This week’s Extra! Extra! brings you more news of antiblack violence paired with updates on what activists are up to in the US and a look at antiblack and anti-indigenous violence around the world. This was a big week for the US Supreme Court so we’ll bring you up to speed on what’s happened there. And, of course, your COVID-19 update plus a general survey of the state of things worldwide to close out.
What Does It Mean to Honor Black Lives While Continuing to Report on the Murders of Black People?
Himani: The last few weeks have seen incredible action around police brutality and in solidarity of Black Lives Matter. And yet, in that same time frame, the reports keep coming in of the violent lynchings and murders of black people, both at the hands of the police and not – but, does that distinction really matter because either way someone died?
Riah Milton. Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells.
Oluwatoyin Salau. Robert Fuller. Malcolm Harsch. Dominique Alexander. Terron Jammal Boone. Rayshard Brooks. These are just a few of the names, and I know, sadly, that there are too many more.
It’s difficult, in this moment, to know how to balance all of this. I don’t want to diminish the power of this moment and all the moments like it that have come before, the work that activists have been doing for years. But so often I find myself thinking, change happens slowly and, meanwhile, people continue to die. I want to honor these lives, too, although I know it’s an impossible task to do so fully, because the reality is that too many black people die before their time at the hands of white supremacy. Whether we’re talking about the criminal justice system, the health care system or capitalism, the result is the same. I know that turning away is a privilege black and indigenous people don’t have, but there is only so much death that I personally can hold. And, at the end of it all, I don’t want the only stories I read, the only stories I share to be ones that culminate in violent black death. I don’t know what the answer is, but I will continue to try to hold it all.
Rachel: It’s been such a heavy month and so full of grief, as so many months are and have been – it’s difficult to feel relief or hope at progress in some areas in terms of disrupting unchecked state power when it’s clear (and made clear, intentionally, as a message) that it still doesn’t stem the tide of violence and death against Black, Indigenous and trans people. I’m thankful for the Black people who have reminded us all throughout this month of protests that many of the people we’ve lost weren’t killed by police, but by vigilantism and campaigns of racist violence by private citizens; state violence is an issue, but ending it won’t end the killing of Black people, and focusing on it solely is still just looking at the sign, not what the sign is pointing to. This isn’t a coherent politic by any means, but I’ve been thinking a lot about both how paralyzing grief can be and how powerful and incendiary. I was lucky enough to hear a talk a few years ago that touched on “insurgent grief,” and the way that collective grief can form a powerful resistance to authoritarian forces via their staunch refusal to accept the magnitude of loss; a mobilization of the denial stage of grief, if you will. I am thinking about this a lot this week, and about how leveled I feel by the loss of Toyin Salau, how palpable her absence feels even through the internet – it feels impossible to accept a world that can allow such violence against her, and so many others, all the people who have been lost this weeks and all the weeks prior.
A Few Recent Thoughts on Dismantling Anti-Blackness in America
Himani: In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read more than a couple of articles that ask, essentially, “where does Black Lives Matter go from here?” or “how do we maintain this momentum?” As someone who is skeptical to a fault, I, too, have been wondering about this. The Rolling Stone article by Jamil Smith lays all of that out, lays out how the Black Lives Matter movement lay the foundation for this moment that feels incredible in its potential, how that movement has brought about so much change in America already and how it will continue to propel us all forward. For the eternal cynic in me, this article provided the perfect framework to answer the question I and others have been asking.
I included the second article from The Intercept because the unnamed law clerk’s email to a racist federal judge so powerfully makes the case for why the judge’s stance is not only racist but also hypocritical. The email alone is completely worth the read. The law clerk also reminds us that so many institutions need to take this moment to examine who has a place and who doesn’t. To be only one of five black law clerks in an entire circuit is unfathomable to me.
Himani: And yet another way that antiblackness manifests in American society is through the environmental and infrastructure decisions that disproportionately put black and low income communities of color at risk. This expose by Greta Moran for Guernica details just one instance of this unfolding right now in Brooklyn. Activists are fighting the city over the construction of a natural gas pipeline in low income, predominantly black neighborhoods that will put all of the residents at great risk, while simultaneously increasing utility bills of those residents to pay for said pipeline. From every angle, it’s maddening.
How’s That Police “Reform” Coming Along?
Himani: This article was an eye-opening reminder of how prior to the pandemic – and then exacerbated by the pandemic – federal and state austerity measures are forcing too many local governments to figure out how to run their localities on budgets that are, simply, inadequate. Of course far too much of those squeezed budgets go to police – that’s undebatable. But, as all the article points out, all the activists fighting for defunding the police are also fighting for reinvesting in communities. So long as we continue to give tax cuts to rich people corporations, community investment is never going to be where it needs to be. And without those additional resources, communities can’t provide the services their residents need to address crises that may lead someone to commit a “crime” but really could have been stemmed with adequate resources. Which, in a few years, may very well lead to a conservative backlash of “see, defunding police doesn’t work” because (as with the natural gas pipelined discussed above), people in power would most certainly take their convenience at the expense of someone else’s (a black person’s) life.
Himani: This article does a good job of comparing the police reform bills but forward by House Democrats and Senate Republicans. Both of them are woefully inadequate, but the Senate bill is a complete joke.
Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous Violence Is a Global Crisis
Himani: Europe has a lot of reckoning to do with its own past, and this is just the beginning. All of Europe’s wealth was built on the backs of enslaved, colonized and indentured peoples in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands … basically everywhere except Europe. And that’s to say nothing of the racism that continues to manifest within those countries today, that’s apparent in how they continue to approach the refugee crisis, how they handle the Roma and how residents of color themselves have written about their experiences growing up and living in European countries. The Soviets may have been “ahead of the historical curve” in their approach to antiblackness, but Putin today sounds just as racist talking about the protests as Trump. A lot of introspection is needed here.
Himani: Meanwhile, some of the same structural inequities that bolster antiblackness also exist in how indigenous people are viewed and treated. These are not new problems and they’re not unrelated. Colonialism and slavery went hand in hand. Anti-black and anti-indigenous violence do as well.
Natalie: Watching the world respond to the death of George Floyd and joining Americans in affirming that “Black Lives Matter” has been heartening. But, at the same time, if those chants are a result of a world that wants to believe that anti-blackness and white supremacy are an American problem…rather than being forced to confront their complicity in upholding those structures in their own countries. As the founders of the movement have said, it’s called Black Lives Matter not African American Lives Matter for a reason.
I mean China’s condemning racism while also creating concentration camps for Uighurs with the tacit approval of the president? The hypocrisy of it all.
This Week At The SCOTUS
Natalie: I’ve heard from a lot of people — far more adept at these issues than me — that the Court’s decision in Bostock undermines the administration’s anti-trans efforts, including last week’s rule change by the Department of Health and Human Services. I suppose my question then is: what does that look like, in practice? Will HHS or HUD withdraw their efforts on their own accord or will groups have to prepare for years of litigation to ensure that our lives are free from discrimination?
Rachel:I’m interested in this article’s premise, and wish that it had pushed a little farther with exploring what the legal arguments of Monday’s SCOTUS win might mean for LGBT community and internal politics beyond the abstract. One of the (many) (absurd and nonsensical) arguments of TERFs and other anti-trans gay folks is that a focus on the safety and future of trans people somehow detracts from a struggle for cis gay rights, or materially harms or takes resources away from cis gay people. In this case, the legal win has very literally linked gay and trans liberation in the eyes of the law — the linked article explains further, but the way the SCOTUS opinion has treated the legal definition of “sex” means that inalienable rights associated with trans status are also those associated with sexual orientation; going forward, legal wins for trans people predicated on this piece of precedent will also apply to cis gay people.
I don’t expect this to cause a change of heart for anti-trans cis queers, even though it proves literally the opposite of their rallying cry, because like all bigoted fearmongering campaigns theirs isn’t based on logic or reality. I am curious to see how that movement will adapt, though, and whether this strategic reality will impact mainstream cis gay organizing, which has historically treated progress for trans folks as an afterthought at best.
Natalie: Especially in this moment, it’s hard not to tell folks to celebrate the wins whenever you get them… and the Court’s decision in Regent was definitely a win. But I spent all day stewing about the Sotomayor dissent in Section IV. We see Roberts taking the same tact he took in upholding the Muslim Ban (Trump v. Hawaii) and disassociating the president’s racist commentary from the administration’s policy efforts…as if it were possible to maintain one without the other. But, perhaps what bothered me more than the Chief Justice’s willingness to disregard the president’s racial animus, was that the Court’s other liberal justices concurred on this point. How do you leave it up to the Court’s lone woman of color to make the case for the possibility that the administration’s capricious decision to cancel DACA was the result of racial animus? Where are Ginsburg and Kagan and Breyer? Why does a lowly law clerk — still at the beginning of their career — on the Court of Appeals have more courage to call out a judge than three members of the Supreme Court who have lifetime appointments?
It’s infuriating… and also: PEAK white liberalism.
Natalie: I wasn’t really surprised to see the Court kick the can down the road on qualified immunity cases. The Roberts Court, in particular, has been both reluctant to inject itself into highly charged political debates, when it can avoid it, and would always prefer the answer come legislatively rather than from the bench. Congressional Democrats have included an end to absolute qualified immunity in their proposal to address police brutality but Republicans call that proposal a “non-starter.” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) is planning to put forth legislation that would modify qualified immunity so we’ll see if there’s an opportunity for compromise. Plus, we’re seeing some movement in states working to address the practice. Today, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill to address police accountability which includes the elimination of qualified immunity (albeit with a $25k cap on damages).
That said, as Nina Totenberg points out in her piece for NPR, Justice Thomas dissented from the Court’s decision. It’s not hard to imagine that if the right case comes along (and, frankly, I think Breonna Taylor’s might be it), Thomas would join the Court’s more liberal justices in eliminating qualified immunity once and for all.
Natalie: This result in Cowpasture got overshadowed by excitement over Bostock and understandably so…but it’s still an important case to highlight, as plans for this 6,000 mile pipeline — which will invariably impact communities of color, tribal nations, and rural towns the most — are one step closer towards coming to fruition.
Natalie: My home state of North Carolina has, I think, been more judicious about its efforts to reopen than other states in the South. The governor has worked with his Secretary of Health and Human Services to slowly begin the process of re-opening the state. In spite of those efforts, North Carolina is seeing a dramatic spike in positive Covid tests, an increased demand for hospital beds and a rise in the number of deaths. But still, the governor is being challenged, legally, by lawyers for the owners of bars and gyms who want him to move quicker to reopen their spaces and legislatively, by “leaders” who think the governor’s process has been too slow.
I mention all of this because, given how recalcitrant folks have been about the reopening process… how willing they are to just continue their lives as usual, as if the pandemic has just ceased to exist…I cannot imagine a circumstance where we would go back into lockdown, as Beijing has, even if the numbers warranted it.
Rachel: The headline on that piece feels frustratingly misleading, although the body of the article is accurate: the White House and other state leaders aren’t confused, misinformed or making incorrect decisions about the pandemic; they’re actively and intentionally misleading people on purpose. They aren’t shocked and dismayed to find that cases are spiking and community spread is worsening in several states; they’re aware of it and are more than willing to accept it — and the deaths of citizens — if it means preserving the public-facing narrative that they handled the pandemic ably and were able to safely reopen the country while appeasing the corporate class. I remain infuriated by Greg Abbott’s case-in-point response to Texas’s spike; after pushing the state to reopen despite obvious and incontrovertible evidence it was unsafe, he’s now blaming young people for “not following these appropriate best health and safety practices” and attributing the spike to them. It is, to put it mildly, exactly the opposite of what a state representative should and could be doing right now, and people will die because of it.
Natalie: If only politicians were as concerned with this kind of looting as they are the other kind.
And Other Things in the World That Aren’t Looking So Hot…
Natalie: How many times can the American news media be complicit in war and not do the introspection necessary to avoid this happening again? One more time, apparently…