By Torraine Walker
By now, most of the country has seen the footage of 9-year-old New Yorker Jeremiah Harvey being falsely accused by Teresa Klein of touching her buttocks. If it weren’t for the store security camera footage showing that his bookbag brushed her accidentally and that she leaned her body into his path, his young life could have ended right there if a police officer had responded to her hysteria.
The incident created national outrage partly because of its echoes of the past nightmares; Emmett Till and George Stinney are just two of the most horrific examples of what happens to young Black boys when white women weaponize their race and gender against them. The media attention culminated with Jeremiah being asked by local news if he forgave Klein for endangering his freedom and life and replying that he didn’t. Two days later, Jeremiah and his mother appeared on Good Morning America. This time, his mother did most of the talking and said she accepted Klein’s apology. When asked again if he forgave her under the weight of his mother’s gaze, Jeremiah said yes.
Forgiveness. That’s the required response of Black people victimized by American racism. It’s a requirement that no other group is expected to offer after being wronged. No one expects a rape victim to forgive a rapist or the family of a murder victim to forgive a murderer, unless the victim in both cases is Black and the criminal white, but Black people are denied the right to feel basic human emotions so white America can continue to believe a fantasy that every atrocity it commits has no lasting repercussions.
Whether it’s a Black congregation slaughtered by a white supremacist, or a Black man locked away for years on the word off a white woman, whenever the survivors of American racial abuse are interviewed it’s inevitable that some reporter will ask the victims if they forgive their attacker. And all too often, they do.
We have warped Christianity to thank for this. Whenever European slavers and colonizers went, they brought the bible and the rifle. The one supported the other but of the two, Christianity filtered through the philosophy of white supremacy was the more dangerous weapon. In America, it was often used to indoctrinate enslaved and colonized people into accepting the daily brutality of their lives in exchange for a “promised land” in the afterlife, while their masters enjoyed paradise on earth at their expense. Above all, this perverse interpretation of Christianity taught slaves that to rebel against their masters was the same as rebelling against God, and that forgiving those who violated them was the highest of virtues.
That psychological weapon is still at work in our collective consciousness, but offering forgiveness without demanding accountability is moral cowardice. It undercuts any justice victims might receive and if you publicly forgive your attacker, so will the public, and your example will be used as the “correct” response to blatant racism to discredit the next person who doesn’t agree with it.
Black people have to reject that spiritual miseducation. We have to let go of the idea that forgiveness is automatic and stop allowing ourselves to be coerced into suppressing our anger. Anger at injustice is valid. Demanding financial and legal retribution to punish racists is valid too. Forgiveness is a precious resource that should be used sparingly and only to people who have proven themselves worthy of it. The people we waste it on have already forgiven themselves.
We have a full range of emotions we deserve to explore. It’s not wrong to reserve our empathy and love for those that show us love and our contempt for those that offer theirs to us.
By Torraine Walker
White women are BIG mad.
In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, women in general are outraged that an alleged rapist was admitted to the highest levels of American power, in spite of the testimony of his main accuser, Dr. Christine Ford. But white women are especially upset. For many, this is their first taste of the sort of injustice and disregard of their humanity that women of color have faced since America was founded. They are marching. They are organizing. They are looking for ways to express their rage and for many, the symbols of the Black power movement are the best ways to display that anger.
Once Kavanaugh was confirmed, Bette Midler tweeted that “women are the niggers of the world”, a reference to a song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono released in 1972. After being told by actual Black women that was a very bad take, she deleted the tweet and apologized. Not long after, another white woman suggested that women should take a knee to protest Kavanaugh. Black activists quickly informed her that taking a knee is the symbol of Colin Kaepernick’s fight against police brutality and institutionalized racism and to create their own.
The response to these women being chastised was hostile, to put it mildly. But what’s fascinating is the hostility didn’t come from conservative trump supporters, it came from white liberals who should know better. The indignant responses from white women defending both of these actions sounded eerily similar to the condescending passive aggressiveness white men use to dismiss Black issues.
There seems to be this idea that the symbols, movements, and energy of Black struggle are raw materials that any group should be able to co-opt to suit their needs, and that any Black person who objects to this is “being divisive.” But symbols mean things, and cultural theft isn’t any less outrageous because the thief smiles at you while doing it.
America runs on oppression. It always has. Women of color have always been victims of this system and white women have always been the beneficiaries of it. All too often, white women think oppression doesn’t really exist until it effects them. But once it does, they feel like they should leapfrog over people who’ve spent lifetimes in resistance to lead the revolution. It’s like barging in to a stranger’s birthday party demanding to decide who gets to eat the cake.
The history of cultural appropriation in America is a long one that bleeds into social justice movements, helped along by the assumption that any organization with Black people visibly out front must have a white leader in the shadows pulling the strings. It’s a racist assumption about the intelligence of Black people that unfortunately many allies have internalized, along with the white savior myth, that oppressed people should be grateful for any white support, no matter how that support shows up, its motives, or how it behaves. Whether it’s Gloria Steinem or Bette Midler, Jane Fonda or the “woke” college freshman, some of our allies can’t seem to help redirecting the focus of movements they join with onto themselves.
Of course, none of this could happen without the cooperation of the negro whisperer, the handful of Black people chosen as spokespeople for the Black masses. All too often, they are more concerned with securing the speaking engagement and wealthy donor bag for themselves than any real progress for the people they claim to represent and because of this, they are happy to allow themselves to be used as props, to give an image of collective Black endorsement of this sort of “allyship.”
This is how African-Americans and people of color can end up becoming accessories in the movements they create, and afterthoughts within movements they don’t. True allyship is two groups working together to achieve a common goal. It does not mean that one group alters its core beliefs in the service of the other. The price of that sort of allyship is too high for people with so much to lose.
White allyship has to face its complicity in upholding white supremacy. Instead of always telling us they’re our allies, they can prove it by actually listening to the people they say they want to help, as well as helping with issues closer to home. There is more than enough work to be done there, like converting the 53% of white women that voted for Donald Trump and correcting the white women who call the police on Black people for minor disputes. They’re not going to listen to anything Black people have to say, but they might listen to friends and family members who challenge their points of view.
It’s fitting that Susan B. Anthony is the icon of white feminism. She was willing to accept a future where wealthy educated whites dominated the world, so long as white women were equal partners in that domination. If you look at the leadership, focus and behaviour of many organizations that idolize her, you’ll see that worldview hasn’t changed.
by Torraine Walker
There's a lot of anger over Bill Cosby. Women are angry that it took an admission from him in a deposition that he used Quaaludes to help facilitate sex with women for the allegations against him to seem credible. Diehard Cosby fans are upset that so many women are out to crucify an iconic figure of Black comedy and entertainment. His criminal conviction, the sheer number of women who accused him, coupled with his statements about Black crime that many felt were condescending and victim blaming, have destroyed his reputation. It's tragic for the damage done to the women involved, and tragic for the stain on a decades-long career. Still, he has support, from people who think the women are lying opportunists, and from those who think his downfall is part of a carefully planned conspiracy. His supporters have been attacked on social media as misogynists and while that may be true, I think the reason for that support is far more primal.
Bill Cosby was a father figure to a generation of kids who had no father, to those watching the Cosby Show and to many actors who idolized him and that goes a long way towards explaining why no one wanted to believe the worst. Kids love their fathers. They revere them, they depend on them for life lessons and most importantly, they see them as protectors, incapable of harming them, even when they do. Children defend their parents. People defend their families, even in the face of irrefutable evidence of guilt. It's the same thing you see with mothers in the hood who have sons that everyone knows has terrorized the neighborhood for years. He may be a killer, but she still loves her son, and she will support him regardless. That dynamic is at play here. Nobody wants to admit that their father figure has deep personal issues and may have willfully harmed others.
There's also the history of false rape accusations that have caused the lynching and incarceration of countless numbers of African-American men. It's a fear that many Black men carry because we know how easy it is to have your life and freedom taken from you with no proof heavier than innuendo. No one wants to see their father suffer. But there comes a time when you must face the flaws in your hero's character.
Can you separate art from the artist, and the artist's worst personality traits? R. Kelly, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Vince Neil from Motley Crue, Mark Wahlberg, all these entertainers are guilty of reprehensible acts yet are celebrated for their talent. Of course, none of them reached the level of trust and warmth that Bill Cosby fans bestowed on him and none of them had his type of power.
Loyalty can be used to hide a multitude of sins. So can idolization of a human being. It happens in abusive homes every day. It's a mindset that silenced women who tried to speak out about Bill Cosby for decades. Even in the aftermath of them telling their stories, some people will always love their father figure.
By Torraine Walker
Throughout American history, there’s been a class of African-Americans who served as diplomats between the Black masses and the white power structure. They could articulate the wishes of Blacks in humble, reverent language that flattered white benefactors into offering their patronage, then explain to Blacks the rules and conditions under which that patronage would be bestowed. That relationship dynamic began to change with the rise of the Black Power movement. The polished approach of earlier civil rights leaders was forced to make room for angry militant voices rising out of southern towns and northern ghettos, demanding to be heard.
Sometimes that shift was ugly. Ideological clashes happened constantly and the political often became personal. History repeated itself last Thursday in Ferguson, MO when a local protestor, Michael Hassell, disrupted a book signing by Deray McKesson, who first rose to national prominence by tweeting the events of the Ferguson uprising. The allegations levied during the clash echoed historic critiques of past civil rights figures. While that story is one that will continue to unfold over time, I think the incident itself speaks to the disconnect between the elite Black protest class and Black people in the real world.
In the 6 years since the killing of Trayvon Martin, a social hierarchy has emerged of people who became famous through protesting police brutality. Technology and social media created immediate mass awareness of the depth of American racial injustice and it also created personalities who were able to parlay that skill into lucrative outcomes, whether that be large corporate donations, awards, or becoming recognized authorities on Black suffering at ivy league universities. In the wake of that, the question being asked is who does that help, and how does that benefit the communities these people claim to represent?
Much like the “good white man” in the days of Jim Crow, there’s a white donor lobby that demands to be flattered but doesn’t want to get too close to the people they claim to want to help, or their pain. This is where the negro whisperer comes in. The negro whisperer is modern version of the racial diplomat, and their business model is giving Black people the feeling that someone's working on their behalf, while making white people feel good about themselves so they will open their wallets to you. If you do that well, the doors of the lucrative punditry and speaking engagement world open wide for you. So long as you stay on message. In the protest economy, the raw anger of the victimized is sanitized and when it materializes, both the white donor and the negro whisperer are uncomfortable, because both are removed from the reality of struggle.
While it’s true that social justice work can and should be done on many levels, any action must center the people on the ground and their reality or it can become a circular path of opportunism and self-congratulation. There’s also an elitist attitude in modern protest about who is qualified to speak. On social media, in the press and in policy circles, the only respected voice is the college educated academic who condescends to mix with the masses because it looks good on a resume, but really only respects and listens to people in their immediate social circle. This has created a careerist version of the high school clique, with all the petty jealousy, uniformity of thought, and bullying that high school cliques are famous for.
Last Thursday, Twitter user @DjChubbESwagg asked why a white woman, Timothy Anne Burnside, was made curator of the hip-hop exhibit of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. What followed was hours of emotional defenses of Burnside and cyberbullying of the questioner from popular Black Twitter figures, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, that eventually forced the man to apologize, although he later recanted his apology. Think about that: a group of Black activists, who built their brands by demanding respect and inclusion for Blacks in American cultural and economic life, attacked a Black man arguing for Black curation of an exhibit dedicated to Black culture, in defense of a white associate who didn’t have to lift a finger to make them defend her. It was disappointing, but not surprising from the perspective of a gatekeeper whose livelihood depends on proximity to power instead of acquiring it.
The same thing happened to Stevante Clark, Erica Garner, and Darren Seals, people from working class backgrounds who shouted their rage directly at the individuals representing the political systems they felt were responsible for their conditions. Through their words and actions, they spoke truth to power and upset the idea that justice for Black people could be accomplished through abstract academic theories. That approach was never going to endear them to the protest economy and for their efforts, they were rewarded with ostracism, ridicule, and in some cases, death.
The most telling part of the shutdown in Ferguson was Hassell being pushed out of the building by people telling him “this is not your event.” Imagine how it must feel being forced out of a conversation about your community by people who wouldn’t be there without the risk you endured to bring the conditions in your community to light.
What happened in Ferguson last Thursday and on social media over the weekend was bigger than the incidents themselves. It was about negro whisperers being held accountable by the people who elevated them. It was about who gets to tell the stories of Black people and who profits from those stories. Marginalized Black people don’t need interpreters, they need to be heard. And people who truly want to help them must first listen to them. Poor and working-class Black folks are tired of being played and are demanding results from people claiming to do things in their name. That demand is only going to get louder, and it’s going to shock a lot of people who are secure in their self-righteousness.
by Torraine Walker
Sorry To Bother You begins with Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson making love in their Oakland bedroom, surrounded by art and bathed in muted amber light that evokes a womb. It’s a warm, intimate, safe space their characters have created for each other that the outside world brutally intrudes on. That clash between idealism and reality is at the heart of Sorry To Bother You, by writer/director Boots Riley of political hip-hop group The Coup.
Depressed, broke, and behind on rent, Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius Green takes a dead-end job at a call center where the key to success is how well you can imitate a white voice, a process that bleeds over into his behavior, dress, and worldview. After mastering this technique Cassius rapidly moves up the corporate ladder while being caught up in labor disputes and moral compromises that lead to him becoming progressively more ruthless as his economic status rises.
Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius as an awkward, noncommittal everyman, reluctantly pulled along by whatever forces are stronger than his will at any given moment. Cassius’s girlfriend Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson, is an artistic idealist with a wardrobe full of radical slogans and performative politics, the spiritual descendant of 60’s flower children and modern activists. The movie is loaded with standout performances including Steven Yeun and an unrecognizable Omari Hardwick as a labor organizer and a corporate superstar vying for Cassius’ soul. Armie Hammer plays a billionaire CEO of the type given godlike status in the real world.
The film does an excellent job of highlighting the connections between worker’s rights, individual freedom, and corporate control. The most chilling scene in the film comes when Cassius is offered a choice that will, should he accept it, satisfy his every material desire, while altering his life irrevocably. The scenes leading up to that moment will be familiar to anyone aware of how white culture views African-Americans as entertainment, and the revelations the Me Too Movement brought to light. In the world of the film it’s the behavior of elites, but it’s also the sort of choice working class people make every day. It forces the viewer to consider how secure you are in your identity and principles when both are challenged, especially in a society where everything can be exploited, including your rebellion.
Sorry To Bother You feels like an extension of the themes Boots the hip-hop artist consistently addressed in his work taken to surrealist extremes. Race, class, capitalism, and the internal acts of submission people make to survive under the weight of those social constructs are blended seamlessly. It’s a brilliant, hyperreal visual and psychological trip grounded in the truth of an old African-American proverb: Everything that looks good ain’t good for you.
Sorry To Bother You opens Friday, July 13th nationwide.
I first became aware of Darren Seals when he showed up on my Twitter timeline in 2016, calling out people he felt were exploiting Mike Brown's death for personal gain. At first I ignored what he had to say because his criticisms sounded like petty jealousy and unwarranted personal attacks. Over time, once I learned of his being one of the first people on the scene after Mike Brown's killing and on the very front lines in Ferguson before the cameras showed up, I began to pay more attention to what he had to say.
So many of his points sounded credible that I began to check for his tweets regularly. The way he attacked people made me hold off from engaging with him too much, but I listened. By the time I finally decided to reach out to him publicly he was murdered, shot dead and left in a burning car, one of many Ferguson activists killed in a similar fashion.
Darren's death brought him the kind of mainstream media attention that eluded him while he was alive. His critiques of the BLM organization weren't addressed much in the press and in hindsight it's easy to see why. To an outsider, Darren probably seemed like an extremely problematic hater. I won't concern myself with that, as that story is still playing out. What concerns me is that the erasure of Darren’s life, work, and death, feels like the continued marginalization of already marginalized people.
What is obvious is that once Ferguson became #FERGUSON, the voice of protest began to shift from the raw righteous anger of locals to the slogans, photo ops, and polished academic discussions that have become a trademark of this latest version of the civil rights movement. At the administrative level, it appears that arbitrary ideas of intersectionality and allyship took priority over protesting the police killings of Black men and women, to the point that the movement has became so vague as to be unidentifiable to the people whose issues brought it to prominence.
Voices like Darrens were overshadowed by those who knew better how to market a moment, many of whom are clueless about the everyday reality of being poor and Black. That reality ain't about politeness. It's about survival. People in places like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Baton Rouge are fighting to stay alive and people with their backs against the wall ain't got time to worry about whether they're being "problematic".
Darren was excellent at articulating that real life frustration. True, he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and he was not media trained, but he was a real one who loved his city and his people. And while I didn't agree with everything he said, that love and realness was undeniable. It was a realness that was a little too real for people who aren't familiar with it.
For all the talk from modern day activists about abandoning respectability politics, so much current movement energy is anchored in trying to enforce moral absolutes that don't connect to the real world. So many activists have internalized the idea that only the deaths of “perfect” victims are worthy of protest, and only “perfect” spokespeople are worthy of attention, when the state that murders us doesn't make those distinctions.
I regret not engaging with Darren more. My personal opinion is this movement has too many “woke” respectability politicians and not enough Darrens. If Black Lives truly Matter, that concept has to include the lives of imperfect, “problematic” Black men and women who we don't agree with and who's ideology and upbringing aren't the same as our own. It has to respect the people in the streets who may not speak the King's English but can create a movement and voice their demands better than their self-appointed translators.
It means listening to and fighting for Black men like Darren Seals while they're alive, before they become hashtags. As for what Darren felt and his concerns, do your research and draw your own conclusions.
Civil rights attorney and former Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds has risen to national prominence after taking part in protests following several police shootings in Minnesota. She is currently running as a candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis as a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, a socially liberal party allied with the Democratic Party that counts Senators Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, and Representative Keith Ellison among its members.
I spoke with Nekima about her life, her work, and plans for the future. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When did you first become interested in political activism?
“I've been working to address issues that impact communities of color and poor people for a very long time. My street level activism began in the spring of 2014 when I worked with young people to lead a march and rally against the school-to-prison pipeline. That November, I travelled to Ferguson as a legal observer through the National Lawyers Guild. When I came back to the Twin Cities, I was approached by the young people starting Black Lives Matter Minneapolis who asked if I would work with them. I had no idea what kind of help I could provide because I still just saw myself as a law professor. But I showed up when they had demonstrations, participated in the shutdown of the I-35 freeway and the Mall of America demonstration. By the spring of the following year I became the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, and continued engaging in activism through that organization.”
What was the response from Minneapolis NAACP members and national leadership to your direct action in Minnesota?
“There was a lot of support from the local branch in electing someone who had a legal and activist background as their president. On a national level, at times it was challenging to engage in activism, but we did our best to notify the national office as things were unfolding. One of the key times that happened was in November 2015, after the shooting death of Jamar Clark. The Minneapolis NAACP was the first on the scene. We reached out to BLM Minneapolis and asked them to hold a march and a rally, because by then there were over a hundred people in the streets. There was a lot of energy, and I wanted to make sure it was channeled in a productive way.
We had to let the national office know that we were in the midst of what became an 18 day occupation. Within a few days I got a call from the national president's office asking if we needed assistance. He was willing to fly to Minnesota along with the head of the youth and collegiate division, so they came and worked with us to hold a candlelight vigil and meet with government authorities. So I would say they were supportive. Sometimes we would receive questions about the level of activism we planned to engage in, but I would say for the most part we were able to manage it.”
Let's talk about the Mall of America protest. How did that idea come about, and what were you hoping to achieve?
“That idea came from the young people who were involved in BLM. As everything was unfolding we received a lot of negative comments and fear about what was happening at the mall, so the young people asked me to speak to the media on their behalf because of my background in civil rights. So I did, and tried to explain that the protest was a form of civil disobedience, that it would be peaceful, but it was connected to our history of challenging systems and institutions that are oppressing people. So I participated in the demonstrations, along with 3000 people from the community.”
You were charged for that protest. If convicted, you could've gone to jail. Were you prepared for that?
“I was. Obviously I wouldn't have wanted to spend any time in jail for engaging in a nonviolent peaceful demonstration. But I know that sometimes government authorities respond with a heavy hand when they think people are disrupting the system and disrupting the status quo, and when you become engaged in the process of advocating and organizing, sometimes you do face some type of punishment under the law. You saw it with Dr. King, who was arrested dozens of times for his work, and Rosa Parks, being arrested when she refused to give up her seat. So knowing that history I understood that comes with the territory, but as a mother, I wouldn't have wanted to spend any time away from my children.
Even though I wasn't an organizer of the demonstration, I was charged as one and maybe a month later eleven of us were charged as alleged organizers. I was one of two people who had the most charges. I was charged with eight misdemeanors. I knew that was an attempt to silence my voice. We had to assemble a very strong legal team, we had lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild who volunteered, and I was also my own attorney. We fought the case for 10 months, and in November 2015, all of our charges were dismissed.”
There have been several police shootings in Minnesota in the wake of Jamar Clark, most notably those of Philando Castile and Justine Damond. Do you feel Minneapolis has done enough to address this issue, and what do you feel they should be doing?
“No, I don’t feel that Minneapolis has done enough to address police violence, the need for accountability and to reform the current system. My perspective on those issues played a huge role in my decision to run for mayor. One of the major responsibilities of the mayor is to provide oversight of the police department. In 2014, I was one of the people who challenged the current mayor publicly in the media about doing more to address allegations of harassment and the use of excessive force against poor people of color by police. She took some steps, but it wasn't enough. One of the things that happened recently was Minneapolis was selected to take part in a three year initiative offering support to transform police departments. Change takes time, but it's important to have a leader who understands these issues and is willing to do the heavy lifting to help change the culture of a police department and to push for a community policing model.”
Do you think Justine Damond’s death will have more repercussions than the others?
“Many of us called for the firing of Chief Janeé Harteau after Jamar Clark was killed and that call fell on deaf ears. After Justine was killed, I issued a call on Facebook for her to be fired, bringing up what happened to Jamar Clark and Terence Franklin who was killed in 2013, and how the chief stood by those officers in the media. We compared her statements when white male officers have shot and killed people to her statements after Justine's death, when a Somali officer was involved. I called that out, and ultimately the city council member representing the ward where Justine was killed advocated for the chief to step down.
When Justine was killed the officer’s body camera wasn’t activated. So the city implemented a policy that officers must have their cameras on when going out to a call. But that could have been in place from day one, if they had listened to the people when we made the request.”
You're a Black woman running on a progressive ticket in an area seen as traditionally white and liberal. Has that presented any problems in your campaign?
“Absolutely. We've only had one other person of color as mayor, and she was also the first woman. It definitely makes it challenging when people are not used to seeing a woman of color in a position of leadership in the city. We currently have no African-American women or men on the city council, so the African-American community has no representation in our city government. I've gotten questions like, ‘We've seen this before, how are you different from Sharon [Sayles Belton, a previous mayor] ?’, when every other mayor has been a white man, and we've obviously seen that before. And under that leadership, what we've seen is disparities grow worse in the city. Minneapolis is currently the second worst city in the nation for racial disparities across key indicators of quality of life. So we have a desperate need for new leadership who is willing to shift the paradigm for how we do business.
As a Black woman, you encounter questions like, ‘It's a big job, can you handle it?’ And this is with me having taught law for 14 years and being a civil rights attorney for longer than that. But the mayor two mayors ago [R.T. Rybak Jr.] had been a journalist at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. No one questioned whether he could go from being a journalist to a mayor, and he was mayor for three terms.
Some of the questions are grounded in ignorance but I do my best to share the facts about my background, my leadership skills and my experience that make me more than qualified for this position.”
There’s a conversation taking place among activists about the use of inside power and outside power. In the past year, several people with roots in social justice movements have moved into mainstream politics. What do you feel are some of the challenges of transitioning from confronting the power structure to potentially working within it?
“Of course there are challenges when you've been on the outside pushing for change within the system, and then you decide to go inside of it. But I'm going inside with the mission to make the changes that would only be incremental by continuing to stand on the outside. I got to the point where I would say to young people, ‘Listen, it's not enough to keep knocking on the doors of the powers that be, begging them to do the right thing. It's time for us to become the powers that be.’”
You’re raising six children. How do you feel about their future in a country where the devaluation of Black & Brown lives is being reinforced by national policy, especially after the last presidential election?
“I think we have many reasons to be concerned about what type of legacy we pass along to our children, especially as America becomes browner than it’s ever been. Although I share many of those concerns, I’m also optimistic about the future. I’m doing my part and I’m urging others of my generation to do the same and not just sit on the sidelines and hand over power to those who don't have the best interests of the people in mind, but to stand up, rise up, seize the power that we need to have, and to protect it.
And also to be sure we're thinking about environmental issues. We need to think about the impacts of global warming and climate change and how that will affect our children. We’re seeing the effects right now, and we have to do everything in our power to slow the process of climate change to ensure we're leaving this world in a better condition than how we inherited it.”
By Torraine Walker
In American politics, the loudest voices in online debate are usually the alt-right. Using a mix of personal attacks and misinformation, the right has managed to turn online chatter into a force powerful enough to influence public opinion and elections. But one social media personality has begun to challenge that.
In December 2016, a Twitter user with the screen name of Freeyourmindkid began posting before and after screenshots of Trump voter tweets after their candidate reneged on one campaign promise after another. Since then, he has become a sort of anti-Trump source, posting daily rebuttals to alt-right talking points on racism, immigration, and Trump administration legislation.
With a Twitter following that grew from 400 followers to nearly 50,000 in nine months, a website that catalogs the buyer's remorse of disgruntled Trump voters, and a t-shirt line, he has gained internet fame and increasing influence, but also constant harassment and threats from the alt-right.
I met with Freeyourmindkid to talk about his activism and goals. This interview has been edited for clarity, and I honored his request that his identity be kept anonymous.
When did you get the idea to do this?
“After the election, I saw the Trump Regrets page and I noticed they weren't doing before shots of people who regretted their votes so I did a Twitter search and found the tweets of people right after the election who were celebrating Trump’s win, rubbing it in everyone's face, and I contrasted that with their later comments when they were upset that they didn't get what they voted for. I just kept doing that over and over and it eventually took off. They featured me on The David Pakman Show and that's how I got the bulk of my followers. After that people suggested that I make a website. So I did, the site took off, and things have been rolling from there.”
What sort of responses have you gotten from Trump supporters and people who are resisting him?
“It's funny, when Trump supporters respond, especially the ones whose regrets I posted, a lot of them are regretful initially, but once they saw what he said then they get aggressive and they say, ‘well, he's better than Hillary’, or ‘well at least I'm not a stupid liberal.’ I think a lot of people are still behind him because they see a binary world. You're either liberal or conservative, you're either right or wrong. They pick a side and their side is Trump, no matter how screwed up his policies are and no matter how incompetent he is, because in their binary world, he's the closest thing in their mind to right.”
As far as people who are against Trump, most of them love it. Especially considering they said before the election, ‘you're gonna regret voting for this moron’ and this is showing their prediction came true.”
Have you had any politicians confront you about your content?
“I actually have a few politicians follow me. None of them have confronted me directly, I guess because that would be politically muddy for them, but they read it and just sorta stay back.”
Were you involved in politics at all before this?
“I actually did some work for local Democrats back when I was in undergrad. I was in an immigration march back in 2010, and we also worked on immigrant profiling at the Canadian border when people who appeared to be brown or Muslim were getting pulled off buses. I was in New York at the time, and they have a rule that if you're within 100 miles of the Canadian border you can be pulled off and searched. That was happening a lot, so we documented it. So I’ve been involved in politics for a while but with everything picking up after the election this is the deepest I've gone into it.”
Have you learned anything about the people you've interacted with?
“I've learned that a lot of people are open-minded and want to learn, but I've also learned that some people are really stubborn and they don't wanna learn at all. No matter how many times you confront them with facts, or try to have an open conversation with them, they always wanna double down on their preconceived mindset or whatever.”
Have you managed to convert any people?
“A few, who were living in their own world but are willing to look at things from a different perspective.”
Has anybody threatened you?
“A few people have. I have a block program now but before then, someone with 100,000 followers would retweet me and then I would get angry anime characters and trolls in my mentions sending me violent photos and threatening to murder me and my family. That's sorta died down, but there's still threats. Some guy was like ‘we're gonna find this guy’ but nothing happened, thank God. But you know, what can you do? Everybody gets threats when they're outspoken.”
How's your website and t-shirts doing?
“It's actually doing pretty good, I try to come out with a t-shirt once a month, the best t-shirt I had was the MLK one, that's the one people have loved the most, so I'm probably gonna reissue that one. Basically I keep an open mind and I get a lot of ideas from my followers so there'll be more shirts to come, but it's been pretty good so far.”
Where do you see this going?
“I really wasn't trying to blow up like this. It wasn't my goal, but now that I do have such a big platform, I wanna do something with it. I want to hold politicians accountable since so many people are watching my Twitter. At some point I want to get people together to talk about what we can do about problematic policies...maybe call out companies that are investing in the prison system, people who are benefitting from the additional raids on immigrants, and try to get people to divest from them, and help turn the tide we've seen since Trump has been elected.”
Torraine Walker is a writer, independent journalist, and content creator for digital media. His work has appeared in publications including the Huffington Post, Fusion, Abernathy, and Brain Mill Press. In 2015, his blog SUMCity won WordPress' Freshly Pressed Award for best new blogs.