An Ode to my fall 2017 Sexual Violence on Campus Class

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I came into our Sexual Violence Campus class expecting to learn tools in how to help students when they experience sexual violence. As always, I did not get what I thought that I wanted. I got what I needed.

What I learned from the class is that when we discuss lived experiences of individuals who have been affected by sexual violence, we collectively began experiencing the heavy burden in how we all have been complicit in rape culture. I believe that more than ever we should continue to have courses like the ones you teach, Chris. When we process what violence means together, it leaves a stronger impact, and I felt that by the end of our class. Yes, it left all of us exhausted in the end…but the mini tears we experience, once we understand why we had those tears, they will mend, and we will be stronger in dealing with engaging in sexual violence discourse. Yet, what helped for me is coming to a space where everyone began to understand how sexual violence affects different people in different ways because of their identities. Some people are surprised when I tell them I am a loner by nature. I was raised that way. I was raised in my family in having to process my experiences and understanding their experiences alone. Yet, our class this semester, and all the classes that I have taken since working at UGA, has made me realize that we need each more than ever to understand what is going on in our environment. We all need a support system to process together. We may not always agree on how we look at matters and/or how we should fix certain situations that affect our environment, but the beginnings of trust and mutual respect in admitting that we have to do something different because what we have been doing is not working empowers me. Being in a great community is about admitting your complicity in a system or systems where it oppresses other people and owning your responsibility in it by being accountable for what you have done. Accountability is not only about owning how you contribute, but it is about how you are going to strive each day in attempting to put effort in doing something about it. That matters so much. That’s what I’ve learned. That talk begins to become cheap when we do not allow ourselves the possibility of dreaming big and taking steps in making those dreams a reality.

A huge part of being power consciousness is questioning yourself, the individuals around you, and the systems that you operate in. Yes, I grew up on soap operas, romance and horror novels and movies. However, in order for me to truly take accountability, I have to examine the good, bad, and ugly with these genres and entertainments. This means looking at the sexual violence that is in these genres and entertainments. It is hard to admit that what you grew up with and love actually contributes more to sexual violence and trauma for victims. Yet, we must have conversations around what contributes to rape culture. Many romance novels and films reinforce for many cisgender White women that inspiring to save cisgender White men who are bad boys is normal. As many of us begin and continue to dig in and peel back layers in history, we start seeing that the folks with dominant identities have had control over their master narratives since this country broke away from England (a.k.a. American Revolutionary War). What many of us do not understand is that we are complicit in practicing ahistoricism by not questioning enough…is this really it? When we are children in the education system and we question what is fundamentally wrong with what we have been told by posing questions that are not harmful, our instructors have been trained to silence us. A huge part of power is exercising discipline and that is what maintain authority. Being power consciousness and looking through a power consciousness lens is unraveling all the educational brainwashing throughout our school years and begin questioning like we did when we were kids…is this really true? If we do not think it is true, we must put in work to find out what is true.

This course must continue even though for all of us in the class, it was taxing. However, what makes this course great, Chris, is the literature/readings that you assign and how you provoke us to think and challenge our belief systems about what we have been taught all throughout our lives. I believe what would make this course better is incorporating “self-care” group-care activities. You did this near the end of the course when you read us your favorite book. For me, that was the most empowering moment in the course. For me, it is sparked what I try to hold on to: my imagination, my wonder, and my hope. A part of being brainwashed by White supremacist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy is that inquisitive nature about us is continually minimized by authority figures who teach us that silence is better than asking questions. If you ask questions, you are punished for it; if you are an individual with intersecting identities, you are silenced further because interlocking oppressions are caused by the very individuals who want to maintain, sustain, and retain the power that they have—even if it means that many of them are not actually benefitting for all the power from this system (i.e. White women).

Self-care activities are important when doing this work, and as a classroom community, we need more activities like this. Have more centering activities where individuals share how they have called out or called to attention sexual violence and rape culture in society (like Laurel did with her police officer friend). Challenge the class in finding a great community news story or challenge them to do more activities like writing a letter to Chief Jimmy—even though they may not publish or send it. Or have a drawing session where everyone draws or colors for thirty minutes in class (if it is a one day a week class) and ask them to share, and if they do not, they can hold up their artwork in silence while the others look at it…we may not understand it, but for them, it may be a release—at least someone saw—at least someone paid attention to me.

So, what did I really learn? I learned more about myself and about my new peeps that I got to know for an entire semester and more about my instructor. What I come to find is that…people are starting to surprise me again. That there is more hope out there than people try to “brainwash” you to think it is not. Spiderman says…”With great power, comes great responsibility.” I like to interpret that as power is not about dominating folks. Power is about inner connectedness. It is about sharing our resources whether it is our time, money, and/or love. Real power is about the practice of loving ourselves and making sure that our fellow individuals are not being hurt. It is about us existing together, so we all have the freedom to design our lives in spaces where we do not feel continual hostility. This means being brave to imagine again. To imagine that we can have a better world, and we must. Again, words are magical. Yet, real magic is actually putting those words to good use by committing good acts. Those good acts are to eradicate sexual violence and rape culture.

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What Does It Mean When You Leave Your People Behind

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from Inter-American Dialogue 

 

I never really understood when Black folks said that other Black folks who left communities…never came back to where they came from to help. Now, I am understanding the gravity of this critique as it is fact backed up by narratives of what happens when folks do not return to their communities with the knowledge that they have learned to help make their communities better.

I am guilty of this crime. I grew up in Cochran, Georgia, which is in located in middle South Georgia. I disliked Cochran with a fierce determination. I was discriminated against by White people because I was not White in the community. I was ostracized by Black people because I was not Black enough in the community. Because my family was like the Breedloves in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we were not looked upon favorably from many White and Black people. There were some Black people and White people in the community who liked us, and they helped us out when they could. Yet, my mom was very insular and did not want anyone in the town to know her business even though they saw us around town. Basically, from my younger perspective, we were treated like circus celebrities. We were the freaks of the town because we were poor and Black. Black people shunned us because they believe that we were stuck up and did not want anything to do with them.

So, once I got my ticket out of Cochran, at the age of twenty, I left the town and thought that I was free. Yet, little did I know, I wasn’t free. When you are young, you don’t see the entire picture. You only see pieces of the puzzle…and you see some of the areas of the puzzle completed. I saw one area completed where people did not like us because they thought that we acted White (my peers did). The other area that I saw was that folks were jealous of us because we were good looking people. Another area I saw was that people took advantage of us whenever they could.

What I didn’t see is the large picture. The large picture was…Cochran was like The Bottom in Sula where Black people dwell in this place that White folks look down on them on. My family was also like the Peaces. We did our own thing, but we were punished for it in some ways. Yet, in other ways, the Black community also didn’t completely disown us, either. Really looking at it, mostly, my mothers’ peers and my peers shunned us…and because of that, my mothers’ peers taught their kids to shun us as well. Again, not all of them were like this.

So, I went away, thinking that I could escape the pain Black folks caused me in Cochran. From my disdain, I thought that they hated me so bad that they left me behind because I was too different from them. Later on, when I took a Whiteness and White Privilege in America’s Education, I found out that Black folks had disdain and dislike for me because I showed White characteristics. These white characteristics, especially from my Black peers’ eyes, were to be despised because it “threw in their faces” that I didn’t want to be Black. I was shunning our Blackness because I showed White characteristics. For me to emulate White characteristics possibly made my peers felt like they were not good enough to be Black. And/Or it could have been that I was throwing Whiteness in their faces…and their thoughts were…how dare one of us take the side of those White folks who cause us oppression? Who limit our education opportunities? Who don’t see us as being competitiv? How dare that family act like they are better than us when they are poor as dirt—on welfare, nonetheless?

There is a huge miscommunication in the Black community because of this. The huge miscommunication is that we don’t get to know each other in intimate ways to understand why we act the way we do. How can Black folks do that when we still operate under a legacy of dividing and conquering our group under the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy? Even reflecting on my life in Cochran, Black folks were divided because of our own branded standard of how all Black folks should act. Instead of being united in deconstructing the system of White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy…we are taught to create our own system of oppression to survey and police our own selves. We shut out Black members from our Black community because they don’t meet the qualifications of class, sexuality, and gender. In two pieces I read, “America’s Hidden H.I.V. Epidemic,” and “Dr. David Malebranche’s Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey,” these writings show how Black folks continue the divide and conquer within Black communities concerning sexuality. I believe the Black community uses standardized sexuality and gender to maintain the little power that the race group has. Yet, what this continues to do is to destroy our race and help White supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy continue to be the supreme system that dominates all Americans. When we Black people play into Black people not following a standardized sexuality, we ultimately play into the system of Whiteness. We perpetuate White dominance by believing that the system of Whiteness will award us if we pledge allegiance to it. Yet, by becoming a member, we don’t benefit from the system because we are not allowed access to the full membership package.

What I am saying is that a lot of young Black males and females are contracting H.I.V., and they are contracting it in outstanding rates in poor rural areas. Yes, Linda Villarosa and Dr. Malebranche are showing us that young Black gay males, bisexuals, and transsexuals are the ones who are affected by it. Villarosa is showing us that many young Black males in the rural South are affected by lack of health care and education concerning H.I.V. and AIDS to where they are contracting and dying from the illness at fast rates. Malebranche is telling Oprah…the dialogue needs to be more balance in showing more of a diverse range of narration concerning Black male sexuality—to show a more complete narrative.

As for Black folks like me who leave home, I had to face what I did. Yes, I needed to get out of Cochran and see different spaces and places that are unlike Cochran…and to see more experiences to align with the stories that I read as a kid. However, I have come to realize that Cochran is my home, and the very Black people in Cochran…who ostracize me are still my people. They still need for me to love them. A huge part of love is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a part of unconditional love for myself and for you, too. Black folks can’t do better if we don’t know better. Once we know better, I pray that we find the strength to continue the process of becoming better people under a system that don’t want us to. Every day I am challenge to not judge. It’s hard, and I get it right on some days. I get it wrong on others days. Some days it is neutral…but all that matters is having the drive to do right by folks the best I know how and can. I hope that for you, too.
S

Let’s Not Attack the Mothers for Expressing their Authentic Experiences

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Dear Naomi Schaefer Riley (http://nypost.com/2017/02/18/having-a-baby-isnt-a-miracle-and-doesnt-make-you-a-goddess/)

For some women, yes, having their babies are miracles, and they are goddesses for doing it. Even I, a childless woman by circumstances and choice, know this. And why do I know this?

It is simple because I have experienced what it is like to find out that even though my decision was not to have children, the choice was sealed when I found out in summer 2016 that I had huge fibroids on my uterus. Yes, I was given two other options before I had my total hysterectomy. My gynecologist told me that I could choose from having: a uterine artery embolization, uterine myomectomy, or a total hysterectomy. A uterine artery embolization would shrink my fibroids; however, I could never get pregnant but still have my uterus intact. Even if I had a slipped and got pregnant, I would have a miscarriage. A uterine myomectomy would remove the fibroids, but my uterus would be sewn back up if I wanted to try and have children. Then, there was the total hysterectomy that would remove my fibroids, my uterus, and my fallopian tubes. My ovaries would be kept if they showed that they were healthy, and I made sure that the gynecologist promised, as she told me, to leave them in if I took that option. The reason why I did not seriously consider the first two options because the possibility of the fibroids coming back was a high risk. I didn’t want to have surgery again. Even though my uterus would be removed…which had been with me for thirty-five years of age, I decided to remove it because by instinct and education, I knew that the possibility of the fibroids returning was high. I also had the gut feeling that the fibroids were so big that doing the uterine myomectomy would not be worth the risk. The surgery would be more complicated because it would be longer, and my life would be in further jeopardy of something going wrong.

I opt for option three and how does this story relate to Beyoncé? The story relates because I relate to her. No, I didn’t want children, however, when Black women have been told by our culture that we are baby producing machines, and we think that we are healthy because we have a period every month…that doesn’t mean jack shit.

For most of my reproductive life, I had a period. There were a few instances where, when I attend graduate school the first time, I did not have a period for months. I contributed this to being overweight, stressed, and having anxiety issues. However, little did I know that all of this would be connected, and at thirty-five, I would find out that I had a fibroid so large that my gynecologist said that it was an equivalent to a twenty-four-week pregnancy.

How does this relate to Beyonce and her celebration of birthing babies and mothers being goddesses? Well, for a woman to even have a baby, her reproductive capabilities have to be highly functional in order for her to produce her child. For a woman who has had a miscarriage before and she is a Black woman, her chances of conceiving a healthy baby, that baby gestating for nine months, and that baby arriving in the world without any type of deficiencies is a miracle. If one looks back on slavery (look at Deborah Gray White’s A’r’nt I a Woman), the fact of Black female slaves reproducing regularly and abundantly is a myth. White male slave owners raped Black women expecting them to reproduce many children that would become automatic slaves to continue the Slavocracy. However, many Black female slaves had miscarriage after miscarriage. Many Black female slaves died from attempting to have fifteen, sixteen…even some, twenty slave children. Out of all of those slave children, some Black female slaves did not produce one live child. It was miraculous for Black female slaves, out of that many births, to have two or three children that survive and were functional individuals.

My point is this. You shame Beyoncé by trying to use Katherine Heigel’s story about pregnancy. Then, you try to use Adele and even shame her for mentioning that motherhood is difficult.

I have had MANY women tell me that they have LOST themselves after having children. Having to put their children before themselves…they lost a part of themselves. For you to have the audacity to talk about how woman have been having babies for thousands and thousands of years and using that as a sound logic to your argument about Beyoncé and Adele whining about conceiving, birthing, and taking care of children is a lack of empathy on your part.

I, as a childless woman, want to be treated with respect for the decision that I made. The same respect I treat with women who decide to have children. I do look at them as goddesses and their children as miracles. It is okay for Beyoncé to celebrate her pregnancy and her children as it is the same for Adele to tell us that she struggles with raising her son. It doesn’t make these women lesser, but it makes these women HONEST in an era where individuals like you write opinioned pieces to continue the cycle of hierarchal sexism.

That’s right. Hierarchal sexism. You believe that your opinion is valuable because you are appealing to individuals who you believe will applaud you for “calling out” how the celebration of how motherhood is being overdone by being mentioned in the media and other communicative forms.

However, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t work with me or other audience members because there are a lot more like me who do their homework. The lesson is this: the lesson is that Beyoncé and Adele took control over the speeches and express honestly how they really feel about being moms. Both of their narratives are perfectly acceptable like my narrative is. There is nothing wrong with women celebrating their motherhood. There is nothing wrong with women talking about their struggles of motherhood. There is nothing wrong with women who choose not to have biological or adoptive children or both. It is nothing wrong with those of us who can’t physically do it or have to make choices where they aren’t able to do it and decide it is okay. I will embrace the blessings that I do have. It is nothing wrong with those of us who long for it and cannot naturally reproduce, but say, hey, I will adopt and/or foster children…and even animals.

The point is that Beyoncé and Adele, as famous women, use their platforms to show us their HUMANITY as women. Black women have been demonized as being sexual deviants and sexually promiscuous throughout history that we are supposed to reproduce children at the drop of the hat. White women are shown that they are supposed to reproduce children and be so happy about it that even one thought about how hard it is being a mother makes the guilty. These dominant narratives do not ring true for the entire woman race, women of color race, and even White woman race. It is writers like you who need to take a long hard second look at…I am really giving these women a fair shake? Even if you didn’t express your view well, how can you go about expressing your opinion in a constructive way without ATTACKING OTHER WOMEN who are expressing their TRUTHS to being a mother.

Thanks,
from a childless mother woman who supports other mothers who have children
Sophia

Stanford, You Aren’t Doing Enough

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I knew what rape was when I was about four years old from watching television and my mother pointing it out. By age eight or nine, I knew what rape was because my mother was raped. I would not understand the entity of the full effects of rape until I was a teenager, and my mom applied for disability. At that time, in the late nineties, the government agencies didn’t advocate for rape victims to receive disability. I remember sitting in the room when the DFCAS worker interviewed my mom to see if she would be able to apply for disability. I don’t remember how the question was asked, but my mom responded by telling the case worker about her rape. My mom expressed that her rape continued to affect her even at the time. She told the caseworker that she couldn’t sleep, and when she would be out at night, she always thought that someone was following her even when they weren’t. It was until that moment that I realized that many rape victims have the experiences that my mom had.

My mom being raped took away her security, her confidence, and her direct agency over her decisions and herself. My mother is a prideful woman, and I cannot even imagine how many times she has beaten herself up and blamed herself for her rape. My mom’s rape happened in the late eighties when sexual assault, sexual violence, domestic violence, and feminist issues began being more examined. While I was looking at second wave feminists continuing the good fight and the emergence of third wave feminists would sound arrive in the 1990s and early 2000s, I thought that we had a chance to eliminate sexual assault, sexual violence, and domestic violence. Now, we have done a good job in bringing more awareness with these issues, but in the 21st century, the issues of sexual violence is a worsening issue. What is shameful about this is not the victims who experience it, but it is our very government and institutions who continue to make laws and policies where the perpetrator is protected. As it has been for centuries, the laws and policies that are established protect the accused and not the accuser.

As I woke up early this morning, I noticed on my device a New York Times article about a young female college student being raped by a football player who got off with raping her because of how the Sanford’s judicial process within the school protects the rapists and not the rape victim.

Sexual assault on college campuses has been going on since females have been able to attend collegiate institutions. The first studies of sexual assault on campus happening was in 1957:

“Male sex aggression on a university campus” was the title of one of the first studies published about a topic now very much in the news. Way back in 1957, sociologist Eugene Kanin posited a model where men used secrecy and stigma to pressure and exploit women.” (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/11/30/366348383/the-history-of-campus-sexual-assault).

The NPR articles brings up one of the foremothers of wanting to examine and investigate college rape in depth. “Mary Koss coined the term “date rape” back in the 1980s” (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/11/30/366348383/the-history-of-campus-sexual-assault). Koss has researched and written many articles about sexual assault and rape during her over thirty year career. A most important article to read, even though it was published in 1993, is “Detecting the Scope of Rape: A Review of Prevalence Research Methods” (http://www.avoiceformalestudents.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Koss-1993-Detecting-the-Scope-of-Rape-a-review-of-prevalence-research-methods-see-p.-206-last-paragraph.pdf). This is article is important even though it is over twenty years old. Koss discusses how rape victims are treated especially in the line of questioning them when they are interviewed by the rape. Over twenty years ago, Koss writes about briefly the troublesome nature of collegiate institutions dealing with college rape among females because of Title IX. Koss doesn’t directly say it, but the way that many collegiate institutions deal with rape cases is not sending their female collegiate students to the police to report the rape.

The New York Times article “A Majority Agreed She Was Raped by a Stanford Football Player. That Wasn’t Enough” by Joe Drape and Marc Tracy illustrates that history is not repetitive to me but a continued experience that either benefits individuals or cause individuals harm that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives if they are able to survive from that harm. Twenty, thirty years ago, Mary Koss’s work still resonates with us because we haven’t come very far when it comes to collegiate rape on campus. However, what we are seeing, from Drape’s and Tracy’s reporting is that collegiate institutions’ upper level administration create policy or rules that majority benefits the rapist. These policies/rules actually protected the accused and not the accuser. However, it is not shocking that this is new because it isn’t. Rape on college campuses have been going on for several decades. What also has been going on for several decades is the protection of the rapists and humiliation of the rape victim if she or he is found out about.

Stanford illustrates the epitome of rape culture and how collegiate male students are prized more than the female students—and how certain male students are prized more than the average male student as well.

From what we know about Stanford protecting rape culture, the huge case this year was Brock Turner. Brock Turner, with NO SHAME while it was still LIGHT OUT raped a fellow female student who was under the influenced of alcohol. During the on-going months, Turner wasn’t thrown in jail. He wasn’t condemned for his crime. When the dust settled, Turner was indicted on five charges:

  • Rape of an intoxicated person
  • Rape of an unconscious person
  • Assault with the intent to rape an intoxicated person with a foreign object
  • Sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object
  • Sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object

Yet, Turner was sentenced on three charges: assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

HOWEVER, Turner’s punishment was six months in Santa Clara County jail followed by three years of probabtion. However, after three months of serving his sentence, he was released from jail.

Although Stanford “punished” him, I believe that they were forced to because the case was a nationwide case. The extent of what Turner did couldn’t be ignored, BUT the institution still wants to protect its accused rapists.

In “A Majority Agreed,” the football player in question is not suspended from school or playing football because he is under “investigation.” His football coach shared that he was never told by Stanford officials that his football player was involved in a rape. The accuser decided not to go to police because she didn’t want to handle the trauma of how the police would investigate the rape (Koss discusses this in her “Detecting the Scope of Rape” how rape accusers have a difficult time in wanting to report to the police because of how they are questioned differently than the accused—and this is why Koss discusses the need of how police interview accusers because the way that they use language in questioning about the rape can disarm rape victims in how they answer their questions). Instead, this is what happened:

“Seeking to avoid the trauma of a police investigation, the accuser turned to the university’s in-house disciplinary board, one of many college campuses that adjudicate sexual assault cases, and it would decide whom to believe. If the panel had found that sexual assault had taken place, the man could have been expelled.

Both times, three of the five panelists—drawn from a pool of administrators, faculty members and students—concluded that the man, who remained on the football team through the case and is on the roster for a bowl game Friday, committed sexual assault.

At many schools, this simple majority vote would have been enough to find the accused responsible. But Stanford had set an uncommonly high bar, requiring at least a 4-1 decision.

This year, amid growing dissent over how it handles these kinds of cases, Stanford changed its procedure in a way that victims’ rights advocates say favors the accused. It now requires a unanimous verdict from a three-member board, making it an outlier among prestigious universities. Only one other school (Duke) in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the country top 20 colleges that use such panels has such a stringent requirement (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/sports/football/stanford-football-rape-accusation.html).

As Koss says briefly, collegiate institutions policies are there to protect the rapists not the accuser and let me remind you that she said this over twenty years ago.

Not much has changed over twenty years has it?

My reasons for focusing on the timespan is for readers out there who may think that we have made significant strides in rape culture. That perpetrators are being held to the highest punishment standards. They aren’t. Rape culture is acceptable because, historically, perpetrators haven’t been punished largely. When Koss started her research in the 1980s, she had college rapists flat out admit that they were having sex with their female counterparts without consent, but they did not think of it as a crime. They also normalized it and said that it is acceptable to have sex with their female peers without having their consent.

All collegiate institutions in America need to continue evaluating why they are protecting sexual predators/male rapists. Maybe it is because upper administration, some faculty, and undergraduate students, and graduate students don’t see that one single act can deem an individual as a sexual predator or rapists. Let me tell you about having to live with someone else who has been raped. It is HEARTBREAKING. The rape victim, the rape victor, the rape accuser is the one who has to live with what happened to him or her, and it is usually women this happens to. And that’s not all. By alarming rates, Black women are more liked to be raped on a college campus than white women. White males are usually the perpetrators that get away with raping their female counterparts. Any man of color who commits in collegiate crime is more likely to be named in the newspaper, BUT White male perpetrators identities are SHIELDED from any crimes. If anything, their future aspirations and their identities are protected on campus like they were the ones who were raped.

My mother’s rapists got off scot-free. Her rapists were Black men. Rape in the Black community runs mostly prevalent within the community itself. Black women are told to protect Black men because Black people in general have been exploited many atortrious ways in this country. We can’t tell on our fathers, brothers, uncles, male cousins, male friends, male acquitnances, and even male strangers because look at what the BLACK MEN has been through. What about what we Black women have been through?

Academia should be a place where students don’t have to worry about getting harm because of their race, gender, class, or disability. Yet, when the minority is harm, the majority are the ones who benefit from the system as if they were harm.

It also doesn’t help the accuser’s case of accusing the football player of rape when no one gave her a fair shake in the collegiate judicial process:

The woman who agreed to talk about her case described an arduous process that took nearly nine months and, she said, was plagued by several lapses.

On the afternoon of June 25, 2015, the woman, along with her lawyer, took their places at a crowded table inside the Tresidder Memorial Union at Stanford.

Her lawyer was there only for support and was prohibited, under the rules of the proceeding, from guiding her testimony. In the middle of the table was a telephone for the young man to listen to the proceeding. She had about 30 minutes to give her account of what had happened four months earlier.

Afterward, the football player was allowed to email follow-up questions to the panel that they could decide to ask or not.

She began the hearing feeling that the deck was stacked against her. She said that only the night before did she see the accused’s statement for the first time, and that it included new statements from two of his football teammates. She said she had exchanged emails with an administrator in May and June 2015 and “not once” did that administrator “indicate that any other files had been added to the investigation file, nor did she respond to my previous questions regarding the investigation file,” according to her appeal, which included the email exchange with an assistant dean coordinating the process.

When she asked to postpone the hearing so she could ask for redactions of statements that she deemed prejudicial as well as suggest follow-up questions for an investigator to ask the witnesses, she said she was denied without an explanation.

“I was told to stick to the facts on my statement, and I did,” she said. “He was allowed to speculate on why I ‘targeted’ him. His teammates, who were not even involved in that night, basically said he was a great guy and was being punished for consensual sex.”

After listening to his version, she said that she offered follow-up questions to the panel. She said that they did not ask them. The next day she was notified that a majority of the panel agreed with her that a sexual assault had occurred, but the football player would not be given a finding of responsibility.

By then, she said, she had already missed one quarter of school and would eventually miss two. She was, and remains, in therapy and on anxiety medications.

Within days, with the help of a lawyer, she appealed the decision on the grounds that the “investigation process was so inequitable and unfair” that it violated her rights as a victim of sexual assault under Title IX. Along with numerous procedural errors, she said, she was bothered that the man’s status as a football player was injected into the proceedings by him and his teammates.

Mr. Etchemendy, the provost, insisted there was no special treatment for athletes or anyone else. Despite two 3-2 rulings that the football player had committed sexual assault, Mr. Etchemendy said, the coach of the football team would not have been notified because the player had not been found responsible. The player apparently received no punishment.

It is important for me to include the accuser’s narrative because of her struggle to gain justice in her situation. Her narrative is a clear example of what I’ve been fleshing out—Stanford’s policies do not work in fair favor for the accuser. They work more for the accused. Within the process, there was favoritism provide for him and not her. We see in her narrative that she is already put on the firing squad without even having a fair chance to narrative her experience, but the accused is able to narrative his experience and even have two of his football team member vouched for his character. Stanford administration told her to stick to the facts and didn’t provide her a chance to postpone the hearing to ask for redactions of statement and to question the accused statements. Instead, Stanford administration told her to “stick with the facts.” The Provost also said that wasn’t any special treatment for athletes. Well, Dr. Etchemendy, what do you call the accuser not being able to have the same agency when she wanted to question her accused statements, but the accused was allowed to do it?

And what kind of impact these policies and procedures have on the accuser? You will find below:

After the second five-member panel came back 3-2, the accuser appealed again. She asked that Stanford’s Office of Community Standards “issue a no-contact order to protect me” from the accused. One had been in place throughout the months of proceedings. On at least two occasions, the football player had to be asked to leave parties by a resident dean — and on another, by campus security — because of his apparently violating that order, both the accuser and the accused acknowledged in statements.

“The past nine months of my life have been the worst of my life,” she wrote to Greg Boardman, Stanford’s vice provost for student affairs, on Oct. 20, 2015, as part of her appeal. “I’ve experienced fear, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and hatred in ways I never imagined during the first 20 years of my life. An introduction to someone new in early February turned into my worst nightmare — every woman’s worst nightmare.”

Her appeal for a third hearing and a no-contact order was denied, without explanation.

Stanford said that it accommodates accusers even after their cases come up short. They can secure special housing arrangements or even escorts to certain parts of campus. But officials said that they could not impose anything that looked like penalties, even for safety reasons, on those who are found not responsible — even if the vote found by 3-2 or, now, 2-1 that sexual assault had occurred.

“I think you would face legal liability to that person if after that process he was told, ‘You can’t be in this part of the campus,’” said Ms. Karlan, the law professor who is chairwoman of the sexual assault advisory committee.

The woman is trying to decide whether to return to campus or pursue her degree elsewhere. She said that she loved the school and that she was never happier than in her time there. She is worried about encountering the football player if she returns to campus.

“But do I have to leave Stanford to feel safe?” she said. “I’m certain that this isn’t the way the Title IX process was meant to work.”

 

This is what I know is true. Academia is not doing enough to make sure that those who been harm are vindicated. This young woman is on anxiety medications to help her function daily. This young woman is trying to learn how to live with what has happened to her. For her rapists to get off and have to deal with him prowling around campus, it is an insult and horrendous punishment for her.

Sanford, it is not enough that you accommodate accusers after their cases come up short. Stanford, it is not enough that a young woman who was raped can secure special housing on certain parts of the campus to avoid her perpetuator.

Sanford University upper level administrators, I would deem you at the perpetrators. You continue to perpetuate rape culture by protecting and celebrating toxic masculinity by creating and implementing policies that protect this very said culture. Young women on your campus who raped, and young women who raped all over college campuses, their lives are changed forever. Their confidence, their awareness of their space, and their agency has been negatively modified by individuals who believe that heteronormative masculinity that women not consenting is not rape. In you not punishing this young man, it gives him further fuel that he may do this again and get away with it. Worse yet, he believes that he can step over any group of people who aren’t White, male, and heterosexual and get away with it.

Thanks for not changing but keeping the good old boy’s rape club alive.

SMF

 

Dear Sandra Bland,

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Dear Sandra Bland,

Now, I understand you like I did not before. Now, I know what you were up against.

Shamefully, I have been fighting the same system as you have, and I was colorblinded by Whiteness to believe that I could overcome racism. That if I showed White people how good and how smart that I was, I would break the barriers and gain the same opportunities as them. In my experience of proving myself, I lost touch with my Blackness and began forgetting that Whiteness was affecting me in ways that I fully realized has never went away.

At 10:15 p.m. after having fun at a hockey game with my boyfriend, I was stopped by the local police. We saw flashing blue lights behind us, and we realized that it was my car that he wanted to stop. I slowed down and decided to pull into a KFC parking lot. At the time, I did not know that it would be a safe point. Or maybe a point where there could be witnesses. I never thought of it that way, but it chills me to the bone to think about it now.

I rolled down my window. The police officer asks me…”Do you know why I stopped you?” I responded back in curious shock, “No, officer, I do not know why.” Reason being: I wasn’t speeding through town. If anything, I was going the exact speed limit and being very careful because it was a busy section in this part of town, and it is at night. There are a lot of folks who walk and bike in our town, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for an accident and it on my conscience. I’ve been living in this town for three years consecutively, and I know what the walking and biking population are like. Drivers aren’t usually fond with them sometimes, and I know that it is not always drivers’ fault. Yet, I have started remembering my roots about walking and biking because I was a poor Black kid from a rural country town, and it is hard to track and ride when there are more cars than you in the same area you occupy.

Anyway, the officer continues asking me, “Who car is this?” I said, “Mines.” He asked, “What is your name?” I said in a pleasant voice, “Sophia Flemming.” “When did you get this car registered?” I answered him that I bought the car two months ago, and I had my tag put on there then. And then he asked me for my driver’s license. When he looked, he said, “Your birthday passed. You were supposed to renew your license on your birthday.” I told him that I thought that my registration was good for next year. For those who know me, I don’t play with the law. I file my taxes on time and pay my taxes. I make sure that my registration is renewed on time. In our country, this is what is expected for us to inhabit it.

But what last night taught me is that…it doesn’t matter, does it, to a certain extent when it comes to police authority, and I finally understood Sandra Bland and how her death came about. You see, there are some ways, as a Black woman, I am fortunate. Somehow, that poor Welfare Black girl from a small rural racist and segregated town fought her way to go to college and obtained her BA degree. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl entered into graduate school and started taking graduate courses. Somehow that poor Welfare Black girl got a job at a well-known university and got a full time job with benefits and is taking doctoral courses now to help her finish her graduate work with her MA degree and to start a PhD program.

However, last night, it didn’t matter. Why? It didn’t matter because as a Black woman I viewed my life at risk. A White police officer stops me. He stops me because he is able to RUN license plate numbers. Police officers even have technology where they can scan people’s tags and get an alert when registration expires (http://www.clatl.com/news/article/13071731/what-is-your-license-plate-telling-police). And what is my point of this?

My point is that there are parts of me that are you, Sandy Bland. You can see our stories are similar in many ways. We both attended college. We both graduated from college. We both are similar in age. We both believed in justice for all people.

Yet, the huge difference is. I am starting to see it. Being fortunate. I am more fortunate than you as a Black woman. I don’t have a record of misdemeanors. I am able to pay for my citation, so I can stay out of jail. Somehow, I have navigated my life in a way that I’ve been fortunate not to be jailed, to be label as a pariah by White people, and to be able to still breathe.

Yet, you and I are still similar in the same. I, too, when I finished my BA degree and attended graduate school, I had a rough time finding a full time job. I struggled, and I was depressed. It was difficult to navigate the waters. If you examine my resume, I have consistently worked since 2000—part time. Some Black folk even haven’t had the consistency as I have. I’ve also had a significant other to help out, but it has come with many prices. Those prices were losing a lot of my self-worth as a proud Flemming. What it really was as a proud Black woman, I discovered that I am not invincible. I am not a Black wonder super woman. I am vulnerable and not immune to the cruelties of Whiteness. Those same White characteristics I’ve adapted: the way I carry myself, the way I talk, the way I walk, and the way I act…doesn’t matter when a White male police officer pulls me over for a traffic violation. I want people to know this is not about me COMPLAINING ABOUT a traffic violation. I get it. I violated the law unintentionally by not seeing in time that I need to renew my registration. Yes, I will pay my fine because it is the law, and Monday morning, I will get my registration and pay for it.

What this is about is bigger than me and is about me. What this is about is that I finally understand that none of us people of color are immune to the dangerous of Whiteness when it comes to its authority. White people have more authority than us. They matter MORE THAN US. They have mattered in this country and even other countries for centuries. Aryan races have nearly decimated cultures (Hitler and the Holocaust) because they know that they have a superiority card. Superiority in human beings is an evil practice because it causes people to commit harmful and even horrendous acts.

The very laws that are supposed to protect all of us only protect and benefit some of us. I was in your place last night. What if I was a little sassy with that cop? What if I began questioning why he was pulling me over? What if I didn’t say good evening office, how you doing?” What if I didn’t comply the way that was expected to not cause harm? I got a little taste of the bigger bitterness you experience on a consistent basis.

I don’t want to keep having this fear…and this stress of being afraid of officers, but I know that if I don’t compile as much as possible, I may be put in a jail cell. Or my life a threat to where I may get a bullet in me. That’s is horrifying. I can’t imagine what you final moments were in that jail cell. I am sure that you were scared, and you felt so alone. Tears are pouring down my face because it hurts. It hurts to know that you died with all kinds of thoughts circling your head. Maybe feeling like no one loved you. In my pain, I understand your struggles because there are parts of me that am you. All Black women are you. We struggle every day to continue to prove over and over again that we exist. That we matter. We have always mattered. Your life didn’t mattered that day, and it was taken. It is sad that you are gone, and I can see you now.

I want to live over a hundred years old and look back at these times as being an agent of change. And I will get there. I claim it, and I will make it. But, I struggle with what happened to me yesterday. A routine stop to give me a ticket so the system can keep making money off my Black body. You were continually stopped and continually had fines on your Black head that you could not pay because you did not have steady income. You struggled with your Black self-esteem because our system continues to take and take until…what…we are tired. Folks are trying to claim us one way or the other: get our bodies and/or destroy our souls. The psychological warfare is deadlier than physical violent one.

Lesson learned: I will keep breathing because it is a part of the destiny that I have determined for myself. Other lesson learned: I have to keep breathing for you, Sandy. You and other thousands of Black women and their lives…I have to be accounted for while I am still breathing. The veil has been lifted from my eyes. I have to do my part and not hide. I have to show that our lives matter. Our stories matter so we can live in a country where we don’t need to hold our breath. That we can inhale and exhale for ourselves, our children, and our country. That Black women are not a threat. We have been exploited for so long, but we belong in this country as well. We are valuable to this country. Our contributions of valuable. I am a storyteller first and foremost. Our stories are important. My story is important and yours is. Our peace is important as well. We want to co-exist with everyone peacefully and live our lives to the fullest. A part of that is recognizing that system of Whiteness harms all of us. Not just Black women. White folks. Black folks. All people of color. How are supposed to become a stronger nation when we continued to be racially divided and certain folks are looked upon as their lives not being as valuable as theirs?

The one that will continue to keep breathing and make it to over a hundred,
Sophia

Jonathan Franzen & Whiteness

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Hey, B!

What a treat from S! You deserve it. You’ve been working hard.

I’ve seen the Jonathan Franzen article on another author’s Facebook page I follow! I didn’t get a chance to read it, but I skimmed through his interview. Franzen is a fascinating author to me. He would say something as such about him not writing about race, but he does. His race is Whiteness and tends to be Western whiteness.

I stand corrected: it’s mid-Western Whiteness.

Could he really write about Black people or other people of color? I don’t think if he could and do it in an accurate portrayal. I mean in some ways, I can’t help that he is honest but in his ignorance as well. It is White male privilege to say that I don’t have Black friends which means that I don’t go out of my way to make or have Black friends or Black people in my life. Since I don’t go out of my way to make those connections or friends, I cannot possibly write about them. Lena Dunham, the creator of GIRLS, said something similarly, but she actually did make an attempt to write a Black male character…although though she created a Black male character, you can see that if she wants to, she can write Black characters from her perspective as a White woman.

I find it all fascinating as Black writer.

I mean I enjoy watching Sex and the City and GIRLS because I recognize what those shows mean…maybe a part of it is that they are women…

And I can relate to certain situations because I’ve been in similar situations because those characters are female characters.

But I can also relate to Franzen in a way, too, because we are both writers even though he may not be able to completely relate to me. He and I would have to have a conversation about that though.

Hey, B! I hope that your week went well, and you have gotten some time to breathe!!!

I went ahead and read the Jonathan Franzen interview before I wanted to respond to some of the points you’ve made more in depth.

My impressions of Jonathan Franzen is that he does understand his White privilege a lot more than folks think, but I get a hint that maybe he knows that he is egotistical as well. There are some moments in his responses in the interview that I am like…he knows that he is afforded a platform because he is a White male. I am sort of impressed that he actually can admit that he is privileged, and he doesn’t want to do much about it. Maybe some folks would put up a huge argument with me particularly Black folk and people of color about my opinions on this, but I think from his stance as a White male that this is as good as you are going to get it with someone who is not interested in being a social justice activist.

Basically, he knows that he lives in a White male privileged world, and I think in a lot of ways, he doesn’t t want to touch race because he knows that he would do a shitty job of writing about it and mangle it. Basically, in a nevertheless about way, he is saying that he doesn’t seek out Black friends because of the spaces he occupies which means that he is interested in other matters, and they happen to fit into his spaces that he occupies, and this is because of his Whitness.

Does this anger me or make me like…what a prick? No, not really. I think it is because he does admit it from the get go of what he is and what he is interested in. Some folks aren’t going to fight battles that they don’t want to be a part of, and I think that he is more honest than other White males that I have encountered or known. Throughout the interview, he even talks about what he isn’t interested in.

Another thing that interested me greatly is how he sees writing and his writing process which he and I have opposite philosophies on. I like a more involved story in my head which means researching a lot of information to make sure that I have it at more disposal when I write. For me and from my perspective, my fiction is only good when I know a lot of about what I want to know about at my disposal. But his philosophy is write what you know. That’s what William Faulkner did and Ernest Hemingway did. One could argue that this maybe a fundamental trend of principles of White male writers. It is to write what you know because the precedent is already set for you by writes like Hemingway and Faulkner to do that.

So, the two questions are…can Franzen write about other races? More specifically, can Franzen write about other races in a realistic portrayal from his perspective? My answer is that he can only write about them from what he knows from his (limited) perspective of what he knows about Black people. Because maybe he doesn’t like reading criticism and taking it well, and he doesn’t want to get slammed for writing something he may not know very well or can’t represent well.

The other question is…does Franzen write about race? Yes, he writes about his race, the White race. I believe I am interested in his writing and his characters because, like I am with Hemingway, there is truth to his fiction about how humans behave from his perspective. In Freedom, certainly, the characters in that novel are pathetic. There are White folks who are wounded, and they go about hurting one another because they have wound each other in their circle continuously. What I do admire about that novel and how Franzen creates and structures it is that many of us get involved in soap opera dramas in real life, and they play out because we are seeking something that we didn’t have when  we were growing up. We construct our identities, and we really find out that a lot of what we’ve constructed is really shitty about ourselves. I am thinking about myself while we were in our ECHD 8000 course…I thought about how I’ve been complicit in a system where I am getting gains. It is the same thing concerning the characters in Freedom…they are complicit in their Whiteness that results them in getting gains (financial gains, artistic gains, narcissistic gains, etc.). These gains actually drive them to become despicable people.

Anyway, I am going to post the contents of what I’ve written you (my part) on my blog. This is a noteworthy discussion to have for me because I don’t think about Franzen in these ways as Black female writer, myself.

What are your thoughts?

S

I am a Jonathan Franzen reader. You are thinking…Sophia, oh hell no, not you, Friend.

The conversation that my friend, B, and I have up above are my thoughts about Jonathan Franzen. Today, I sat in the Barnes and Noble café after I bought a huge lot of James Baldwin books, and I saw a new one published, The Fire Next Time that is edited by Jemayn Ward. As I sat down and read the entire conversation while eating a tiramisu cup and drinking dark roasted coffee, another layer of Jonathan Franzen was peeled in front of my eyes as to who he is. A huge part of that is explained in my comments above. Franzen admitted in an interview done by Issac Chotiner “A Conversation with Jonathan Franzen” (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/interrogation/2016/07/a_conversation_with_novelist_jonathan_franzen.html)  that he is a White male who has benefited from White privilege. He also admits that he doesn’t write about Black people because he doesn’t know Black people or hasn’t been in love with a Black woman. He expresses that in order to write his characters he has to love his characters. I’ve seen responses from some folks from social media that this a cop out from Franzen. That he is writing about race—his race—the White race.

He admits this in the interview to Chotiner that he writes about Whiteness when Chotiner asks him about it, and he doesn’t deny it:

You must know that a lot of the response to you is surely that you are this white guy writing about white guy things.

And yet some people like it, so you can’t please everybody. You should worry if you are pleasing everybody. I write for the people who like the kind of books I like.”

Again, Franzen admits that he writes books about Whiteness even though he doesn’t explicitly admit it in his response. I believe what I am most impressed by with Franzen is his ability as a White male to admit that he does have White privilege. That he does write for a White audience, and that he has been afforded opportunities that others haven’t been afforded such as him.

I guess I am confused about what people are asking for now since I’ve read his interview, and I’ve seen responses about what he said in his interview. What are folks asking for? Are folks asking him to be a revolutionist? Because he ain’t going to do it. He says in the interview that he is lazy and doesn’t believe in much, and he isn’t going to be prompt to action unless it affects him. Hand in hand, this interview demonstrates Franzen’s White privilege—the very same White privilege that he admits to.

I don’t know many fifty something year old White men who will admit that they have White privilege. There is an acquaintance/friend who I no longer have a relationship with who could not handle her White fragility. I didn’t even bring anything up with her, and she unfriended me from Facebook because she could not handle an article that I posted about White fragility that was written by a White female writer. We had a discussion, and she made up so many excuses and was so condescending to me that I blocked her. At least with Franzen, he admits on some levels that he is afforded the opportunities and experiences that he has because of his Whiteness.

I am not trying to make Jonathan Franzen some kind of hero. What I am saying is that folks should not expect him to be an anti-racist social justice activist. Again, he at least admitted that he is White privilege. Even for him, that says a lot to me about him.
S

The World Through My Eyes

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Dear Tamara, Kwane, Angel, and Harmony:

It hurts me to know that you will be already judged because of your skin color. I know. It is sad, and it is unfair, but I want you to know despite of what other people think you already are, I want to part to you what I know to be true. That you will always matter. I will always see you.

Blackness Is Who We Are

Tamara, Angela and Harmony, little black girls enter into this world already knowing that Blackness is not beautiful. That your worth is measured against Whiteness. That you should be a White standard of beauty. It killed Pecola’s spirit in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It wore her down where she didn’t stand a chance to have blue eyes, white  and fair skin, and blonde hair like Shirley Temple. The world of Whiteness weighed her down and smothered her until her soul was a shell of nothing. That frightens me because I don’t want you girls to experience that. I want you to know that you are beautiful. Chocolate skin is beautiful. All colors of brown are beautiful. Whiteness is beautiful as well, but it becomes ugly when it becomes the dominant standard in everything of our lives. It strips away in what makes us special. Blackness is special, too, and there is room for us because we want the same things that all American citizens want. Love, laughter, and lucky charms. Yet, we should not have to sacrifice parts of who we are to achieve it or receive it.

Kwane, being a little black boy is just as tough in this country. You are told that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, and brave enough. Our country teaches you to be afraid of your own shadow. There are hardly any of Black men in the Sciences, Mathematics, Humanities, and other disciplines and spaces all over our country. It pains me to tell you that most of you are in the prison system. Most Black boys become Black men, and by the time you become a man, you are most likely have to visited a juvenile system over five times, and sadly, you may have graduated in visiting a jail cell or a prison cell. I want to tell you that being violent isn’t the way to go. It doesn’t solve issues because those issues are over 240 years old, and we are still counting how those issues continue to exist. I want you to know that you are smart enough to love knowledge because I know. Knowledge will help set you free. I am not talking about just acquiring information. I am talking about analyzing and synthesizing information. It is called critical thinking skills.

I believe that you and your sisters have the ability to think outside the box. I want you to grow up and occupy the spaces that we need Black folks in. We need more Black scientists, teachers, doctors, scholars, professors, lawyers, psychologists, writers, etc. Even if you don’t pick that, I want you to know that you matter because I see you. I see what you are able to do. I can see it because I am you.

 

Flemings/Flemmings Are Who We Are

Many Flemings/Flemmings don’t fair-well in our family. Your Grandma Janice Mae was hardly satisfied. She always called herself dumb and did not have the support of her school and our family to attend college. Instead, she got pregnant with me and went on welfare. For twenty years, she was on welfare, and she thought that it was her best that she could do. The folks in our family, especially the women…we keep moving, but we pay a hefty price. We become estranged from each other. We turn on each other. The only comparison I have to this is in Sula (also by the great Toni Morrison) when Hannah, Eva’s daughter, asks her did Eva ever love them (Hannah, Plum, and Pearl). Hannah says, “I didn’t mean that, Mamma. I know you fed us and all. I was talkin’ ‘bout something else. Like. Like. Playin’ with us. Did you ever, you know, play with us?” And Eva’s response is: “Play? Wasn’t nobody playin’ in 1895. Just ‘cause you got it good now you think it was always this good? 1895 was a killer, girl. Things was bad. Niggers was dying like flies. Stepping tall, ain’t you? Uncle Paul gone bring me two bushels. Yeh. And they’s a melon downstairs, ain’t they? And I bake every Saturday, and Shad brings fish on Friday, and they’s a pork barrel full of meal, and we float eggs in a rock of vinegar….”

My mom loved Ashley, your mom, and me. However, she didn’t show it with kisses and hugs. She showed it with in teaching us how to survive. There are no hugs and kisses when you are moving because a Mama has to put food on the table. She has to make those decisions that we will exist in the world because she sees us even though I didn’t think that she did. She did the best that she could, and I cannot hold it against her for not giving me hugs and kisses because I understand now. I understand because I am a Black woman now. Even though I operate in different spaces than your Grandmother Janice, I understand what it is to fight because it is in our DNA to survive. Survive first and ask questions later. However, those of us who go beyond survival, like I have, have to reconcile that survival is a coping mechanism—and I have used it to hide behind the racial trauma that I have experienced. We have to figure out that level of…how okay are we? And that it is okay to admit that we have suffered from trauma and find ways to provide self-care for ourselves. I know. It is hard because W.E.B. DuBois describes it as double consciousness. A part of double consciousness is to worry about our survival in our home (our country) where we feel like we do not belong. I have found ways to go beyond survival, and I am here to help you as well because it is important the next generation of Flemings/Flemmings survive and seek within ourselves to become better than what we are.

Black Bodies are Black Souls
My heart is filled with sorrow because our Black Bodies aren’t viewed as Black souls because Whiteness makes us appear invisible. What White supremacy continues to do is to create double consciousness for Black folks who come into this world. All four of you will feel, at times, that you are pull into two worlds. You will feel that your Blackness is pain. Your Blackness is inopportune. You will naturally fight against accepting your Blackness because it is the opposite of Whiteness, and America values Whiteness. What is Whiteness? Whiteness is a system where everything is pristine, perfect, and perky. Whiteness is positive. Speaking and writing perfect English is Whiteness. Making straight As is Whiteness. Bleaching your skin is Whiteness. Having a lot of wealth is Whiteness. Being White is a part of “The Dream” that Ta’Nehisi Coates discusses in his autoethnographic work, Between the World and Me. I believed in The Dream, too. The Dream is when you work very hard and defy all obstacles that come in your way in achieving your own wealth. What comes with that wealth is getting married, having children, and living in a house on Main Street with a white picket fence, animals of your choosing, a very nice sedan, and great neighbors like you. However, The Dream excludes any of your Blackness because Blackness isn’t included in The Dream. Black folks are told…if you work hard, you will become Oprah Winfrey. From most White folks, Oprah Winfrey represents all of what “successful Black folks” should be.

But The Dream, as a wise classmate shouted, is bullshit. It is bull because I don’t want you to spend all your life thinking that all of you have achieved a standard of living that isn’t everyone’s reality. Yes, you will see others on television, in films, in books, and even in real life living The Dream. Yet, let me lift the veil for you. A dream in this sense is a mirage. It is something that we had been conditioned to believe we all have the opportunity to achieve. It is not true. Black folks have gotten far within over 240 years, but it hasn’t been that far for many of us. Those of us who occupy spaces in academia and industry and domesticity struggle still because we still look at ourselves through a lens of Whiteness. We still use Whiteness as a measuring stick in what we are not. We are NOT WHITE. We are born under a system that gives all Black folks a disadvantage. We never got our reparations, so that set us back. When we created our Harlem Renaissance, it fell hard, and all we have is remnants of it, and thank the Universe for that. Thank Zora, Langston, Alaine, Claude, and the rest of the Harlem Renaissance crew for creating that because we wouldn’t know that we ruled a part of America for a little while at least. Even then, Zora’s Black body fluttered away without no one knowing until Mama Alice Walker erected and resurrected her by creating a monumental marker and letting us Black folks now…she DID EXIST, and she was more than just a Black body. She was a Black soul.

Who I Am

Right now, I have realized that this born Augusta County, living in Bleckley Country college graduate of Baldwin County and forging her way to a doctoral program in Clarke County Flemming is someone visible. That being Black is power, pride, and persistent. I have to work on it every day loving the parts of myself that I didn’t know exist. Being BLACK is our birthright. It chooses us, and I am grateful. I am grateful that I come from people who are innovators. Who are creators. Who are groundshakers and groundbreakers. People who have endured Slavery and Jim Crow. Most of all, I am proud that I come from a group of people who still fight beyond the good fight.

I don’t want all four of you to just keep moving because it is for survival. I want you to dance after you learn how to move. I just don’t want you to survive. I want you to exist. And then, I want you to do more than existing. I want you to fly. Then, I want you to learn how to soar. It is never easy being Black in this country. I don’t know if racism, Whiteness, White privilege, and White supremacy will disappear all one day. Yet, we have to continue to combat it. I want all four of you to know that your Blackness is GOOD. It does matter. You matter. I see YOU. I will always see you.

Love,
Your Aunt Sophia