Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Letter to Uncle Tom re: Korryn Gaines

By: Karisha Shaw - Houston, TX

The way people are demonizing Korryn Gaines is not new to me. As a woman who grew up in a deeply segregated, racist and over policed southern town, I can't say I have not been made to feel like I was at the mercy of the law. I also cannot say that I have not been completely non compliant when I knew that what I was experiencing was an overreaching of the law. In those many experiences of standing up for myself by citing my rights according to the situation, I have not been popular with police or others who were watching.


I remember being at my nephew's 10th birthday party. I remember he never liked to dance, but that night he was dancing up a storm with all of his friends. The room was full of smiles and laughs and electric energy from seeing him so free. So carefree. All of a sudden, we heard a commotion outside. A domestic dispute was happening 2 houses down. It had carried into their yard. All I heard next was a loud thud. I rushed to make sure the young lady was ok. She had been slammed on her head by her abuser. She said she couldn't feel her extremities. I knew that although the community was always being over policed, they probably would take forever to come tend to this matter. I volunteered to get her to the hospital myself, not because I thought it was the safest route, but because I knew she may be in worse danger waiting on medics to come to our neighborhood. Thankfully her mother got there quickly. The police and ems arrived in a shorter period of time than expected and I went back to my nephews party. I hadn't really had time to decide if I should protect this young lady, but how to. This is a natural instinct to me as a woman.

We stood outside and waited for things to clear up because we had a house full of 8-10 yr olds that needed to get to their homes safely. After about 10 minutes, the police came to my sister's house where I was still standing outside with my mother, brother and some other family friends. The two officers, who I expected to come ask us what we had witnessed so that they could arrest her abuser for his crime, chose a different approach. Instead, his first words to me and my family were, "Y'all need to get in the house." 'For what?' I asked. His response, "Cause if y'all weren't always standing around, we wouldn't have these problems."

That is when I lost my cool. I know what 'y'all' meant. I know that Black people standing on a porch is not why domestic violence happens. I know that ensuring the safety of these kids that we were responsible for, was a necessity and not an option.

These words were an insult to my intelligence and also to my freedom. They were also unlawful because we were not breaking any laws by standing on a porch. We had not in any way obstructed their "investigation." What the hell were they even at our place for if not to ask had we witnessed anything that had happened? When I refused to comply with the police and also exercise my freedom of speech and told him why I was unwilling to bow to his orders, my mother became afraid. She wanted me to be quiet. Everyone wanted me to be quiet. They just wanted them to go away. My silence would not have made them go away, it would have further established their idea of superiority over my Black skin. As a woman, my silence would have insulted every Black ancestor of mine who fought for me to not have to cower down and COMPLY. While everyone else there felt the wrongness of their presence, being obedient seemed like a better option.

 I understand compliance from my background in aviation as following a rule set in place for the safety and best interest of that individual(s). While some people see compliance with police, whether they are violating our rights or not, as a way to ensure safety, there have been too many cases of late where that is a completely asinine theory. So I continued to refuse. The whole time, the officer addressing me had has hand on his weapon. I did not flinch, because my resolve was that I would rather die than allow you to take away my freedom. I wanted my little brother to know he didn't have to be afraid because I know what he had to endure as a Black man in that town, what my 10 year old nephew would endure. I wanted to stand, so I stood. I stood until they left our property because I was not willing to be swayed. Even when they pulled out their batons, I refused.

As I watched the video of my sister  Korryn refuse to get out of her car and tell her son not to comply, I understood. I threw up my fist. Why? Because teaching our children to comply with fear and white supremacy is why Black men and women now are demonizing her for her actions. I will NEVER comply with that. Fuck that. I think she was fully aware of her actions and was unapologetically living her truth and teaching her son and us in the process that we do not have to bow. And if we choose to, we are still slaves. I was talked down to and confronted by another Black woman in that instance because I pointed out the fact that the police were called out for a domestic dispute and not for Black folks standing on a porch. I was then told, the young lady deserved what she got. For a Black woman to rather confront me who stood up for all of us by my actions, than to see the wrongness of the police or that it is ok for a Black man to abuse a woman through his words or actions, was heartbreaking.

I'm tired of being told to sit down and shut up. I'm tired of Black folks being ignorant Uncle Tom's and seeing what is happening, but telling Black women we are wrong for our resistance. Sandra Bland was tired. Korryn Gaines was tired too. I am fucking tired.
Rest in Power, Queens!

Karisha Shaw