Black Men Are Only Good When We Are Exceptional…Or Dead.

Black Women's Silence Has Never Gotten Us Free, Love.

 

All of this talk about Jay-Z has, not surprisingly, made me feel some kind of way.

I remember getting a call from my friend a few months ago, a Black woman, who lived in the New York at the time. She had been on my mind because she is a fountain of joy overflowing with the strength of truth telling. I wanted to talk to her because someone I cared about had just been sexually assaulted and I needed help processing it. I needed help figuring out how to be supportive.  Before I got a chance to talk with her about my friend, she told me about getting sexually harassed on the subway and she wanted to talk it through with me.

I listened to her story and tried, as best as I could, to be supportive of her. Eventually, she got to the point that all the Black women in my life get to in stories like this. The point where they say “but I just didn’t want to say anything because I feel like Black men are already so attacked right now, you know?” I had heard it before. It was the same reason that the person close to me did not want to report what had happened to her.

I was immediately filled with rage.

The rage of my friends being unsafe. The rage at understanding that these assaults are not isolated incidents. The rage at the reminder that they had just killed Philando Castile and it was not safe to be a Black man in America. But mostly the rage that my persecution was used to silence my sister. Rage that Black men could simultaneously be so monstrous that we need to put down for caring a pen and so fragile that talking about street harassment would tear us asunder. Rage that rage was the only feeling I knew how to feel.

I told my friend the only thing I could: “Black women’s silence has never gotten us free, love.”

To which she replied “But we keep trying it, don’t we.”

We do.

 

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” –Zora Neale Hurston

 

Black men have survived the middle passage, slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow and lynching. How have we gotten to the point where we think Black men can’t survive the truth? Black people need Black women to break their silence.

Patriarchy, like all forms of oppression, breeds in isolation. Black people cannot get free if 51% of our people are in chains of a Black man’s making. AND, at the same time, I can’t shake the weight of the reality that Black men are only good when we are exceptional…or dead. And let’s be honest, usually only when we are dead.

I wonder sometimes. Did anyone ever call Mike Brown a good kid to his face, when he was still alive for it to matter? Did we tell Eric Garner he was a good father for doing whatever he could to bring home some change before his daughter told us to organize? Did people tell Trayvon that he had a bright future before a white man robbed him of it? I doubt it happened very often.

Black men are mostly talked about when we ain’t shit, absent or dead. Oh, there’s Idris’s too fine ass or Jessie Williams before he started dating white women… but they are exceptional. We only talk about them in contrast to other men, especially other Black men. The serial rapist Bill Cosby had more Black people capping for his lying ass than any Black man I know personally…because he was exceptional. He used to be exceptionally respectable and now we know he’s exceptionally fucked up.

Again, Black women hold me down. They always have and history has shown that they probably always will. In private, Black men support me while holding me accountable. Yet for the most part, besides my chosen and blood sisters, even the Black women who support me, praise me for being exceptional. I’ve done “the work.” I read bell hooks. I support the women in life in visible ways. I have mastered performative solidarity. I’ve learned how to be what my friend once called “a safe nigga.”

It’s rare that I am told that I’m still worthy of being loved when I’ve fucked up, especially from other men. It’s rare that people remind me, when I come home tired and angry from walking through a white world, that I’m still worthy of being loved. Like my uncle used to say, ain’t no body going to thank you for paying the bills on time, but they sure do holla when it gets shut off.

There is some sad truth to the old Chris Rock joke that niggas always want credit for some shit we supposed to do. Imma be honest. I really need that shit. Part of my on-going journey in overcoming patriarchy is to be in touch with my pain and be real about my needs. I know I am responsible for meeting 80% of my needs myself but that other 20% can be so crucial. I need, and I think Black men as a whole need, some public validation that even when we are alive and unexceptional, we are worthy of love. We need it from Black women and Black GNC folk but mostly, I think we need it from each other.

I think honestly I’d settle for the recognition that these social expectations are literally killing me. Paying the bills on time is a struggle when the bills are more than you make every month.

Sometimes I wish people recognized that the way I used my overdraft protection and post-dated checks like credit is Black boy alchemy. Me and my brothers are stretching a week’s pay to a month’s electricity like an old testament prophet.  I wish people realized that my ability to remind my sisters that they are beautiful despite what society tells them is the art of Black male healing that my grandfather taught me.

I wish that I had been taught that my desire to push people further, to realize their full potential, could be sacred masculinity; that I didn’t have to tear folks down to build them up. I wish we talked more about Black men who didn’t need to drag Black women over the coals in order to heal and get their shit together. I wish we could have a holiday to thank all the Black men whose aggressive posturing towards white people on street corners is the only reason I can afford to live in my neighborhood.

Sometimes I’ve wished that there were more writers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. I wish there were more writers who could express their love for me. I wish I could tell all the little Black boys jumping rope and being carefree that they are the real MVP. I wish I was better at telling my own father that I love him. I wish everyone knew him like I did.  I wish I could explain that I forgive him for being so tired every day when he came home…cause the bills were always paid on time. I wish we knew how to do that while recognizing that my mother paid more bills that he did.

I wish there was way to be real about the fact that my mother learned how to carry all that weight and still smile and play puppet games and that the difference in their capacity for affection is real and fucked up and still doesn’t detract from the fact that my dad loved me and showed it. He showed me he loved me in the only way he knew how, until he learned to show it better, to say it better, to apologize for not showing it in healthy ways and do better to love by building us up without tearing us down. I wish we knew how to praise him for learning how to love without losing sight of the system that never taught him.

I believe, and will always believe, that Black women need to speak their truth and their pain. The truth of all those 0-4:33 women show us how much work we have to do. It forces us to be better. But I need our politics to tell the whole story: that we are still good while we are trying to get to better.

I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who stay, who hold families and communities down. I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who show up and quietly do the work. I need a politics that can praise Black male charisma as divine and beautiful and necessary even as it challenges its centrality. I need a politics that can hold the reality of rape culture in one hand and the capacity for Black men to address harm without causing more harm in the other. I need a politics that can hold the capacity for violence in Black patriarchy and the reality of Black male growth.

I need a politics that can hold all of me and love me even, maybe especially, when I’m not exceptional.

I need a politics that can love me before I’m dead.

Sacred Masculinities : A Poem

**This poem was composed based on my reflections during a workshop called “Undoing Patriarchy and Unveiling the Sacred Masculine” at the Brooklyn Zen Center this weekend. **

 

stone silence
warmed by depth of earth
firmness
beating heart rested softly on steel

 

He held me in honor
caressed me against the grain of manhood
like we did as boys
playful
testing boundaries
while holding each other up

climbing towards the sun

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.

 

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.

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Love in Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

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

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

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

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

Re-framing the Ally Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

On the culture of Lovelessness:

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

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

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

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

Silvia Federici:

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

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

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

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

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

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

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

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

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

Preliminary Observations on the Analysis of the Movement

What is the Analysis of the Movement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Leadership and Storytelling in Building Counter Hegemony

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Femminist Reflections on My Spritual Sabbatical pt 3

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

My thoughts coalesce in long walks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

In another life I would have been a cartographer.

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

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

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

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

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

A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.

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

 

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

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

Notes on the oceans of power:

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

I can access it at any time.

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As if we could own it.

As if it didn’t own us.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on the Underground Landscape:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Reform is not revolution.

Equity is not liberation.

Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist Reflections on My Spiritual Sabbatical pt2

Now in the second week of my spiritual sabbatical I am doing a lot of work to think about who I am, who I’ve been and who I am trying to be. Specifically, re-thinking this notion that I have internalized that I am what I do and accomplish. As I take steps back from organizing and trying to publish my art and writings, two things that I [used to] use to measure my self worth, am starting to re-think how I should conceive of my self and my contributions to the world.
I want[ed?] to be published in a journal or magazine so that I can be validated as a writer by a system that I do not respect and do not esteem enough to trust its judgement but have internalized its authority over my work. I have internalized a dual desire to own my work and be validated as an individual of great worth and genius. That is at odds with a deeply embedded, powerful subconscious desire to share and remix and collaborate with a community of artist, loved ones, lovers and friends.

I know that worship of the written word is a part of white middle class dominate culture and as a written artist [separate but related to being a writer] of color I struggle with this. Thanks to my dear friend and comrade and spiritual teacher Erika Totten I came across this talk by an amazing artist, dreamer, feminist freedom fighter and academic Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs. She ties together so many things that I have been thinking about. Teasing out strains of thoughts that have been unraveling in my mind and connecting them, beautifully, to deeply held and unprocessed feelings of belief [or things I feel to be true on a subconscious level.]

Please find the time to listen to Dr. Gumbs talk! It will change your life.

There is a part of me that hates when people publish things I have been thinking about before I do. It makes me feel less original and less unique. Which it should. Yet, being less unique makes me feel less valuable, which is a capitalist internalization if I’ve ever heard one!

So, I want to thank Alexis Pauline Gumbs for giving me the language to say, I have so many things to unlearn! There is no need to be a snow flake! Think of what we could accomplish as indispensable but interchangeable cogs of a glorious communal machine of change!

I have such powerful dreams and imaginings. I have things that exist in the beautiful intersections of my intellectual genius, my fantastical imaginings of other possible worlds and my deeply held feelings of belief. Over time I have realized how internalized lies of capitalism and cis hetero white supremacist patriarchy have kept me from pulling gems out of those intersections.

The dreams of a Black man are not often worth much on the open market. Men are not supposed to feel as deeply and uncontrollably as I naturally feel. In order for such things to be of any use, they must we fully written out in perfect grammar, vetted by editors and etched in the stone of publication. And above all, the thoughts must be complete. They must be full and brought out to a compelling conclusion.

Yet, my ideas are never complete. My essays and articles and podcasts are not either. I merely force myself to keep them to myself for as long as possible, fixing and writing with fresh eyes until I can no longer contain them and send them out into the universe edited but with grammar mistakes galore.

Instead of feeling bad about this or holding it in longer, I have decided to merely continue to add on, remix, mash together and rewrite my works. I am going to let my works be works in progress. I am going to be more comfortable with myself being a work in progress. If only because it will let me forgive myself more easily and unlearn more of what I need to unlearn.

So, below is a poem that I remixed this morning after hearing Dr. Gubman’s keynote. It reminds me of something a dear friend told me recently: “You are from the future. You are so far ahead of this world.” It is, probably, the best compliment I have ever heard and great testament the internal work I have committed myself to since my last birthday that I was able to [half] belief it.

There is an intellectual story of how we got here, a myth of how we got here and truth of where we are going. This poem is an on going reflection of that, of the three parts of me [intellect, dreams and spiritual feelings] and trips I take, have taken and dream of taking.

We are prophets from a future not our own.

 

 

The Cyclical Triduum of the Undiscovered Prophetic Artists
Or If History from the Bottom Had a Greek Chorus

I.

Know thou that God is a Black Woman.

She is a river goddess
Fluid and running and powerful
Old and dark and reflective of your truest beauty
She is terrifying when you are first immersed in her
Unlearned of ways in which our bodies can move in her majesty
We fear her because she wants subsume us
We fear she wants to drown us
To fill our lungs with her essence
We fear her because we cannot process her brilliance
We fear her because we never want to leave her
Yet but cannot breathe her in

We want to own her
We want to incorporate her into us
But have forgotten how to drink

Perennial Last Supper [47th Street,Yonkers]

img_1292

A photo I took from the hudson line in Yonkers last spring. The trip that inspired most of the following poem.

Street acolytes paint the oxidized steel bridges a bright green,
neon spray painted codex
that guide the observant travelers
down rust gilded train tracks–
a Middle Path along the Hudson—
that ends in art galleries beneath underpasses,
temples to their mantra that another world is possible,
where they sing that art is short
but these tracks,
their canvasses,
stretch for miles.

They jaunt through imaginal spaces
of post-industrial cities,
like 19th century frontiers,
whose souls were marched-
in exodus-
ever westward
pushed by pharonic prospectors
and urban homestead acts.
Economically castrated by redlining
and forcibly sterilized by urban renewal.

Here in this forgotten levant
where Hughes and Ginsberg pondered their mothers’ infinity
on illuminated Black Mecca roof tops
Poets and Vagabond Philosophers
made homeless by forced false choices
feast on visions of a divine counter culture
and discuss the aesthetics of 21 century wanderlust
to the melodic beat of train engines.
A Last Supper set to an industrial rhyme
whose beats and breaks
bring the stockbrokers to work every day.

Tomorrow’s Heroes are marginalized immigrants of the status quo
who destroy the logic of hegemony with the visceral illogic of being.
They are the dread-locked and conscious prodigal children
cast out of Eden by Adam for refusing to eat the fruit
and questioning why g-d placed the tree there in the first place.

We will immortalize them in song only after they are martyred.

Their holy lands are the street corners of yesteryear,
Where the burning buses are headphones
Emanating the sacred beats of Blackened God.

Later they will lay themselves down on the crossroads
bedding down on iron tracks
for a nightly die-in
and sleep on deferred dreams of resurrection.
Praying, out of habit, to a god they no longer believe in
to be awoken in wake of the next train.

They have no designs of death
but feel that art works in mysterious ways
and are creatures of creative habit.
Like their fathers they’ll ritualize their identity crisis
and pass off their PTSD as sacred tradition.

In the morning,
these listless apostles will follow Her
re-claiming and renaming spaces.
Re-authoring themselves
under the guise of supersession
in order emerge from the Bum Fuck Egypt Upstate
and re-create modernity.

II.
Her Maat is simple:
I am love.
Love and be loved by me.
My love will surround you and hold you.
My love will transform you into who you need to be.

My love is change.
All Wisdom is through me.

Sleep and be transformed.
Be awoken by the eternal truth:
through me you are divine.
Dream yourself fully into this world.

The Art Work On Calgary

Its Easter Sunday and every American’s an artist.
A forsaken poet scribbles Her name
Over large
On every surface
naming and claiming greedily
conquering the urban Oasis
like a barbarian On holiday
in half desperate, fully human creative attempts at agency.

She writes the name Her mother gave Her.

Overgrown Oval letters proclaim Her existence to the world
like birth certificates reissued whenever One doubts their Object permanence.

Doubts that creep into Her mind like the fog that licks the steel of the Hudson line at dawn.

It creeps
gently,
unnoticed,
every morning,
only to dissipate as She reissues Her edicts of existence ever higher and brighter
like the sun.

Brushes become the broken bits
of national ideology weaponized that
underpaid janitors use to pierce her sides,
Her blood-
the paint that bleaches
this metropolitan palimpsest daily,
washes away enough of our sins
to call the gentry in.

Washes away our pasts
leaving just enough history-
like exposed brick-
to make condos out of artist plagued tenements.
Neighborhoods thoroughly white washed in blood,
until all that is left is an after image
burned on the inner eyelids
of the consumer hive-mind.

Every three days She resurrects herself
re-writes Her name on Her city-canvass.
Her revelations are progressive,
Like the art of Her aunts before Her.

Torn between a desire to know and be known
educated between a crack rock
and the Iron Shod Chico’s of a modern Empire
Her followers mistake Her articulations of cognitive dissonance
as the second sight through the veil.

Behold your prophets laid bare!
Your Messiah is a creatively maladjusted
Steam-Punk who rocked Chucks and Sun-Ra
And cultural anachronisms before their time!

She is no missed place time traveler,
Born of a world which knew her power.
Her futurisms are lessons you have forgotten!

She leaves Her calling card on old abandoned buildings
deserted shipping containers
and atop water towers
like a young, viral Quixote
schooled in the art of war.
Challenging spring into being
with visual encryption
spray painting Her territory with a vision of a thousand exploding suns.

Her cypher melts away the last bits of snow
washing the feet of the sleeper cars
soothing the anxieties of the unknowing weary and constant travelers.
Her Passion flows like the river
And the devil himself couldn’t tempt Her to stop.

III.
When she spoke she said:
You will know me by my daughters.
You will know my daughters by their magic.
You will know their magic by what it calls you to be.
Your nightmares are merely the dreams you are not ready for yet.
When my daughters break their silence, listen, learn, heal and be transformed.

Aside:

All across the valley, Khaki’ed hipsters and Afro-ed Punks
ride ragged commuter rails
With trolleys labeled working class hero.
As the rolling hills and steep gray cliffs inspire their minds to wander,
She is the canary bird of democracy,
Her prosaic poems draw their psyche back to the moment
And seeing Her name they are reminded of their own needs to be seen
To be acknowledged
To be known
To be loved
To have truly been.

 

 

Resurrection Isn’t Always Rebirth

Its Easter Sunday and the dead are rising.
Its Easter Sunday and Lazarus is giving speeches to
workers in the Montana coal mines.
Its Easter Sunday and the Ticonderoga jets from Philipse Manor to Grand Central
as fry cooks fight for 15
and the fog creeps into our minds
forcing us to forget who we once wanted to be
by the time the sun burns away the sins of who we once were.

Its Easter and the creative spirit of every tourist
with a smart phone rises like Lazarus.
We all collectively create.
We all collectively consume.
We all creatively destroy one another
with likes and smiles.
and with the same gloved hands
we shake off the last bits of winter
-memories of a darker, colder time-
like dandruff off our shoulders.

Its Easter and the dead are rising and every American is an artist.
Suburban tourists video The B-Boys
no longer from Brooklyn
pulsating on the ground
like corpses being struck by lightening
gasping quietly as their bodies come alive
and the neighborhood watch grooves to the beat.

Rejoice as your former slaves delight you!
Sleep well as the Visigoths learn your language
And dance outside your door!
Laugh as your daughter falls for the boy you redlined out of your community!

Its Easter Sunday and the dead are rising.
Everything is reborn at its own pace.
The fog returns every morning,
covering our narrative landscape
with the bitter-sweet vapors of yesterday.
Even with this haze obscuring our history
everything is derivative
and every culture is appropriated.

We are the lambs of a deaf god,
following ancient blind mystics
who are merely futurist and malcontents,
while the philosopher kings spray paint tomorrow
on the brownstoned masonry of the cave.

Where is your G-d when the ocean rise?
Where is your God when the civilization that created him crumbles?
Rome is burning all around us
And Nero’s bankers plan mansions on the ashen remains of our culture!

Don’t wait for the apostles of a future more livable to be torn apart,
limb from limb, in a coliseum market place
before you let yourself believe.
You deserve more than bread and circuses in lieu of democracy.
We deserve more than our father’s share cropped
copping mechanism turned institutions.
Moments only seem pregnant in hindsight
and it doesn’t feel like a revolution until your friends have brought the drums.

It is time to join the egalitarian euphony articulating the future!
The era of prophecy has ended.
The time for tomorrow is now!

I.
Her daughters are here to teach you what you have forgotten.
Do not fear who they are demanding you to become.
Know that they love you because you deserve to be loved.
Know that because they love you, they make you conscious of what you are not yet aware.
This consciousness is my gift to you.
It will allow you dream even as you walk through the waking world.
It will allow to dream and stay woke.

The Future Is Unwritten:

Write it.

 

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