My Southern black grandmother grew up on a farm in the years before they migrated to San Francisco as part of the Great Migration. I’ve heard her talk about her childhood family life a number of times. Her stories of growing their own food, the backbreaking work of caring for their own livestock, and the necessity of older children taking care of the younger ones always felt so removed from my clean, amenity-rich life growing up in a quiet California suburb.
Her stories have also always felt disconnected in my mind from the permaculture and urban farming movements of today. These sustainable lifestyle choices seemed branded by (often white) liberals in a way to which I sometimes still have a hard time relating. Living in Oakland it’s hard not to see the ways that urban homesteading and urban farming can be tools of gentrification and displacement if not integrated into the full richness of the community fabric.
But my grandmother’s experiences growing up and the modern permaculture movement are not supposed to be separate. While I don’t consider myself a part of the permaculture movement, I know that its participants aim to live off the land in a more sustainable way, particularly when it comes to growing one’s own food. The deep wisdom and reliance on the earth that black folks, indigenous peoples, and many other communities of color have cultivated for centuries is permaculture.
On my way to work there is a stoplight that used to stay green for ten or so seconds after the “stop walking” hand finished blinking. This week something changed, and now the light turns yellow immediately after the hand is done flashing. The first time I went to the intersection after the change I almost walked into the middle of the street on a red light, because I was so used to being on autopilot going through that space.
Since encountering the change I’ve noticed that my quality of attention is quite different at that intersection. I watch. I look more at the cars and the people walking by. I pay attention to the new rhythms of the street. The space feels unfamiliar in a slight, nagging way. I am there in a sense that I most normally am not when encountering that corner.
I say this to point out how we can become so used to the physical and social dimensions of our neighborhoods without even realizing it. What we’re accustomed to goes far beyond the timing of traffic lights. Perhaps we’re used to the homeless men and women hanging out on certain street corners where there’s a liquor shop. Or maybe we’re used to seeing a long row of trees down the sidewalk when we round the corner on our home block. We might be physically passing some of the same people everyday as we move through the dance of our lives.
The privilege of being white or rich is the privilege to question. To say: but he ran…but he did drugs…but he was guilty…
I don’t know much about the man who died in Baltimore last week. I know my friends’ and allies’ rage. I know their pain. I see it splashed across social media.
Who gets to believe is one of the biggest problems. Who gets to believe in the roots of this epidemic and who gets to turn away or add in skepticism.
Writers are telling us that these deaths are different, reminding us that each black person killed is a unique human being. Let’s always remember that. Let’s never let a black death become just another number.
As a kid I quickly developed coping mechanisms for the racialized comments I’d hear on the playground or in the classroom — whether it was a friend telling me that my braided-in extensions felt like “Barbie hair” or other students making fun of elements of black culture, like our high school’s step team.
Growing up in a predominately white community I was acutely aware of my race most of the time. I didn’t know how to understand or articulate it at the time, but my experience of being black in in a mostly-white community was also layered with gender — being a black female meant that I was disempowered, objectified, and not “cool” in the sense that some of the black boys in my class were. In reflecting back now I understand some of the ways in which the black boys were stereotyped and feared by the community in a unique way, which is very important also, but different from how we black girls were perceived.
One of the hottest topics in city news this week is that suits against two of the U.S.’s biggest sharing economy players, Lyft and Uber, will be heard by juries. The question at hand? Whether the people who drive users around in their cars should be considered employees rather than independent contractors with the two giant companies.
Lyft and Uber say that their drivers don’t count as employees because they can work whenever they want and however often they want. Drivers say they are employees because the rates they can charge are set by the companies and they can be fired for not following the rules. The decisions in these cases could potentially affect the many other sharing economy companies out there, such as Airbnb and car sharing services.