A Lesson for Thirty

I turn 30 tomorrow.

As conveyed through my numerous social media posts this year, 2021 has been completely dedicated to commemorating this milestone. It’s a blessing to arrive here, especially with the childlike excitement I’ve brought to it.

Is it 2021 or 1996? Similar vibes of sheer happiness.

In the past 30 days, I thought about different ways I could acknowledge the dawning of a new decade. Should I try to revive the Facebook Notes feature (does it even still exist? shoutout to the grand authoress Sesali Bowen for the recent reminder in an IGTV video!) and write a list of what I’ve learned from 1991-2021? There must certainly be some value in letting my Facebook friends know that they should buy plane tickets on Tuesdays and decline the additional insurance coverage when they rent cars?

Perhaps I could upload a video with a meditation and prayer for this new season of my life? Incorporate elements of comedy and pragmatism in either form of delivery?

In the final 24 hours of my twenties, I decided to push out this short essay. Its overarching theme?

Love.

Love that may originate in excitement and end in heartbreak. Love that builds ties – some of which may be unexpected – across the years. Love that ultimately instructs one in greater empathy. Love that guides through pain. Abundant, sustaining, enriching love.

That is the lesson for my thirtieth birthday and the rest of my life.

Love hard. Love through the difficult moments to heal from them. Love them and tell them. Love the person you become, regardless of their response. Love the mistakes you make and the character they build; love the forgiveness that you may ask for or seek out from someone else once a sufficient amount of time passes. Love as you grow and find some eventual sense of peace.

Love your friends. Love your lovers. Love your family. Love these people to hold them accountable when they do harm. Love the feedback they give you when you do the same.

Love humanity enough to fight for the world we all deserve. Love one another as we collectively fight to abolish prisons, policing, and state control of Black people. Love people who have abortions, do drugs, engage in sex work, and break all the other molds that have been forced upon them through centuries of pervasive white supremacy.

Love and study the frameworks that will get us to true freedom, such as disability justice, environmental justice, and reproductive justice. Love in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia to do away with the oppressive systems that perpetuate them – once and for all.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Thank you for supporting me and my craft. Much more awaits. Beyond grateful to see 30.

– arh

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Andrew Reginald Hairston: Husky Boy

Vox Populi

 

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People of a certain age will remember the dominance of JCPenney in the 1990s. Affordable, comfortable clothes adorned the shelves of the department store’s various branches; it offered enough name brands to make it appealing to kids and their caregivers alike.

I mean, Southpole, anyone?

My mother found plenty of husky clothes for this big boy on the racks of JCPenney stores across the South and the Midwest. I probably was ambivalent about them when my mother initially purchased them, but then, as I realized how much they allowed me to cover myself, I grew to appreciate them more. Husky clothes for a husky boy – it made sense.

For the first five years of my life, I was relatively small, and then my girth grew. I developed an affable, agreeable personality to avoid the taunts that inevitably come with being a big kid. This method worked…

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Husky Boy

This piece originally appeared in Vox Populi Public Sphere on May 15, 2021.

People of a certain age will remember the dominance of JCPenney in the 1990s. Affordable, comfortable clothes adorned the shelves of the department store’s various branches; it offered enough name brands to make it appealing to kids and their caregivers alike.

I mean, Southpole, anyone?

My mother found plenty of husky clothes for this big boy on the racks of JCPenney stores across the South and the Midwest. I probably was ambivalent about them when my mother initially purchased them, but then, as I realized how much they allowed me to cover myself, I grew to appreciate them more. Husky clothes for a husky boy – it made sense.

For the first five years of my life, I was relatively small, and then my girth grew. I developed an affable, agreeable personality to avoid the taunts that inevitably come with being a big kid. This method worked until about the time I was 12; at that point in my life, due to some long-forgotten inspiration, I resolved to lose a significant amount of weight.

I saw this endeavor through, likely shedding fifty pounds from 2003 to 2004. I became so small that my mother began to warn me that my diminished form could impact my kidney function, describing the demanding process of dialysis as she did so.

I agreed to gain the weight back, and then I continued to gain weight throughout my years as a teenager. I arrived at college as a solidly big guy. The taunts of childhood turned into more subtle forms of mockery as I navigated the terrain of a culturally diverse university in the nation’s capital.

These slights be damned, I settled into the reality of having lived in my body for nearly twenty years at that point. I employed humor and wit to distract from my large size; based on their reactions, people seemingly appreciated this method of engagement. My personality allowed me to deflect when it came to my weight.

As I transitioned from college to law school, my accomplishments met my personality to provide enough cover from my body and its size.

I completed my first quarter century on Earth with some form of mastery on how to conceal my body enough to not make it even the remote focus at any given time. This period of my life – my second tour in D.C. – was made infinitely better by my ever-present cognizance of how I navigated the world as a big man and my intentional selection of some of the most compassionate friends a large guy could have. I hit a stride – my weight was there, but it didn’t dominate my thoughts like it had during my adolescent years.

I journeyed along this path for a year and a half, and then a dear friend, Desireé, loaned me her copy of Hunger by Roxane Gay. Normally, it takes me about a month to finish a book; I read Hunger ravenously and completed it within two weeks. Dr. Gay’s description of an inconceivably terrible childhood trauma and its relationship to her subsequent weight gain enraptured me. I so greatly appreciated her candor on a topic that affects all of us in very intimate, piercing ways throughout our lifetimes.

Finishing that masterpiece made me reconsider my relationship with my size and pushed me to interrogate my previous decisions to make myself less noticeable in social interactions.

For one, I started thinking about my attire to gatherings centered around bodies of water – whether pools, rivers, or oceans. Prior to reading Hunger, I approached these outings something like this – the funny big guy clad in the t-shirt at the pool will usually be given a pass, if conventional wisdom governs?

From 2000-2018, I made it a point to almost always have a shirt on when I entered a body of water in public. I would indulge in my love of swimming and floating without fear of my large frame being scrutinized.

It worked relatively well; I shared laughs with friends and social acquaintances over this eighteen-year period without being knowledgeable about any slights made about my weight. I created a comfortable groove that I barely questioned until that life-changing memoir came on the queue. Instead of internally interrogating how I appeared in these social circumstances, one consistent thought emerged – why was I so afraid of being seen in my divine fullness?

I kept these thoughts to myself as 2018 wrapped up, but I was ready to operationalize the answers I’d formed as 2019 dawned.

Along with these considerations of the weight I carried, I entered the new year of 2019 still mourning the loss of my maternal grandmother, as well as considering a move from D.C. to Texas. I understood this period in my life as both a possibility and an opportunity. A possibility to bring a newly discovered appreciation for my large body to Texas, and an opportunity to shed some of the shame that I felt about my weight for twenty-seven years at that point.

I reflected on both thoughts, giving a good deal of consideration to my grandmother and her opinions about big people. Grandma Jackson typically reserved her harsh commentary about large folks for women she deemed to be too big. I contended with the paradox of this ire, recognizing the notes of sexism within it – that I was shielded from – as I got older, but also registering the disdain of fat people that it ultimately signified. I mentally walked through the contradictions, honoring Grandma as a newly minted ancestor and acknowledging that her physical absence allowed me to forge my own legacy in her honor, extricating anything I deemed worthy of removing from my worldview.

I settled into my new apartment in Austin, more than willing to push my former boundaries and experience legitimate pride in my body.

I started small. I swam in my apartment complex’s pool shirtless. I slept in the same manner. I researched more writing and speaking engagements from Dr. Gay, picked up Thick by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, and I followed Sonya Renee Taylor on social media. All of these luminaries provided unique insights on how anti-Blackness intersects with fatphobia to reinforce to so many people that their bodies are inadequate and worthy of their contempt. As I grew more confident in my body – understanding the ways in which this discontentment had been built by a personal and collective history – I also had moments where I reverted to the psyche of that husky kid trying on large clothes from JCPenney.

***

The true test came in December of 2019. My dear friend Amber was turning thirty, and she invited a group of us to commemorate this milestone with her in Palm Springs. My self-assurance with my weight grew consistently in the six months directly preceding this trip. Before I flew to California, I’d even gone on a shirtless walk around Lady Bird Lake in Austin – an activity I’d grown to greatly enjoy during my time in the city and a previously unthinkable way to do it.

Amber is known to many as the High Priestess of Black Joy, and I knew that she would cultivate the spirit that her moniker evokes throughout any celebration that honored her. It was the end of a decade, an incomparable thirtieth birthday, and the holiday season – my body was well-equipped to carry me through this momentous occasion.

We converged in Palm Springs from every corner of the country, unified by our commitment to Black joy, Black feminism, and our unyielding love for Amber.

That weekend was everything you’d imagine a proper thirtieth birthday party to be. We ate well, laughed, smoked, and shared so many stories, toasting Amber and ourselves along the way. In a signal to my completely conferred happiness with my body, I appeared on Amber’s Instagram stories without a shirt on – something I wouldn’t have even thought about doing a year prior to that date. I felt 180 degrees away from that husky boy; in the process of experiencing that glorious weekend, I imagined that some form of full acceptance of who I’d grown up to be – over the course of twenty eight years up to that point – took place.

To top off this transformation, at the zenith of the weekend, we recorded a choreographed twerk video, led by the inimitable Director of Praise and Twerkship, Jazmine Da K.O.S Walker.

That weekend reinforced that my body belonged to me and should be uplifted as often as possible as I continue to draw breath.

The events of Amber’s thirtieth wrapped up, and we all went our separate ways – perhaps even anticipating some form of a reunion in December 2020. Of course, that expectation far departed from reality. The coronavirus pandemic settled in, and I decided to temporarily move back to my parents’ home in Oklahoma. It turns out that the weight fluctuations that come with a once-in-a-century global health crisis tend toward gain over loss.

I came home physically and proverbially – as an adult with much more confidence about his size contending with the kid who returned – in some form – to the circumstances of his childhood.

In 2020, I engaged in conversations with my parents and sister about fatphobia and its relationship with the false equivalence of big people and poor health. They were moderately receptive, but semi-frequent exhortations to watch my caloric intake came from their mouths.

I found the balance where I could; I took my characteristic walks to get fresh air and relieve stress – any impact that this light form of exercise had on my weight was merely incidental. I pushed back sometimes when I considered the examination around my weight to be too much; I bit my tongue more often.

I thought back to that kid meandering throughout various JCPenney Stores in the 1990s and 2000s; I wondered if his present relationship with his size made him proud. I figured that it did, with a big fuck off to minor periods of self-doubt.

I found comfort in the nuance – in the recognition that my relationship with my body didn’t need to be perfect all of the time. It was sufficient to find and hold onto periods of contentment where I could.

Finally, I also acknowledge that people believing my big body to be bad wasn’t always awful; obesity is considered to be a co-morbidity for purposes of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

I finished the process before April began.

Stigma around fatness may still exist for now, but at least I’ll be around another day to fight for its termination.

As always, my body will carry me through that fight to others I must face.

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Pandemic Reflections on Money

This piece originally appeared in Vox Populi Public Sphere on February 10, 2021

To the Sumlins, whose generosity will never be forgotten

Money stresses. Read that as a subject and verb as well as a general, ever-present thought. Michael Arceneaux, my fellow Howard alum, writes about this subject with painful eloquence in I Don’t Want To Die Poor, inspiring me to lay out here my own complicated relationship with money.

Throughout my adult life, money has always been there – or should I say my fixation on my lack of money is perennially there. As a child, I didn’t consider money that much, if at all. My mother worked in corporate America, and my father engaged in ministry work; they created and sustained a very comfortable childhood for me and my sister, beginning with our births in 1991 and 1996 in North Carolina, respectively. We took several trips to Disney World, lived in spacious homes across the Midwest as we moved for my parents’ various work opportunities, and never seemed to experience any delay when requesting the video game system or popular toy of the day. We were a young Black family, and my parents undoubtedly faced the racial discrimination that defines America; my sister and I just felt like our material and spiritual needs were met by the world our parents forged for us. 

In 2009, I enrolled at Howard University, and my parents and sister moved to Oklahoma. My father assumed the senior pastorship of a historically Black church in east Oklahoma City – – the historically Black section of the city. Although my parents and I never discussed the specifics of their income, I had every indication that we were pretty well off. I began my college career, opened a college checking account that October, and settled into a plane of possibilities. Fully controlling money was certainly a new experience for my 18-year old self. I worked only one job during my time in high school; I was a junior barista for a Black-owned coffee shop in downtown Columbus, Ohio. During this short-lived period of brewing espresso and preparing chai tea lattes, I deposited my earnings in a pre-existing bank account that my mother had. I couldn’t have made over $150, and, after I quit, I largely reverted to requesting money from my parents when I wanted to hang out with my friends. Just a couple years later, I was in D.C. with a bonafide debit card, using scholarship money and contributions from family to assert my independence in any way I could. 

I considered myself to be relatively engaged in politics during this period of my life, but the reality of the Great Recession likely didn’t fully register in my mind. As the Obama Administration settled into power and ensured that corporations were shielded from bankruptcy, I remained blissful in simply moving the few hundred dollars in my bank account at any given time from this restaurant on U Street to that Howard swag from the bookstore. As I went through my upper years at Howard, I came to deepen my interest in politics by running for and working in student government. As a bonus, I learned that the positions paid modest stipends over the course of the academic year. This policy partially paved the path for me to study abroad in South Africa during the summer of 2011. Between steady family support and additions to my bank account from student government roles, I rarely thought about money. During that time, enough of it was at my disposal. 

Then in 2012, in a moment likely felt by nearly all Black Americans at some point in their lives, the finite nature of money steadily took up all the energy it could. My parents faced a church split, and my father’s income vanished for a time. Although my mother later became a teacher, she didn’t have a salaried job when they first moved to Oklahoma. Although my father started another church soon after his official ouster from his previous role, the instability of that period pushed my parents to seek bankruptcy protections. At the same time, as I entered my senior year of college,  I lost the merit scholarship that I’d held the previous three years. I thankfully got a paid internship that defrayed some of the costs, but I had to rely on private loans, university grants, and generous contributions from my community. I generally had enough money to see me through to my graduation, but that nine-month time frame made me reconsider just how aware of money I was.  I went from thinking about money occasionally to reflecting on every dime I had pretty much hourly. 

I ended up moving to Louisiana after college to attend law school. I used a similar combination of scholarship money and federal student loans to fund my time in Baton Rouge. Even as some factors improved across my family’s financial station, I began to comprehend during this time in my life that solvency would likely elude me for some time. For one, I knew that I would pursue a career as a public interest lawyer fairly early on in law school, with the incredibly modest pay to accompany it. Over the course of this period, primarily 2013-2016, I benefited from the benevolence of family, friends, and church members in the form of gifts and small loans — tangible, selfless investments in me and the future I sought to pave for myself. 

I got to the end of law school and began my career both deeply indebted to my community and the U.S. government. I returned to D.C. for this purpose, and it quickly became evident just how expensive the city is without the safety net that college provides. I made $42,500 in my first job out of law school in 2016, not including bar prep fees and a small loan repayment stipend. This number is right up the alley of many public service jobs that are available to recent graduates. I soon understood why D.C. ranks among the most expensive U.S. cities, and why it’s prohibitive for so many folks. I rented a room in a large row house in Columbia Heights – just a few blocks away from Howard. I attempted to keep expenses to the necessities of groceries, my car note, and insurance, and I strived to save even a little money. At that point, I was still in the forgiveness period of my student loans, but they loomed. I barely broke even every month. 

After ten months, I was pushed to the financial brink. I had to reach out to a wealthy friend from law school to ask for a formal loan in the amount of $2500. I hated to put her and her husband in that position, but, given my knowledge of U.S. history,  I didn’t feel comfortable asking another Black person for that sum of money. I typed up a contract to indicate that I would pay them back $250 a month for twelve months — bringing that interest rate to a decent 20% — and they agreed. Soon after, I took another job that conferred a nearly $20,000 increase. I paid them back on time, but that entire first year in D.C. made me fully aware of how America’s legacy of anti-Blackness was playing out in my life. 

I did everything right, but I perpetually had very little money. I found time to travel to places that I wanted to go, such as Mexico City, but a sentiment resembling guilt often settled in my mind. During this time, if I had a disposable $500, I was doing excellently. Toward the middle of 2018, I was almost a year into my new role, and my sister, now a recent college graduate, decided to come to D.C. to get a master’s degree from Georgetown. I found a new apartment to accommodate us. I liked what I saw when I toured it, but it was a two-bedroom apartment within D.C. limits — an inherently expensive thing. As I prepared to move out of my old residence and welcome my sister to the District, cash dwindled. 

I sat in my car one morning that summer, about a month prior to her scheduled arrival. I was stressed by the math of money that constantly made little sense, and then it dawned on me to download the Uber Driver app. I provided all the information it required — driver’s license number, a background check, and car insurance info — and began when it all got approved. This commenced a grueling schedule. I woke up at 6 a.m. or earlier to drive Uber before my salaried job began each day. If I could get an airport run in, I usually could make $35 for the day. I grabbed coffee from the neighborhood 7-11 to get the energy I needed each morning, then I prayed it would carry me several hours ahead in the day to 5 p.m., when I usually left work. 

Perhaps, more than any prior epoch in my life, this time period solidified my anti-capitalist politics. I worked hard balancing two jobs; it still wasn’t enough to achieve financial stability in a meaningful way. 

I appreciated having a little cushion as my sister and I settled into our new home, and we established our collaborative dynamic as adult siblings. However, I realized that the childhood days of obliviousness about money were certainly relics of the past. I thought about money every second – covering bills, sending money to family if I could, saving for vacations with friends. It took up virtually all the space, even as I learned and grew more at my job, where I combatted the school-to-prison pipeline and attacked felony disenfranchisement laws. 

It is clear how I viewed the world, then and now: through an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, abolitionist lens. Still, money practically dominated all aspects of my life. 

That year in D.C. with my sister, cherished as it was, moved very swiftly. I took a job in Texas as she graduated from Georgetown; she charted a path back to Oklahoma to become a high school chemistry teacher. The South called us home, seemingly offering stability. I got an apartment in Austin, started my new job, and tipped my hat to my highest salary to date. I learned I would become an uncle right before I moved to Texas; I could use the wiggle room of a higher salary to dote on my niece. Then, old student loan debts came due, ill-advised romantic pursuits materialized — with the financial requests to boot — and I found myself downloading the Lyft Driver app in February 2020. 

I completed approximately 30 trips over the course of that month, having no idea what the next ten months would have in store.

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Andrew Reginald Hairston: Pandemic Reflections on Money

I did everything right, but I perpetually had very little money.

Andrew Reginald Hairston: Pandemic Reflections on Money
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On the 46th POTUS

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. has begun his term as the 46th President of the United States.

81 million people, myself included, cast ballots for him in the fall of 2020. Over 155 million people voted in total, bringing turnout rates to their highest levels in well over half-a-century.

Between the two options presented to the electorate, Mr. Biden seemed to be the necessary choice, if one had to be made at all. I could and likely will dedicate another essay to the undue onus placed on Black people, particularly Black women, to ‘save our democracy’ at the polls.

He selected a running mate who energized the race and brought an impressive set of history-making credentials with her; Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian person to assume the vice presidency. This achievement marks another milestone on a career of firsts for Vice President Harris – first Black woman DA of San Francisco, first Black woman Attorney General of California, first Black woman U.S. Senator from California.

Moreover, Mr. Biden ran against an unapologetically racist, self-enriching, aspiring dictator. After an exhausting five years, including his hateful, fear-mongering campaign for the presidency, Mr. Biden’s immediate predecessor departed from the White House in utter shame as the first president to be impeached twice and with virulent notes of white supremacy flowing from his mouth until the very end of his tenure.

However, the legacy of Mr. Biden’s predecessor endures through his imprint on the federal judiciary and the flames of white resentment that he stoked with renewed fervor and that still burn with great intensity.

Again, since Mr. Biden is now the president, he possesses the power to start addressing centuries of harm that have fallen upon the backs of Black and Brown people. Throughout his career, Mr. Biden has been consistent. He unequivocally supports the brutal economic system of racial capitalism, the U.S. imperialist war machine through its military, and the rugged individualism required to achieve the ‘American dream.’ Like many old men, he abused his power and was credibly accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade, a former staffer; this troubling accusation was largely swept under the rug during the 2020 campaign because Mr. Biden’s opponent had more.

Even during a global health crisis that has claimed over 400,000 lives in the United States alone – and a reckoning with racist police violence that led to the largest social movement in American history last summer – Mr. Biden opposes universal healthcare, the cancellation of all student loan debt, and reducing funding to police departments across the country.

As has been the case for the past 50 years, the prison industrial complex grows in intensity as millions of people languish in cages. Mr. Biden championed the 1994 Crime Bill, freeing up millions of dollars to flow to police departments and prisons across the country. He claimed in his victory speech on November 7, 2020 that Black Americans had his back during the general election, so now he has ours; During his inaugural address yesterday, he declared that we can deliver racial justice. Yet, he now offers no remarks on reparations, continues his unyielding support for policing, and has already begun to back track on the $2,000 stimulus relief he promised while campaigning.

$2,000 turned into $1,400, which turned into more calls for unity with white supremacists who attacked the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago under the direction of Mr. Biden’s predecessor. There are no signs that Mr. Biden will soon abandon his allegiance to corporations, the U.S. military, police departments, and prisons – death-making institutions that they all are. All the while, millions of people are suffering in this nation, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Brown, as folks struggle to pay rent, settle bills, and care for their families.

Looming over everything, imperialism and capitalism have driven the world to the brink of ecological collapse, with the window narrowly closing on the time to execute the drastic action that is needed to mitigate the suffering of billions of people

So here we are. The world quite literally cannot take the strains that this empire has placed upon it. A diverse cabinet and the placement of phrases such as COVID-19, Racial Equity, and Climate as priority areas on the White House website do not change the fact that there aren’t proposals for recurring monthly stimulus checks and even a mere recognition that the U.S. military is one of the largest drivers of climate change in this moment.

Despite it all, Mr. Biden still has an opportunity to turn away from the incremental neoliberalism that has defined his career. He can enact meaningful policies in coordination with the 117th Congress, led by Democrats. Mr. Biden can push for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, steady stimulus payments retroactive to the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival on American shores, widespread student loan debt cancellation, reparations for Black Americans, a return of broad swaths of land to Indigenous peoples, and a severe reduction of funding to the military & police departments – in favor of social services that have been deprived of those critical funds for decades.

We don’t have much time left. People are dying and suffering daily. The world is bending to its breaking point under our pressure.

How will Mr. Biden meet this moment? How will we as we strive to push him to necessary action?

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UALR Law Review – Summer 2020 School Policing Article

In the fall of 2019, I presented at the annual Ben Altheimer Law Review Symposium at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law; my talk concerned school policing in Texas and Arkansas.

I am pleased to share an article that developed from that presentation, Toward the End of School Policing in Texas and Arkansas.

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Reflections from a Black Lawyer on Juneteenth

This piece originally appeared on the American Constitution Society’s ExpertForum blog to commemorate Juneteenth 2020.

I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer early on in my childhood.

If you had asked me for the source of this career aspiration ten years ago, I likely would’ve referenced the John Grisham novels that I consumed as a kid. Then I would’ve told you about the inspiring example set by my aunt Joy, a solo practitioner based in Louisiana.

I became a lawyer at 25 and took great pride in fulfilling that dream – both for myself and my family. Now, with four years of practice behind me, I can stop and reflect more incisively on what it means to be a Black lawyer in the twenty-first century.

As a preliminary point, my 2020 self will be more forthcoming about why I became an attorney. It is a thought process that Black people have employed for nearly 250 years in this country and for more than 400 years on this land, all in an effort to survive: I wanted to become a lawyer to prove that I am worthy. To demonstrate that I am deserving of the accommodations I occupy, the work in which I engage, and the existence that is my own.

I became a lawyer to validate my bookish ways, to show that Black people can be attorneys, and to tell the world that I’m exceptional. Taking this reasoning to its logical conclusion, I should therefore be given what my ancestors were consistently denied.

Not surprisingly, I played right into the hands of respectability politics with this rationale.

By diving into my legal career and reading more about America’s deep-rooted investment in anti-Black racism, I learned how tenuous my true justification was.

Grappling with the works of writers like Isabel Wilkerson, Toni Morrison, and Ibram X. Kendi,I saw that the consistent denial of the full humanity of Black people was integral to every era of this country’s development. Despite our tenacity and ability to adapt within inhumane conditions, armed forces – whether white vigilantes or organized police departments – rose up to destroy any progress that had been made and slaughter entire communities of Black people.

I think of Black people across the South who sought and won elected office during Reconstruction, only to be thwarted by the Compromise of 1877 and the removal of federal troops from the South. I consider the circumstances of the prosperous Greenwood community in Tulsa, Oklahoma – burned to the ground in mere hours as Black adults and children were massacred by their white neighbors. I look back to the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia 35 years ago, and I recognize how all levels of the United States government have either been complicit in the racial violence inflicted upon Black people or have been the direct perpetrators of it.

In my work for two racial justice organizations in D.C. – the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Advancement Project’s National Office – I witnessed how the school-to-prison pipeline and voter disenfranchisement laws attempt to relegate Black people to a subhuman category in present times. I tracked the legacies of centuries-old racist policies that operate to keep Black people away from decent housing, adequate health care, the ballot box, educational opportunities, and employment prospects. I heard from directly impacted people who fought to dismantle draconian laws and policies in their communities. I began to more fully understand how deep of a commitment this country has to white supremacy.

But, through all of this state-sanctioned violence and white domestic terrorism, at least I could proclaim that I’m an attorney?

Arriving at this moment – in the midst of a global pandemic and international uprisings against police violence – I feel compelled to reject the tenets of respectability politics even more forcefully. I am certainly determined to use my occupation on the quest to Black liberation, but my career definitely won’t be the thing that saves me.

Black people have done everything imaginable to prove our humanity; we shouldn’t feel any pressure to do anything else.

Despite that truth, I draw much inspiration from what feels like the present revolutionary moment. Black people find themselves alongside multiracial throngs of protesters – all speaking out against police violence and proudly shouting that Black Lives Matter. Local government bodies are taking significant steps to defund police departments, yielding to the pressure placed on them by organizers and community members for years. These notions fit squarely within the framework of prison industrial complex abolition, with the work of Black women like Dr. Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba increasingly entering the public discourse.

Most encouraging of all, people continually acknowledge that the experiences of all Black people must be elevated. A historic march for Black trans lives occurred a day prior to the Supreme Court ruling that the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extend to LGBTQ people. Such actions are critical in a moment where so many people are calling for a radical reimagining of public safety.

One outside of police, surveillance measures, and prisons. One where Black people, especially women and LGBTQ people, feel as though thorough systems of accountability are in place to address harms that may occur.

This Juneteenth, as I look toward the future with a sense of optimism, I take great joy in my individual journey as a Black person and attorney, as well as the collective sojourn of my people. I will continually push back against that urge to be respectable or otherwise perfect to fully engage with my humanity.

I thank the Black people who received word of their freedom in Texas 155 years ago for providing blueprints for a proper celebration and an on-going struggle for justice.

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Fifteen Years on Social Media

It began in 2006. Or perhaps I should say 2004?

If we start in 2005, as a compromise, I can likely pinpoint the moment. I sat in the computer lab in the downtown location of the Columbus Public Library. It was the midpoint of a summer church camp experience, and we took a field trip to the library to pass the days of the season. During one of our thirty-minute sessions, my friends and I chatted about a website called Black Planet.

Intrigued, I went to the website to determine the eligibility criteria. Just be 13? Oh, that would be perfect. I was either approaching or had just passed my fourteenth birthday.

Based on the username that I chose, I imagine that it was the former.

finegenius13

Man, I was such an imaginative child. Fine because I thought I was cute, genius because I just knew I was intelligent, and 13 to commemorate my age at the time.

As soon as I finalized my profile, the creative wonders of Black Planet followed. One could change the design of their page, add music to it, find the pages of friends, and post one’s biography. What wasn’t to love in the mind of a self-aggrandizing teenager?

My Black Planet page remained active for a few years, though it was soon followed by a Myspace account. The revolution seemed to continue with this new medium. One could put their top friends on display for the world to see, add pictures of cars & models to convey one’s interests, and post on the pages of others to see what was going on. Did I mention that music that was also a thing on Black Planet found itself on Myspace as well?

It’s worth mentioning that people born in the year 2000 or later might actually be familiar with Black Planet, given Solange’s recent attempt to revive the platform.

All of this was good until something called Facebook came around. Once I heard of it, I likely began lurking around it, waiting for its exclusive walls to fall. Some may recall – others may not – that in the early days of Facebook, one needed a college email account to join. However, the policy must’ve shifted in the fall of 2006, when I joined.

I imagine if you’re reading this, you likely came to it from Facebook. As you scrolled past Thanksgiving family photos, recipes from BuzzFeed, and a Facebook status from your great aunt, you likely found this.  As ubiquitous as this platform is in our lives, there was a time when kids used it as a text messaging service. It is so funny to go back to the 2006-2009 version of Andrew as told by Facebook, and I guess this serves as an invitation for you to go and see for yourselves. Just don’t hold the worst content against me, please?

Right as I reached the prime Facebook years, I headed off to college, waited a few years, and then signed up for a new site called Twitter. I joined as @moderngriot around 2011, inspired by some of my African Studies classes in undergrad. Don’t worry, I deleted that one, though I’m sure some tech savvy people could resurrect that profile from the far corners of the Internet.

Add Instagram in 2012, and then you have the current trifecta. Following a period during which I thought I could preserve some anonymity on social media, I decided to go by @andrewrhairston on all three platforms a few years ago. These days, it’s not too hard to find my full name through any of the three sites. Even considering the overlap, I have thousands of friends & followers through the three mediums – which is a fascinating thought.

By reflecting on my use of social media, I must address the various problems that frequently come up on these cultural mainstays. A non-exhaustive list includes the general amount of privacy that one gives up by engaging with the platforms, credible allegations of housing discrimination against Black people through Facebook advertisements, misinformation that resulted in 45’s election in 2016, the omnipresence of Neo-Nazis on all of the platforms, & issues with how truthful politicians can or cannot be in their advertisements.

Personally, I recall making an internal vow to not post Instagram stories when they were introduced to the platform. I downloaded Snapchat* for a second, but then I deleted it just as quickly. I was concerned that it’d create a Black Mirror-type of opportunity to overshare, and Instagram stories seemed to present a similar scenario. Then a birthday trip to Nashville arose in July 2018, and my dear friend Amber showed me how the tool could be used for impactful storytelling. I now fully see where she was coming from; these days, I probably average one story per week.

As I write this, it’s been astounding to sit back and think about my transformation, as well as that of social media, over the past fifteen years. What started as a way to jest with friends and express childhood crushes has developed into a way to learn of earthly transition & mourn in solidarity with the families of the departed, publicly. My late grandmother was the only one of my grandparents to have a Facebook, and it brings warm memories to visit her “Remembering” page on the site. As I grow older with grace, it’s heartwarming to look back on the tangible evidence of that progression.

Even with all of the concerns I listed, I doubt I’m leaving the platforms anytime soon. They are helpful to me – in sharing moments with the people I love, grieving with folks when someone passes away, and – through creative ways – sharing my vision for a racially just world. I get to dote on the little ones entering the world from friends & family, share humorous musings through tweets & my stories, raise money for causes near to my heart, and – maybe most importantly – refine my writing by sharing it through these platforms. Despite the vitriol & toxicity that can exist on them, it is worth – for now – interacting with them to sustain the connections I’ve built throughout my life, forge authentic new ones, and share a good laugh or two. It’s the least that we all deserve in this world.

– Andrew Hairston

*A very honorable mention to Vine, which existed on my phone for about six weeks in the summer of 2013. Amber’s tutelage also led me to that platform, though it didn’t quite stick. Vine walked so TikTok could run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Clemency Section Letter – Rodney Reed

If you’ve followed me over the past decade (said in the least self-aggrandizing way possible), you know that the fight to abolish the death penalty is near & dear to my heart.

I began my struggle on this front at Howard. In the fall of 2011, a number of students on campus protested the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. Although he was ultimately put to death, I continued my advocacy during the rest of my college years. Of note, I contributed to & participated in a successful fight to end capital punishment in Maryland.

Eight years later, the issue remains as pressing as it’s ever been. More attention is growing to the case of Rodney Reed here in Texas. However, more attention is needed, as his execution is currently scheduled for November 20.

As such, I’m getting plugged back into the anti-capital punishment fight in earnest. I participated in a rally at UT-Austin today, and I wrote a letter to the Clemency Section of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. You can find it here.

I remain in solidarity with all who are fighting against the racist system of American capital punishment, advancing the work of prison-industrial complex abolition, and struggling for a more just future for humanity.

– Andrew Hairston

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