Race-work, Race-love

The Protest That Wasn’t: Lessons From an Exchange with a Cop

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm

pic4Breathing While Brown. Alive While Black.

There was a protest on Wednesday night, December 3rd, 2014 on 116th and Amsterdam. My partner and I were in a cab and we were stuck – cop cars everywhere, helicopters humming above us. Our cab driver was quickly asked to stop. My partner looked over at me and said, “It’s a protest.”

It was the evening we found out that there will be no indictment against Eric Garner’s murderer, Officer Daniel Pantaleo. It was a week after we heard that Mike Brown’s murderer will get away also. Same response: no indictment against Officer Darren Wilson.

It was the evening we were recovering from a small argument. “Baby,” he said. “I just want a hug”. A six foot one Brooklyn Man, former champion wrestler turned educator with a Master’s degree, a son of a nurse who believes in the power of love, but who couldn’t protect her son against police brutality, an evil he faced many times over in his lifetime.

“Be careful with each other, so you can be dangerous together.”Pic1

 

We were in the cab after having settled our small argument when we realized we had run right into a protest. He turned to me and said “What do you think?” We just got done enjoying a slice of pizza after having confronted a white man who delivered several racial microaggressions to me and the Asian American man next to us.

There is no rest for the racially weary….

At that moment, I knew what he was thinking. I knew we had to join. “Let’s go”, I said. We left the cab and attempted to join the protest. We didn’t get very far – police men and women were everywhere, none looked happy, none looked sympathetic to the protesters who weren’t even angry, just worried. Worried about our future, worried about their children’s futures….

We weren’t allowed to join the protestors. Why, we wondered aloud. Policemen and women surrounded the region the protesters gathered, a small region, but they covered the corners of 114th and Amsterdam Avenue. Anyone who wanted to join were told to turn around. Finally, my partner asked the cop nearest us “We want to join. How do we get in? How do we join them?” Several cops said, “You can’t”. Finally, one said, “You have to go around if you want to get in”. We marched to Morningside Avenue and back to Amsterdam. There were more cops. That’s when we realized that police surrounded the protesters and enclosed them and the area.

“We want to join them” my partner said again to another cop. With a big old smirk, the cop said “You can’t go in, turn around.”

“Why can’t I go in? We are peacefully protesting, so are they. Why can’t we go through?”

The cop said, “Turn around. Do us a favor, if you’re not going to turn around, move up the block”.

My partner responded, “Will I get arrested if I join?”

“Yes”, said the cop but this time he was laughing.

This stopped me cold. This man knows how to instill fear in people. This man knows how to trigger people. This man doesn’t know that we know our rights.

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“Then arrest us”, Marco said. At this point, we already made quick plans as to what we would do if he got arrested, if I got arrested, or if we both got arrested. But we both knew we were in this together. No matter what.

The cop laughed again. He said, “From one gentleman to another please step away from the protesters. You can stand by that building but you can’t join.”

At this point, I began to video the conversation. I wanted a reason for a possible arrest. “What’s the logic behind that? Why can’t we join? I don’t understand.”

That’s when another cop said, “Let them through.” After seeing countless potential protesters being turned away, we were allowed to go through their barricade, which really was a human chain of officers. We thought an arrest was certain even though we weren’t quite clear as to a reason for one… how powerful a cop is when he threatens arrest… even against two highly educated Latinos, we still felt the power of that threat.

The cop who threatened us reluctantly said, “Fine.”

We walked through. We joined the protesters. But we saw how the group was diminished having faced first hand a tactic used by the police – threatening arrest if we were going to join a peaceful protest. Although the group was small, the police were there full force. A wall of angry faces lined 114th and Amsterdam Avenue, Black and Brown faces that mirrored my own except they were protecting Police Brutality. We were not.

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On Thursday, December 4, 2014, thousands of people, including my students, marched against police brutality. According to the New York Times article, more than 200 people were arrested that evening. It was clear from various posts on social media that police continued to use tactics such as the one I described in my brief experience on Wednesday. It is clear from the reactions and the protests occurring  across the nation that a change is going to come. A racial reconstitution of policing must happen… But that Wednesday night I was afraid. I wasn’t fearful of protestors. I became afraid of the police for yet another reason – it was clear to me that police departments have been charged to ensure that change won’t come peacefully. Bearing witness to a stunted protest on Wednesday night opened my eyes to what the next steps will look like. My thoughts go to lessons learned from Ferguson, for our people there gave us a glimpse into the fire we may expect from our police, those who are supposed to protect and serve us. My heart goes out to the people in Ferguson for what I believe will be occuring in NYC very soon.

“We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”
– Frantz Fanon

An #EcuadorianAmerican, #DissertatingLatina Chronicle: A Response to “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful” Narrative

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm

“Little Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”, said (allegedly) Wanda Ginner, an alumna and board member for San Jose State University’s Tower Foundation.

I read this report as I was doubting my ability to be a successful candidate for postdoctoral and faculty appointments. I took a break from writing my personal statement where I wrote “My professional and academic work reflects my desire to be a professor one day” and read the reminder as reported in Inside Higher Ed, that I, a Latina, may not be good enough; and even if I did feel like I was good enough I know that someone, somewhere believed – firmly – that I was not good enough for the academy because of this line right here: “A Native New Yorker, Blanca is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants”.

BEV2My DNA, reflected in my face and on my body and in my speech will always be indicators to someone in power that I may never be successful.

So what do I do? I continue to plow through my faculty applications. As I express my desire to become a professor one day, I remember that my dad only had a second grade education and my grandparents were farmers who were also illiterate. My father, also a farmer, knew at 9 years old that he wanted a different life for himself. He left home to pursue a life outside of agriculture.

Think about that for a minute: he didn’t leave home because he was treated poorly; he left his home because he no longer wanted to be poor. At 9 years old.

What were you doing at 9 years old, Wanda Ginner?

In his 30’s, my father decided to leave Ecuador entirely and come to the U.S. where he was told he could make dolares not sucres (i.e. former Ecuadorian currency). Prior to leaving Ecuador, he made arrangements with an acquaintance already in New York to help him with housing in Queens. This man also promised he would show my father how to take the trains. Instead, he purposefully left my father alone on a train in New York City, where my father barely knew the language and had no friend to call. My father ended up on 110th Street in Manhattan. This was 1968.

He found himself lost on 110th Street at night, so he went to a hotel, a hotel where he encountered drug dealers and prostitutes, locked himself in a room, and prayed for the morning to come. When it finally did, he did what he was accustomed to doing since he was 9 years old: explore his surroundings. He walked north and noticed St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital. He walked a couple blocks more and saw a large campus. He entered and asked the security guard “What is this place?”. The security guard said, “This is Columbia University, one of the best universities in the world.” In that moment my father told himself “I can work at either of these places and my daughters can come to school here.” He saw this as an opportunity for him and for the family he still did not have. My father worked at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and learned English at Columbia University. Unfortunately, his daughter did not make it to Columbia University as an undergrad…but I am currently finishing my dissertation at Teachers College, Columbia University.

So much for that unsuccessful DNA that us poor Latinos have, huh?

As I write this, I don’t even recognize myself. It has been two months since I said goodbye to my life as an administrator of a Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) in NYC and I find myself thinking about the academy and the life of the mind. A full time dissertating Latina now, I am solely focused on a future in the professoriate. The transition from identifying as an administrator to seeing myself as a professor has been difficult to say the least. My doubts roar at me – can I really finish this dissertation and be a professor? Self-doubt aside, you know what DOESN’T help? Reading my fears on the news: “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”. The microaggressions and anti-Latino sentiment feel like a 1,000,000 cuts.

HEOPThe little Ecuadorian girl from Harlem who grew up watching Rocky movies and still pops a Rocky movie in when she has to get ready to rumble with her writing shakes that dirt off her shoulders (thanks, JayZ). But that dirt gets piled on, over and over again. I have heard similar comments throughout my graduate career from faculty, I have held my hermanas/os in the struggle after they have heard similar comments, and because my focus of my dissertation is campus racial conflict, I also have to read about anti-Latino sentiment in news reports and reflected in my respondents’ interviews.

I would like to kick that dirt off my shoulder but that dirt has been piled high for Latinas/os in the academy. Really high.

For these reasons, I have created the hashtag #dissertatinglatina. In the spirit of political autobiography, I document the trials and tribulations, victories and triumphs, that I as a dissertating Latina experience on the road toward the professoriate. Using social media as a platform, my hope is to counteract all the negativity surrounding Latina intellectualism and academic potential. Between tweets and selfies, although not sufficient, my hope is that the hashtag provide some support to other Latinas/os who are in a similar struggle of doubt. While there is always some version of a critique over the “selfie”, I believe that selfies particularly among people of color are powerful tools in counteracting what Junot Diaz describes what White Supremacy does to Latinas/os – turn us into vampires, monsters who are genetically incapable of being successful, a people without reflection. Like Junot Diaz, I want to make a couple of mirrors. I take selfies and write my experiences as a dissertating Latina because I am tired of living in a culture where Ecuadorian women are told they are ugly or are invisible; I get sick just thinking that I live in a society where people really do feel that Latinas/os do not have the DNA to be successful.

HEOP2My silence about my pain or success does no one any service – and I refuse to be in collusion with people who believe without any evidence that Latinas/os are genetically incapable of being intellectuals. I refuse to fall into the traps of White Supremacy where people who believe in Latino inferiority then feel that they have the power to make us successful.

The audacity of the Latina/o intellectual is this one: “[We] are just better at life than you” (Richard Sherman). We may be tired of kicking that dirt you put on our shoulders but we will continue to do that and still fight the good fight. We have to find a way to heal those million cuts/microaggressions we receive and still find the time to think, write, and research. We have to navigate hostile racial terrains on our campuses, while creating supportive environments for students of color.

This sounds like powerful DNA to me. Don’t you think?

Entonces, pa’lante, mi gente. When you win, I win.

And now – on to the next postdoctoral/faculty application. BEV copy

Racial Battle Fatigue and the Race Worker

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2014 at 11:04 pm

I woke up feeling very depressed this morning. For over a week we have heard horrific details about the murder of #MikeBrown by police officer #DarrenWilson; I have read and heard about friends and others who have been tear gassed because they were protesting peacefully and #Ferguson police have no clue how to build trust among their people.

And I felt helpless.

I am sure I am not alone. My roles as an educator and RaceWorker remind me of my work in this world – to educate people about race and racism. But sometimes this doesn’t feel enough.

There is such a thing called racial battle fatigue and to put it simply this is the emotional and physical effects people of color feel when we experience cumulative racist events. These effects are necessary to take care of – and not ignore.

I woke up this morning and forced myself to exercise. Thirty minutes of crying and exercising and I was reminded of one my participants from my research who explained that people who experience incidents of racial conflict must engage in a practice of self-care (I hope to write a chapter about this in my dissertation).

So I continued to exercise.

Then, I picked up readings by Professor Derrick Bell and reminded myself that this is BlackAugust. I also did some research on an AfroEcuadorian freedom fighter (Alonso de Illescas) from the late 1500s. I engaged in these acts of self care because while I continue to educate my students and those around me about race and racism, I may also be called one day to protest and fight. And when that day comes, I must be physically and emotionally ready to serve our people.

I write this message because I know some of you are experiencing similar feelings. I know the racial battle fatigue is real. So I urge you to engage in a practice of self care – because you may be called to engage in a difficult conversation with friends or family about race and racism or you may be called to organize a meeting or write for a magazine explaining this moment in our history – when every 28 hours Black people are killed at the hands of an armed official; when Brown men and women are detained and deported every day; when Black and Brown students are being pushed out of the academic pipeline; and so much more to list.

How do you practice self-care? Will you be ready when called to action?

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