Recording Memories of the News

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What did you read in the news yesterday?

I read that Jill Stein from the Green Party has launched a campaign to investigate the election outcome in three states. I read about the water cannons and a concussion grenade, I believe, that was thrown at a young woman in Standing Rock whose arm might have to be amputated. Oh, and a bill being introduced by a senator to prevent the registering of Muslims. Those are three of the topics I’ve been following.

You’ve been following them for a while? Have they been getting coverage for a long time?

I’ve been following Standing Rock for about two months now, maybe three. I’ve been following the election closely because, you know, I have a stake in it. Now I’m just trying to do the upkeep and monitor what is happening.

What is your earliest memory of the news?

Probably the biggest thing that I remember in terms of news is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was a little girl then and I didn’t know much about him, but with the reaction of everyone around me, it felt like the end of the world.

After that, I think the next thing that impacted me news-wise was the running of Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater ran on part of a platform [that] if he was elected, he was going to have all the African Americans shipped back to Africa. That was terrifying to me.

Do you remember the headlines?

I don’t remember the headlines, but watching it on television when television was like a big piece of furniture. Hearing those kind of things and just being absolutely terrorized and terrified by it. That was a very scary thing. The idea, as a little girl, that you could be pulled and torn from your home and shipped to a place that is not your own in terms of your immediate life? As an African American, I know that historically my people are from Africa and that’s sort of the motherland, but I did not grow up there.

How did you share these experience with your family at home?

I think we talked about it. I just remember the wave of despair from the adults when Kennedy was killed and then of course some of the assassinations afterwards—the assassination of Martin Luther King, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the assassination of Malcolm X—and looking at all of that on the news.

Being surrounded by the images of the Civil Rights Movement and the riots was a deep, scary, and heady— not unlike now.

How many news sources were you following back then?

It was Life magazine, Look magazine, Time magazine, Huntley and Brinkley on the news, Walter Cronkite, and we always read National Geographic. We were avid readers in the family. Those were our main sources. It was the television, following those talking heads, and those anchor people.

“With the idea that seven generations down the line matters, that water is life, there was a media blackout.”

How do you feel about the dystopic silence today after the election?

There is that deafening silence from many people who voted for Trump. We are seeing a level of cognitive dissonance. There is this incredible level of shock among so many of my white friends. I only speak about ethnicity if it’s important, otherwise, I always talk about people as people. But so many of my white friends are in complete and total shock that the country basically elected someone who is supported by the KKK and Nazis. People voted for this person.

As an African American woman in America, I know firsthand what it’s like to be viewed as the “other,” not just disliked but spat upon. I’ve had rocks thrown at me. I’ve had two houses burn down. I’ve had my life threatened. I was horrified but I was not immobilized like, “Oh my god, can you believe it?’ Yes people, I can believe it.

I had friends who just several weeks ago said, “You know, one morning I woke up and I just had this irrational sense of fear for my life.” I’m like “Yup. And?” But yes, the silence is deafening. When we look at the level of creeping fascism in our country, it’s wrapped in supposedly patriotic values, it’s wrapped in the flag, and it’s holding a cross. Speaking of good Christian values, we have to realize those same good Christian values came and practiced genocide. That’s still going on.

We look at those good Christian values that promoted institutionalized slavery as a thing that was a mandate from God. You know, the foundation of our country is built on that and we have not come to grips with that. Chicanos are proud of their heritage. African Americans are proud of their heritage. White pride is completely different than someone being proud that they’re Italian. That’s based on culture. My first boyfriend back in New England was Italian. Fabulous culture. His dad is still one of the finest men I met in my life.

I’m an American of African, Irish, Sephardic, Jewish and Cherokee descent. I’m your basic American girl. This is what it looks like. Cowgirl boots and dreadlocks. I’m very proud of my Irish blood. There was an Irish politician speaking out against Donald Trump. That made me proud to be Irish. Though, the idea of white pride is not pride in a culture, it is pride because of the color of your skin and erroneous information. You’ve got those people who were in Washington going “heil,” and now they’re backpedaling.

Everything is dependent on this mythical European land of whiteness. That’s complete bullshit. We look at Algebra, which came from the Arab world. We look at so many things. Most Americans don’t know that our American Constitution is based on the Iroquois Confederacy. Native Americans gave us the basis for our Constitution and we are still are doing things like Standing Rock. The genocide and the theft and the kind of horror that’s being perpetrated on Native communities. The economic and environmental racism that’s still being perpetrated.

Today on Thanksgiving, [look] what’s happening at Standing Rock. I grew up in the land of the Pilgrims. I grew up where the man that started Rhode Island Colony, a man named Roger Williams from the 1600s, his house still stands. I’ve knocked on that door. But as a person of color I knew another story about the Pilgrims which I talked about in school. My mother’s a teacher and an educator and she let us know, “Here’s another story about America, little brown child of mine who I love and cherish.”

For years in my household, I boycotted Thanksgiving, and my mother allowed me to. They’d have the turkey, I’d go up in my room and have a sandwich. Friend would come over, and they’re like, ”You’re letting her boycott?” I’m like, “Yes, do you know the stats about life expectancy on the reservation?” I read Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee when I was 14 and barely made it out alive from that book. Books that changed me were, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, La Vida Loca, Johnny Got his Gun, and the Diary of Anne Frank.

We look at how the news shapes who and what we are. If we have access to a wide spectrum of ideas and perceptions, we can make informed decisions. I get my news basically online. I don’t have a television anymore. I have a box that watches movies.

I’ve never had cable television. I’ve always gone after all sides of the story to the best of my ability. Years and years ago when we had the invasion of Grenada, I had a roommate that was from Colombia. He had a shortwave radio and I would listen to information from the BBC. I would listen to information coming out of Cuba. I would listen to things coming out of Canada, all decrying what we were doing. In the morning I would wake up and there would be nothing in the news about it.

It was so bizarre. At night we would have access to this information via shortwave radio. Now I read the Guardian. I have access to information worldwide.

Do you think this 24-hour access has changed your sensibility regarding the content?

I have to be more discerning. I have to do more research. I have to be aware if I’m only consuming the news that tells a point of view that I’m comfortable with.

During this election cycle, I’ve been reading things about the disenfranchised coal miners. There have been articles that I’ve read from a right-wing conservative place. I wanna understand that perspective. I need to know about it, whether I agree with it or not. I can empathize in places. There was a wonderful article online that I read called, “The white flight of Derek Black.” His father is Don Black, the head of the white supremacist group, Stormfront. This young man had divorced and distanced himself from the white supremacy which he grew up in. It happened to shift when he went to a liberal college.

There’s a reason why higher education opens up your mind. I want to be well informed. I want to know what’s happening. I’ve been a student of history all my life. I’m lucky that I grew up in a family that read. My mom’s a teacher and a councillor. So I’ve always been reading.

Did you expect those election results?

I was horrified but not surprised. At the time, I was here in the studio working around the clock because I had a show to prepare for. Watching what happened to Bernie Sanders, watching the disenfranchisement of millions of voters, and watching the procedural thing that happened at the Democratic Convention that prevented his people from talking, it was a perfect storm of events.

I also looked at the arrogance and hubris of the DNC and Hillary Clinton. I voted for Hillary. I was glad to vote for Hillary. People projected onto Trump what they wanted to hear. What about his bankruptcies? Well, it doesn’t matter. He’s groped women. It’s locker room talk, really? So if someone groped your daughter, you wouldn’t mind? But I also think it was a whitelash against [the fact that] we had a Black man in the White House. When people who voted for Trump are now telling us to get over it, y’all did not get over it. The Tea Party came about even though it’s backed by the Koch brothers.

America thought all of this racism was pretty much done— “Post-racial America,” and “Obama, we have a Black President,” or “Shut up Black people, so what if cops are killing you? You probably deserved it,” or “Everything’s groovy.”

What’s shifted is social media informing Black Lives Matter. That’s nothing different. I’ve seen that go on all my life, that kind of killing of Black people. What’s different is white folk got to see it and we got social media. That made a profound impact. But there’s still people who are looking at that going, “That’s not so,” but that’s also consciousness evolving.

So we are at this incredible alchemical place where that connection and social media elected Barack Obama.

So who elected Trump?

Fear elected Trump. Despair elected Trump. Apathy elected Trump. Manipulation, Machiavellian manipulation elected Trump. Hatred elected Trump. Whiteness elected Trump. Misogyny elected Trump. Fear of the “other” and xenophobia elected Trump. Fear is the great control frequency. The Founding Fathers of this country never expected you and I to have this conversation. They never expected Raechel and I to be connected. They did not expect me to be a sovereign individual with my own rights, trusting my own intuition, and my own knowledge. But here we are.

How did all those fears build up? Where are they coming from?

I think they’re coming from a world changing. White America still hasn’t come to grips with the feminist movement. You know I’m tired of men telling me what my role as a woman is. I am not defined by my uterus. I am defined by my heart and my brain and my being and my character.

You’ve got the patriarchal construct of the world. You look at fundamental religions where they’re predicated on, “Let me control you.” When you want change, you empower women. It will create a seed change of incredible magnitude. We talk about facing the rape culture in the world.

How do you think we could involve the media in building down, not building up, all those fears?

By telling other stories. The news has been focused through the lens of white men and the concerns of white men. You are here interviewing me, an African American woman, a many-blooded woman, listening to what I have to say. The world needs all of our stories. In the midst of my incredibly busy season, there were times that I would take sometimes a couple of hours and post stories about Standing Rock.

This is an historic gathering of Indigenous people from around the world. We’ve got people from South America coming up. We’ve got the Indigenous First Nations people gathering. On December 4th, we’ve got a deployment of veterans who are coming to gather. We’ve got over, I think, 200 nations have gathered and created community. It was started by a Native woman. What they are arming themselves with is prayer, dance, ceremony, community, and stories.

With the idea that seven generations down the line matters, that water is life, there was a media blackout. You know what put it on the forefront of popular media? Social media. There’s a phrase that I use. We are the media. We are the media.

Can you tell me what sources you’re following to debate and discuss these topics in the African American community?

I follow Black Lives Matter. I follow Urban Intellectuals. There are a lot of sites that I follow. I follow them on Facebook. Um uh. The Black Atlantic Star.

Following the story of Sandra Bland just hit home for a lot of us. I think it was the day before yesterday, there was a young Black teenager who accidentally bumped into a white man in the store and when they walked out, they had a few more words and the white man took out a gun, shot him, and he’s dead.

What it takes to watch videos of Black people shot. What it takes to read the stories of people being choked. There are times when—see I can barely talk about it—to watch all those videos, I can’t. Then there are times when I do because it’s important to witness it. It’s important to put it out there because it’s nothing new in my life.

If you were a journalist today, what would you cover and how would you cover it?

I would be covering Standing Rock. Black Lives Matter is at Standing Rock. I would be covering the coal miners. Coal is never coming back.

What format would you use?

It would be online. There’s also something important about speaking face-to-face, about looking in the eyes of someone who perceives you as different and finding common ground. I would also host town meetings where perhaps there are powerpoints about things that are going on. I would tell stories in whatever conceivable format, but stories that we don’t get to hear.

We don’t get to hear about what’s going on on reservations. My Native brothers and sisters are being killed at an alarming rate. The suicide, there’s an epidemic of suicide on the reservations. There’s poverty that rivals third world countries. We don’t know about it. I remember years ago when Oprah had her show, she was talking that she didn’t know this and I’m thinking, “How can you, a well-informed highly intelligent Black woman, connected to the media, not know of this?” So I would tell stories so that we can see who we are.

So fighting against the silence?

Fighting against the silence. I speak up. The only way that we change things is to know about one another and to know that there’s more in common. Let’s be real, divide and conquer is a great scheme for the less than 1 percent that own the world. There was a chart that was done that all the corporations in the entire world were basically owned by eight corporations, maybe it’s five.

How do you explain the complete misdirection of the election regarding the media’s point of view?

Media’s bought, that’s why we need an independent media. We need a free press. Those little white supremacists, when they have their little meeting in Washington, they talked about the free press in a sneering smarmy way. They used a German word for it, and I’m sorry I don’t remember what it is, but they laughed at it. The whole idea that you funnel information through a tiny funnel to control the populous. Then you ramp up fear and you turn them into sheep. Baah. The only reason why mainstream media is paying attention to Standing Rock is because it was all the hell over social media.

I like to think that I had a part in that, trodding my stories around the world to friends in different locales. This was historic, it still is. You look up the deafening silence from the White House? Shame. Shame. Shame.

“We weren't protesting death, we were honoring the passing of someone.”

You are an artist?

I am an artist, yes.

Can describe your work a little bit?

I am an artist, a musician, singer/songwriter, and actor. My visual work is mixed media. I work in mosaics, I do murals, and I also do huge public art. I’ve got two big pieces of art in Los Angeles. I’ve got work all over town.

Can you talk about the All Souls Procession a little bit?

I’m also involved in All Souls Procession, which is a unique Tucson event hosted by Many Mouths One Stomach and Flam Chen, an extraordinary fire theater company that’s based here in town. I’m the director of the spirit group and that’s the group that collects prayers as we process through town. We collect prayers for people who are writing love letters for loved ones who passed on. It’s a way to honor the dead.

It’s not exactly like Día de Los Muertos, but it’s an offshoot of that. It’s a way that we’ve come together. This year we had 150,000 people that came in. It’s huge and all funded by independent people in the community. I think this is the year we have our first small grant from the city. We have no corporate funding whatsoever.

Since when has the procession existed?

The procession is 26 or 27 years old. I was in the very very first one, which was started by Susan Johnson, and a group of maybe 30 to 50 artists that processed in the street. Now it’s this huge event that draws people from all over the world. I think this is my eighth or ninth year.

Going back to 30 years ago, how did you collect those love letters?