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.

New Meditation for #BlackJoySundays

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Black Joy is a transformative force. It is a visceral, deeply embodied reminder of the precious euphoria of our humanity. It is the source of Black resilience which is itself the wellspring of Black Liberation.

‪#‎BlackJoySundays‬ are a supportive place we can be affirmed in our Blackness, fellowship with other gorgeous Black people and discuss some of the racial stress we experience. Yet above all, it is space where we cultivate a shared sense of Black joy.

This is a space for Black people, which means ALL Black people.

So make sure to bring your love for Black Women, Black People facing homelessness, Black Trans* Folk, Black Youth, Black Muslims, Black Queer Folk, Black Jews, Black Men, Black Gender Non-Conforming Folk, Black Elders, Black people thriving with disabilities [seen and unseen], and All Black Everythang!

We are a diverse diaspora and all our loves are unique. All that love will be put to good use this afternoon!!

Please closes your eyes, sit up straight and reflect on these words.

Honor all of your emotions in this space. And let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

My soul is an endless stream. Deep, dark waters of power and understanding flow through me. The flow of my soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge. It is flexible, malleable but head strong, cruising ever southward, home.

When I meditate, I ride this well of feelings and information towards my greater, more authentic self. Through action and community I have learned that my stream is a mere tributary, flowing and twisting and turning in tandem with others. Through action and community I can draw on the streams of understanding and emotional power of those I am in community with.

Through a cycle of action, communion and reflection my community is developing a revolutionary praxis that allows our streams to coalesce into rivers of transformative change. We carve canyons in the sides of mountains of oppression. We leave beyond gorgeous sandstones paintings of transformations on the walls of the mountains that used to keep us in a spiritual valley.

Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and reflect on these words:

You are a being on the path to liberation.

Your community marches for liberation alongside you.

You are resilient. You are powerful. You are bold.

You are loved because you deserve to be loved.

You love because you know your love can transform the world.

You must set yourself and your people on a path towards the light,
Do not merely set yourself against the darkness.

Seek out a joy that radiates from your bones and lights up the whole world.

As a Black feminist freedom fighter you must work to reclaim the erotic.

Let yourself enjoy the sacred pleasures of boundless joy and communal optimism.

Find, accept and foster that part of you that seeks Black excellence.

Temper your sorrow with the sound of the laughter, the feeling of a warm embrace, the taste of cornbread, the smell of shea butter and the sight of melanin.

Know that you are beautiful, you are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black women are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black trans women are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black people facing homelessness are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black youth are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black elders are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black men are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black returning citizens are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black queer folk are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

As Black feminist freedom fighter you know that self care is a revolutionary act.

It is your duty to fight for freedom by any gorgeous, elated, joyfull, double-dutching, dozens playing, singing or otherwise melanin infused means necessarily.

Liberation is a type of collective emergence.

As you breathe in all the joy of the universe, imagine yourself liberated.

As you breathe out a little bit of the stress and pain, feel yourself getting lighter

As you breather in all the love of the universe, imagine the gorgeous revolutionary this movement is making you

As you breathe out a little bit of the trauma and the hesitancy, feel yourself getting stronger

As you breathe in all the happiness of the universe, feel liberation growing inside you

As you breathe out more of the hesitancy, imagine yourself releasing your own sense of liberation with this community

As you breathe in more of the Black Joy of this space, repeat the phrase:

I am beautiful, I am not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure

until you are centered.

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.

Meditations On Liberation

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Liberation is ultimately an internal, self-reflective process even if it requires years of systemic change and collective action to be possible. Liberation means tearing down the barriers between who we are now and who we could be. Liberation is both a state and a process, each barrier destroyed, each chain broken, brings us closer to it.

Liberation means breaking the chains that limit our human potential and cultivating a communal nirvana. Liberation means believing in ourselves enough to love each other without limits. Liberation means trusting our strengths and bonds enough to be vulnerable to each other. Liberation means unlocking our greatest most authentic selves together.

Liberation means pushing ourselves past fears of inadequacy rooted in internalized oppression and into a realm of self-love which is the well-spring of communal self-determination. Liberation is not struggle even if struggle is necessary for liberation. Liberation is fully realizing that you are beautiful and together we are powerful beyond measure.

Liberation is celebrating our shared humanity through action. Liberation is making out between protests. Liberation is a meal between friends. Liberation is feeling loved, making love, spreading love, finding new love, rekindling old love. Liberation is preparing yourself to handle the soul bursting joy that healthy communities produce. Liberation is a block party, a birthday party and a wedding that can’t begin until everyone has the means, the time, the support and the invite to join.

Liberation is not dancing like no one is watching; Liberation is dancing like the world is cheering you on. Liberation is dancing like the movement in your hips is all that is keeping the lights on. Liberation is dancing like you were made to dance, like God is divine musician that just needed an audience.

Liberation is the life we lead in the narrow spaces between our oppressions. Liberation is the intimate moments where our full selves show up. Liberation is when our identities are not barriers but starting points; holy departures for interpersonal exploration; prologue not destiny.

Liberation is that good shit.

It comes in spurts and stutters and rarely all at once. It can be temporary, fleeting, and elusive. So we chase it, we long for it and search for it. We create gigantic mechanisms and machines to try and produce it yet Liberation can neither be found nor created. Liberation is all around us, we need only create space for it.

We need only destroy the soot and oppression and grime and hate and stand back as Liberation seeps into the vacuum. We do not need to destroy the old world in order to make space for the new. We do not destroy institutions of oppressions to wipe the slate clean and build a more just society. We destroy the systems of oppression because they are taking up the space where Liberation would naturally be.

Humans were not simply born free; we were born before the concept of slavery. Liberation is what will exists when slavery, privilege or rape are no longer options. Liberation can take many forms and it is not defined by its aspects. Liberation is simply the lack of social limits; it is unchained, untraumatized humanity flexing its communal muscles of self-determination.

Liberation is not an end, rather it is the most beautiful of beginnings…

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

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*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.

Home Is Where You’re Fighting To Get At It: An Essay on Music and Memory in Times of Transition

My first published article! I’d like to say Thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog over the past few months. I’m am really proud of this article and I hope you enjoy reading it. This Is Rhymes and Reasons is a phenomenal website and you should look around at their other post. Their interviews are amazing and really do a great job of the dealing Hip Hop Stories. Please comment, like and reblog like crazy!

Rhymes & Reasons

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by: Aaron Goggans

For years Chicago was my city, my center and my muse. Chicago was my on again, off again college sweetheart. Sure, we may have taken breaks over Christmas and Thanksgiving and I might have flirted with New York and Denver but I always knew I’d come home to her. We had gone through too many fights, birthdays, finals, and first dates for me to ever stay anywhere else too long. When I was away, she would send me mix tapes infused with that instantly recognizable Chicago sound. Sometimes, when I was lonely in my childhood home in Colorado I’d play Common or Kanye just so I could hear her voice; that wholesome, familiar sound that always reminded me of going to church.

To me, Chicago Hip Hop takes you to Cottage Grove on a Sunday morning. You can see Black people, from Englewood poverty to Beverly wealth…

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Rich Is The New White: Reflections on Capitalist Class Culture and D.C Housing

Shareroppers

So, a lot of things have been going on in the past few weeks. I’ve sort of jumped straight into housing advocacy here in D.C.  It all started when my sister introduced me to the Housing For All Campaign here in D.C. I joined a Learning Circle on gentrification that they ran and meet some really amazing community organizers doing work in housing. Around the same time I started going with my sister to Ward 8 Affordable Housing meetings. At these meetings people from all around the DMV [mostly people who have business interests in ward 8 thought there were a few Ward 8 residents] came to discuss  the “housing crisis” in Ward 8. To be completely blunt, these meetings made me want to throw up. Most of the people talking were middle to upper income Black people who complained for over an hour about how lazy and ignorant low income renters in Southeast D.C were. It sounded like a Regan era rant on welfare queens except that it is 2013 and the conservatives were black.

The whole outlook of these bourghie [that’s right I said it] Black people was that “I made it, so why can’t they?” They were so unbelievable bigoted towards low income Black people that I was [almost] speechless. As I made the standard explanation of institutionalized economic oppression, a history of disinvestment in Black communities, failing schools, and the simple fact that displacing people may raise the income of the neighborhood but gentrification doesn’t create nice neighborhoods, it moves people from a “nice” area into a “run down” area. It is simply a matter of moving people around, not lifting them up. The Black people at my table were not having it.

Instinctively I gave every single person at my table me best seriously brah? look and they all gave me that sickeningly condescending look white people in Colorado Springs used to give me when I said I wanted to be a community organizer. The only person who gave me a sympathetic glance was a young white woman. She was much better at staying composed and professional than I was but she was clearly put off. I would later learn two things: 1.) this is pretty common in D.C. 2.) the young woman was an organizer for a low income community organizing non-profit. I’ve gone to four similar meetings in the last few weeks. In each one privileged Black people say some thoroughly bigoted things and the only people who say a word against it are community organizers. It is the most bizarre phenomenon.

I know I said that I was going to write about Capitalism, and I will, but instead of talking about Capitalism as an economic system I think I’m going to talk about capitalism as a culture. It just keeps coming up. This idea that Capitalism and Whiteness has collided to create something new and very scary. It has created this culture of Bourghie Black people who want to gentrify Anacostia in D.C. Now, let me be clear. When I’m talking about Whiteness I do not mean being of European decent.  There was a time when being a member of a fair skinned, christian ethnic group hailing entirely from Europe did not make you white and I think we are going back to a similar situation. Here is a quick read for those of you unfamiliar with this idea,it is a short review of Noel Ignatiev’s “How the Irish Became White.” I should say that I have not read the book, and therefore cannot endorse it or the review but that the review introduces one theory on this idea for the uninitiated. I am talking about the type of Whiteness that gets you access to White Privilege. Simply put, circa 1880’s, a Irish immigrant in Chicago would not have access to all the benefits of a racist society that a native born man of Protestant English decent would have when competing against Blacks for employment. They were systemically discriminated against and it was often a toss up as to whether they were hated more than Blacks by any particular employer. Therefore that Irish immigrant’s ethnic whiteness is not the type of cultural whiteness I am talking about. I am talking about the cultural whiteness that I have access to when I call a bank and ask for loan because I sound like a well-to-do college educated White person but don’t have access to when I go in person because I look like a low to middle income young Black man.

This is a complicated idea that I haven’t really thought through yet. Basically what I want to write about is four parts. How the whiteness that used to basically be W[hite-skinned] A[nglo] S[axon] P[rotestant] culture that made the majority of wealthy Americans of European decents [who were wasps themselves] feel like they could relate to you has been transformed to a whiteness that is more aligned with a specific Capitalist Class Culture [CCC]. It is important to note that this culture is still tied to the old way of thinking about Whiteness because people who look white are often assumed to of the CCC. Yet an increasing minority of racially white people are not members of this new CCC. Poor white people in Appalachia are certainty not given all the economic privileges that uneducated white people from San Diego might take for granted.  I may fare better getting a loan from Citibank if I came in with a suit than Honey Boo Boo mother’s mother might in her finest clothing. I’m not saying that their is not a racial stigma against Black people when it comes to getting loans, merely that it is not the only stigma and prejudiced out there.

There is a way of talking in American that gives makes people take you seriously. Similarly there is a way of dressing, a way of moving, and even series of things you can reference. This way of being taken seriously is usually called being professional. Yet this is a biased cultural standard. Check out this problematic essay of how Black women can overcome being seen as less professional to illustrate this point. Most of the advice could be rewritten as “act more like your white co-workers and stop being so Black.” No were does it talk about why some behaviors are seen as more professional than others. [I found it especially funny that they encouraged Black women to joke about drinking with your co-workers because that is professional.] It is also a cultural standard that needs to be taught and is not intuitive to those who were not raised in CCC. Simple things like how to tie and tie, how to dress for an interview, whether or not to send a thank you note after an interview are all examples of cultural practices that can make huge economic differences in America. There are others, like how to use the internet to find jobs you are qualified for, how to find social services that will help get job training or how to open a bank account that members of the CCC [like myself] often forget we learned from parents or other members of the CCC that we interact with.

I am also not arguing that we are living in a completely post racial society by any means. I am merely arguing that our generation of Americans are seeing a dastardly change in how people get access to capital. It is not that this new cultural is worse than straight up, good old American racism. It is the fact that it operates within that same Racist system, working subtlety to decrease socioeconomic mobility in the Land of the Free. Just like rich white people playing poor white and black against each other for political power in early twentieth century south, Capitalist of all races are using culture to divide, conquer and segregate. I will now try to stop calling my Black neighbors who oppose new social serves in my neighborhood Bourghie Black people. I will call them what they are, Black people like myself who have been raised in or adopted the CCC. They as members of this new culture that stand to benefit from bringing somewhat and extremely exploitative capitalist institutions from West of the River East of the River. These are not deluded Black people arguing against their own self interest, they are merely stark examples of how varied the interests of the Black community have become. Some of them seem to even understand the complexity of the issue somewhat, though many are too blinded by their privilige to see how advanced their own self interest is oppression low income tenants who they sometimes dignify enough to call their neighbors.

So this is what I want to write about. But I need you help. I need your comments, your push backs and your challenges. I need to know if I’m off base or if someone has been writing about this already. Please sends comments, criticisms and links to help further the conversation.

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.