In moments such as these, when I find myself overwhelmed by the news, I often find myself seeking emotional and intellectual solace in an endless news feed hoping to make some sense out of my world. It is always in vain. I inevitably become inundated with all the half-digested thoughts and emotions of my social circle. My habitual anecdote is more of the same spiritual poison.
Some nights, after I force myself disconnect and I try to sleep, I am struck with the after images of all the disparate thoughts and emotions and data points of the day. Images of Black Lives Matter protestors, refugees from Syria, bombs in Beirut, body bags in Paris and the occasional loving messages and words of support. As a Black Lives matter organizer and artist, I am constantly concerned with state of “the movement.” At the same time, I see and empathize with my Muslim comrades who feel a similar, but perhaps even more omnipresent and ill defined, uneasiness. Flashes of protests, mass arrests, unlawful detainments and police states constantly mix with shared stories, laughter and organizing pot luck’s in my mind’s eye.
They come to me in such a flurry that it makes it hard to sleep. I see every issue in an intricate web of causations and connections; spiraling matrixes of micro and macro problems and solutions. Some connections are strong but weakening, others are newer and just gaining steam. What follows is an attempt to pull together all those disparate thoughts of the past week into something useful or at least something out of my own skull and into the wide world where perhaps it will be easier to manage.
What follows are preliminary materials. An intellectual appetizer for a longer conversation on how all these disparate things are connected…
We live in remarkable times. The current moment is one of both supreme horror and hope. We live in an era of social media informed landscapes and digital paradigmatic terrains where images of inhuman brutality and human kindness are constantly blasted at us from various screens which are worlds unto themselves. Our lives are lived in and between these worlds.
Our hours are spent breezing from laughter in Kenya, to death in Ferguson, to the bitter-sweet changes of our own cities and college campuses. We are flooded with a barrage of cat pictures, body bags leaving Paris concert halls and meme’s of Syrian babies floating in the Mediterranean. From this reality rises a constant tension between the internet as a liberatory tool for harnessing the power of information and as the locus of psychological warfare.
Every image of Black bodies brutalized is simultaneously a call to action and a reminder our place in this oppressive illiberal democracy. Each video set to auto play on your Facebook wall is both the strange fruit left hanging from the poplar trees and the image of Emmett Till’s bloated and beaten body on the front page cover of Jet Magazine that galvanized northern Blacks in the beginning of the civil rights movement.
Every photo of the Obama family posing in front of a camera is both an inspiring reminder of how far we have come as nation and a dangerous distraction from the plight of most American Blacks too broke, too queer, too marginalized, too undocumented, or too prosecuted to enjoy the privileges that the first family is accustomed to. Every mean of Obama “being the Blackest thing this week” is a distraction from the fact that Obama orders the deaths of Black and Brown people with near daily drone strikes.
This technological context also gives birth to a new kind of lived experience. This digital landscape creates a vicarious experience of shared trauma and triumph that is rendered no less real through social media. Our capacity for empathy is increased as we see lives like ours lived in different contexts. So too is our capacity for indignation and rage. With all this comes a paradoxical emotional burnout that can lead to desensitizing ourselves to our own pain and joy.
We feel the agony of communities across the world rocked by violence. We celebrate the joy of small measures of justice. Our blood boils with everybody left to lay in the sun for 4.5 hours on little known street in a city where we have never been. And sometimes, we can no longer react as the world seems too much. We seek solace on our social media feeds, looking to be spiritually fed, only to lose more of our selves in the onslaught.
As is too often the case, the technology that changes the private lives of Americans is mirrored [or fueled] by a change in modern warfare. The same technological advances that allow for cell phone cameras with the same resolutions as digital cameras allow for drone warfare. The automations of war exists in same disgusting dualities of our digital lives.
The tantalizing idea that “boots on the ground” are no longer necessary is marred by the reality that each drone takes out dozens of civilians for each “target.” Attempts to kill a few dozen men have killed over a thousand civilians in war torn countries. Each American solider saved [themselves often young poor people of color] comes at the devastating cost of dozens of innocent lives. Warfare then becomes both infinitely more destructive and simultaneously easier to justify. All the human misery becomes unsorted data points in the age of unparalleled information for folks back home.
These drones strikes in countries many of us have never been and can’t pronounce fuel the stories of terrorism that fill up our feeds. The militarized policing that we react to in this country are similarly the surplus gear and ideology from the same war and same neo-colonial ideologies of collective punishment. Like all of us who seek solace from this moment in our social media feeds only to get more overloaded, our leaders respond to acts of terror and community uprisings with more drone strikes, surveillance and urban warfare.
Our anecdotes are always more of the same poison.
This moment is also huge. We live in times larger than we can hold in our thoughts. Our collective yearning for liberation is too large to be contained in one movement or one series of campaigns. As is always the case, Black America does not fight for freedom in a vacuum. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Black Liberation Movement it is trying to breathe life into, are not the only movements for liberation present in the world, America or even here in the District of Columbia.
Because Black people sit at the bottom of every hierarchy, when Black people move, the whole nation moves with them. This is even more evident in a movement for Black lives which whose catalyst was low-income youth in Ferguson, Missouri and whose first leaders were queer Black women. Black liberation is influenced by the all the preceding and concurring movements and continues to inspire more.
The ongoing movement for gender equality from #Wematter to radical feminist college groups organizing against sexual assault have been building alongside struggles for radical redefinitions of citizenship and immigration reform. The environmental movement in America is being transformed, slowly but surely, from upper-middle class white escapism to a struggle for survival and the ability to thrive in front-line communities exemplified in anti-coal mining struggles in West Virginia, Anti-Fracking movements in California, and the re-envisioning of urban life by the predominantly Black residents of Inner-City Detroit.
Small triumphs build on each other and new culture of resistance is growing. A shared movement culture of intersectionality and radical self-care is taken fledgling steps at establishing a small and fragile but invaluable counter hegemony. Women of color, especially Black women, are finally starting to be given their recognition as the engines of history. Queer liberation and Trans* liberation are challenging long held norms and opening up the possibilities for radically different ideas about leadership, collaborative solidarity and the very goals of liberation.
With the reigniting of a movement for Black Liberation we are also seeing a renewed interest in collective liberation. For organizers and activist just coming to their own, the idea that none of us are free until all of us are free is almost a given.
It is now standard to say that we are all intertwined in these interlocking systems of privileges and oppressions. It is becoming as meaningless to talk of one’s own liberation in terms of a single identity as it is to talk about your people’s liberation without talking about your neighbor’s.
Though parts of the old guard might be struggling to comes to terms with it, Black liberation cannot go an inch further than Black men are willing to destroy patriarchy. For how can Black people be free if 51% of us are in bondage to our husbands, brothers and fathers? Likewise, Black people cannot be free if trans* people are not free. For how can we say we have ended state sanctioned violence against Black people if being trans* while Black means an early death for so many of our people?
Yet these movements exist in the context of their opposition as well. There is a Black Lives Matter movement because there has been a massive, constant and fluid re-organization of the hegemonic powers of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy to infuse a neo-liberal commodification and alienation into every aspect of life. This marginalization necessitates the constant re-enslavement and faux emancipation of Black people. Each cycle brings emancipation from a myriad collection of systems of brutalization and into more systematic disempowerment. The solutions society gives to our problems only seek to re-invest ourselves in newer systems of oppression.
The solution to bad schools is breaking the teacher’s union [i.e. destroying Black worker power], zero tolerance policies [creating the school to prison pipeline] and creation of charter schools [creates influx of exploitable white non-union workers]. All of this ends in a massive interlocked system of prisons, military and police recruitment.
The beach heads of this system are often authoritarian schools now nearly synonymous with charter schools that condition the Black consciousness to respond “respectively and professionally” to hierarchical violence. Demerit systems and behavioral report cards teach Black students to respect autocratic though inconsistent white leadership and culture and to constantly police themselves.
Never in this endless barrage of testing and job training to do we wonder if we are making our children less human when we treat them like machines. Passive receivers of knowledge will create no symphonies and will run no participatory democracies. And yet we still decry to fate of our public discourse.
Donald Trump spews hatred on national television. Complex problems are reduced to simple stories of American masculine power and the barbaric other. We watch, laughing at the joke until it is no longer funny.
Always the specter of totalitarianism strains it’s ugly head to see if it’s time to strike.
These solutions are of course also profitable to those with power. Private funding for charter school buildings often means that they are harbingers of displacement [often erroneously labeled gentrification.] Nicer schools signal the possibility of better schools which brings in young white professionals looking to settle down. Destroying public sector unions, which are the building blocks of the Black middle class, is happening at the same time as the privatization of government services. This ensures that the government leadership [mostly white men] can save money by contracting out essential public services to other white men whose services are cheaper in part because their workers are not unionized and can be paid less.
These savings are then passed on to upper incomes through regressive tax breaks. Any disruption in quality of services provided by the government [failing education, disintegrating public housing, closing of mental health facilities] is then funneled into the private prison system by the criminalization of Blackness, Trans* identity, and poverty. This criminalization is facilitated through drag net applications of anti-loitering laws, debtor’s prisons, the drug war, vice squads, broken windows policing and the like. Capitalists end up making money on both ends, the promise of reform and the cost of the failure of that reform, thus besieging Black communities on all sides.
All of these systems contribute to the problematizing of Blackness in the now nearly illiterate public discourse. Black communities are constantly seen as in crisis. These crises are driven to the center of public discourse by both well-meaning white liberals who neglect to listen to solutions put forth by Black communities and bigoted Democrats and Republicans.
These crises are then turned into to opportunities by the same mercenary capitalist that helped create them. Banks peddle government backed capital loans for aforementioned authoritarian charter schools. These schools set white savior complexes couched in the realities of intergenerational poverty and the misinterpretation of the flawed Moynihan report as the basis of their pedagogy.
White, upper-middle class, college educated women are then “needed” to “save” constantly in crisis Black communities by emulating the stern strictness of the mythic and now incarcerated Black father. They are hired and trained to instill the values the parents are deemed too poor, too high, or too miseducated to do themselves. Unfortunately, they are not trained to actually develop or teach children, only manage them with same relational managements systems they are subject to at work.
Likewise, the tripartite commodification of women as sexual objects, consummate consumers, and marginalized workers has increased in this new era of neo-liberalism. These same young teachers are supposed to lean into their new found positions as teacher, role-model, social worker and nurse with neither adequate training nor the protections or salary of a union.
White female teachers in urban areas are meticulously marketed to– just as their under-funded [or simply poorly funded] schools and unscrupulous charter school CEO’s require them to spend more and more of their own money on school supplies. This forces women to simultaneously be marginalized workers and consummate consumers. This is all on top of the trend pieces chastising women for dressing too promiscuously at work while simultaneously telling women that in the new era of sexual liberation if they are single, it’s because they are not putting themselves out there.
These interlocking systems continue on. Older Black women are fired or forced to take pay cuts to make way for these younger, whiter, non-unionized workers to teach their children. Black women who are able to hold onto the jobs face incredible low glass ceilings for promotions and leadership opportunities. Undocumented Latino workers are forced to work below the minimum wage building these new schools in gentrifying neighborhoods or converting old schools to start-ups in neighboring Black neighborhoods. They work long hours and experience billions of dollars in wage theft yet are called lazy welfare leeches who should just go home to countries ruined by NAFTA, the Monroe Doctrine, Chicago Boys and the School of the Americas.
Asian, Pacific Islanders and Middle-Eastern Americans are generally left out of the narratives of oppression but not immune to the systems themselves. As wages decrease the market for cheap goods, services and food increases and recent immigrants find themselves working in terrifying conditions, for too many hours and not enough pay. Second and third generation immigrants often find themselves not much better off though their narratives are overshadowed by their much wealthier counterparts who are the exception and not the rule. This robs them of their own means of resistance even as their position at the intersection of so many forms of oppression makes their leadership and organization invaluable.
Muslims Americans find themselves being racialized as Counter Violent Extremism [CVE] programs justify their constant state of surveillance and place as the new fundamentally unassimilable aliens. News stories of terrorist attacks abroad that immediately blame undistinguished masses of immigrants only further this narrative of hate. A population educated to receive inputs from white authorities uncritically and fill in bubbles then blames darker skinned refugees for the problems they were fleeing in the first place.
All of this justifies and fuels the extreme rendition and entrapment used during the drug war that is now being perfected on the victims of America’s Petro-empire ambitions and islamophobic projections. Subtle moves to expand the dehumanization of a religion turned ethnic group become overt just the backlash against Black liberation movements connect with an ever present anti-immigrant sentiment that never completely forgets that a plurality of Muslims are Black.
This volatile mix of anti-Blackness and islamophobia is the perfect cocktail for America’s ruling military industrial deep state to justify imperialism to a war weary pseudo democracy. The ever present hooded and hijabed threats are the Kool-Aid that allows for troops to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan as unremarked as tanks riding down main streets in mid-western cities.
Again, it is the same small party of banks, investors and industrialists who profit from interlocking these systems.
Yet and still, these populations find moments of liberation in their resistance. Charm City erupts in cries of “Unity Baltimore” after indictments [stop gap measures to a city in flames] roll down like tainted water, quenching some of the fires lit by the brutalization of Freddie Gray. From the economic deprivation and social isolation that is the kindling to these fires comes the art, Hip Hop, poems, street theatre and Black feminist freedom songs of a new generation of intersectional maroon societies.
There is bitter-sweet release in saying her name and remembering her life. There is a confidence, a distinctly Black swagger of upliftment, in believing that we gon be alright. There is an inexplicable joy in shouting to the universe that “we ready, we coming.” All the cross the country #BlackJoy and #Blackgirlmagic are becoming as powerful rallying cries as #Blackrestance. These new movements understand what Audre Lourde meant when she said “self-care is a revolutionary act.”
Yet these celebrations are not the “respectable and professional” displays we were taught to show in schools. The dominant cultural lens through which we tend to hear about such demonstrations is mostly white, nebulously middle class and male.
This same overwhelmingly white but dwindling and darkening middle class that politicians love to champion during debates was created off the backs of immigrants, forced migrants and their children. Happy white families and stable white communities are the benefactors of these systems of oppression. They benefit even as the cost of assimilating to whiteness forces their children flee the sterile suburbs for the grit, reality vibrancy of urban life. Yet even these communities find themselves threatened as housing crises, spree killings, the marginalizations of workers and the degradation of the environment now threaten their fragile way of life.
These systems and spiraling matrixes continue on, zooming in and out and around, until the whole of human interaction is seen in this tension between marginalization and liberation; prosperity and poverty. Lives spent caught in systems of pain and enthralled in networks of joy. We find small but meaningful moments of liberation in our own spaces, marches and festivals but find our ownership of cultural space threatened at every turn by a desire to be post-identity as if that would make us post-difference.
This new material context, this vicarious lived experience that makes us Trayvon White and Eric Garner and Michael Brown also makes us Rekia Boyd, Relisha Rudd and Islan Nettles. Yet we must not stop there, we must also be the living Black children, we must also be Malala Yousafzai, we must be Epifanio Alvarez, we must be families in Detroit whose water is cut off and families in West Virginia whose water is undrinkable. If All Black people are to truly be free than we must destroy all the hierarchies of power, wealth and privilege not merely change our place within it.
With global capital undermining national democracies [TTP] and climate change entering worse case scenarios the need for internationalism is no longer up for debate. Black people are coming to terms with our privilege as Americans coexisting with our place within its mechanisms of marginalization.
A Pan-Africanism born out not out of our shared oppression but rather out of our shared history of resistance is bourgeoning as the era of Black-White dichotomies and clear lines is over. We recognize that massive progress has brought little change. Global capital and climate change still disparately impact darker skinned people and women. We also are beginning to recognize an expanded global Blackness of subaltern populations. From Dalit Panthers in India, to “Black” Aborigines in Australia a new new Negro is rising from the fertile social of post-colonial liberatory resistance.
On and on this new materialism weaves into our ideals and lived experiences pushing us towards a fork in the road. Totalitarianism on a global scale or the struggle for collective liberation. Our collective heads hurt and spin in this complexity and nuance. We must remember to breathe, to sit with our thoughts and remember that they world is spinning because those held it up for so long are starting to move. Our internal queasiness is the aftershocks of hierarchies of oppression being shaken from the bottom up.
All over the world artists and story tellers are creating new markers for a better horizon. Eventually, as we remember to not let this deluge of data dehumanize and destabilize us, we will all march to this forming horizon of global emancipation. We will all get free.