One breezy evening last October, I celebrated my one month anniversary of living in New York City with a lovely dinner with friends and by getting mugged on my way home. I didn’t make it very hard for the perpetrator, practically handing my wallet and iPhone to him as I descended the steps into the subway entrance. All in all, it was a relatively painless mugging; I wasn’t hurt, everything he took could be replaced, I immediately canceled my credit and ATM cards and wasn’t held responsible for the $400 charged at Kennedy Pizza and Chicken. As I communicated with family and friends in the days following the attack, the second question they asked, after “Are you okay?!” was inevitably, “Was he Black?”
All posts for the month August, 2013
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 31, 2013
In February 2013, director Stephen Vittoria premiered his film Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal in New York City. The documentary is the latest in a series of films about famed activist, scholar and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike other films about Abu-Jamal, like 1998’s Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt and 2008’s In Prison My Whole Life, which spend ample time recounting the facts of his controversial murder case, Vittoria’s film centers around Abu-Jamal’s life in prison and the community organizations working to secure his release. Vittoria’s is unabashedly a film by an activist for activists. As he boastfully declared at the premier, he didn’t make the film to win friends. Instead, the documentary aims to contribute to a grassroots movement for change.
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 29, 2013
The term “political prisoner” is not easy to define. The category is contested, and there is a lack of global consensus about who qualifies as a political prisoner. For some, the term may convey a special status which necessitates immediate release. For others, political prisoners may include those who have undertaken acts of treason or espionage, which warrant harsh punishment. Still others take the definition to include acts of violence committed for political reasons or in support of a cause. The conflicted nature of issues surrounding political prisoners is represented in the old adage: “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” Citizens convicted of participating in armed resistance may be designated as political prisoners by comrades and supporters, but considered criminals by the government.
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 27, 2013
In these dog days of summer, it’s so hot we know you’re searching for something that’ll keep you cool. How about one of Progressive Pupil’s Liberation Tanks? Available in three colors in our new online store, this tank is perfect for sweating it out to house music at Soul Summit or kicking back with friends at a rooftop party. Chic, affordable and proceeds help us continue to make Black studies for everybody!
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 24, 2013
The Attica Rebellion of September 1971 was a pivotal moment in U.S. history and had a significant impact on the evolution of prison reform. The uprising at Attica Prison also highlighted the power of collective organizing and demonstrated the agency that even the most marginalized people possess. The rebellion, which involved nearly 1200 people, was prompted by many factors, most notably the murder of George Jackson in California and the brutal treatment of prisoners by Attica guards.
After forcibly taking over the facility, prisoners drafted a list of demands, including: improved living conditions, access to medical care, suitable food and clothing, and humane, non-discriminatory, non-abusive treatment by prison guards. The state of New York, led by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, refused to meet these demands. The uprising ended in tragedy when the national guard entered the penitentiary and killed 29 prisoners and 10 guards. Today, the Attica Rebellion remains an important frame of reference for examining the problems within prisons and the larger structural issues within society which produce prisons. Finally, the events at Attica are a reminder of the humanity of all people, including those demonized by the media and powerful government officials.
By Odia Barker
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 22, 2013
In February 1969, prisoners in San Quentin State Prison cheered while treated to a live concert by the man in black. Johnny Cash, with his characteristic bravado, brazenly declared, “San Quentin, may you rot in Hell.” One of the prisoners recalled of the performance: “He had the right attitude. He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.” The performance was memorialized by a U.K. film crew and became a feature-length documentary. Cash was not new to concerts behind bars; he had been playing in prisons for years, most famously at Folsom Prison. However, this time, Cash performed songs specifically written for prisoners, including the title track “San Quentin” and “Wanted Man,” co-written by Bob Dylan. When Cash took the stage, his audience consisted of men designated as dangerous criminals. Most were poor and White, with many serving life sentences or awaiting execution. San Quentin has not surrendered its infamous reputation, and it remains the “most populous antechamber in the U.S.”
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 20, 2013
Progressive Pupil is looking forward to celebrating AfroLatin@ Heritage Month in September and we need your help! Artists, teachers, activists, local business leaders, we want to hear your stories about working for racial justice in your community and share your struggles and triumphs with our readership. Essays, photo journals, film reviews and creative fiction are all welcome. Please limit submissions to 750 words or less and include at least one photo or video. Send submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 17, 2013
According to the Oxford Dictionary, cognitive dissonance is the “state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially related to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” It occurs on a number of levels, both individually and societally. Social worker and clinical psychologist Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary says that one example of this phenomenon in the United States is how society has attempted to reconcile its ideals of equality and justice with its harsh, dehumanizing treatment of people of color.
Watching Eugene Jarecki’s honest and personal documentary The House I Live In, a 2012 film that chronicles the U.S.’s “War on Drugs,” brought to mind this concept. In the movie, historian and professor Richard Lawrence Miller ties the history of drug laws to racist attempts by White elites to reduce the number of people of color represented in different regional workforces because of a perceived threat to White job security. Given this information, why hasn’t the U.S. government reevaluated its entire criminal justice system? Racially based discrimination is imbedded in drug laws. Anti-opium, anti-marijuana and anti-cocaine laws were all targeted at punishing and excluding people of Chinese, Mexican and African descent, respectively. This history should warrant a wholesale restructuring of U.S. institutions and a deliberate effort to undue entrenched racism.
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 15, 2013
Some people can’t understand why people concerned about racism—especially African Americans–are so upset about the George Zimmerman verdict. Some folks think that there is no evidence to suggest that Zimmerman’s even a racist since he is Latino. These misunderstandings reveal there remains an empathy gap when it comes to White understanding of Black experiences.
George Zimmerman is a White, second-generation Hispanic who felt empowered to racially profile Trayvon Martin. His light skin, accent-free English and fear of Black men inspired something in the millions of white Americans who reached out to support him during the trial. His acquittal stunned us because it highlights how some people of color embrace anti-black racism. Zimmerman’s privilege allowed him to disavow the idea that race was involved in the shooting at all.
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 14, 2013
The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term used to describe various components driving mass incarceration in the United States. It is the preoccupation with punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation. The development and infrastructure of prisons have become a privatized industry run for the purpose of turning a profit. Under the promise of lowering crimes and protecting the public, state and federal governments issue contracts to private companies, like Corrections Conglomerates of America (CCA) and GEO Group, to manage and staff prisons. These private companies are paid a fixed amount to house prisoners. Their profits are accrued from spending the minimum amount on each prisoner and pocketing the remaining funds. Hence, the objective is to house the maximum numbers of inmates for extended periods of time as inexpensively as possible.
Posted by Progressive Pupil on August 13, 2013