Greetings LQP People!
I'm back after a MUCH needed hiatus and mental recharge. I have been preoccupied and the newsletter silent these past few months as I juggled multiple life altering events at once, while seemingly dancing on the cliff of what felt like personal apocalypse. Almost as an observer of my own life in a bizarre silent movie, my life has morphed, changed and transformed into new, exciting and sometimes scary adventures on a near daily basis. Despite the silence of the newsletter, I have been very busy posting articles around race issues on The Lynch Quilts Project Facebook page several times per week. Click here to check it out all out.
I want to say thank you for all the emails from those that have checked in over the past few months to inquire about, "Where are you?" "Are you okay?" "How can I help with the project?" To the many individuals that I have encountered in the oddest of places on my travels these past months, many that knew me only by association with LQP, and simply asked, "Will there be more?"
To answer everyone's questions, "Yes. I am okay."
"Yes, there will be more."
In fact I must sew furiously over the next 6 months as Quilt II, RedRum Summer 1919 and Quilt IV, Rules, Declaration and Rights, are slated to appear in the Indianapolis International Airport in late fall 2014.
Again, I come to you the community to ask for your help to pull off this effort. Nothing complicated, just a few days to whip out your sewing machine and sew together the blocks in straight lines. As you know Quilt IV is a series of words. I can happily send you a few words or a sentence or two and you can sew together and send them back. Thanks to the ladies that have been key to adding embroidery to the mix of Quilt IV.
We've been hanging in there for 10 years now and the project is finally at the precipice of leaping to the next stage. Quite a few organizations are waiting simply for 3 or more quilts to be completed to have an exhibition. If we are able to keep pace, by the end of summer 2014, 4 of 6 will be ready for exhibition together.
Quilt II is presently being quilted and is in the hands of Master Quilter Trish Williams. The quilt is somewhat on the large size. Too large to fit into Ms. Williams home and has to be trucked all the way to the library to get worked on.
Quilt V, The Making Quilt is in production in Chicago in the wonderful hands of Master Quilter Otis Grove. Quilt IV, I have started to piece together the 433 blocks and then it will go to Master Quilter Ruth to machine quilt the top. Quilt III, A Partial Listing, we'll I'll jump right on it as soon as Quilt IV is out the door. However, if you have the desire to simply count blocks and sew together, very simple work, that would be useful as well.
Starting in June, we'll be sewing alternating Saturdays and Sundays. The locations and times will be determined by May 15th. Let me know if you are in Indy and able to assist. and if you are out of town, I am happy to ship them to you to work on.
As you know it is gardening time. Unfortunately, my beautiful garden at Big Car's Service Center for Contemporary Cultural and Community has loss its space. High rents strike again and this lovely green oasis in the middle of an asphalt jungle has come to a close.
To say I am mourning is an understatement. The garden is my place of refuge and is MUCH needed as we plunge back into the world of lynching. As a colleguaue once told me. "Sometimes you just have to put this down and walk away for a while. And when you leave lynching it takes a long time to work your way back into it."
Well, I am working my way back into this, but without one of my primary support systems. ARGH!!!
Again, thank you all for you continued support.
This is ONLY possible due to all of you!
With the utmost gratitude,
Lynching , The New Jim Crow and Me
What is lynching about and how is it connected to our reality today? Lynching at its core is about control of populations, about the maintenance of white supremacy in our country. When we talk about white supremacy, it's not about calling someone a nigga. It is about creating systems that guarantee access to resources and opportunities for some, while keeping others "in their place."
Before lynching, there was slavery and in some ways no need for lynching. This is not to say that enslaved persons were not murdered, punished, raped and all manners of torture - spiritual, emotional and physical. There was no need for lynching during slavery, because slaves did not have legal rights or power.
Lynching manifested after the Civil War when blacks became a threat against white supremacy. Their new found freedom gave them the right, in theory, to participate fully in the American society. This meant, they too had the right to make choices, to compete openly for resources, to be judged fairly. In essence, all blacks for the first time in American history had the right to determine their future . . . without the permission of others.
Lynching is the reflection of white society trying to stay on top and in power. It is in some respect the fear of lack of power. Many individuals were lynched for simply standing up for their rights, not accepting second class citizenship, defending their homes and women, and other 'crimes' against white supremacy. Lynching was just the most effective weapon of the time to try and keep black populations in line. Jim Crow Laws were later enacted to keep populations legally separated and lack of access to many things.
It didn't work. Race riots erupted across the country time and again, as Black Americans fought against systems of oppression and eventually culimnating (sorta) into the Civil Rights Movement. But old Jim Crow is known to morph and has now went underground into our systems to twist and turn these old practices of control into something new and sinister. Jim Crow is now James Crow and much harder to put your finger on.
Gone are the days of bodies on trees and "Whites Only" signs. Instead it is more subtle, embedded in laws, shows up in the numerous ratchet reality programs that are soaked in the absolute worse stereotypes of the African American community, many of which were born during the Jim Crow era. Even popular mainstream hit shows like Scandal play to these drums. (See Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia).
We can see these same paradigms begin to re-emerge with the increase in activity and growth of white supremacist groups nationwide. Some attribute this to the impact of the first black president and the changing demographics to a browning of America. (See State of Hate: White Supremacist Groups Growing and The Hate Map).
As we move forward in time, one could argue that the war on drugs and the resulting effect of Mass Incarceration are in the words of Michelle Alexander, "The New Jim Crow." Today black and brown Americans represent roughly 30% of America's population, but 60% of the prison population. To get a full picture of the impact of Mass Incarceration on the African American community here are a few facts in the article 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the US Criminal Justice System.
So how does lynching, control, white supremacy and all this land at my feet in 2014? In many ways subtle and overt. I have large and beautiful family and like many in the African American community more than one relative has had brushes with the law. And more than one of my loved ones have spent time behind bars. But beyond this, all politics and systems are first and foremost experienced firsthand.
Around Thanksgiving my own values around this complex issue were challenged, leading me to question my core values for months.
It was a cold winter day and I arrived home well after dark, which in the northern states meant it was probably around 6 or 7 pm. But it was dark and cold. I was a little skittish coming home because that day I had a small child with me who had fallen asleep. Already, I had experienced no less than 7 attempted burglaries for the year. It was dark. I was vulnerable. My hands were full with bags and a baby. And . . . we are were at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, which meant my distracted self was an easy target for a would be robber.
Unknown to me a fire was brewing up the street.
A great big fire that burned down a historical bank to the ground; so hot that in the morning the only thing left standing was the iron bank vault. Throughout the night the firefighters beat back flames to keep neighboring homes and a church from catching fire. Then an electrical transformer caught on fire and about 5 minutes after I got in the house, iron security door locked and alarm set, the power to the entire neighborhood was cut.
It was pitch black for blocks.
I fumbled a bit in the house as this was unexpected and I had set my cell phone down during the unpacking rituals. About 2 minutes after the lights went out someone began knocking on the door, then the windows of the house, then many knocks surrounding several windows of the house at once. Then many voices followed by the scampering of feet as many someones ran around on the outside of the house.
Then it stopped and I was crawling around in darkness trying to find my purse, the phone . . . anything. I found the phone and called 911. "The lights are out and someone's knocking on my windows."
Just as I hung up, a loud bang begins as these faceless intruders begin to take a crow bar and shovel to pry the security bars off the windows of my house.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
It gets louder and louder. I am terrified. I have this child with me and cannot run out of the house as it is clear we are surrounded. Besides the child is sleep. How can I wake him and involve him in the sheer terror of this incident? I call the police again and they are on their way. All manner of horrors run through my mind as my city has in recent weeks experienced a series of home invasions resulting in rape and murder. Some have occurred within a few minutes of my house.
They say you have 3 responses when faced with danger: fight, fright or freeze. I think in that moment I experienced them all.
It was clear they had entered the house through the cellar window. There was a door separating them from me and the child. And I picked up the machete.
Just at that moment lights shined outside the windows as the police arrived and voices scattered. I was angry and terrified. The cops knew these people. They were a part of a burglary ring hitting up the entire neighborhood. They were connected to the drug dealers on the next block. They caught 3 of the 4.
The next morning there was a boy in my yard in his teens. I screamed what the hell are you doing in my yard? I'm sorry ma'am. I dropped something here. I told him to get out and he ran off. About 2 seconds later I ran to get my phone to take a photo as it dawned on me this is perhaps the 4th person. And what he is possibly looking for in my yard? Drugs? Will he come back now that he knows I've seen him? With more friends?
So here is where it gets interesting. The 2 adults are pleaded out fairly quickly in the New Year. The youth offender was 15 years old and remained in detention until around mid-April 2014. Throughout this time I received several phones call from different prosecutors. I explain to them time and again that I didn't see anything it was pitch dark. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Finally, one day a female prosecutor called and in the midst of her requests that I come and provide a victim impact statement about how violated I felt, I blurted out, "I don't think I am going to be a good witness for you. If this kid hasn't been in trouble already, I cannot willingly throw his life away. No one got hurt, except my nerves. You must understand that I view this from a restorative justice standpoint. Is there not another way for him to give back for his pay back? If we cannot believe in our children's ability to give"
I was shocked it came out of my mouth honestly. Over the 7 months since this happened, my anger and terror began to subside and be replaced with empathy for this young life. Don't get me wrong. I don't know what I would have done had confronted with saving myself and the child against intruders, especially given what had happened in the previous weeks and days before I was violated.
But as time moved, I started to feel we were all victims in this. Victims of a system that had set us on a crash course to that moment.
If our 'system' had not been constructed with de facto Jim Crow structures disguised in poor education, lack of youth opportunities, investment in prisons instead of in people, and so many other lacks. May this young man have chosen a different route?
What I did know in that moment is that I could not, would not throw another young life away without proof positive that this one was unworthy of a chance. Instead of rehabilitation, our system is designed from the perspective of never ending punishment. Even after someone pays their debt to the society, they are instantly marginalized for eternity. Perpetually paying for a crime with the lack of job/economic opportunities, removal of your right to vote, lack of access to educational and training opportunities, lack of access to housing; the list goes on and on. Is it any wonder that many return to a life of crime, because all other roads have been closed to them?
Human life has always been disposable in America. The genocide of Indigenous American tribes, enslavement of Africans, then lynching of Black Americas are the legacy we stand on. So, as we move forward in time, what is the legacy we leave behind? Do we face the challenge of building a different nation by beginning to dismantle these new systems of Jim Crow? Or, do we continue to accept that life is disposable and that being the world leader with more than 2.3 million Americans behind bars is the way we want to continue?
The choice is ours. And action must be taken today.
Articles about Mass Incarceration
LINKS to LQP ARTICLES
TEDx INDIANAPOLIS and 2013