Dear Beloved: Let Love Fuel The Fire This Time

inaugural-resistance-poster

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Forget to Breathe.

The misplaced shame, fear and greed of few rich and powerful people is threatening to suffocate us in an ocean of hatred. In this onslaught of executive orders and dog whistles we are drowning in the ghost of enslaved past, the violence of our imperial present and the premonitions of a bloody future. We are struggling to find the space to open our mouths without oil from the Presidential gas lighting we are receiving filling our bodies. Yet we must breathe. We must take the time to remember what we fight for. We must breath in the visions of a new world that rise from the shell of the old in times of resistance.  We must let the life giving oxygen of our desire for liberation fuel the fervor in our bellies. We must let the remembrance of the lives we desire to live fuel our opposition. We must let the air into our throats so that we can expel it in the fierce roars of resistance.

 

Dear Beloved,

 

Don’t Forget to Hold Each Other.

It is not our differences that separate us. It is merely the fact that we have been so long without being deeply held, without the feeling of bottomless belonging, that we have begun to think we do not deserve it. We have been told that our bodies, our native tongues, our culture, our wallets and our ways of loving have made us unworthy of being loved. In this lovelessness we have been separated from each other and are now being picked off in coordinated assaults. The Trump administration is not the love we deserve. Militarized policing is not the love we deserve. Low wages and raising rents is not the love we deserve. We deserve to be so deeply held that wounds of our past are allowed to heal. We deserved to be so deeply supported that no obstacle put in front of us can stop us from being fully powerful. A sense of deep belonging that calls us forth, together, to build the worlds we deserve is our birthright.

 

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Forget to Love.

Love trumps hate, not because positive feelings are more powerful than negative ones but because love is a meta emotion that reminds us not only of who we really are but of the power that we have when we stand together. Love reminds us that we deserve more than what this current society has to offer. Love reminds us that borders are unnecessary barriers between human communities. Love reminds us that policing can make us secure but only healthy communities and mutual encumbrance can keep us safe. Love liberates us to head towards the light and not merely stand against the darkness.

 

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For What You Want.

We have been so thoroughly disinvested in and had oppression so thoroughly “occupy our breathing” that we have learned to ask merely for a reprieve from the onslaught. We have developed a reflex to ask for what we think our oppression will give. We have forgotten to ask for the things we need to thrive. Yet if we are going to take the streets in defense of our freedom then we must remember to ask for what we truly want. If want support then we must ask our neighbors to jump into the trenches and fight with us. If we want to be held then we must be willing to articulate the love we deserve. If we want to change the world then we must learn to demand the world we want, not merely the world we feel powerful enough to win. Collectively, we have the power to manifest with velocity. If we truly want liberation then we must demand and expect more than just an end to our bondage. We must articulate, demand and build the world that we deserve.

 

Dear Beloved,

Let Love Fuel the Fire This Time.

We have been so flooded with hate that we often find ourselves drowning in anger. Yet there are many types of anger. Some bind, some hold us back and many burn us down with the fire. Yet if we breathe, if we hold each other, if we remember to love yet do not shy away from the anger that arises from what we love being threatened we can spark the fire that finally sets us free. If we move from a place of love—for ourselves, for our community, for each other—then we can build engines of combustion that push us towards freedom. If we let love fuel this fire—instead of hatred, anger or shame—we can be warmed in the solidarity of our resistance. If we let love fuel the fire this time we can burn down this world we were not meant to survive and build many worlds of love, liberation and abundance in its place.

 

Dear Beloved,

Love Yourself Enough to Burn This Shit Down If You Need To.

It is only when we dare to assert that we deserve to be loved and that what we are being given is not love that we start to name and dismantle the systems that thwart our growth. It is only when we ask ourselves where it hurts and allow ourselves to sit with that pain, rather than listen to the stories of pain and greatness that are told to us or about us, that we develop a revolutionary drive for social transformation. We must realize that sometimes love looks like burning down the prison that holds us and divides us from one another. Sometimes love looks turn burning this shit down when it no longer serves you. Love will allow us to build a new world from the ashes of the old.

 

 

Reflections on Korryn Gaines

Last week, a black man died of over-heating in a jail cell/slave quarters in my own city. Last night, a few hours away in Baltimore, a Black woman is killed and her child shot over warrants. Yet, there are few calls for action. There is little national fanfare. Those of us who could do nothing other than take the streets for Alton and Philando are nearly mute in comparison.

We must ask ourselves, in what ways does our relative silence assert consensus with the state over what bodies and lives are disposable? Why are we still holding on to the hope that there is enough justice in this system for it to absolve itself of the blood of the most marginalized among us? Why are we so hesitant to admit that we are in a deadly struggle for the very soul of humanity in which the slow, obscured genocide of Black people by the state is merely one devastating front.

I am torn in a whirlwind of opposing forces. Shame, anger, hypocrisy mix with dread. Where do we go from here? What do we do? How can I be safe if the rules for safety are being obedient to genocide? How can I have agency if my actions do not accurately determine my life chances? Do we keep saying the name of our dead even if it means chipping away at the integrity of our soul? How much of this anger is justified? How much of this anger is blind rage pushing me to become like the institutions I try to dismantle? Do we let our family members die in silence to protect our mental equilibrium? Do we have the courage to say that we too have made mistakes for which we did not deserve to die, that we too wonder what would happened in we dared to threaten to shoot back? For those of us who pride ourselves on speaking truth to power, do we have the courage to speak the truth that scares us? The truth we are not yet ready for? The truth that fills us with the Molotov cocktail of fear, shame and righteous indignation; burning us up inside?

Here is my truth: I do not like to organize, talk about, or strategize around police killings. It tears at my soul. It scares me. It leaves me feeling torn asunder by anger and fear. I am afraid of the police. I only turn up in community to overcome the fear, I organize in the hope to build the community power required to keep my family safe. I shout at protests because it is the closest I can allow myself to come to crying.

I do not often turn up for the deaths of Black people whose lives I feel I have to defend. I sometimes struggle to stand up to this particular white gaze that I feel, projecting that it is unreasonable for a Black woman to defend herself against an occupying army. I am afraid of being the monster that I know they already think I am. I am afraid of the part of me that wants to burn it all down. I am afraid of the part of me who thinks that every crime against the state that we commit is a holy act. I am afraid of the non-rational part of my being that has had enough, and is not interested in being strategic, moral, measured or respectable. I am afraid that saying this will be the justification for the state coming for me and my chosen family.

I’m afraid, and ashamed to be ashamed of the part of me that just wants to be free.

I had to pause to meditate on that. To work through that shame. I had to once again resolve myself to sit in this complexity and know that these forces welling up inside of me are what it means to be human. I had to resolve to hold love and anger in my heart and know that they are not opposites. I am angry because I love myself even when my country doesn’t. I am angry because I love my community even when I am unable to express it.

In this complexity, I am also sad because I love people who do not see my humanity and it renders my soul to pieces.

I am ashamed that I still love people who cannot handle my full humanity, because I feel like I am allowing this world to torture me. I am ashamed that I am so afraid to express my full range of feelings because it makes me feel broken , helpless and bestial at the same time. I am ashamed that I have not routed out the vestiges of the lie of Black inferiority and bestiality from my mind. I am ashamed that this fear allows Black women to be killed in their homes and Black children to wake up in hospitable motherless because I try and am known for supporting Black women and children in my work.

Yet I will not internalize this shame, I will not let it incorporate itself into my being.

I resolve that I will forgive my self of this hypocrisy, elitism and sexism once I refuse to continue to perpetuate it. I resolve to love myself in spite of the obstacles the world throws in the way. I resolve to sit in this complexity of emotions and revel in the humanity they foolishly believe they can strip away. I resolve to stand in solidarity with all other freedom fighters waging a war for the soul of humanity from Syria to Palestine to South Africa to Brazil. I resolve to build a world in which the names of the Black women and formerly incarcerated folks I say and venerate are alive and free. Until that day, I will light a candle for #JoyceQuaweay, #KorrynGaines, #LesterIrby #SkyeMockabee #AllBlackPeople.

 

Eulogy for the parts of us that died with #AltonSterling

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn everything.

Burn the police stations where they strap their guns on

Burn the corner store where they get their coffee

Burn the laundry mat where they wash our blood off their uniforms

Burn the bank that foreclosed on our mother’s house and where they cash their paycheck

Burn the schools where they teach us to hate ourselves then arrest us for not attending

Burn the American flags they will wrap their bodies in when they die in their beds 30 years after they put six shots into ours backs

Burn the courthouses where they will not be indicted

Burn the doors to the prisons they will not pass through

 

We will burn down the system we were not meant to survive

And rub the ash on our skin and let it make us darker

Rub it in until we are as Black as the truth they are not yet ready for

Rub it in until we are so Black that all the enemies of negro liberty will tremble in terror

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn this mother fucker to the ground

This nation will be torn asunder

Its sins finally exposed to the purifying evening air

And then we will go boldly into that good night

Finally Free. Unapologetic. Self-aware.

Armed with the swagger of a nation whose time has come.

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.

 

A Brief Defense of Identity Politics and Intersectionality

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

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

 

 

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

 

Hint: they are not.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

Decolonizing Male Allyship

I’m slowly starting to realize the damage that non-intersectional feminism has done to my thinking and my intimate relationships with Black women. So often we talk about the role that men need to take in checking our privilege as if Black men and white men should address patriarchy in the same way. How often do we falsely assume that white male supremacy and machismo are basically the same thing? How often do we assume that patriarchy in gay male spaces operates on the same internal logic as patriarchy in hetero-male spaces just because some of the symptoms are similar? How often do we not even talk about masculinity in Asian communities despite the umbrella term Asian encompassing the majority of humanity? How can we understand male privilege in non-binary, raced and classed terms?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a group of liberated cis-Black women on dating. I was arguing, foolishly in hindsight, that I should not be expected to pay for dinner just because I suggested the date. All of these women, most of whom are far more active self-advocates, liberated and professionally successful than myself were united on the fact that if you ask someone out on a date, you pay. I was advocating, again foolishly, for the expectation to be that you split the meal. My friend Erika leveled with me and said, “it doesn’t have to make sense, it’s just the way it is. Quoting her sister Shayna she added “do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?” I realize now, that what she was trying to tell me was that this is how Black women think about it, if you want to date Black women then you need to treat them in the way that they ask to be treated.

I realized later, after a lot of self-reflection, that I have dating with a feminist analysis predicated on addressing the needs of white women.

Specifically, the fact that the kind of patriarchy that white women face is one of forced domestication in which men paying for meals assumes that men provide for women materially and women support the man’s career. This model, one that I have been a staunch defender of for years, makes almost no sense in the context of Black women. Black women have historically been unable to be seen as domestic, Black women’s oppression has always been one of forced labor. Black women are expected to provide economic, spiritual and emotional support to the entire community.

So, whereas paying for a middle class, hetero-sexual white women’s meal might often be rightly interpreted as saying “I’m operating under a patriarchal assumption that you cannot take care of yourself;” paying for a professional Black woman’s meal in a hetero context is more like saying “I know you can take care of yourself but for once, I’d like to take care of you.” As my friend Erika put it, “think of it as reparations for all those niggas that came before you.”

If I’m honest, that angered me. I’ve gone far enough along in my journey to recognize if a woman holds me accountable and my first inclination is anger, then I’m probably doing something pretty patriarchal. So I sat in it. I reflected on what I had said and why I was angry. I thought about how much of my identity is still tied to being a “good guy” like all those well-meaning white people who fall out at the mere suggestion that they did something unintentionally racist.

I had a revelation later that night that I am ashamed to admit but was also the catalyst for this post. Addressing the way that the past wrongs of other men has benefited you is in many ways the central tenet of male ally ship. Patriarchy is a system that benefits us, so even if we didn’t create it, we still have to address the ill-gotten gains that it has given us. More importantly, we can’t pretend that patriarchy is not the context in which we are operating even if by some stroke of luck of social location means that we are not contributing to the specific aspects of it in question.

This is something that I readily accept when white women challenge me on issues of gender writ large. It is something that I readily accept when Black women challenge me on issues of gender writ large. However, it is not something I can easily accept when put in terms of things Black men do. I hate it. I hate being pathologized as just another nigger. So the comment was triggering to me because Black men are often held accountable for other Black men’s actions in  way that other groups of men are not.

Now, some of this anger was completely understandable, as collective punishment is an aspect of white supremacy, even though Erika’s comment was about understanding context not collective punishment. I believe that it is important that we be real and honest about how and why we react to statements. Because emotions are complicated and even the most problematic reactions hold a kernel of truth in them; its important to learn to separate the problematic from the truth. So given that, what does it mean for me to readily accept, without question, the faults and trespasses of white men as my own yet bristle when it comes to the actions of fellow Black men. As my friend Omo might say, “that’s fuuucked up.” Or, as Erika did say in this conversation “you sound like a twitter nigga!”

It is one thing for Black women to pathologize Black men. This is a thing that happens. Unfortunately it is something I have seen the women in my family do. It is generally a result of trauma and how internalized anti-Black shows up in hetero-sexual Black relationships. It is crucial to point out that the trauma that those women are reacting from was caused by the systemic activities of individual Black men. However, what my group of liberated Black women were doing was not pathology but accountability and loving agitation [that in all fairness I explicitly asked for]. It is only recently, and only through the grace and wisdom of many of these same liberated Black women, that I was able to realize the difference.

I now realize that we need a new model of allyship for Black men who love Black women. Though, the word allyship seems out of place here. I am not an ally to Black women. We are not, in most respects, separate communities standing together. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that Black men interested in dating liberated Black women need to rethink our solidarity with Black women. Still, this language seems off as it assumes both that all we need to do is sit in quiet reflection or that women like bell hooks, Audre Lorde or Angela Davis have not already done that work for us. Perhaps, as Zoe Samudzi might say, we need to decolonize our understanding of Black solidarity.

For, as much as it might pain me to admit this, my understanding of solidarity with Black women is colonial. Over the past few years I have really started to realize how much emotional energy I spend tending to the emotional needs of white people, especially white women, in my professional and organizing life. It was only until the past couple of months that I have realized that it makes it difficult for me to give emotional support to the Black women in my life [not mentioned too drained to really come to terms with why there are so few Black men in my life.] More to the point, my colonial understanding of feminism in romantic relationships has really put me at loss for how to deal with liberated Black women.

It is easy to for men like me to take a step back in romantic situations. For Black men who grew up in neo-colonial contexts, we are conditioned to step back in most non-male social situations. When we don’t we are often ostracized, feared and shut out from vital economic activity. For professional Black men like myself, strategically stepping back and only asserting ourselves once we are in a stable positon is a tried and true survival mechanism.

It is an odd thing, being raised a Black man in world that teaches men to be hyper masculine in order to survive but also teaches Black men that our hyper masculinity makes us a target. We have to learn to code switch. Yet forced code switching, especially in such emotional vulnerable ways, is not without its consequences. Sometimes this means men taking out the frustration of deferring to white employers out on their Black families. Sometimes this means men like me retreating from male spaces. Sometimes it means male solidarity in homosocial spaces that is based, in part, in misogynoir. Either way, it complicates our relationships with Black women who know what they want and are used to having to get it on their own.

This hit home when my friend Erika posited that, “maybe you’re just not ready to date Black women.” While this might have been true for my past self, I refuse to receive that and let it be true for my current self. But this means that I have to change. I have process what the messages that stepping back to suit the emotional needs of white people forced me to internalize. I have to process what growing up fighting and competing with other men has forced me to internalize. I have to process this hesitancy that an honestly over intellectualized political understanding, itself a product of my clinging on to the lie of control and fear of failure, has bread into me. In short, I need to decolonize my own Black identity and how I relate to liberated Black women romantically.

But, like everything else. It’s a journey. In talking with these same Black liberated Black women, I realize that I’m not the only conscious Black man in a similar position. My hope for this piece is the same as everything I write, that it sparks a mind that sparks a mind, and we create a new model for interacting with each other. Hopefully one that’s a lot less abstract and intellectual and centers a complex understanding of consent and intersectionality. I imagine, somewhere out there, off the internet, where real people live, someone has already figured this out. Yet I think it’s important that we be real about the fact that being “woke” is a continuous journey and growth only happens with agitation and loving accountability.  It is conversations like this one that really make me believe that accountability is a gift.

As James Baldwin said, and my sister Erika constantly reminds me, “if I love you then I have to make your conscious of the things you don’t see.”

Meditation for White People Fighting White Supremacy

Please closes your eyes, make yourself comfortable and reflect on these words.
Forget any misgivings or preconceptions you may have about meditation.
As my friend Marybeth says, it’s not that serious.
Just make yourself comfortable.
Relax and reflect upon my words:

Honor all of your emotions in this space.

And let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

You are being on the path to liberation.

As you breathe deeply,

Taking in all of the love and joy of the universe with each intake,

Releasing a little bit of the stress and pain with each exhale,

Imagine your soul as an endless stream.

Imagine the flow of your soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge.

It is flexible, malleable but head strong, cruising ever southward, home.

As you meditate, ride this well of feelings and information towards your greater, more authentic self.

Know that your emotions are not a distraction.

Your emotions are inherently valid.

Your emotions are data points.

Sorrow is natural response to world full of pain.

Anger is a natural response to world full of injustice.

Your joy is necessary and life-giving even in the face of oppression.

Your guilt is a learned behavior and though valid is not useful and can be released with each breath out.

Now, release your feelings of guilt with each breath out.

Feel the binds of guilt lessening as you release it from your body.

Breathe in all of the love of this space with each breath in.

Let this emotional stream that is your soul wash over you.

Let it carry away your hesitance and your fear.

You have permission to be your fullest, most gorgeous self in this space.

Let your shoulders relax.

Let you chair support you.

Enjoying the feeling of your body being supported.

As you breathe in all the wisdom and joy the world has to offer,

As you imagine your soul as an endless stream,

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

You are a being on the path to liberation.

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

You must transform any oppressive power over into transformative power with.

You must reimagine your power into a gorgeous, creative energy of love.

As you breathe in the power of this space,

Imagine what you could accomplish if you used your power with love instead of fear.

Imagine how free you will feel to live without unreachable standards.

Imagine the sounds and joy of our future beloved community.

Feel the power of creation within your liberated self.

Imagine how capable and expansive you will be when we are all free.

As you exhale a little bit of your hesitancy,

Breathe in more of the power of this space,

Know that you should never apologize for your existence.

You are exactly who you need to be.

You are being on the path towards Liberation.

You are a seed that has been planted and is yearning to grow.

You need not apologize for not having finished an unending journey.

You need only thank those along the way you provide you with lessons of accountability and agitation.

As you breathe in deeply,

Remember that accountability is a gift.

As you breathe in deeply,

Know that liberation is a type of collective emergence.

We are all becoming who we were destined to be.

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

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

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

Repeat the phrases: I am a being on the path towards liberation. I am a seed that has been planting and is yearning to grow until centered.

Now allow yourself to come back into your body gently. Reflect on any and all feelings of joy that you experienced. All those feelings of joy to be your north star as continue your journey to Liberation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Love in Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

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

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

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

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

Re-framing the Ally Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

On the culture of Lovelessness:

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

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

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

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

Silvia Federici:

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

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

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

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

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

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

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

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

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

Preliminary Observations on the Analysis of the Movement

What is the Analysis of the Movement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Leadership and Storytelling in Building Counter Hegemony

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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