Tag Archives: abolition

At dusk, I’m thinking

It’s Wednesday and the sun is setting. I’m enduring a rare headache. It has not drowned in water nor drifted away in sleep, despite my best efforts. I guess it’s here to stay a bit. I’m due to stay up this evening and watch American Horror Story. I’m not normally a night owl, but I’m doing it this one time in solidarity with Sojo and Ms. Smart so we can do one of these. Just this one time though…

I’m thinking about compassionate capitalism. I imagine such a thing exists. I want you to imagine it, too. I aim to find it, and write about it, as to expand our understanding about what’s possible in a loving society. 

I’m thinking about practitioners of restorative justice, especially those in Georgia or in the south. I want to know more about what they do and what impact it has in their respective communities. I want to interview them and document their stories. 

I’m thinking about abolitionists. Those who would abolish the death penalty as well as those who would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Although some states still murder prisoners, others are slowing and/or stopping the practice.  Meanwhile, budget cuts are forcing states to question caging as the default response to nonconforming behavior. In many states it costs more per year than college tuition. With no restoration and no education. Just revenge. I want less revenge. More evolution. More solutions. More healing. More love.

I’m pondering the ways these elements are interwoven. And the fact that any discussion of these ideas must eventually include public schooling… from the zero tolerance policies leading to the school to prison pipeline, to the capitalist ideals underpinning school policy and curriculum.

Things I’m thinking about this Wednesday evening. What’s on your mind?

What are you up to this week?

I’m excited to be in North Carolina this morning. I’m attending the 10th Annual Qualitative Research Summer Intensive. I’m here for a two-day workshop on grounded theory with Kathy Charmaz. Very awesome. I brought my survivor story as my sample data, so this should be interesting.

In other news, I’ve launched a book project (unrelated) and once that’s more fully established, I’ll share a bit in this space. It’s a good entry point into thinking and learning more about mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex.

There are a couple of other projects I’m mulling that are just about ready to shift into the doing stage. That’s something I’m working on this year – taking action on ideas instead of letting them live (and sometimes eventually, die) in my head.

Speaking of other projects – I’m the program committee chair of the 3rd Annual National Black Women’s Life Balance and Wellness Conference. This week we’re sending out decision notes to women who submitted proposals. There were quite a few excellent ones, so it’s definitely a labor of love to select the presenters.

And since we’re on the topic of wellness, I’ve started back running. I ran this morning (on a treadmill. Ack!), and I’ve almost completed my first running goal of the year.

Keeping busy!

So… enough about me. What are you up to this week? Goals? Milestones? Challenges? Chime in!

Ask questions

As a graduate student, one of my favorite topics of discussion and research was inquiry. Asking questions, conducting investigations, and building knowledge through exploration are powerful tools for thinking and learning. As I continued in my studies, I learned of critical inquiry, which expands the idea of questioning to include a political or sociocultural lens. Developing conscientização, or critical awareness/awakening, is akin to taking the red pill. You start to ask sociopolitical questions and suddenly  you are hard-pressed to see anything as flat, uncomplicated or devoid of nuance. This isn’t a negative thing, but it makes for interesting conversations.

The Meaning of FreedomI mention all of this to introduce a quote by Angela Davis. I’m currently reading The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,  a compilation of speeches she delivered between 1994 and 2009. One thing I appreciate about Dr. Davis’ work is her constant admonition to reflect upon, reconsider, and rethink long-held ideas about “normalcy.” In her speech titled Race, Power and Prisons Since 9/11, she discusses the embodiment of evil and its requisite opposite good, xenophobia, militarism and the ever-expanding punishment industry. Although this is the context for the excerpt below, it’s a salient word, and useful for all serious thinkers reflecting on the world.

Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It is incumbent on us to think, to question, to be critical, and to recognize that if we do not interrogate that which we most take for granted, if we are not willing to question the anchoring ground of our ideas, opinions and attitudes, then we will never move forward.
~Angela Davis

Dereliction and Fire

Narrative of Frederick DouglassI debated the merits of crafting a preamble to this excerpt, and as I begin typing, I honestly haven’t decided what to say about it. So we’ll see…

I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Early on in my reading, I became angry. I graduated from a high school named after this man. We did not read his words. At various points, teachers or administrators recited quotes of his, or summarized the “highlights” of his life. Our mascot, school paper and yearbook were all symbolic of him. But we did not read his words.

We did not spend time in an English class, nor a history class, nor an extracurricular making sense of his life. Glaring omission seems too quiet, too meek, too gray to describe it. Dereliction of duty is how I framed it in a brief note of complaint to a friend. And perhaps it was our fault, incurious teenagers that we were, we didn’t seek him out on our own accord.

I don’t know why it was not mandatory for incoming freshmen at the very least. Not just to find out more about Douglass as a historical figure, but also to help us begin to understand his fire to free both his mind and body. For him, the two were interconnected in ways that may not seem as obvious now. But we needed that. We need that.

I don’t know whether its apathy or rebellion, but it seems the fire has gone out in many quarters. Whether we blame government mandates, institutionalized oppressions, our families, ourselves, somehow we must at least acknowledge that smoldering embers and cooling ashes are often found where fires once roared.

I have more to say on the matter, but for now let us read his words:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ʺIf you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master‐‐to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,ʺ said he, ʺif you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty‐‐to wit, the white manʹs power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

~Frederick Douglass