Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent calls for defunding and abolishing police departments around the country, more and more people are imagining new possibilities, and committing to the work of making those possibilities real.

That work will include more protest, policy work, shifting resources, and leveraging power. It will also include education (popular, political, and otherwise). Of course, “reading books and having conversations” is not everything that needs to happen. But it does need to happen, especially in a moment where millions of people are fundamentally rethinking what policies are “common sense,” what policies are “radical,” and what policies they will commit to actively organizing around.

How might we bring these conversations into spaces in which they’re not already happening? How can we integrate them into our curricula, into our clubs and organizations, into our social media platforms, and beyond?

I think these are important questions. So for people who are interested or already engaged in that kind of education work, here are three books, three articles, and three poems I would recommend. I’m using the 3/3/3 format because there are hundreds of resources I want to share here, but I also know that can be overwhelming. Hopefully these can be starting points:

THREE BOOKS

  • Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
  • The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale – Free E-book
  • Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States (A Truthout Collection) – Free E-book

There are many other books to recommend, but I’m choosing these three because they’re relatively short, punchy, and accessible. Angela Davis is a foundational figure in the modern abolitionist movement, and even though the focus in this moment is on police, it’s important that we all step back and make the connections to the broader prison-industrial complex, and Are Prisons Obsolete? is the perfect text for that. Vitale’s book is relentless and exhaustive in its critique of what police are and how they function, while also offering many concrete alternatives. And the Truthout anthology is just full of good writing and important perspectives, featuring writers like Alicia Garza, Victoria Law, Ejeris Dixon, and more. Find more book recommendations here.

THREE ARTICLES

Again, there has been a wealth of writing over the past few weeks about policing, abolition, Minneapolis, and beyond. I’m choosing these three for how they work together. Ellis’ piece provides vital context and history. Kaba’s piece makes the case for abolition as eloquently as anything I’ve ever read. And local organization MPD150 shares some thoughts and talking points about what the phrase “a police-free future” actually might entail, in practice. Find more article recommendations here.

THREE POEMS

Could We Please Give the Police Departments to the Grandmothers by Junauda Petrus (text)

Field Trip to the Museum of Human History by Franny Choi (text)

Alternate Heaven for Black Boys by Danez Smith (see also the text of summer, somewhere here)

Why these three poems? Because I think one function of poetry, and art in general, is to help us imagine. It can be easy to write off “imagination” as a lesser part of the work, but I’d argue that it’s central. The challenge before us isn’t just to change the laws and policies; it is to tell the story of the world those changes will create, to mobilize, and to sustain this movement.

These aren’t just three poems about racism, or even about policing- they’re more specifically structured around a kind of visionary, world-building impulse that is incredibly valuable right now. The first two explicitly reckon with what a world without police might look like; Danez’s poem is different, of course, but shares that call to imagine another world.

I’m reminded of two quotes here: adrienne maree brown wrote, “I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.” James Baldwin wrote, “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

I’ve already shared it a couple times, but the “Resources” page at MPD150 has so many incredible links. I hope my post here can be a first step for some people, and that that link can be a second step. Either way, let’s keep walking.

A closing thought: I haven’t been actively promoting my own work over the past few weeks, for reasons that I hope are obvious. But this is an issue I’ve worked on, and policing’s connection to white supremacy and authoritarianism is something I’ve written a lot about. For anyone interested, a selection of poems and songs: Police Make the Best Poets, How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist, Quicksand, One Bad Cop, and The Hero.

Image via MPD150

“Abolishing prisons and police” was one of those concepts that sounded super radical to me… until I actually listened, and learned more about it.

I know that a few links aren’t going to persuade everyone, but I do think it’s really important to think critically about the stories we’re told about justice, policing, and order, along with the stories we’re not told. Especially right now, as the narrative about the police killing of George Floyd, and the narrative about what needs to happen next, take shape.

“What about the murderers?” “How will we stay safe?” “It’s too unrealistic!” Whatever concerns pop into your head, know that you are not the only person who has asked them. Here are FIVE of the readings and resources that have been most useful to me on my own journey toward understanding the necessity of dismantling the current system.

We must look beyond police for community safety (Star Tribune)
As public health experts have been saying for centuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A police-first approach to public safety fails to address the underlying causes of crime, while contributing to our status as the most incarcerated country in the world, and one with incredibly high levels of police violence. Why don’t we try something different?

Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba (Chris Hayes’ podcast – audio and transcript)
I’m a prison-industrial complex abolitionist, which means that I have a political vision and ideological commitments and belief in organizing, that we have to organize towards a horizon where we no longer have prisons, policing, and surveillance. That we figure out other ways of addressing harm within our communities.

“Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently-Asked Questions” (MPD150)
Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and instantly defunding every department in the world. Rather, we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.

“Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing” (Critical Resistance)
These charts break down the difference between reformist reforms which continue or expand the reach of policing, and abolitionist steps that work to chip away and reduce its overall impact. (This graphic is really cool, but there is a similar, potentially easier-to-read piece here).

Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind (New York TImes)
Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

BONUS UPDATE: Some writing from this past week’s Minneapolis Uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd:

Longer Reads:
Of course, these links are just a start, but I think they frame the argument really well. If you want to dig deeper into the data, the history, and the policy side of what needs to happen, here are some books and other resources that might make good next steps:

A parting thought: I wanted to share something here that was a little more focused than the “here are 35379 things people can do” pieces floating around out there. Of course, “learning more” isn’t the same as action, and isn’t enough to create the changes we need. But it is an important step, especially for those of us just getting involved for the first time.

One reason an abolitionist approach makes so much sense to me is that, as these readings show, it isn’t just an abstract philosophical concept- it’s a process with some pretty concrete, practical, winnable steps. Here in Minneapolis, I’d definitely recommend people check out Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective, the coalitions that are kind of at the center of this kind of organizing, as well as MPD150 (a group I’ve worked with for a while now; some cool stuff on the horizon too). An easy action step is to follow those groups on whatever social media platforms you use, and stay plugged in.

There’s short-term work that needs to be done (protesting, taking care of each other, contacting city council/mayor to demand divestment from police), and there’s long-term work that needs to be done (pressuring local policy-makers via elections, lobbying, direct action, and public pressure to shift resources away from police and toward community), but both can be done with an abolitionist framework. A last link: I’d encourage people who are interested in taking action to check out Deepa Iyer’s “My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem” to help with that process.

Confederate statue in Durham torn down; image from here.

EDIT (8/5/19): This was originally posted in 2017 and was focused on Charlottesville, but I’ve since added even more resources to this list, and broadened the scope to disrupting and dismantling white supremacy in general. That’s work that has to happen early, and teachers can play an important role.

At the top of this week, the Washington Post published this piece by Valerie Strauss: The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help. The following links contain more ideas for resources, readings, and lesson plans, and may be a good place to start for educators who know that current events matter, and that not talking about Charlottesville makes a statement to your students that’s just as loud as any conversation or critical exploration.

Because my background is in using spoken word as a tool for narrative-building and opening up spaces for authentic dialogue, I wanted to share a few poems that have been on my mind lately. As always, list-making is tricky. This is not a list of the “best” poems about this topic, or even a list of just “poems about racism.” 

This is a list of poems that might be useful for educators looking for artistic work that can prompt some critical thinking about hate, white supremacy, and the recent events in Charlottesville.

I’m also thinking about this list in terms of what work needs to be done in educational spaces. Understanding the motivations of– and contextual factors that cultivate– white supremacists is one angle, but so is making connections between the explicit hate espoused by neo-nazis and the more subtle, implicit ways that white supremacist ideology pops up in everyday life. I think these poems, in different ways, explore those connections. Maybe we shouldn’t need personal, human stories to create empathy, to illuminate that other human beings matter. But they can be tools for that, when it’s called for. These poems also use metaphor, symbolism, narrative, and other tools to push the listener beyond the notion that racism is just “people being mean to each other because they’re different.”

Of course, not every poem is appropriate for every audience. Be sure to review before presenting, both in terms of language/accessibility stuff and relevance. Also of course, “talking about racism” is a first step, not a last one, and we should challenge ourselves to find ways to embed anti-racist approaches and policies into our schools and institutions in more concrete ways as well.

Joseph Capehart – “Colorblind”

This poem uses humor to open up space for a powerful critique for the very common idea that “not seeing color” is the answer to racism. “You want to strip me clean; bleach away the parts of me that make you uncomfortable… when you say ‘colorblind,’ you are asking me to forget.”

Jared Paul – “5 Times My Skin Color Did Not Kill Me”

Storytelling can communicate information in ways that facts and statistics can’t. In this poem/TEDx Talk, Jared Paul simply tells five stories from his life that illustrate how whiteness works in context, even for people who would not consider themselves privileged.

Guante – “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist”

I wanted to write something about how “white supremacy” is bigger and more insidious than just literal white supremacists marching around with torches. But this is also about highlighting the *connection* between those people and the everyday acts/attitudes/policies that make them possible. Pushing back has to happen at multiple levels too– denouncing and disrupting specific acts of terror, but also uprooting their worldview in the classroom, the office, the church, the comment thread, the home, and everywhere.

Patricia Smith – Skinhead

A classic poem that seeks to explore the motivations of hateful bigots, without ever making excuses for them. There’s so much in here about empathy (in a critical sense), perspective, and what lenses people use to see the world.

Kevin Yang – “Come Home”

This poem is warm, funny, and approachable, using empathy-generating personal stories to make a larger point about xenophobia, the refugee experience, and finding home. “Call me Hmong before you call me American, because Hmong is the closest word I know to home.”

Bao Phi – “Broken/English”

This poem is heartbreaking. Sad poems can be useful when crafting activities or discussions focused on walking in someone else’s shoes. “Year after year she makes flowers bloom in the hood, petals in the face of this land that doesn’t want her here.”

Christy NaMee Eriksen – If Racism Was a Burning Kitchen (text only)

Talking about racism involves *talking* about racism, and this piece has always been a favorite of mine because of how it illuminates how those conversations so often go. It’s absurdist, and even funny, but it points to something deadly serious and can be a useful entry point for talking about how we talk about racism.

Anthony McPherson – All Lives Matter (1800s Edition)

I can’t think of a better deconstruction of the excuses and rationalizations that white people use to distance themselves from white supremacy. Obviously, this won’t work for every audience, in every situation, but it can be a very powerful exploration of how rhetoric can be used to mask racism.

T. Miller – “Ten Things You Sound Like When You Say AllLivesMatter in Response to BlackLivesMatter”

Another piece that uses juxtaposition and humor to highlight the absurdity of how white supremacy is, and isn’t, talked about in the US.

William Evans – “They Love Us Here”

Students sometimes struggle with the notion that tokenism, “positive” stereotypes, or other forms of “benevolent racism” are harmful. Even well-meaning people can contribute to a white supremacist society. This poem can be an entry point into that conversation.

Carlos Andrés Gómez – “12 Reasons to Abolish C.B.P & I.C.E”
So much white supremacist terrorism takes root in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate. This poem can be a first step toward interrogating that.

Denice Frohman – “Borders”
Yet another poem showcasing the power of storytelling; this is a poem that might have different things to say to different audiences- but they’re all valuable.

Aamer Rahman – “Reverse Racism

I’m cheating here since this isn’t a poem; it’s just really good. One reason we talk so much about “racism” in the US rather than “white supremacy” is because racism can be (incorrectly) framed as attitude. And anyone of any identity can have a bad attitude. But white supremacy is about power. It’s about history. And this short video illustrates that perfectly.

I hope this list can be useful; feel free to share more in the comments. 

Of course, these are all for sparking dialogue, because dialogue matters. But action also matters. Whether it’s a classroom full of high-schoolers, a book club, a discussion group in a church basement, or some other setting, what matters is how we translate these discussions, these epiphanies, and these feelings into action. That’s another post, but hopefully, there’s something here that can be a useful start.

For teachers, student affairs folks, social justice activists, and beyond: this is a playlist of 30 poems that have been useful to me in classrooms, facilitated discussions, and other educational spaces.

It’s not a list of the “best” poems ever, or the only poems about these various topics; but there is some really powerful work here, work that meaningfully engages with these issues and can serve as great entry points or dialogue-starters. If you’re a teacher, another kind of educator, or just a person who understands the power of art, story, and conversation, I hope you find something to use here.

Of course, be sure to review the poems yourself first, since not every poem is going to be relevant or appropriate for every audience. Aside from these 30 poems, though, I hope people can fall down rabbit holes finding more work from these poets and these channels.

Additional lists and resources:

Also wanted to share this piece that’s been on my mind a lot this summer, as I get ready to hit the road again this fall: Towards an Antifascist Pedagogy by Guy Emerson Mount. A relevant quote for educators, poets, and everyone: “Following Davis and Robeson, the first rule of an anti-fascist pedagogy then is to refuse to continue with ‘business as usual’ and recognize that the anti-fascist battleground is everywhere.”

New video up via Button Poetry. This poem is in my book, which is available now.

This is a poem about dominant narratives and counter-narratives. To quote MPD150:

As the bodycam footage in the Thurman Blevins case is released (which we won’t share here, since enough people are sharing the footage via news networks and we don’t want to re-traumatize people), we can see the official narrative starting to take shape.

Our challenge is to not lose sight of the context around that narrative. Police, politicians, and media will almost always zoom in on the specific details of a given case; this is understandable (and of course, we can’t lose sight of the real human being and family at the center of this), but it’s also a tactic that keeps us from talking about the bigger picture.

The MPD150 report exists, in part, to provide some of that bigger picture and historical context. Explicit instances of police violence are part of a larger system of violence; it isn’t just about how individual officers act in individual moments; it’s about the larger system/culture that led to those moments in the first place. What relationships between the police and that neighborhood existed before that moment? What kinds of mindsets did the police enter into that moment with? What sorts of resources and alternatives are missing from the picture? These aren’t always easy questions, but they’re worth asking.

This is all also in the context of just the last couple years here in Minneapolis– from Thurman Blevins, to the ketamine scandal, to the Justine Ruszczyk lawsuit, to the occupation of the 4th precinct after the killing of Jamar Clark, to debates about mayoral vs. city council oversight, to ongoing, deeper questions about punishment vs. prevention and what we choose to invest in. Aside from the MPD150 report linked to above and this FAQs on police abolition, I’d also recommend this overview by Unicorn Riot. Knowing what’s happening is a necessary first step.

For people interested, MPD150 is organizing a big interactive exhibit this fall, in collaboration with some amazing artists, to bring the report to life. If you’d like to support that, you can donate here. Look out for more details on that soon. Full text of the poem:

POLICE MAKE THE BEST POETS

Note the creative phrasing, the novel juxtaposition of words: the officer discharged his weapon, striking the individual. Note how the poem is so well-constructed, the newspapers print it as-is.

Note how they call it a perfect storm of human error; poetry is weather, after all, not climate. Note this attention to detail: height, weight, what size pants he wore, the specific model of toy gun. Poetry is, after all, about zooming in on these concrete particulars. Note how precise they are with their cuts: history, context, connections, trends— they focus only on what is necessary— so every time we hear the poem, it feels fresh again.

Note their mastery of repetition. Note how they show all the things they cannot tell.

EDIT (8/5/19): This was originally posted in 2017 and was focused on Charlottesville, but I’ve since added even more resources to this list, and broadened the scope to disrupting and dismantling white supremacy in general. That’s work that has to happen early, and teachers can play an important role.

Confederate statue in Durham torn down; image from here.

At the top of this week, the Washington Post published this piece by Valerie Strauss: The first thing teachers should do when school starts is talk about hatred in America. Here’s help.

Update: a couple other good links:

Those links contain more links to resources, readings, and lesson plans, and may be a good place to start for educators who know that current events matter, and that not talking about Charlottesville makes a statement to your students that’s just as loud as any conversation or critical exploration.

In that spirit, and because my background is in using spoken word as a tool for narrative-building and opening up spaces for authentic dialogue, I wanted to share a few poems that have been on my mind lately. As always, list-making is tricky. This is not a list of the “best” poems about this topic, or even a list of just “poems about racism.” This is a list of poems that might be useful for educators looking for artistic work that can prompt some critical thinking about hate, white supremacy, and the recent events in Charlottesville.

I’m also thinking about this list in terms of what work needs to be done in educational spaces. Understanding the motivations of– and contextual factors that cultivate– white supremacists is one angle, but so is making connections between the explicit hate espoused by neo-nazis and the more subtle, implicit ways that white supremacist ideology pops up in everyday life. I think these poems, in different ways, explore those connections. Maybe we shouldn’t need personal, human stories to create empathy, to illuminate that other human beings matter. But they can be tools for that, when it’s called for. These poems also use metaphor, symbolism, narrative, and other tools to push the listener beyond the notion that racism is just “people being mean to each other because they’re different.”

Of course, not every poem is appropriate for every audience. Be sure to review before presenting, both in terms of language/accessibility stuff and relevance. Also of course, “talking about racism” is a first step, not a last one, and we should challenge ourselves to find ways to embed anti-racist approaches and policies into our schools and institutions in more concrete ways as well.

Joseph Capehart – “Colorblind”
This poem uses humor to open up space for a powerful critique for the very common idea that “not seeing color” is the answer to racism. “You want to strip me clean; bleach away the parts of me that make you uncomfortable… when you say ‘colorblind,’ you are asking me to forget.”

Storytelling can communicate information in ways that facts and statistics can’t. In this poem/TEDx Talk, Jared Paul simply tells five stories from his life that illustrate how whiteness works in context, even for people who would not consider themselves privileged.
Guante – “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist”

I wanted to write something about how “white supremacy” is bigger and more insidious than just literal white supremacists marching around with torches. But this is also about highlighting the *connection* between those people and the everyday acts/attitudes/policies that make them possible. Pushing back has to happen at multiple levels too– denouncing and disrupting specific acts of terror, but also uprooting their worldview in the classroom, the office, the church, the comment thread, the home, and everywhere.

Patricia Smith – Skinhead
A classic poem that seeks to explore the motivations of hateful bigots, without ever making excuses for them. There’s so much in here about empathy (in a critical sense), perspective, and what lenses people use to see the world.

Kevin Yang – “Come Home”
This poem is warm, funny, and approachable, using empathy-generating personal stories to make a larger point about xenophobia, the refugee experience, and finding home. “Call me Hmong before you call me American, because Hmong is the closest word I know to home.”


This poem is heartbreaking. Sad poems can be useful when crafting activities or discussions focused on walking in someone else’s shoes. “Year after year she makes flowers bloom in the hood, petals in the face of this land that doesn’t want her here.”

Talking about racism involves *talking* about racism, and this piece has always been a favorite of mine because of how it illuminates how those conversations so often go. It’s absurdist, and even funny, but it points to something deadly serious and can be a useful entry point for talking about how we talk about racism.

Anthony McPherson – All Lives Matter (1800s Edition)
I can’t think of a better deconstruction of the excuses and rationalizations that white people use to distance themselves from white supremacy. Obviously, this won’t work for every audience, in every situation, but it can be a very powerful exploration of how rhetoric can be used to mask racism.

Another piece that uses juxtaposition and humor to highlight the absurdity of how white supremacy is, and isn’t, talked about in the US.

William Evans – “They Love Us Here”
Students sometimes struggle with the notion that tokenism, “positive” stereotypes, or other forms of “benevolent racism” are harmful. Even well-meaning people can contribute to a white supremacist society. This poem can be an entry point into that conversation.

Carlos Andrés Gómez – “12 Reasons to Abolish C.B.P & I.C.E”
So much white supremacist terrorism takes root in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate. This poem can be a first step toward interrogating that.

Denice Frohman – “Borders”
Yet another poem showcasing the power of storytelling; this is a poem that might have different things to say to different audiences- but they’re all valuable.

Aamer Rahman – “Reverse Racism”
I’m cheating here since this isn’t a poem; it’s just really good. One reason we talk so much about “racism” in the US rather than “white supremacy” is because racism can be (incorrectly) framed as attitude. And anyone of any identity can have a bad attitude. But white supremacy is about power. It’s about history. And this short video illustrates that perfectly.

    Hope those can be useful; feel free to share more in the comments. 

    Of course, these are all for sparking dialogue, because dialogue matters. But action also matters. Whether it’s a classroom full of high-schoolers, a book club, a discussion group in a church basement, or some other setting, what matters is how we translate these discussions, these epiphanies, and these feelings into action. That’s another post, but hopefully, there’s something here that can be a useful start.

    New video! Here’s the official blurb:

    Guante & Katrah-Quey’s “Our Relationship is a Slowly Gentrifying Neighborhood” features singer (and constant presence at Twin Cities rallies and marches) Jayanthi Kyle lamenting the deeply personal loss of something that used to mean something. While using the standard structure of a love song, the track attempts to explore the human side of an issue that, for too many, is an abstraction, or “someone else’s problem,” if it’s considered a problem at all.

    The song exemplifies the philosophy of “Post-Post-Race,” an album attempting to grapple with issues of race, racism and solidarity by pushing beyond platitudes and asking deeper, more challenging questions. Over Katrah-Quey’s lush, vibrant production, Guante (along with an impressive roster of guests) reaches for root causes, explores his own complicity in the system, and tries to find pathways to action.

    The full album is available here
    (a portion of the proceeds benefits Twin Cities youth arts/activism organization TruArtSpeaks).

    The video is directed by E.G. Bailey, fresh off appearances at the Tampere Film Festival, Riga International Film Festival, and Sundance Film Festival, where his short film, “New Neighbors,” was selected from tens of thousands of entries. Bailey (along with co-producer Sha Cage) was also responsible for Guante’s move to Minneapolis back in 2007, so this video represents coming full-circle, and affirming that community comes first. Full credits:

    • Director: E.G. Bailey
    • Cinematographer: Anton Shavlik
    • Producers: E.G.Bailey & Sha Cage
    • Editors: E.G. Bailey & Anton Shavlik
    • Costume Design: Trevor Bowen
    • First Assistant Director: Sha Cage
    • First Assistant Camera: Casey Bargsten
    • Production Assistant: Autumn Compton
    • Colorist: Anton Shavlik
    • Storyboard Artist: Cecilia Hsu
    • Titles: Eroll Bilibani
    • a Freeztyle film

    FULL LYRICS:

    Our Relationship is a Slowly Gentrifying Neighborhood
    (words by Guante; music by Katrah-Quey; guest vocals by Jayanthi Kyle)

    I don’t recognize this place anymore
    Grew up around the corner, before these lines and borders
    but I don’t recognize this place anymore

    I ain’t afraid of ghosts
    I grew up in a place where they’re takin’ over slow
    like death isn’t always the fading of a soul
    progress isn’t always related to growth
    The first step in building a skyscraper
    is digging up a very deep hole…
    you ever seen a city melt into a shadow of itself?
    you ever feel like there’s a lack of all the magic that we felt
    split an atom or a cell like it’s progress
    like destruction and creation are the same process
    yeah, and our relationship
    just ain’t been the same since the chains moved in
    I still remember when
    I felt like a million bucks, wasn’t worth a cent
    your heart is still the only place I want to live
    I just can’t afford the rent

    I don’t recognize this place anymore
    it’s just a big blank canvas, after all this color’s been banished
    I don’t recognize this place anymore

    I ain’t afraid of ghosts
    a house can’t be haunted if it never had a soul
    but tell me what happens when that house gets sold?
    does a spirit shiver stuck out in the cold?
    so this is how the world ends? a casual exorcism
    the closing of a story dressed up as the beginning, what’s the limit?
    here’s to the history we lived in
    here’s to the years we were able to resist this
    here’s to acid rain as it falls
    enveloped in each other as umbrellas dissolve
    you’ll caress my skin and I’ll peel it off
    until we’re nothin’ but our hearts underneath it all
    and then we’ll sell ‘em to developers for cheap and fall
    deeply asleep as the concrete just crawls
    over the whole earth ‘til all of a sudden
    you got this look like a cop sayin’ “you lost or something?”

    I don’t recognize this place anymore
    so I’ll leave for the last time, and treat every memory as a landmine
    ‘cause I don’t recognize this place anymore

    ***EDIT (October 2020): Button Poetry just posted a NEW, higher-quality video of this poem***

    The Japanese American Citizen’s League asked me to write a piece for the 2017 Day of Remembrance (the day in 1942 that Executive Order 9066 was signed, requiring internment of all Americans of Japanese ancestry), connecting it to current issues regarding xenophobia and anti-immigrant hate.

    Check out this story for a bit more background; there are a ton of other resources online as well. As the poem talks about, this is the kind of story I feel like a lot of people know about in a general sense, but that few internalize and really grapple with. And we need to be thinking about it, especially right now. Full text below.

    Finally please support organizations working to build immigrant power and/or fight xenophobia, Islamophobia, and hate of all kinds. Locally, that might mean MIRAC, Navigate MN, CAIR MN, the Young Muslim Collective, or others. Find more at the MN Activist Project’s database.

    Also relevant, I have another new video up this week on Button Poetry’s channel. It’s called “How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist.” A few extended thoughts (plus the text) on it here.

    Dust

    1.
    “Asked what the infant city was like, those first residents might have, with some justice, summed it up with one word — dust.” –Journalist Taro Katayama, writing about Utah’s Topaz internment camp.

    The Japanese side of my family settled in Hawaii. And of course, during the war, they couldn’t intern all of the Japanese there; that’d be a third of the population. But still, decades later, I grew up hearing about the camps. For every story about one of my great uncles fighting for the US against the Japanese Empire, another story, about a different empire, an empire of dust.

    There was a kind of distance, of course: hearing the echo, of the echo, of someone weeping. It was subtle, like, for every Packer game, to make room for snacks, I’d have to move those three huge coffee table books: one about Hawaii, one about Ireland (for some reason), and one about Manzanar. This is where the “less” of my more-or-less whiteness lives. Not so much a waving flag as a map hidden in the sole of my shoe.

    I learned very early that ghosts are not just the disembodied spirits of the dead. They can be, but they are also more, in the same way that water is more than just rain, that history is more than just the history we are taught. Ghosts appear, like dust, everywhere, from nothing, they multiply. They swim in the ink of newspaper headlines, smile in the background of photographs seized by government censors, burst by the thousands from a grandmother’s single tear. They create patterns in the dust; we breathe them in, when we breathe in the dust. And I learned very early, that ghosts don’t just haunt houses. They haunt history. And that knowing your history, determines: whether you learn to live with your ghosts, or are devoured by them.

    2.
    Tennessee legislator Glen Casada calls for the National Guard to “round up” all Syrian refugees, despite constitutional protections. He says: “you have to ask yourself, which is greater: life or due process?”

    As if that were the choice. As if our history, if we listen to it, does not curse and condemn those who offer these kinds of choices– life or your freedom, life or your culture, life or your property, life or your language, life or your child’s life. Just do the math. How much can you carry, as you leave your home, unsure of your return? What do you leave, what can you not live without? Do you plan to return? Do you hope? What year is this? Is the distance disappearing? And suddenly it isn’t math anymore.

    Question #27: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?”

    Question #28: “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or other foreign government, power or organization?”

    Is answering yes an admission that you, at one point, would not have answered yes? Will you be loyal to that which is not loyal to you? When uprooted, will you still reach for the sun? Will you grow here, in this dust? Will your children? How will you protect your children? You have to ask yourself, which is greater: one grain of dust, or all those ghosts? You have to ask yourself: which is greater: that weight on the conscience of a nation, or all those ghosts? I learned very early, that you have to ask yourself: which is greater: your commitment to order, or your commitment to justice?

    3.
    Before he died, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a talk at the University of Hawaii Law School about the Korematsu decision, the legal rationale for the internment of 120,000 innocent people of Japanese descent, most of whom were US citizens, born here, half of them children. He invoked a Latin phrase: Inter arma enim silent leges: “in times of war, the law falls silent.”

    And evolution is slow, slower than the sun crawling across the desert sky, slower than the fading of memory. The only real difference between who we are now and who we were in 1942 is our history, and what we choose to learn from it. I learned very early that it is always a time of war. That they will always find a scapegoat. If not our people, someone’s people.

    There are still people living, who witnessed lynchings. There are still people living, who survived the Holocaust. And of those Japanese Americans still living, who lost time to the camps, to the dust, we must hear them. And those who are not still living: we must hear them too.

    Fred Korematsu said: “… No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy.”

    Mary Hirata said: …we have to make sure it’s never done again. It’s so easy, and the more I read about it, the more I know that this was already planned way before the war… it’s a terrible thing to happen. Of course, I don’t think they’ll ever do it again, they couldn’t. I think. But that’s what we thought, too.”

    Yuri Kochiyama said: “Remember that consciousness is power. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.”

    These words, these stories, are my family’s only heirloom. And we must listen. Through the dust storm of history, through the wailing all those ghosts. We must hear these voices.

    …But they must hear us too.

    Because when the law falls silent. We must not be. When the law falls silent. We will not be.