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Published on December 16th, 2016 | by Janet Stickmon

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TO BLACK PARENTS VISITING EARTH: Letter #6 from Janet Stickmon on TIME BENDERS IN A NEW ERA

I have spent nearly 20 years of my life doing social justice work, fighting alongside others to dismantle various systems of oppression. Most of this work is done in the classroom and some of it done as a writer.

Throughout that time, I have been accused of brainwashing. I have been accused of religious malpractice. I have been accused of reverse racism.   I have been accused of being too sensitive, too radical, too soft, too angry, and too biased—and if all this were actually true, then I’d say accomplishing all this at the same time would have been quite impressive.   Such charges came from either people of color unready to change or white people who thought they’d changed enough. Even though I can count these moments on one hand, the wounds left behind are real and have required some time to heal.

In spite of all this, I’m happy to say that overall, my commitment to this work has been received with far more openness and eagerness than resistance. I have been encouraged by my students’ attentiveness and readiness to engage with material that may cause thoughts and feelings to emerge that they didn’t know were there. It’s beautiful to see a growing desire amongst students to feel a greater connection to their ancestors, to the land, to each other, and to their future.

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Black Leaders and Mentorship Program doing a networking exercise

I am honored to have students tell me how much my classes have meant to them; how they are emotionally stronger, more inspired to accomplish their goals; how they are ready to love across boundaries, seeing difference as something to celebrate as opposed to seeing it as a threat; how they have more tools, more language with which to think critically of power structures; how they can live freer, healthier lives and be catalysts for loving transformation with all those they encounter in their own professional and personal lives.

There are many of us educators who’ve worked hard over the decades to share Truth(s) with our students.[i] We have been moved to tears by what can be unearthed in a classroom setting. We are not saviors. We are revealers of the beauty that already lies within our students.

I am fortunate enough to belong to an unofficial network of educators who stand, in and out of classrooms, with a book in one hand and not-much-time in the other, ready to receive these beautiful minds and hearts with open arms. We are time benders of a sort. As time benders, we work miracles in the world of academia (though we can also be found in other fields, as well) where every bit of work gets squeezed out of us unless we say no. We manage to do the impossible in an unreasonably short amount of time. We are aware of the breadth and depth of material we must cover in 18-, 15-, 10- or sometimes 8-week sessions and wonder how we will do it all and still make it meaningful for our students. How do we teach so that they come out on the other side changed forever, never once feeling rushed?

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Photo by Dorret / Creative Commons License

Time benders absorb the rush and are ever aware of the Theodore Parker-inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”[ii]   We absorb the speed and the volume and slow down time for our students.  We make time expand and contract to fit the shape of and make room for the untold narrative. Time benders spare the student the feeling of overwhelm by carrying the burden for them; this way they are free to immerse themselves in the newness of the experience. Time benders create microcosms of understanding and belonging in the classroom, bearing witness to a clarity, justice, and unity some thought could only be achieved centuries from now. In this environment, students learn from teacher, teacher learns from student, and student learns from student. All learn what this world feels like, sounds like, tastes like…and realize that that world can be created today. With that realization, they hopefully expand this space/circle of understanding far beyond the four walls of their inception, and replicate that feeling of connectedness and belonging over and over again.

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This is what many of us social justice educators attempt to. This is what I try to do. I may not always be successful, but when I am, the class and I know it.

I won’t lie. It’s exhausting. It’s hard work. It may not always turn out the way I’d hoped. But when it does (or when it’s better than what I envisioned), the rewards are undeniable.

Overall, in the classroom, I see things moving forward.

As far as the national arena, though we still have a long way to go (especially considering the ongoing state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people, legislation allowing discrimination of LGBT people on the basis of religious freedom, corporate greed, and more), I was beginning to feel like our country was making some good steps in the right direction throughout Obama’s eight years as President of the United States. Seeing these changes under his administration signaled we were making moves toward greater justice and inclusion.

Here are some listed below:

  • Affordable Care Act signed into law[iii]
  • Sotomayor becomes Supreme Court justice[iv]
  • Executive actions like:
    • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
    • Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA)[v]
  • Executive orders like:
    • White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans
    • White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education
    • White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics
    • White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
  • American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 (which includes Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund)
  • White House Minority Mental Health Summit
  • White House Council on Women and Girls
  • White House Celebrations of Filipino American History Month (the first in 2015)
  • Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality[vi]
  • Department of Justice’s investigation of the Baltimore Police Department[vii]
  • Recent decision to stop Dakota Access Pipeline construction and (examine alternative routes for the pipeline)[viii]

Room for more progress? Sure. But these are significant steps.[ix] In all my years of teaching, it was during these eight years under Obama that I noticed more alignment between the time bending going on in my microcosm and the time bending happening on a national scale.

So when Trump won the presidential election, I felt betrayed, like my country slapped me in the face. Even considering that Clinton won the popular vote, I didn’t feel that much better, because there were still 62,206,395 people out there who voted for Trump in comparison to 64,223,958 who voted for Clinton.[x] That’s still close to half the voters who favored Trump.

My initial thought was why should I give so much of myself to a country that hates me, the people I love, and the people I fight alongside with. Why should I have my tax dollars go to a country that allows a sexist, Islamophobic, KKK-endorsed racist—someone who joins the ranks of those thinking #AllLivesMatter is an enlightened response to #BlackLivesMatter, who wants to build a wall at U.S./Mexico border to stop illegal immigration and thinks climate change is a hoax made up by China—become the President of the United States? How can Trump voters turn a blind eye to all of this and actually believe that this billionaire—sharply criticized for his business practices—is anti-establishment and could bring about economic development and equality?[xi] What will other countries think of us knowing that we elected an ignorant beacon of hate to represent our nation? How embarrassing! And how incredibly dangerous!

All of this was jumbled up in my system and amounted to rock at the pit of my stomach and intermittent tears. I didn’t have the words immediately; I just felt sick. It’s not like I was completely surprised.   You know from my fourth letter to you on terror, I had warned you that white supremacy was building momentum and becoming more brazen.   But even though I have seen the oppression this country is capable of—the very foundation on which it was built—and knew the hatred was always lurking out there, I still found Trump’s win painful and alarming.

I knew Trump would damage our country, but I first feared his supporters. I was afraid this victory would grant them permission to unapologetically release their hatred, becoming more open than they already were.

At 11:54pm on election day, I posted this message on Facebook:

Those Muslim-hating, xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic **** have been hating in the privacy of their homes and local neighborhoods. Many not even in private…especially over the past few years. Anyways, the hidden ones have been strategic and stealthy…still getting prepared behind closed doors. Now they don’t have to hide. Trump is their release. And I fear this victory for them will make it open season for poc, LGBT, immigrant, Muslim, women, and all at the intersections. The violence that will get unleashed…God…I don’t even want to think about it. And somehow, somehow I will have to have a conversation with my daughter and my students that gives them some desire to press on. I hope I have the words tomorrow.

Later that night and early the next morning, I urged friends, family, community members to be careful and vigilant. I was scared for them. I was scared for us.

I wish I was wrong, but sure enough, open season it was. By the time Friday November 11 came around, there were 201 election-related hate incidents nationwide.[xii] By the following Monday November 14, it jumped to 437.[xiii] Within ten days after the election, there were 701 incidents.[xiv]

But before Day 10, there was Day 1 for my daughter…

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While Baby Girl was in karate class, I voted and then picked her up. We discussed possible outcomes, worries, and her suggestion to buy a house in Ethiopia. We watched the votes come in on PBS, then she took a break while my husband and I watched the election results. Before going to bed, Baby Girl asked who won. My husband and I told her in disappointment that Trump won. She dropped her head, her body slumped over and walked to her room. She quietly curled up in bed, covered her face, but didn’t cry. I pulled the covers over her.

She woke up around midnight, “So who is the president?” she asked. She knew, but we told her again.

The following morning, 7:00 a.m., she woke up and asked Daddy, “Is Trump president?”

“Yes, but not now Baby. Obama is still our president until January,” my husband said.

That morning, as we walked to the school playground, I tried to encourage her and told her, “We don’t want you to worry…You come from a family who fights for justice.” It sounded real good at the moment. Almost genuine.

Some part of me believed this, or at least wanted to. Despite my own fears, I didn’t want her to worry.   After all, she’s only eight, right? And eight-year-olds shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be killed, stomped on, have their families torn apart, or have their healthcare taken away. Despite my ideas of what should and should-not-be, the reality was this: the negligence, apathy, misguided ignorance, hatred of government leaders become the worry of grown-ups and—since children can sense everything—they become the worry of our children too.

I don’t remember anything else I said that morning. I don’t believe I gave her any real practical tools to get her through the day. No other words. I gave her a hug and a kiss like I do every morning. And perhaps these were better than words.

Later that day, Baby Girl joined hands with a small group of 3rd graders in her class and formed a circle. The election of Trump was their reason. They prayed, cried, and comforted each other.

Baby Girl just happened to mention this at dinner the following night. When I heard this, shock and sadness hit me first before pride. I was crushed that our babies felt the weight of our country’s unrest…so much so that they needed to console one another. Though I was moved by the sweet wisdom of these children, I didn’t want this life for them. I didn’t want this for my daughter.

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Photo by Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons License

Baby Girl was so excited to have a brand new suitcase for our trip to Universal Studios. As soon as we bought it, she packed right away. We’d been planning this trip for months and were ready to leave the weekend after the election. We almost didn’t go because we knew we would be passing through Trump territory and were worried about what might happen to us. We went anyway because, as a family, we made a commitment to being better at welcoming abundance into our lives. Translation: we needed to do more fun things together as a family to break up the monotony of the daily work-school routine. More importantly, we decided to go because we wanted to keep our promise to Baby Girl.

To safeguard against potential attack, I kept a kali stick near the driver seat and pepper spray in the door. I made sure my husband also had a kali stick on the passenger side. I gave Baby Girl the other pepper spray, showed her how to use it, and asked her to keep it in her purse just in case.

On the way there and back, I wanted to avoid making any unnecessary stops. It made me wish we had a version of The Green Book for the 21st century to tell us what restaurants, gas stations, etc. were safe for Black folk.[xv]

While we were away, we had fun. We spent time with good people. We laughed.

Luckily, we never had to use the kali sticks or the pepper spray.

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By the time we returned to the Bay Area, the hate incidents were rapidly approaching 400 and Trump selects Priebus—someone who claims heterosexual couples are best for a child in comparison to same-sex couples—as his chief of staff and Bannon (“alt-right,” white supremacist) as his chief strategist.[xvi] By Friday, November 18, hate incidents were up to 700 and Sessions—a man considered too racist to be a federal judge in 1986, and someone who doesn’t think the act of grabbing-women-by-the-pussy would be sexual assault—is named attorney general.[xvii]  And let’s not forget the VP-elect is Pence (proponent of conversion therapy).[xviii]

Meanwhile, on that Friday morning after breakfast, Daddy gave Baby girl quick lessons on how to poke someone’s eyes out if they tried to grab her.

This is our reality.

White supremacists, homophobes, and misogynists in the White House.

Hate incidents in full effect.

Babies praying and learning to defend themselves.

In short, it’s fucking looney-tunes down here.

As Trump is elected as president and he selects his cabinet members, we stare at the perfect green light bringing white supremacy, homophobia, misogyny, and every -ism there is, out of the shadows and straight into positions of power to control the country.

This is no setback.[xix] In my mind, a setback suggests that with a few minor corrective measures we can get back on course.   This feels like an irrevocable regression.

I bounce between being strong and feeling defeated. I know I have family and students who rely on me to be a source of hope and guidance. I try to stay steady enough to be that source. But when I take stock of my true emotions, my disgust with this country is strong. I am angry and deeply disappointed.   Can’t say I ever had complete faith in this country and its systems, but what little faith I had, I lost on election day. I fear for my safety, and the safety of my friends and family. Part of me sees no way through this and urges me to make a family exit plan: pack our bags, get the emergency fund and emergency packs together, polish up the martial arts, digital security, and situational awareness skills, get the passports ready, and figure out which country will be our new home.[xx] The other part of me will still do most of the above but not flee. For as long as I remain in this country, I’ll continue to resist and call forth the time bender in me and somehow, given the inevitabilities of the Trump administration, not become hopeless. (Not sure how possible this is, but we’ll see.) This part of me refuses to let hopelessness consume me because I’ve watched how it kills people and the ones they love. Hopelessness is just as lethal as a bomb; the only difference is that hopelessness kills gradually and creeps softly. So to combat the hopelessness, I will carve out a space within me that is completely free, completely belongs to me. It cannot be owned, it cannot be sold, it cannot be stolen. I have learned this from my ancestors.

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Let this space be the way you say thank you to yourself for pressing on. And I will do the same.

I know in my fourth letter, I told you not to come. Things are not much different from then. In fact, they are about to get worse. But instead of telling you not to come, I will say this: if you do come to the U.S., know what you’re getting into and know there have been thousands marching in major cities across the country, protesting Trump’s election. There are countless other forms of resistance people are engaged in.  Find these people.

I hope you are time benders because we need them now more than ever.

I’m not sure if I’ll be here to greet you. But perhaps some other time benders will.

 

With all my love,

Janet Stickmon

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[i] It took me awhile to articulate my post-election reflections. Reading the honest words of Dawn Mabalon, Kevin Nadal, E.J.R. David, and Gregg Popovich gave me the courage to empty these thoughts onto paper.

[ii] Gary O’Toole, “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But It Bends Toward Justice,” The Quote Investigator, November, 15, 2012, http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/15/arc-of-universe/.

[iii] “HealthCare.gov is Open for Business,” The White House, accessed December 7, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/healthcare-overview.

[iv] Charlie Savage, “Sotomayor Confirmed by Senate, 68-31,” The New York Times, August 6, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/us/politics/07confirm.html

[v] https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/06/23/president-obama-supreme-court-ruling-immigration-reform

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/supreme-court-dapa-ruling-blow-obama-administration-moves-immigration-back-political-realm.

[vi] Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide,” The New York Times, June 26, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage.html.

[vii] “Justice Department Announces Findings of Investigation into Baltimore Police Department,” The U.S. Department of Justice, accessed December 7, 2016, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-findings-investigation-baltimore-police-department.

[viii] “Army Will Not Grant Easement for Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing,” U.S. Army, accessed December 7, 2016, https://www.army.mil/article/179095/army_will_not_grant_easement_for_dakota_access_pipeline_crossing.

[ix] Colleagues and friends like Vangie Buell, Mel Orpilla, Joan May Cordova, Dorothy Cordova, Dawn Mabalon, Allyson Tintiancgo-Cubales, Farzana Nayani, Frank Harris III, J. Luke Wood, Kevin Nadal, and E.J.R. David had participated in events associated with some of the White House Initiatives above. Big thanks to all of you who chimed in and shared the specific names of those events. Your work as time benders is priceless.

[x] Gabriel Debenedetti, Kyle Cheney, and Nolan McCaskill, “Clinton’s Lead in the Popular Vote Surpasses 2 Million,” Politico, November 26, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/clinton-lead-popular-vote-2016-231790.

[xi] Marlow Stern, “Mark Cuban Rips Trump’s $916M in Losses ‘How the Fuck Do You Do That?’” The Daily Beast, October 7, 2016, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/08/mark-cuban-rips-trump-s-916m-in-losses-how-the-f-ck-do-you-do-that.html.

[xii] Hatewatch Staff, “Over 200 Incidents of Hateful Harassment and Intimidation Since Election Day,” The Southern Poverty Law Center, November 11, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/11/over-200-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election-day.

[xiii] Jennifer Hansler, “Over 400 reports of Hateful Harrassment and Intimidation Post-Election, SPLC Says,” ABC News, November 15, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/200-reports-hateful-harassment-intimidation-post-election-splc/story?id=43491050.

[xiv] Hatewatch Staff, “Update: Incidents of Hateful Harassment Since Election Day Now Number 701,” The Southern Poverty Law Center, November 18, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701.

[xv] “The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1940,” The New York Public Library Digital Collections, accessed December 7, 2016, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/dc858e50-83d3-0132-2266-58d385a7b928#/?uuid=dcca52c0-83d3-0132-cdb8-58d385a7b928.

[xvi] Lauren Carroll, “GOP Chair Wrongly Claims Facts Show Children Do Better With Straight Parents,” Politifact, July 17, 2016, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jul/17/reince-priebus/gop-chair-wrongly-claims-facts-show-children-do-be/; See also The Editorial Board, “Steve ‘Turn On the Hate’ Bannon, in the White House,” The New York Times, November 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/opinion/turn-on-the-hate-steve-bannon-at-the-white-house.html.

[xvii] Lena Williams, “Senate Panel Hands Reagan First Defeat on Nominee for Judgeship,” The New York Times, June 6, 1986, http://www.nytimes.com/1986/06/06/us/senate-panel-hands-reagan-first-defeat-on-nominee-for-judgeship.html; See also Laura Bassett, “GOP Senator Says Grabbing a Woman’s Genitals is not Sexual Assault,” The Huffington Post, October 10, 2016,

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeff-sessions-trump-sexual-assault_us_57fbb902e4b068ecb5e06988.

[xviii] Chris Nichols, “Pence’s Support for Conversion Therapy Not a Settled Matter,” Politifact, December 2, 2016, http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2016/dec/02/gavin-newsom/pences-support-conversion-therapy-not-settled-matt/.

[xix] The original line here was, “Don’t call it a setback. They been here for years,” a nod to LL Cool J. I removed it because I didn’t want to defile LL’s lyrics in making reference to white supremacy and this election debacle. Decided to put it in a footnote instead because I was cracking up thinking “Mama Said Knock You Out” was in my head while writing this piece.

[xx] Lexi Alexander, “A Guide on Situational Awareness: How to Survive in Hostile Environments,” Muslim Girl, November 19, 2016, http://muslimgirl.com/33895/guide-situational-awareness-survive-hostile-environments/.

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About the Author

Janet Stickmon

Janet C. Mendoza Stickmon is an educator, author, and performer.  Prof. Stickmon is the founder and facilitator of Broken Shackle Developmental Training and the Black Leaders and Mentorship Program.  Stickmon’s Crushing Soft Rubies—A Memoir and Midnight Peaches, Two O’clock Patience—A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Short Stories on Womanhood and the Spirit have been used in courses at several colleges and universities across the country; she is also known for her latest blog series, To Black Parents Visiting Earth:  A Love Letter-Life Guide to Raising Black Children in the 21st Century.    Janet Stickmon is currently a professor of Humanities at Napa Valley College, teaching Africana Studies and Filipina(o)-American Heritage.



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