Marissa Alexander – Civil Rights as Public Relations

Abagond is one of my favorite bloggers.Not only does he have a very economical writing style, but he has very creative critiques on stock arguments used by white racist commenters, racist media tropes and classics of Western literature. Of course, his terseness can at times leave much to the imagination, and he makes no attempt to hide his Thomism

His most recent post is one on Marissa Alexander, a Florida black woman who now faces 20 years inn prison for firing a gun in self-defense. Who was she defending herself against? Her abusive husband. Or so the story goes. Yet already the comparisons to another Florida case have started.

Like the Trayvon Martin media movement, it will fail. Even if she has the charges dropped, no major change in American society will take place. That’s because American black women have a serious image problem. See below, from the Huffington Post website:

 Corey disputes the so-called warning shot into the ceiling with photographs that show bullet holes much lower, going through a kitchen wall and into the living room where Corey said Gray and his boys were.

“The fact that nobody got hurt has to be balanced with the fact that someone could have gotten hurt,” Corey said. “The kids being right next to him changed everything.”

About four months after Alexander was released on bail, on orders to have no contact with Gray, she got into an altercation with him at his home that gave him a black eye, Corey said.

Alexander was arrested and charged with battery, to which she pleaded no contest……”Everybody is still ignoring that she got out on bond and chose to go back over there and hit him a second time,” Corey said. “That was kind of an indication of where putting her on probation, where you might have been able to do that before, was off the table since she disregarded a judges order.”

In a 21st century media environment, where people are forced to navigate through dozens of of talking heads, hundreds of tweets, Facebook alerts and RSS Reader updates, people need their messages simple. Simpler than a newspaper article. Simpler than a 500 word word blog post. Simple as a stereotype.

This has nothing to do with civil rights. This is a public relations issue.

That is one of the main problems with blogs like Abagond’s. The message is simple, but directed towards the wrong people. Explaining something only unmasks that thing, it does not change it. In fact, it may only create a form of fatalism that is usually disguised with pie-in-the-sky hopes (reparations anyone?) and slave morality. Preaching to the crowd still leaves a crowd that only came to feel good. In 500 words.

When people think “Black woman” and “serious news” , who do you think comes to mind – Mae Carol Jemison? From Tawana Brawley to the Duke Lacrosse team case to the whole Srauss-Kahn incident, when people hear about black women, they think, “just give it a few more days.” That is why the us/them split when arguing on social issues inevitably fails, whether it be on talking head TV or on activist blogs. Both sides of the opposing argument demand unconditional surrender neither party will be willing to accept. But in a society with a massive power imbalance, in favour of middle-class white people, failure is the only option for everyone else.

500 words is good for the mediation of stereotypes – not their destruction. No, stereotypes can only only be manipulated, not destroyed. That should be one of the first things any movement should do, manage stereotypes.

The 1960’s Civil Rights movement in the United States is usually thought to have had started with  Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to white person while traveling on a bus. But a nine months previous, a young woman named Claudette Colvin had also refused to do the same thing . The reason why the Outkast song is named after the former, and not the latter woman is because the latter was not a woman at the time, but a pregnant 15 year old that was a walking stereotype of what white people think about black women.

If you’re black, stand back. but if you’re brown, stick around…..

What does Miss Colvin think about having Rosa Parks getting all the credit for giving up her seat?

“Let the people know Rosa Parks was the right person for the boycott. But also let them know that the attorneys took four other women to the Supreme Court to challenge the law that led to the end of segregation.”

At the time, the NAACP at least understood how to mold people’s perceptions, when it came to public relations. If they had the sense now that they had then, the Shirley Sherrod affair would be a model for how to manipulate media outlets – complete with how to edit and leak videos for maximum effect. Instead, you have this fool Julian Bond trying to fit into a news cycle that apparently runs off the same steroids that Usain Bolt uses.

Marissa Alexander, Trayvon Martin and the We are the 99% movement highlight the problems facing modern mass movements all over the world. The followers of these movements see the marching but not the backdoor meetings and thinking that took place to give people something to march about. Those backdoor meetings designed, not just the political strategy, but the necessary ideology that was created to address the political, legal and economic obstacles that faced. And those ideologies failed. And continue to fail. Marxism continues to be a joke, with Afro-centricism being an even bigger joke

The massive decentralization that has been enabled by social media has come to be a curse, not a blessing. People become organized as individual, amorphous agents, acting in massively parallel steps, but without command or control. They are a body without a head. A movement without direction. A people without an ideology.

No one has managed to come up with a successful, practical ideology that can rejuvenate the black and white American middle class. Which means that no one has come up come with an ideology of the Jamaican middle class, seeing has how we scorn originality like panhandlers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.Which has left both of our societies in a downward spiral that has resulted in mass de-industrialization, debt traps, speculative bubbles and hopelessness.

Being able to relate to the public is what will be the first step in mobilizing the middle classes to create the change that will be in their best interest. For too long, our thinkers have divorced themselves from  the people, creating self-defeating narratives that are mainly retreads of past, failed ideologies. But that does not mean that the past is merely a garbage dump of ideas. We simply haven’t looked far enough into the past to show us the way forward.

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7 thoughts on “Marissa Alexander – Civil Rights as Public Relations”

  1. Stan, what did you mean by risk on twitter, in regards to Black women in civil rights? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UG7YCgkXTo
    Did you view Blackpoweisforblackmen on twitter as bashing? I saw it as Black women talking about not getting credit for their participation in the civil rights movement, and a chance to speak out about the racialized misogyny in our community, that has been displayed through Hip hop to TS, SWP, BMV, to Thugtician, and the death of Asia Mcgowen at the hands of one of SWP followers. A critique of say, a case like Dunbar village, where Al Sharpton and the NAACP came out in defense of the perptrators, not the victims. Or the fact that police brutality (Raven Dozier, Keyarika Diggles), and the abuses that Black women suffer (sexual violence experienced by 60% of Black girls before 18, highest rate of death by domestic violence in UK and US), are not usually apart of community discussion, instead Black women are demonized for singlemother-dom and being “thug lovers.” I took it as a critique of the narrative of “the oppressed” in the Black community, not as Black men bashing. Although a few tweets went that way, most did not. I assume you didn’t see it this way.

    1. Oh no, I was just being trollish.But there were some odd comments like “black men harassing black women with the hello approach”. when that’s a male thing, not just a black male thing. Of course we to do better, but the thing is, a twitter campaign like this will not reach the ones that need to hear it the most. Instead , it goes to male feminists,and those types. What is need is real community outreach to lower crime rates, not social media.

  2. Yes I agree. I think some sistas just needed a moment to speak, after the period of intense hatred for Black women and girls online, and the DL Hughley’s, the Don Imus’, Toure, Tyrese, Taye Diggs’ comments, Slim Thug, Eminem, Waka Flocka, John Mayer, Russell Simmons, Jaheim, Yung Berg, Lil Wayne, Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, b!tches a!nt sh!t, when-he-get-on-he’ll-leave-your-ass-for-a-White girl, all these b!tches crawl, to, ejaculate-on-her-back-stick-the-sheets-to-it-and-superman-that-h0, (a song that had an accompanying music video with numerous school aged Black girls dancing along to it). To, “Good hair,” as humiliating comedy entertainment for the masses to chuckle about, to “Precious,” to “Babyboy,” to national news stories covering why we are just so undesirable that we are not wanted in marriage. To “beasty,” and “apes,” and bedwenches; a narrative that has been trending for a good minute. Even on youtube whenever Black women make videos about their love, respect and appreciation for Blk men, they get a load of “you’re a whore” comments in return. I think it was build up and catharsis.

    Some sistas came in with some stupid lines. I was thinking the same thing about “the smile thing.” But I have a feeling she was responding to a number of brothas online complaining about Black women not responding in the street, which they see as a sign of the death of good Black women. It is completely irrelevant but I feel the need to explain this somewhere, anywhere, (runs into the street in the rain, lands on knees, rips t shirt screams “why” really loudly for dramatic effect). Where I grew in the UK, if you smiled back, it was an invitation, and if you politely responded by saying “I don’t have time to stop, but thanks so much anyway, I’m flattered,” this would often lead to verbal threats and/or physical abuse. You just learn to keep your head down and cross the street as quick as you can. Especially some of you brothas from Jamaica, they weren’t necessarily abusive, but oh my goodness, you’s would scream “big batty come ere,” until a sista was literally out of site. On a high street; that could go on for like 3 minutes straight. Lol.

    As far as racialized misogyny and community outreach…man…I have no idea how that would even be tackled. A lot of the problems seem to come from psychological colonialism and the residue of it. It’s like Frankz Fanon’s “Black skin White mask.” I can’t remember the cats name, but there is this famous Black speaker, who used to be a gang member; in his book he discussed many episodes where he participated in the gang rapes of sistas in his neighborhood. He put it down to the fact that he/they hated themselves, and Black women, as they were reflections of him/them. I often feel that Black on Black crime (brotha against brotha, brotha against sista etc), is actually rooted in this, just as much, if not more so than in poverty. Somewhat of a mixture of a “Native son” realization of responding to the world’s anticipation, along with imbedded concepts of what Blackness is. You can hear it in the language and the ideologies; they sound familiar because they are, they’re digestions of White supremacist propaganda being regurgitated through the mouths of our own household, so to speak. Take Tommy S for instance; I found it quite telling that he has often said things like “99% of Black men and women are no good,” and “whenever I’m around White people, my life goes smoothly, but as soon as I am around Blacks, everything falls to ruins.” It is a process of hearing White supremacist doctrines, having a few bad experiences that act as confirmation, and then spouting them as one’s own truth, in non-White skin.
    Undoing this, on an “entire community level,” feels like it would be such a task that I would not know where to start.
    When he was very young, my nephew, who was attending school with, and growing up in a predominantly White neighborhood; came home from school one day, upset about the fact that his hair was not like his White male classmates. I also noticed the fact that he was only attracted to his White female classmates. My mother, as a woman of color, (Anglo Indian Trinidadian), shared my concerns. We immediately set about teaching him a sense of pride in his Blackness. We had to take on the task, as my sister and her husband seem to be more proud of their mixed race-ness far more so than their Blackness. He is now hitting his teens and he is now the complete opposite, he’s now extremely cemented with a sense of pride in his Blackness, but this was a process of undoing and reeducation.

    Perhaps multiple channels of influence would the most powerful approach on a community level. Like, for instance, the era of Black consciousness: the conscious Hip hop era that was coupled with the Spike Lee era, and a return to a rejection of physical “White washed” assimilation. But this era came and went, as Black culture became deformed as we headed into the 90’s; immediately after it was seized by corporate America, as the masses were far more receptive to more stereotypical expressions of Blackness, and so it was more successful. I am at a loss for how an overhaul could be applied on a wide scale, it really is about educating away from mis-education, so to speak. We can lock up everyone for crimes in our community, but how on earth do we change the mind of the offender before he/she does it? That is the question.

  3. The famous Black speaker/jounalist I was thinking of is Nathan Mccall and his autobiography “It makes me wanna holler.” Which I REFUSE to read.

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