Preliminary Elements of a Liberated Culture

 Context of the Need for a Liberated Culture

We now live in a world in which corporations are finding new ways to make money off of our private lives. This is clear through apps like task rabbit, which show that some workers are so busy working that they have to outsource their errands to workers in worse economic situations and then will have to work more to be able to afford more errands. This a continuation of a centuries long change of humanity as an fundamentally economic, rather than social creature, as our jobs become the primary way we experience and orient our life.  At the same time, with trade deals like the TPP, corporations are starting to try to overstep the control and regulations [a.k.a. accountability] of national governments.

These two processes taken together are sometimes called neoliberal globalization or transnational post-modern capitalism. These invasions of capital and market forces into our private lives further increases the marginalization or social outcasting of communities on the basis of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation and national origin while weakening or displacing us from the communal spaces and cultural traditions that have historically sustained us and been the basis of opposition to previous invasions of the market into our private lives.

This is in addition to the infringements of the government into our lives either for the same interests or for the sake of “national security” or “American Values.” For instance, New York state has recently based legislation that creates a public terrorist registry, akin the sex offender registry and made not registering on the list [which include finger prints, photographs and a DNA sample] a felony. Most disturbingly, this list is based on the federal terror watch list,  in which mere perceived association with a individual involved in terrorism or an organization categorized as a terror group is proof of terrorism. Basically, if you are a Muslim or political dissent you might be a this list. It is only a matter of time until ridiculous applications of anti-lynching laws get M4BL activists on a similar list. Not to mention all the ways in which mostly male legislators try to curtail bodily autonomy of women.

It is my belief that in order to stop [and hopefully reverse] the advance of this new totality of post-modern capitalism and state dominance a new political analysis and strategic outlook is necessary. A politics that allows us to recognize each new incursion of capitalistic forces and state dominance and develops a posture and strategy of opposition tailored to repeal it. It is one that is able to stretch and bend itself to fight in different terrains; from the workplace, to media and cultural commodification, to the psychological and pharmaceutical invasions of the market to the bedroom and the politics of sex. Such guerrilla opposition to capitalism and state domination seems the only feasible mode of opposition to an arrangements of corporate and elite interests [post-modern capitalistic hegemony] that has steadily abandoned centralization in specific countries or bodies like the WTO in favor of totality and near omnipresence.

The differential modes of organizing outlined by Chela Sandoval in “The Methodologies of the Oppressed” seem to be such a politics. Briefly, it is the strategy of reading these corporate and state invasions into our communities and assessing the power dynamics that make them work in order to disrupt them with strategies from previous eras of social movements used as tactics. For instance, when Wal-Mart tries to enter you community you can either fight to unionize them as a labor organizer might have in the 70’s or take a strategy from a more liberal play book and try to get community members elected to the zoning board. These decisions would be based on which tactic better suited your community’s needs, abilities and goals rather than a dogmatic theory of change from an earlier era.

This piece is an attempt to start a conversation about the communal culture from which such a guerrilla opposition could be mounted and a politics like the methodology of the oppressed could be utilized.  Such a culture is crucial to the use of a differential methodology of the oppressed in order to ensure that what Chela Sandoval calls “oppositional consciousness.” Oppositional conscious is a revolutionary outlook needed to use things like the liberal strategy tactically which is to say, as a means and not an end.

Put another way, liberated culture allows for organizing from a vantage point outside of [i.e. liberated from] state centered capitalist ideology, values and paradigms so that we can strategically demolish those ideologies, values and paradigms while dismantling the structures and interests they serve.

Liberated culture is the ground from which modern urban maroons [communities of resistance] can raid and weaken post-modern capitalistic societies without running the risk of recuperations and co-optations or other forms of “selling out” or doing our opposition’s work for them.  Drawing from third world feminist perspectives and strategies, Chela Sandoval’s differential politics also allows for the broad based, transformative coalitions that are inclusive of all the socially constructed identities of modern life [including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and national origin] necessary for social transformation.

This is because central to the differential politics reading of power is an intersectional framework that illuminates how power effects different people based on their identities. It conditions the strategist to include the social location and specific material interests of all stakeholders in planning our opposition. This ensures that our proposed tactics create solutions with spaces for all oppressed bodies and builds coalitional power in which our diversity is an asset to be celebrated not a potentially divisive fact to be elided.

 

Elements of a Liberated Culture

 

Below are cultural elements that, taken together, represent a significant break from mainstream ideology and culture which is capitalistic and domineering. It is mt hope that readers will be able to use them as preliminary materials to constitute a liberated culture. This is not to say that these are the elements of the “right” or “correct” culture. Rather, this is the result of an analysis of cultural tendencies that combat and dismantle dominate middle class white capitalist culture, toxic masculinity and the authoritarian “high modernism” of the state.

More immediately, the hope is that this will also complicate our understanding of “safe spaces” and cultures of resistance. Too often safe space is a meaningless phrase used to encourage people to share or be vulnerable. It is exceedingly difficult to create spaces that are safe, in the sense that the likely hood of harm is low when the goal of space is to explore the tender and unprotected parts of our being in order to collectively strategize resistance.

This is doubly true around issues of race, class, gender and other marginalized identities in which disruption of comfort zones and agitation are crucial to growth and transformation. Therefore, supportive spaces of agitation is usually a more helpful goal than making a place safe. These elements are an attempt to start a conversation about what do supportive spaces for transformational agitation and anti-capitalist resistance look like as capitalism moves into a trans-national post-modern format and the illusion of a “free society” crumbles in the wake of proto-fascism.

Likewise, cultural organizers often talk about the need to change our culture before any new alternative institutions are created. Yet, many organizers lack a concrete vision of what culture would replace the current status quo. This is then an attempt to outline the elements of such a culture and to begin to highlight social practices that might infuse spaces and communities with that culture. This is attempt to go beyond merely saying that culture of resistance is anti-racist, feminist and non-hierarchical [which is all true]. It is worth noting that in this sense culture is described in terms of values, view-points and practices. Another study of potential institutions and structures is needed to make this truly operational.

As with all preliminary materials from the Well Examined Life, this is a starting point for conversation. These aspects borrow heavily from conversations with Omolara Williams McCallister and Erika Totten. They are also inspired by the writing and intellectual work of Adrienne Maree Brown whose work [Emergent Strategies]  highlights invaluable tools for practicing differential politics and Alexis Pauline Gumbs [Revolutionary Mothering and her work on dreams]. The part on nuturance was inspired by Nora Samaran’s “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture.

This was also written with an eye towards building, reclaiming and sustaining “the commons” as the basis of a potential network of new Maroon Societies in which new social relationships could be fostered. With that in mind this work is indebted to writers like Silvia Federici and essays like “The Dragon and the Hydra” by Russel Maroon Shoats which I strongly suggest readers explore.

Again, these are preliminary materials. Please comment with feedback, push-back and constructive criticism. If you have any resources that you feel would be helpful in refining these elements, please send to the wellexaminedlife [at] gmail.com.

Iterative:

  • To value iteration is to value continual experimentation and constant reflection. It is the belief that conversations, projects and campaigns should be tweaked and repeated until it brings us closer to our greatest good.
  • Epic Memory: long, running oral histories and multi-generational collective memories that value multiple forms of memory creation and story creation ensuring that histories of resistance and communal identities are passed down in their most useful form.
  • Value of fluidity and change in process, language and understanding in way that prevents dogmatic approaches to change or belief in a firm destination.
  • Understanding that constructive process are ongoing and will have to be constantly re-worked as situations change and new information is incorporated

What this could look like in practice:

  • Viewing all documents and statements as living and unfinished. Establishing a practice of editing foundational documents, notes, syllabi, curriculum, plans or by-laws as new insights, lessons and perspectives are added.
  • Adding communal storytelling to community events where the narratives of activities, campaigns, or communal histories are collectively created and revisited on a regular basis
  • Evaluating progress in multi-dimensional ways so that not only are benchmarks established by the tools for assessment, goals, and underlying values of assessment are openly talked about and reviewed over the course of an endeavor.

Abundance:

  • To operate from abundance is to operate from the belief that you and your community are able to work together to get that which is necessary for you to thrive. It is the belief that you already have everything you need.
  • To operate in abundance means to remember that there are multiple ways to fulfil a need, even when the typical resources or avenues for satisfying that need are not readily available.
  • Knowledge that you, and everyone else, is already enough
  • Radical generosity that stems from a belief that the universe/ God/the movement/community/something greater than ourselves will provide
  • All resources can be shared including power and responsibility, which means someone getting more does not require that someone else must get less.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Actively removing self-limiting language from group conversations.
  • When resources seem limited moving from a task oriented process where specific resources are necessary to a goal oriented process that assesses multiple paths to getting what is needed
  • Building an affirming culture that centers the individual and communal history of past victories over triumphs that allow us to plan from a belief in our ability to succeed
  • Trying, whenever possible, to connect the communities we are spending resources in with the communities we are building up so that things like buying food for a meeting increases the resources of the community you are buying food for.

Generative:

  • Every endeavor seeks to create more possibilities
  • Value of open ended processes, situations and questions
  • Valuing transition points as points of magic and opportunity
  • Eye towards sustainability as the key to ensuring human endeavors reach their greatest potential

What this might look like in practice:

  • Instead of seeking to decide on one particular path, time is spent developing multiple potential paths and taking those most likely to bear fruit that leave other potential options open.
  • Building campaigns that can fail forward, where even if the ultimate goal is not reached the community is more powerful than before, more able to work together or has a sharper analysis.
  • Seeking, whenever possible, not to burn bridges or interpersonal connections because all people and relationships can become fruitful if tilled and nurtured.
  • Using a non-capitalist model for paying for service provision like Dana, in which you pay for the service to exist in your community in all of its forms, not just for the labor of the person providing the service to you.

 

Adaptive to life:

  • Systems change to accommodate human needs rather than humans conforming to systems
  • Value of a diversity of participation and inclusion
  • Interacts with people as whole persons, understanding economic, cultural, psychological and physical context, needs and desires

What this might look like in practice:

  • Having childcare, food and transportation support at all events to ensure not having those things is not a barrier to participation from the community
  • Hosting multi-generation spaces where children and elders are centered in a poly-centric way ensuring that caregivers do not have to choose between communal activities and family obligations
  • Adding bio-breaks and allowing people to leave and re-enter spaces as necessary to meet their needs
  • Hosting meetings in locations that are fully accessible rather than ones that are most conducive to the planner’s agenda.
  • Having times that services are provided match the schedules of constituents rather than paid staff
  • Investing in family leave policies, paternity leave and sick leave that includes chosen and non-traditional families

Communal

  • To be communal is to understand synergy as meaning not only are we capable of greater things when we work together but as individuals we are greater when we are pushed, supported, taught and able to teach others.
  • Communal spaces are multi-generational spaces where mutual encumbrance is seen as an asset & shared ownership & shared responsibility are defaulted to due to a sense of shared destiny
  • A value of Ubuntu [A bantu philosophical term meaning roughly “human kindness” or “I am who I am because of who we all are” ] which means a shift in understanding of human individuality as merely an individualization of a communal existence rather than completely isolated and separate entities coming together.
  • Reframing individual vs collective tensions to see how the dichotomy is a false one

What this might look like in practice:

  • Practices shared leadership where members rotate responsibilities including hosting, facilitation, note taking, childcare, providing food
  • A value of personal property [which is based on use] over private property [which is based on trade] where most goods are held in communal spaces through mechanisms like food pantries, clothing exchanges and “free stores”
  • Investing in times for community meals, community report backs of major events and shared communal festivals like annual summer block parties where a sense of the “commons” and communal identity is reclaimed.
  • Investing in a solidarity economy, a moral economy or a caring economy in which community resources are equitably shared among community members
  • Building a culture of loving accountability and restorative justice understanding that communities are built and maintained through love and shared intentions not merely organically grown when individuals are thrown together.

 

 

Poly Centric

  • This means unity in diversity or the ability to incorporate multiple experiences, both subjective and objective, into our understandings of the whole.
  • It means having multi-focal spaces that value a diversity of experiences within the space, allowing for folks to contribute different things to shared projects and receive different benefits from them
  • It means holding pluralistic views without being tolerant of intolerance

What this might look like in practice:

  • Using “differentiated instruction” where multiple types of learning [kinesthetic, auditory, visual etc] are engaged with in one meeting
  • Adopting a practice in accepting multiple truths when debriefing actions or talking about history and theory
  • Avoiding centralization or the belief that a single, central body has the sole authority to make certain decisions
  • Starting coalitional consciousness building groups were issues are discussed from the lived experience of the participants with an eye towards examining commonalities and the social location and power dynamics of our differences.

 

 

Poly Rhythmic

  • Complex coalescence; synchronistic arrangements of activity, multiple patterns of behavior that come together to make a more complex and resilient whole.
  • Allowing people to interact in space and activities at various, complementary wave lengths and energies
  • Encouraging self-organization and collaboration over coordination and centralization.

What this might look like in practice

  • Focusing on a diversity of tactics or methods where complementary tactics are used harmoniously in an action or campaign
  • During meetings, having breakout time when groups split up and work on different issues or the same issues in different ways rather than having everyone working on the same activity at the same time
  • Don’t assume one correct way to engage with a process, be open to spontaneous rehashing of instructions or paths as long as we all arrive to useful destinations as a result

 

 

Nurturing

  • Spaces that are trauma informed and therefore center the need for healing and restoration of our bodies, minds, spirits and communities
  • Supports growth both personally and communally in all aspects of life including intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.
  • Emotional labor is recognized, supported, exulted, compensated and shared across genders as an integral responsibility and opportunity of all human beings.
  • People are seen as being on a transformative path towards their individual and collective greatest good. Mistakes are temporary and repeated mistakes are seen an indicators of emotional or intellectual blocks that must be addressed rather than pathologized.

What this might look like in practice

  • Developing a practice of naming when you are asking for emotional labor to process and issues and compensating that labor by being open to giving emotional labor or providing other services like childcare, transportation, cooking food, cleaning etc
  • Having a communal habit of dealing with conflict through a restorative justice lens with mediation and healing
  • Invest in time, space and practice in healing in organization, campaign or movement spaces
  • Have support groups for different areas in which stress, trauma or otherwise lack of nurturance effects our lives or for groups of people that often don’t have key nurturance skills [men, folks with class privilege]

 

 

Creative Manifestation

  • A belief in our individual and collective ability to change the context in which we live
  • A view of thought as constructive of our experiences that places a value of action in service to a vision
  • A belief that we “will what we want,” is not to ignore our material realities but rather to be able to reframe our analysis of our material reality to see the various ways that we can achieve what we want and to be open to new opportunities that would give us access to what we want.

What this might look like in practice:

  • The use of visions board and other means of setting clear, actionable intentions for our life
  • Investing in emotional emancipation to help us shed the chains and self-limiting beliefs that might tell us that we do not deserve that which we desire.
  • Actively combating cynicism by building on histories in which victories seemed “impossible” and creative personal narratives of triumph.
  • Investing in a culture of affirmational agitation where we constantly push people to grow and support them in wanting and striving for things beyond their current capacity in order for them to grow.

 

 

Transformative Love

  • Transformation is a dual process of changing the world around us and how we engage it in order to achieve our greatest good. Central to our belief in transformation is the role of transformative love.
  • Transformative love is the belief that we must love each other and that love is a political act. When you love someone you are compelled to do what’s best for them. It compels you to not only transform yourself to be someone worthy of them loving you but it also compels you transform the context in which your relationship exist. For instance, anyone who wants Black liberation must hold and foster a transformative love of Black people.
  • Value systems, habits and processes that allow the expression of love in ways that are mutually affirming
  • The ability to understand, affirm and appreciate the social position, desires and needs of another human being and work collaboratively to change individual and communal contexts so that all parties are able to fulfil those needs and desires in their new contexts.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Building a culture of affirmation in which we take time proactively affirm the gifts, contributions and energies that people bring into spaces and our lives.
  • Looking for solutions outside of the current systems where the root causes of the problem are addressed and stake holders are given an opportunity for personal transformation.
  • Launching “non-reformist reforms” or “radical reforms” in which systems of oppression are dismantled or the state’s ability to dominate people is limited thereby changing the context in which problems arise and solutions can be generated
  • Investing in the leadership development of new activist instead of dismissing them for not having a fully established revolutionary analysis
  • Investing in transformative relationships and culture of naming the context in which our desire and needs arise in order to open that context up to the change necessary for everyone’s needs to be meet.

 

 

Grounded

  • A sense of perspective that understands our position within larger mechanisms or longer historical narratives that give our actions, desires and aspirations a holistic context allowing us the whether the ups and down of social movements without burn-out or investing in frustrated self-limiting behavior.
  • A belief in something positive and larger than one’s individual experience that situates our individual importance within an understanding of complexity, scale and scope of the natural, emotional, physical, metaphysical and intellectual world.
  • For many this grounding is deeply spiritual even religious, for others it is deeply communal and for yet others it may be a simple sense of wonder at the complex beauty of those things which exist beyond our intellectual understanding that shows us there is more to life than our intellectual understanding of it.

What this might look like in practice

  • A reclaiming and decolonization of spiritual practices, spaces and doctrines so that they can be spiritually and emotionally fulfilling while not being dogmatic, authoritarian or colonial.
  • Taking time for guided meditation or deep breathing in meeting spaces.
  • Reclaim religious traditions like prayer, meditation, fasting that is linked with anti-authoritarian political practices and intentional communal living as we see beginning in the “new monostaticism” movements or the adoption of Yoruba inspired spiritual practices in the M4BL.
  • Building a habit of placing activities and campaigns in larger historical context of resistance and revolution endeavors that stretch over centuries
  • Building a practice of starting the day listing the things we a grateful for and the people who make our life worth living

 

Loving Accountability

  • Just, proportional, restorative confrontation in which mistakes are addressed without shame and the inherent humanity of all parties are recognized including the capacity and need for all parties to grow and heal.
  • Reciprocal interactions in which the needs, interests, context and history of all parties are understood and accounted for are the default
  • Consent is mandatory and viewed as an iterative and generative process. This means that communication is constant, updates are regular and differences of opinion are resolved through deliberative process that seek to find third and fourth options that meet all needs rather than “fair” compromises.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Making sure each meeting ends with next steps with timelines and delegating who is responsible for the next step and how they would like to be held accountable in following through on their commitment.
  • Investing in calling-in instead of gossiping and only resolving to “call out” when call ins have been rebuffed or repeatedly not changed behavior.
  • Building a culture of critique in which loving, direct communication is used during debriefs to about necessary changes that need to be made
  • Building a culture of restorative justice where disagreements are worked out and arguments are viewed from all sides, including the investigating where feeling such as anger, fear and jealously might be coming from
  • Instituting workshops on navigating consent in romantic and platonic relationships
  • Tying ideas of informed consent to ideas of self-determination and democracy

 

Communal and Independent Critical Engagement

  • Critical Engagement means valuing independent investigation of the truth where all values and ways of understanding must be open to interrogation, dialog and change. We all have the responsibility to challenge the assumptions of supposed truths and articulate them in way that is meaningful for us and works in our context. It is an essential protection against the perils of dogma.
  • Critical engagement, in this sense, is when you are an active participant in a process while understanding your location in that process, your ability to change that process and how that process changes you.
  • Communal critical engagement means that decisions are discussed with all stake holders and made with consideration of the community’s position in society more broadly. It weaves together decisions about the communal good with the regional and global good by understanding the ecosystem and networks of systems that communities are a part of.
  • Critical Engagement also means what Maria Lugones called “faithful witnessing.” It means to “witnesses against the grain of power, on the side of resistance. To witness faithfully, one must be able to sense resistance, to interpret behavior as resistant even when it is dangerous, when that interpretation places one psychologically against common sense.” Or, as Yomaira C. Figueroa says, it “is an act of aligning oneself with oppressed peoples against the grain of power and recognizing their humanity, oppression, and resistance despite the lack of institutional endorsement.” By stepping out of the mainstream ideology of dominance and seeing how resistance and opposition work in our daily lives we can create “a rich source of tactical and strategic responses to power.” [Chela Sandoval].

What this might look like in practice:

  • Investing in study groups and coalitional consciousness building groups where accepted truths, theories, analysis and ideologies are challenged and evaluated based on how effectively they serve us and map unto our lived experience and understanding of history.
  • A practice of personal manifesto writing and circulation that ensures we do not accept something as truth just because someone with authority says it is true. We must be able to rearticulate it in our own words and defend it under compassionate critique.
  • Free schools where human curiosity, dialogue and self-directed intellectual exploration replaced curriculums, cannons and lectures
  • The use of popular education tools in our political education programs

 

 

My Personal Core Values:

 

I boil this culture down into  7 Core Values:

Loving Empathy: the ability to understand the position, desires and wants of others and to see elements of yourself in them

Transformation: an intentional communal or interpersonal process of changing our context and how we interact with it

Vision: The ability to step outside the confines of mainstream thought and guide ones transformation in order to make the impossible possible.

Justice: Manifesting transformation through loving empathy in alignment with a communal vision

Struggle: the continual process of practicing justice in our daily lives

Story-telling: Illustrating our struggle in such a way as to highlight our progress, lessons learned and aspirational destinations.

Study: learning lessons from our individual struggle and collective story-telling with the hope that our collective capacity for visioning will increase.

 

The Case For Inter-Personal Reparations

 

**Unlike most essays on the well examined life, this essay is in response to a series of specific conversations in which specific questions arose. This essay is written for Standing Up For Racial Justice’s DC chapter as part of our own going conversations about rethinking the white-allyship role and journey. Specifically, this is part of a project about using interpersonal reparations to divest from white supremacy and invest in Black liberation as the first step in creating transformative relationships with Black people. For the case for state sanctioned reparations read Ta-Nihisi Coates the Case for Reparations. For more information on how cities relate to the frontier. “The Frontier Is Our Home” by Lynda Schneekloth, State University of New York at Buffalo.  **

 

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Slavery, White Pillage and Settler Colonialism

It is often said that slavery is America’s Original Sin. This statement in itself either erases the genocide of first nation peoples or starts American history at the Revolution, therefore obfuscating much of our settler-colonial origins. It also sets our understanding of America in a Eurocentric lens of Christian redemption and repentance. It would be more useful to say that slavery is the foundation on which we built the very idea of America.

America imagines itself as a frontier house: a well-stocked, nearly self-sufficient, autonomous construct created to advance a manifest destiny. Yet what is manifest destiny if not an imperial idea? While the frontier people who populate this house may not agree or even be aware of this imperial idea, they continue to serve it and their worldview is shaped by its needs. In many ways, America is the pinnacle of a specific settler-colonial project, built on stolen land.

When various European empires launched their various colonial projects in the Americas, they shared a fundamental imperial assumption, that land could be owned and indigenous people could be seen as disposable or could be dominated to suit the needs of empire. The needs of imperialism or empire, whether British, French or Portuguese, we pretty similar. Broadly speaking, empire wants dominance or power over land, people, wealth and other nations. A colony is an imperial project in so far as it is created to further the goals of dominance.

The American colonies were an imperial project to extract resources from land stolen from first nation peoples. It is crucial to understand that the settler’s existence is predicated on pre-existing violence. In order for a place to be settled, for the land and people to be pillaged, it first has to be “pacified” through genocide. The first imperial agents sent to a new world are not settlers but explorers who are themselves merely scouts for armies of extraction, domination and speculation. Settlers were sent to the colonies after the genocide began to further this colonial project by providing labor and management.

The settlers were themselves often refugees and European indigenous populations that were deemed semi-disposable by various European empires. We often forget, everyone is indigenous to somewhere, even our oppressors. Regardless of their personal reason for fleeing Europe, once they became settlers they became a part of the imperial project of domination, speculation and extraction. Once they were handed land, they were told it was theirs and told that they must defend it. In defending their land they became complicit in the genocidal colonial project even though it preceded their birth and their arrival in the new world.

Imperialism is a positive feedback loop of domination. As the colonial project advanced; more resources were being extracted which fueled the size, and power of European states, increasing the size and scale of European wars which in turn increase the demand for resources: more labor was needed. The indigenous populations of North America proved to be difficult to subjugate into forced labor as they were likely to flee plantations and rejoin their native tribes which were in active and violent wars of resistance with colonial empires. European indentured servants fared little better. For one, it was too easy for light skinned European indentured servants to run away from their contracts early and pretend to be free Europeans in other settlements. Secondly, the most valuable crops were grown in the American South and the Caribbean a clime that many Europeans had difficulty adapting to.

Third, and most importantly, after the ruling class of American’s plantation system had to put down a series of intra-racial rebellions such as Bacon’s Rebellion, it became necessary to separate poor European migrant workers and enslaved Africans. European indentured servants and enslaved Africans coming together in solidarity threatened the economic and political system of the pre-revolutionary American south. White Supremacy was the solution to this problem. It allowed the payment of a psychological wage, or systemic benefits and privileges that messaged to Europeans [increasingly “raced” as white people] that they were better than enslaved Africans, in lieu of the land and wage reforms that the American European immigrant working class had been demanding.

Whiteness is an elaborate story created not only to justify inequity and enslavement but also to teach poor European immigrants a standard of conduct. White people were told that the system works for them; if they just worked hard and assimilated they could advance up the social ladder. In addition to cultural components made to build internal solidarity with other white people, and by extension the state [Protestantism, English language, work ethic etc], whiteness also set a standard of conduct and achievement.

Whiteness as a standard meant valuing formal Eurocentric education as the pre-requisite to economic success, listening to your boss, not speaking out and using the courts and other institutions when problems arose. This is a concept often called labor discipline, crucial to keeping workers obedient in the inhumane capitalist system. If your boss treated your poorly and the systems for redress didn’t work in your favor, you were prevented to going outside the system by a counter story of lazy, unruly Black masses. In time, ideas like “white trash” further cemented whiteness as tied to middle-class bourgeois values and “good workers.”

This is basis for what is now called white middle class dominate culture: perfectionism, sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, belief in only one right way, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, belief in one’s own objectivity and the right to comfort etc. [Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, Change Work 2001]

Through this lens, it is clear that white people did not create white supremacy, they are in fact creations of it. This is the context in which America currently exist and has always existed. Our revolution was not an anti-colonial one in the normal sense. Our revolution was not against empire itself, it was coup, as desire to begin our own settler-colonial empire within our own tax system. In this new neo-colonial era often called neo-liberal, we often shift between roles of indigenous surplus population and colonizer depending on our identities, social mobility and the current mechanization of both formally organized capital [developers and city planners] and non-formally organized capital [market trends].

 

“Gentrification” and Urban Neo-Colonialism

 

“The contemporary American city is often represented as a frontier. From the vast literature on the imaginal place, the frontier, three themes are addressed that reveal the power of the imaginal in making and subverting places. First, the frontier was invented rather than discovered, and second, it is the landscape for sanctioned violence. The third theme is the reminder that the space on which the frontier is enacted, whether the wild West or urban America, is and always has been someone’s home. It is this masked aspect, frontier as home, that offers a standpoint of resistance and hope for our cities.” “The Frontier Is Our Home” by Lynda Schneekloth, State University of New York at Buffalo.

 

Fast forward centuries later and this story is still being told, if updated for modern sensibilities. Now, instead of the west being seen as this vast frontier that is both empty and full of dark skinned “savages,” our inner cities are the new frontiers. Displaced Okies, baby-booming yuppies and now millennials have been the explorers and settlers of the last century of urban colonialism. The term “gentrification” itself contains an invisible violent history. Gentrification comes from the idea of landed “gentry” or upper class aristocrats coming into place that was formally rented by lower class individuals. To use the term gentrification in many was reinforces this classed [and now raced idea] that gentrification comes not only with visible improvements and infrastructure investment but a better class of people. Basically, it’s okay because wouldn’t we rather have white people living there any way?

 

“Areas of urban decay are seen both as vacant land ripe with opportunities to be exploited by capitalists and dangerous “uncivilized” areas that need to be tamed. This cry for taming or “civilization” is then used as justification for violence against the native population, now Black Americans instead of indigenous peoples and enforced by police instead of the United States cavalry. One can see settler colonialism on a structural level in the recent “urban renewal [i.e. negro removal]” of Columbia Heights, the current development of Petworth or the impending development of Historic Anacostia.” – 5 Pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy in DC

 

Hipsters, artists, yuppies and hill staffers are the new settlers of this vast urban landscape. Like the buffalo soldiers, Mexican cowboys and Chinese train workers before them, these settlers are not all white. Transplants like myself come in all shades and races. Yet, like the frontiers people of our past, it is the white hill staffers and yuppies that bring in the Calvary and the speculators. One of the truest statements I’ve heard about displacement is the axiom “white faces bring white money.”

This means that while many actors play roles in subtle community changes that bring about displacement and neo-colonial development, it almost always takes white people being in neighborhood for that neighborhood to change. For instance on U Street, Black artist developed a vibrant go-go culture and arts scene in the 90’s. They took over various buildings in the “blighted neighborhood” but didn’t have the access or resources to spur the kind of capital development we would see in the early 2000’s. Yet when white folks came on to the scene, drawn by Black festivals like the Funk Parade, it signaled to developers that investments could now be made.

Of course, the actual story is much more complicated than this. Crime rates, changes in development laws, land deals that Marion Barry helped orchestra, foreign investment, sub-urban backlash and other factors played in important roles in this story. Yet, all of these factors exist in the same settler-colonial structure and all of these actors are reacting to the same story. Even the most sympathetic accounts stem from a settler-colonial forgetting that the frontier is home. Through this lens, a complex pattern develops of investment and disinvestment interwoven with enfranchisement, uprisings and structural change.

American cities have gone through multiple cycles as the new frontiers. Edith Wharton and other gilded age authors tales of “Old New York” are full of landed elites fleeing to the country to escape the influx of immigrants and then starting progressive movements to “clean up the slums.” Young white transplants to DC are the newest in long line of disposed, uprooted or socially mobile settlers following speculators and prospectors into new frontiers. They spend some time in their “dangerous surroundings” and eventually take part in great pacifying activities like bringing new and expensive vendors to Saturday markets, taking over festivals like the H-street and Funk Festivals, calling the police to address [read arrest] “suspicious characters” etc.

Another great recent example of the power of whiteness in gentrification is in Petworth. There is a long history of respectable Black folks asking for increased policing in the neighborhood. Yet for decades the calls of elderly residents and middle class homeowners went unheeded by the MPD. Yet, as white folks begin to echo these calls, policing presence increased dramatically. Eventually the calls from the low income Black community to end police brutality will be joined by the middle class Black residents who only wanted a few more police who responded in less than an hour to a call. But white residents will keep calling the police until they have pacified the neighborhood and feel secure and protected and eventually, once all the young punks have been displaced, safe.

 

“The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”
Paulo Freire

 

The result of this pacify-settle cycle is well known. American cities are heavily segregated by race and class. Black communities are systemically divested from until it is time to start flipping housing. Racial segregation breeds cultural unfamiliarity that leads to misunderstandings. White fragility not only makes overcoming these misunderstandings challenging but legitimizes emotional and, in case of the work place, economic violence for Black people who bring up race.  The unnatural standards of whiteness breeds a racial anxiety in white communities and inhibits empathetic and emotional supportive family relations by making so many things off limits for conversations.

All told, this creates a culture that lacks many of the spiritually fulfilling traditions and activities that typify ethnic cultures. Again, it is crucial to remember that whiteness is a culture of dominance, not an amalgamation of European cultures. If you were to ask most white people space, habits and activities that are “white” and spaces that fulfil them emotionally and spiritually there would be little overlap. White people tend to invest heavily in subcultures, regional cultures and multi-cultural events for spiritual and emotional fulfilment.

One of the main drivers of cultural appropriation is the construction of whiteness itself. Whiteness is not merely an amalgamation of European cultural tendencies. This means that whiteness is not a melting pot of French, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Italian cultures. Rather, it is a culture of dominance that exists to both bestow and justify privilege for people perceived by society as white. White ethnic groups had to give up parts of their culture and identity in order to access the privileges of whiteness. Whiteness began to be bought and sold through marketing and advertising like many of other cultural values during 1950’s consumerism.

As whiteness was being sold through visions of an American dream in subdivision ads and car commercials, consumer capitalism worked to create a cultural deficit in white Americans, a feeling that they didn’t quite “have it all.” Consumer capitalism is then there to fill that deficit, with the next new “modern” thing. This leads to a tendency to mine other cultures for new music, hair styles and clothing that were previous considered low, uncouth or unprofessional.

Consumerism, Capital Production and Cultural Appropriation are an unholy trinity of exploitation and marginalization. For instance, it provides fertile ground for white America’s obsession with Black pain and trauma. Whether it is in the tragedy porn of shows like the Wire or advocacy organizations love of Black tears but aversion to Black power, this obsession forces Black people [and POC’s] into permanent victimhood. The permanent victimhood of Black people is one of the reasons that the Black Liberation movement is so viscerally frightening to some white people. Black Liberation’s expression of joy, rage and even apathy are beyond the box that liberal white America puts the Black American other. –5 Pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy

 

For Black communities, the lie of Black inferiority, when internalized, creates its own self-limiting beliefs and habits. Racialized stress often leads to horizontal oppressions as feelings of shame lead Black people to lash out at each other. The lie of Black inferiority when combined with a disempowering social script that expects “docility” in oppressed Black people and a history of white violence causes many Black people to be uncomfortable speaking out against white people either because they have been socialized to expect silence from themselves or because they have experienced the violence of speaking out first hand. Equally important white supremacy and settler colonialism create economic security in Black communities. This forces Black people to have to prioritize acquiring basic economic necessities over activities that might allow for eventual liberation from capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and other forms of domination.

Relationship and Building Power in Coalitions

All of this means that effective coalitions between white and Black people are difficult and tends to be transactional. Transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality. Transactional relationships are unable to make systemic change or even effective reforms because they are not strong enough to get people to make any sacrifice. Transactional coalitions tend to fall apart at the first obstacle. They also tend to do more harm than good as power differentials and resource differences tend to build resentment over time. For instance, Black communities have grown to resent white organizations coming to us with fully planned out campaigns and asking for our support by telling us how “their” issue affects us.

Reciprocal relationships are far more effective. Reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision. Reciprocal relationships center on real conversations about needs of both parties and reframe the asks, goals and terms to respect those needs.

Reciprocal coalitions tend to be able to overcome moderate obstacles because all parties see a need to fight and overcome adversity. Reciprocal campaigns are often still susceptible to divide and conquer strategies however. Privileged groups often take deals with those in power that meet their major demands, sometimes at expense of the core demands of marginalized partners. Tipped workers getting left out of minimum wage increases are a great example of this. Even the strongest reciprocal relationships can only achieve reforms of enfranchisement, reforms that bring marginalized communities into current systems.

Transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform the context in which the relationships exist. Transformative relationships transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties. Transformative relationships means investing in each party’s capacity so that together you can create a world in which you both thrive. Transformative coalitions are not concerned with asking demands of the current system, they are concerned with dismantling the current system and building a new one. Transformative relationships are aware of each other’s past, current context and visions for the future and are able to take this into account when plotting a shared course.

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. –What Black Queer Feminism Has Taught Me

 

 

Divesting From White Supremacy and Investing In Black Liberation

 

 

Stokely Carmichael once said “if a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem but if he has the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.” The problem with white supremacy is a problem with power. But it’s not who has power, it’s what kind of power they have. White Supremacy and settler colonialism gives white people power over everyone else in the world but leaves them with little power over their own lives. It’s a power so indebted to the master/slave relationship that middle class white people are able to order any resources they want but unable to provide for their own spiritual wellness and wholeness. They are too used to relying on Black people to raise their children, cook their food, and entertain them to develop an organic culture of their own and as long as they have the power to force Black people to do it for them, they won’t.

Black people have power and lots of it. We have spiritual power and communal power built out of a long history of resistance. Yet our communities are under attack and the onslaught of neo-liberalism means that we must rely on white institutions and economies in order to survive. So we live in this constant paradox of not being able to live healthily with each other but being unable to live without each other. Instead we are killing ourselves trying to exist in an abusive relationship that is over four centuries old. In order to untangle ourselves from this abusive relationship we have divest from the system that supports it and invest in something else. We must heal and be whole before we can come together as equals.

For Black people that has meant divesting from the lies were are told about ourselves and investing in Black community, healing, love and joy. This why the BLM:DC focuses on Black Joy Sunday, supporting Unchained’s Emotional Emancipations and hosting Black Organizer Dinners. This allows Black people to heal and decolonize our ideas and relationships with our bodies and ourselves. From these spaces we can build a liberated culture and dual power.

Briefly, liberated culture is culture born out of resistance to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and alienation. Elements of a liberated culture include: value of iterative processes, abundance, generative ideas and processes, being adaptive and conducive to life, transformative, grounded, communal, poly-centric, poly-rhythmic, nurturing, creative and centered on manifesting our greatest good.

Dual power is idea first posit by Lenin and further developed by Marxist, anarcho-socialist, Black nationalist, revolutionary nationalist and others. At it is most basic it is building alternative power. It is building a community’s ability to collect and leverage the resources it needs for its own survival that do not depend on mainstream oppressive structures. In many ways it is Gramsci’s counter-hegemony in practice. It is, to borrow an IWW saying, building a new world in the shell of the old.

BLM:DC, like many other M4BL groups, is beginning to formulate a plan for building our own version of dual power based in an explicitly Black Queer Feminist liberated culture. This plan is both informed by and birthed in the unapologetically Black spaces that we create and fund with our own salaries mostly from government and non-profit work. Many of the vibrant cultural aspects, art work, chants, songs, and events that we have thrown which have enriched your lives and inspired your activism come from these spaces. This website, my personal analysis and even the gift of this blog post also come from these spaces.

It should be clear then, how white folks in our network are directly benefiting from this work. The work of the M4BL is providing the keys for white people to dismantle white supremacy. This means:

  • Divesting from unattainable white middle class standards that teach you self-limiting ideas about the scarcity of power.
  • Divesting from ideas of patriarchy and addressing toxic masculinity so that you can organize white people from a place of love, collaboration and resilience based on mutual encumbrance
  • Divesting from systems that feed your body but enfeeble you soul
  • Organizing other white folks [base building] to counter the growing white nationalist and counter-revolutionary backlash the movement is upsetting
    • This means building with low income white folks to bring them into a broad anti-racist coalition that centers Black leadership
  • Divesting from all systems of oppression to build a coalition that is strategically placed to fight for collective liberation.
  • Build a new identity based on love and radical inclusion, one that will survive the dismantling of white supremacy and therefore whiteness
  • Investing in Black futures and Black Power so that we can stand together as true partners in social transformation.
  • Fund Black organizing to continue providing the energy, vibrancy and analysis that they rely on to inform their own

 

Dana (generosity) Practice


In the Buddhist tradition, the teachings are given freely because they are considered priceless; in the Buddhist tradition we also practice dana, or generosity, by making monetary offerings for the teachings. Dana is not payment for goods or services rendered; it is given from the heart. Your generosity is a gift that supports not just the teachers, but also the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and your own practice. – See more at: http://dharmawisdom.org/teachings/articles/meaning-pali-word-dana#sthash.zL56Uig3.dpuf

Reparations should not be seen as merely repaying a material debt. Reparations in the form of giving sustaining gifts to projects of Black queer feminist dual power is a communal ritual, a form of restorative justice, in which White people let go of their power over in order to sustain their access to their power with. It is better understood in terms of Buddhist dana than the modern non-profit industrial complex’s donation. It is not charity nor are you buying something. It is the process in which we can begin to close the wounds of our past and head towards a brighter future. Reparation, when paired with a revolutionary communal praxis of direct action, reflection, analysis building and healing, is about letting go of whiteness and building something better.

 

“If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”

–El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X)

 

 

Against the Idea that Interpersonal Reparations Obfuscates the Role of the State

Interpersonal reparations is a necessary first step for state sponsored reparations. Blacks asking the state to force unwilling white people to pay reparations depends on and therefore invests in the state’s ability to take commit economic violence on its populace. For reparations to not invest in a new ability of the state to commit economic violence it would have to rely on a pre-existing value or structure. It is also highly unlikely as the state was created to protect the power relationship that white supremacy was created to justify.

The closest America ever came to reparations was in the uncompensated emancipation for slavery. This was only possible because of anti-southern sentiment and industrial north’s desire to profit off the industrialization of the south. Because it did not come with an actual commitment to ending white supremacy and was a project of capitalist reconstruction was halted before the fundamental inequality of America could be addressed. It set up the powerful backlash that led to convict leasing program and black codes. Any alternative, like the state taking wealth from corporations or rich families obfuscates the role of whiteness and the complicity of individual white people.

There is an alternative. A mass movement to dismantle white supremacy. A transformative campaign for reparations in which the campaign for reparations creates the cultural transformation that allows for the maintaince of the structural transformation reparations is advocated to bring.

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/

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.

Preliminary Materials on Collective Liberation and the New Material Reality

In moments such as these, when I find myself overwhelmed by the news, I often find myself seeking emotional and intellectual solace in an endless news feed hoping to make some sense out of my world. It is always in vain. I inevitably become inundated with all the half-digested thoughts and emotions of my social circle. My habitual anecdote is more of the same spiritual poison.

Some nights, after I force myself disconnect and I try to sleep, I am struck with the after images of all the disparate thoughts and emotions and data points of the day. Images of Black Lives Matter protestors, refugees from Syria, bombs in Beirut, body bags in Paris and the occasional loving messages and words of support. As a Black Lives matter organizer and artist, I am constantly concerned with state of “the movement.” At the same time, I see and empathize with my Muslim comrades who feel a similar, but perhaps even more omnipresent and ill defined, uneasiness. Flashes of protests, mass arrests, unlawful detainments and police states constantly mix with shared stories, laughter and organizing pot luck’s in my mind’s eye.

They come to me in such a flurry that it makes it hard to sleep. I see every issue in an intricate web of causations and connections; spiraling matrixes of micro and macro problems and solutions. Some connections are strong but weakening, others are newer and just gaining steam. What follows is an attempt to pull together all those disparate thoughts of the past week into something useful or at least something out of my own skull and into the wide world where perhaps it will be easier to manage.

What follows are preliminary materials. An intellectual appetizer for a longer conversation on how all these disparate things are connected…

 

Black Lives Matter

 

We live in remarkable times. The current moment is one of both supreme horror and hope. We live in an era of social media informed landscapes and digital paradigmatic terrains where images of inhuman brutality and human kindness are constantly blasted at us from various screens which are worlds unto themselves. Our lives are lived in and between these worlds.

Our hours are spent breezing from laughter in Kenya, to death in Ferguson, to the bitter-sweet changes of our own cities and college campuses. We are flooded with a barrage of cat pictures, body bags leaving Paris concert halls and meme’s of Syrian babies floating in the Mediterranean. From this reality rises a constant tension between the internet as a liberatory tool for harnessing the power of information and as the locus of psychological warfare.

Every image of Black bodies brutalized is simultaneously a call to action and a reminder our place in this oppressive illiberal democracy. Each video set to auto play on your Facebook wall is both the strange fruit left hanging from the poplar trees and the image of Emmett Till’s bloated and beaten body on the front page cover of Jet Magazine that galvanized northern Blacks in the beginning of the civil rights movement.

Every photo of the Obama family posing in front of a camera is both an inspiring reminder of how far we have come as nation and a dangerous distraction from the plight of most American Blacks too broke, too queer, too marginalized, too undocumented, or too prosecuted to enjoy the privileges that the first family is accustomed to. Every mean of Obama “being the Blackest thing this week” is a distraction from the fact that Obama orders the deaths of Black and Brown people with near daily drone strikes.

This technological context also gives birth to a new kind of lived experience. This digital landscape creates a vicarious experience of shared trauma and triumph that is rendered no less real through social media. Our capacity for empathy is increased as we see lives like ours lived in different contexts. So too is our capacity for indignation and rage. With all this comes a paradoxical emotional burnout that can lead to desensitizing ourselves to our own pain and joy.

We feel the agony of communities across the world rocked by violence. We celebrate the joy of small measures of justice. Our blood boils with everybody left to lay in the sun for 4.5 hours on little known street in a city where we have never been. And sometimes, we can no longer react as the world seems too much. We seek solace on our social media feeds, looking to be spiritually fed, only to lose more of our selves in the onslaught.

As is too often the case, the technology that changes the private lives of Americans is mirrored [or fueled] by a change in modern warfare. The same technological advances that allow for cell phone cameras with the same resolutions as digital cameras allow for drone warfare. The automations of war exists in same disgusting dualities of our digital lives.

The tantalizing idea that “boots on the ground” are no longer necessary is marred by the reality that each drone takes out dozens of civilians for each “target.” Attempts to kill a few dozen men have killed over a thousand civilians in war torn countries. Each American solider saved [themselves often young poor people of color] comes at the devastating cost of dozens of innocent lives. Warfare then becomes both infinitely more destructive and simultaneously easier to justify. All the human misery becomes unsorted data points in the age of unparalleled information for folks back home.

These drones strikes in countries many of us have never been and can’t pronounce fuel the stories of terrorism that fill up our feeds. The militarized policing that we react to in this country are similarly the surplus gear and ideology from the same war and same neo-colonial ideologies of collective punishment. Like all of us who seek solace from this moment in our social media feeds only to get more overloaded, our leaders respond to acts of terror and community uprisings with more drone strikes, surveillance and urban warfare.

Our anecdotes are always more of the same poison.

This moment is also huge. We live in times larger than we can hold in our thoughts. Our collective yearning for liberation is too large to be contained in one movement or one series of campaigns. As is always the case, Black America does not fight for freedom in a vacuum. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and the Black Liberation Movement it is trying to breathe life into, are not the only movements for liberation present in the world, America or even here in the District of Columbia.

Because Black people sit at the bottom of every hierarchy, when Black people move, the whole nation moves with them. This is even more evident in a movement for Black lives which whose catalyst was low-income youth in Ferguson, Missouri and whose first leaders were queer Black women. Black liberation is influenced by the all the preceding and concurring movements and continues to inspire more.

The ongoing movement for gender equality from #Wematter to radical feminist college groups organizing against sexual assault have been building alongside struggles for radical redefinitions of citizenship and immigration reform. The environmental movement in America is being transformed, slowly but surely, from upper-middle class white escapism to a struggle for survival and the ability to thrive in front-line communities exemplified in anti-coal mining struggles in West Virginia, Anti-Fracking movements in California, and the re-envisioning of urban life by the predominantly Black residents of Inner-City Detroit.

Small triumphs build on each other and new culture of resistance is growing. A shared movement culture of intersectionality and radical self-care is taken fledgling steps at establishing a small and fragile but invaluable counter hegemony. Women of color, especially Black women, are finally starting to be given their recognition as the engines of history. Queer liberation and Trans* liberation are challenging long held norms and opening up the possibilities for radically different ideas about leadership, collaborative solidarity and the very goals of liberation.

With the reigniting of a movement for Black Liberation we are also seeing a renewed interest in collective liberation. For organizers and activist just coming to their own, the idea that none of us are free until all of us are free is almost a given.

It is now standard to say that we are all intertwined in these interlocking systems of privileges and oppressions. It is becoming as meaningless to talk of one’s own liberation in terms of a single identity as it is to talk about your people’s liberation without talking about your neighbor’s.

Though parts of the old guard might be struggling to comes to terms with it, Black liberation cannot go an inch further than Black men are willing to destroy patriarchy. For how can Black people be free if 51% of us are in bondage to our husbands, brothers and fathers? Likewise, Black people cannot be free if trans* people are not free. For how can we say we have ended state sanctioned violence against Black people if being trans* while Black means an early death for so many of our people?

Yet these movements exist in the context of their opposition as well. There is a Black Lives Matter movement because there has been a massive, constant and fluid re-organization of the hegemonic powers of capitalism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy to infuse a neo-liberal commodification and alienation into every aspect of life. This marginalization necessitates the constant re-enslavement and faux emancipation of Black people. Each cycle brings emancipation from a myriad collection of systems of brutalization and into more systematic disempowerment. The solutions society gives to our problems only seek to re-invest ourselves in newer systems of oppression.

The solution to bad schools is breaking the teacher’s union [i.e. destroying Black worker power], zero tolerance policies [creating the school to prison pipeline] and creation of charter schools [creates influx of exploitable white non-union workers]. All of this ends in a massive interlocked system of prisons, military and police recruitment.

The beach heads of this system are often authoritarian schools now nearly synonymous with charter schools that condition the Black consciousness to respond “respectively and professionally” to hierarchical violence. Demerit systems and behavioral report cards teach Black students to respect autocratic though inconsistent white leadership and culture and to constantly police themselves.

Never in this endless barrage of testing and job training to do we wonder if we are making our children less human when we treat them like machines. Passive receivers of knowledge will create no symphonies and will run no participatory democracies. And yet we still decry to fate of our public discourse.

Donald Trump spews hatred on national television. Complex problems are reduced to simple stories of American masculine power and the barbaric other. We watch, laughing at the joke until it is no longer funny.

Always the specter of totalitarianism strains it’s ugly head to see if it’s time to strike.

These solutions are of course also profitable to those with power. Private funding for charter school buildings often means that they are harbingers of displacement [often erroneously labeled gentrification.] Nicer schools signal the possibility of better schools which brings in young white professionals looking to settle down. Destroying public sector unions, which are the building blocks of the Black middle class, is happening at the same time as the privatization of government services. This ensures that the government leadership [mostly white men] can save money by contracting out essential public services to other white men whose services are cheaper in part because their workers are not unionized and can be paid less.

These savings are then passed on to upper incomes through regressive tax breaks. Any disruption in quality of services provided by the government [failing education, disintegrating public housing, closing of mental health facilities] is then funneled into the private prison system by the criminalization of Blackness, Trans* identity, and poverty. This criminalization is facilitated through drag net applications of anti-loitering laws, debtor’s prisons, the drug war, vice squads, broken windows policing and the like. Capitalists end up making money on both ends, the promise of reform and the cost of the failure of that reform, thus besieging Black communities on all sides.

All of these systems contribute to the problematizing of Blackness in the now nearly illiterate public discourse. Black communities are constantly seen as in crisis. These crises are driven to the center of public discourse by both well-meaning white liberals who neglect to listen to solutions put forth by Black communities and bigoted Democrats and Republicans.

These crises are then turned into to opportunities by the same mercenary capitalist that helped create them. Banks peddle government backed capital loans for aforementioned authoritarian charter schools. These schools set white savior complexes couched in the realities of intergenerational poverty and the misinterpretation of the flawed Moynihan report as the basis of their pedagogy.

White, upper-middle class, college educated women are then “needed” to “save” constantly in crisis Black communities by emulating the stern strictness of the mythic and now incarcerated Black father. They are hired and trained to instill the values the parents are deemed too poor, too high, or too miseducated to do themselves. Unfortunately, they are not trained to actually develop or teach children, only manage them with same relational managements systems they are subject to at work.

Likewise, the tripartite commodification of women as sexual objects, consummate consumers, and marginalized workers has increased in this new era of neo-liberalism. These same young teachers are supposed to lean into their new found positions as teacher, role-model, social worker and nurse with neither adequate training nor the protections or salary of a union.

White female teachers in urban areas are meticulously marketed to– just as their under-funded [or simply poorly funded] schools and unscrupulous charter school CEO’s require them to spend more and more of their own money on school supplies. This forces women to simultaneously be marginalized workers and consummate consumers. This is all on top of the trend pieces chastising women for dressing too promiscuously at work while simultaneously telling women that in the new era of sexual liberation if they are single, it’s because they are not putting themselves out there.

These interlocking systems continue on. Older Black women are fired or forced to take pay cuts to make way for these younger, whiter, non-unionized workers to teach their children. Black women who are able to hold onto the jobs face incredible low glass ceilings for promotions and leadership opportunities. Undocumented Latino workers are forced to work below the minimum wage building these new schools in gentrifying neighborhoods or converting old schools to start-ups in neighboring Black neighborhoods. They work long hours and experience billions of dollars in wage theft yet are called lazy welfare leeches who should just go home to countries ruined by NAFTA, the Monroe Doctrine, Chicago Boys and the School of the Americas.

Asian, Pacific Islanders and Middle-Eastern Americans are generally left out of the narratives of oppression but not immune to the systems themselves. As wages decrease the market for cheap goods, services and food increases and recent immigrants find themselves working in terrifying conditions, for too many hours and not enough pay. Second and third generation immigrants often find themselves not much better off though their narratives are overshadowed by their much wealthier counterparts who are the exception and not the rule. This robs them of their own means of resistance even as their position at the intersection of so many forms of oppression makes their leadership and organization invaluable.

Muslims Americans find themselves being racialized as Counter Violent Extremism [CVE] programs justify their constant state of surveillance and place as the new fundamentally unassimilable aliens. News stories of terrorist attacks abroad that immediately blame undistinguished masses of immigrants only further this narrative of hate. A population educated to receive inputs from white authorities uncritically and fill in bubbles then blames darker skinned refugees for the problems they were fleeing in the first place.

All of this justifies and fuels the extreme rendition and entrapment used during the drug war that is now being perfected on the victims of America’s Petro-empire ambitions and islamophobic projections. Subtle moves to expand the dehumanization of a religion turned ethnic group become overt just the backlash against Black liberation movements connect with an ever present anti-immigrant sentiment that never completely forgets that a plurality of Muslims are Black.

This volatile mix of anti-Blackness and islamophobia is the perfect cocktail for America’s ruling military industrial deep state to justify imperialism to a war weary pseudo democracy. The ever present hooded and hijabed threats are the Kool-Aid that allows for troops to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan as unremarked as tanks riding down main streets in mid-western cities.

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Again, it is the same small party of banks, investors and industrialists who profit from interlocking these systems.

Yet and still, these populations find moments of liberation in their resistance. Charm City erupts in cries of “Unity Baltimore” after indictments [stop gap measures to a city in flames] roll down like tainted water, quenching some of the fires lit by the brutalization of Freddie Gray. From the economic deprivation and social isolation that is the kindling to these fires comes the art, Hip Hop, poems, street theatre and Black feminist freedom songs of a new generation of intersectional maroon societies.

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Celebration in Penn-North in West Baltimore after Freddie Gray indictments

There is bitter-sweet release in saying her name and remembering her life. There is a confidence, a distinctly Black swagger of upliftment, in believing that we gon be alright. There is an inexplicable joy in shouting to the universe that “we ready, we coming.” All the cross the country #BlackJoy and #Blackgirlmagic are becoming as powerful rallying cries as #Blackrestance. These new movements understand what Audre Lourde meant when she said “self-care is a revolutionary act.”

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Yet these celebrations are not the “respectable and professional” displays we were taught to show in schools. The dominant cultural lens through which we tend to hear about such demonstrations is mostly white, nebulously middle class and male.

This same overwhelmingly white but dwindling and darkening middle class that politicians love to champion during debates was created off the backs of immigrants, forced migrants and their children. Happy white families and stable white communities are the benefactors of these systems of oppression. They benefit even as the cost of assimilating to whiteness forces their children flee the sterile suburbs for the grit, reality vibrancy of urban life. Yet even these communities find themselves threatened as housing crises, spree killings, the marginalizations of workers and the degradation of the environment now threaten their fragile way of life.

These systems and spiraling matrixes continue on, zooming in and out and around, until the whole of human interaction is seen in this tension between marginalization and liberation; prosperity and poverty. Lives spent caught in systems of pain and enthralled in networks of joy. We find small but meaningful moments of liberation in our own spaces, marches and festivals but find our ownership of cultural space threatened at every turn by a desire to be post-identity as if that would make us post-difference.

Conclusion

This new material context, this vicarious lived experience that makes us Trayvon White and Eric Garner and Michael Brown also makes us Rekia Boyd, Relisha Rudd and Islan Nettles. Yet we must not stop there, we must also be the living Black children, we must also be Malala Yousafzai, we must be Epifanio Alvarez, we must be families in Detroit whose water is cut off and families in West Virginia whose water is undrinkable. If All Black people are to truly be free than we must destroy all the hierarchies of power, wealth and privilege not merely change our place within it.

With global capital undermining national democracies [TTP] and climate change entering worse case scenarios the need for internationalism is no longer up for debate. Black people are coming to terms with our privilege as Americans coexisting with our place within its mechanisms of marginalization.

A Pan-Africanism born out not out of our shared oppression but rather out of our shared history of resistance is bourgeoning as the era of Black-White dichotomies and clear lines is over. We recognize that massive progress has brought little change. Global capital and climate change still disparately impact darker skinned people and women. We also are beginning to recognize an expanded global Blackness of subaltern populations. From Dalit Panthers in India, to “Black” Aborigines in Australia a new new Negro is rising from the fertile social of post-colonial liberatory resistance.

On and on this new materialism weaves into our ideals and lived experiences pushing us towards a fork in the road. Totalitarianism on a global scale or the struggle for collective liberation. Our collective heads hurt and spin in this complexity and nuance. We must remember to breathe, to sit with our thoughts and remember that they world is spinning because those held it up for so long are starting to move. Our internal queasiness is the aftershocks of hierarchies of oppression being shaken from the bottom up.

All over the world artists and story tellers are creating new markers for a better horizon. Eventually, as we remember to not let this deluge of data dehumanize and destabilize us, we will all march to this forming horizon of global emancipation. We will all get free.

The 5 Pillars of White Supremacy in DC

5 pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy In DC

Intro

Ultimately this frame is an attempt to distill our understanding of White Supremacy and Racial Injustice into a manageable size and tie it to a preliminary vision for Black Liberation. These five pillars are an attempt to explain the complicated nature of modern structural and interpersonal racism in a way that is accessible and that can bridge several divides in our modern conversations about race. We have to bridge the divide between those who focus on systems of oppression like mass incarcerations and those who focus on interpersonal displays of racism. We have to merge efforts of structural reform with efforts for cultural change. We need to expand our vision of state violence and White Supremacy beyond policing. Most importantly we need to expand the role of non-Black people in ending anti-Black racism from allies to collaborators.

Below are the five pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy in DC we have identified. These pillars are heavily informed by Andrea Smith’s Hetero-Patriarchy and Three Pillars of White Supremacy. They also reflect the ways in which other forms of racial oppression [Settler Genocide and Orientalism] have been repurposed to support the control of Black communities. Lastly they are also heavily informed by modern left ideas like dialectical materialism, generative somatics and emergent strategies. The goal of this frame to educate and provide a tool for identifying targets for strategic action. Technical, academic or key terms that are underlined are defined in the definitions document attached to the week of action frame.

Premises of the Five Pillars

The first premise of these five pillars is that race and racism are flimsy, intangible ideas that are simultaneously created by the context we live in and at the same time help create that context. Following from this is a belief that ideas are the result of human beings moving through the world and interacting with physical [i.e. material] things. We cannot easily describe what race is or how it works yet have no trouble assigning races to people. Many white people have an implicit bias against Black people for being lazy in part because so many Black men are visibly unemployed; yet Black unemployment is caused, in part, by racial stereotypes of Black people as lazy or otherwise unfit workers. The idea of Black people being lazy also has its roots in slavery, when slaves would protest their servitude by refusing to do work and by sabotaging tools and equipment. In this way modern racist ideology is birthed from the material reality of systems of inequality that were created because of prior racists ideologies themselves created by prior material realities.

The second premise of these pillars is that both America and, to a lesser extent, the global society that it simultaneously influences and is influenced by, are fundamentally White Supremacist societies designed [intentionally and by happenstance] to maintain the power of the people who held power during its founding [landed white men]. Following from this, the cultural, political and economic systems that support our society have a vested interest in the racist status quo that birthed them. Change only happens when the status quo is no longer tenable for those with power. For example, the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow south existed to benefit wealthy white men and only ended when mass resistance made system change easier than system maintenance.

Third, the current way society is organized [i.e the modern social order] separates people into racial groups whose arbitrarily defined traits are re-characterized to represent specific threats to the status quo. Therefore, specific systems of oppression are coupled together to address those threats. Overtime, those systems of oppression are perfected on specific populations and eventually used to undermine resistance among other populations.

For example, the “war on [or of] terror” tactics perfected in the government’s harassment of Muslim and Arab populations are now being used to disrupt BLM protests. These same tactics have their roots in the government’s fights against radical European immigrants in the 30’s and Black freedom fighters in the 60’s and 70’s. Likewise, DC’s own police department is heavily influenced by the Israeli Defense Force’s genocidal land grab in the Gaza strip.

Similarly, the current education system that now allows private corporations to profit off the achievement gap and use overly authoritarian discipline systems to condition Black children to follow inconsistent applied rules and extra-judicial white authority figures has its origins in both the “Indian schools” of the 1800’s and the early modern education system used to assimilate the children of European immigrants into the labor force.

Effectively Using This Frame

Lastly, in order to use this frame effectively, organizations/groups must guide their direct actions against the strategic points of intervention for each pillar. A point of intervention is place of strategic importance within the workings of a given system. For instance, if your goal is the production of cigarettes in your state, the state’s largest tobacco factory is a strategic point of intervention. It is where the status quo can be disrupted. Possible Points of intervention for each pillar will be italicized in this text. This concept is taken from Beautiful Trouble:

“Truly effective interventions go beyond simply disrupting a system to pose a deeper challenge to its underlying assumptions and basic legitimacy. This holds true whether the intervention targets a physical system like a sweatshop or an ideological system like racism, sexism, or market fundamentalism.”

The five types of points of intervention are points of production (for instance, a factory), points of destruction (a prison or jail), points of consumption (a big box retailer), points of decision (the Wilson Building) and points of assumption (a place that hold symbolic importance or help create the normative narrative like a monument).

To best use this frame, activists and organizers must research each pillar and break them down into the systems that support them. Once you have identified the systems that perpetuate white supremacy you can then identity the people, places and organizations that will make strategic targets. Once you have your target you prepare an action that can move your target in the direction you want them to go. After you launch and action it is important to debrief with your affinity group to learn from each action. Remember, praxis makes perfect.

The Pillars

The five pillars of White Supremacy in DC we have identified are Inner City Settler-Colonialism, Plantation Politics, Cultural Appropriation, Economic Disenfranchisement, and Psychological Warfare. The names of these pillars are not important nor should they be seen as completely divisible structures with separate logics unto themselves. Rather they should be seen as interwoven tendencies that are in constant dialogue with the local material context.

The first pillar is Inner City Settler Colonialism: Areas of urban decay are simultaneously seen as vacant land ripe with opportunities to be exploited by capitalists and dangerous “uncivilized” areas that need to be tamed. This cry for taming or civilization is then used as justification for violence against the native population, now Black Americans instead of indigenous peoples and enforced by police instead of the cavalry. One can see ettler colonialism in the recent gentrification of Columbia Heights, the current gentrification of Petworth or the impending gentrification of Historic Anacostia.

Charters schools play an important part in this pillar, as brand new elementary schools often herald gentrification from young white professionals. Similarly, the school to prison pipeline and union busting of charter schools break important communal and economic ties in the area that make it more likely that residents will leave the neighborhood. Like the ideology of rugged individualism that provided the exploitable manpower to the ideology of manifest destiny, neo-liberal ideas about privatization and disinvestment from collective spaces speed this process along.

On an individual level, young white professionals see an increase of capital that caters to their personal taste as a positive change in the community, while the resulted displacement of the Black indigenous population is erased from their moral calculations. New Petworth residents might love the new book store and café without realizing that both the pricing and the books are not geared towards long-term residents. Likewise, the quant new stores are owned by the same developers who plan of shaping the neighborhood in their image for their profit.

The solution to Inner City Settler Colonialism is equitable communal development. We must abolish the idea that housing is a commodity to be bought and sold for profit or that communities as created by developers and urban planners. We must abolish the idea that schools are work force development factories. We must abolish the idea of a false meritocracy where the cream rises to the top. Instead we must reinvest in common spaces and resources that can be shared by all. Our schools must be communal spaces where the praxes of love and creative collaborative problem solving are taught in a supportive way. We must create collective solutions to our collective problems.

The second pillar is Plantation Politics: Nearly every power hierarchy in DC gets lighter and more masculine as you climb the ranks. From the political [ANC’s, the Council and Congress] to our unions and Federal government agencies; the DC power structure resembles an old southern plantation. This is a legacy that can be seen clearest in the transition from Slavery to Sharecropping to Jim Crow as the racial power relations were given a veneer of change but remain constant, though less explicit and brutally enforced, for most Blacks. The fact that DC is not state and must have its laws and budgets approved by the overwhelming white male congress is why DC is often called “the Last Plantation.”

Low level and front line staff in government, non-profits and unions are generally women of color who are overwhelming Black, overworked and underpaid. They are often directly managed by Black men or white women who themselves are managed by white women or men. Often times white upper management will hire aggressive and rude Black middle managers to control the Black workers. Equally common are “Black led” organizations held hostage by their white led boards. Even Black elected leadership from Marion Barry to Muriel Bowser were elected by a coalition of either white liberals or light skinned Black elites along with low income Blacks but always bankrolled by white male developers.

This structure also causes relatively privileged Blacks to try to leverage their class, gender, color, nation of origin, cultural or sexual orientation privilege to rise in status. This jockeying for a higher position in the hierarchy perpetuates a respectability politics that further enshrines the hierarchy that marginalizes them. Unfortunately, respectability politics also foster anti-Black racism in other POC communities and xenophobia within the Black community. As assimilation becomes more and more necessary for economic and social advancement within the system, racial progress become less about collective action and more about neo-liberal “rugged individualism.”

The solution to Plantation Politics is Emotional Emancipation and De-Colonization. We must identify, engage with and proactively counteract our implicit biases and internalized oppression about leadership and authority. We must create intentional spaces where the leadership of women, Black people, and working class folks are uplifted and supported. These intentional space should include our union meetings and elections, our staff meetings and legislative bodies. We must create new scripts for social interaction based on a Black Queer Feminist re-envisioning of collaborative power and shared leadership.

The next pillar of White Supremacy is Cultural Appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when elements of an oppressed people’s culture are repurposed by the dominant group’s culture. The moral problem of Cultural Appropriation revolves around the issue of ownership. White people listening to Chuck Berry is cultural sharing. Saying that Elvis invented Rock and Roll and leaving Black Rock and Roll founders to poverty is cultural appropriation. Too often something only exists as a valuable cultural phenomenon once white people “discover” it. In DC we see this when developers highlight and commodify token aspects of a neighborhood’s Black history in order to make is seem more authentic and therefore valuable to white renters. Examples of this are Eatonville’s use of Harlem Renaissance imagery or the numerous Marvin Gaye themed establishments on U Street.

One of the main drivers of cultural appropriation is the construction of whiteness itself. Whiteness is not merely an amalgamation of European cultural tendencies. This means that whiteness is not a melting pot of French, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Italian cultures. Rather, it is a culture of dominance that exists to both bestow and justify privilege for people perceived by society as white. White ethnic groups had to give up parts of their culture and identity in order to access the privileges of whiteness. Whiteness began to be bought and sold through marketing and advertising like many of other cultural values during 1950’s consumerism.

As whiteness was being sold through visions of an American dream in subdivision ads and car commercials, consumer capitalism worked to create a cultural deficit in white Americans, a feeling that they didn’t quite “have it all.” Consumer capitalism is then there to fill that deficit, with the next new “modern” thing. This leads to a tendency to mine other cultures for new music, hair styles and clothing that were previous considered low, uncouth or unprofessional.

The solution to cultural appropriation is Cultural Education and Cultural Ownership. We must teach the history of culture in our society in a dynamic, non-normative way. We have to de-center whiteness in our teaching of history and our understanding of culture creation. We need to consume more cultural productions from the global majority and value the cultural creations of people of color. We also need to change our intellectual property laws and cultural economies so that artists of color receive fair wages for their work and corporations cannot control cultural production.

The fourth pillar of white supremacy is Economic Disenfranchisement. It includes relegating large portions of Black people in DC into low paying service sector jobs that experience wage theft, unstable and insufficient hours and are demeaning. This marginalization is being pushed in large part by a belief in the neo-liberal tenet of privatization. Essential government services that have been disinvested in and fallen into dis-repair are privatized by contractors who provide cheaper services by paying workers less. Often this divestment is only possible with an attack on public sector unions, which are overwhelming Black. Furthermore, this system benefits from and perpetuates Black joblessness that allows for increased marginalization as so many people become willing to do anything to get a paycheck of any amount. Examples of economic disenfranchisement are the privatization of public transit in DC such as the H Street Car and the Circulator.

Similarly, it encompasses the often gendered economic exploitation found in unpaid labor such as emotional labor, childrearing and supporting elders and differently abled family members that further disadvantages Black femme identifying folks. Economic disenfranchisement in a Capitalist White Cis-Hetero Patriarchy also forces Black Trans and gender-non-conforming folks into further economic disenfranchisement as both their Blackness and gender identity and presentation are deemed as less or un professional.

The solution to economic disenfranchisement is an End to Privatization, a re-investment in Black Worker Power and our Economic Safety Net. We need to rehabilitate the safety net that is so riddled with holes of respectability that Black communities fall through. Union leadership needs to be decolonized so that white men no longer head unions full of Black women and they can start to effectively advocate for Black workers. Welfare to work requirements that demonize stay-at-home parenting and force Black workers into meaningless workforce development programs that further enshrine whiteness as professionalism need to be abolished. Lastly, we need a comprehensive policy reform to raise wages for everyone and hold businesses accountable for wage theft, redlining and discrimination.

We need to create workplaces where Black workers are supported and have the power to leverage their demands. We need to create workplaces where diversity is celebrated and workers have room for personal and professional development and income growth. We need to instill a cultural of collective advancement and economic solidarity. We need to invest in family friendly workplaces with paid family, sick and parental leave that allow workers the time to invest in their community.

The last pillar of White Supremacy in DC is Psychological Warfare. Police Brutality induced trauma is used to frighten Black residents into political apathy and make them feel unwelcomed in newly gentrifying areas. Systems like the prison industrial complex and zero-tolerance authoritarian charter schools condition Black people to accept white leadership and internalize messages of failure. This in turn empowers the respectability politics that limit Black leadership and reinforce a multi-tiered class system within the job market as speech and dress become conflated with professionalism and white assimilation becomes a job pre-requisite.

Psychological Warfare also includes the various ways that trauma exacerbates other social problems and forms of oppression. The prevalence of beauty standards that normalize and privilege whiteness further stigmatizing Black women; traumatizing Black girls and increasing their gendered oppression. In a different way, poverty and insecurity incentivize people to assert various privileged identities [i.e plantation politics] to get climb social and economic ladders thereby re-ingraining things like patriarchy, trans* phobia, classism, xenophobia and homophobia. As Black people deal with these external attacks that become internal problems, the myth of “Black on Black Crime” further stigmatizes the community. Any work to alleviate the true cause of Black oppression by attacking one of the pillars of White Supremacy is delegitimized by calls for the Black community to deal with its perceived cultural deficits.

The solution to Psychological Warfare is Instilling a Culture of Loving Empowerment and Investing in Self Care. The solutions commonly given to alleviate Black oppression in today’s society too often stigmatize Black people. Social Service agencies websites and grants go on and on about the plight of their “clients” and how vulnerable or at-risk their communities are. Instead we need to refocus our attention on the resiliency of Black people and the magnitude of the forces that oppose Black progress. Black Joy and Black Love need to be regular aspects of any community venture or event. Non-Black collaborators should partake in and support events geared towards celebrating Black resilience as appropriate.

Black only spaces are also critical for Black people to do the internal work necessary to counter the stigmatizing and trauma so prevalent in today’s society. Black people must process that emotional trauma and love and support each other through the process of liberation. Non-Black communities in solidarity with Black liberation must learn to have empathy with Black struggle and invest time and resources to support Black emotional emancipation. At the same time, non-Black communities in solidarity with Black liberation must process their own emotions in order to expand their capacity to experience joy and love and authentic relationships with Black people. On a systemic level, we need to invest in social workers and positive play in schools not police officers and metal detectors. Schools should look like supportive and collaborative learning laboratories not prisons. We must also invest in communal spaces such as parks, recreation centers, other forums where community can be built and resources shared.

What We Want

At the end of the day, policy solutions cannot bring Black Liberation, nor can anti-oppression trainings. Both tactics can merely give us space to envision and articulate alternatives. Ultimately, we must create new co-operative systems and new models of social interactions that respect the inherent dignity of Black people. We must limit the power of the state to direct our lives, which means that Black communities and communities in solidarity with Black liberation must take responsibility for solving our own problems. We cannot ultimately rely on the police to make us safe or social workers and psychologist to make us whole. We must take care of our neighbors and empower our communities. We must teach each other and learn from each other new models of being our best, most gorgeous, most lovingly empathetic selves.

This week of action is one step in creating a world more vivid, more visceral, more real, and more charged with the glorious energies of a life well lived than this one. A world in which Black lives blossom; where our greatness, our resilience, our magnificence burst into the world with tears of a joy so full of mirth that our whole bodies will shake in collective ecstasy.

We seek a world in which we have all have reclaimed the erotic; where we can feel our power and joy in the marrow of our bones; where the very fibers of our being feel the vibrancy of love coursing through them. We seek a world where we love without reservations; a world where we know we deserved to be loved. We seek a world where Black self-determination is an eternal block party where we sometimes vote on our budget. We fight because we can see a world where justice is love and love is a process and a praxis taught in schools.

Translating Gov. Nixon’s “State of Emergency”

 

American Empire's Need

I know that some of you are confused by the comments on social media about a “State of Emergency” being declared in the State of Missouri. Many of you expressed disarray and confusion as to why there was a state of emergency being declared and so I thought I would spend some time to translate Gov. Nixon’s declaration into more transparent language so that it could be more easily understood. Here is the translation, with footnotes at the bottom. A quick note, this blog post is mostly an intellectual, somewhat humorous reaction to my anger and frustration at the situation both in Ferguson and here in DC. If you need a more emotional response to validate the visceral anger, fear, dejection or apathy you might be feeling in America’s White Supremacist Patriarchy please go here. If you are looking for something a little more “we laugh so that we don’t cry” response from the Well Examined Life you will have to wait for me to stop crying.

WHEREAS, the peace of mind of middle class and partially enfranchised [1] residents of the City of Ferguson and the St. Louis region [whose support of our civil institutions is necessary for the patriarchal white supremacist hegemony [2] to flourish as it does] have experienced periods of unrest over the past three months due to unrest fermented by the disenfranchised [3] ever unruly Black population; and

WHEREAS, the United States and St. Louis County authorities’ power is contingent on a monopoly on “legitimate” violence [4] justified through the criminalization and dehumanization of non-white and non-male citizens as non-human persons [5]; and

WHEREAS, the United States Department of Justice and St. Louis County authorities will soon announce their unwillingness to bring criminal or civil charges against the officer in question; and

WHEREAS, regardless of the outcomes of the federal and state criminal investigations, there is the slight possibility of expanded unrest; and

WHEREAS, the State of Missouri needs expanded unrest to justify its expanded power and control [6]; and

WHEREAS, our middle class and partially enfranchised citizens have the precarious privilege to passively assemble and own small amounts of property and large amounts of debt the State of Missouri is committed to protecting those rights [7]; and

WHEREAS, capital and businesses must be protected from devaluation and damage; and

WHEREAS, an invocation of the provisions of Sections 44.010 through 44.130, RSMo, is appropriate to ensure the safety and welfare of our fully enfranchised citizens.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JEREMIAH W. (JAY) NIXON, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI, by virtue of the power vested in me by the barrel of a gun [8] and by the legitimacy vested in me by the Law of Missouri, including Sections 44.010 through 44.130, RSMo, do hereby declare a War of Terror in the State of Missouri.

I further direct the Missouri State Highway Patrol together with the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to operate as a Unified Command to protect property, capital and hegemonic interests in the City of Ferguson and the St. Louis region.

I further order that the St. Louis County Police Department shall have command and operational control over security in the City of Ferguson relating to areas of policing Black Bodies [and the occasional holocaust survivor], acts of non-conforming and conduct otherwise arising from a desire to remove the current social order.

I further order that the Unified Command may exercise operational authority in any and all such other jurisdictions it deems necessary to protect aforementioned interests and ensure hegemonic control of both capital and civil society and that other law enforcement agencies, non-profits tied to the state through funding [9] and all citizens who receive privileges based on their conformity [voluntarily or otherwise] to prevailing social codes and racial order shall assist the Unified Command when so requested and shall cooperate with operational directives of the Unified Command.

I further order, pursuant to Section 41.480, RSMo, the Adjutant General of the State of Missouri, or his designee, to forthwith call and order into active service such portions of the organized militia as he deems necessary to protect life and property of hegemonic authorities and it is further directed that the Adjutant General or his designee, and through him, the commanding officer of any unit or other organization of such organized militia so called into active service take such action and employ such equipment as may be necessary to carry out requests processed through the Missouri State Highway Patrol and ordered by the Governor of the state to protect life and property and support hegemonic authorities.

This Order shall expire in thirty days unless extended in whole or in part by subsequent opportunities to use fear and racial animosity to further State interests or utilize frontier economics [10] to instigate gentrification [11] in predominately non-white communities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the State of Missouri, in the City of Jefferson, on this 17th day of November, 2014.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon
Governor

ATTEST:

Jason Kander
Secretary of State
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[1] Partially enfranchised citizens in a capitalist white supremacist patriarchy are those citizens for whom the public services, utilities and civic institutions generally work yet who are still not represented in any larger institutions or systems of power. These citizens generally can expect to be treated respectfully by the police, have adequate public utilities and receive disaster relief in a timely manner yet are left out of most economic growth and political decision making. This is generally the Cis-White-Native Born-Middle class and the Upper Middle Class strata of more marginalized groups. Exceptions exist but are uncommon

[2] Hegemony is the systems, institutions and [to a small extent] individuals who exert power and influence over cultural norms, widely held beliefs and social and political practices in a society to maintain the status quo, particularly the people or class who currently have the most power.

“In Marxist philosophy, the term Cultural hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.” Wikipedia.

[3] Disenfranchisement is when an individual or group is prevented from meaningful participation in a society or political system due to legal obstacles, social coercion or the maldistribution of life chances to the extent that they become subjected to social change and not merely subject to it. Meaningful participation here is best understood as not merely unchecked self-determination or freedom to because the basic tenets of any meaningful social contract restrict human behavior for the common good. Rather meaningful participation means the ability to influence critique and collectively change the tenets of any social contract they enter or otherwise become a party to. Systematic misdistribution of life chances means an unequal and unfair likelihood of instances of life limiting situations, choices and resources such as high infant mortality rates, shorter life spans, educational attainment, criminal record etc due to categories to which one is socialized [i.e. forced into by society like race, gender and sexuality]

[4] One of the integral tenets of the idea of the modern state is the monopoly on violence. Which is to say, the state and it agents [officially designated or proxy agents] are the only members of a society for whom violence is a legitimate means of coercion i.e. not a crime. In a white supremacist patriarchy men are often designated as proxy agents either through implicit or explicit deputation. Explicit deputation like lynch mobs protected by the sheriffs or implicit deputation through the “a man’s whom is his castle” and stand your ground legal justification.

[5] For a primer on non-human personage google the three-fifths compromise. For a more contemporary example follow #blacklivesmatter on twitter. For an contemporary, less racial, and less centered on violence example on non-human personage read this article “Men are people and women are women.”

[6] God fearing, Freedom loving Americans would never give up freedom unless it would truly necessary or at least, if they thought it was truly necessary. This is why the State sometimes plays up the danger of nebulous treats like terrorist or riots. If you are afraid you are unlikely to question the people with guns, provided they point the guns at someone else. FYI, America has been in a state of emergency since 2001 having been extended under both Bush and Obama. Another one has been in effect since President Carter issued it  in response to Iran hostage crisis.

[7] It’s clear from the fact that they are talking about quelling mostly non-violent protests with the military that they are not concerned with protecting freedom of speech. Before you get side tracked by talking about how riots are not freedom of speech remember that the protests have been overwhelming non-violent and that there have been several other riots in America since the Ferguson Riot  yet the military only get called in when the interests of the state are questioned. So, when they say rights and property they really mean property rights and not just everyone’s property rights but those who support their hegemonic control. Let’s not forget the times when the state has let Black neighborhoods burn.

[8] Not all power comes from the barrel of a gun, but if Hobbes was right about anything, its that the State’s power usually does. However, power and legitimacy are not the same thing. Power [in this limited context] is what makes you do what they want, legitimacy is often what stops you from complaining about it. People Power, for instance, derives its legitimacy and power from the people. The state derives its power from the threat of violence and its legitimacy from the constitution, other laws and years of a post-civil war culture of habitual mass submission broken up only intermittently by uprisings and demonstrations whose energy is usually channeled into reform movements or simply repressed.

[9] The silence from non-profits that work in low-income communities of color, like the unions that represent them, is deafening.

[10] Frontier Economics: [noun] A pernicious isotope of Reaganomics that utilizes “crisis capitalism” to systematically disinvest in urban POC communities to lower property values, remove employment opportunities and lower the quality and increase the price of social services in an effort to increase crime, lower educational attainment and hamper organic institution building so as to support a narrative shift in which said communities become “bombed out” wastelands whose “native” populations are unwilling AND unable to take care of it; therefore justifying the use of hegemonic powers to instigate gentrification and to incentivize “urban pioneers” to re-settle the inner city; much like homestead acts and colonial settlers in the American West except with militarized police instead of the military and prisons and charter schools instead of the reservations and “Indian schools.” After the dust settles, and the incarceration rate of POC in Ferguson increases slightly, expect either “spontaneous” infuses of capital to deal [nominally] with any property damage but mostly with increasing the hegemonies control of the economic life of residents or [infinitely more likely] the disinvestment in the community by the state and civic institutions. This will be followed, years later, by a reinvest of funds to remove the urban blight created by the disinvestment.

[11] gentrify: [verb] the process of using middle class, typically white youth to shorten upper class professional commutes [and line their pockets] by systemically weaponizing culture and capital in such a way as to necessitate the forced or otherwise involuntary removal of urban POC either through the criminalization of marginalized culture and increasing cost of living or through destabilizing POC communities to instigate “voluntary’ “self-deportation” facilitated by systematic disinvestment and intrusive government interruption such as placing children in wealthier [often whiter] homes as wards of the state, militarized policing, and decrease in non- DOJ government services.

Life Before The Revolution

Image For Life Before The Revolution

 

Booing Up When All Your Friends Are Lesbians…& You’re Not

 

 

Here it is…the moment [a few of] you have been waiting for. The debut of my play writing prowess…a comedy of queer proportions…the story my dating life as read by my friends…the hilarity that might could be the DC Queer DIY Punk Scene… one my favorite things I’ve ever created.

This play is a compilation of pieces of my life with the boring taken out, names changed and background slightly rewritten. Most of the dialogue is real. Some of the events happened. All of them could happen…at group house near you. I’m really proud of this play as it represents a lot of personal and artistic growth. Not only is is better writing but it is more honest writing. Some of the truths contained within might surprise people who haven’t talked to me in a while…if that is the case, I encourage you to ask about anything that surprised you.  I will probably write more about this play later and will post the script soon but for now…here is my first ever radio theater comedy podcast!

If you like the music [and really how could you not?] check of Spoonboy and Hot Hyms for more!

 

Their Culture Is Capital

As my art and writing has expanded in recent months I’ve gotten really into recording my poetry and setting it music I created on acid pro.  This is my first attempt at it with original words and original music. Though, the chorus is written by Pete Singer from his song “Little Boxes” as song in this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mJSSHu3ocA .

 

They complained about the cold with a rare Chicagoan honesty. When the wind hits their faces and seeps through every orifice and pore to settle slowly into their bones they are broad shouldered and husky folk poets. So proud to be clear eyed and laughing. So proud to live where the freight-handlers daughter used to live. They walk slowly down Michigan avenue as one as if the hawk forces their crowd comfort into ubiquity. The city of big shoulders. The Big City that thinks it’s a small town as all the girls sing

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

They walk from Hancock to the Bean like the children of tortured writers conceived on benzodine trips whose parents told them not to do drugs after they filled their riddlen scripts. They step over the high homeless not recognizing that faraway look in their father’s eye’s because they may have been concieved in Vegas but daddy found God before they were born. They traded in riddlin for tea and found themselves unable to ask for a raise.  Being addicted to self-improvement means they have to exaggerate their flaws with cornucopias of neurosis and fat girls lose weight to come to terms with their arrogance.

The streets grin under their footsteps. You gave them your tired, weak and huddled masses yearning to be free and the streets melted them together. Michigan is asleep at 10 and by midnight it murmurs

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

Past the Bean the steel and glass condos ooze the stench of potential ripening into through desperation and bar crawls until you wake up, hungover in parenthood. Young college students whitewash the mandarin they don’t understand with sheer bravado as the New Negroes wait for the train to get past Garfield where their city begins. The temporal anomaly that forces the races to avoid sitting next to each other rights itself after the loud mouth Uchicago students step off onto the platform humming:

And the people in the houses

All went to the university,

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same,

And there’s doctors and lawyers,

And business executives,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

The Southsiders lounge in the box cars like coal miners coming home from work. Like those coal miners they take cold showers to wash off the soot and cool themselves down in their tenements without central air. Yet after the showers they are still brown and black as the night and so they rub their paychecks on their skin hoping they change color. They pelt their children with cell phones and nike’s hoping that they bruise white enough to go to college.

And they all play on the golf course

And drink their martinis dry

And they all have pretty children

And the children go to school

And the children go to summer camp

And then to the university

Where they are put in boxes

And they come out all the same

After the train stops the city continues for miles. Bottles of broken dreams litter every street even as the smoke from crack in Englewood becomes the exhausts from Cadillacs in Beverly. This is the New Nation that the newspapers call Chiraq but from Hyde Park to Chatham former Irishmen sell suits to formers slaves. These former slaves, blind from malnutrition, sing work songs in their food desserts infused with the new culture of capital.

And the boys go into business

And marry and raise a family

In boxes made of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same

There’s a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same

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.