Accountability is a Gift

Accountability is a gift. Even, perhaps especially, when it comes in a form that it is difficult to handle. When I was kicked out of BLM:DC last year, Khadijah approached me and gave me the best advice about accountability I had ever gotten. She said that it’s possible to rebuild from this kind of damage but only if you apologize and only if you apologize what’s actually yours and not more than that. Good advice, but hard to follow.Coming back into this collective was tough and it took the whole group a lot of effort to heal.  I think that most criticism has a kernel of truth to it and it is hard to decide how big or important that kernel is.

The truth is my actions and inactions hurt people I care about. I’m sorry that I have disappointed Schyla, an organizer who I respect, who has defended me and who I have defended to others. I’m sorry that I did not reach out to Melanin Uprising earlier. I’m sorry that I let some of you down and that you feel that my actions did not live up to my rhetoric. This is objectively true. I talk about learning to hold each other, to care for each other, being vulnerable and loving each other in order to get free. I talk about supporting Black women. A lot. Like all the time. I’m never able to live to my own standard. I don’t believe that I say that I do, I think that I try to be clear about my faults and complicity but clearly not enough. Learning to love people in a world that only teaches you how to hate is difficult. Learning to express and receive that love is even more difficult.

I love Chichi. I loved her when we argued over process and I loved her when she walked away from me in Virginia. I wish that she could have heard me in those moments when I told her I love her. I did tell her though. And I did try and show that to her by trying to come up with a process to resolve our conflict in the park that day. That was not how Chichi wanted me to show my love and that’s real.

I do need to say though, that I also love my self and the other members of the collective. When people who love each other disagree and are hurt and angry with each showing love for each other in ways that each other can receive gets real complicated. As I said on Tuesday, Chichi is a phenomenal human being who hurt me and who I hurt. I do feel however that we do all of us, including Chichi, a disservice by making this about an argument in a car in Virginia. This is about hurt people hurting people while trying to get free and the Beautiful Shit show that has been and will always be Black Lives Matter: DC. The was a lot that came before and after that car ride that led us here.

Most of the people who talked only to Chichi before the event assumed she was the victim and came away feeling like we attacked her. I understand that but I do not believe it is true. Most of the people who talked us before the meeting [the handful that asked us questions] saw that there was no victim just hurt people hurting people. For the record, all sides had the opportunity to change the format and invite who they wished. I choose to invite people who I organize with, including non-Black people. I advocated for people with whom I have personal beef with and do not organize with not to be there and I’ll own that, even when they came anyway. I did not want them to use my vulnerability against me. Perhaps that was small of me.

I wish there had been time for community input but we started late. I do realize and own that I did not really look into how to make the process be or appear fair. I did not have the emotional energy after the back and forth of getting it scheduled. I wanted a chance to tell my side of the story because I knew that there was a narrative that, according to some, made me look “foul” that was already out there. At the same time I did not think of my self as the offender.

It was, and is to me, a she said/ he said situation where I decided to wait to say anything until the circle. I waited until the circle to speak out because it seemed like the most constructive thing to do. It still seems that way to me. I’m not sure given how we all felt how this could have better. I was surprised at how gut wrenching it was. I did not expect that to be the case. I now also realize that my silence hurt people in ways I still do not understand. I am sorry if my not reaching out harmed you. I was a lot and I did not know, still do not know, what to do.

Those who are criticizing us now are doing it for all sorts of reasons, most of them seem very valid. We should be real though and acknowledge that most of these criticism existed about BLM:DC before there was any public circle.

BLM:DC is shit show. It always has been. We never quite get all of our ducks in a row. There is always something missing. Something we didn’t know we misunderstood. There is always a better time for us to act; a better way for us to build, share and grow power. We have done some stupid shit. We have not always held people accountable in the most strategic or constructive way [thought there is never a perfect time for critique]. We are not the organizing collective that city deserves [which is why we are not the only one!]. At times I’ve been extremely naïve and sometimes even a bit arrogant. At times I’ve organized from a place of feeling like a victim and feeling disempowered and it was not healthy. I own that. I’m sorry for the hurt that caused.

But it has also been beautiful. We have built something incredible. I feel with have done some things that have never been done. Not alone. Not without the help of the community, this moment, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and with the people who are now holding us accountable. But what WE have built is beautiful. I believe that at our best we have done this city that I love proud. We have leveraged this moment to bring changes to DC. I believe that Erika, Omolara and April and I have helped shift power to Black people in many spaces throughout this city. I think that Chichi was a crucial part of that work and will continue to build power for Black people in DC. Because of that work and because of the work of other chapters and the movement which bears a similar name, BLM:DC is really visible and we have clout. With that clout and visibility comes responsibility. It is a responsibility that I was not, am not, prepared for.

I believe, and I can only speak for myself, that this visibility and the mantle that we have been given was not the kind we asked for. I believe we have never claimed to be the only or most important M4BL group in DC. I think most people who look critically at the work being done would laugh at that suggestion.  Nor have we claimed that our movement, the Movement for Black Lives, is the only thing that matters. I think we used visibility as a tool and resource to try and build Black power. I think we tried to gain visibility for the cause and were not always prepared to handle the type of visibility we got.

I also know that I personally am not ego-less. Getting credit for my work matters to me. I think that the work I do is important and sometimes pretty dope. I believe that it is undoubtable that my ego, and my desire to get credit which stems from so often having people steal my ideas and take credit for them, has made me show up in some ain’t shit nigga ways at meetings. I did not show up to this movement fully formed. I am not a self-less saint. I am still not fully formed. I hope my growth never ends. I’m just an organizer trying to get free and learning on the [unpaid] job.

Yet there is still is these other expectations. I was naïve to not foresee some of them and others still surprise me. And, I still believe that every time we have been given credit for something that we did not deserve we have named that. I also believe that we have tried to use visibility and clout, including that which came from the name and not directly from our actions. I believe we did this to try and get our community free. I believe that the clout of the movement is a common good and we should all have personal use of it. I do not believe that we tried to own it or claim it for our private use. Some of these criticism seem to assume that power or clout or visibility are scarce resources and that if BLM has them no one can get them. I believe community power exists in abundance.

I do know that I tried to use the movement for personal gain, mostly to shut down white people who wouldn’t take me seriously without naming who I organize with. I think that displaying and leveraging personal power is an important tool for this work. I used my visibility, my writing and my organizing to get speaking gigs of $150-$300 to pay my rent [I do not have a 9-5]. I think my speaking engagements are work that furthers the movement and allows me to continue doing all the unpaid work I do. If you disagree or feel I do this in a harmful, disingenuous way, then let’s talk about it.

Also, BLM:DC is often called elitist. Personally, having grown up in this society I am constantly realizing the ideologies of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy that I have internalized. I have internalized a lot of anti-Blackness so its impossible that elitism does not show up in my work. I’m sorry if it showing up in my work has hurt people. It’s not me but it is mine.  That said, some of what folks are calling elitism seems off the mark.

People assume things about me that are not true about how I was raised, how much money I grew up with and have access to now or what I think about people based on their perception of me. That hurts because so much of their perception and valuation is wrong. But it will continue because I will not perform my trauma for people just because they called me out. I will not list the ways that I’ve been oppressed, apologize for not liking to process in public, how I speak or how you perceive me in social situations. I speak a good game because it has always given me power. My ability to write and articulate my thoughts has saved my life. I will not apologize for it or accept your narrative about it means about me. I write a lot, use big words and connect lot of shit to theory because that’s how I think. Just like there are always typos in the shit that I write, because that’s how I am.

I am beautifully flawed human being. I do dope shit. I do dumb shit. I make phenomenal things manifest. I open minds and change hearts. I also hurt people. I let people down. I do strategic things. I have a lot of privilege which I need to be held accountable for. I do amazing things that most people can’t while somethings everyone else does are a real honest to god struggle for me. I put in work. My work, our work, is flawed. If you can do it better then do it better. I’ve always believed my work was necessary but not sufficient. If you think I should stop trying to organize for liberation and you are putting in work [seen or unseen, organizing, art, child care etc] then please reach out to me.

The last thing that I want to say is, I joined BLM DC because I didn’t see anyone doing the kind of organizing I wanted. I hope that this criticism removes whatever pedestal folks have placed us on and cause more people to join the movement to organize how they think it should be done. Transformative accountable community power exist in abundance, it is all of our birthrights.

Going forward I will try to hear the criticism that folks are making about me and my work and about the collective I love. I will reach out to people to hear your thoughts. Please remember that communication works both ways. I won’t have the time or energy to reach out to everyone. I don’t know who all feels some kind of way. I want to do better. I will do better. But I will always falter. That’s what community is for.

Thanks for bearing with this long post.

In love and solidarity,

Aaron

 

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