The Whitney Museum chooses silence in an effort to displace, downplay, and negate valid public outrage regarding their policies, ethics and leadership. By Jamara Wakefield May 17th marked the start of the 79th Whitney Biennial. The Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition, featuring typically young and lesser-known artists, at the Whitney Museum of American Art […]
#FreeBree Matters. But, Stars and Bars Still Waves
Fresh off the heels of monthly news filled with tragedies affirming that black lives don’t matter and another Obama performance of Blackness — this time capping off his eulogy of slain senator and Reverend Clementa Pickney of Mother Emanuel A.M.E., with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” — Brittany “Bree” Newsome, an Octavia Butler loving, science fiction aficionado and avid blacktivist, in a bold act of civil disobedience, middle-fingered “forgiveness,” scaled the flag pole at South Carolina’s statehouse, and removed the stars and bars.
Sanctioned by divine authority — that is how this shero framed her actions, after being ordered down by police. After coactivist James Ian Tyson, a white ally who assisted Newsome, snapped the famous photo that crowded Facebook’s newsfeed, the two were promptly arrested by South Carolina’s Bureau of Protective Services, and charged with defacement of a public monument. Penalties include a 3 year prison sentence or $5,000 fine.
Released by a judge on a 3,000 bail, Newsome’s arrest and jailing — much like the Black unrest that followed the imprisonment of revolutionaries Huey Newton and Angela Davis, with the unique peculiar twist that is our 21st century digital activist world — quickly hatched #FreeBree, #KeepItDown, and an Indiegogo campaign.
Artists such as Rebecca Cohen, Niall Julian Watkins, and Quinn McGowan, inspired by Newsome’s bravery, immediately captured #BlackLivesMatter’s new wonder woman, locks blowing in the wind.
Celebrities hashtagged their solidarity, and Michael Moore — as only Michael Moore can do — vowed via tweet to fund her legal defense team which, according to one report, will include defense attorney Todd Rutherford, who will also represent Tyson.
Shortly after coming to grips with her new symbolic status, Newsome laced together some powerful thoughts that record her motivations for defying the state:
“For far too long, white supremacy has dominated the politics of America, resulting in the creation of racist laws and cultural practices designed to subjugate non-whites. And the emblem of the confederacy, the stars and bars, in all its manifestations, has long been the most recognizable banner of this political ideology.”
Further down in her statement, published in the Blue Nation Review, she says
I refuse to be ruled by fear. How can America be free and be ruled by fear? How can anyone be?
That day, black bodies across the Diaspora were not ruled by fear. That day, for a brief moment, black bodies across the Diaspora beamed, felt liberated. Standing up to the white state, even if destined to dissolve into symbolism, tends to have that effect. Coming from a cautious optimist who’s not easily overwhelmed by symbolic protest; given all the heartbreak that’s transpired as of late, Black America deserved that day and that moment, as much as it deserved Kendrick Lamar spitting hard hitting bars from his song “Alright” atop a vandalized police car prop, during Sunday’s BET Awards.
Social movements are fragile, with a momentum fluctuating between certitude and iffiness. Every snippet of rave, of fiber optic solidarity, of shifting profile pics, of hashtag-love, of memorialized fleeting victories, feeds the hope and great expectations oppressed people thrive on.
And great were our expectations, until we panned our eyes back up the flag pole, and found the stars and bars still waving.
Systemic racism went emergency room on Newsome’s bruise to white fragility, sending a black worker, much to the spiritual agony of our ancestors, to raise the flag back to its rightful, state-sanctioned place, just in the nick of time for a pro-confederate flag rally.
Even news of a new monument honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in Georgia’s capitol statehouse does not diminish the impact of such direct disrespect, for in Whitopia, anti-black racism and King statues have always been able to coexist just fine, so long as the pride and joy of the Confederacy can bring “balance” to the racial order, taunt all claims of black progress.
White supremacy and institutional anti-Black racism, the brick and mortar of both Confederate and United States alike, was not budged, dethroned; the system remains firmly just in tact. It came back strong and swinging. In the wake of Charleston massacre and a White, terrorist’s clarion call for a race war, more black churches faced attack (with no media coverage), more black children were lawfully killed without reprisal, more black bodies humiliated, after corporate giant Google filed Black faces under the label “Gorillas”; and another Black professor (Zandria Robinson) is catching heat for speaking truth to White power, equating Whiteness with terrorism.
Pro-Confederate flag marches (including one planned by Ku Klux Klan) are busily reminding America that white lives is the not so secret subtext of #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter; and a consolidated consensus in Whitopia, promulgated with a straight face by Fox News and TPM, that Dylann Roof is the victim of “mental illness.””We know, of course, that Roof expressed hateful white supremacist opinion,” writes Dr. Keith Ablow, in the Fox-published piece “Charleston: Why Didn’t Anyone Help Dylann Roof.”
“But we also know that psychiatrically ill people can channel their paranoia or depression or extreme self-loathing into bizarre beliefs that sometimes lead to the destruction of others. Those beliefs can look just like intense hatred — of a particular person or a whole race of people.”
But, worst of all, more so than the White Right’s disgusting humanizing propaganda: a toxic cocktail of internalized racism and respectability politics is being served, without the courtesy of a chaser, as Black southerners — in a fit of real mental instability — parrot the “heritage” trope instinctually deployed to revise and emotionalize the abomination that was America’s slavocracy.
Byron Thomas, a student at University of South Carolina, explaining his “bizarre” approval of Confederate logic to CNN’s Hala Gorani, evoked his “ancestors” and dismissed slavery as the central feature of Confederate south. Karen Cooper, a “Virginia Flagger” and Tea Party member, went even further, contending that “slavery was a choice,” at which point her a historicism kicked in, and led her to omit any mention of the common occurrence of slave revolts.
So, can we all agree that #NewBlack still mars the face of the earth, the breather that was Bree is over, and anti-Black racism has uped-the-ante? Time to get back to work.
Follow Antwan L. Herron on Twitter.