minor ones like marijuana, at comparable rates, Black men are far more likely to be arrested for using them. Racial profiling is not a concentrated, controlled issue; it is rampant all over the country, and often facilitated by local policies (New York readers, see Stop and Frisk).
Racial profiling—apart from being just plainly contradictory to the idea of an unbiased criminal justice system—has devastating effects on Black communities, both in terms of incarceration, as we discussed above, and the role it plays in wearing down trust between law enforcement and the people they serve. Not to mention, when police are spending all their time targeting a specific demographic, they can’t effectively do the job they’re tasked with—keeping communities safe. And as written in the ACLU article on the issue, “Racial profiling is not only hurtful and wrong, but it can have deadly consequences. Police are more likely to use excessive and lethal force against people of color, and these interactions often end in death.”
H.R. 1498—the End Racial Profiling Act—is a proposal reintroduced in this Congress that aims to eradicate these kinds of damaging practices in law enforcement. The law would officially prohibit racial profiling, giving victims the chance to bring complaints to court. It would authorize federal grants dedicated to collecting data about the practice, and importantly, require local law enforcement offices to “maintain policies and procedures to eliminate racial profiling, including training on racial profiling issues, the collection of data, and procedures for handling complaints.”
Of course, the End Racial Profiling Act is only a necessary first step. The anti-bias trainings that the law could mandate would have an important impact, but they cannot single-handedly or fully solve the problem that underlies all of this: many people’s baseline assumptions about who is “dangerous” or “threatening.” Always, and during this month especially, it is critical for all of us—but most especially white people—to recognize those assumptions, assess where they come from, understand their place in the historical narrative, and think about what role white people have in creating and perpetuating these biases.
We highly suggest reading some of the articles linked as sources above for more detail on this subject—and as a way to get thinking about these prejudices and biases.
Organizations We'd Suggest Supporting or Looking to for Action:
The Kalief Browder Foundation: www.kaliefbrowderfoundation.com/
The Trayvon Martin Foundation: www.trayvonmartinfoundation.org/
The Garifuna Heritage Foundation: www.garifunaheritagefoundation.org/
Equal Justice Initiative: www.eji.org
Black Women's Blueprint: www.blackwomensblueprint.org/
Close Rikers: www.closerikers.org/
Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity: boldorganizing.org
Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org
Western States Center: www.westernstatescenter.org/
Youth Over Guns: www.youthovergunsny.org/
Happy Black History Month! Sending all our support and light.
Peace and Power,
These lists include featured organizations, scripts, numbers, news updates and inspirational activists.