Original blog published on medium.com/chelseawiserva
Original blog published on medium.com/chelseawiserva
While Dr. Michael Rao, VCU President, boasts in public speeches about the university’s commitment to diversity and equity, and refers to VCU as “the place to achieve the American dream,” police with VCU printed boldly across their uniforms gear up to add to the patrolling of Black Richmond neighborhoods. One year ago, VCU graduate #MarcusDavidPeters was murdered by RPD, and most recently we had an unnamed Richmond Police Officer threaten Albert Hill middle school students (the officer still refuses to publicly apologize). Meanwhile, this is how Richmond leaders such as Dr. Rao and Mayor Stoney take action to uplift and center the communities they claim to represent — by increasing the number of police in those communities.
“Let’s go back to that idea of the dominant conditioning of misogynistic thinking. Point blank: our shaped lens tells us to value masculinity over everything. What if R. Kelly’s masculinity was called into question? What if something destroyed the macho-man shield society allows R. Kelly to hide behind? Bearing in mind the extreme nature of R. Kelly’s documented actions to date, what would shatter his masculine image?
What we know is male homosexuality is closely categorized by society as the proximity to femininity. What if R. Kelly’s masculinity was put into question with witness testimony by accusations of him assaulting boys or even R. Kelly himself enjoying anal play with these young girls? Would the black community and greater masculine-obsessed society finally react with agreeing to #MuteRKelly?”
“We must also address the internalizing misogyny that manifests in Black culture. For example, within our own spaces, womxn fall victim to mansplaining as to why R. Kelly’s face should still be displayed on a public wall, or ignorance about why a #MuteRKelly sign next to Aaliyah is exploiting her as a victim – rather than lifting her as a Black womxn artist. We must un-learn, and re-learn that eliminating the presence of toxic men creates a space for healthy womxn to thrive, even if it means we miss an opportunity to promote a juicy conversation. Protect Black girls first. “
I’m no art connoisseur, but I am known for dramatic geek-out responses to black feminism and was thrilled to be put on to Howardena Pindell by VMFA. Reflecting on how our country has omitted voices of color systemically through institutions and industries, including art education, I’d be willing to bet that even some art groupies in Richmond wouldn’t have known about Pindell without the launch of this exhibition. So, after diving into the book Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen, I learned that the artist’s lifelong collection of work was being elevated by the exhibition’s curators: Valerie Cassel Oliver, of VMFA, and Naomi Beckwith, of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The two accomplished African American women joined forces to curate VMFA’s exhibition, which was first on view in Chicago. As a clinical social worker, I felt my soul fill as I recognized VMFA was using an intersectional transformation to disrupt its own institutional patterns.
Fast-forward 15 years, two degrees, a daughter, a divorce and a career change later, and I’m again straddling two worlds as metro Richmond’s narrative change officer with theTruth, Racial Healing and Transformation(TRHT) project through Initiatives of Change USA. The W.H. Kellogg Foundation launched TRHT in 14 cities nationwide to help the country move away from the old storyline of white supremacy by telling the truth about history and writing a new, more inclusive version.
I see this happening in Richmond’s conversations about reinterpreting the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, with the efforts to acknowledge the wrongs inflicted upon the enslaved Africans who passed through Devil’s Half Acre, as well as with the renaming of schools and the efforts to memorialize those whose remains were dumped into a 19th-century medical school well at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University.
Historically, one space that has supported the innovation of black events and culture free from gentrification is the barbershop. By the early 1900s, barbering and the men’s grooming industry became the hub of learning and produced unprecedented wealth and opportunities for black men during some of the toughest eras in modern history. If we are watching and listening carefully, we can see how this is manifesting in Richmond. Chatting with black artists, creatives, and go-getters, the Brand New Wave barbershop was a place continually mentioned as a place to get a haircut, but also to share ideas. Brand New Wave is a barbershop on Hull Street owned and operated by J. Bizz, who is also a musician who hosts events in the city. What happens in the shop is more than expression of hair and socializing of friends; it is also a place to organize the community.
We watched what happened in Charlottesville last year. Across national news outlets, tiki torch-bearing, polo-popped-collar wearing, “fine people” stood alongside weaponized toy soldiers of the alt-right while throwing punches and projectiles with counter-protesters, all in front of police bystanders who offered their tacit approval.
If the neo-Nazis will ruthlessly murder a white woman over a piece of marble they will definitely run over our black selves. Our white co-hosts can maneuver in the crowd and be a presence that takes on the torch, literally and figuratively. Even armed with a press pass and a camera crew, to the tiki torch-carrying whites, we would become a number of racial epithets without hesitation. Our voices as black women come with a responsibility, on how and what to report, but would we be there this Sunday at Unite the Right 2?
Stoney insisted that he would be open to hearing ideas if reformation and policy needs are necessary. But the other end of that statement is, when would it be necessary? After another unarmed black man experiencing a mental health crisis was shot and killed by police?
The mic drop moment happened when Kyondra Briggs, cousin of Peters, addressed the Mayor’s canned auto-response, “if reform is needed.” She scolded him for it. She said it was an internal conflict to simultaneously maintain respect for him as the mayor while listening to him repeat the dreaded phrase, “if reform is needed.”
In the end, we all watched the same video. To reform or not to reform is not the question. Not in 2018, when black men and women are still being killed in disproportionate numbers by the police. Reform is the answer. It is the only way to honor the memory of a man who deserved help but received death.
Yet here’s a blast from America’s racist past: Remember that time the Black Panther Party was labeled a terrorist organization as they protected their community from police brutality and white supremacy? Are you now thinking, well the Black Panthers were pretty scary, Chelsea? If you are, then you’re proving my point. This incomplete narrative sits on the tongue of many Americans because labeling black activists as dangerous is a common and successful method of invalidating black voices, it’s easily swallowed by most of us, even black folks.
This was only four days after my article launched. I had solidified lost friendships, been put in and released from FB jail, and been called a racist in all sorts of creative ways; so this black writer deserved a drink and a night off. Out and about in RVA I quickly discovered that I needed to add rooftop bars to the list of spaces where white ladies can start to have these conversations – along with the yoga studios, cafes, and breweries. The need for these additional spaces to be added to the list is evidenced by my unsafe experience with the “bystander effect.”
Speaking of white lady tears, last year Michelle Wolf addressed the power of her’s on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. “I know I’m white, you know how I know I’m white, I can cry myself out of a parking ticket. Hell, I can cry myself out of a murder charge.”
Creatives like Wolf used her comedic talents to call out white lady toxicity. Yet the moral of the story is use whatever lane of expression you have to do your part without forgetting the simple stuff; like the power of your words, as you sit in the café of your gentrified neighborhood.
The most important impact you can make on a daily basis is developing the muscle memory (of the mind and tongue) needed to dismantle toxic white lady privilege – this is the work of all white women claiming to fight for change in 2018.
As we close out Black History Month (BHM), I must shout out my city for being true to celebrating our culture. There have been popular BHM events supported by non-blacks and held at the most sought-after venues for creatives, but more importantly, there were events that could only be pulled off by the black mavericks of Richmond – such as the “Still Nigga” art exhibit which debuted at Manchester Gallery last Friday.
There is much acknowledgment of historical figures throughout BHM, but millennials are here to recognize not just our past, but also our Black future. Black future acknowledgments are not easily digestible, in fact, the risk is too high for most Richmond media because it depicts just too much blackness. In a town that is renaming the very black Jackson Ward to the “arts district,” many are working to counteract such whitewashing by continuing to create and put themselves out for the world to judge.
Then I stopped and gazed, I watched my president speak and truly, I don’t know what he said but I’m sure they were full sentences and had relevant humor. My full attention was on the portrait. I was lost in the flowers as I looked for something. It felt as though I was searching for myself, with such a spectrum of diversity where did I fall? Unlike the normal day as a black woman, in the portrait, I had many choices to place myself in the painting. What a cool phenomenon of belonging. But I then did not feel the need to fit in. The sea of color felt so inviting I could dive in anywhere and feel as though I was part of the movement. I wanted to be included in the collective, diverse force of nature that empowered the first black man to serve as president. Inclusion in a portrait, Kehinde Wiley, creative genius.
The separation between how I see my total spend of $80 on inaugural events versus something even higher now has to also be viewed through the lens of class. I can see $80 as difficult, but to some, it is impossible. Yet to the inauguration committee, their audience would not have thought twice over an $80 or higher weekend of events.
Which asks the next question. Why shouldn’t I have been the intended audience for the entire weekend inauguration celebration? Black women, young people, and the progressive coalition ensured Northam’s victory. Was he the best Democratic candidate? Debatable. But we vote for survival in today’s political climate – more on this later. Nonetheless, I got to participate without having to withstand the frigid cold of his swearing in.
Democrats appear suspiciously calm for a group that are up for a potential takeover by a squad of melanin femmes. The appeal to Black woman superpower has become a pattern and we are being taken for granted. Since the number of votes coming from black women does not match the input of dollars from the Democratic Party, it’s time to re-balance the budget, folks. The Party says confidently that they’re ready and to collaborate with black women. But this is more than a partnership – it’s a takeover.
These Democrats know the power of the dollar. They are, after all, the party of centrist corporatists. Where they put these dollars is directly related to the value they place on the constituents that vote them into power. So, do you value black women or nah?
Checking one’s inventory starts by identifying your “firsts” when it comes to experiencing “blackness” or Black Culture. Reflecting on what has shaped our view of blackness creates teachable moments for us to chew on, but it’s also a necessary step if we’re committed to bridging the missed communications. As much as I want to use my biracial clinical social worker superpowers to translate, it is impossible to talk to white people about black people until white people have awareness of their own biases.