Is being black an act?
Is it a walk, or talk or, better yet, an attitude?
Maybe it’s the way you dress, or the car you drive?
Does being black equate a life of stress?
Is Clarence Thomas Black? What about Republican J.C. Watts?
What does being black mean?
Does being black meaning standing on the corner smoking marijuana?
Why or Why not?
Does it mean embracing the fictional American Dream?
A dream that was only intended for a few
Does it mean getting a so called good education?
To prepare you for a good job
Or getting the Clock and ski mask to rob?
Does being black mean dying young, or being strung out on crack?
How about doing time in jail?
Does it mean black women raising kids alone,
Or leading the country in rates of HIV?
Will someone please explain this to me
Or just answer the question…
What is Black?
Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press
Not marching in D-C
Brought together by force,
Victims of a common fate
Residents of America’s penal
littered across the nation
No longer confined to the
Descendants of slaves
Confined to the big house
One million stolen lives
Reprinted from ”A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A PIECE I WROTE IN RESPONSE TO AN AD IN PRISON LEGAL NEWS FROM A WEB SITE, ORGANIZATION CALLED “OCCUPY OUR STORES” www.occupyourstories.com THAT WAS LOOKING FOR INMATES TO SHARE THEIR STORES ABOUT INCARCERATION AND PRISON LABOR.
Thirteen years ago, in October of 1999, I arrived in the penitentiary, 19 years old and scared shitless. Being my first rodeo as the old cons like to say, I was completely unprepared (if preparation is even possible) for the culture shock I was thrust into.
As the bus pulled up to the prison, it was like the land that time forgot. Picture a large cluster of orange brick buildings four stories high with small planes of glass that were almost completely broken out. My first thought was, “welcome to hell.” And I wouldn’t have been surprised if instead of the guard that met the bus, it would’ve been a small red demonic figure with a pitch fork.
With 4,500 men living in double occupancy misery, 1,400 of them serving life sentences, the Coffield unit in East Texas, once labeled the most violent prison in Texas, was ground zero. Hell on earth .
After pushing the very real fear of assault or bodily injury out of my mind as best as possible, I refocused my energy on dealing with the general gruffness and callousness of the guards along with the cold hard stares of the inmates.
Apart from the new arrival ritual which consisted of eyes probing you for any signs of weakness that could be exploited, the only thing they wanted to know was, “where you from?” and “who you run with?” Meaning were you in a gang.
My answer to the first question was, “Houston” and to the second, “I’m solo.” After this brief exchange, the conversations ended and the waiting began – waiting to see what type of dude you were and how you carried yourself.
Almost at once I began to learn the universal convict rules: mind your own business, do your own time, don’t accept things from people you don’t know, on the tier never look in another man’s cell, if someone challenges you for whatever reason, no matter how trivial, you have to rise to the occasion regardless of the consequences, don’t pop off at the mouth if you can’t or won’t back it up. Prison is a completely different world unlike anywhere out in society, so who you were out in society isn’t worth a Ramen noodle soup, the guards have absolute power and their word is the gospel – if they say you did it, then you did it, even if you didn’t, so piss them off or make enemies with them at your own risk, and so forth.
These were the rules I learned about doing time, but I also learned that many if not all prisons in the South – Texas, Louisiana, Georgia etc. – still operate under a slavery type of system and mentality. Evident by the many inmates here in Texas who still refer to correctional officers as “Bosses”. Another glaring example of this slave mentality is the field labor system found in Southern prisons.
Field labor consist of work crews of 40 to 75 inmates who go out into the surrounding countryside (you already know prisons are always out in the middle of nowhere to keep these houses of horror out of public view) with hoes and shovels to work the land. These field squads are supervised by two or more armed officers called “Cowboys”, who sit on horseback armed with pistols and shotguns. The men in these field squads line up in a straight line shoulder to shoulder and work in tandem in a process called ”four-stepping”.
Which consist of hitting a hoe on the bare ground four times then stepping forward and repeating the process. This is done while two inmates one called lead row, and the other tail row chant in cadence, “one, two, three, four, step”. Inmates in the hoe squads as they are called often clear a football sized field or more a day using this process.
The field squad was my first job in the penitentiary and it was the most ridiculous, outrageous, and degrading set-up I’ve ever witnessed. I found it hard to believe that in the 21st century, in the richest, supposedly most humane country in the civilized world, a system harkening back to the pre-civil war slavery days was being allowed to exist.
In the 14 years of my unjust detention, I’ve witnessed one hardship and constitutional violation after another, from mental health patients left untreated until they eventually hurt themselves or someone else, to healthy guys dying because they couldn’t get adequate medical care for minor illnesses. Staff assaults and the inevitable cover-ups, all the way to incarcerated men who begin to act and live like the animals that society says so many of us are, after having their rights and dignity trampled underfoot one too many times.
Although my personal journey through this house of horrors is far from over, as I continue to fight my unjust conviction, I often sit and wonder how I’ve made it? How I’ve been able to earn my GED, 3 college degrees and write 10 books, blog (KennethWest.org), stay out of Administrative Seg, prevent from getting hurt or being forced to hurt someone else to protect myself, or from picking up and new charge and compiling my misery.
While these may be meager accomplishments by some measures, if you had been the places I’ve been within this penal institution, or witnessed the things I’ve witnessed, then I’m sure you would agree with me when I say, “but for the grace of God, there I go.”
“We are not comparing the President to the Almighty. We are comparing him to the alternative.” Vice-President Joe Biden
Read the Vice-President’s comment again and then think about it. Because that’s the heart of what the 2012 presidential election between incumbent Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney is all about.
While President Obama has proved to be far less of a miracle-worker than most people initially thought he was, he has made some significant positive changes. Changes that have had a tremendous effect on everyday people instead of simply benefitting the rich and powerful as the bulk of Bush and other Republican policies normally do. Which, if you ask me, is really what most Republicans and wealthy Americans are really upset about, the leveling of the playing field. Just for a moment, forget that nonsense about humans being basically altruistic and the few working for the greater good of the whole because it just isn’t a reality.
Ask yourself this, if your team is already winning, why on earth would you be interested in rewriting the rules of the game to allow other teams to be better able to compete against you? If you’re honest the truth is you wouldn’t want any type of change, but would simply be happy with the status quo.
Malcolm X said, “If your enemy is for it, be extremely wary of it.”
The fact that nearly every Republican has been staunchly opposed to virtually every policy that President Obama has put forth, regardless of how many Americans the policy would benefit. Should show you exactly whose interest the Republican party is concerned with, those of the rich, upper-class, and well- connected. A group that’s overwhelmingly white.
J.P. Morgan, one of the original “Robber Barons”, once told a reporter, “the public be damned.”
For over half a century, the Republican party has been saying the exact same thing to the average American:
“Go straight to hell.”
You lost your job and can’t pay your bills?
“Go to hell.”
Your employer doesn’t offer health care?
“Go to hell.”
The CEO of your publicly traded company made more than the company?
“Go to hell.”
But if you care about being able to get adequate health care should you ever need it, the choice is clear.
If you care about billionaires paying less in Federal taxes then their middle class secretaries, the choice is clear.
If you care about you or any one of your loved ones being able to earn a college degree from a decent college, even if Momma and Daddy don’t have a extra hundred grand laying around, the choice is clear.
If you care about the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and nobody giving a damn, the choice is clear.
If you care about having a president that represents the interest and concerns of everyday people and not just corporate Big Wigs like the former 200 million dollar net worth CEO of Bain Capital will do, the choice is clear.
If you care about what happens to you and your family, your community, city, state and nation then you will stand up and be counted-voteand let your voice be heard.
IF YOU DON’T THERE’S ONLY ONE OTHER THING TO DO – SHUT UP – AND ACCEPT WHATEVER HAPPENS GOOD OR BAD.
Because whether you participate in it or not, or even believe in it like Sam Cook sung, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
It may not come in 4 years or even 8 for that matter, but a change is going to come, oh yes it is.
President Obama isn’t a perfect president but he has enough wisdom and humility to admit it, “I told you in 2008 that I wasn’t a perfect man, and I will never be a perfect president.” So even though he readily admits that he’s only human like the rest of us, I believed in President Obama. in 2008, and I still believe in him in 2012.
SO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. VOTE FOR CHANGE, VOTE FOR OBAMA
“WHEN NOBODY LISTENS TO A COMPLAINT THAT APPEARS TO BE LEGITIMATE, WHEN NOBODY TRIES TO RECTIFY A BAD SITUATION, A VIOLENT ACT IS PERHAPS THE ONLY WAY LEFT TO FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE WRONG, AND HELP SOMETHING GET DONE ABOUT IT” — John Langone
When 23 year old Mohamed Merah went on his bloody Jihadist rampage in the French city of Toulouse that left seven people senselessly dead, three of them children, I wondered if this was how he felt? As if his legitimate grievances and the grievances of his people were continuing to go unheard. Before dying in a hail of gun fire at the hands of French special forces soldiers the young terrorist told a negotiator, ”you kill my brothers, now I’m killing you.”
While it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact motives for his attacks, righteous indignation, hatred of French society, or just youthful frustration – I can tell you exactly what is driving the protest that have erupted all across the country in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida by 28 year old George Zimmerman the trigger happy neighborhood watch captain.
Trayvon who was 17 years old and unarmed when he was gunned down insides of a gated community was killed for being black in a nice neighborhood which in the eyes of George Zimmerman automatically made him suspect.
In America we have DWB (Driving While Black).
Which will get you stopped and possibly ticketed on GP (General Principle).
WWB (Walking while Black).
Which will get you Id’ed and frisked.
And plain old BB (Being Black).
Which in Trayvon’s case got him a bullet in the chest.
Same thing with Emmet Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell.
But as the protest that have rocked this nation from one side to the other following Trayvon’s senseless killing attest.
Black people have reached a breaking point.
We are tired of being murdered by police.
Tired of being murdered by the George Zimmerman’s and Joe Horns of the world.
And tired of being gun down senselessly by each other. Enough is enough.
Like Mohamed Merah in France, the African-American community has reached a breaking point. A point were the pain of doing nothing is far greater than the pain associated with change, meaningful change.
The abolitionist and ex-slave Fredrick Douglass said, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”
For too long that’s what the black community has been guilty of quietly submitting. Quietly submitting to our sisters and brothers being railroaded by the criminal justice system on trumped up charges, the same justice system that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away after killing a unarmed defenseless black teenager. We quietly submit to the constant assault and killing of black men young and old at the hand of the police. Quietly submit to one form of injustice after another.
Until now, finally the community has reached a breaking point. A point to where all 13.5 million of our voices young and old are saying a COLLECTIVE NO MORE.
NO MORE TRAYVON’S, SEAN BELLS OR RODNEY KINGS. NO MORE ANTHONY GRAVES’.
NO MORE INJUSTICE.
Martin Luther King said, “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.”
Which makes us all Trayvon Martin.
Freedom of Speech as guaranteed by the US constitution has long been a cherished right of most Americans, A*K*A the right to express yourself the way you feel, when you feel like it, with a few narrow exceptions of course. This right has been equally transferred to various other forms of non-oral communication including music, gestures, art etc.
For this reason a large portion of the negative commentary about the President along with the satirical drawings that seem to pop up like weeds in a untended garden everywhere you look are an example of Americans, especially white Americans, exercising their constitutional right to say what they feel about the President – just as many of us, myself included, did with the previous President.
However, the difference with the current political rhetoric and criticism from that of the past is that the criticism leveled at Obama often comes with a strong stereotypical or racial overtone, as the pictures above clearly illustrate. Another unique feature is that it tends to include the First Lady along with the couples’ two children. Prior to the last 3 years in which the nation has had its’ first black President, and first African-American family living in the White House who weren’t employees or servants, this was considered a political no-no. As there were never any satirical or controversial drawings of Laura Bush or her twin daughters; but evidently, when it comes to the Obamas the gloves have come off and political civility has gone out the window.
I wonder why?
A January 31, USA Today column by columnist DeWayne Wickman was further evidence of this current negative trend of individuals showing disrespect for the President and the office he holds. If you missed this latest act, it occurred when Arizona Governor Brewer (the same governor that passed the harshest immigration law in history that later had to be rejected by the US Justice dept. as it allowed any police officer to question any Hispanic about his or her immigration status) raised her voice and stuck her index finger in Obama’s face as he was deplaning Air Force One.
In most corners of the civilized world, people are taught that it is considered disrespectful to point your finger into anyone’s face. As a result, it’s a gesture rarely seen outside of a parent reprimanding a wayward child or an irate couple having a lovers’ spat. Due to its objectableness, the gesture is not even tolerated in the workplace. Take a second and imagine how you would feel if your boss or co-worker turned to you in anger and thrust his or her finger into your face screaming, “now you look here”. Safe to say you probably wouldn’t be too happy about it.
But if that wasn’t enough in itself, what if it was a subordinate doing the finger pointing at a superior? I’ll forgive you if your favorite move from SMACKDOWN suddenly popped into your head, but that’s essentially what Governor Brewer was to the President.
Once the governor’s inappropriate disrespectful behavior went viral, resulting in a firestorm of criticism. In an attempt to justify her actions, she fell back on the well worn racial stereotype of the helpless “white damsel in distress” being threatened by the proverbial ”bad nigger”, by claiming she felt threatened by President Obama.
Let me repeat that SHE SAID SHE FELT THREATENED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
For a second, let’s forget that she was the one doing all the screaming and finger-pointing. Or that her tirade took place in front of two Arizona mayors, a detachment of Secret Service agents, the Presidential Press Corps, and a small group of well-wishers who had gathered on the tarmac.
Ignoring all of that, can anyone explain to me exactly how she felt threatened by the leader of “the free world”, a Harvard Educated lawyer, former college law professor, and married father in the presence of over 50 people in broad daylight?
If governor Brewer had made the same accusation against former President Bush, she would’ve been laughed out of Arizona. But when a white woman says she feels threatened by a black man, even if the black man just happens to be the President of the United States, our history won’t laugh it off.
In 1921, the Tulsa Race riots that destroyed over six hundred black on businesses and led to over eighty deaths was caused when a white woman said she felt threatened by a black elevator operator. The same incomprehensible nonsense got Matt Ingram a black farmer thrown in jail and charged with rape by leering. I REPEAT, RAPE BY LEERING after a 14 year-old white girl said Ingram looked at her in a frightening way.
The same twisted belief that all black men are out to harass, threaten and rape supposedly helpless white women has led to black lynchings and race riots through out America’s bloody history.
Still, here it’s 2012 and another white lady, this one supposedly educated is once again falling back on this outdated racial stereotype to justify her own misbehavior.
Why? For the same reason that many Americans feel it’s perfectly justifiable to depict the President and the first lady as a pair of glorified apes, or as a Muslim extremist couple, or to publicly joke about doing the President or his family harm. There remains a large percentage of individuals in this country that refuse to see black people as anything other than dangerous, brute beast, who are somehow less civilized or deserving than others, regardless of how many Civil Rights movements take place, or what the law says. In their book, it will always be, “if you white, you alright, if you black, get back”. Governor Brewer was well aware of these sentiments when she opened her mouth to say she felt threatened by Obama.
In Dred vs. Scott, the US Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney summed up the view of most of these individuals, governor Brewer included, when he said, “Blacks have for more than a century before been regarded as being of an inferior order…so far that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
There it is.
Despite his education and eloquence.
Despite being elected by a majority of Americans to be their leader.
For Governor Brewer and all of her kind he is still a black man and as such “has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”
Not even the right to be free of her finger wagging in his face.