1. Heart of Darkness
The big headline is that the police in Toronto raided Heart of a King gang, which is alleged to have evolved out of North Preston’s Finest.
Okay. But first of all let’s go over for a second to this story:
“A Bedford man has pleaded guilty to 20 charges in a crime spree — stretching from the Annapolis Valley to Dartmouth — that involved selling cars he didn’t own and stealing puppies, storage sheds and gas.”
Let’s look at one of the photos of this puppy crime spree, shall we?
AWWWWWWW. Thanks for including the photo of the puppy in an otherwise sad story. As we will see, photos of the proceeds of crime usually aren’t cute. Spoiler alert: images of Blackness ahead.
Moving on, let’s talk about this bizarre practice of the police displaying photos of the stuff they seize in raids.
It’s always been a colonial practice for the conqueror to display his spoils.
Police photos of weapons, money, and drugs seized are a similar display of power against “conquered enemies.” Like the “perp walk” that gives the public the chance to see the captured criminal cowed and powerless, the display of the wealth seized from accused criminals are another way of performing dominance.
When the accused is a Black man, the image becomes about Black male bodies “assuming the position” for white authority.
There’s a strange kind of gaze involved here. The media prints photos of money, drugs, weapons, or other luxuries, and we look upon them with both desire for the spoils displayed – if only we could have those stacks of cash! – and also disgust that those criminals got to have them. There’s supposed to be a feeling of satisfaction that these things were taken away from the undeserving criminals. The police are “good” because they have the power to take these things we desire from the bad people. Because we can’t actually gaze at the criminals locked up, we look at their stuff held captive, and our desire for retribution is displaced onto those images.
I mean, god forbid should we look at the extreme wealth of the 1% and think “I want to take that away.” But displaying the stuff taken from criminals substitutes, and provides a safety valve for our anger at the good shit other people have. When we are happy this stuff was taken away from bad guys, maybe we don’t think so much about how the other rich people got all their stuff and why they should have it.
In a society where Black images are either the athlete, the entertainer or the gangster, images of Black wealth are assaultive to white security and power. Those rich Black men dancing on the field might get away with it, but at least we can take our revenge on Blackness here.
Roman Triumphs were an erotic display of wealth. The Emperor paraded his enemies in chains, and the mountains of exotic goods seized in battle. Police photos are the same. They show us the weapons and drugs and guns we might desire, but safely contained by police authority. There’s this weird thing at work where it’s like we’re supposed to transfer our desire onto the police. MMMMmmm, let’s look at all the dangerous guns, but daddy will keep us safe.
I mean, god, even the name of this, Project Sizzle, is erotic. All that heat. We’re going to get to enjoy sex and violence, but only vicariously, in a way that leaves us virtuous!
So this article opens with a picture of a Black man posed on a luxury car:
This is a familiar image from rappers, ballers, other wealthy young Black male celebrities. God, don’t you hate how they flaunt their wealth? We’ll never be royals. Don’t worry though, we’re going to get to watch him be dominated, just like in our fantasies.
George Elliott Clarke, in his criticism of Phonse Jessome’s portrayal of Black pimps in Somebody’s Daughter talks about the “sexualized visuals” of the white male gaze onto the “accessories” of the Black pimp. This erotic gaze is placed onto “gleaming cars” or onto phallic weapons. This Black male sexuality is dangerous, but it is eventually dominated by the white male police. The monstrous Black male, and his Black penis, and the desire for his Black penis, is shifted onto the “pale phallus” of the white cops. As Clarke puts it:
“In myth-become-faith, as Jessome fears…white female chastity quivers and melts away once face-to-face with upright Black virility. Hence, the constant efforts of white male authority, in its confrontation with its own imagination of the Negro phallus, to neutralize it through incarceration, surgery, medication, and even execution.”
In other words: ever since slavery, white men fear that white women want Black dick, which white men imagine as threateningly big. In fact, it is white men obsessed with Black penis, and they project this desire onto white women. The figure of the Black pimp allows white men to exorcize this fear and desire about Black male sexuality.
And yes, we all know the Toronto Police Chief is a Black man. As if the police exist to protect and serve Black people. As if the police represent the power and force of Black people. We’re not talking about one policeman, we’re talking about the institution of surveilling, policing, arresting and displaying Black people and how images of Blackness are created, commodified and consumed.
The photos for this story are all about showing power over Black men.
Referring to a painting owned by Richardson and a photograph of him sitting on the hood of an expensive car, [Insp. Bryan Bott of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force of Toronto Police Service] said, “I suggest they might symbolize what he thinks of himself and his lifestyle.”
After the opening image of the powerful, rich Black man (with his hands literally crossed over his crotch!) the next image is this:
Police also seized this. Take a minute to soak it in #projectsizzle pic.twitter.com/1sywVCjozC
— Nick Boisvert (@nickjboisvert) June 3, 2016
Quick, someone show us a picture of the Black police chief as an antidote! Oh, there’s only a small video to the side of this story? Sorry, let dangerous Blackness continue uninterrupted.
There is no real reason to show us this painting, other than, as indicated by the tweet, to ogle the “niggerishness” of this painting. We have a Black man with a crown and a skull face sitting on a throne, surrounded by nearly naked Black women, money, cheetahs, and dogs.
As the inspector said, “I suggest it might symbolize what he thinks of himself…” The idea of a Black man thinking of himself on a throne is, we understand, in itself outrageous. How dare he. Good thing the police are there to “watch the throne” and disabuse Black men of any pretensions to (white) power.
This picture is entirely gratuitous. Its purpose is to represent Blackness, and to allow the viewer to get an eyeful of sexy Black women while morally decrying pimping and the sex trade. The “virtuous” viewer gets to look at this picture and look at Black women’s tits and asses and spread legs (and is that a literal pussy between her legs?) but it’s okay, because this is a very moral story about catching pimps, so it’s not the same as getting turned on by Black women in music videos.
At the same time, the caption invites the white viewer to marvel at “monstrous” Blackness. This is the spectacle of Blackness as consumption, the embodiment of being “too Black.” This is what the police are protecting us from, these super niggers with their flying money.
Or another metaphoric image: say there was a Black man selling hotdogs on campus, where he was never allowed to park. And then he was banned and after that a white man was in his place selling hotdogs. We have to displace and cover up and remove Blackness from society like that.
The CBC viewer gets to look at naked Black women under the guise of rescuing Black women from the evil clutches of Black men. These are the women we’re keeping safe, while flaunting their bodies on CBC. White women’s naked bodies would probably be treated with more respect, but it’s okay to look at the bodies of Black women, because we’re saving her from the savagery of her own culture.
After looking at the virile Black male body, and the erotic Black female one, now we get the money shot:
Look at those black “penises” captured by the police!
Black women’s bodies are all nakedly out in the open, but the money is sealed off and protected:
Even though Black women are presumably the victims of this violent pimping ring, they are displayed in the article the same as guns and money. Even though it is Black women being trafficked, and who we should have sympathy with, the priority is flaunting the spoils of war, including the naked bodies of Black women who, because of the fact of their Blackness, are just another symbol in this display of male police authority. White victims are “somebody’s daughter,” but Black women are property, like money in a bag.
So now the bad Black men are securely put in their place, the “good” Black man is in uniform demonstrating the powers of discipline and authority in controlling the otherwise dangerous Black body – without police uniforms all Black men are in danger of imagining themselves surrounded by money and cheetahs – and the white gaze gets to take it all in, the “amorous surveillance” of lurid Blackness. And we get the spectacle, if not of locked away Black bodies, of captured Black property, in a society where Black people and property are still interchangeable. Black-tainted bodies, Black-tainted money, all sealed away.
Muhammad Ali has died.
Chalk up another loss for Blackness:
Despised by some for his outspoken beliefs and refusal to serve in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, an aging Ali became a poignant figure whose mere presence at a sporting event would draw long standing ovations.
Yes, once he safely couldn’t speak for himself, Ali could be turned into a revered figure, with all those Black edges smoothed out. The Ali who said “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” could be changed into a magical negro, reimagined as a gentle, harmless old man whom now white people could love. They even trotted him out at the White House and got W. Bush to pin a medal on him.
They try to do the same thing to people like Rocky Jones once they’re gone, slowly sand away that Blackness, that militancy, start talking about “he was a hero for everyone really,” play down those images in the Black leather jacket giving hell to white people as a young man, or the shirt open down to his belt. Talk about the awards he got, but not all the times people wanted to kill him for what he was saying. Leave the vague impression that he was some respectable, establishment man white society loved all along.
I mean, you can’t even find images of Rocky all panthered up. This is the closest I could get.
Nova Scotia is a land of Black boxers. Sam Langford. George Dixon. Buddy Daye. Kirk Johnson. Sometimes our boxers die in prison. Sometimes they get boxed in. Sometimes you’re on the news for winning one year, then in the news in court a couple years later. It’s complicated, the ways we fight, the ways we struggle, the ways we get pushed into a corner.
When Black men couldn’t speak in this province, they fought, put their bodies into rings and took blows and gave them to prove the Black body was worth as much as a white one. For every car headlight shining into Africville, and every mother scrubbing floors on her knees, and every father told we’re not hiring, there were punches that could be given back. It wasn’t just about heroics in sports, it was about a people being able to beat back and beat down white supremacy and assert dignity and power. That frightening, dangerous Black male body given instrumentality. The violence against the Black body reclaimed, transformed, turned into triumph.
I think this image symbolizes how we see ourselves.
Here is Dave Zirin in The Nation writing on Ali’s reverberations. Read the whole thing:
It’s the reverberations that are our best defense against real-time efforts to pull out his political teeth and turn him into a harmless icon suitable for mass consumption.
When Dr. Martin Luther King came out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, he was criticized by the mainstream press and his own advisors who told him to not focus on “foreign” policy. But Dr. King forged forward, and to justify his new stand, said publicly, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all—black and brown and poor—victims of the same system of oppression.”
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he said that Muhammad Ali made him feel like the walls were not there.
When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City, one of their demands was to “Restore Muhammad Ali’s title.” They called Ali “the warrior-saint of the Black Athlete’s Revolt.”
When Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteers in Lowndes County, Alabama launched an independent political party in 1965, their new group was the first to use the symbol of a black panther. Beneath the jungle cat’s black silhouette was a slogan straight from the champ: “WE Are the Greatest.”
When Billie Jean King was aiming to win equal rights for women in sports, Muhammad Ali would say to her, “Billie Jean King! YOU ARE THE QUEEN!” She said that this made her feel brave in her own skin.
The question is why? Why was he able to create this kind of radical ripple throughout the culture and across the world?
What Muhammad Ali did—in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin—was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage. Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost. He was a boxer whose very presence taught a simple and dangerous lesson fifty years ago: “real men” fight for peace and “real women” raise their voices and join the fray.
3. Project Sizzle in a Sauna
Okay, I’m sorry, but literally everything in this story is giving me flashbacks to Stuff White People Like.
Let’s start with the headline: “Traditional Sauna Put on Wheels in Halifax’s North End.”
Whiteness level: White fluffy kitten.
Key indications of presence of whiteness: Traditional Sauna, North End, Gentrification.
Entering off the CBC page, the subhead: “It won’t just be food trucks wheeling around Halifax this summer.”
Whiteness level: Albino hedgehog.
Key indications of whiteness: Food Trucks.
The opening paragraph:
“When you think of a sauna, you might think of good heat in the deep, cold winter, Scandinavian cultures, or maybe some relaxation time after a workout at your local gym or health club.”
Whiteness level: White owl perched on snow-covered branch.
Key indications of whiteness: “When you think of a sauna,” “deep cold winter,” “Scandinavian cultures,” “health club.”
I don’t know, that’s pretty white, but I don’t think we’re at peak whiteness for this story yet.
The sauna is parked in a yard on John Street near the corner of West Street. This next session is part of the 100 in 1 Day festival, a global festival of citizen engagement that celebrates urban interventions.
Whiteness level: white snow weasel thing looking out of white snow-covered hole.
Key indications of whiteness: Festivals, “citizen engagement,” “urban interventions.”
Hmmm, getting there…getting there…
The couple’s friendly miniature Schnauzer-Scottie cross, Hamish, is the sauna’s mascot.
“If he likes you, he’ll lick the sweat off your ankles,” said Erica.
MAXIMUM WHITENESS REACHED! WE HAVE ACHIEVED FULL WHITENESS CAPACITY!
Honourable whiteness mention: “Related stories: Will Ugly Signage Keep People Away from Shelburne?”
It’s okay, white people, don’t feel bad. You get mobile saunas, and we get paintings with flying money and cheetahs. It takes all kinds to make a world!
4. Oh noes! Society Just Exploded
Adsum House is paying employees a living wage:
“A non-profit group in Halifax is embracing the living wage movement.
Adsum House, an organization that supports homeless women and children, signed an agreement this week that commits to paying all employees a living wage. In Halifax, that translates to $20.10 an hour—almost double minimum wage.”
But…but…paying workers more than the minimum wage kills jobs! It destroys businesses! And it actually harms poor people because, reasons! It prevents young people from entering the workforce!
Gee, thanks a lot for the apocalypse, Adsum.
“A living wage is a social wage, really. It’s designed to bring people above the poverty line and to alleviate financial stresses and constant crisis in your life,” said Adsum executive director Sheri Lecker.
Wait, that sounds…good.
Quick, post a picture of the new convention centre! Then all that improving Halifax by improving the actual lives of women and poor people talk will just fade away…
Editor’s note: El Jones is an important and strong voice in the community, and we at the Examiner are proud to host her work every Saturday. To help us continue to provide Jones’ needed voice, please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!
And El Jones, I take no “revenge on Blackness here.” Blackness in crime, that is. I don’t ‘gaze’ at images of Blackness in awe and fear. Displaying ‘stuff’ representing WEALTH equals ignorance. Lumping successful Black entertainers and athletes together with gangsters is disingenuous. My Eye is on the Sparrow, THANKYOU Mahalia…
Representing the spoils of a raid on a Toronto gang with a piece of private art is gratuitous. Explain the crime, publish pics of the perpetrators (if they’re older than young offenders) and be done with it.
Just as an FYI: Another great critique of “Somebody’s Daughter” was penned by Tanya Dawne Smith in 2000 as a thesis for Dal. It’s called Pimping and Prostitution in Halifax in the early 1990’s: The Evolution of a Moral Panic.
Going by the tenor of the comments, I think you hit a nerve today, El. Kudos – it’s so, so needed.
I think the people who hated Ali in his salad days are all dead now. They were the ‘establishment’ . Ali’s (white) fans have aged from hippie rebels to become the ‘establishment’ and we round off the edges of everything they (we) drag with us through the python. Comes with aging, any generation. The people who praise him now are not the ones who called him a coward back then. We were, most of us, anti-war. We liked Ali then and still like him now. Racist conspiracies exist, but you are stretching it here I think.
Mixing Ali in with a gang of thugs,thieves, murderers, slave traders, drug dealers and low lifes is an insult to a great man who rose above the life he was born into and risked his career and life at a time when black people faced great hurdles to living productive lives.
You should be happy that a bunch of murderous men who have preyed on women and school aged girls may now face significant jail time.
El Jones’ posts really bring out the racists in the Examiner’s readership.
I spent a few minutes this morning with my first coffee channel surfing – CBC, CNN, TSN… – for Muhammad Ali tributes. While I was never interested in boxing, I always paid attention to this man because he forced me to think about and examine the world around me. When I turned off the TV and headed out for my usual Saturday morning, I had an uneasy feeling. This was not the Ali I grew up with. And then I realized what was wrong: The Ali I saw this morning was a sanitized Ali, not the real one who challenged us to think about so many issues. The Ali who was demonized for his opposition to the war. The Ali who forced young white guys like me to think about race and privilege. About power and war.
And along comes El Jones and reminds us about the real Muhammad Ali and, more importantly, the real world around him that waited until he seemed powerless before offering any kind of tribute. Thanks, and keep up the good work.
This isn’t worth paying for.
The discussion of any sort of issues related to race and class and privilege is so toxic these days that it is simply not worth engaging in so I’m not going to do it.
I like this guy’s explanation of privilege, race and class in America – it’s not any different in Canada.
I agree. Maybe its time to mix it up on Saturdays. I agree there is value in having a discussion on race and related issues, but this is no longer happening on The Examiner on Saturdays. These entries have turned into incoherent, rambling nonsense. It is getting harder to justify spending my money on this.
Nobody is going to agree on politics all the time, but I pay for the Examiner for news and reporting. The editorial content is frankly sub-par; the writers here have a clear agenda and willingly sacrifice their own logic the second it goes against their own position. Or they just shout racism/sexism/class without bothering to make an argument. This is lazy and it is taking up more and more time on the Examiner, and Saturdays are becoming entirely devoted to it.
I bet Hamish is really into ‘The Wire.’ Because the realness.
“The monstrous Black male, and his Black penis, and the desire for his Black penis, is shifted onto the “pale phallus” of the white cops.”
I agree with most of what you have written about unfair treatment of Black and Indigenous people, women and the mentally ill – especially in jails. The above line of reasoning however is quite the stretch, no matter how many cute pussies you insert. IMHO such silliness compromises your credibility, damages the truth in all you wrote before, and that would indeed be a pity.
Maybe I’ve misunderstood El. Perhaps the majority of Examiner readers hail from academic departments of philosophy, black studies or creative writing. and find this to be Manna from Heaven over Americanos? Possibly in these columns, in my vicious male whiteness I am the minority?
I had hoped that you were writing to educate the other 97% of us about how the mechanism of racism against Black and Indigenous people in 2016 Nova Scotia functions. If that is indeed your mission, you must preserve your credibility. You will help nobody by allowing yourself to be written off as a crank by those who disagree with you. Sure, I appreciate that you have personal experience with this stuff, that you’re really pissed off and by all means you should take creative risks, but the bottom line is that if you are speaking for genuinely oppressed peoples, you must be taken seriously. They have few strong, clear voices. You are one.
Do it for them.
The white community have the Marriotts and the Melvins et.al. The black community have these characters (whose guilt in this particular matter has yet to be proven in court BTW).
Neither community is totally beyond reproach.