Making Places, Looking to Ida, and Keeping White Supremacy Safe

February 7, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.

1. Queer Muslim women from the south: ‘We exist and we’re fierce’
For The Guardian, Samra Habib profiled three queer Muslim women from Durham, North Carolina. One woman, Saba, discussed her fears and hopes: “Our safety, our survival, is routinely threatened in the name of some hypothetical greater safety that does not include us. What they are trying to keep safe is white supremacy, what they are trying to protect is their own power. I’m scared about hate crimes, about healthcare, about same-sex marriage and reproductive rights being negatively impacted, about voter suppression, Muslim registries, and deportations. It is a really sobering time, seeing how power is operating in this country and how important it is that we get organized so we can take that power. Right now, there are protests in Durham daily. I’m seeing more and more brand-new folks showing up to protests than ever before. We are coming together to hear directly from those impacted by these racist policies, to speak out in solidarity with them. Folks are calling their representatives and encouraging others to do the same. I’ve been in North Carolina my entire life. There are a lot of challenges and fears, to be sure, but I love that I am born and raised in the south. As I’ve gotten older, I feel more deeply that this is my state, and that makes me dedicated to stay here and make it better.”

2. Sabaah Folayan: You Don’t Need to Wait for Permission to Become an Activist
For Elle, Estelle Tang profiles black woman filmmaker Sabaah Folayan. Folayan chornicled the life of activists in Ferguson, Missouri in her new documentary, Whose Streets?: “In September 2014, a month after Michael Brown was killed, Folayan traveled to Ferguson, thinking she might be able to help with the trauma resulting from the ongoing conflict between police and protestors. But once she got there, she realized there was a much bigger story to tell. […] One of the activists we meet in Folayan’s documentary is Brittany Farrell, a 25-year-old registered nurse. Farrell, whose passion for justice ignites the documentary, was eventually arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace. But her fight doesn’t stop at present-day protesting and organizing; one of the film’s most moving scenes shows Farrell teaching her daughter Kenna the words of activist Assata Shakur. Seeing Farrell pass these tools for protest to the next generation is a sobering sight; it reminds us that racism and police violence will probably persist beyond this lifetime. But her energy is, as Folayan described it, ‘magnetic.’ She inspires her fellow Ferguson residents and influenced Folayan’s own path […] ‘She said, ‘You don’t wait for someone to make a place for you—you take your place.’ And that woke me up personally and inspired me, in doing this project, not to wait for permission.'”

3. Lynchings and Lies: Why Ida B. Wells’ Legacy Might Be The Answer To Donald Trump
Jordie Davies of the Black Youth Project: “This week, I read a compilation of investigative journalist Ida B. Wells’ writings entitled, On Lynchings, which discusses anti-Black extra-judicial violence and murder in the United States in the post-Reconstruction period. This historical record made me consider: what public lies are justifying today’s political violence against religious and racial minorities, the poor, and so many other ‘others’? And I remembered the wall and the ban. Donald Trump has been telling public lies about Mexicans, Muslims, and refugees for years. He has painted them all as dangerous and unfit for citizenship, unworthy of presence amongst the American people.[…] How are we to face these public lies? Wells provides instructions. In her writings, she gives rich context and evidence concerning the true nature and barbaric violence of lynching, noting gaps in the white press and providing unedited facts and statistics. Wells encouraged readers to speak truth to power: ‘What can you do, reader, to prevent lynching, to thwart anarchy and promote law and order throughout our land? First, you can help disseminate the facts contained in this book by bringing them to the knowledge of everyone with whom you come in contact, to the end that public sentiment may be revolutionized. Let the facts speak for themselves, with you as a medium.'”

4. ‘Can I Touch It?’ The Implicit Bias Against Black Women’s Natural Hair
Kimberly Lawson for Broadly: “For many, and especially for many women of color, hair can play a central role in the forming of identities. Cheryl Thompson, a University of Toronto professor with a background in visual culture and identity politics, wrote in 2009, ‘For young black girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in turn, how you feel about yourself.’ That’s part of the reason why Alexis McGill Johnson, the executive director and co-founder of the Perception Institute (a group of researchers and advocates working to translate psychological science to help reduce discrimination and other harms linked to race, gender, and other identity differences), and her fellow researchers developed the first-ever Hair Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures whether or not men and women are unconsciously biased against women of color’s natural hairstyles. […] In terms of the IAT, the study found that a majority of participants, regardless of race, showed implicit bias against black women’s textured hair. ‘That’s somewhat expected because hair is a key racial identifier and second only to skin color,’ McGill Johnson says. ‘Obviously, the associations that we make around race will transfer to hair.'”

5. The most important black woman sculptor of the 20th century deserves more recognition
Keisha N. Blain for Timeline: “Agusta Savage started sculpting as a child in the 1900s using what she could get her hands on: the clay that was part of the natural landscape in her hometown of Green Cove Springs, Florida. Eventually her talents took her far from the clay pits of the South. She joined the burgeoning arts scene of the Harlem Renaissance when her talents led her to New York. Her work was lauded, and she was consistently admired by contemporary black artists, but her renown was transient. And much of her work has been lost, since she could mostly afford to cast only in plaster. Like other key figures of the 1920s such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, Savage skillfully challenged negative images and stereotypical depictions of black people. One of her largest commissions, for instance, were sculptures for the World’s Fair of 1939, inspired by “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often described as the black national anthem. “The Harp,” another work in the commission, depicted black singers as the ascending strings of that instrument. […] The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture did stage an exhibit featuring nineteen of her pieces in 1988, but few of her sculptures remain. Even so, Savage remains arguably the most influential black woman sculptor of the 20th century.”