The New Moon on February 15, 2018 at 4:05 pm EST marks the official Chinese Lunar New Year and the beginning of the year of the Earth Dog.
In this wisdom tradition, a Dog year is a time of fairness, equality and justice while the element of Earth lends needed stability. A welcome shift away from the chaos and stress-filled fire element of the 2016 Monkey (symbolized by the US election) and the 2017 Rooster (represented by the twitter in chief who brought all the hens to the yard).
In an Earth Dog year, according to Taoist Astrologer Susan Levitt:
“Controversial issues are given their due, revolutions are successful, politics are liberal, and political oppression is opposed. Integrity and honesty are the values that lead to success under Dog’s watchful and just influence. Integrity and honesty are the values that lead to success under Dog’s watchful and just influence.”
“A champion of the underdog, Dog can become self-righteous and indignant when witnessing unfair treatment. Earth Dogs’ instincts give them a clear sense of right and wrong in human relationships. Reliable, sincere, and faithful Earth Dog is dedicated to justice.”
Shui Master Michele Duffy echoes these sentiments:
“Many ‘underdog’ voices around the world may rise to emphasize the importance of universal understanding. Individual demagogy will be rejected by the majority. There will be an increase in social awareness and concern for the less powerful members of society. Efforts aimed at creating a more equitable society will take wing.”
The Lunar New Year is sandwiched between Valentines Day and the release of a monumental culture shifting film, Black Panther. February is also Black History Month, which is now solidly held on either side by both the birth (February 5, 1995) and death (February 26, 2012) of Trayvon Martin, whose life was cut short at just seventeen. He was slain at sundown in Sanford, Florida holding a bag of Skittles and Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice and wearing a hooded sweatshirt like so many youth do. His hoodie would be viewed as evidence of his suspiciousness instead of a symbol of his youthful innocence.
As a mother and resident of Central Florida, Trayvon’s murder has stuck with me in ways that are tied to Florida’s history and my own relationship with hooded sweatshirts. When I was his age, and all throughout my college years, I had my own beloved hoodie I wore everywhere like a safety blanket. Mine was red, just like the one made famous on Valentines Day in 1993 by Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.
“With all the fighting and hatred in the world, Adam Sandler sings a Valentine’s Day song about his memories with the purest thing he can think of: the red, hooded sweatshirt that his mother gave him.”
As I type this story, I’m wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, feeling cozy and safe inside it, knowing no one will mistake me for a “thug” because, like Adam Sandler, I am white. Trayvon’s actual hoodie was not red by choice but made red by racism, his watermelon juice spilled along with his blood while skittles scattered from his not-yet-adult hands.
Florida’s remarkably problematic “Stand Your Ground” law was influential in letting Trayvon’s murderer evade justice. Yet Marissa Alexander, a black Florida woman, was convicted to twenty years in prison of aggravated assault charges in 2012 for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband who was uninjured.
Trayvon’s death in 2012 and his murderer’s subsequent acquittal in 2013 (juxtaposed against Alexander’s conviction) was the spark of what would become the face of our modern day Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Dr. 1968
I observed that most (white) folks at the time – even progressive ones that rally around other injustices – did not recognize the unconscious racism in the media spin (or in themselves) adding even more pain to a rightly angry community of color and underscoring the importance of the need to explicitly rally around the words Black Lives Matter.
For over a year, the theme in the image I painted above has been with me as I’ve publicly noted that #blacklivesmatter was the de facto canary in the coal mine, and Trayvon was just the first canary down.
In 2014, Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” went viral as the police chokehold that caused his death undeniably captured the corrupt brutality of some amongst those who are sworn “to serve and protect.” Many other canaries died under abuses of power while the officers got away with their crimes under similar stand your ground laws that allow an officer to have “just cause” if they simply feel scared.
Fast forward to post-inauguration 2017. As furious progressives flocked to airports over the racist immigration ban, I asked my (white) friends to dig deeper because there were no massive solidarity protests with Black Lives Matter in my community in Central Florida, where the movement was sparked:
“My friends, I ask you to think for a moment about the Women’s March on Washington, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and this incredible outpouring of support for our immigrant friends, going on right now. If you are outspoken about these issues, but you didn’t speak up during the Black Lives Matter marches, I ask to get quiet and think about this. Really get quiet. Super, super quiet and instead of reacting defensively because I am talking about racism, just let your mind be open to a self-audit. I’m not trying to shame or blame, but ask that you really think about why you automatically get those issues but don’t see or understand the BLM with anything but a side eye.
Someone recently said to me they felt that white people who spoke up on BLM may just have a guilty conscious and were trying to earn some sort of cool points and be trendy in speaking up for BLM. That if they weren’t racist, they should just quietly go about being not racist, not wave a flag proclaiming they are not racist by supporting BLM.
Let me tell you, I have not earned any cool points for speaking up for our brothers and sisters being murdered – not just detained at an airport, but executed and slain in public by the very same white supremacists that have infiltrated our White House & have been infiltrating our police departments* as a strategy that has clearly been laid out by the alt-right supremacist faction, of which Bannon is the face of. BLM was the de facto canary in the coal mine and if you ignored that, you see where we are now. Turning a blind eye IS what upholds a racist and supremacist society.” (Read full statement here).
I would later learn that our police institutions were actually founded on slave patrols, and that white supremacist recruiting increased after Obama was elected president while specifically infiltrating police forces in order to move forward their agenda. Because white Americans did not understand what black and brown already knew, they largely dismissed #blacklivesmatter to our collective peril – allowing white supremacists to infiltrate the White House as was their goal: taking over the halls of power.
My daughter and I watch fireworks over the lake that makes up the northern shore of Sanford every Fourth of July. We enjoy the shops and restaurants of the quaint & historic downtown on a regular basis – you could say it’s in my backyard. It is a town of contradictions, much like Florida itself when it comes to race relations. Our state was once a haven for black slaves and just fifteen miles southwest of Sanford, tucked into the heart of Orlando, you will find historic Eatonville – a city founded in 1887 by newly freed slaves. It is the first African American incorporated & governed city in the United States.
Fast forward to November 1920 and just fifteen miles west of Eatonville is the site of the Election Day Ocoee Massacre – a white mob’s response to the persistence of Mose Norman, an African American, to exercise his (largely disenfranchised) right to vote. The African American townsfolk were forced to flee as their buildings and residences in northern Ocoee were burned to the ground with reports of 50 or 60 killed. Ocoee became an all-white town until 1981. That’s right: sixty-one years after the massacre and sixteen years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed legal barriers at the state and local level. The massacre is still considered the “single bloodiest day in modern American political history.”
Florida continues to disenfranchise black voters in a swing state known for deciding the presidency. According to the Florida Times Union:
“Florida has one of the most expansive felony laws in the nation. In Florida, theft of anything valued at more than $300 is a felony, for example. A National Conference of State Legislatures’ 2014 report found that only three states had lower thresholds. Florida is also an outlier in revoking civil rights from anyone convicted of a felony, not allowing them to vote or carry firearms unless the governor restores those rights. As a result, Florida has the highest felony disenfranchisement in America, according to The Sentencing Project, with about 1.5 million people unable to vote because of felony convictions.”
Combined with institutionalized racism in our justice system, as illustrated in heartbreaking detail by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors in her recently released book When They Call You a Terrorist, hold-over white supremacist laws like these serve to systemically target black and brown populations, unfairly giving advantage to the “good ole boys” (otherwise known as the “big bad wolf”), especially in our Southern state.
In the Year of the Earth Dog, as the scales shift cosmically toward justice, it is no coincidence that we see Marvel’s Black Panther unleashed on the big screen. The film depicts Wakanda, a futuristic vision of an African country, a sovereign state with full agency untainted by the scars of slavery, colonialism, and assimilation. As noted in The Root, it’s a culture-shifting break from either ignoring the lives of black people or looking at them through the lens of black trauma:
“It’s important to note that Wakanda isn’t a utopia for its lack of conflict—there would certainly be no movie without it—but because of the break it offers from the dystopic narrative that is the literal history of many native peoples around the world: one where colonization, subjugation and, in some places, extermination have been the story… This singular presentation has limited the ways black audiences could view themselves, stymied filmmakers eager to tell alternative narratives, and restricted actors looking to bring more nuanced, truthful characters to the screen.”
The timing is in perfect order, yet too late for Trayvon Martin, who, in all likelihood, would have grabbed his well worn hooded sweatshirt to hold his candy amongst sold-out crowds of all colors during the record-breaking opening weekend. But, from his place in the heavens, Trayvon is overseeing signs of this benevolent and liberating shift promised by Earth Dog are already here. In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen:
Domestic abuse survivor Marissa Alexander was finally freed in late January after a lengthy campaign. The New York Times reports: “She plans to take up the fight for domestic abuse victims and push for a change in what advocates have called the uneven application of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. She will advocate amending the law in order to take the burden of proof off defendants who have to demonstrate in pretrial hearings that they acted in self-defense and deserve immunity from trial.”
Florida’s restrictive procedure for restoring felony voting rights was just declared unconstitutional and a measure to automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences, with exceptions for murder and serious sex offenses, is on the November ballot.
Trayvon’s parents recently released a memoir called “Rest In Power: A parents’ story of love, injustice and the birth of a movement” in celebration of what would have been his 22nd birthday, announcing both of their intentions to run for political office just six years after their own sweet Valentine was taken from them. They are taking back the hoodie and moving forward the work of ending senseless gun violence through the Trayvon Martin Foundation with an #OurSonTrayvon sweatshirt.
Of course, while we are talking about signs of the times, we can’t forget what is on our immediate horizon. The film adaptation of one of the first female-penned science fiction novels, A Wrinkle in Time, starring none other than #Oprah4President2020, will hyper-jump our cinematic experience into the fifth dimension this March. An inclusive effort on screen and off is led by a young heroine, Meg, whose modest task is to defeat the darkness.
Despite the dark pall that fell over this nation – indeed the globe – this time last year the future looks more hopeful than could have been imagined then as the Big Bad Wolf* is sent running by this welcome shift in the story, arriving faster than expected and at an exponential rate. The last gasps of the patriarchy (embodied by Donald Trump) and played out in the thought-provoking #metoo debate is best summed up, politically, with the most recent cover of Time magazine:
These are the women that will bring a new reckoning in the halls of power and top of the agenda is bringing sanity around gun violence.
While I was writing this piece, on Valentine’s Day, seventeen students and educators lost their lives at a Florida school when a former student opened fire at Marjory Douglas High School. He learned to shoot through an NRA backed high school program along with three other students who gave him the nickname: Wolf.
Update 1/22/18: I watched Black Panther after writing this post. When I wrote this piece tying the Big Bad Wolf, Black Panther, #blacklivesmatter and Florida’s history together, I didn’t realize that Eatonville may be the closest thing to #Wakanda that we have. Zora Neale Hurston, who made the town famous in her novels, did not believe in assimilation and therefore rejected efforts to integrate blacks and whites. She favored cultural heritage and believed in creating communities that would honor and advance that rather than disintegrate and weaken. (No, this is not racist, think of the Native Americans and Amish who wish to live according to tradition). So much incredible black history has happened through Eatonville, hiding right in plain site here in Orlando.
*No offense intended to the wild, untamed and glorious wolf found in nature. The Big Bad Wolf symbolized here is actually the most thoroughly domesticated version of “The Man.” Please read my thoughts about “the lone wolf” narrative I wrote in response to the Pulse tragedy that happened to my community.
2 thoughts on “Black Panther, the Big Bad Wolf and Black Lives Matter”
This is a great, and powerful read, Julie! I’m ready for the shift! #blacklivesmatter
I have had so many of the same thoughts.Your expression of feelings on this topic as a local is profound and moving. Love the inclusion of the Sandler video. I, too used to wear hoodies – and often still do in winter, in relative (as long as you can see my face!) safety. While I did not love the Black Panther film, I love what it means to so many people. I love the energy of it, and for black lives to matter in the superhero realm. Thanks for your local work and social voice! This is indeed a year when so many suppressed voices are finally being heard.