Friday, July 15, 2016

"If You Speak My Name I Will Live Forever"

The day I found a family name on the list of lynching victims

Loved ones, If any of this is misspelled, mis-typed or misspoken, please bear with me. This is a hard time for us all. Hardest by far for all of our loved ones who do not pass as white.

From listening to our elders who have lived through the days before media, let alone the Internet, we know that police and vigilante killings of Black, Brown, and other oppressed peoples in America is nothing new. When our parents and grandparents were young, it was hushed up even more. Now, it's on the news and the computer screen. What marginalized communities have known all along is now in the faces of mainstream America. Somehow, though, it just feels even more stressful.

The last time I felt like this was when we were at the height of the AIDS crisis. When we had people dropping dead literally every few minutes. When we, too, did die-ins multiple times along the march route during Pride and other events to remind people what was happening to the less privileged among us. And what continued to happen. In those days, we felt ignored, brutalized, targeted to die by neglect on purpose.  As I watch our communities struggle to bear the burden of police violence and erupting racism now, it feels that way again.

I'm not going to revisit it all here. If you're awake and not looking away, you already know. If you're in this with us, you are feeling as raw as the rest of us. Hang on.

So, vigilante murders. Cheery bastard, ain't I?

One of the things that was hushed up before we had media and internet coverage was the lynchings.

Between 1868 and 1968, over 4,000 African Americans were lynched in America.  So many Black and Brown people, usually but not always men, were murdered on sight, without anything even resembling due process. Almost always they were innocent. Even in the rare cases where someone might have committed a crime, they were not given the basic human right to a trial. They were brutally slaughtered without anyone even stopping to check the facts. Just like the cops who shot Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and all the other recently-murdered didn't bother to find out whether they were Nobel Peace Prize candidates or criminals before declaring themselves judge, jury and executioner, the lynched were killed on the whim of white people. It doesn't matter if after the fact someone can dig up some dirt on someone, or a political opinion you don't like; even someone you wouldn't have gotten along with in life deserves basic human rights and a fair trial for gods' sakes, and that has been denied to most people of color in America since this country's inception.

So, the Ashes to Ashes / Speak My Name project has been doing something to remember these racist murders that were swept under the rug.

Some of my loved ones and I are participating. Please consider taking part. Here is a fuller explanation of why I chose the name I did. I chose him because it is very probable that this lynched Black man was my relative.

James Mackey
Great-Something Uncle? Cousin?  - Ancestor -

I have several ancestors named James Mackey. While the name originally comes from Scotland and our distant ancestors in that line include Sámi, Viking, Irish and Manx people, in America the Mackeys also had children with Catawba, Choctaw, Cherokee and West African people. While it's possible some of these unions were consensual and even loving, we all know that this chapter of American history is rarely about consent or love, and that my African blood is probably the result of courageous African women surviving unspeakable violence perpetrated upon them by the white men whose names, ironically, we now remember, while these women's names are forgotten. Today I remember these women, and honour them.

A woman like my relative, The Mother of James Mackey, whose people survived the horrors of slavery, only to lose her son to lynching.

The bloodlines of slavers and enslaved - both are in me. I honour my ancestors who survived the Middle Passage, and the unspeakable horrors of slavery. Without them we would not be. It is the very least we do to remember them now, their legacy and their struggles, all of which have formed who we are as a people. I remember James Mackey, who was lynched. I name the brutal truth that his cousins who carried the exact same blood and the exact same name - but just a bit less melanin - were able to lead radically different lives as free men while he was struck down. I honour his name, his memory, and all my ancestors and relatives who were murdered without fair trial.

Murdered innocent and relatives unborn, due to the white disease of racism. We speak your names. We remember you. We will not forget.

Tha Sinnsearan Slàn. Egun Reo. ("The Ancestors are Good")

Image notes:
* The scarf is Mackey tartan.
* The bush behind me and the offered flowers are Catawba laurel. The Catawba lands in South Carolina are where my  Scottish, Native American, and West African ancestors in the Mackey family came together, for better or worse.
* The purple and white color scheme in several places hints at the Two Row Wampum Treaty - which is very important for my Native family members on the land where we live now, and the sacred agreement that settlers are to "stay in their own boat" and not try to climb into the Indigenous peoples' canoe or steer it for them. 
* The blue is for the sacred waters - the ocean of the Middle Passage, several rivers that were central to the lives of these ancestors, the river where I was born, and the waters where we offer and pray for them now.
* My hood is pulled up for several reasons, some of them conflicting: In ancient Gaelic poetic tradition it is traditional to cover the head when meditating/seeking poetry. I pulled up the hood as I am praying, it was starting to rain, and as a rape survivor who has stalkers, I don't generally use current, identifiable photos of myself online. But... As someone with white skin (passing) privilege, I am not in danger for wearing a hoodie the way Trayvon Martin and others are, or have been. So I hesitated as this could be seen as appropriative of the "hoodies up" actions (that I also attended in solidarity). I am naming the double meaning here, as I have mixed feelings about incorporating this element. Ironically, something I do for my own safety as a survivor of male violence, is something that is only allowed me by the degree of white privilege I possess. Just as the African blood I carry, which in James Mackey's time may have been "one drop" enough to have me enslaved and murdered as well, now is brushed aside and I am seen as white. America, land of contradictions. Bear with us, world.