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.

niqob_not_a_symbol_of_terorism_by_graphic_resistance

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 Unbearable Whiteness of Advocacy

Dear White Advocates for Social Justice,
If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it

Zora Neale Hurston

There is a pain, and an accompanying rage, that builds when you are frequently in white spaces as a person of color [POC]. There are aggressions, slipped in between the dual reality of race as an outlandish illusion and race as a terribly real lived experience that reminds us of our place within the system.

These racial aggression come in equally contradictory dualities of what is said and not said; what is done and not done. The job held open for the white person and the door left to slam in your face. The supposedly tension easing jokes about Kwanza and the silence on the mattering of Black Lives. This is the death by a thousand cuts of America’s causal caste system.

The obvious solution, for any person of color, would be to just refuse to spend time in white spaces. Unfortunately, oppression breeds in isolation. This is as true for being the only POC in a white space as it is for allowing white people with power to make decisions without any POC’s in the room.

If you are the only POC in the room, you will be tokenized.

Your melanin will be used to push an agenda that is not your own. That same melanin that got them to center you in the photographs about their “victories” will be the reason they toss you out afterwards. Over time, without any other POC to vent with and discuss how to navigate through a cacophony of biegness, you will inevitably begin to believe what they say about you.

As a Black person, it is often not even enough to have another POC in the space with you. So often, Black America’s position at the bottom of the racial caste system makes it difficult even for non-Black POC to relate to our experiences. Our dualistic identities are real enough to divide us even in the shared onslaught of impending whiteness. As Meek Mills says, “there’s levels to this shit.”

White Supremacy is systemic, ubiquitous and holds the same insufferable dualities as everything else about race. There is the objective fact of what is said or done [or not said and not done] and the infinite subjective responses to and experiences of that objective reality.

The scary thing about White Supremacy for those of us in valuable relationships with white people [our daily beatings, humiliations and near death experiences not withstanding] is the fact that this duality means that sometimes it is not merely the case that white people don’t see what is going on, it is the fact that for them it didn’t actually happen.

When the subjective experiences of POC’s are not in the room at all, or worse, the POC in the room are too busy holding up their armor against a barrage of weaponized whiteness to speak their truth into the space, the subjective experiences of those without power are completely forgotten.

All of this is just to give weight to the following question: why is social justice advocacy so white?

Especially in a city like DC which only recently stopped being a majority Black city.
The overwhelming whiteness of advocacy is a disturbingly under asked question. In nearly every field of advocacy in the city, the advocates most often asked to speak to an issue are white.

I recently sat through a hearing on police body cameras in which the only Black person who testified was the police union rep. White man after white woman read about the turmoil of people of color [most couldn’t bring themselves to say Black]. Black people also received fewer follow up questions from council members, if asked at all.

I like to imagine, in moments like that, what it must feel like to be a white person who feels that they can so confidently speak towards an experience that they know nothing about. Does that sort of arrogance leave a bad taste in their mouth, I wonder?

For instance, I remember mansplaining child birth and parenting to my mother once when I was a teenager. The irony of speaking to my mother, a mother of four, about the real facts of childbirth based on a documentary I had just watched alluded me at first.

My mother gave me the most simultaneously disbelieving and dismissive look of my life and asked me what it was like when I gave birth. I remember that the slow realization of the irony left a dry but gamy taste in my mouth. It is the distinct flavor of remembering your privilege that has saved me and my acquaintances from many [though sadly not all] such faux pas later in life.

I wonder then, if the white advocates who decided to “compromise” on the private bathroom for the replacements to DC general tasted that same gamy taste when they decided what families facing homelessness [overwhelmingly Black] could live with.

I wonder if DC Council members tasted the gamy absurdity when they asked middle class white advocates what compromises they could live with.

I wonder if the white people who talk about the marginalized communities of color they work in taste iron when they provide their “expertise.”

I wonder too if all of those so called progressives ever wonder why all their co-workers but one, or two or maybe three are white. When they say their subjective truth: that they work on behalf of low income [read: BLACK] residents– does the fact that they haven’t had an authentic conversation with a Black person in months leave them with a bad taste in their mouth?

Maybe it’s just me…

To be Black in America, is to be the victim of an unending horror story with a multi-cultural peanut gallery more concerned with why you chose to run upstairs than the fact that an unkill-able white man is stalking you.

Think about that.

America is so concerned with how Black people have managed to cope with being oppressed that we forget to ask ourselves why they are oppressed. When the white man shows up with a knife, we might forgive the terrified victim of few moments of shock but eventually we begin shouting instructions at them. Run here. Don’t do that, do this. Don’t complain that you have no exits if you decided to run upstairs.

There are people, if you are reading this you probably know them, who make a living telling Black people what to do with their pain.

There are people, sadly some of whom are themselves Black [see Plantation Politics], who love to explain why Black people sat on their houses shooting at helicopters to get their attention when the levees broke.

There are people, most of them white, who make a living deciding what families facing homelessness [or low wage workers or mothers of color] can and cannot live with who have never been homeless [or low wage workers or mothers of color].

There are people who leave their newly white neighborhoods, to go to mostly white jobs to welcome their new white director replacing the Black girl…what’s her name?…

These are people who decide what changes to the mechanism of my oppression they can live with. They sometimes have the audacity to force Black staffers, whose labor they believe they own, to communicate these compromises on their own humanity to world. They under pay Black people and other people of color to shuck and jive just to give it all a shiny veneer of post Obama color blindness.

I haven’t named names. Not out of decency or a sense of professionalism. Not even out of a fear of back-lash. I haven’t named names because I don’t have the time to write them all. I don’t have the time to categorize the scars I have received from three years of working in this field and explain to you which one is yours.

While some events are fresher in memory and some advocates more culpable than others, I don’t want to give any one of you reading this the impression that this doesn’t also apply to you.

Sit with that for a minute.
You all need to do better.

As a cis-gendered Black man paid to do this work, I would remiss if I didn’t admit that I also need to do better. When a Black council member [you know who you are] asks a Black single mother facing homelessness due to domestic violence why the father is not in the picture, we cannot pretend that this is only an issue of race.

When the only people advocating for directly affected communities in the council are women who are constantly belittled and second guessed we cannot pretend that patriarchy is not also at play. When all of us talking about this on social media and at the Wilson building go home after losing a fight on homelessness, we cannot pretend like class is also a non-issue.

We all have to do better. We have to be accountable to the communities we serve. We cannot allow service to be paternalistic charity. We must realize that we all make our money off the backs of poor people. If we fundraise based on the extent of our clients’ marginalization and not on their resilience against unfathomable odds we are taking away their power.

We need to build power with our clients and not struggle to maintain our positions as gate keepers over them. We must build a culture of constructive disagreement on tactics when the strategy and goals are set by affected communities. Our inside game cannot continue to take us outside our authentic relationships with directly affected communities.

We must understand sexism, racism and classism as the stories of dominance that they are. We must create and live out counter stories that require us to sacrifice power over for power with.

We cannot be silent. We cannot rest comfortably in our privilege. We cannot rest comfortable in a fundamentally unequal status quo. We cannot continue to ask our fellow advocates to be silent, or be respectable or say “be practical” when we really mean “be docile.”

We cannot allow our Black co-workers to be “so well spoken” or Latina colleagues to be “feisty” or the young white women we work with to be “cute” and rhetorically patted on the head. We must recognize and actively combat the multiplying effect oppression has on the Black women we work with.

Oppression must not be comfortable around us.

You’re Welcome

Sincerely,
The [too often] only Black kid in the room.

Call For Help With Next Article On D.C. Affordable Housing

Priced-Out-DC-Cover

 

I’m looking to build on the issues touched on my post last week. I’m hoping to start a project that will consists of interviews about housing in D.C. As it stands now the project will have three parts. The first part is interviewing people active in some area of housing, race, culture or history that could give an overview of either the history of their field of D.C housing issues or the current state of D.C housing, the second part part would be collecting oral histories about housing in D.C with activist, developers, landlords, life-time residents, recent transplants etc to talk about what it is like to be resident of D.C from a housing perspective. The third part would be written articles tying the two together.

I’m still in the planning process and am hoping to find people willing to be interviewed twice. The initial interview would not be released but would be part of my background research. The second would take place after I personally have a grasp on the enough of the history to ask insightful questions. I have a few initial interviewees already but am hoping to get more. I am planning on getting the project hosted by an organization that is working on housing advocacy in D.C.

I’m also looking for connections to people who should be interviewed. If you no a college professor working on this, a long-time D.C resident or block club captain etc let me know. If you are interested in helping out please e-mail me at aarongoggans@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

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.

It’s Almost Time To Talk About Capitalism

I’ve written a lot about gender and dating in past couple months. I hope you have enjoyed reading it, I know that I have enjoyed writing it. In the past couple of weeks however, in between online dating and reading about how to be an ally, my insistently churning mind has turned to yet another issue: Capitalism. Whether it is how images of success and appeal are gendered and sold to the public or viewing displacement and gentrification as unavoidable and good, capitalism has been on my mind recently. I don’t hate Capitalism. I think it is a lot like Democracy. It is the worst system in human history, except for all the other ones. I think it is no more or less flawed of an idea than Communism. If you take Communism to the extreme you get the USSR and if you take Capitalism to the extreme you get robber barons and Banana Republics. Human suffering seems to equal under both systems. I’m saying that more people didn’t suffer in Communist Russia than McCarthy’s America. I’m saying that Communism gets free healthcare in Cuba and Capitalism got us slavery in America. Neither system is inherently evil and both are quite wonderful in theory.

So, in preparation for a few weeks spent writing on Capitalism, Alternative Economies and Consumerism I was hoping people could point me to some resources. I’d like interesting articles, essays, books or video’s about these issues if any one has any. I’ve been thinking a lot about the economy lately but I’d like to be a bit more informed.

 

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