A Brief Defense of Identity Politics and Intersectionality

“Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify. Identity politics includes the ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations. Examples include social organizations based on race, class, religion, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, ideology, nationality, sexual orientation, culture, language (i.e. regional language / minority language) information preference, history, musical or literary preference, medical conditions, professions, or hobbies. Not all members of any given group are necessarily involved in identity politics.

The term identity politics and movements linked to it came into being during the latter part of the 20th century. It can most notably be found in class movements; feminist movements; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movements; disability movements; ethnic movements; and post-colonial movements.[1] Minority influence, a central component of identity politics, is a form of social influence whereby a majority is influenced by the beliefs or behavior of a minority. Unlike other forms of influence this usually involves a personal shift in private opinion[citation needed] called conversion.” –Wikipedia [using Wikipedia to talk about our colloquial use of terms, not out of laziness or a belief that it has the most accurate or useful definition of terms]

 

 

We fight about identity politics constantly in today’s political culture. Everyone, on the left and the right, seem to be against identity politics. Paul Ryan is against identity politics and argues instead for us to recognize our “Americanness.” Some Black Nationalists, both cultural and revolutionary, say that it is meaningless, naïve or lacking in actual understanding of the how power works. Some Marxist tend to deride it for being “insufficiently Marxist” which can mean anything from being naïve, liberal, not anti-capitalist or misunderstanding the material construction of reality in favor of ideas. Yet all of these groups set up programs based on specific identities; be it our America first, Blackness or the working class. How are these identities different than LGBTQ or Latinx, or Muslim of other identities whose activist are often labeled identitarians?

 

Hint: they are not.

 

The right attacks identity politics because there are some identities they don’t like while the left attacks it for how it orients itself towards identity. Often, online and interpersonal critiques are a mix of both left and right view-points. Some of this backlash against identity politics is historic. Many identity movements were a direct response to marginalization of specific people in larger broad based movements. Women’s Liberation, in part, comes out of the sexism that women experienced in the anti-war and civil rights movements. Queer liberation/gay separatism comes, in part, out the homophobia experienced by LGBTQ folks in the women’s liberation movement. Black Queer Feminism comes, in part, out of a history of exclusion and marginalization in all of those spaces.

 

As is common in popular discourse, ideological tendencies get typified by their most extreme, obnoxious or vilified elements. There was notably extreme identity essentialism that ran through many of these identitatarian movements, especially in separatist tendencies. Radical feminists sometimes advocated for political lesbianism and even castration of men. But this is not that different from the radical fringes of Marxists who reduce everything to purely economic terms and bloody class warfare or nationalist who feel that some mythical connection to Africa will free Black people or killing white people is equivalent to freedom. Every tendency has it extremists, its liberal apologist, its nut jobs. Every movement has its tenets taken out of context.

 

The problem is that many of us on the left, myself included, sometimes let these highly visible elements detract from the very valid points these off-shoot social movements raised about other movements. We forget that radicalization is a long, messy process with many detours and pitfalls. No one comes to movement work with our analysis fully formed, it is shaped in action and resistance. Instead of letting steel sharpen steel and internal critique sharpen our critique of the system many organizations and tendencies went their separate ways.

 

Even I admit that I let the worse tendencies of cultural nationalism blind me to the important insights that revolutionary nationalist have made to Black liberation work.

 

“The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend differences, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite—that it frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences.” Kimberle Crenshaw [the inventor of intersectionality].

 

It would not be fair to lump all the backlash against identity politics into personal hurt feelings and extremism on the wings historically. There is still a vibrant, loud and destructive wing of identity politics that is, to use word from the tendency itself, problematic.

 

When people criticize identity politics they seem to generally mean the politics of identity innocence and victimization. What they are often really criticizing is either this belief that the oppressed are innocent and the oppressors are evil or that one identity should be the primary focus over all others in every situation. This tendency oftens turns calling out privilege into the politics of victimization or muddles systemic critics with indentitatarian boogy men of racist, gender or sexual orientation bias. It shuts down debate or transforms critiques of the system into personal ideologies that come from our [insert identity here].

 

However, not all identity politics assume some innocence. Not all identitatarians place one identity at the center of their analysis. In fact real intersectional identity politics is based on the mutual complicity of all people in different facets of oppressive systems, systems that can’t be fully understood outside of their mutual and material context.

 

 

 

“Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age, nationality and other sectarian axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels. The theory proposes that we should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity.[1] This framework can be used to understand how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis.[2] Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.” Wikipedia

 

 

 

Identity politics is useful when it allows us to better understand social positions and power relationships between individuals, groups and systems. Complicit-intersectional-identity politics with a strong understanding of the material construction of identity allows us to understand how dominance and “power over” effects different people in systems in a way that can inform strategy and tactics for opposition to those systems. This way of viewing power is most useful in coalitions across differences. Whether you are a revolutionary nationalist trying to build a united Black front that includes Black immigrants, women and elders or a communist party trying to form a anti-capitalist movements that includes all workers you need to know how the system you intend to destroy effects the members of your coalition.

 

Intersectionality comes out practice in movement spaces where “dual oppressions” and unitary movements like anti-racism and [middle-class white] feminism was unable to devise strategies for addressing rape and domestic violence against black women. They both posed the most privileged people’s experience of a particular form of oppression as “universal.”All Black people face racism like Black men and women experience patriarchy like white women.

Historically dualistic and unitary lenses have pit the interest of Black men and white women against each other [or Latino immigrants vs “native born” Black communities and other false dichotomies]. Even dual oppression typically is unable to understand the specific ways in which capitalist and the state exploit black women, Black immigrants, queer Latinx, Black Muslims etc. It also does not allow for black men or white women [or other groups with both oppressive and oppressor identities] to understand their complicity in the oppression of black women [or other multiply marginalized groups].

 

Ironically, by not using an intersectional lens young or overly dogmatic revolutionary nationalist and Marxist alike sometimes fall into the same innocence based identity politics that they criticize “idenitarians” for. The enemy becomes the “capitalist” or the “bourgiose state” or ” the white man” or “neo-colonialism.” It makes their identity as working class or black revolutionaries the hero of their own histories in a way that does not require critical self-reflection, personal transformation or the nuance that comes with political maturity.

 

The Black radical doesn’t have to ask himself if he must treat his white sister and Black sister differently [morally or strategically]; the Marxist does not have to ask if he must treat the Black worker and middle class Black professional differently. Sometimes this means that the critique from white women is overlooked as them “not being down with Black liberation” or the needs of Black women being overlooked because your feminist analysis is based on the needs of white women. Likewise, the white middle class communist organizer might simply overlook the calls of discrimination in the workplace from middle class Black professionals [even fellow organizers]. The problem here, is a lack of nuance and narrowness in thinking about identity, not in thinking critically about identity itself.

 

In this lack of nuance the ability to have large, robust, transformative coalitions is limited. The micro-aggressions, hostility and interpersonal violence of the long 60’s movements are as good a proof of this as the oppression olympics and myopic view of identity in today’s social movements are. Focusing on identity is only a problem if you view that identity simplistically and outside of larger systemic, historical and material contexts. Contrary to what many seem to think, identity politics don’t spell the end of massive broad based politics, it merely complicated our thinking.

 

Every good organizer knows that you can only organize people about what they already care about. If you can’t figure out how to find common ground with someone then you can’t organize them. At the same time if you can’t identify your differences and how your social locations change your interests you will be unable to achieve victories that work for everyone. Likely, those with the least amount of power will not get their needs met and will not stay in coalitions for long. Or, the the opposition will uses those unacknowledged different interests to divide you. Without an appreciation of these differences we will all return to our silos wondering what happened.

 

As long as our identities are based in material inequities and structural oppression they will remain critical pieces and launching points for opposition and solidarity.  To ignore our differences or to limit them is to pretend that the world we live in is not as it really is. In order to change the world we must first learn to accept it in all of its complexity.

Intersectionality and identity politics are not the end all be all of political analysis. They are not stand ins for systemic critique of capitalism or state power, regardless of how often they are used as such. Just like a calculator is the not the end all be all of computation. It’s a tool. Like any tool it’s only as good as the worker who wields it. It is only as useful as our understanding of dialectical materialism, historical materialism, decolonialism, anti-imperialism, social reproduction theory, personal emotional emancipation and healing etc help us in using it.

We also shouldn’t pretend that the spaces we gravitate to and the tendencies we most easily accept don’t have anything to do with our identities. We should not pretend that there are hard truths about ourselves and our position in society that we sometimes use our analysis to over look. Marxist universalism is easier to accept if your community has a history of being depicted as universal. This is no different than marxist claims that the middle class or “petit bourgeoisie” is often not likely to be down with a proletariat revolution. Social position informs which political actions we are likely to take and which we are likely to stick to when faced with state repression.

 

To throw out intersectionality because someone used privilege to obscure a larger systemic critique is like stopping using wrenches because a bad plumber once tried to use it as a hammer. You’d be better off finding a better plumber, or better yet teaching the plumber how to use a hammer. Similarly the fact that pyramids were built without electricity doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it for building the new world we want to live in. Dual oppression was useful in its day [and often was a proto-intersectional lens] but doesn’t have the benefit of the last 50 years of movement experience.

 

More to the point, since our opponents are apt at using our identities against us, like how transphobia was used to justify a massive attack on worker’s rights in HB2, it seems like we should be better at using our identities and their interests to mobilize opposition. Intersectionality is one tool that helps us to do that. Intersectionality also insures that our “Marxist universalism” is not centering whiteness or masculinity or leaving out critical elements of domination outside of economics. Intersectionality helps us to build the kind of mass based movements that we tried to build in the long 60’s; ones that are not easily divided by state repression, ones in which we can bring our whole selves, ones that are large enough to hold our interests when we have to raise families and pay the rent.

 

Intersectionality and identity politics will not save us. Not by themselves. No single tool can. But it will help us to build sustainable movements that hold critique and have steel sharpen steel until we have weapons sharp enough to destroy whatever obstacles trans-national, postmodern white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchal capitalism throws in our way and coalitions solid enough to continue fighting together.

What Black Queer Feminism Has Taught Me: Intersectionality, Nurturance Culture and Transformative Relationships

Last week I had the honor of speaking on a panel at American University put on by a coalition of POC student groups. My fellow panelist Zoe Samudzi, a dope Black Queer Womanist based in San Francisco, gave one of the most useful definitions of intersectionality that I have ever heard. While I can’t give her articulation of it justice, the basic idea is that, contrary to mainstream white feminism’s use of the term, intersectionality isn’t just about multiple layers of oppression. It is not a simple listing of privileges and oppressions. Intersectionality means that Black women face a kind of oppression that is a result of capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal re-imaginings of Black Womanhood. To put it another way, one cannot understand the mechanism of misogynoir [the oppression of Black women] by listing the oppression of Black people and the oppression of women and merging the list.

For instance, misogynoir often hyper-masculinizes Black women, robbing them of the protection afforded to the inherently domestic and nationally protected white womanhood but their femme identity robs them of the fear and mythologies of strength that offer Black men some measure of social protection. In essence, this means misogynoir has its own twisted logic that is more than just a mix of patriarchy and white supremacy.

Her brilliance has greatly informed my growing understanding of the term. The most profound moment on the panel for me however, was when Venus Selenite talked about how the idea of intersectionality is often misused to further tokenize multiply-marginalized people. Venus is Black Trans activist and public intellectual who spoke at an event on the murder of Black Trans Women that I helped organize. She stated that she regretted speaking at the rally because it was merely the performance of solidarity. She never even heard of the campaign again after that. All of the promises of follow through never really materialized.

As a main organizer of that event I would have to agree, at least for my involvement in it. It was the performance of solidarity with a lack of follow through that betrayed a lack of actual solidarity with Black Transwomen.

These two opening comments hit me very profoundly. Suddenly, something clicked intellectually that I had been working out in my mind for months. While Venus’ critique did make me uncomfortable, months of internal emotional work as allowed me to understand this discomfort for what it is: a gift. It was a reminder that not only must I do better but that I am capable of better, of more. Rather than “getting all up in my feelings” I took responsibility for my inaction not only publically but internally. I tried, as best as I could, to channel the wisdom of my friend and teacher Elle Hearns, in regards to teachable moments and collaborative solidarity. I explained the reason for my failure, not only to attempt to practice restorative justice and accountability but to illustrate a larger point: making mistakes does not make us mistakes and our failures can be powerful lessons when we hold each in love.

I explained to Venus and the audience how the event, while problematic, helped me recognize that I have a lot of issues with internalized transphobia, especially transmisogynoir [the hatred and oppression of Black Trans Women]. Like any leftist, I felt the political pressure of the moment to be intersectional in my organizing. Yet, because I rarely practice collaborative solidarity with my Black trans siblings, my organizing around trans issues tends to be transactional.

Often times we pretend that our relationships are not transactional when we don’t explicitly ask for anything in return. Under this logic, it is not transactional to provide a “safe space” for Venus to speak her truth. Let’s push aside the false notion that I, as an organizer, actually did the work to make sure the sure the space was safe for Venus. There are many ways in which I used Venus’ story to perform solidarity and prove that I am “down.”

This is not to say that I consciously used Venus to show how intersectional I was. Yet, as I often write about, intent matters much less than we usually say it does. When my friend Elle put out the call for cis Black men to organize an event I jumped at the chance. I wanted to “give back” to all the Black transwomen who had helped me [directly and indirectly] and address this nagging feeling that I had not done enough to help Black transwomen in my organizing. Aside from the paternalism inherent in how I conceived of “giving back,” I don’t think that my desire to answer this call was in itself problematic.

What was problematic was the fact that I conceived of my relationship with Elle and Black Trans people more broadly, in transactional terms i.e. you did something for me so I will do something for you. That is not solidarity. Equally problematic was the tokenism involved in using Elle as a stand in for the broader Trans community which I did not fully realize at the time.
We often think of transactional relationships as entering relationships with a sense of “what do I get out of this?” While this is true, I would argue that a relationship is no less transactional because your “price” is an unnamed favor in the future. I would argue in fact, that a transaction that assumes someone or a community will always fight for you and will continue fighting for you regardless of what happens, is not only transactional but abusive.

As a cis Black male, I can bank on Black Trans women fighting for me, regardless of whether I fight for them. It has never crossed my mind that Elle or Venus would not be on the streets fighting for me. For me to bank of this one sided solidarity and then use it to solidify how “down” and intersectional I am is not only abusive but oppressive in the specific patterns of oppressions that typify transmisogynoir.

Instead of being transactional within my own family, I should have had reciprocal relationships with them. Reciprocal relationships are the only way to have true solidarity. A reciprocal relationships is one based on honest interactions, equitable negations of terms and long term vision. If I had been reciprocal with my relationship with Elle I would have had honest conversations about my capacity and level of understanding and would have had mature, direct loving communications about how involved she wanted to be in the planning. I would have been honest about what I would have gotten out of this campaign and what Elle wanted from the organizers not only for the week but also in our ongoing, evolving relationship.

Instead, due to my insecurity with own organizing ability and trans familiarity and in a rush to perform solidarity instead of embodying it, I ended up stumbling along in the dark. It also meant that I had to rely heavily on the support of Black women like Erika Totten, defeating the intention of call for cis Black men leading the charge. If I had had a long term view of my relationship with my Black trans siblings, I would have thought about how to use the action to create multiple relations with other Black trans people. I would not have simply run into Venus by chance months later.

The Importance of Love in Organizing

This is not to say that my relationship with Elle or my other trans siblings is or was completely abusive and oppressive. However, it is an honest recognition of the fact that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy has breed a culture of lovelessness into ALL of my relationships. It has limited my human ability to feel, practice and reciprocate love. This is a recognition that transactional relationships are not loving relationships.

As Darnell L. Moore’s essay beautiful illustrates: “When we know another loves us, right critique is not treated as wrong and uplift is understood as a collective and not individual endeavor. Love is not violence. And freedom is not lovelessness. And we don’t have the time to not love each other in our present. And if even if we did, time is too expensive to deny another black person the very force that might catalyze their survival.”

This brings me to heart of this essay: what Black Queer Feminism has given to me.

It has given me to the ability to truly love. To love my self. To love my blackness. To love my body. To love my people and show that love in healthy, sustainable ways. It has given me the intellectual tools to understand how I have internalized capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchal imaginings of my Black maleness.

As my sister Erika Totten would say, I have internalized the “fight or fuck response” of cis-hetero patriarchy. This fight or fuck response removes much of the nuisance and depth from my relationships. It means that my relationships with men are highly competitive and even joy is expressed through violence whether it is the violence of playing football, or brotherly punches in the arm or in the violence of my language when I am in all male spaces.

With women, the fight or fuck response becomes even more problematic. It has often led me to overly sexualize positive feelings of affinity with women. This has always been in conflict with my rather sex-negative but pro-gender equality upbringing. A conflict that often resulted in discomfort with non-sexual physical touch and sexual repression writ large. There is also something inherently effeminate and sexually suspicious in our society about a man who is constantly surrounded by women he has no intention of fucking. I have dealt with the pressure of this societal suspicion, and the internally questioning of my sexuality that it instilled in me, all my life.

It has only through a 10 year journey of my deepening engagement with sex positive, body positive feminism that I am able to untangle and start to grow past these conflicts. It is only through the intersectionality I was exposed to in the Black Queer Feminism in the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] that I was able to actually begin to resolve these conflicts.

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

This leads me to the second thing that clicked for me in what Venus said on the panel: what I have gained through my on-going journey of identifying, naming and processing my internalized transmisgoynoir.

I realized that the root of my transmigoynoir is my sexual attraction to Black transwomen. Our collective imagining of Black masculinity does not allow for one to be a “real man” while also being attracted to trans women. This is similar, but distinct, from Black male homophobia.

While it is equally true that our collective imagining have little room for Black men loving other Black men, Black transwomen present a unique challenge to narrowly drawn and fragile Black men. It is their inherent femininity that is attractive to me, to us. Yet, in a binary masculinity, attraction to Black trans women either makes a Black man gay or a man unfairly “tricked” by a Black man dressed as a woman. For binary men, this triggers our fight or fuck response which, in a society infected with pervasive rape culture, often leads to violence and murder. This is the reason that so many Black Transwomen died last year.

This attraction, and the cognitive dissonance it created, caused a prolonged sense of discomfort in me. It was only through Elle Hearns and other trans activists’ articulation of #transbrilliance that I was able to resolve it in a healthy, sex and body positive, trans-inclusive way. Again, trans brilliance is an idea that I am not able to give justice. Yet my understanding is that trans brilliance, like the term Black girl magic, refers to the lessons of resilience that communities learn in their resistance to their specific location on the matrix of oppression.

Trans brilliance is the kind of radical solidarity that Sylvia Rivera practiced with STAR [Street Transgender {originally Transvestite} Action Revolutionaries] where she provided housing and economic support to gender non-conforming and gay youth in 60’s San Francisco [among other amazing things]. Trans brilliance is the vibrancy of self-expression and radical, communally based, self confidence that many of our trans sibling exemplify. Trans brilliance is the direct, loving communication that our trans siblings displayed in their demands at the M4BL Convening where they neither demonized the Black community for its transphobia nor allowed oppression to be comfortable around them.

This lesson of Trans brilliance, along with the emotional emancipation work of Erika Totten’s EEC’s, the lessons of Black Queer Feminist dreaming I learned from the work Alexis Pauline Gumbs and the example of my unapologetically Black Queer friends in BYP 100 DC and the Movement for Black Live at large has allowed me to re-envision a non-binary Black maleness for myself. I can dream and embody a Black maleness that is not based on an exclusionary and binary understanding of gender. I can dream and embody a nurturing masculinity that better reflects how I want to interact with the world and how I want to contribute to the movement for my own liberation.

This understanding of the intersectional power and value of trans brilliance and Black girl magic, along with a non-binary understanding of masculinity that grants me access to gender-fluid and masculine nurturing allows me to create and sustain transformative relationships.

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

If transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality and reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision then transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties.

In many ways, the trauma and emergent strategies informed praxis that the M4BL uses is an attempt to operationalize the power of transformative relationships in decentralized networks for broad based social change. We recognize, intuitively, that transformative relationships are revolutionary. They are relationships that allow us to tap into a collective erotic power that allows us to begin to share our need for individual and communal excellence.

Transformative relationships in social movements allow for hundreds of new activist to learn a lifetime worth of political analysis in months by submerging them in constant political analysis and giving them ample opportunity to practice and embody new lessons. Transformative relationship operate from a paradigm of abundance, accountability and love; changing the way we view the world and each other. Transformative relationships allow us to access all of the knowledge we have gleaned from different but interlaced histories of resistance for collaborative power with [as opposed to dominating power over.]

Transformative relationships in organizing encourage us to be fractal or to embody our politics on personal, interpersonal and communal levels. Like all dynamic relationships, transformative relationships foster iterative processes that change as new data or history is added. Transformative relationships are rare and take a great deal of trust and internal work to create and sustain but are immeasurably powerful. This trust and accountability allows for increased flexibility and rapid adaptation around shared values.

As we think about using transformative relationships in the context of social change, it is also crucial to note that power is an inherent aspect of transformative relationships. Our trans siblings, in all their grace and love, did not ask politely for the broader Black community to accept them. Trans organizers and activist have been doing exactly what their titles imply [organizing and acting] to demand cultural change within our community. Elle Hearns and Venus Selenite’s ability to stand in their personal power [both political, intellectual, and spiritual] is a large part of how I learned from them. The narrative and cultural power of Black Queer Feminist like Audre Lorde also added to the power behind their lessons. As did a culture of centering the narratives of the most marginalized community members that infuses the M4BL network.

All of these types of power mixed with the love, support and compassion of how this power [trans brilliance and black girl magic] was used and embodied continuously by those around me to aid me in my personal transformation. As Silvia Federici articulated, power educates. To paraphrase a line from her amazing book “Revolution at Point Zero” first men will fear this power, then they learn from it once capitalism [or patriarchy or white supremacy] learns to fear this power.

As I stated before, it has taken a lot of internal work to see this power as a gift and not a threat. It has taken even more internal work and practice experimenting with and standing in my own power, to learn from this power and attempt to stand with my Trans siblings in it in transformative, accountable and collaborative solidarity. It has also taken a history of organizing through what Amiri Baraka might call “revolutionary theater” to create a counter or queer script for gender that empowers women and non-binary folks.

The intersectional power of transformative relationships are not limited to issues of gender, sex and sexual orientation. In many ways, unapologetic Blackness as a political theme and ratched politics in general are lessons learned by Black upwardly mobile millennials from our working class and poor siblings. I firmly believe that we should expand this thinking to include burgeoning coalitions between POC communities and in our collaborations with white allies.

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

Too often, the model of solidarity we use in anti-racism work is based on abusive transactional relationships. Anti-racist solidarity is distinct from other forms of transactional relationships between different communities like services presented as charity or tokenism rampant in the performance of white and POC ally ship. This is both a particularly dehumanizing and ineffective model of solidarity in which the transactional nature of the relationship is obfuscated as a repayment of a historic debt. While White people and other communities that benefit from anti-Black White Supremacy do have a debt that they must pay, that debt is fundamentally not payable by disempowering themselves through some guilt ridden attempt to shift their power over to Black people.

To get free we need more power, not less. We need more leaders not enfeebled followers.

This idea that white people must give up their power is based on a white middle class and masculine limiting belief in scarcity. It presumes that either power is inherently bad [or at least bad in white people’s hands] or that it is a zero sum game. Intersectional transformative relationships teach us that power works in abundance. Just as standing in solidarity with my Black Trans siblings requires me to stand in my own transformative non-binary masculine power, not abdicate it, so too must non-Black people stand in their own transformative power. Yet in order for them to do it, they must first discover it and re-imagine their identities is a way that accepts my existence and my inherent humanity.

If you are afraid of your power or unable to separate your use of it and your identification with it from the dominance of my Black maleness, then you cannot stand in solidarity with me.

Re-framing the Ally Journey

I often talk about how my tendency to gravitate towards femme spaces and people [or perhaps more accurately my aversion to masculine spaces and traumatic history with other men] forced me to learn how to make women comfortable as way to ensure that I could stay in those spaces.

Yet, am I learning that a more accurate way to understand my relationships with women is to say that I have been transformed by my relationships with women. My progressive transformation has allowed me to unlearn the fight or fuck responses that grant me access to my nurturing skills which in turn allow me to build more authentic [and eventually transformative] learning relationships with more and more women.

As I began to learn from and depend on more and more women, I began to change the way I saw myself. This allowed me to respond to the feminine power that drives the M4BL and the history of Black femme resistance that guide it from a place of curiosity and gratitude. This disposition allowed me to learn from the power of women like Omolara Williams McCallister who once gave me one of my favorite compliments when she said “you are very teachable.”

I firmly believe that everyone must go through their own journey to this transformative power and re-imagining of their identities. I believe that Black Queer Feminism provides a poetic road map to complicate and guide this journey. My relationships with powerful women of color like Darakshan Raja, the indomitable co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, as also taught me that each of our identities and communities have powerful lessons to the teach the world that can be accessed through transformative relationships. Our relationship has also taught me that such cross-cultural/class/racial/gender transformative relationships take a great deal of evolving internal emotional work and on-going political analysis building in order to useful for movement building.

This is why I am going to redouble my efforts to explore and embrace my nurturing side; to invest in my personal transformative relationships and guide and nurture other people in doing the same. I what to identify what other self-limiting beliefs that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy have instilled in me. I want to identify the systems and institutions that teach and re-enforce those lies. I want to stand with everyone willing in collective transformative power to dismantle these systems within ourselves, or communities and society as a whole.

I hope this articulation of my learning journey was as illuminating in your reading as it has been healing in my writing of it. I hope that my friends will continue to hold me in love as I stumble along this path of processing my internalized misogyny and transphobia. I hope that we will all make it to our beloved community, to that land filled with love and abundance before we are through. I hope all of you who know me will allow me to continue loving you and practice my nurturing by nurturing you. I hope you all continue to allow to thank you for all you have given me. I hope all of you in relationship with me continue to teach me how to better to stand in my transformative power. I hope to continue to hold you all accountable to your greatest, most gorgeous, most powerful selves.

 

If this essay sparked some interest in you, read pieces that inspired this essay below:

On the culture of Lovelessness:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darnell-l-moore/you-arent-leader-if-you-dont-love_b_9229394.html

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture
http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/19018

On the Erotic:
http://uk.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/11881_Chapter_5.pdf

Silvia Federici:

http://www.churchland.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Federici-Silvia-Revolution-Point-Zero-Housework-Reproduction-and-Feminist-Struggle.pdf

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

http://leadershiplearning.org/system/files/Power%20Analysis%20Types%20and%20Sources%20of%20Power.pdf

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

http://www.stevebozzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Elements-of-White-Middle-Class-Dominant-Culture.pdf

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

https://www.alliedmedia.org/esii/resources
http://movementnetlab.org/

Preliminary Observations on the Analysis of the Movement

What is the Analysis of the Movement?

In building my curriculum to both explain the M4BL to the uninitiated and help build a more complex analysis within the movement, I realized that many of the articles I wanted to include had not be written yet. This is a excerpt of a larger piece I’d like to include in the curriculum. It is the part that I am most uncertain about. The larger piece lays out the analysis in a more complex way. This part seeks to situate the emerging analysis of the movement in the context of prominent left ideologies. Any constructive thoughtful feedback is most welcomed.

The Movement has several analyses that are in process of coalescing and synthesizing. We reject the dogmatic and deterministic tendencies in many ideologies of the past while also realizing that the past has much to teach us about the present. Our analysis is based on the principle [to paraphrase Erika Totten] that we should study the past and learn from our elders while leaving that which no longer serves us behind. Our analysis is also not academic even if parts of it were created in various formal and informal academies.

The movements contains adherents of identity politics, queer theory, Marxism, and anarchism. The overriding and unifying analysis of the movement is Anti-Authoritarian Black Queer Feminism. Briefly, Black Queer Feminism is a school of feminist thought centered on the intersectionality of oppressions. To paraphrase prominent Black Queer Feminist Audre Lourde, we cannot have single issue movements because we do not live single issue lives.

It is based on the understanding that race, class and gender are inextricably linked and must be approached as such. It is in contrast to main stream feminism which too often focuses on the experiences and needs of middle class white women.

According to David Halperin “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.”

Black Queer Feminism is as diverse as its adherents and defies neat and tidy definitions.

Our Black Queer Feminism then is, among other things, an understanding of oppression through an intersectional lens that focuses the critique of the current social order from the margins of that order that face the brunt of its brutality. It gives us a tool to have a praxis of collective liberation wherein the leadership of the multiply marginalized communities are centered in a way that ensures no one is left behind. Black Queer Feminism asserts a need for non-normative or highly individualized world views and a cultural relativism that understand both finite objective material realities and infinite subjective experiences of them.

While we take much from all these theories and whole hardly accept the many brilliant iterations of Black Queer Feminism, we reject dogma and any form of determinism. Dogma are sets of principles laid out by an authority figure which are taken to be true and unchanging. Determinism is the belief that demographic information like race, sex, class, gender etc inherently determines our worth, revolutionary potential or place in the movement or society. We believe both of these tendencies are hypocritical and self-limiting.

As proponents of identity politics we readily admit that often times identity politics adherents dismiss individuals based on the groups they are perceived to be a part of. We see this as a counterproductive strategy that is often the result of unprocessed trauma or immature political awareness. We do not believe that identities determine the inherent worth of people nor the validity of their ideas. Likewise, we reject the identity determinism present in much of current Marxism that has a pre-occupation with the proletariat as the only “legitimate” revolutionary class.

Black Queer Women may lead the movement, but the movement is under no naïve assumption that the representation of marginalized groups is all that is needed. Nor is the movement so narrow minded and single focused as the off handedly dismiss the contributions from men, non-Black people of color and white people. Rather, we are merely aware of the historical reality of oppression and the need to address and correct certain trends of domination or submission that are counterproductive to movement building and liberation. Such corrections often seem overly discriminatory to those who are used to relying on systemic inequality to function.

In centering the narratives of the most marginalized we are imagining an expansive politics with multiple focal points where our manifold viewpoints shed more light on issues. This expansive politics wellspring for our call for collective liberation. We believe that Black liberation should work hand in hand in solidarity with indigenous liberation, trans* liberation, women’s liberation, the overthrowing of class society and the liberation of non-Black people of color and poor white people. We believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.

We believe that queer theory and anarchist theory provide some potential fillers of the gaps in thought and practice of both identity politics and the marxist-socialist political spectrum. Queer theory, in our understanding, deals with [among other things] the tension of the unclassifiable individual and social groups divided by systems of oppression and power. It always us to consider both the individual who exist outside of ultimately arbitrary groups and the individual who is profoundly affected by their forced assignment into said groups. Anarchism, in our understanding, provides models and values for how the individual might relate to groups in empowering and effective ways. It helps us understand the processes and dynamics that pull individuals out of relationship with their power and cede it over to external institutions and agents of society.

We believe that despite the sectarian way in which we often discuss these different ideologies, we have witnessed [in the Occupy, Dreamer, and ending sexual assault on campus movements] these ideologies being tested and blended in real time. The same is true for the Black Lives Matter movement. At their best, an understanding of all four allows for the decentralized movement building and centering of marginalized voices in the fights for $15 and housing justice that expand our understandings of these issues in such a way that everyone has skin in the game and can envision pieces of their liberation in the outcome. At their worse, folks go the extreme in one direction and either ending up with post-racialism, racial determinism or with vapid statements like anarchy means I can do whatever I want etc.

The core of our analysis is that systems of oppression like White Supremacy and Patriarchy alienate us from our needs, desires and power. We have become so alienated from these things that our true selves often feel foreign and we find ourselves cast adrift and tormented by the whims and projections of those with more power in our society. We see this alienation as near total. The only place in our lives in which we can be unalienated from ourselves is in what Audre Lorde calls the non-European Consciousness and others might call our sub consciousness or dreams.

We believe in both the power and political necessity of the erotic that Audre Lorde describes. The sensual feeling and desire for excellence is not merely base sentimentality. It is us at our most human. It is a power that drives our analysis. For, without this erotic need to live more human, sensual and fulfilling lives liberation would be middle class, emotional stagnant cis white men’s existence. It is not enough to be materially well cared for and without oppression. We must revolutionize our relationship with the material world.

Yet we are not idealist. We believe that dreams, like our waking thoughts, have a basis in the material world. In fact, we world argue, that our dreams are our hypothetical solutions to contradictions of our society that our bodies urge us to play out through political theater in order to be made real. Political theater is the use of weaponized narratives and perceived power to create real actionable cultural power in society. It is using existing narratives of identity, merit, history, fulfillment etc to propel a specific political agenda.
In essence, we yearn for freedom and therefore assert our right to it and exercise examples of it in ways that dramatize the failure of our present system to give it to us; thereby delegitimizing it.

We yearn for self-determination and therefore assert it through civil disobedience highlighting that our desires and the desire of society writ large are not the same. Chipping away at the perceived power of the status quo opens up the possibility for mass open disagreement and non-compliance and eventually crisis.

In moments of crisis, societies are more likely to choose radical alternatives.
As a non-violent social movement, we aim to use targeted narratives [cultural power] to create a crisis of conscious that results in a massive shift to unalienating alternatives. This is why pre-figurative work and a communally embodied praxis is so crucial.

Cultural power must be parred with the creation of these alternative structures while both are simultaneously utilized to weaken the status quo. This will ensure that they are not only the likely choice in times of crisis but able to handle the crisis effectively and sustainably. This is, essentially, and elaboration of what the Gramscian Marxist might call building counter hegemony. We have to build this counter hegemony, this an alternative to the status quo, while we disrupt and agitate.

 

On Leadership and Storytelling in Building Counter Hegemony

 

Because we are not only organized around class, our counter hegemony must be more than cooperatives and unions. Because we are not organizing merely along race and ethnicity our counter hegemony cannot be separatist or purely cultural. Because we are organizing against state violence our counter hegemony cannot be statist. Because we are organizing against cultural genocide and our use of the erotic powers within ourselves push us for excellence, our counter hegemony must be sustainable and total.

In any mass movement to build counter hegemony, leadership is crucial. When Ella Baker taught us that “strong people don’t need strong leaders” she did not mean that movements don’t need leaders. Rather, she was asserting an essential truth, leadership need not be messianic. Leaders can wield their power together with their followers who are also leaders.

For history tell us that the embodiment of stories is what makes effective visionary leaders. Malcom X preached that the story of Blackness we were told was a lie and he embodied that truth in his clean cut, fiery persona. Martin preached about the Promised Land as the new American dream and the New Negro as a militant solider for justice. He embodied this spiritual militancy in his defiance on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Yet these two men also embodied the messianic Black male leadership that silenced crucial female voices and made it possible for their movements to be nearly destroyed with a few bullets.

From this history we learn that intentional, accountable leadership is crucial for any mass human endeavor and when that leadership is placed in an external institution or embodied in a few spokespeople it is soon alienated from its base and becomes self-limiting. Eventually, “strong leaders” either die, are co-opted or become oppressive themselves.

In order for us to create our counter hegemony with this intersectional analysis, we have to craft a radically new story of who were are, how we came to be and where we are heading. This story must emerge from networks of shared communal praxis and be embodied. This is why the revolutionary political theater of the movement for Black Lives is so crucial.

Unapologetic Blackness is a tool that is both liberatory in the erotic sense and forces [as Ta-Nehisi Coates might say] people who imagine themselves to be white and the system that creates them to enter into political dialogue with us on our own equal terms. As Amiri Baraka taught us, we must destroy their logic of professionalism [which is merely code for white middle class male standards] with the illogic of #BlackGirlMagic [which is a complex syntax of the dark transformative power that our veil gives those who survive a system that was meant to kill them.]

Unapologetic Blackness is but one piece of what might otherwise be called conscious militancy. The same addiction to standing in our own power that Black Brunchers feel in Brooklyn is felt by the Black women leading the labor movement into a new era in the $15 battles across the country. This revolutionary theater is not mere radical posturing [though it must be noted that some of its most photographed practitioners may make it appear so] it’s a class [or perhaps subaltern] consciousness that has reached a new level of maturity. To truly stand in your power is a deeply erotic exercise, to merely posture for the new era of social media activism is merely movement porn.

This class conscious militancy is being created in trauma informed healing spaces like Emotional Emancipation Circle and Black Joy Sunday that give the movement its emotional vitality and sustainability. In national gatherings like the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland, these different aspects of Black militancy are mixing and a revolutionary praxis is emerging.

As this nascent praxis of trauma informed unapologetic Black Feminist militancy is developed through larger and larger actions and informed by more fully articulated ideologies like generative somatics, emergent strategies and the aforementioned Marxism, anarchism and idenitarianism a more complicated story of not only Blackness but humanity writ large is being articulated and embodied, though admittedly haphazardly.

The Movement for Black Lives is the raising the bar for America as a nation and a community of individuals. It is telling a story not of unfinished pyramids of exceptionalism but resistance in the face of multiple genocides. It is story of diverse characters whose wants and desires are beyond our ability to articulate but deeply and viscerally felt.

Characters who realize that they can write their own stories. Characterize who realize they are the subjects of their own histories. Characters who will no longer stand for politicians that don’t speak to their issues. Characters who will no longer tolerate unions that refuse to represent them or bosses who refuse to let them be represented. Heroines with bodies in infinite permutations who want Paid Family Leave, an end to rape culture and for their children to be safe walking home from schools that love and support them as well as educate.

Most importantly, the movement is learning and forever on its growing edge. It exists, in its totality, in that uncomfortable realm between what we know to be true and what we believe to be true. It exists in the fertile space that explorers enter when they attempt something that has never been done before. Our counter hegemony is being crafted to support and sustain this communal unappogetically Black performance. It’s the communal dinners, cooperative housing, vibrant communities and solidarity unions we create to allow us to better engage in this dance.

Our new more livable world will be birthed by the vestiges of this movement. We will tell our children the story of this movement just like we tell our parents and our neighbors. Once they understand this story and own it and become active participants in its creation, they will help lead us further on the path towards liberation.

Femminist Reflections on My Spritual Sabbatical pt 3

Headed Towards the Light: An Itinerant Cartographers Unfinished Guide to the Poetics of the Movement for Black Lives.

My thoughts coalesce in long walks.

I take long, slow and steady strolls throughout the city examining the network of disparate thoughts that float through my mind. Each step makes a critical connection. Each street corner reminds me of another data point. My mind elongates in tandem with my strides, expanding to compute a thousand daily concerns and musing.

Over the past month I have walked through several valleys of understanding. I’ve taken a really long and hard look at how I’ve been operating over the past year. At first, it was difficult even to focus on it all. Every action, speech, rally and interaction with police was blurred together in one side splitting mental imprint of stress, anxiety, hope, rage and fear.

As I strolled through city blocks in DC and Brooklyn, I unpacked these dense imprints to examine the impact this year had on me. As I unpacked them, I could feel myself decompress and a weight slowly begin to lift off my shoulders. Unencumbered by these chains of constant anxiety I saw a bit of my former self start to return.

I began to remember how much I enjoy playing the dozens with friends and family. I remembered how calm I used to feel before the hurricane of constant organizing. I began to be able to appreciate, for the first time in a long time, how truly wonderful, amazing and beyond my wildest dreams this past year had been.

Despite the pain and agony of constantly reacting to another death, another sign that we are not meant to survive this system, I realized that I have been blessed with a wonderful, radical and radically supportive community. I have been blessed with an increased faith in my abilities and decreased need to prove my worth. I have been blessed with a spiritual awareness of the world and my place in it. I have become more acquainted with my internal power and more comfortable standing in it.

With each step, I was able to gain more and more of this perspective and more and more weight fell off my shoulders. Yet something has been missing. There has been an almost indiscernible feeling of internal lacking, of waiting from something to enter my life and complete my sabbatical.

I realize that I’ve been waiting, somewhat foolishly, for my old self to return. Yet the more I reflect, the more I realize that he no longer exists. Part of him grew up over the past two years and part of him was buried in Baltimore. In his place is n older, more patient, more jaded and more self-aware blend of echoes of my father and the person I was as a kid.

______________________________________________________

Walking is one of the few things that can slow the torrent of coupled thoughts that often race through my mind. It is one of the few forms of meditation that brings me to the particular sort of calm in which I feel the most myself. It is a reflective, active calm like the mind of an athlete ready to jump. Even though the blood begins to rush into my hands in anticipation, unlike an athlete, my movements are entirely metaphoric.

It is perhaps ironic then that after my walks I could not describe to you much of what I saw nor could I give you directions to where I went. I have no mind for mundane details. I remember only the slight details a painter might use to accent a work or the descending notes a composer uses to let you know the piece was ending. I tend to only remember the details useful for storytelling.

It might then be even more ironic that I have come to think of myself as a verbal cartographer. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you how to get from point A to B but I could describe, illustratively and in exquisite detail what the journey will feel like. I could point out to you, if you were interested, the history of significant ruins you might encounter along the way. I would end each map with a key explaining why the journey is so viscerally important. Yet I’m very bad at directing folks to where I feel they should go because it assumes a specific singular destination.

I think this is why I prefer poetry to prose.
It’s easier.
A rarity of words,
Increases impact.

Like a lover,
leaving the ring on the counter,
in lieu papers;
communicating more in questions begged,
than answers given.

But I digress.

I have, over the past year, developed more interest in complicating journeys than prescribing destinations. Perhaps it’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a begrudging humility. Likely it’s all three. Either way, I’m more interested in poetry than prose.

“I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.”
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

In another life I would have been a cartographer.

I can see myself devouring the latest missives from the “new world.” Immediately incorporating them in my maps. The outlines of coasts getting more and more accurate as times goes on. The descriptions of the people and culture getting more vivid and useful.

But the edges of the map, of the known world, would always be illustrated with the myths I felt to be true. The gryphons of the cold wintery north, dragons of the distance east, the giants that laid waste to the northern desserts. Over time we will discover the eagles, the alligators, the massive blue whales and giant squids that looked like krakens and myth will turn into science and we will pretend that we understand the world.

These are the many tensions in my soul. The observed and the felt. The diagram and the dreamscape. Different understandings fueled by a desire to know and explore, driven by the most ardent curiosity. A deep sense of the world in its totality but lack of understanding.
Of it’s beauty.
Its wonder.
It’s terror.
It’s Poetics.
Dialectical, symmetrically assembled choreography of masses, forces and networks of consciousness that I feel a deep, ethereal connection to.

I will forever be in debt to writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs  for giving me language to explore and illustrate the edges of the map. I will be in debt to thinkers and spiritualists like Erika Totten and Omolara Williams McCallister for reminding me that there are many levels and kinds of understanding and multiple dimensions on which to know a thing. It is debt shared by all the Black Queer Feminist in my life whose power and energy inspire me, especially my sisters who taught me how to dream.

This is all to say, after a month long spiritual sabbatical, I wish to share with you a map of the edge of my understanding. I wish to illustrate, in the best medium I have available to me [poetics], the uncharted territory that my movement family and I have been exploring in the past year in the Movement for Black Lives.

A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:

The topography is vigorous,
A land of dynamic forces.
Energies that are both waves and particles:
ideas,
impulses,
neurons firing in our brains
and chemical reactions to historical, economic, existential and social stimulants.
There are forces of beauty and wonder,
forces of oppression and human limitation.
There is bondage and emancipation.
Growth and decay.
Blossoming and withering.

These forces etch themselves unto the landscape of human experience, craving systems of opposition, obstacles to forward paths and valleys of understanding.

The west side of the map is our past: clouded in the fog of war, myth and dogma.

In the middle lies our present: dense, humid and warming.

Towards the east is our unknowable future: shrouded in mystery and wrapped in anticipation.

To the north is the observable world of facts and figures and

in the south lies the equally true world of dreams, feelings, imaginations, the science of living and other knowings.

 

Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.

“The man who knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” Erykah Badu – On and On

 

As we travel towards liberation, we must ensure we are equipped for the journey. It is a rough road for the ill-prepared. We could not climb the mountains of true understanding without collecting the theory and analysis of the north and weaving them into the dreams and internal knowings of the south. Unfortunately, our species is not yet equipped to walk a straight path towards liberation. It will be meandering journey of starts and stutters.

On the frayed edges of the map are the metaphysical oceans where the forces of the land coalesce and pool. The rocky bays that connect these rivers of forces to the oceans of power filter out the impurities of domination, hierarchy, and inequity. Still, the depths of these oceans are dangerous to the unpracticed swimmer. The call of God is a siren to the unlearned ear, pulling you into these jagged rocks and in these oceans lay a terrifyingly transformative power.

Notes on the oceans of power:

From my travels in the south, I learned to bottle my dreams so that I can access this power. I see my sisters access it at protests. I drink from it nightly and feel it overwhelm me when I speak truth to the world. I sense is flow through me as my mind flows unto the page.
I intuit that this emotional energy, this transformative power, has the capacity to shatter this land.

I can access it at any time.

Sometimes, when I allow myself to access this power, shutting down highways, testifying in the Wilson building as knowledge coalesces effortlessly in my mind and flows freely from my lips; I think that the power is right when it suggests that I should break the world.

 

I am terrified, infatuated and addicted to this embodied power.

  • My movement family and I access this power together.
  • Collectively we both heighten it and hold it accountable.
  • I believe that this power is our salvation.
  • I have recognized this power as my birthright.
  • I have invited you, before I was even aware of what it was, to drink from my dreams and stand in this power with me.

 

 

“I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror of the lives we are living. Social protest is saying that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, and we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will find the germ of our answers to bring about change. Because once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, “Why don’t they?” And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change.

So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

“Audre Lorde.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. NY: Continuum, 1983. 100-16.

The Movement for Black Lives is not asking for special treatment for Black people. Nor are we only asking for our needs to finally be meet after centuries of erasure or myths of pathology.

Rather, activists are returning from the edges of the known world, pointing out the holes in the dominate logics and inviting the world to stand with us in the light that shines through. We are shouting to you that this light is proof that this world is under ground, buried beneath a capitalist system of dominance maintained by patriarchy and white supremacy.

The movement for Black Lives is reminding all of us that we need to head SE towards liberation.

Years of being underground, submerged in this system, has dimmed many of our faculties while studying our surroundings [even in dimness] has brightened others. Yet all told, we have lived only in the north for far too long. We have become stagnant in our civilizations, forgotten our migratory nature and carved out pieces of the earth.

As if we could own it.

As if it didn’t own us.

We have lost much of the accumulated wisdom of the south. We have forgotten about how to be, to live in harmony with our selves, to seek to learn from the world without destroying it.

The M4BL is asserting that the particular position of Black people [especially Working Class Black Queer Women] in the system and the history invasions that forced us to flee periodically to the south gives us the second sight to help guide humanity out of the darkness and into the light.

We are giving you fair warning before we drag this whole system, amid its suffocating totality, into the above ground world we have been forced out of and almost forgotten.

We do not believe that when we return to the light we will return to a previous way of life. We are futurist not primitivists. We have chosen to be Diasporic Cosmonauts not earthly refugees. What is past is prologue, it needn’t be destiny nor our chosen destination. We believe that once in the light we must still journey east towards liberation, onwards to a new world that is better than we have ever experienced or can currently imagine.

The Movement for Black Lives believes in the fundamental ability of our imaginations and dreams to store and share transformative power. The power that we need to overcome the totality of capitalism and logics of dominance. The same power we will need to climb the mountains of true understanding.

 

We, beautifully flawed humans that can neither tolerate a world order that, in thinking we are worthy of its oppression, is beneath us nor wait idly by as it consumes itself, are headed towards the lands filled with the glorious black light of the power contained in the ocean of human imagination. We will not merely content ourselves to observe the effects of its absence.

Ours is a long march of trials, falters, tribulations, celebrations and lessons.

We are unlearning that all struggle must be painful and that all pain is wasteful. We are relearning the elation of change, the euphoria of spiritual endorphins that comes from exercising new muscles of self-determination.

Our wanderings in the south have taught us to embody old stories in new ways. We have become updaters and remixers not needless iconoclasts. We are Christ like in our imperfect divinity and utilizing of love, Mohammedan in our submission to the divine and commitment to study and like Moses we lead the captive, sometimes too content to settle near the lands of the pharaoh, on the long march to emancipation.

We are workers building class consciousness and harnessing the science of revolution in a new economy. Mothers who are also teachers and nurses smashing the patriarchy and midwives birthing a gender fluid world. We are the Ebony skinned neo-abolitionists delivering the supersedants to zion. We are anarchist fighting against the alienation of our transformative power. All while being queer as fuck and refusing to let these histories, texts or identities define us.

If this way of being destroys your idols it is collateral damages of a fluid world in motion.

Notes on the Underground Landscape:

“Alienation is the gap between desire and what is socially valued, between our potential to transform the world and the theft and parasitic use of that power by capital and the state.” Anonymous

 

 

Capitalism became total, and blotted out the sun, when it began selling us deficits instead of just commodities. We now have a culture of deficits and inflated spiritual debts. We are too ugly. Too Black. Too poor. Too femme. Too foreign. Or too queer to fit in. We must work, buy, sell and scrape to get closer to an unattainable able-bodied, symmetric, fit, white, wealthy, male ideal citizen.

What we have is a global system of perverted forces that create false scarcities and deficits before providing draining resources we are told will solve them. It is as if we are desert people living in a glorious oasis but being sold salt water and taught that to live is to hydrate.

The long buried truth is that the vocation of all humans is to live fully and in communion with their needs and shared desires. We are the intellectually nomadic bards of our own histories and songs, living well in order to share our stories with each other. The fullness to which we aspire is a facet of our species’ current and progressing social and economic development which in turn shapes our desires.

Yet we are told that in order to live we must work and observe and buy.

 

We are told what we must do in order to be.

The options given to us in the cold calculating north, these shadow life vocations, constantly place us under the control of others but out of relationship with ourselves and each other. Most revolutionary ethos in the west merely seek to change the ruling class without changeling the idea of ruling. Others merely put forth hollow and solitary images of individual self-determination.

Our journeys southland, to our dreams, have taught us that instead we must reframe our whole realm of living. We must stop wasting our spiritual energy tweaking the details of our alienation from our true vocation–cultivating a land we were never meant to settle in–so that we no longer have any opinions on its totality.

 

“In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.” Basic Banalities — Raoul Vaneigem

 

Yet our goal cannot be as narrow as ending capitalism. This map leads to liberation, not merely away from our past. While this global society serves our bosses more than us and they exhibit more control over it, the system does not really serve them either. The same way that proximity to power is not power, having the system geared towards you does not mean it fulfills you. It does not allow the wealthy to fulfill their full vocation. Their true vocation is not power. Yet their options are limited by their determined gaze at their feet on our backs.

They are merely favored captives chained by their fathers and forced to stare at shadows of the forms on the walls of the cave; convinced that it’s not prison because they have box seats. The same gaslights they use to tell us that America is not a prison because we have cable in here.

The same can be said of emotionally stunted men and emotionally fragile whites too chained to their positions above those they oppress to run freely and gaily southeasterly towards their true vocations.

This does not absolve them [or us] of their [or our] complicity, it merely goes to show us that switching positions with them or raising everyone to their standard [as if this would even be possible without destroying the very system that enshrines and maintains that standard] is not a solution.

Reform is not revolution.

Equity is not liberation.

Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:

There is no one path to Liberation. The straight course from our current position to liberation is perilous and we are not equipped to take it.

We must use the analysis of the north to identify the systems of oppression that alienate us from our true vocation. We must use the dream materials of the south to dismantle them and create space for our evolving work that approaches authentic fulfilling human vocation. We must synthesis the techniques of the north and south to heal ourselves and our communities in order to clear our collective imaginations of the miasma of oppression and fog of trauma that clouds our vision. We must work together to build a new world aligned with our new vision in the shell of the old world we are dismantling. All of this must happen at once.

Yet this work does not happen in a vacuum. In order to work collectively we must address the systems of oppression; white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, which has thwarted journeys in the past. This path is hard and healing will consistently be needed. The way forward is dark and we will need our theory to guide the way, our historical experience and the wisdom of our ancestries will guide us through forks in the road. We must develop spiritual practices and spiritual farms [beloved communities] that will feed us as we crawl through the darkness headed towards the light.

This is the unfinished map of the Movement for Black Lives. It is for this vision we are dragging our society kicking and screaming through the darkness and into the light. We may stumble, we may falter, we may get lost but we are committed to our task.

We fight even for those you would not fight for us. We fight even for those who would stand against us. While powerful, we are not large enough to hold this society on our backs without dropping or fragmenting parts. We cannot hold enough of it in our consciousness to ensure that precious parts of it are not forgotten. So those of you who share these visions, dreams and analyses must carry your load of the world with us.

  • Only collective liberation is strong enough to carry all of society into the light without tearing it asunder.
  • Only collective liberation can provide enough guidance to show us the way to the light, without it we can only fight against the darkness unsure if we are headed up or down.
  • Only collective liberation can plant the spiritual fruits complex enough to feed the army of sojourners needed to bring this society into the light. And only in the light and we build the true world.
  • Only in the light can we see and be our true selves.

So I invite you to drink from this cup of dreams, to stand in this power with me.

Together we shall create a revolutionary communal praxis able to wield our new analytical dreamscapes through story and song, organizing and building, through destruction and creation and ultimately: rebirth.

Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

As I think about my role as a prominent leader in the Movement for Black Lives in DC and recognize the ways that masculinity and middle class dominate cultural values have biased by leadership, I am excited by the possibilities that feminism has to offer me. As I have forced myself to take some time to think about the emotional and spiritual toll this work has had on me, I am over joyed at the possibility for a reprieve. That is why I will be taking a spiritual sabbatical in the month of December.

It is unclear to me what this will look like exactly. What I have decided on is that I will be doing much much less work for the Movement for Black Lives in December. I will take time to rest, heal, reflect and learn from my community and the universe as I can. I will take the time to gain perspective and clarify my vision for myself, my community and the world. I will try to re-learn the truth that I am loved because I deserve to be loved and that I deserve to be loved because of who I am and not what I do.

In preparation for this sabbatical, I have taken to reading materials that might change my perspective on the world and give me the tools to grow and evolve in the movement.

One of the many books I am currently reading is Silvia Federici’s “Revolutions at Point Zero: House Work, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle.” It is blowing my mind. Her perspective on the history of the feminist labor struggle and keen observations of the historic connections of the Feminist Movement in America following the Black Liberation movement seem to have important implications for the Movement for Black Lives.

BLM often talks about “re-claiming space” and understanding the spiritual importance of Black space. Her writings have me considering the economic and political ramifications of owning and controlling space separate from owning property. As I investigate what autonomy means and looks like through a Black Queer Feminist lens I am reminded of a conversation I had with Erika Totten about what I felt my role in the movement should be.

What does it mean to provide leadership as a Black man in the Movement for Black Lives? What does supporting Black women and recognizing their unique role as the engines of American history mean in practice? I think Federici’s work, coupled with authors I am more familiar with like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, points towards a re-investment and valorization of housework by Black men such as myself.

By re-investing in “house work” [broadly defined as community sustaining activities like childcare, elder care, cooking, emotional labor, mutli-generational narrative creation and healing work] we free up women and gender-non-conforming folx to do the strategic organizing and movement work that their places on the spectrum on various oppressions give them the unique perspective the lead on.

Equally important, we provide ourselves the opportunity to emancipate our minds and spirits from the limiting chains of masculinity. The “home,” broadly defined, is the perfect space for Black men to re-invent or deconstruct or dismantle the poisonous aspects of Black masculinity in ways that both support our non-male siblings and shelters us from the daily emasculations of capitalism and white supremacy.

I have come to realize that the disempowerment that Black men feel in our daily emasculations in a capitalist and white supremacist society is the destructive fuel of Black patriarchy. We are so often disempowered in our daily existence that we reach for power in the only system in which we have it. In a sense, our oppression creates a series of voids in our psyches and spirits that we try to fill in with power and commercial validation. I am beginning to see an opportunity for us to escape this feedback loop of disempowerment by oppression followed by reinvestment in our oppression through the home.

How empowering would if feel to Black men to get our sense of human validation from emotionally supporting our families [broadly defined] rather than anxiously trying to game a system founded in our bondage in order to support them financially? Imagine what our communities might look like if we supported Black women and Black gender-non-conforming folx in transforming leadership and the workplace as Black men and gender-non-conforming folx transform the home?

As a lifelong admirer of Black girl magic and strong believer in the inherent artifice of all our identities I am excited about the afro-futurist possibilities of such an endeavor. Might we discover, through putting our Black queer feminist lens into practice, Black boy sorcery and gender-non-conforming alchemy? Might trans* brilliance an Black girl magic reach its fullest expressions of power if Black men invest in the home? Might we all find more added capacity if, understanding that ideas of the scarcity of leadership is a figment of the middle class white imagination, we step back from our positions of power over to make more room to step into our power together?

These are the things I will be exploring on my sabbatical. In glimpsing these possibilities and writing them out they feel more real to me already. I appreciate all of you who I know will support me in this month of healing and growth. I am honored by the talent and leadership of those who have stepped into power with me as I stepped back from power over certain projects. It has confirmed to me, more than anything else: that I am beautiful, I am not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Call Me in Until You Need to Call Me Out

Reflections On Being A Leader in a Leaderful Movement

 

Rape Culture is real. It is omnipresent. It is destroying all of our movements.

I don’t know how to start this essay. I don’t really know what to say or how to say it so I’m going to be real and raw and honest. I am a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement here in DC, which is a movement for the liberation of ALL Black People and a necessary but insufficient piece of a larger movement for collective liberation. I am leader whose followers are also leaders. I am leader who often has no clue what he is doing but decides to put himself out there because he knows that the work needs doing. I organize within a social network that is a web of mutual support, Black excellence, gorgeous righteousness and, let’s be real, shared trauma.

I organize for the liberation of my people all while suffering from the post-traumatic stress of having existed for 26 years as a sensitive human being in an insensitive world. I have been Black in society that can’t recognize the humanity of Black people. I have been struggling with mental illness in a world that would rather profit of my suffering than talk about it. I have come to terms with my attraction to all genders, including my own, in a world in which that means I cannot be seen as fully Black, really a man or completely human. All of this trauma infuses every decision I make as an organizer, as a follower and as a leader whose followers are also bomb ass, revolutionary leaders.

I say that, because it needs to be said. In the next few days I imagine a lot a of conversations will be happening about who will work with who and how people should have handled beef. I imagine a lot of people will have opinions about who did and didn’t say what where. We need to remember that we all are working through our trauma in real time. We need to realize that it is unacceptable to be traumatizing people through patriarchy in liberation struggles. We need to remember that there is a time to call people in and there is a time to call people out.

To many women have spoken to me about a desperate need to hold men in leadership in DC accountable for me to remain silent.

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I don’t remember where I was when Mike Brown was lying on the ground for 4 and half hours. I don’t remember when I first realized that I was watching the public lynching of a Black boy on television every time I watched cable news talk about the “thug” “Big Mike.” I don’t remember when I realized that the Black Lives Matter Movement was giving birth to my generation’s Black Liberation Movement.

I do remember the feeling of needing to do something, anything, after Darrin Wilson was not indicted for the execution of Michael Brown. I remember the feeling of anguish that led me to start writing nearly daily on race, racism and white supremacy after seeing how white allies showed up in spaces. I also remember when Black women leaders inspired me to get off my blog and hit the streets

I remember when my now good friend Lydia and I met at an action she planned. I remember being grateful that she brought the movement to my city. I remember talking a long lunch to interview Erika Totten and Dominique Hazzard at a day of action in November. I remember hearing Erika say that she couldn’t not get into this fight. I remember them inspiring me to get off this blog and into the streets.

Once I was in the streets I remember a shared sense of organizers not really knowing what they were doing. This is not to say that people didn’t have skills, or talents or expertise. This meant that people were angry, and traumatized and were making plans as we were executing them. I remember showing up to actions and people asking me to pitch in. I remember when I decided to be an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement because there was shit I wanted to be happening that just wasn’t.

There were a couple of months that I was organizing around Black Lives Matter but I didn’t consider myself a leader. I would read about the next shooting, the next beating, the next sex trafficking police officer in 7D and spend hours on Facebook looking for the event that addressed it. When it didn’t happen, I would send out e-mails to all the “real leaders” and wait for a response, wait for someone to step up and let me follow them. As the other organizers got busier, and replies started to be, yeah, you should do that! That’s when I started to think about leadership.

There was point at which it became clear that other people already saw me as a leader. It took a while for me to take the mantle as my own though. Leadership comes with a number of benefits, mainly that I get the unique pleasure of actualizing my plans and thoughts. I get to see my own plans for liberation come into being bit by bit. I get to see people move. Not just bodies on the street but minds and souls be moved by my action and writing. It is an amazing feeling. Yet leadership, true leadership like the kind this movement needs, comes with responsibility and accountability.

The weight of that responsibility grew steadily as it became more and more apparent that people expected things of me. People looked to me plan actions. People looked to me to say those hard truths that needed saying. People started saying things like, I came out because you asked me. I felt proud but also scared, unworthy and incapable of seeing in myself what others saw in me.

I remember the point at which the responsibility of leadership felt the most visceral. I had called a meeting to plan an anti-misogyny training at my house and invited my people. The people who I’m in the movement for, the people’s whose welfare makes me work to end patriarchy. Most importantly, the people I grown been accustomed to schooling me on what’s what.

I remember opening the conversation with my vision for the training and having multiple dynamite, power houses of local organizing gently push back by saying “I’m here because this work needs to get done, and I trust Aaron to hold this space.” That level of trust hit me hard. It was both an unexpected honor and, to be honest, terrifying. It was frightening because I had little faith in my ability to hold a space that honored the humanity, dignity and brilliance of the women in the room when facilitating a conversation about patriarchy.

The truth is, sexism is real and embedded in the very fabric of our society. It is foundational to how we think about leadership, self-worth, and movement building. In my mind, I too was too influenced by our sexist culture to rid the spaces I was creating of its taint.

In talking with those women, I realized that every time I hold a space the attendees have to make a decision. The women I invite have to make a decision about whether or not they trust me and the men I choose to surround myself with to create a space where they feel safe.

As a leader I cannot forget about that choice. I cannot take the easy way out and operate my meetings, my marches, my healing spaces within the oppressive atmosphere of a demented status quo. I cannot choose personal loyalty over liberation. I cannot duck out of the responsibility of leadership because silence is easier than speaking out. I cannot betray the trust of the women who continually teach me how to recognize my own humanity. That trust is important and not given lightly. That trust must be earned and re-earned constantly. Most importantly, it is not to be abused.

Sadly, far too often it is.

Far too often whole sections and scenes within movements are physically, emotionally and spiritual dangerous to women. Too often women have navigate those same uncontainable impulses to do something, anything to end their current oppression with the added burden of deciding, not whether, but how much abuse and misogyny they will endure to do so. That is sickening.

That simple fact outlines the limit of how far any movement for liberation can go without naming, addressing and ending patriarchy within the movement. Black liberation can’t move an inch past the bonds that men force on women.

Men must do more. Black men must do more. The male leadership of the leaderful Black Lives Matter Movement must do more. I must do more. We must do more.

We must transform our spaces to be the reflections of the liberation we are seeking. We must hold the men we surround ourselves accountable to our shared vision of world in which our neighbors, co-workers, sisters, mothers and daughters can be their full, beautiful, Black, female and gender non-conforming authentic selves without fear of violence. We must hold men accountable to holding spaces that do not enable, praise, or excuse rape.
Those of us who have decided that this moment is our time; those of us who have chosen to be leaders in the movement for Black liberation; those of us who strive for a world in which the overwhelming brilliance of Black people is allowed to thrive and flourish, must hold ourselves accountable to ending patriarchy.

Rape culture is too acidic to liberation to be tolerated. Sexual predation is too counter-revolutionary to be tolerated. Our collective silence, my own reservations about ruffling feathers and stepping on toes, is too violent to be tolerated. We must call each other in, until we need to start calling each other out.

I am not writing this as a model for how to be a man in the movement. I am writing this as someone who fucks up. I am writing this as someone who was silent for too long. I am writing this as someone who has to constantly apologize for how I show up in spaces. I am writing this as someone who wants all the amazing women I often follow and who sometimes follow me, to call me in until you need to call me out.

To all the men that are reading this we have to do better. We have to stop allowing men to prey on women in our spaces. We have to stop interrupting women on the mic. We have to stop defending rapist because they once were a role model to us. We have to stop shaming women for speaking their truth. We have to stop refusing to put in work for the women’s liberation movement. We have to re-imagine our conceptions of masculinity, sexuality and gender. We have to check our internal transmisogynoir.We have to step way back and remember to come forward when our support is needed.

If you have questions, concerns or push back please reach out to me. We need to come together to end rape culture. We need to leverage our power to create beloved communities and liberated spaces. We need to start crafting and implementing solutions. There have been a few conversations and events on ending patriarchy and redefining masculinity so far and hopefully there will be many more to come. Please find me on Facebook or e-mail me at wellexaminedlife@gmail.com if you are interested in joining me and other men to end rape culture.

Dear Black Women and Trans* People in the Struggle

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Dear Black Women and Trans* Activists in the Struggle,

I don’t know how to begin this letter. There are so many things I want to say to all the Black women in my life. There are so many things I want to say to uplift, spread and support marginalized voices within this new movement. There is so much I want to say about the myths and sad truths of Black masculinity.

I want to acknowledge that historically the struggle for Black liberation has been dominated by male egos and interests. I want to acknowledge not only the struggles that Black Women, Black Queer folk and Black Trans* people have in the larger American society but also the pain that cis-gendered straight Black men have caused those communities.

I want to acknowledge my own need to be better on and do more for gender equality, Queer liberation and Trans* liberation. Today however, I will confine myself to attempting (and inevitably failing) to express my gratitude to the multiply oppressed Black people who are instigating and leading these wave of protests and movement moments.

I want say thank you to all the mothers, brothers, lovers, writers, teachers, artist, organizers, activists and sisters of the struggle who have been the lighting rod of the movement thus far.

The sacrifices and support of my mother, aunts and sisters are the only reason I am alive and well today. I constantly see the collaborative, inclusive and empathetic leadership model that my sisters taught me employed in movement spaces.

I see truly ego-less organizing shut down highways as easily and gracefully as they shut the Black Male Messiah respectability politics of previous movements.

Time and time again I see young Black Queer women open up our internal dialogue on Blackness to not merely include trans* and differently abled Black people of all ages but in fact for our shared identity to be strengthened by our diversity. It is no coincidence that the #blacklivesmatter moniker was coined and spread by three young Black queer women [Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi]

The intersectional analysis of multiple oppressions that is so consistently and acutely articulated by Queer Black Women, along with a growing fight for Trans* Liberation has given Black men like me the keys to begin to unshackle Black Masculinity.

It has freed me to feel. It has freed me to express my emotions and embrace my own vulnerability. It has allowed me to move beyond harmful and one-dimensional tropes of “the strong Black man” without losing an ounce of real, non-oppressive, strength.

It has allowed me to begin to construct a healthy, sustainable Black masculinity centered on community, self-love and empathy.
In short, it has freed me to love and thus fully experience my own inherent humanity.

In many ways, the growing fight for Trans* liberation is paving the way for Black Liberation by giving all of us thousands of stunning examples of a Blackness divorced not only from White Supremacy but also heteronormative patriarchy.

It is given us glimpse of the promise land: a Blackness free of oppression. But I recognize not only my self-interest and but also moral obligation to fight for trans* liberation. I know that fighting for justice means rooting out injustice wherever it might be. Even if, perhaps especially if, it is inherent in my own views of gender.

So I am not sure I have the words to describe my gratitude, my overwhelming desire to thank you, collectively and individually, for your work in the struggle; for opening my eyes and refusing to let them shut. All I can say is:

I see you.

I saw you all stand with me when America decided that I was not human. I saw you stand and be counted among those who will not rest until we get freedom. I saw you carry the banner of my liberation despite all the times I have neglected to carry it for you. I saw you, fist raised, hands up, heart-bared, shouting that you can’t breathe.

I know that we live in world that tells you be invisible.

We live in world that tries to force you into cis-gendered boxes labeled sapphire, jezebel and mammy.

We live in a world that tells you to stay down, to stay in your place until you are needed to explain my pain to the world.

We live in world that cannot stand to truly look at you in all you beauty, all your diversity, all your complexity, all your strength all your humanity and yes, all your pain.

Yet I saw you protest with me. I saw you lead our community to shut down highways, shut down airports, shut down streets, and malls and business as usual across America.

I saw you march.

I saw you refuse to play the limited, stilted and one-dimensional role society laid out for you from birth. I saw you stand when the world told you to sit and I wanted to say that your leadership in this struggle -just like your leadership in the classroom, in the arts and in our communities- gives me hope, gives me solace, and gives me the strength to carry on.
I heard you.

I heard you demand the killing of Black Women and Black Trans* people not be swept under the rug. I heard you demand that Black Liberation not come, once again, on your backs. I heard your voice cry out in the night. I heard you articulate the collective pain of our people with the same breathe that I heard you sing of the joys of the Black family.

I heard the power of your crying be outweighed by the joy of your laughter in the pews, on street corners, in living rooms and kitchen counters in between protests. I heard you refuse to be defined merely by one emotion or another.

I heard you refuse to play merely one role.

I know that the world tells you to be silent unless you are going to sing.

I know the world doesn’t want to hear from you until they need you to be the canary bird of our illiberal democracy.

I know you are told that from day one that you have nothing to offer so you should just be quiet.

I know we live in a world that cannot bear to hear your truth unless it serves our narrow interests.

Yet I heard you speak it anyways. I heard you tear down the narratives that have chained us for so long with your truth. I heard you re-define realness and authenticity. I heard you re-define Blackness as beautiful and available to all of us:

Even the nerds.

Even the sensitive brothers.

Even those of us who grew up alone in a white world; in re-defining Blackness to include us all you re-ignited a movement for Black liberation.

I am not able to even able to comprehend the complexity of the lives, identities and narratives of the Black women and Trans* people in the trenches. I cannot count the ways that you move this movement forward both loud and quiet, both brilliantly visible and unseen.

The debt I owe you, the debt the world owes you, can never be repaid.

All I can say is thank you.

Thank you for everything you have done, continue to do and will do in the future.

Thank you for leadership, for your support, for your patience and, at times, your forgiveness.

Thank you for continually holding me accountable.

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Thank you for forcing me to recognize just how powerful, how diverse, how truly and undeniable beautiful you are.

Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world.

I promise to stand with you as you have stood with me. I promise to continue to deconstruct my own masculinity. I promise to not merely tolerate but celebrate you, your love, your gender and your expression of it in all of glorious permutations.

I promise to never allow anyone to say womanism or feminism or trans*liberation is a distraction from the struggle. I promise to never lose sight that this is all part of the collective liberation of our shared humanity. I promise to never ask for you to wait.

I promise to ensure in that this struggle continue until all #BlackLivesMatter, yours as well as mine.

I also promise you I am not alone. I promise you that millions of other Black men also see you and hear you and stand with you in this struggle.

I promise to work tirelessly to with the rest of us who don’t.

Love and Solidarity–

An Argument for Operating with Love

I love

*If you are looking for the speech I gave at Sixth and I please click here*

I was reminded today that there is no cosmic scale weighing the oppression of Blacks in America.
There is no ledger listing the wrongs that have been done to us.
There is no mystic reckoning that will bring wholeness.
There is no justice in this world beyond that which we make.
Power concedes nothing without demand and I fear it will be a long time before our demands are met with anything but violence.
So I will no longer allow my life to be defined merely by struggle or pain.
If we are to walk to Calvary like Sisyphus,
bearing our cross up this racial mountain only to have out feet taken from under us
Or if we must continue to build national idols to freedom that mock our bondage
I will love each and everyone who bears these thorns and stones with me.
I will love each and everyone who feels my pain.
I will love each and everyone who wishes this death march to end.
I will love, despite all my pain, because it is only while experiencing love that I feel truly human.
I will love, despite all my rage, because it is the most radical political act I can convenience of.

There is a feeling of empowerment one feels when you realize that you have made the conscious decision to live. Few people ever get to experience that feeling but I’d be hard pressured to call myself lucky to be one of them. I remember standing on top of tall building overlooking the courtyard of my college. I remember thinking how easy it would be to step off. I imagined feeling the wind flow over my body for a few seconds that would seem an eternity. I remember thinking it would be so quick, so easy. I had battled suicidal thoughts before, but never had the thought of ending it seem so easy. I chose then to live, or many reason I have talked about before. I made the conscious decision to continue living.

This moment, in retrospect, was a watershed moment in my battle with mental illness. It was a moment, a memory, that shepherded me through the darkness. It reminded me, when the would seemed cruel and pointless, chaotic and thoroughly beyond my control, that I  at least had chosen to continue living it. I recognize now, as I did then, that it is in many ways a false choice. Living is all I know. Equally important, it was not in reality, that choice that made the pain bearable. It was the perspective that narrative gave me. I constructed a narrative that gave me power and I used that power heal myself. Time and hours of self care later, the teenager who stood on the roof top feels like another person.

Earlier this month, I was reminded of that boy again. I was walking away from a massive protest, one that I had been waiting for for weeks. I was filled with rage. The tinge of injustice pulsed through my vein with such force that I felt on fire. I wanted to scream, to shout, to break, to shatter the world  in a vain attempt to ease the pain. My hands started to tingle as I balled them into fists. My body tensed with a desire to fight something concrete, something physical, something as visceral as my despair. I have learned over the years that little good comes from such rage left unchecked. It must be processed rather than merely released. So, I made the decision to leave and take care of my own emotional health. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of good friend who smiled and waved. I did not wave back. I did not, and do not, feel bad about not waving back.

In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open  up before me. A path in which I could cast off my  connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring. You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea. I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear of the response. I just wanted to rage. I’m not talking about just rioting. Rioting is a way to communicate something you can’t verbalize or refuse to process. Rioting is the language of the unheard. It is the way we communicate to a society that otherwise ignores us. I’m talking about giving in to the part of me with no concern for justice. The part of me with no need to heard by jury becuase it doesn’t have any stock in the idea of peers. It’s part of me that I like to pretend isn’t there. The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. Give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all  for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.

In that moment, I choose love.

I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.

Hate just isn’t not strong enough until it destroys you.

I knew that the only part of life I have ever found worth living were the connections I made with other people. I knew, that all I really wanted was to not be alone in my pain anymore. I knew that for all my rage, for all of my politics, I want America to want me. It’s a hellish false choice, but I knew that in choosing hate I would be the demon they think I am.

In choosing love, I stepped back from the ledge. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world. I choose to love this nation that hates me, not for my slice  of the America dream or out of some Obamaesque vision of the American family. I choose to love this nation because as James Baldwin said “We are here and to be here means that we can’t be anywhere else.” I had to love America because America is where I find myself. Loving America (as a community of people not a patriarchal nation state) is a messy, inelegant solution but it is best I’ve got.  I have no other home.

I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope. In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love when I articulate my humanity loved ones validate me by articulating theirs and suddenly it all feels worth it.

It is, I know, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity in tact. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. My love is not magical. But like that moment when I decided to live, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. It gives me to power to stand to those who seek to set themselves above me. It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before my. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own. Love gives me the perspective to hope that one day, when we reach the mountain top, we will not be sent tumbling down, with nothing but our cross to break the fall. Maybe this narrative with be replaced later. Maybe time will change my tune. But for now, in this moment. I will love. I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human. I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.

“It is our duty to fight

It is our duty to win

We will love and support one another

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

A Mantra of the Black Youth Project, based on the words of Assata Shakur  

The Truth About Gender Based Violence

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Elliot Rodger terrifies me.

It’s not that I’m afraid that some kid like him will attack me or, worse, someone I love. I don’t think Men’s Rights advocates are going to join with the NRA to declare open season on women. What scares me about Elliot Rodgers — what makes my whole body clinch into a coil when women I respect and care about talk about him — is that he doesn’t seem all that extreme to me. I understand where he is coming from.

He is every teenage boy I played football with. He is my brother. He is my father and, to a very sickening degree, he is me. More to the point, Elliot Rodger reminds me that society has already declared open season on female bodies.

A few weeks ago, a woman with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to have organized with on progressive causes sent me a letter written by another organizer in my city. It’s a plea to consider the epidemic of horny, angry young men who haven’t had sex for extended periods of time as a public health crisis. The writer goes on to say, that while he thinks murder is wrong, Elliot Rodgers’ rampage could have been prevented if only someone had set him up with women to have sex with. He cites other spree killers who “snapped” after extended periods of time without sex, as well as several unnamed studies that show sex reduces stress and leads to a more balanced mental state. The author writes, at length, about how women just need to stop thinking emotionally about this issue and start thinking logically.

As I talked to my friend and fellow organizer about this letter and saw her reaction, her visceral fear that a man like this could be working alongside her, I was filled with another kind of visceral discomfort entirely: I didn’t think anything he said was that extreme. Even if I disagree, I can understand where he is coming from. Some of the logic of the rant rang “true” to me. There’s normalcy to this seemingly extreme behavior.

This is not to say that the normalcy of these beliefs make them any less dangerous. Nor that every man is a powder keg of misogyny waiting to explode. My point is that these moments of mass gender-based violence are merely a symptom of much more widespread and virulent problem: the formation of masculinity.

Why Masculinity Is The Problem

There’s a distinction between an individual man and the larger social idea of masculinity. Masculinity is way of being: it is all of the things we mean when we say “that guy is so manly.” Being a man means you, either innately or through social pressure, identity with your culture’s construction of maleness — you call yourself a man, you think of yourself as a man, and when you decide how you should act in social situations, you observe other men. You’re part of the group of humans who seek to be masculine, consciously or subconsciously.

Being born with a penis, a Y chromosome, and the ability to grow a beard is not the problem. Testosterone (though a possible factor) is not really the problem. The way we teach men to behave is the problem. Masculinity is the problem.

It is the logic of masculinity that blinds most men to their privilege; it is this logic that causes some men to rape; and it is this logic that causes some men to kill. It is a logic that is ingrained into the psyche of all men, a logic so embedded as to become almost invisible. I believe that as long as we view this logic as the exception and not the rule, society will continue to tacitly endorse violence on women.
It must also be said that masculinity is as much as an identity as it is a socially constructed justification for allowing men to have privilege. This seems like a radical claim but it is actually rather obvious. Masculinity is not inherent to everyone born with the biological markers our society decided to call male. If this was the case, it would be unnecessary for fathers to teach sons how to be men. We would not tell boys to “man up” if boys naturally grew into men. Nor does it make sense that masculinity is a cultural idea created organically over time. Organic cultural ideas are not defended by their adherents, only carefully constructed ideas are. For example, human bodies are meant to walk or run from place to place. This idea has a biological basis in the natural world. Yet, you don’t see threats of violence every time a pilot decides to fly. Yet, in America, if a man were to wear a dress he would be met with credible threats of violence.

Yet, men who commit violence against women assert their inherent, “natural”, and biological determinism as men as the justification for their heinous acts. It would be easy to dismiss this pathological denial of simple truths if it were merely the actions of a few misguided men. Unfortunately, the construction of masculinity is a social project undertaken by all men, myself included. Every time I tell a boy to “act like a man,” or remain silent while someone else does, I am taking part in this social project. In order for this fatal masculinity to function, it requires both the visceral hatred of women by a select few and the near ubiquitous silence of the majority.

Audre Lorde eloquently stated that, as a woman facing the brutal oppression of life under male supremacy, “your silence will not protect you.” As men, we must come to realize that our silent acquiescence to the logic of masculinity enables the rape, coercion and murder of women. For men, silence in the face of culture of violence is not merely unproductive; it is downright destructive.

I’m not interested in validating the arguments that support misogyny. However, I do think it’s important to illustrate how the logic of masculinity twists mundane facts into apologies for rape and murder. Without making those connections, men like myself will perhaps see no need to question our own internal logic and beliefs. Without some serious introspection by men, we will raise yet another generation of spree killers, rapist, abusers, and enablers.

Weeding Out Emotional Understanding

I would argue that the most strongly held sexist belief in America is the idea that men are less emotional than women, and therefore more logical. That belief is often perpetuated by well-meaning men taught , as all men are taught, to suppress their emotions. This may seem like a small thing, almost like an example in a magazine article entitled “10 ways men are different than women,” but it illustrates a much larger problem in our society: We raise 49% of the population under a gender identity that systematically weeds out emotional understanding.

When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine, they are uniformly told to suppress them through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl who didn’t return my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men are always told to deal with emotion. Ignore the pain, act manly, and you’ll feel better.

This systematically teaches boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” So, when faced with emotions, boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control rather than processing their feelings fully. They also often attempt to invalidate the emotional responses that other people (usually womyn) may feel. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning — with dangerous results.

Men systemically deny emotional responses until they respond with anger and aggression. This anger and aggression is often either denied or reframed to be the fault of the more emotive person (often, though not always, a womyn.) This is blatantly clear on reddits and blog post about gender. Men speak to the emotional insecurity feminism forces them to come to terms with the only way they know how: through rape threats and other forms of victim blaming.

This denial of emotion is clearly essential to the constructing of maleness though I, for the life of me, could not tell you why. It is possible masculinity seeks to control emotion as a way to limit empathy because it is hard to set yourself above someone if you have to consider their feelings while you do. This explanation seems likely, given that most forms of oppression tend to cause the oppressed to be seen as more emotionally vulgar. Whether it is the primness of aristocracy, the respectability of whiteness or the stoicism of maleness: dominance is always carefully constructed to cull empathy within the dominant class.

For men, this lack of emotional awareness causes several problems. Chief among them is the fact that men have emotions, regardless of whether they acknowledge them or not, and these emotions have to get expressed. When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine they are uniformly told to work them out through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl not returning my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men deal with emotion.

A young boy hurts his knee and he is told to walk it off. If he limps and shuffles it would not be unheard of for an older man to tell him walk like a man. The implicit message here being, ignore the pain, act manly and you’ll feel better. The same goes for all manner of emotional pain.

Sexual Frustration and Gender Based Violence

By tying the cure to all emotional vulnerability to acting “manly” we systematically teach boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” Boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control when faced with emotions rather than process them fully. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning, again to dangerous results.

Another belief central to misogyny is the notion that sexual frustration is the root of gender based violence. I believe that regular, consensual and safe sex between adults who share a sense of mutual respect is a decent way to manage many different types of stress. Yet it is absurd to say that men kill women out of sexual frustration.

The real culprits are not prudish women refusing to satisfy the needs of horny Neanderthals. Blaming women for this frustration isn’t just blaming the victim; it is wholly misunderstanding the problem. The problem is not that some men feel entitled to sex, or, as many feminist writers have posited, that most men feel entitled to sex. The problem is not even that some men think they are superior to women (though far too many do).

In reality, the problem is that nearly every derivation of modern American masculinity is fundamentally based on a specific, limiting, oppressive, and mutually fatal logic of maleness in which emotional insecurity and vulnerability can only be addressed through feats of violence and control.

We live in a male oriented society that tells men that they are only as important as they are manly, and that they are only as manly as their sexual and physical prowess. The more women they sleep with, or the more capable they are in perpetrating actual violence — or simulated violence through sports – the more fulfilled they are. In such a society, sex becomes a major avenue for external validation of men as social beings; validation without which no person, of any gender, can have stable and healthy emotional lives.

So when our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men find convenient scapegoats and lash out.

Within this fatal perverted logic — and only within this logic — it makes sense that sexually frustrated men would kill. They have internalized their need for social validation as their masculinity not being accepted by society. They then perform their gender through feats of violence and control, such as rape and murder, to gain that social “proof” of maleness.

Masculinity and Scapegoating

Not all men deal with this dynamic by raping or killing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t find some way to exhibit violence and control. When our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men lash out, and find convenient scapegoats. Few men are taught to effectively process and resolve emotional problems and all men have been taught the idea that emotional problems are a result of not being manly enough. Even for men who have grown past that idea intellectually feelings of failure often coincide with feelings of not being man enough. This means that regardless of what expectations are messaged to us, we are unable to process the feeling of vulnerability when those expectations are not met.

This is why we see a rise of domestic violence and racism after downturns in the economy. When people’s financial expectations are not met, they lash out and focus on a convenient scapegoat. Too often this leads to men hitting their wives as a way to compensate for not being able to provide for their families. In a sense, these men are substituting emotional or physical control for financial control. Similarly, white men have, historically, been prone to blame economic downturns on the “animalistic masculinity” of Black and Brown men. To paraphrase a former Klansman, hating America is too hard: it’s big and amorphous and you’re a part of it; it’s easier to blame to Black men for taking your jobs.

Unfortunately, domestic violence and racism are not the only places where male frustration and feelings of inadequacy lead to scapegoating and violence. In fact, perhaps one of the most common ways men lash out their feelings of inadequacy is through street harassment. Few men who ask strange women to suck their manhood actually expect the women to respond positively. Street harassment isn’t actually about getting sex; it is about asserting masculinity. The impulse that makes a group of men call out to women on the street is the same impulse that led me to run faster and hit harder in football. It’s all just “working it out on the field,” showing the world your sexual and physical prowess.

It is commonly believed that street harassment is a cultural problem of low income or minority communities given that street harassment is more likely to occur in communities where men hang out on the streets. Yet in reality, street harassment is simply another symptom of the logic of masculinity as men with more money exhibit the same behaviors in bars, by water coolers or on the internet. How often have you or a friend hit on a women in a bar after staring at her breast? How often has a male co-worker dismissed the irritation of a female colleague by saying “she just needs to get laid?”

Why That Sexist Joke Matters

The same form of thinking that leads to street harassment is present in all manners of male conversations. How often have you overheard male friends talk about how upset they are that someone won’t sleep with them? How often do your married friends complain that their wife always has a headache when they bring up the subject? How often have you been upset that your girlfriend didn’t want to have sex with you when you were horny? How often has this anger been expressed by calling the woman a bitch, slut, whore, prude or a tease?

It may seem like innocuous venting, but it is anything but. Words matter. More importantly, the words we use to categorize people matters, as it tells us how people deserve to be treated. If you to write an article on a bill and refer to the President as a politician, most readers would automatically start to be skeptical of their motives. If you refer to the President as “the last adult in Washington,” you have already helped frame how readers will react to the bill. If you refer to woman as a bitch, what, then, does she deserve? How about a whore? A Slut? A Prude? Or a tease?

To make this point another way, consider how most men feel when their best friend doesn’t want to hang out with them. For instance, if your friend tells you he has to work, you’re unlikely to be upset. If a friend says he has to have dinner with his girlfriend, some men might be a little more inclined to be irritated. If a friend says he can’t hang out because he would rather stare at a wall, most men would be upset. You can understand your friend’s need to work as being more important than your need to hang out. You might, given your personal feelings about committed relationships, easily understand the need for romance over “bromance.” However, few people would take kindly to their need for companionship take a second seat to staring at a wall. Then, we feel we are not giving us the time we deserve.

In that context, it becomes clear what we actually are thinking when we are upset with women for not sleeping with us: How dare they put their physical comfort, their desire to spend the night with their friends or their lack of sexual arousal, above our own needs? How dare they put their human need for self-fulfillment above our sexual ones? For this transgression, they are put into categories that justify our violence against them. Bitches need to be taught a lesson. Sluts are to be fucked and discarded. Whores to be fucked and bought off. Prudes just need to be coaxed. Teases just need a taste of their own medicine. The logic of these jokes is the same as the logic of street harassment. Before you know it, locker room talk leads to “she was asking for it”.

I remember a moment in high school when my friend was telling me about the latest girl he was pursuing. He said, “Sometimes, I think that I should just rape her…I know, it sounds crazy, but after a minute I think she’d learn to enjoy it.” My friend was clearly joking — but he was joking in the uncomfortable way that made Dave Chappelle stop his show, the kind of joking that so deeply blurs the line between humorous exaggerations and “funny because it’s true” statements that reinforce stereotypes. I called him out on it, disgusted, and immediately another guy told me to “quit being such a faggot.” Again, clearly joking…

Men who think misogyny doesn’t exist, or is vastly over stated by “femi-nazis,” often dismiss humor as existing outside of the things we actually believe in. They claim the jokes are funny because they are not true. Yet, if you think about how we actually develop our worldview, you can see that humor is the way we test out ideas and see if they are socially acceptable. If you want to know if you new glasses are cool or nerdy, it is often less emotionally risky to make a joke about them being nerdy, and gauge your friends’ reactions. The same is true for rape and domestic violence jokes we are told, still tell, or have been shamed into silence when we hear.

This worldview gets reinforced in our minds with real world consequences, even if we wouldn’t agree with it intellectually. So when a girl doesn’t like us back, we look for faults in her, call her names, or otherwise react aggressively. Eventually it gets so ingrained, and men are so incapable of handling rejection and criticism positively, that we find ourselves labeling women in aggressive manners for minor things like correcting us in a staff meeting. In this way, locker room humor becomes board room bigotry.

Where Men Can Go From Here

I am not arguing that every man is a rapist or mass murderer in waiting. I am arguing that all of this – aggression, street harassment, misogynist jokes, rape, and killing sprees — are all symptoms of same fatal logic of masculinity. The construction of modern masculinity causes men to perpetrate all manner of violence, due to our inability to understand and process emotion. When I say this is a problem with #yesallmen, I mean that as long as we live under the chains of modern masculinity, we will all continue to invalidate the emotional experience of other people, threaten or perpetuate violence when someone forces us to come to terms with our emotions, and fail to overcome our feelings of vulnerability.

Elliot Rodger is not a lone, crazy gunman, nor is he a poster boy for the danger of the radical men’s rights movement. Elliot Rodger is the generic archetype for modern masculinity, and a case study for what happens when you mix alienation, masculinity, and easy access to guns. If he were less alienated, he would have probably still been abusive to his partner. Had he not had access to guns, he still would have reacted violently. The only thing that stops Elliot Rodger from perpetrating gender-based violence is deconstructing masculinity.

It should be the endeavor of all men to do just that. Deconstructing our social concept of masculinity involves exploring our emotions and not fearing that will make us effeminate. We must understand that ignoring emotions is not some stoic expression of control; instead, it is the most profound cowardliness. It is a sick and often fatal cowardliness that put the women we profess to love in danger. The logic of our masculinity, the logic that tells us not to feel, that tells us that sex is the means to social validation, a logic that teaches us to fear the unknown inside of us, is literally destroying the fabric of our society.

Because until we as a society recognize that masculinity is the problem — and force men to deal with it — rape, harassment and murder will continue to typify the daily experiences of our wives, daughters, sisters, neighbors – as well as ourselves.

Under-appreciated Steps To Understanding Your Role In “Women’s Issues”

War on womenWar on men

 

We’ve heard a lot about the War on Women and the War on Men in the news the past few months. Every conversation I hear about it seems to be missing a crucial point of view or idea. I am also amazed at how often important voices are left out of each of the conversations. This is my attempt to highlight a few [and by no means all, or even the most important] steps we can take to improve our conversations about issues of sex and gender. As always, I seek increase my own awareness through dialogue, so whether you agree or disagree with this list, please leave a comment on below.

O. Watch this video by Jackson Katz which inspired me to write this.

I think he effectively gives the argument for why I have a problem with somethings being a women’s issue and not a human or a man’s issue. I’m not talking about or advocating for “Men’s Rights” [a topic I will write about soon], I’m talking about how making something a woman’s issues means that it is something that women have to deal with and I can just tune out. This is why you hear the complaint from some men saying “well, we never talk about men’s issues I don’t see why I have to hear about women’s issues all the time.” First of all, we do talk about men’s issues some times but they are just called issues. Here is a great post about how Men are People, Women are Women from a friend of mine. Second, we should definitely talk about Men’s issues more but men need to be prepared to have real conversations about masculinity. Its not going to be easy.

Just like Women’s Issues are not just shopping,  reproductive rights and parenting, Men’s Issues are not just sports, sex and fatherhood. In fact, the issues are basically they same. Some men like shopping and some women like sports. All men should be concerned about domestic violence and reproductive rights and all women should be concerned with fatherhood and men’s health. We all may care about different aspects of these issues. Men may understandably be more concerned with their part in stopping domestic violence and women may be more concerned with how they can support or improve their children’s, niece’s or student’s relationship with their fathers. Yet these are issues that affect us all. Also, I am not calling for the end labeling things as women’s issues, merely advocating that we find a way for insure that everyone hears and is heard.

I think Lindy West put it best when she wrote:

Think of it like this. Imagine you’re reading a Dr. Seuss book about a bunch of beasts living on an island. There are two kinds of beasts: Fleetches and Flootches. (Stick with me here! I love you!) Though the two are functionally identical in terms of intellect and general competence, Fleetches are in charge of pretty much everything. They hold the majority of political positions, they make the most money (beast-bucks!), they dominate the beast media, they enact all kinds of laws infringing on the bodily autonomy of Flootches. Individually, most of them are perfectly nice beasts, but collectively they benefit comfortably from inequalities that are historically entrenched in the power structure of Beast Island. So, from birth, even the most unfortunate Fleetches encounter fewer institutional roadblocks and greater opportunity than almost all Flootches, regardless of individual merit. One day, a group of Flootches (the ones who have not internalized their inferiority) get together and decide to agitate to change that system. They call their movement “Flootchism,” because it is specifically intended to address problems that disproportionately disadvantage Flootches while benefiting Fleetches. That makes sense, right?

Now imagine that, in response, a bunch of Fleetches begin complaining that Flootchism doesn’t address their needs, and they have problems too, and therefore the movement should really be renamed Beastism. To be fair. The problem with that name change is that it that undermines the basic mission of the movement, because it obscures (deliberately, I’d warrant) that beast society is inherently weighted against Flootches. It implies that all problems are just beast problems, and that all beasts suffer comparably, which cripples the very necessary effort to prioritize and repair problems that are Flootch-specific. Those problems are a priority because they harm all Flootches, systematically, whereas Fleetch problems merely harm individual Fleetches. To argue that all problems are just “beast problems” is to discredit the idea of inequality altogether. It is, in fact, insulting.

1. Embrace Complexity:

Understand that none of these issues are black and white. I even disagree with one or two points on all the articles I link to because ultimately these are complex issues and all of us have several lenses and paradigms we see them through. What’s important is that just because you disagree with one part of someone’s argument shouldn’t mean you disregard it completely. You might be a pro-choice man and find a women’s right to choose appalling given that the fetus has no say. You have a right to that opinion but that doesn’t men you should disregard the uproar when people talk about “legitimate rape” just because you like their stance on abortion. Similarly, you might identify as sex positive or sexually liberated but don’t forget that everyone’s sexual experience may not have been as positive as yours.

Bottom line: not all women who are pro-choice have internalized oppression or men who have guilt connected to their masculine identities made effeminate by feminism. These issues and our reactions to them are as complex as we are.

2. Understand that there is a problem:

I get it, maybe you think that women have gone to far. That whatever wave of feminism we are up to now has upset the natural order of things. Maybe you are woman who likes the role which women have been traditionally expected to fill. Maybe you believe that men should be the head of household because God said so. Maybe you are man who is tired of being portrayed as the dumb, overweight husband on T.V. Maybe you are Black man who is tired of young, college educated white women telling you how privileged you are to be a man. Great, you have a right to those opinions. What you shouldn’t do is forget that gender inequality exist because you either think you aren’t directly hurt by it or dislike the people talking about it.

We all have different takes on what the problem is, it severity, urgency and its causes but we should all agree that there is a problem of gender inequality in human society. There are numerous examples of human civilization having some problem with gender. From the examples the severe oppression of women world wide to accusations of reverse sexism, it is clear that it is out there. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first [er second? Third?] step in dealing with it.

3. Learn the power of active listening and intentional speech:

Words matter and how we talk to each other matters. Part of understanding the complexity of these issues is understanding that the are often very personal. This not only means that open dialogue is required to hear different sides of these personal issues but that this open dialogue needs to happen in a safe place. We will learn nothing from each other if we keep on the same accepted scripts and refuse to be vulnerable to each other. I found this article by Ana Mardoll to be helpful for that. It is talking specifically to men about being a feminist ally but I think it is helpful for how to talk about gender in a safe place and how to stand up for justice when surrounded by people who don’t think there is a gender problem. Therefore, I think it is also useful to women. Since society tells women that they are emotional thinkers I’ve noticed that some women assume that they are more emotionally aware than all men because they are women. The sad truth is that we are just not that introspective of species. Emotional awareness takes hard work and all genders have to do it. While different genders may have different emotional work to do, we all, as humans, have to do some.

 

4. Learn what other people think Patriarchy is and then come up with your own definition:

Perhaps you disagree with me about what the problem is? Perhaps you think that feminism went to far. Perhaps you think even radical feminist aren’t advocating that we go far enough? Either way, patriarchy is central to issues of “the gender problem” and questions of if it exists are in many ways secondary to what does it look like. I firmly believe that you have to have your own definition of the systemic problem {patriarchy} [or lack their of] before you can argue about the daily iterations of it {misogyny}.

The OED defines Patriarchy as “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” It is pretty difficult to argue that we don’t live in Patriarchy given that definition. [If you would like to argue that we don’t, please, post a respectful comment to that effect.] Yet, ultimately this is an overly simplified definition of the term. For a more in-depth look at the term I’d suggest going here or here.

Hopefully, understanding different ways that patriarchy is defined will convince you that Patriarchy does exist in some form. It doesn’t mean that every man has some societal power over every women. There are many women with more power in the world than me.  It also doesn’t even mean that the men who do have power are openly bigoted or sexist. It is possible to have a patriarchal system in which CEO’s all have programs designed to bring more women into underrepresented fields. Unfortunately, Patriarchy doesn’t need bigotry to sustain itself, undiagnosed and unprocessed bias is more than enough.

In my personal understanding  of the term, Patriarchy exists on two fronts: Power and Privilege. There is the real power that some people [male, female and intersex] have to exert their will [conscious or subconscious] on society and there is the privilege that is afforded to individuals based on their existence within a group which is believed to have power.

Power, in my definition of patriarchy, is the ability to exert your will [conscious or subconscious] over other people. It is important to realize is that power doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are layers of power interacting with each other. Just like having a Black President doesn’t mean that racism is gone, having a female Speaker of the house didn’t mean that women achieved true equality. Nancy Pelosi is powerful by just about any definition and her position as the de facto leader of Democrats in Congress [Harry who?] is a testament to how far women have come in society. Yet, one look at the Republican convened panel on women’s health, shows us that sometimes the dominance of one group’s subconsciously biased view on the world can constrain even the most powerful people in a society. In this case, congress [a body  comprised overwhelmingly of men] decided to have a panel on women’s health and invited people who they perceived as qualified to brief them. The panel ended up being all men talking about women. These congressmen chose men to talk to them about women’s health for a variety of reasons. One of the those reasons is because people tend to like to hear themselves talk. Humans have a natural tendency to want to hear facts from people who act, think and look like us and most of the members of congress on the panel were men. Another, more destructive reason, is the notion of “qualifications,” as in what makes someone qualified to talk about an issue, is biased towards men. We as society are used to men being authority figures and explaining things to us. This means that the voices of women as a group, whose health as group was in question, are left out of the conversation. Not to mention the fact that there are a number of women who are actual trained experts in women’s health and can speak articulately beyond their own personal experience.

When the dominance of the most powerful group in a societies point of view becomes termed “normal,”  members of that group are granted privileges just for perceived as being part of that group. For instance, it is considered “normal” for a boy to be good at math. Science and finance are seen as traditionally male careers. If I were to pursue a career in science or finance I would not have to deal with the problems associated with stepping out a my gender caste. A woman might have to deal with people suggesting she try nursing, teaching or being a mother instead. For many women these suggestions are merely an annoyance, for others there are a barrier to success and advancement.

Privilege is complex but well discussed check out some interesting takes on the complexity of privilege in terms of gender: black women and slut shamming and benevolent sexism.

5. Learn what your role in Patriarchy is:

We all have a role to play in Patriarchy [beyond dismantling or perhaps convincing every one that it doesn’t exist]. I personable believe that the role isn’t as simple as victim and perpetrator or oppressor and oppressed. I, as a man, benefit from Patriarchy. I stand a good chance of getting paid more for the same job than my sister will. I can expect to be listened to in many circles because I am a man and it is seen as normal for me to deferred to [granted, age, race and class sometimes makes this male privilege somewhat null and void.] Yet, at the same time, as a non-hetero-normative man, a man who doesn’t fit naturally into what society expects a man to be, I am also oppressed by Patriarchy. I find the idea of a “real man” in all his well muscled, anti-intellectual, emotionally stunted, alpha male grandiosity to be stifling. It is not an ideal that I can or want to live up to. It curtails my human potential by telling me that I’m not really a man. I personally believe that in internalizing patriarchy I have in effect oppressed my self and other men as well as women. I’ve had to come to terms with this fact in order to start the process of slowly deprogramming myself from patriarchy thinking, which is an on going process.

Similarly, women have complex roles in Patriarchy as well. What arethe moral implications of women who knowingly support patriarchal images of submissive women for their own profit? How does race and white privilege effect your role in patriarchy? What about women in Latino or Asian cultures with their diverse gender roles and stereotypes? How does class change our role?

6. Grow!

In my opinion, the purpose of understanding your role in issues of gender is for both personal and collective growth. I think that conversations about gender roles is essential not because we convince bigots to not be bigots but because we can examine our own biases and hang-ups which impede change more than bigotry. I know, as a man with an over active conscience, that it is easy to get bogged down in guilt or despair. Yet we should not let shame, guilt, anger or pain stop us from striving to understand ourselves and those around us. We need to be introspective to understand why we do what we do and how what do effects those around us. The better we understand that, the easier it will be to tackle and solve gender issues.

I’m interested in hearing what other under-appreciated steps people think there are.