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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