“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
It’s an interesting thing to be called a liar by people with power and have it reinforced by the media, while knowing you’re telling the truth. But before getting into all that, there are a few other things to discuss.
One of the precepts I live by is this: Ignore what people say; watch and believe what they do. This is especially true in politics. It is in this vein I wrote my opinion editorial, published in the South Seattle Emerald on August 30, 2021. I asked questions about the fundamental purpose of Seattle’s City Attorney’s office and articulated my concerns about mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, based on my personal observations over the years.
With Harrell I was concerned about what appeared to be a pattern of erasing women and dismissing our claims, legitimacy, and sense of agency. I gave two examples. To my knowledge, no one to this day has asked him to explain his campaign boasts about being the proud board chair of the Royal Esquire Club, a nightclub touting membership only for men and deliberately excluding women from becoming members. Women are permitted to work there or attend events when invited or escorted in by a male member. This, in the 21st century! No one in the media has asked him about this current-day disrespect toward Black women. Only Erica Barnett, of PubliCola, has reported on and explored my concerns.
Let me clearly state my issues with Mr. Harrell. How is someone who brags about excluding women from a nightclub’s membership going to deal with policy impacting thousands of homeless women? How will he respond to the needs of women living in poverty? What will he do to protect women who work for the City from harassment or predation? Will women on City staff have their ideas heard or will they be sidelined? How will he deal with women who are agency leaders?
In the two months since I wrote my op-ed, Harrell’s pattern has become even more clear. He sidelined Erica Barnett from serving as moderator for the Queen Anne Community Council’s (QACC) mayoral debate and accused her of bias against him because the publication she writes for is supporting Lorena González. Despite weeks spent with the QACC gathering their questions and working with them to format the debate in their unique community image, she was fired at the last minute because of pressure from his campaign. A woman erased, again.
Will he erase every journalist who criticizes him or his policies? If so, isn’t this straight out of the former Republican president’s playbook? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, since the majority of Harrell’s campaign is being funded by the same people who funded that campaign in our state. I can’t help but wonder what fuels their support — which of Harrell’s policies or practices align with their anti-woman, anti-BIPOC, anti-poor people, white supremacist agenda.
A full month after my Emerald op-ed I received a voicemail message from Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner. Simultaneously I discovered an earlier email from Rich Smith at the Stranger. Both asked about my comments regarding Harrell. Both focused on the incident I described from 20 years ago. Neither seemed to care much about my comments about his relationship to the Royal Esquire Club. I explained to both — Brunner on the phone and Smith via email — how my impaired mobility kept me from going down into my basement to search for 20-year old non-profit board records. In fact, I told each of them, I thought those records had probably been shredded years ago. My easy-to-document focus was on Harrell’s current and ongoing relationship with the Royal Esquire Club. Brunner seemed disinterested. Smith didn’t reply.
If Harrell was just some guy who happened to be a member of a men’s only club, I would simply take note and move on. But he’s not just some guy. He is chair of the organization’s board and proud of it. He’s someone asking me to give him permission to make policy on my behalf. How could I possibly say yes, knowing the patterns I was observing?
Then the González campaign released an ad with a young, white woman reminding everyone how Harrell publicly justified Ed Murray’s sexual predation on under-age boys and casually referring to my op-ed — without actually mentioning my op-ed. The ad was a reminder, once again, of how blithely Harrell has taken accusations of abuse.
Suddenly, after two months, Harrell cared about my comments. Suddenly I was being tied to an ad I neither wrote nor had anything to do with producing. Suddenly I was hearing rumors I was to be included in potential lawsuits. People were mad at ME because the González campaign chose a white-presenting woman to make the point instead of someone who could represent the actual Black women who were/are being harmed.
Never reaching out to me, never making any attempt to explain or say he’s learned to do better over the years, Harrell’s campaign called a press conference where they brought forward Ms. Elma Horton to call me a liar. I know Ms. Horton prides herself on being honest, so I have no doubt she really believes what she said. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The irony, of course, is Harrell is doing exactly what I said he did 20 years ago: using tactics to besmirch my character just as he recommended the Central Area Motivation Program board do then. Now I’m the woman to be erased.
Except … maybe not. With some struggle and finesse, I made it down into my basement and there, in a small closet in a spare bedroom, found a box marked “CAMP. Destroy after 2013.” In the box were CAMP records, including board and executive committee meeting minutes. Since I served as Board Secretary during my tenure, I also found cassette tape recordings of many meetings.
Most important of all, though, I found minutes from the January 16, 2002 executive committee meeting where Mr. Harrell, as legal counsel, presented his recommendations. Significantly, Ms. Elma Horton, who was not an executive committee member, was not in attendance at that meeting. She doesn’t remember what happened because she wasn’t there. The minutes include the name of the woman who was claiming harassment, so I have provided a redacted copy to the Emerald for use as they see fit. Another woman erased.
I am a Black woman: Black and woman. I understand well the legacy of protecting Black men from white supremacist nonsense. I know deeply personally what racism does to our fathers, brothers, partners, cousins, sons, friends. But a female member of the CAMP board once told me, “Your problem is you don’t know how to make men think they’re getting their way.” My response? I respect the Black men in my life too much to infantilize them. Grown folks know: actions have consequences. I will not demean myself or other women so any man, Black or otherwise, can feel powerful. There is no eraser big enough, literally or metaphorically. I gladly share reciprocal intellectual, spiritual, and professional power with the men in my life and accept nothing less. Just ask them.
Logged on to my credit union account this morning and was met with a banner announcing their branches would be closed on Juneteenth to “celebrate National Freedom.” Seriously? The first official Juneteenth holiday hasn’t even happened, and it’s already being rebranded to erase the reality of Black struggle against white supremacy. This is exactly why I was not in favor of making this a state or national holiday.
Juneteenth is an African American tradition. It celebrates the day enslaved people of African descent in Texas learned they had been set free two and a half years earlier. They had been lied to for two and a half years by every white person, organization, newspaper, and business in the state. For us who descend from those people, it is a reminder of the additional years of wage theft and loss of economic, educational, physical and psychological self-determination our ancestors endured. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s also a reminder our fate cannot be entrusted to white people. My credit union confirmed the continued verity of that belief.
The idea of white people celebrating Juneteenth offends me to my core. If anything, it should be a day when they contemplate the shame of their biological and social progenitors and learn how those dishonorable acts have reverberated in Black lives throughout the decades since.
In my book, The Truth About White People, I offer an exercise for white people to do just that. I reproduce it here in hopes at least some white people with conscience will take the time and perhaps share it with their friends and family who believe racism has nothing to do with their current place in the world, especially those who believe they are successful based on their merits alone.
Step 1: Create a social history map of your family. Instead of the traditional family tree that tracks lineage via births and deaths, this map will identify significant events that impacted or reflected your family’s change in social status. These events may include significant births, deaths, residential moves, employment opportunities (promotions/demotions), purchase of a house, educational advancement, economic losses, etc. The resulting change in status might be in a positive or negative direction (e.g.: prolonged unemployment, stock market crash).
To give you some ideas, I’ve created an abbreviated social history of my family up to my graduation from high school. There are many significant events that didn’t make my map because they didn’t change the family’s social status. For example, I briefly attended a parochial school in Berkeley, CA. While that had significant impact on me individually, it didn’t change my family’s social status in any way, so it’s not on the map.
As you will see, this is quite different from a family tree. It does take a lot of time to do, maybe several sittings, so relax into it. If you know there was a general status shift, but don’t know specifically what caused it, give it a generally identifying name. For example, if you know that your great- grandmother “came into money” but don’t know whether the source was from an inheritance, sale of property, or backyard moonshine still, just use something generic like “Granny came into money.”
Once you’re satisfied all of the major status shifts in your family have been identified, continue to the next step.
Step 2: Identify those events in your family social history map that required resources and identify those resources. Resources can be education, money or other economic assets, people, knowledge, political connections, etc.
I’ve done this with a segment of my family’s social history as a sample. The status changes that were dependent on resources are in the green boxes on the left. The resources they required are on the right.
After you’ve identified the resources, continue to Step 3.
Step 3: Review the resources you identified. Were they available to everybody, or were there people who were excluded by law, practice or custom? For example, if your great-grandmother started her own business, using funds borrowed from a bank or from other family members, was this possible for everyone? If not, who was excluded? If you don’t know, take time to research and find out.
I’ve done this with an abbreviated segment of my family’s social history as a sample.
So far you’ve (a) identified the key points of your family’s change in social status (b) recognized the resources it took to make those changes, and (c) determined who did or did not have access to those resources.
Now, at each step, imagine what would have happened to your family if they had not had access to those resources. Follow the cascade of events. For example, in my family’s scenario, if my parents didn’t have a relationship to the Ethiopian royal family, my father probably would have died in Ethiopia. We would have never moved to the United States. Like the rest of my mother’s family, we would have been displaced when the royal family was overthrown and probably have ended up in Greece.
If you are white, imagine what the impact would have been on your family if they had been of African, or Asian, Native American, or Latino descent. What if they hadn’t been able to get the bank loan to buy their first home? What if the community they actually moved into had restrictive covenants that didn’t allow anyone who wasn’t white… how would that have impacted the education of future generations? What if the jobs they had were not available to people of color, how would that impact the location of their home, their ability to pursue higher education, access to health care, and overall economic progress?
If you are a person of color, imagine the impact on your family if they had access to resources readily available to whites.
The gap between what was available to white families and was available to those who were in oppressed racial groups is the measure of racism and its outcome: privilege.
It’s obvious that my African American experience is vastly atypical. I confess to great class privilege before arriving in the U.S., and that has translated into much lifelong privilege and much responsibility. I have achieved many things in my life, but none of those would have been possible without the very privileged ladder that was built before my birth. However, much of that early class-based privilege evaporated the moment I set foot on U.S. soil. My African and African-American ancestry overrode my education and economic access. Over time, my light skin color opened doors to opportunities not afforded to people with more brown in their skin pigment. That door shut as soon as I revealed my ancestry, which I have learned to do early in every personal and professional setting.
The mythology of the self-made person is a lie. We make one another. There are people much smarter than I am and much more gifted who are invisible simply because we live in a society that doesn’t allow them to fully develop their gifts, that actively withholds resources from them. Recently I heard Rev. Jesse Jackson say this:
“We never knew how good baseball could be until everyone could play. We never knew how good basketball could be until everyone could play. We never knew how good football could be until everyone could play at every level.”
Millions of babies’ lives have been saved because of the breakthrough surgical techniques developed by African American Dr. Vivien Thomas. How many others could be contributing if only they had the opportunity? Is the cure to breast cancer secreted in the mind of a young African American boy or girl whose curiosity gets them sent to detention instead of college? Is the next breakthrough in environmental sustainability beating in the heart of a young Native American boy or girl who understands the movement of the stars in a way not considered before, but who has no one to mentor and guide them? How much do we lose as a society, and as a species, by putting all of our resources in the hands of one group of people?
If your racial identity has created opportunities for you that weren’t available to others, then you are a racist, a beneficiary of racism. You are the problem.
Now, this Juneteenth, what will you do about it? What will you do to bring this nation, this state, this society back in line with the aspirational vision statement of the preamble to the Constitution? What will you do create “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?”
While some will settle for pecuniary compensation, I will not. Juneteenth is not about individuals. It is about bringing healing to entire communities destroyed by white greed. Help us fix our schools. Train our healthcare professionals. Create workplaces where we can be ourselves and bring our highest skills. Stop interfering in our ability to be housed. Bring healthy drinking water to Flint (and the Navaho nation). Permanently guarantee our right to vote. STOP LETTING POLICE KILL US. Listen to Black organizers in your community and follow their lead.
Otherwise, stop pretending Juneteenth matters to you and give us back our tradition.
If you believe homelessness is a problem in your city now, imagine what it will be like after the eviction moratorium ends. If you are someone who complains about how awful it is to have homeless people camping in your neighborhood or city, understand it is about to become much, much, much worse as landlords demand back rent from people made jobless by the pandemic for over a year, people who are barely able to feed and clothe themselves and their families.
There is a simple, common sense solution.
In 2008-2009, We the People of the United States of America bailed out all of the large banks and lenders in this country. We gave them… GAVE them… trillions of dollars so they wouldn’t go under. The money came from our hard-earned paychecks. Some banks and lenders used that money to pay their executives and shareholders, thus starting the spiraling disaster of homelessness by foreclosing on millions of homeowners the money was intended to protect. As we approach the end of the eviction moratoriums, it’s time for those banks to pay us back.
Everyone with a mortgage must be given the option to skip up to one year of payments and extend their mortgage one year without penalty or interest. Any mortgagor who owns rental property and accepts this option must be required to completely forgive their renters rent payments for up to one year.
This simple act would bring stability to the economy and allow millions of people to stay in their homes. Yes, it would negatively impact bank shareholders, but they have benefited the most over the past decade, fueled by the infusion from us, the taxpayers. By extending the mortgage, the banks still get their money, just a bit later, homeowners and landlords have time to re-establish their post-pandemic financial footing without pressuring renters, and renters have the opportunity to catch their financial breath without being pressured by homeowners. Most of all, the true economy, the one fueled by purchase of clothing, food and everyday necessities, the one keeping small businesses alive, will have time to stabilize. Otherwise our country’s economy will continue to drain resources from those at the bottom until the top-heavy weight becomes an inversion and causes it all to collapse.
There is only one reason this process wouldn’t work: greed combined with political cowardice. Greed of bankers and anyone who believes the economy is only defined by corporate success; cowardice of politicians too lazy or feckless to understand how the economy actually works.
No excuse is acceptable. The crisis can be averted. No, it isn’t easy, but it will save millions of lives.
If you don’t like this solution, post a better one. We can, MUST, do better.
THESE CRIMES ARE NOT ABOUT HATE. THEY ARE ABOUT POWER.
Love is not a precursor to justice or dignity. No matter how much you hate someone, in this country they are supposed to have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If everyone killed the people they dislike, even hate, there would be few of us left.
When you make these crimes about an emotion, you put the onus of changing that emotion on the victim. "If only they had been more lovable." You force the victimized to fight to be seen as worthy of life. But in a truly just society, people are treated with dignity whether or not they are lovable. Hated or loved, people have the right to live. We all have a right to justice. THAT'S THE ENTIRE ASPIRATIONAL PURPOSE OF THIS COUNTRY and what's supposed to make it great. It's also where it continues to fall short.
These acts of violence are not fueled by hate. They are deeply seeded in a hunger for power. The conflation of hate and the lust for power robs our society of the ability to effectively deal with these crimes. The white boy/man who killed 8 people didn't do it because he had any feelings about them individually. He simply believed he had a right to take out his feeling of powerlessness on them, and gain power to bring the world gaze to his face. He didn't randomly seek out any woman who happened to be around. He specifically targeted Asian women he perceived had no power to defend themselves and he believed his white compatriots would not defend. His "hatred" is not toward the women and their characteristics. It is his sense of powerlessness he hates and power he is attempting to reclaim.
His sense of a right to feel superior and hunger for supremacy coupled with his inability to achieve it is the core of this horrible act; his need to bring these women into submission. It is the same fuel driving police murders of unarmed Black men and women. It is the inner drive telling a police officer he must prove his supremacy by kneeling on a man's neck. It is the arrogance enabling white women to publicly taunt Black and brown men and women without consequences (I'm looking at you Renton).
Without dire, public consequences, these acts will continue. As long as the perceived benefits outweigh the risks, these acts will continue. Until people lose their jobs, are imprisoned, are shunned, they will continue. Most important of all: until power is redefined in this country and white people, especially white men, see themselves as part of the overall fabric rather than as the defining thread, these acts will continue.
Thanks for your patience while I took a couple of weeks off. January and early February were beyond challenging for us all.
Now comes the hard part… the work. In the past week I’ve received five phone calls from people suddenly thrust into leadership by their peers. In each case, they were overwhelmed. Each one was balancing disparate needs, being asked to make Solomonic decisions; each standing in their personal Golgotha moment. Their choices would define pivot points in many lives.
Leadership often comes to those who crave it least, especially in times of crisis. Why? Because they are usually the ones with sleeves rolled up, doing the work, quietly proving their skills, their empathy and, perhaps more important of all, their integrity. While those who self-style themselves as leaders of this and that are prancing their public personas and privately revealing their fakery, the real leaders, the ones everyone trusts to actually get things done, are slowly rising in everyone’s consciousness.
Suddenly the spotlight unexpectedly turns on them and the calls come. “Please help us.” “We’re not sure how to move forward.” “People trust you.” So they smile, say, “yes, of course,” and quietly panic. Here are the things I tell them.
Leadership is inconvenient. It’s invasive. Set boundaries, by all means, but understand your wants and needs will come second to the community’s needs, especially during crisis. The true, long-standing standard of your success will become, "How did this empower community?" Make it the core of your decision-making.
It’s a calling in the most literal terms. People are calling on you to solve a problem, to be their voice, to show them a new way. How you respond defines their expectations. You can say, “Yes,” and do what you think is best, leaving them to second-guess your motivations and processes. You can say, “I will partner with you,” and create a collaboration. You can develop mutual language, identify shared values and set parameters of independence/collaboration. However you do it, you will make mistakes. Learn to truly apologize, make reparations and do better.
Your choices are nowhere near as important as understanding the reasons why you are making them. No matter what you choose, there will be consequences. Know which consequences you can live with or ameliorate. Understand the difference between short- and long-term consequences. Be clear how each choice will impact your constituents, collaborators, friends, family, and opponents.
You will never please everyone. It sounds so simple, but what happens when you stand between two vastly differing opinions each held by people with whom you have long-standing, mutually respectful, even loving, relationships? Know why your allies stand beside you. Their motivations will help define the parameters of your effectiveness. The moment of this tension is the moment your moral center is revealed. It will always be flawed because you are part of a flawed species.
Remember this one thing – only one person is guaranteed to be present at the end of your life: you. Do the thing that will make you proud to face yourself in that moment.
If businesses are willing to assume the burden and responsibility inherent in bringing people into their workplace during a pandemic, they should have the right to reopen. Currently, the burden and responsibility fall on our state and local governments and institutions.
I have a proposal for the governor and legislature that will allow businesses to reopen immediately. They can do so provided they sign a legally binding document saying:
Any business willing to make itself accountable to the community as a whole by signing this agreement should be allowed to open. Don't you agree?
"Microsoft and Amazon have one thing in common: They once had their own idea. Ever since, they’ve profited only by taking other people’s technology and ideas, either by gobbling up or undercutting their competition." So starts my latest OpEd in the South Seattle Emerald. Continue reading here. https://bit.ly/3oOVXG7
There is a great deal of speculation these days about what will become of QAnon and its adherents. Having once voluntarily joined a cult and let it rule my life for seven years I’d like to offer some thoughts on the subject.
What if they’re not completely wrong? What if there really is a vast conspiracy stealing children off the streets of our cities and using them as sacrifices? What if the only thing QAnon got wrong is the understanding of the word “aliens?” What if our national obsession with immigration led them to erroneously believe the “aliens” who were invading our shores were those coming over the border from South or Central America when, in fact, the “aliens” are those coming from Vega.
According to Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, we now have proof objects from the stars have come into our solar system. The item doing a flyby of our planet in 2017, detected by Loeb and his colleagues around the world, is described as oval, about 100-yards long, just millimeters thin, and shiny like metal. It’s compared to satellites we earthlings have been flinging into the galaxy for several years. What if this item was a satellite from another solar system checking on progress by extraterrestrials already on our planet?
In 1992 the Rev. George Coyne, then head of the Vatican Observatory, explained the church’s participation in building a telescope atop Arizona’s Mount Graham by saying ''The church would be obliged to address the question of whether extraterrestrials might be brought within the fold and baptized.'' Were they aware of activity never revealed to the general public?
What if, on this most recent flyby, the truly alien object sprinkled a bit of coronavirus into our atmosphere? Wouldn’t that explain the sudden blossoming of variations all over the globe? What if this is their way of taking over our planet? And what if it’s an inside job? What if there is a Vegan who made it far enough into power to ensure the virus was spreading without resistance? What if the children who have been disappearing were actually being used as test subjects to ensure the universal effectiveness of the virus?
So how we would we recognize members of the early Vegan strike force? If I was their leader, I would disarm humans by telling them the virus wasn’t such a big deal. Next I would make sure the tools they needed to fight the virus were in short supply and, in a brilliant stroke of genius, sow chaos by forcing them to compete with each other for the meager resources available. All the while, I would tell them how well things were going, how minor the virus was and how I had things under control. I would tout as many supposed cures as possible, whether or not they had merit. The more the virus spread, the more false information I would circulate. I would minimize and verbally attack anyone who defied me. All the while, they would die. I could genuinely say the mission was going well since my real mission would be to decimate their population.
Of course, to throw off suspicion I would have to come down with the virus, too, but my real species would be smart enough to build immunity into my system. Of course my miraculous recovery would bolster claims the virus wasn’t a big deal.
The alien would have to be careful of one thing, though. Having come from a planet with a very different atmosphere, (s)he would have developed an adaptation that might give away their secret identity. Knowing hiding in plain sight is sometimes the best strategy, they might focus all attention on skin color; just not theirs. Maybe this is why black and brown skin, found all over the planet and acknowledged as the first skin color of our species, has been demonized; a distraction from the real aliens.
What if the alien’s very visible adaptation is the one skin color NOT naturally found on our planet: orange?
Think about it, former QAnonies. Based on facts and makes so much more sense than your original theory. This, perhaps, is the truth you’ve been searching for.
And sometimes I write satire.
We are so deeply indebted to Stacey Abrams for her leadership and commitment to community. She and her team, like so many Black women in our country over the ages, saved us from ourselves. They carry the flame of liberation that inspired the Statue of Liberty. They are the manifested dreams of Sojourner Truth, Madame C.J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Maxine Waters, Ella Baker and so many others throughout the country and its history who held a vision of our community's greatness and brought it to fruition. It is on their wings the future will rise.
It is for them Paul McCartney and John Lennon penned these words:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Thank you for your song. Thank you for your vision. Thank you.
Thursday, January 21st, is my birthday. Here's what I would like. PLEASE DO IT. #StaceyAbramsDay
Welcome! I am an essayist, poet, and facilitator, passionate about social justice and integrity, who lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. These observations are based on a lifetime working in the private and non-profit sectors, in a variety of organizational development capacities.