Monday, October 7, 2019

Critics of Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson question her judgment after Facebook post

Things are heating up in Durham's City Council primary election. The attacks read like a battle for the soul of the city. It's a battle to unravel the meaning and significance of progressive identity.
For more details, go to Ade Toyesi Ibijok's (Nia Wilson) Facebook page and read the thread regarding an exchange involving a Facebook post of Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson. Here’s a tease to get you started:
“All of y’all having a field day over on Jillian’s FB page about a man who was born and raised in Durham and has done more for his community than any of you could dream of... you liberal ass privilege and white supremacy is showing. You wonder why I said vote for Joshua Gunn cause he ain’t so arrogant as to post pictures of someone opposing his campaign and talk shit about them. Because he actually does believe in a “Durham for ALL” (ain’t that the name of your organization). Who’s trolling who here?”
A bit more:
“Let’s talk for a moment about power and why these posts and comments are such a problem. The same standards we hold police, who have the power to kill us to are the ones we hold elected officials, who have the power to create policies that can harm people who don’t agree with them to. Based on these posts, tell me why any marginalized group of people should trust you?”
There’s more about the spreading of an alleged lie that Jackie Wagstaff, another candidate for office, threated to bring a gun to city hall. My reporting concludes that’s fake news. Tension began to swell after Rodrigo Dorfman wrote an email addressing comments Wilson made at a People's Alliance endorsement meeting. Wilson and others contend Dorfman's critique exposes racism within Durham's white progressive community.
Why does this matter? Because it may speak to a myriad of issues involving assumptions of power, accountability and privilege. It may confront what happens when people of privilege (mostly white) show up to evaluate the political intentions of people outside their understanding of who has the right to speak and how they engage in that speech.
Johnson posting pictures of a person wearing a t-shirt and passing out flyers requesting people to “Vote No” for her and another candidate is problematic. Why? Because she is elected to serve the person wearing that shirt ,and creating space for others to chime in is reflective, on the surface, of the type of lampooning that makes it difficult to trust.
People championing Johnson's work and advocacy are correct to point to her being a black woman with a passion to curtail adding more police. She helped  build Durham for All, a multiracial, cross-class progressive movement to impact local elections. Johnson is a strong proponent of criminal justice reform and creating affordable housing solutions to offset gentrification.
How does a black female credited with modeling support for progressive political agendas forfeit the support of black people most impacted by the type of disparity she addresses? The answer may be the result of discontent stirred by the vote of Johnson, Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero against Police Chief C.J Davis's recommendation to include in the budget money to add 17 new officers. Johnson, Reece and Caballero solidified their position by running as a block in a campaign called Bull City Together.
Johnson's Facebook post is about how she responds to critics as a member of the Durham City Council. Citizens have the right to respond in ways that reflect their passion for what matters to them. This is about all of that.
But this also about the others on that thread who took time to take jabs at a man who works hard to get people engaged in the work of making his community better. Shame on all of you for spewing characterizations minimizing the integrity of his position. 
This primary uncovers heighted resentment toward Johnson and others who claim standing and speaking on behalf of black and brown people. This is an election regarding the messaging of white progressives and how these points are perceived as “we know more than you. Sit down and shut up.” It also unveils resentment stirred when a black woman takes positions with white progressives against a black man who's doing heavy lifting.
It’s brutal out here.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Pass the bottle of whup ass: The limits of forgiveness

I like hugs. They stir mushy feeling that help me make it through bad days. I’m not hating on hugs or the desire to cry in the arms of a woman convicted of killing your brother. It’s your thang, do what you wanna do.

I understand the urge to announce forgiveness. There’s a release budged by ending the ache of endless midnights with a confession to set the pain free. Be gone. I’m no longer chained by my desire to end your life.

I sort of get it. Naw. I don’t get it.

I can’t because I have never endured the death of a sibling at the hands of a police officer too tired to recognize the furniture in the room is not the same as the apartment they sleep in most nights. I have too many questions regarding who trained her, what she was smoking, drinking or what she was doing before she reached for her gun.

It’s not my brother who was killed leaving me free to speculate on why a brother would proclaim “I forgive you. I don’t want you to spend any time in jail.”

The wisdom of native Americans warns not to judge a person until they’ve walked two moons in their moccasins. I haven’t cried long enough to disparage 18-year-old Brandt Jean, Botham’s brother, to announce “I want the best for you.” Young Botham’s spiritual journey is a unique experience that led to his courtroom proclamation.

I understand spiritual journey. I understand confession, release and a big bag of other spiritual practices meant to help in confronting my relationship with the world. Doing this life thang ain’t easy for black folk living in America. Can I get two witnesses?

My experience, and yours, isn’t the same as brother Brandt’s spiritual journey. So, wagging this big middle finger at his confession seems cruel. Nonetheless, I’m wagging that finger. I affirm his journey and find significance in his desire to set Sister Guyger free after killing his brother. Thanks be to black Jesus and all the disciples for the faith to hug the woman who killed his brother. Again, do you. High fives. Go to the strong Christian line behind all the other martyrs. Put on that bleached robe and golden slippers, but I’m not there yet.

In fact, I’m not drinking the Kool Aid. I need new language to reflect on my relationship with Jesus and the Church. Drum up some updated language to convey the meaning of grace, mercy and forgiveness. Help me get to the shout after all that forgiving. Why? Because I’m still pondering what it all means after a series of black people dying at the hands of law enforcement officers devoid of a credible apology.

Show me yours before I show you mine.

There’s something about black people offering forgiveness to resolve white guilt. Is it valid to expect some forgiveness? I’m reminded of the roll call of black folks forgiving white people. I have no evidence of white folks doing the same. I have memories of black bodies left to bake in the sun while white people made excuses for why they pulled the trigger.

Maybe grace is the absence of a double-standard, but why is the forgiveness of white people always the standard. Maybe forgiveness is a colorblind solution to offset the burden of sin, but why are prisons packed with innocent black men and women sentenced for no reasons. When it comes to the assumptions of white Evangelical Christian theological thought, the need to extend forgiveness is what black people do.

Isn’t forgiveness what Christians do? Sounds reasonable to assert that as a fundamental statement of faith. There’s one problem with the thesis. Forgiveness is what black Christians do. From my vantage point, white people are slack in extending forgiveness.

I can affirm young Brandt’s spiritual witness. Maybe forgiveness is what he needs to live with all the pain. What about the rest of us? How do we survive with the expectation of forgiveness? What is left spiritually when there isn’t any forgiveness left to give?

Chest bump to those strong enough to give it. As for me, pass a bottle of whup ass. My tank is empty.

How about you?