Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Shut up and Step Up: Right Whines It's 'Open Season' on White Men




By Sikivu Hutchinson

In a year that has seen the toppling of numerous “untouchable” male power brokers over sexual harassment and violence, Senator Mazie Hirono’s demand that men “Shut up and step up” concerning the sexual assault allegations against SCOTUS candidate Brett Kavanaugh is a call to action.  To all the “enlightened” males who publicly deplore violence against women, yet sit back and cosign sexist behavior and benefit from a culture of normalized sexual violence, it is a message that you are being watched and held accountable.  And to all the white women who have jumped on the character witness bandwagon to valorize Kavanaugh it should be a reminder that simply being assigned female at birth doesn’t exempt you from complicity with patriarchy and the silencing of sexual violence survivors. 

While the death threats Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford has received for speaking her truth are deeply reprehensible, they have been buttressed by female voices.  For the past twenty four hours, the major cable news networks have ramped up air time of pro-Kavanaugh ads produced by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network. The most prominent ad features respectable white women waxing about how upstanding and morally unimpeachable Kavanaugh is.  The not so subtle implication is that Kavanaugh can’t be a sexual predator, misogynist or threat to women’s equality if he’s been an “advocate” for women in his personal and professional relationships. He can’t have attempted a brutal sexual assault because he’s been an upstanding champion of female colleagues. Kavanaugh, like elite ivory tower brethren Brock Turner (the former Stanford University student whose lenient six-month prison sentence for sexual assault elicited a firestorm and led to the recall of Judge Aaron Persky), has an impeccable pedigree and should be forgiven youthful “peccadillos”.  For survivors, this paradox of exhibiting personal “integrity” while propping up racist, sexist, misogynist policies and practices is a familiar narrative.  Of course, central to victim shaming and blaming is the narrative that there are fundamentally good men who never cross the line but for the sluttish behavior of irresponsible women and girls. According to this view, predators are easy to spot, wear scarlet letters, and are always outwardly loathsome, reptilian individuals.  The only predators are serial predators and displays of decency, civility and good manners always attest to moral character.  And even respectable white women like Ford must comply with the code of silence protecting toxic masculinity.

The demonization of Ford by the right is yet another indication of how low the GOP fascists are willing to go to gut human and civil rights. According to ReproAction Network, Kavanaugh’s repugnant record on women’s rights puts him lockstep with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  His now well-documented insidious appellate court decisions include voting against abortion access for an undocumented teenager and in favor of forced abortions for disabled women, as well as judgments  opposing affirmative action, workers’ rights, disability rights, and the Affordable Care Act. 
   
According to conservative ideologue Ann Coulter, the fate of white men’s public integrity as a whole is at stake because of the “attack” on Kavanaugh.  In this Democratic-engineered, deep state witch hunt, it’s open season on white men and “any white male” can find himself roasting at the stake.  Coulter’s injection of white patriarchal anxiety into the controversy is fitting because it speaks to the way the mainstream hijacking of #MeToo both flouts and reinforces white supremacy—to how white nationhood, as represented by white male dominance and white female submission, must always be validated and protected at all costs. It’s no surprise that some of the most "compelling" spokespeople in this enterprise are the white women who handed Trump the presidency.  

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Future of Feminism in South L.A.: Girls of Color Speak Their Truths




By Sikivu Hutchinson

What is Black feminism and intersectional feminism and why are they relevant to girls of color in South Los Angeles? How do they disrupt white supremacy and what can younger Black, Latinx, indigenous and Asian American feminists learn from older generation feminists of color and vice versa? What does it mean, as bell hooks says in her book Feminism is for Everybody, that, “[we’re] socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action…[and] in order to end patriarchy we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism”?

Youth leaders debated and spoke to these questions at the recent Future of Feminism youth leadership conference at Cal State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH).  Sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Project, the L.A. County Human Relations Commission and Media Done Responsibly, the conference featured youth-facilitated workshops, videos, presentations, and a musical performance by women and girls of color from across Los Angeles County.  Students from Dorsey High School, Gardena High School, Fremont High School, Diego Rivera Academy, Carson High School, King-Drew Magnet High School and Miguel Contreras Learning Complex attended the conference.  The event was emceed by WLP alumni and former foster care youth Clay Wesley (WLP 2009, Mount St Mary’s University, 2018) and Drea Wooden (WLP 2017).  The conference kicked off with a WLP-produced video on sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention, spotlighting the perspectives of youth from the 2016 cohort at Gardena High School.  The video was followed by a student panel on the #MeToo movement featuring WLP students and alumni from Gardena, Dorsey, and King-Drew.  Students Imani Moses (WLP 2011), Lizeth Soria (WLP 2012), Marenda Kyle (WLP 2014), Shania Malone (WLP 2018), Cheyanne Mclaren (WLP 2019) and Lidia Colocho (WLP 2019) discussed the marginalization of black and Latinx girls in mainstream representations about the impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school communities.  The panelists also challenged straight cis young men to step up as allies in the fight against normalized sexism, sexual harassment, sexual violence and rape culture on school campuses. 



College community partners and high school youth conducted workshop presentations on sexual violence and homelessness, Black feminism, gender justice and labor organizing, countering “fake news” and disrupting criminalization in communities of color.  Students from the GSA Network, Media Done Responsibly, Peace Over Violence and the WLP alumni network presented social, racial, and gender justice youth leadership work that they have been doing at partner schools for the past several years.  Former WLP intern and CSULB graduate Marlene Montanez presented on the advantages of union organizing and involvement for women and girls of color, drawing from her experience as an undocumented student activist for the Future Undocumented Educational Leaders (FUEL) group.  Peace Over Violence students from Miguel Contreras Learning Complex discussed the intersections of sexual violence and homelessness vis-à-vis risk factors and challenges that confront sexual violence survivors of color.  CSULA students from Media Done Responsibly examined the pervasiveness of right wing political propaganda in mainstream news and its impact on representations of women of color.  WLP students from Gardena, King-Drew, and Dorsey presented their work on Black feminist cultural politics, the #Say Her Name movement, and strategies to counter victim-blaming, victim-shaming and misogynoir in sexual violence and sexual harassment directed toward Black girls.  Fremont High School’s GSA Network conducted an exhibition game on the structure of the school-to-prison pipeline and its disproportionate impact on LGBTQI, queer and gender non-conforming youth of color. 



The conference concluded with a powerful performance by internationally acclaimed electric guitarist and producer Malina Moye.  Moye discussed her experience as a homeless youth living on the streets when she first moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of her career.  She encouraged students to pursue their dreams and aspirations in resistance to the sexist expectations of the dominant culture.  Youth participants also received books on the lived experiences of girls of color by feminist authors Iris Jacob (MySisters’ Voices), Yesika Salgado (Corazon) and Mahagony Browne (Black Girl Magic).  In July, students participated in follow-up Black Feminist and Feminist of Color Institutes that brought youth leaders together with adult mentor artists, educators, entrepreneurs and health practitioners from across L.A.  Using hooks’ book Feminism is for Everybody as a stepping stone, youth addressed public policy around abortion rights, college access for undocumented youth, underreporting of rape and sexual assault in communities of color and ending targeted searches of black and Latinx students in the LAUSD.


WLP classes and peer education outreach resumes at partner campuses in September.




























Thursday, July 26, 2018

Oppose the Abortion Gag Rule, Oppose State Violence




By Sikivu Hutchinson

I have always considered so-called “pro-life” anti-abortion zealots to be virulently pro-death.  Not just the male stalkers who terrorize and police women with plastic bloody fetuses outside of abortion clinics, but the female anti-abortion architects who wear their complicity with white supremacist capitalist patriarchy proudly and unabashedly, rail against birth control and welfare, and demonize black children who are warehoused in foster care, jails and in the streets because of the neoliberal destruction of the social safety net. In a 2014 discussion between feminist cultural critic bell hooks and trans activist and actress Laverne Cox, hooks argued that folks who are against reproductive health care can’t be considered feminists.  In this era, when women’s right to self-determination is under siege on multiple levels, being for reproductive justice is non-negotiable for a feminism based on economic justice. 

The Trump administration’s potential restoration of the so-called domestic “gag rule” (which was originally implemented by the Reagan administration in 1988 and was rescinded by president Clinton in 1993) is the latest act of state violence against women’s right to self-determination which directly attacks poor women of color.  It would prohibit health care providers who receive federal Title X funds from informing patients about abortion services. It would also “require physical and financial separation” of a clinic’s abortion-related services from its Title X services.  Instituted under the Nixon administration, Title X funds are specifically designated for family planning and preventive health care for low income and uninsured patients.  Title X provides funding for birth control, cancer and STD/STI screening and pregnancy counseling services. As part of the Religious Right’s “death by a thousand cuts” strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, the policy takes direct aim at Planned Parenthood, one of the biggest sources of health care for women in the U.S.  Planned Parenthood and other health care providers which receive Title X funding are frequently the only federally funded providers in rural and low-income communities.  The gag rule is opposed by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Restricting providers from giving women full and accurate information about their options for abortion subverts the very foundation of trust between patient and practitioner.  Like the totalitarian prohibitions on speech and information in George Orwell’s novel 1984, the gag order would effectively condemn working class women to incomplete and/or inaccurate information while middle class women with private health coverage would continue to be empowered with the resources and information to control their bodies.  The gag rule essentially extends the anti-abortion ethos of the 1976 Hyde Amendment (which banned federal funding for abortions except for rape and incest) to medical speech.  It lays bare the most dangerous element of the Trump administration’s anti-abortion crusade—the complete and utter fascist colonization of women’s reproduction via state violence. 

Women of color overwhelmingly rely on Title X funded clinics for comprehensive care and counseling on family planning. According to California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Latinas comprise 53% of the nearly one million women who receive services at Title X clinics in California. Further, nearly a million African American women rely on Title X funded health care. According to the Black Women’s Health Imperative, 21% of patients who rely on Title X for birth control and reproductive health care are African American.  The gag rule—coupled with the wave of reproductive health care clinic closures that have devastated poor communities of color in the South and Midwest—are clear examples of how abortion is an economic justice issue, a vital pathway that affords women access to jobs, housing, education and wealth equity when they’re in control of their bodies and destinies.  And any entity that would aid and abet Trump’s criminal gag rule is not “pro-life” but an accessory to state violence.

Reproductive justice organizations are calling on communities to protest the gag rule by submitting comments to Health and Human Services by July 31st.

Twitter @sikivuhutch

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Unapologetically Black Women Beyond Belief: Historic Cover of Humanist Magazine


By Sikivu Hutchinson

For the first time ever, a group of openly identified Black women atheists has been featured on the cover of an American publication. The Humanist Magazine’s July/August issue, “Five Fierce Humanists: Unapologetically Black Women Beyond Belief” spotlights the cultural and political views of Black women non-believers in a Trumpian, Christian fundamentalist political climate that (on the precipice of Roe v. Wade's potential demise) threatens the very firmament of secularism, social justice, gender justice, and human rights. I'm honored to be featured with fellow Black women non-believer authors, educators and activists Mandisa Thomas, Liz Ross, Bria Crutchfield and Candace Gorham.

In a nation in which the vast majority of the African American and general population identifies as religious, the Humanist magazine feature is a turning point in Black women’s representation. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black women are one of the most devout groups in the U.S.  And faith has long been a tacit prerequisite for “authentic” black female identity and respectability.  Leading by example, these women have pushed back against sexist, heteronormative religious dogma and discrimination in communities of color. They have brought a uniquely intersectional, black feminist vision to humanism while also challenging white supremacy and racist exclusion in historically Eurocentric atheist, humanist, and freethought circles. Although there has long been a robust tradition of black secular thought, the reductive association of atheism, humanism, and freethought with a church-state separation and science agenda has stymied participation by people of color in secular movements.  Moreover, white atheist and humanist cosigning of racist perceptions of African Americans and people of color, as well as backlash against social justice organizing, further underscore the racial divide that informs secularism...  



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

SCOTUS' Janus Face: Public Enemy Number One for Unions and Civil Rights




By Sikivu Hutchinson

Across Trump nation, neofascists are licking their chops, as this week saw several titanic rulings that will forever cement the Trump era Supreme Court as the mortal enemy of human rights, civil rights, and worker rights.  In a sweeping blow to humanistic values, the Court upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban policy targeting mostly Muslim countries and diminished public employee unions’ ability to collect dues to support collective bargaining.  By upholding the travel ban, the Supreme Court has put a lasting legal imprimatur on Trump’s xenophobic/Islamophobic crusade to demonize Muslims as racial and religious others.  Posing as an objective advocate for “religious liberty” the Court’s earlier decision affirming the right of so-called crisis pregnancy centers (which are primarily run by far right Christian anti-abortion organizations and are not medically certified) to hoodwink their clients about abortion and reproductive health care services was also an insidious harbinger for Roe v. Wade's demise.  While the crisis pregnancy ruling was embraced by right wing Christian, predominantly white evangelical groups, they remained silent on the immorality and religious McCarthyism symbolized by the travel ban. 

The Court's anti-union ruling in favor of Janus vs. AFSCME would enshrine so-called “Right to Work” laws that favor management and corporate control. The Right to Work movement (28 states now have such laws) has been bankrolled by powerful robber barons like the Koch Brothers and the Bradley Foundation. It has origins in white segregationist efforts to drive a wedge between black and white workers in the South. As Holly Martins notes in The Daily, the legacy of the movement encompasses the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, as well as “the influence of Biblical capitalism, which has long promoted the notion that the Bible endorses free enterprise and abhors socialism. The first executives in the National Association of Manufacturers argued unions were in open warfare against Christianity.” By gutting the right of unions to be compensated for collective bargaining and organizing, the Janus decision could reverse decades of gains for American workers.  As the wages of corporate CEOs continue to skyrocket over those of rank and file workers, the public sector has become one of the last bastions of security for working class people of color and women of color.  For example, Black women are more likely to be employed in public sector jobs than both white women and black men, while making 60 cents to the dollar of white men.  They also remain one of the most visible and active groups in public sector union organizing. 

As a L.A. County shop steward for ten years, I've seen the pre-Janus pall the Right to Work regime has cast on our workplaces manifest in the attitudes of employees too fearful or intimidated to become active in the union. Janus will have long lasting repercussions for the workplace protections, living wage, retirement and child care provisions unions have fought for and successfully won over the past half century.  Unions have long been a bulwark against the unchecked plutocratic profit and greed of American capital and the ability of workers across the spectrum. Now, the Right to Work regime and its Supreme Court enablers have further institutionalized a Dickensian, apartheid U.S. whose poverty levels are the shame of the globe. 


Union Strong Rally 
Thursday, June 28, 2018
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.
Los Angeles City Hall
200 N Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Pope Compares Abortion to Eugenics, Attacks Women's Rights


By Sikivu Hutchinson

From Religion Dispatches
As the global backlash mounts against the Trump regime's abominable zero tolerance policy separating children from their parents at the U.S. border, Pope Francis has ramped up his attacks on abortion and women's rights.  His latest diatribe comparing abortion to “avoid birth defects” to Nazi eugenics practices is a false equivalency that underscores how morally bankrupt and insidious the Catholic Church continues to be. By comparing the decisions of individual women concerning the well being and sustainability of their families with the Nazis’ systematic and coercive project of racial purity, the pope tips his hand as to how highly he regards women as moral agents. Pope Francis masquerades as a champion of global economic justice and egalitarianism, but his misogynist, authoritarian views on abortion demonstrate why the church poses a mortal threat to the lives, wellbeing and earning power of women across the globe.
Catholic stronghold Ireland’s recent vote to repeal the Eighth amendment banning abortion was a titanic blow to centuries of immoral Catholic dominion over women’s right to self-determination. Irish women who advocated for the repeal spoke of traveling to England and other countries to have abortions under duress. While stories of women dying from untested medication, organic concoctions, and back alley procedures are legion in abortion narratives throughout history, the Catholic church’s assault on abortion, birth control, and reproductive rights keeps the women and communities of non-Western Catholic nations poor and disenfranchised. 
Around the globe, draconian anti-abortion laws in predominantly Catholic countries like the Philippines and El Salvador have made serious injury or death by illegal abortion routine for poor and working class pregnant women saddled with caring for large families on substandard wages. According to the Guardian, three women die every day in the Philippines from abortion-related complications and “More than 65% of women don’t use modern contraceptives, and maternal mortality rates were at 114 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015.” Invoking Nazi rhetoric to denigrate abortion rights and demonize women is yet another example of why organized religion, theocracy, and patriarchy are a toxic brew for human rights.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cold Comfort in Tent City for Black, Elderly Homeless Women



By Sikivu Hutchinson

Once upon a time, L.A. was billed as the fount of the "California Dream" of endless sunshine, single family homes, and suburban living.  Sprawling, hyper-segregated, and over-policed, for many black Great Migration-era transplants streaming into the city from the 1920s on it nonetheless promised to be a respite from the concrete urbanism of the East and the Jim Crow ruralism of the South. Now, as black homeownership becomes increasingly endangered and black homelessness rises, racial apartheid in L.A. has reached its zenith.  In late May, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) glowingly reported that the number of homeless residents in Los Angeles has declined, but it is cold comfort for African American communities that are feeling the brunt of the crisis.

According to LAHSA, the number of people living on the streets in L.A. County has dropped 3 percent, down from 55,058 last year to 53,195. There was a 5 percent decrease in the city of L.A. The numbers of chronically homeless and homeless veterans decreased, while the numbers of youth homeless residential placements increased.  The number of homeless folk living in vehicles, trailers and motorhomes also increased.  These last two stats provide a dark window onto the complexities of homelessness in a county where the deepening wealth and poverty gap is gutting communities of color.

Over the past year, construction for new building complexes has sprung up on L.A.’s streets seemingly overnight.  The majority of these complexes mix “market rate” units with a token number of affordable units. In a rising tide of NIMBY-ist backlash, homeowners’ groups across the city have fought even the most modest proposals for homeless housing and shelters. Some have attempted to block them by arguing that these developments potentially violate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) conditions. A proposed shelter in Koreatown was challenged by homeowner advocates on the grounds that there had been no community review or vetting process. Developments in Venice have been contested by homeowners claiming they will lead to falling property values.  Far too often, affluent communities attempt to mask their thinly veiled paternalism and racism with “reasonable” concerns about congestion and livability.

The ubiquitous tents and shambling motorhomes that dot L.A.’s side streets are simply the most glaring symbols of the city’s spatial apartheid.  Homelessness among less visible populations such as queer, trans and gender non-conforming youth, black women, elderly women of color and undocumented women, as well as sexual and intimate partner violence victims, have exploded. These communities have complex intersectional needs that are often unaddressed by mainstream public policy and intervention.  For example, increases in L.A. County’s population of homeless elderly women (already viewed as expendable in a relentlessly sexist, youth-focused dominant culture) challenge traditional models of homelessness, trauma, and aging. According to the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, “50 percent of homeless women were over the age of 50 and 88 percent were people of color, with the majority identifying as African-American. The number of immigrant women has also increased over time.” Because women of color have been excluded from higher wage jobs with defined benefits elderly women of color are more vulnerable to becoming chronically homeless.  High rates of sexual and intimate partner violence victimization among African American women, coupled with the lack of a social safety net and criminalizing drug and prostitution policies, also drive gender disparities in homelessness (36% of L.A.’s homeless are domestic violence victims).  Further, the intersection of the wage/wealth gap and homelessness among older African American and Latinx women has been exacerbated by worsening residential displacement due to the economic recession, gentrification, predatory lending, and chronic unemployment in traditionally affordable communities of color like South and East L.A.

The City of L.A. has designated over $400 million to combat homelessness, with $275 million drawn from County Measure HHH funds. Under the terms of HHH “developers are allowed to build up to 120 units without conducting an environmental review, provided the projects meet zoning requirements.” $238 million of the City’s total allotment will be used to build 1,500 new housing units and $36 million will go to shelters and other facilities.  Construction for temporary housing centers will be funded with $20 million from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed 2018-19 budget. The infusion of county and city dollars is a necessary first step, but Garcetti’s rhetoric about solving the homeless crisis is undercut by deplorable scenes of “normalized” human suffering in the sprawling 24-7 tent city that has become L.A.’s streets. In light of the crisis that has unfolded on his (and the County supervisors’) watch, his showboating for a presidential run in 2020 is farcical at best and an outrage at worst.

The failure of political, economic, and moral leadership around homelessness in L.A. has given rise to a California nightmare in which having a stable place to live is even more of a first world luxury and crucible for the city’s racial caste system.  Securing desperately needed services, housing placements, and health, wellness and trauma care for the city’s growing African American female and women of color homeless populations must be a non-negotiable priority in local government's new funding regime. And if the community doesn't demand it, Measure HHH and its millions won't make a dent in redressing the city's racist, sexist heritage of sunshine and segregation.

LAHSA recently convened an ad hoc committee on Black Homelessness.  For more info: LAHSA

Friday, June 1, 2018

Black Women Playwrights @ 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival



NARCOLEPSY, INC by Sikivu Hutchinson is debuting at the Hollywood Fringe Festival as one of the few Fringe plays written, produced, and directed by an African American woman. The piece is a speculative fiction, sci fi play set in a corporate theocracy where sleep and dreams are policed and manufactured by the multinational, NARCOLEPSY, INC. The company’s chief scientist and engineer, a queer Black woman (Kimberly Bailey), is under “house arrest” in an outpost “motel” -- managed by Garcon, a working class Black woman and longtime employee (Cydney W. Davis) -- for selling company secrets to rival Trust Corp. Narcolepsy, Inc. has established a racialized caste system of sleepers (people of color teeth grinders and white insomniacs) in which the dreams of lower caste members are commodified and all sleep is induced.  NARCOLEPSY, INC. takes place in a parallel universe in which a nuclear disaster (dubbed the “wipeout”) has destroyed the human nervous system’s capacity to regulate sleep. The newly minted CEO of The Company (Scott St Patrick) is a Black religious demagogue who has taken over The Company’s dream archives and needs Yuri to provide the scientific and technological expertise to develop new “sleep experiences” for white insomniac consumers. At the heart of the story is a struggle for female power and control in a corporate regime that hums on the manufacture of racial voyeurs. Starring Kimberly Bailey, JC Cadena, Cydney W. Davis and Scott St Patrick.

Shows at the Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A.
June 16th @ 8:30 and June 24th @ 6:00 p.m. Info: http://hff18.org/5169






SHATTERED GLASS  written, produced and performed by Shaunelle Curry, Kelley Nicole and Dollie Roberts, is a multi-media stage play chronicling the story of a woman named Shairi who disentangles herself from a toxic relationship in order to rediscover, in her words, “the smile of that girl in those pictures they say is me.” Shairi embodies the messages of our time #timesup, #metoo, #timeisnow, #nomore. Demonstrating the healing power of the arts through spoken word, dramatization, live music, and visual art, SHATTERED GLASS takes its participants on a journey of transcendence, capturing the resilience of the human spirit. With an MC that connects the stage performance with audience participation at key points, you will also begin the process of discovering the power of your voice. For more information about this play, visit www.shatteredglassshow.com.

The show will take place on the following dates and times — Sun., 6/3 @ 3pm, Sat., 6/9 @ 4:30pm, Fri., 6/15 @ 6pm, Thurs., 6/21 @ 6pm, and Sat., 6/23 @ 1:30pm. Info: http://hff18.org/5267
Dorie Theater at the Complex Hollywood, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038

Check Out the Shattered Glass Video Trailer 





Room No. 9 at the Chrysalis Inn, by K Butterfly Smith  is an animated story of a woman’s healing journey in a hotel room. Alice, the main character, has checked into the Chrysalis Inn to cocoon herself from her toxic life of domestic abuse and a past childhood trauma. An unexpected roster of guests appears and steers Alice along her journey as they help her to unpack her bag. Room No. 9 at the Chrysalis Inn is a gateway between all three worlds – physical, mental and spiritual. When these worlds collide, the Great Mother, Yemaya, appears and shares her message with Alice of courage and enlightenment. “You must go into the darkness within your self to find the light. That is the only way to salvation. You are the key. You. Little ole’ you.” Will Alice be able to find the strength within herself to deal with her past and live in her present?
Shows at The Complex Hollywood, 6478 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
June 2 & 7 @ 7:30pm, June 9, 16 & 23 @6pm
Info and tickets at http://hff18.org/4966

The Maya in Me, by Tameka Bob is a one-woman theatrical production, accentuated by live music and dance, written and performed by Tameka Bob. Tameka tells the transparent and timely personal story of love, laughter, hardship, and resilience. Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, the story begins with an all too familiar scenario during childhood, and walks the audience through her young adult life as 1/2 of a dysfunctional relationship, and progresses to an escape marriage, all while working toward a Doctorate degree. There are many twists and turns during this ride of love and life. How does she maneuver it all? She hears the wise words of Dr. Maya Angelou, who offers similar experiences and advice during her journey.
The Maya in Me seeks to educate and inspire audiences by telling a story of transparency, faith, and resilience, through artistic expression and the wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou. The Maya in Me is unique and caters to an audience who can benefit from modern day material, as well as the wisdom and experiences of Dr. Angelou: young adult females, college students, and those who have been directly or indirectly affected by substance abuse. Yet, all will find a subject matter or feeling they can relate to.

Shows at The Broadwater, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.
June 3 @ 4:30pm, June 9 @ 8:00pm and June 16 @ 5:30pm
Info and tickets at http://hff18.org/4994
Learn More at facebook.com/pg/mayainme/community/





Fort Huachuca by Ailema Sousa is set during World War II in Arizona. African American nurses arrive on an army base camp. Join Mayvee, Marjorie, Georgia, Elinor, and Thelma on their journey as they face the biggest challenge of their lives. Inequality, growing racial tension and a society that does not acknowledge their efforts, when all they want is to fight for their country.


Shows @ The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A

June 9 @ 9pm, June 15 @ 9pm and More
Tickets and info http://hff18.org/4897 forthuachucaplay.com





Saturday, May 19, 2018

Truth to Power in Black and Blue: An Interview with Black Women Police Whistleblowers Cheryl Dorsey and Yulanda Williams

Cheryl Dorsey
Yulanda Williams




By Sikivu Hutchinson

“The department is meant to tear a police officer down in the academy and then recreate that officer in the image the police department likes.  A subtle form of brainwashing occurs for some.” Cheryl Dorsey, Black and Blue: The Creation of a Manifesto

In the national debate about and outrage over police misconduct, excessive force and accountability, retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant Cheryl Dorsey and San Francisco Police Department lieutenant Yulanda Williams are on the frontlines pushing back against institutional injustice within their ranks.  As African American women officers in predominantly white, predominantly male departments, they have weathered sexism, racism, and job discrimination in their most pernicious forms.  Dorsey joined the LAPD in 1980 and quickly became disgruntled with the barriers to advancement as well as the rampant violence directed toward African American and communities of color.  Yulanda Williams joined the SFPD after surviving the 1978 massacre of Peoples Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana. In 2016, Williams was the only officer of color to testify against the SFPD’s culture of racism and sexism on a Blue Ribbon Panel on police misconduct. Dorsey and Williams discussed the challenges of “police reform”, the explicit and implicit bias of over-militarized police departments in the aftermath of Stephon Clark’s killing by Sacramento Police, and the contradictions of recruiting more officers of color for a police regime which has a slave catcher lineage.

Let’s talk a little bit about your careers. What inspired you to go into law enforcement as African American women?

Cheryl Dorsey:  I joined the LAPD because I wanted benefits and stability. I came in with the consent decree. I was expedited in the hiring process.  I realized that the LAPD offered more opportunity than the DOJ, my previous employer, however, there were certain positions that were unavailable to me as a Black woman. Coveted administrative staff jobs in research and auditing were unavailable.  Those were the most sought after vis-à-vis getting promoted to sergeant or lieutenant.  They would fabricate reasons for why you couldn’t get them (you didn’t have enough time on the job or needed to be on patrol).

Yulanda Williams: Let me first insert this disclaimer, my responses are based on my own personal experiences as a Black female in law enforcement. I am not speaking for my department.  Initially, I applied for a position with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department but I scored higher on the SFPD position. Although I accepted the position with the SFPD, I was determined to remain an individual based on my experience surviving Jonestown. Throughout my career, I have been known as one of a select group of officers who are not afraid to challenge, speak up about, and document injustices and disparate treatment. These experiences have led me believe that some officers sense there is an urgency to deprogram Black officers; especially if there are questions regarding their loyalty or commitment to “Blue”.  After the commencement of the Black Lives Movement, I was questioned about my commitment by several officers.  Some asked, “Are you loyal to the Blue or Black?” “Are you down with Blue Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter?” These questions focused on loyalty to your culture or your job are not unfamiliar to Black officers I haven’t heard other ethnicities or protected classes complain about having these types of antagonistic interactions.

What were some of the biggest barriers for Black women in your respective departments?

Cheryl Dorsey: From the very beginning, barriers to promotion had been in place.  I was not being groomed as a patrol officer to become a sergeant. Eventually, I promoted to training officer after nine years and sergeant with fourteen years of patrol experience gaining the respect of my peers. Generally, Patrol officers only respect patrol officers.  White girls would get groomed and promote very quickly.  Once you promote to sergeant you have to go back to patrol.  Part of what I do now in speaking out is to try and prepare folks going in to the force to know what really goes down. It would have been nice to have a mentor or ally.  (The story of Christopher Dorner and his situation is not unusual when Black officers find themselves in disciplinary hearings).  There was a lot of hazing in the department when I worked in the Central Traffic division. When the watch commander called the car assignment I shared with another female officer, we were referred to as the “Tuna clipper”. Supervision condoned that kind of harassment.

Yulanda Williams: As a newly hired, young Black female officer I was selected to serve as an undercover officer. I was assigned to work the street buy bust operations in various districts (I pretended to be an addicted person attempting to score drugs on the streets with another officer monitoring my activity). It was uncommon for Black women to work in the Narcotics Division as an investigator or as a detail assignment. Finally, after fifteen years of service with my agency, I decided to take the Sergeant Promotional Examination. When the results were documented on the Promotional Eligibility List co-workers questioned my ability to obtain such a high overall score. They attempted to marginalize my accomplishment and smear my reputation, claiming that I must have cheated.  Why is it so questionable when a Black person achieves success? It reflects the institutional racism and bias in the public and private sector and in law enforcement. Nonetheless, I was advised that my experiences didn’t rise to the level of warranting an EEO investigation. You can only handle so many disappointments with city units mandated by federal law until you just walk away discouraged by the process and lack of follow through. 

Yulanda you were initially recruited by the Black Officers for Justice organization which won a discrimination lawsuit against the SFPD in 1973. You then took on the SFPD and the police union over racial and gender discrimination, including a series of racist text messages that smeared you personally as a “n” and a “b”.  You were the only officer of color to testify on a Blue Ribbon panel on police misconduct.  What kind of backlash did that lead to? What has been the outcome of the panel and the DOJ’s findings of implicit and institutional discrimination in the SFPD? 

Yulanda Williams: I stood alone in speaking out and resisting. None of my co-workers who were called out challenged the mistreatment they experienced as a result of the text messages; but they were quick to reap the benefits of my actions. As a result of my testimonies while serving as the President of the Officers For Justice, there have been more women and people of color promoted to higher ranks. That said, there are still folks of color who work in various city departments who contact me sharing their stories of impartial, unfair treatment. As a result of the continued bullying, disrespect, and attempts to defame my character by the San Francisco Police Officers Association, I made a personal conscience choice to withdraw my membership with the union. I had to find an alternate source for legal representation. The San Francisco Police Officers Association frequently made disparaging derogatory comments about communities of color.  Regrettably, this is the tenor of the leadership of most police unions nationwide. Whenever you’re a candid person you are not favored. Oftentimes, as Black officers, those of us who have the courage and character to speak out are not necessarily leading a unit or division. It is difficult when one determines that you are your own person and you must be true to yourself. 

Cheryl Dorsey: The Ombudsman was supposed to be the safe place (but this was not the case).  There was no place to go to report mistreatment or harassment.  You could be reassigned if you spoke out or challenged the PD.  In the LAPD, this is known as “freeway therapy”.

Cheryl, your book Black and Blue: The Creation of a Manifesto, documents and challenges the oppressive race/gender politics in the LAPD.  What has been the national response to your assessment about police corruption and particularly the complicity of police unions in propping up white supremacy, sexism and homophobia in PDs?

Cheryl Dorsey: My autobiography has been well received and has opened up opportunities for me to speak my truth to power. As a result, I am a much sought after police expert speaking on events making national headlines on networks such as CNN, Fox News, HLN, CNN and MSNBC.

Cheryl, in a recent article on police whistleblowers you write, “If citizens really want to urge ‘good officers’ to report police misconduct, they must help create safe zones for officers who report wrongdoing, protect ‘good cops’ from rogue administrators and demand real whistleblower protections that extend beyond the academic.”

Cheryl Dorsey: Whistleblower protection laws are not a real thing.  Chiefs have total autonomy and there is no outside protection.  You have to decide what’s important. It has been my experience that if a black officer desires promotion; one must be quiet, pliable, seen but not heard.What drew me to the LAPD was the fact that a lifetime service pension was attainable after twenty years.  I remained focused, kept my eye on the prize, and I am currently in my 18th year of retirement. However, I nearly became a statistic two-years prior to retirement eligibility. The sheriff’s department which had jurisdiction where I resided notified the LAPD of domestic conflict at my home involving my husband, who was also an LAPD officer at the time. LAPD initiated a personnel complaint against husband charging domestic abuse.  The LAPD charged me with violation of misconduct because I “caused the response of an outside agency.”  I was investigated by Internal Affairs and ordered to a Board of Rights.  I sought the assistance of a black command staff officer for whom I had previously worked to speak as a character reference, but he refused. The white male chairman who was a deputy chief on the LAPD at the conclusion of my Board of Rights decided to give me “mercy”. My job was spared and I was suspended for five days without pay. I was trying to get the attention of news agencies but the PD barred me from allowing anybody to cover my issues. 

6.      Shortly after the police murder of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California legislators proposed a new bill (which has also been championed by the ACLU) that would limit the use of deadly force by police.  California police kill more people than anywhere in the nation.  California has some of the highest rates of officer involved shootings, with Los Angeles leading the pack. What are your views on this bill and its prospects for reducing police violence?

Cheryl Dorsey:  I find little comfort in this bill. It is nothing more than semantics. Interpretation is still left to the officer's discretion. The problem remains in that great deference is given to a police officer's version of events and it is impossible to argue what is purported to be "in someone's head" ie. fear, danger, etc. Personal financial officer accountability much like the Baltimore City Solicitor enacted into their policy when civil suits arise from (injury) deadly force would be a great next step.

7.      What are your views on reform strategies like community policing and de-escalation?  Do they actually work and are they beneficial for communities of color who are under siege with high rates of police violence and police murder?

Cheryl Dorsey: The system does what it was supposed to do. Police chiefs have great autonomy.  The president of the National Association of Police Chiefs recently apologized to communities of color without articulating what changes if any would be implemented to address policy substantive change and officer accountability.  If police chiefs don’t see anything wrong with what their rank and file is doing then you’re not going to have change.  It is my belief that some police departments are corrupt and it’s top and down. Police chiefs seem obligated to protect that organism because that is where their loyalties lie.  They want you to not get on these jobs and make it easy for you to be eliminated.  If you understand that the system is corrupt you need to bring your head game.  I don’t believe that everyone gets indoctrinated.  Infiltrate the system and promote and you don’t have to sacrifice to do that.  Changes on any department will come from within. The best way to change a system is to become a part of that system. I suggest young people join the police departments where they live and become a part of the resolution. Don’t wait for them to do better. Stop expecting that they will treat us right. Just like the KKK has infiltrated the ranks of police departments around the nation as evidenced by an FBI report - black folks need to do the same. For more on my advocacy visit www.sgtcheryldorsey.com

Yulanda Williams: Reform efforts are receiving national pushback. Change is not easy. It is difficult and virtually impossible to reform police agencies without addressing internal problems such as racism, sexism, white supremacy, privilege, cronyism, and nepotism. Some pose this question, “how can you clean up someone else’s house if your own house is still dirty?” The only way to change is if we have more people of color and greater diversity to challenge the hierarchical culture of police departments across the U.S.  I am a member of the Barbershop Forum where we visit institutions and talk to young people to develop more trusting relationships with the community. Many of our people are criminalized at birth, and my approach is to respond to our communities in a meaningful, culturally sensitive way. My legacy is going to be as a woman who stood up for justice. You can’t buy me. We have a responsibility as officers of color not to allow ourselves to be bought by any particular group or system. Our integrity is our most precious commodity.


Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of  the novel White Nights, Black Paradise and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars Her new speculative fiction-sci fi play NARCOLEPSY, INC. debuts at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June.