Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

As I think about my role as a prominent leader in the Movement for Black Lives in DC and recognize the ways that masculinity and middle class dominate cultural values have biased by leadership, I am excited by the possibilities that feminism has to offer me. As I have forced myself to take some time to think about the emotional and spiritual toll this work has had on me, I am over joyed at the possibility for a reprieve. That is why I will be taking a spiritual sabbatical in the month of December.

It is unclear to me what this will look like exactly. What I have decided on is that I will be doing much much less work for the Movement for Black Lives in December. I will take time to rest, heal, reflect and learn from my community and the universe as I can. I will take the time to gain perspective and clarify my vision for myself, my community and the world. I will try to re-learn the truth that I am loved because I deserve to be loved and that I deserve to be loved because of who I am and not what I do.

In preparation for this sabbatical, I have taken to reading materials that might change my perspective on the world and give me the tools to grow and evolve in the movement.

One of the many books I am currently reading is Silvia Federici’s “Revolutions at Point Zero: House Work, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle.” It is blowing my mind. Her perspective on the history of the feminist labor struggle and keen observations of the historic connections of the Feminist Movement in America following the Black Liberation movement seem to have important implications for the Movement for Black Lives.

BLM often talks about “re-claiming space” and understanding the spiritual importance of Black space. Her writings have me considering the economic and political ramifications of owning and controlling space separate from owning property. As I investigate what autonomy means and looks like through a Black Queer Feminist lens I am reminded of a conversation I had with Erika Totten about what I felt my role in the movement should be.

What does it mean to provide leadership as a Black man in the Movement for Black Lives? What does supporting Black women and recognizing their unique role as the engines of American history mean in practice? I think Federici’s work, coupled with authors I am more familiar with like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, points towards a re-investment and valorization of housework by Black men such as myself.

By re-investing in “house work” [broadly defined as community sustaining activities like childcare, elder care, cooking, emotional labor, mutli-generational narrative creation and healing work] we free up women and gender-non-conforming folx to do the strategic organizing and movement work that their places on the spectrum on various oppressions give them the unique perspective the lead on.

Equally important, we provide ourselves the opportunity to emancipate our minds and spirits from the limiting chains of masculinity. The “home,” broadly defined, is the perfect space for Black men to re-invent or deconstruct or dismantle the poisonous aspects of Black masculinity in ways that both support our non-male siblings and shelters us from the daily emasculations of capitalism and white supremacy.

I have come to realize that the disempowerment that Black men feel in our daily emasculations in a capitalist and white supremacist society is the destructive fuel of Black patriarchy. We are so often disempowered in our daily existence that we reach for power in the only system in which we have it. In a sense, our oppression creates a series of voids in our psyches and spirits that we try to fill in with power and commercial validation. I am beginning to see an opportunity for us to escape this feedback loop of disempowerment by oppression followed by reinvestment in our oppression through the home.

How empowering would if feel to Black men to get our sense of human validation from emotionally supporting our families [broadly defined] rather than anxiously trying to game a system founded in our bondage in order to support them financially? Imagine what our communities might look like if we supported Black women and Black gender-non-conforming folx in transforming leadership and the workplace as Black men and gender-non-conforming folx transform the home?

As a lifelong admirer of Black girl magic and strong believer in the inherent artifice of all our identities I am excited about the afro-futurist possibilities of such an endeavor. Might we discover, through putting our Black queer feminist lens into practice, Black boy sorcery and gender-non-conforming alchemy? Might trans* brilliance an Black girl magic reach its fullest expressions of power if Black men invest in the home? Might we all find more added capacity if, understanding that ideas of the scarcity of leadership is a figment of the middle class white imagination, we step back from our positions of power over to make more room to step into our power together?

These are the things I will be exploring on my sabbatical. In glimpsing these possibilities and writing them out they feel more real to me already. I appreciate all of you who I know will support me in this month of healing and growth. I am honored by the talent and leadership of those who have stepped into power with me as I stepped back from power over certain projects. It has confirmed to me, more than anything else: that I am beautiful, I am not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Preliminary Materials on Collective Liberation and the New Material Reality

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

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

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

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

 

Black Lives Matter

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our anecdotes are always more of the same poison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

niqob_not_a_symbol_of_terorism_by_graphic_resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 Pillars of White Supremacy in DC

5 pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy In DC

Intro

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

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

Premises of the Five Pillars

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

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

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

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

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

Effectively Using This Frame

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

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

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

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

The Pillars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Want

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

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

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

Call Me in Until You Need to Call Me Out

Reflections On Being A Leader in a Leaderful Movement

 

Rape Culture is real. It is omnipresent. It is destroying all of our movements.

I don’t know how to start this essay. I don’t really know what to say or how to say it so I’m going to be real and raw and honest. I am a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement here in DC, which is a movement for the liberation of ALL Black People and a necessary but insufficient piece of a larger movement for collective liberation. I am leader whose followers are also leaders. I am leader who often has no clue what he is doing but decides to put himself out there because he knows that the work needs doing. I organize within a social network that is a web of mutual support, Black excellence, gorgeous righteousness and, let’s be real, shared trauma.

I organize for the liberation of my people all while suffering from the post-traumatic stress of having existed for 26 years as a sensitive human being in an insensitive world. I have been Black in society that can’t recognize the humanity of Black people. I have been struggling with mental illness in a world that would rather profit of my suffering than talk about it. I have come to terms with my attraction to all genders, including my own, in a world in which that means I cannot be seen as fully Black, really a man or completely human. All of this trauma infuses every decision I make as an organizer, as a follower and as a leader whose followers are also bomb ass, revolutionary leaders.

I say that, because it needs to be said. In the next few days I imagine a lot a of conversations will be happening about who will work with who and how people should have handled beef. I imagine a lot of people will have opinions about who did and didn’t say what where. We need to remember that we all are working through our trauma in real time. We need to realize that it is unacceptable to be traumatizing people through patriarchy in liberation struggles. We need to remember that there is a time to call people in and there is a time to call people out.

To many women have spoken to me about a desperate need to hold men in leadership in DC accountable for me to remain silent.

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I don’t remember where I was when Mike Brown was lying on the ground for 4 and half hours. I don’t remember when I first realized that I was watching the public lynching of a Black boy on television every time I watched cable news talk about the “thug” “Big Mike.” I don’t remember when I realized that the Black Lives Matter Movement was giving birth to my generation’s Black Liberation Movement.

I do remember the feeling of needing to do something, anything, after Darrin Wilson was not indicted for the execution of Michael Brown. I remember the feeling of anguish that led me to start writing nearly daily on race, racism and white supremacy after seeing how white allies showed up in spaces. I also remember when Black women leaders inspired me to get off my blog and hit the streets

I remember when my now good friend Lydia and I met at an action she planned. I remember being grateful that she brought the movement to my city. I remember talking a long lunch to interview Erika Totten and Dominique Hazzard at a day of action in November. I remember hearing Erika say that she couldn’t not get into this fight. I remember them inspiring me to get off this blog and into the streets.

Once I was in the streets I remember a shared sense of organizers not really knowing what they were doing. This is not to say that people didn’t have skills, or talents or expertise. This meant that people were angry, and traumatized and were making plans as we were executing them. I remember showing up to actions and people asking me to pitch in. I remember when I decided to be an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement because there was shit I wanted to be happening that just wasn’t.

There were a couple of months that I was organizing around Black Lives Matter but I didn’t consider myself a leader. I would read about the next shooting, the next beating, the next sex trafficking police officer in 7D and spend hours on Facebook looking for the event that addressed it. When it didn’t happen, I would send out e-mails to all the “real leaders” and wait for a response, wait for someone to step up and let me follow them. As the other organizers got busier, and replies started to be, yeah, you should do that! That’s when I started to think about leadership.

There was point at which it became clear that other people already saw me as a leader. It took a while for me to take the mantle as my own though. Leadership comes with a number of benefits, mainly that I get the unique pleasure of actualizing my plans and thoughts. I get to see my own plans for liberation come into being bit by bit. I get to see people move. Not just bodies on the street but minds and souls be moved by my action and writing. It is an amazing feeling. Yet leadership, true leadership like the kind this movement needs, comes with responsibility and accountability.

The weight of that responsibility grew steadily as it became more and more apparent that people expected things of me. People looked to me plan actions. People looked to me to say those hard truths that needed saying. People started saying things like, I came out because you asked me. I felt proud but also scared, unworthy and incapable of seeing in myself what others saw in me.

I remember the point at which the responsibility of leadership felt the most visceral. I had called a meeting to plan an anti-misogyny training at my house and invited my people. The people who I’m in the movement for, the people’s whose welfare makes me work to end patriarchy. Most importantly, the people I grown been accustomed to schooling me on what’s what.

I remember opening the conversation with my vision for the training and having multiple dynamite, power houses of local organizing gently push back by saying “I’m here because this work needs to get done, and I trust Aaron to hold this space.” That level of trust hit me hard. It was both an unexpected honor and, to be honest, terrifying. It was frightening because I had little faith in my ability to hold a space that honored the humanity, dignity and brilliance of the women in the room when facilitating a conversation about patriarchy.

The truth is, sexism is real and embedded in the very fabric of our society. It is foundational to how we think about leadership, self-worth, and movement building. In my mind, I too was too influenced by our sexist culture to rid the spaces I was creating of its taint.

In talking with those women, I realized that every time I hold a space the attendees have to make a decision. The women I invite have to make a decision about whether or not they trust me and the men I choose to surround myself with to create a space where they feel safe.

As a leader I cannot forget about that choice. I cannot take the easy way out and operate my meetings, my marches, my healing spaces within the oppressive atmosphere of a demented status quo. I cannot choose personal loyalty over liberation. I cannot duck out of the responsibility of leadership because silence is easier than speaking out. I cannot betray the trust of the women who continually teach me how to recognize my own humanity. That trust is important and not given lightly. That trust must be earned and re-earned constantly. Most importantly, it is not to be abused.

Sadly, far too often it is.

Far too often whole sections and scenes within movements are physically, emotionally and spiritual dangerous to women. Too often women have navigate those same uncontainable impulses to do something, anything to end their current oppression with the added burden of deciding, not whether, but how much abuse and misogyny they will endure to do so. That is sickening.

That simple fact outlines the limit of how far any movement for liberation can go without naming, addressing and ending patriarchy within the movement. Black liberation can’t move an inch past the bonds that men force on women.

Men must do more. Black men must do more. The male leadership of the leaderful Black Lives Matter Movement must do more. I must do more. We must do more.

We must transform our spaces to be the reflections of the liberation we are seeking. We must hold the men we surround ourselves accountable to our shared vision of world in which our neighbors, co-workers, sisters, mothers and daughters can be their full, beautiful, Black, female and gender non-conforming authentic selves without fear of violence. We must hold men accountable to holding spaces that do not enable, praise, or excuse rape.
Those of us who have decided that this moment is our time; those of us who have chosen to be leaders in the movement for Black liberation; those of us who strive for a world in which the overwhelming brilliance of Black people is allowed to thrive and flourish, must hold ourselves accountable to ending patriarchy.

Rape culture is too acidic to liberation to be tolerated. Sexual predation is too counter-revolutionary to be tolerated. Our collective silence, my own reservations about ruffling feathers and stepping on toes, is too violent to be tolerated. We must call each other in, until we need to start calling each other out.

I am not writing this as a model for how to be a man in the movement. I am writing this as someone who fucks up. I am writing this as someone who was silent for too long. I am writing this as someone who has to constantly apologize for how I show up in spaces. I am writing this as someone who wants all the amazing women I often follow and who sometimes follow me, to call me in until you need to call me out.

To all the men that are reading this we have to do better. We have to stop allowing men to prey on women in our spaces. We have to stop interrupting women on the mic. We have to stop defending rapist because they once were a role model to us. We have to stop shaming women for speaking their truth. We have to stop refusing to put in work for the women’s liberation movement. We have to re-imagine our conceptions of masculinity, sexuality and gender. We have to check our internal transmisogynoir.We have to step way back and remember to come forward when our support is needed.

If you have questions, concerns or push back please reach out to me. We need to come together to end rape culture. We need to leverage our power to create beloved communities and liberated spaces. We need to start crafting and implementing solutions. There have been a few conversations and events on ending patriarchy and redefining masculinity so far and hopefully there will be many more to come. Please find me on Facebook or e-mail me at wellexaminedlife@gmail.com if you are interested in joining me and other men to end rape culture.

#ILoveBlackWomen

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Dear Friends, Family, Co-Workers, Neighbors,

As many of you are no doubt aware, I’ve been active in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement in the past few months. It has been stressful and, at times, heart breaking to fight day in and day out for my own humanity to be recognized. It upsets me that I have to work hard to assert publicly that my life should matter. I am terrified as it becomes so clear how often it does not. One of the most sustaining things I have found in this movement has been the support and leadership of Black Women in movement spaces.

This extraordinary moment in history, as America is just beginning to be forced to take a long hard look at state violence against Black people, has been built into a movement for Black Liberation by Black Women! There is no denying it, yet often the erasure of Black women from the narrative of Black Liberation is also an irrefutable fact.

Far too often, Black women’s contributions, leadership, lives and deaths have been erased from the stories we tell about this movement. Far too often Black men take the mic at events Black women plan or simply aren’t around when it is time to talk about the lives of #IslanNettles #RekiaBoyd or #RelishaRudd or the many other women who have been killed or disappeared by state violence and abuse.

It upsets me to hear women I respect, women who have taught me more about the movement than any man, express concerns for their safety in movement spaces, at work, or just waiting for the bus. It upsets me when I see Black female leadership be disrespected by men of all races. It upsets me when I think of the world my niece has been forced to grow up in: a world that can’t bring itself to tell her how beautiful she is.

I am at loss for what I can do to change that on my own. I am not sure what I can do to create a world that celebrates instead of erases Black women. All I can do is celebrate the Black women in my life, support the leadership of Black women and work with them to tear down the structures that oppress them and us all.

I want to tell all the Black women in my life, my mother, sisters, aunts and friends that I love you. You are all phenomenal people who have given me more than I can articulate. Despite what the world may tell you, despite the constant messaging that you are ugly or worthless or less than, you are beautiful and powerful beyond measure.

The more I am blessed with the presence of such intelligent, wise, creative, and wonderful Black Women, the more I realize how right my friend and gifted organizer Omolara Williams was when she said that “Black Women are magic.”

Those of us used to dwelling in the darkness of our own insecurity often cannot admit your beauty because for us your radiance is near blinding.

So I ask all of you to join me in celebrating Black women. Let us overwhelm the negative messaging that our mothers and neighbors and teachers and congresswomen hear every day. Let us tell the world that we love Black Women.

Let us love them so hard that the bullets cannot reach them.

Let us love them so freely that their would-be assailants cannot find them.

Let us love them so honestly that their accomplishments may never be forgotten.

Let us love them so genuinely that we can learn from their strength and grace and wisdom and be confident enough to see them for who they really are: shinning stars in a world too full of darkness.

Tell the world #ILoveBlackWomen and give a lagniappe to the Black women in your life.

A lagniappe (/ˈlænjæp/ lan-yap) is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase (such as a 13th doughnut when buying a dozen), or more broadly, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

Lagniappe is also the word I use for random [often odd or complex] DIY gifts I give people on random non-holidays. It is a gift from the heart that shows the Black women in your life how much they mean to you.

So join me in celebrating the contributions of Black women in our lives by doing the following:

1. Sign up for the event here

2. During the week of May 18th, give random gifts to the Black Women you care about. It can be a hug, a coupon, a smile, a book or diamond ring. You can take a your co-worker out to lunch, buy your manager some flowers, drive your neighbor to church or take your line-sisters out to the movies. Do something to show the Black Women in your life that their lives not only matter but are precious. Make sure that you name not only your love for them but also how you recognize, uplift and cherish their Blackness as well.

3. Share your love of Black Women with the World! Take picture of your delivering your lagniappe or DIY gift to the Black Women in your life, or picture with you holding a sign saying #ILoveBlackWomen and share it on social media with the hashtag #ILoveBlackWomen.

4. Turn your love into Praxis. Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized.
•Listen when Black Women tell you what they need from you and don’t be afraid to ask how you can support the Black Women in your life

•Donate to organization led by and/or serving Black Women, Black Trans* Women and Girls [I will try and compile a list soon].
• Follow these steps.
• Constantly support the Black Women in your lives by telling them how important they are to you on a regular basis.
• Support Black Women in leadership
Consume media by Black Women
• Read about the accomplishments of Black Women

Dear Black Women and Trans* People in the Struggle

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Dear Black Women and Trans* Activists in the Struggle,

I don’t know how to begin this letter. There are so many things I want to say to all the Black women in my life. There are so many things I want to say to uplift, spread and support marginalized voices within this new movement. There is so much I want to say about the myths and sad truths of Black masculinity.

I want to acknowledge that historically the struggle for Black liberation has been dominated by male egos and interests. I want to acknowledge not only the struggles that Black Women, Black Queer folk and Black Trans* people have in the larger American society but also the pain that cis-gendered straight Black men have caused those communities.

I want to acknowledge my own need to be better on and do more for gender equality, Queer liberation and Trans* liberation. Today however, I will confine myself to attempting (and inevitably failing) to express my gratitude to the multiply oppressed Black people who are instigating and leading these wave of protests and movement moments.

I want say thank you to all the mothers, brothers, lovers, writers, teachers, artist, organizers, activists and sisters of the struggle who have been the lighting rod of the movement thus far.

The sacrifices and support of my mother, aunts and sisters are the only reason I am alive and well today. I constantly see the collaborative, inclusive and empathetic leadership model that my sisters taught me employed in movement spaces.

I see truly ego-less organizing shut down highways as easily and gracefully as they shut the Black Male Messiah respectability politics of previous movements.

Time and time again I see young Black Queer women open up our internal dialogue on Blackness to not merely include trans* and differently abled Black people of all ages but in fact for our shared identity to be strengthened by our diversity. It is no coincidence that the #blacklivesmatter moniker was coined and spread by three young Black queer women [Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi]

The intersectional analysis of multiple oppressions that is so consistently and acutely articulated by Queer Black Women, along with a growing fight for Trans* Liberation has given Black men like me the keys to begin to unshackle Black Masculinity.

It has freed me to feel. It has freed me to express my emotions and embrace my own vulnerability. It has allowed me to move beyond harmful and one-dimensional tropes of “the strong Black man” without losing an ounce of real, non-oppressive, strength.

It has allowed me to begin to construct a healthy, sustainable Black masculinity centered on community, self-love and empathy.
In short, it has freed me to love and thus fully experience my own inherent humanity.

In many ways, the growing fight for Trans* liberation is paving the way for Black Liberation by giving all of us thousands of stunning examples of a Blackness divorced not only from White Supremacy but also heteronormative patriarchy.

It is given us glimpse of the promise land: a Blackness free of oppression. But I recognize not only my self-interest and but also moral obligation to fight for trans* liberation. I know that fighting for justice means rooting out injustice wherever it might be. Even if, perhaps especially if, it is inherent in my own views of gender.

So I am not sure I have the words to describe my gratitude, my overwhelming desire to thank you, collectively and individually, for your work in the struggle; for opening my eyes and refusing to let them shut. All I can say is:

I see you.

I saw you all stand with me when America decided that I was not human. I saw you stand and be counted among those who will not rest until we get freedom. I saw you carry the banner of my liberation despite all the times I have neglected to carry it for you. I saw you, fist raised, hands up, heart-bared, shouting that you can’t breathe.

I know that we live in world that tells you be invisible.

We live in world that tries to force you into cis-gendered boxes labeled sapphire, jezebel and mammy.

We live in a world that tells you to stay down, to stay in your place until you are needed to explain my pain to the world.

We live in world that cannot stand to truly look at you in all you beauty, all your diversity, all your complexity, all your strength all your humanity and yes, all your pain.

Yet I saw you protest with me. I saw you lead our community to shut down highways, shut down airports, shut down streets, and malls and business as usual across America.

I saw you march.

I saw you refuse to play the limited, stilted and one-dimensional role society laid out for you from birth. I saw you stand when the world told you to sit and I wanted to say that your leadership in this struggle -just like your leadership in the classroom, in the arts and in our communities- gives me hope, gives me solace, and gives me the strength to carry on.
I heard you.

I heard you demand the killing of Black Women and Black Trans* people not be swept under the rug. I heard you demand that Black Liberation not come, once again, on your backs. I heard your voice cry out in the night. I heard you articulate the collective pain of our people with the same breathe that I heard you sing of the joys of the Black family.

I heard the power of your crying be outweighed by the joy of your laughter in the pews, on street corners, in living rooms and kitchen counters in between protests. I heard you refuse to be defined merely by one emotion or another.

I heard you refuse to play merely one role.

I know that the world tells you to be silent unless you are going to sing.

I know the world doesn’t want to hear from you until they need you to be the canary bird of our illiberal democracy.

I know you are told that from day one that you have nothing to offer so you should just be quiet.

I know we live in a world that cannot bear to hear your truth unless it serves our narrow interests.

Yet I heard you speak it anyways. I heard you tear down the narratives that have chained us for so long with your truth. I heard you re-define realness and authenticity. I heard you re-define Blackness as beautiful and available to all of us:

Even the nerds.

Even the sensitive brothers.

Even those of us who grew up alone in a white world; in re-defining Blackness to include us all you re-ignited a movement for Black liberation.

I am not able to even able to comprehend the complexity of the lives, identities and narratives of the Black women and Trans* people in the trenches. I cannot count the ways that you move this movement forward both loud and quiet, both brilliantly visible and unseen.

The debt I owe you, the debt the world owes you, can never be repaid.

All I can say is thank you.

Thank you for everything you have done, continue to do and will do in the future.

Thank you for leadership, for your support, for your patience and, at times, your forgiveness.

Thank you for continually holding me accountable.

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Thank you for forcing me to recognize just how powerful, how diverse, how truly and undeniable beautiful you are.

Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world.

I promise to stand with you as you have stood with me. I promise to continue to deconstruct my own masculinity. I promise to not merely tolerate but celebrate you, your love, your gender and your expression of it in all of glorious permutations.

I promise to never allow anyone to say womanism or feminism or trans*liberation is a distraction from the struggle. I promise to never lose sight that this is all part of the collective liberation of our shared humanity. I promise to never ask for you to wait.

I promise to ensure in that this struggle continue until all #BlackLivesMatter, yours as well as mine.

I also promise you I am not alone. I promise you that millions of other Black men also see you and hear you and stand with you in this struggle.

I promise to work tirelessly to with the rest of us who don’t.

Love and Solidarity–

The Truth About Gender Based Violence

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Elliot Rodger terrifies me.

It’s not that I’m afraid that some kid like him will attack me or, worse, someone I love. I don’t think Men’s Rights advocates are going to join with the NRA to declare open season on women. What scares me about Elliot Rodgers — what makes my whole body clinch into a coil when women I respect and care about talk about him — is that he doesn’t seem all that extreme to me. I understand where he is coming from.

He is every teenage boy I played football with. He is my brother. He is my father and, to a very sickening degree, he is me. More to the point, Elliot Rodger reminds me that society has already declared open season on female bodies.

A few weeks ago, a woman with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to have organized with on progressive causes sent me a letter written by another organizer in my city. It’s a plea to consider the epidemic of horny, angry young men who haven’t had sex for extended periods of time as a public health crisis. The writer goes on to say, that while he thinks murder is wrong, Elliot Rodgers’ rampage could have been prevented if only someone had set him up with women to have sex with. He cites other spree killers who “snapped” after extended periods of time without sex, as well as several unnamed studies that show sex reduces stress and leads to a more balanced mental state. The author writes, at length, about how women just need to stop thinking emotionally about this issue and start thinking logically.

As I talked to my friend and fellow organizer about this letter and saw her reaction, her visceral fear that a man like this could be working alongside her, I was filled with another kind of visceral discomfort entirely: I didn’t think anything he said was that extreme. Even if I disagree, I can understand where he is coming from. Some of the logic of the rant rang “true” to me. There’s normalcy to this seemingly extreme behavior.

This is not to say that the normalcy of these beliefs make them any less dangerous. Nor that every man is a powder keg of misogyny waiting to explode. My point is that these moments of mass gender-based violence are merely a symptom of much more widespread and virulent problem: the formation of masculinity.

Why Masculinity Is The Problem

There’s a distinction between an individual man and the larger social idea of masculinity. Masculinity is way of being: it is all of the things we mean when we say “that guy is so manly.” Being a man means you, either innately or through social pressure, identity with your culture’s construction of maleness — you call yourself a man, you think of yourself as a man, and when you decide how you should act in social situations, you observe other men. You’re part of the group of humans who seek to be masculine, consciously or subconsciously.

Being born with a penis, a Y chromosome, and the ability to grow a beard is not the problem. Testosterone (though a possible factor) is not really the problem. The way we teach men to behave is the problem. Masculinity is the problem.

It is the logic of masculinity that blinds most men to their privilege; it is this logic that causes some men to rape; and it is this logic that causes some men to kill. It is a logic that is ingrained into the psyche of all men, a logic so embedded as to become almost invisible. I believe that as long as we view this logic as the exception and not the rule, society will continue to tacitly endorse violence on women.
It must also be said that masculinity is as much as an identity as it is a socially constructed justification for allowing men to have privilege. This seems like a radical claim but it is actually rather obvious. Masculinity is not inherent to everyone born with the biological markers our society decided to call male. If this was the case, it would be unnecessary for fathers to teach sons how to be men. We would not tell boys to “man up” if boys naturally grew into men. Nor does it make sense that masculinity is a cultural idea created organically over time. Organic cultural ideas are not defended by their adherents, only carefully constructed ideas are. For example, human bodies are meant to walk or run from place to place. This idea has a biological basis in the natural world. Yet, you don’t see threats of violence every time a pilot decides to fly. Yet, in America, if a man were to wear a dress he would be met with credible threats of violence.

Yet, men who commit violence against women assert their inherent, “natural”, and biological determinism as men as the justification for their heinous acts. It would be easy to dismiss this pathological denial of simple truths if it were merely the actions of a few misguided men. Unfortunately, the construction of masculinity is a social project undertaken by all men, myself included. Every time I tell a boy to “act like a man,” or remain silent while someone else does, I am taking part in this social project. In order for this fatal masculinity to function, it requires both the visceral hatred of women by a select few and the near ubiquitous silence of the majority.

Audre Lorde eloquently stated that, as a woman facing the brutal oppression of life under male supremacy, “your silence will not protect you.” As men, we must come to realize that our silent acquiescence to the logic of masculinity enables the rape, coercion and murder of women. For men, silence in the face of culture of violence is not merely unproductive; it is downright destructive.

I’m not interested in validating the arguments that support misogyny. However, I do think it’s important to illustrate how the logic of masculinity twists mundane facts into apologies for rape and murder. Without making those connections, men like myself will perhaps see no need to question our own internal logic and beliefs. Without some serious introspection by men, we will raise yet another generation of spree killers, rapist, abusers, and enablers.

Weeding Out Emotional Understanding

I would argue that the most strongly held sexist belief in America is the idea that men are less emotional than women, and therefore more logical. That belief is often perpetuated by well-meaning men taught , as all men are taught, to suppress their emotions. This may seem like a small thing, almost like an example in a magazine article entitled “10 ways men are different than women,” but it illustrates a much larger problem in our society: We raise 49% of the population under a gender identity that systematically weeds out emotional understanding.

When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine, they are uniformly told to suppress them through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl who didn’t return my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men are always told to deal with emotion. Ignore the pain, act manly, and you’ll feel better.

This systematically teaches boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” So, when faced with emotions, boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control rather than processing their feelings fully. They also often attempt to invalidate the emotional responses that other people (usually womyn) may feel. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning — with dangerous results.

Men systemically deny emotional responses until they respond with anger and aggression. This anger and aggression is often either denied or reframed to be the fault of the more emotive person (often, though not always, a womyn.) This is blatantly clear on reddits and blog post about gender. Men speak to the emotional insecurity feminism forces them to come to terms with the only way they know how: through rape threats and other forms of victim blaming.

This denial of emotion is clearly essential to the constructing of maleness though I, for the life of me, could not tell you why. It is possible masculinity seeks to control emotion as a way to limit empathy because it is hard to set yourself above someone if you have to consider their feelings while you do. This explanation seems likely, given that most forms of oppression tend to cause the oppressed to be seen as more emotionally vulgar. Whether it is the primness of aristocracy, the respectability of whiteness or the stoicism of maleness: dominance is always carefully constructed to cull empathy within the dominant class.

For men, this lack of emotional awareness causes several problems. Chief among them is the fact that men have emotions, regardless of whether they acknowledge them or not, and these emotions have to get expressed. When men have emotions that our society has determined are not masculine they are uniformly told to work them out through masculine activities. I remember talking to my High School coach about a girl not returning my affection. He told me, in the smug voice of the patriarchy, that’s why god gave us football and to “work it out on the field.” This mantra, work it out on the field, becomes the way men deal with emotion.

A young boy hurts his knee and he is told to walk it off. If he limps and shuffles it would not be unheard of for an older man to tell him walk like a man. The implicit message here being, ignore the pain, act manly and you’ll feel better. The same goes for all manner of emotional pain.

Sexual Frustration and Gender Based Violence

By tying the cure to all emotional vulnerability to acting “manly” we systematically teach boys that all emotional vulnerability stems from not being “man enough.” Boys seek to perform their gender through feats of strength and control when faced with emotions rather than process them fully. Eventually, this flawed logic of emotion replaces actual emotional reasoning, again to dangerous results.

Another belief central to misogyny is the notion that sexual frustration is the root of gender based violence. I believe that regular, consensual and safe sex between adults who share a sense of mutual respect is a decent way to manage many different types of stress. Yet it is absurd to say that men kill women out of sexual frustration.

The real culprits are not prudish women refusing to satisfy the needs of horny Neanderthals. Blaming women for this frustration isn’t just blaming the victim; it is wholly misunderstanding the problem. The problem is not that some men feel entitled to sex, or, as many feminist writers have posited, that most men feel entitled to sex. The problem is not even that some men think they are superior to women (though far too many do).

In reality, the problem is that nearly every derivation of modern American masculinity is fundamentally based on a specific, limiting, oppressive, and mutually fatal logic of maleness in which emotional insecurity and vulnerability can only be addressed through feats of violence and control.

We live in a male oriented society that tells men that they are only as important as they are manly, and that they are only as manly as their sexual and physical prowess. The more women they sleep with, or the more capable they are in perpetrating actual violence — or simulated violence through sports – the more fulfilled they are. In such a society, sex becomes a major avenue for external validation of men as social beings; validation without which no person, of any gender, can have stable and healthy emotional lives.

So when our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men find convenient scapegoats and lash out.

Within this fatal perverted logic — and only within this logic — it makes sense that sexually frustrated men would kill. They have internalized their need for social validation as their masculinity not being accepted by society. They then perform their gender through feats of violence and control, such as rape and murder, to gain that social “proof” of maleness.

Masculinity and Scapegoating

Not all men deal with this dynamic by raping or killing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t find some way to exhibit violence and control. When our social and sexual expectations are not met, instead of processing those emotions, far too often, men lash out, and find convenient scapegoats. Few men are taught to effectively process and resolve emotional problems and all men have been taught the idea that emotional problems are a result of not being manly enough. Even for men who have grown past that idea intellectually feelings of failure often coincide with feelings of not being man enough. This means that regardless of what expectations are messaged to us, we are unable to process the feeling of vulnerability when those expectations are not met.

This is why we see a rise of domestic violence and racism after downturns in the economy. When people’s financial expectations are not met, they lash out and focus on a convenient scapegoat. Too often this leads to men hitting their wives as a way to compensate for not being able to provide for their families. In a sense, these men are substituting emotional or physical control for financial control. Similarly, white men have, historically, been prone to blame economic downturns on the “animalistic masculinity” of Black and Brown men. To paraphrase a former Klansman, hating America is too hard: it’s big and amorphous and you’re a part of it; it’s easier to blame to Black men for taking your jobs.

Unfortunately, domestic violence and racism are not the only places where male frustration and feelings of inadequacy lead to scapegoating and violence. In fact, perhaps one of the most common ways men lash out their feelings of inadequacy is through street harassment. Few men who ask strange women to suck their manhood actually expect the women to respond positively. Street harassment isn’t actually about getting sex; it is about asserting masculinity. The impulse that makes a group of men call out to women on the street is the same impulse that led me to run faster and hit harder in football. It’s all just “working it out on the field,” showing the world your sexual and physical prowess.

It is commonly believed that street harassment is a cultural problem of low income or minority communities given that street harassment is more likely to occur in communities where men hang out on the streets. Yet in reality, street harassment is simply another symptom of the logic of masculinity as men with more money exhibit the same behaviors in bars, by water coolers or on the internet. How often have you or a friend hit on a women in a bar after staring at her breast? How often has a male co-worker dismissed the irritation of a female colleague by saying “she just needs to get laid?”

Why That Sexist Joke Matters

The same form of thinking that leads to street harassment is present in all manners of male conversations. How often have you overheard male friends talk about how upset they are that someone won’t sleep with them? How often do your married friends complain that their wife always has a headache when they bring up the subject? How often have you been upset that your girlfriend didn’t want to have sex with you when you were horny? How often has this anger been expressed by calling the woman a bitch, slut, whore, prude or a tease?

It may seem like innocuous venting, but it is anything but. Words matter. More importantly, the words we use to categorize people matters, as it tells us how people deserve to be treated. If you to write an article on a bill and refer to the President as a politician, most readers would automatically start to be skeptical of their motives. If you refer to the President as “the last adult in Washington,” you have already helped frame how readers will react to the bill. If you refer to woman as a bitch, what, then, does she deserve? How about a whore? A Slut? A Prude? Or a tease?

To make this point another way, consider how most men feel when their best friend doesn’t want to hang out with them. For instance, if your friend tells you he has to work, you’re unlikely to be upset. If a friend says he has to have dinner with his girlfriend, some men might be a little more inclined to be irritated. If a friend says he can’t hang out because he would rather stare at a wall, most men would be upset. You can understand your friend’s need to work as being more important than your need to hang out. You might, given your personal feelings about committed relationships, easily understand the need for romance over “bromance.” However, few people would take kindly to their need for companionship take a second seat to staring at a wall. Then, we feel we are not giving us the time we deserve.

In that context, it becomes clear what we actually are thinking when we are upset with women for not sleeping with us: How dare they put their physical comfort, their desire to spend the night with their friends or their lack of sexual arousal, above our own needs? How dare they put their human need for self-fulfillment above our sexual ones? For this transgression, they are put into categories that justify our violence against them. Bitches need to be taught a lesson. Sluts are to be fucked and discarded. Whores to be fucked and bought off. Prudes just need to be coaxed. Teases just need a taste of their own medicine. The logic of these jokes is the same as the logic of street harassment. Before you know it, locker room talk leads to “she was asking for it”.

I remember a moment in high school when my friend was telling me about the latest girl he was pursuing. He said, “Sometimes, I think that I should just rape her…I know, it sounds crazy, but after a minute I think she’d learn to enjoy it.” My friend was clearly joking — but he was joking in the uncomfortable way that made Dave Chappelle stop his show, the kind of joking that so deeply blurs the line between humorous exaggerations and “funny because it’s true” statements that reinforce stereotypes. I called him out on it, disgusted, and immediately another guy told me to “quit being such a faggot.” Again, clearly joking…

Men who think misogyny doesn’t exist, or is vastly over stated by “femi-nazis,” often dismiss humor as existing outside of the things we actually believe in. They claim the jokes are funny because they are not true. Yet, if you think about how we actually develop our worldview, you can see that humor is the way we test out ideas and see if they are socially acceptable. If you want to know if you new glasses are cool or nerdy, it is often less emotionally risky to make a joke about them being nerdy, and gauge your friends’ reactions. The same is true for rape and domestic violence jokes we are told, still tell, or have been shamed into silence when we hear.

This worldview gets reinforced in our minds with real world consequences, even if we wouldn’t agree with it intellectually. So when a girl doesn’t like us back, we look for faults in her, call her names, or otherwise react aggressively. Eventually it gets so ingrained, and men are so incapable of handling rejection and criticism positively, that we find ourselves labeling women in aggressive manners for minor things like correcting us in a staff meeting. In this way, locker room humor becomes board room bigotry.

Where Men Can Go From Here

I am not arguing that every man is a rapist or mass murderer in waiting. I am arguing that all of this – aggression, street harassment, misogynist jokes, rape, and killing sprees — are all symptoms of same fatal logic of masculinity. The construction of modern masculinity causes men to perpetrate all manner of violence, due to our inability to understand and process emotion. When I say this is a problem with #yesallmen, I mean that as long as we live under the chains of modern masculinity, we will all continue to invalidate the emotional experience of other people, threaten or perpetuate violence when someone forces us to come to terms with our emotions, and fail to overcome our feelings of vulnerability.

Elliot Rodger is not a lone, crazy gunman, nor is he a poster boy for the danger of the radical men’s rights movement. Elliot Rodger is the generic archetype for modern masculinity, and a case study for what happens when you mix alienation, masculinity, and easy access to guns. If he were less alienated, he would have probably still been abusive to his partner. Had he not had access to guns, he still would have reacted violently. The only thing that stops Elliot Rodger from perpetrating gender-based violence is deconstructing masculinity.

It should be the endeavor of all men to do just that. Deconstructing our social concept of masculinity involves exploring our emotions and not fearing that will make us effeminate. We must understand that ignoring emotions is not some stoic expression of control; instead, it is the most profound cowardliness. It is a sick and often fatal cowardliness that put the women we profess to love in danger. The logic of our masculinity, the logic that tells us not to feel, that tells us that sex is the means to social validation, a logic that teaches us to fear the unknown inside of us, is literally destroying the fabric of our society.

Because until we as a society recognize that masculinity is the problem — and force men to deal with it — rape, harassment and murder will continue to typify the daily experiences of our wives, daughters, sisters, neighbors – as well as ourselves.

Dear Modern Day Feminists with Successful Professional Careers

[***disclaminer this satire…well…its funny and not meant to be taken seriously….unless you want to go on a date with me…then it’s kinda serious….***]

 

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Dear modern day feminist with successful professional careers,

I know dating is very difficult for you. You’re beautiful, intelligent and driven which means you have high standards and precious little free time to spend weeding through semi-inebriated young professionals at the crowded and loud Happy Hours frequented by your profession. I get it. I’m here to make sure your laundry gets done, cook you warm meals and take care of your [by which I mean our] children while you’re busy leaning in. There is no need for you to balance a career, hobbies, hosting parties and children…that’s what husbands are for.

I’ve read enough reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s book on jezebel to know that one of the many problems of “leaning in” is that it makes it difficult to have the things that make life worth living, namely fulfilling and sustaining friendships and family. Yet what is an ambitious and driven young woman such as yourself to do in today’s modern landscape of 24/7 hours e-mails, virtual conference calls at 3 p.m. Tokyo time and astronomically priced [and sub-par] child care services?

Well, you can either attempt have it all and end up neurotically plunking all of your eyebrow hair every quarter or marry a man secure and strong enough to hold on to the belt of your pant suit and prevent your from leaning in too far.

 

Hi, my name is Aaron Goggans.

I am a single, childless, graduate of University of Chicago who also happens to be an employed African American 25 year old man standing about 5 feet 9 inches tall. I want many things out of life and I consider myself to be very ambitious. However, I don’t want to work [not because I’m lazy mind you]. I hate capitalism and used to view a 9-5 as the most perversely necessary and evil of necessary evils until I thought “is it really necessary for me to work?”

I would like to spend my time volunteering to help those who need it, raising children and supporting you in your chosen career. That’s right. I want to be a house husband. More specifically, I want to be your house husband.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my own goals. For instance, I’d like to write a novel [I’m a currently a freelance writer and my resume with list of publications is attached] but all of these goals are secondary to my desire to be a kind, loving, and supportive husband and father. I love children and after spending my post-collegiate twenties hopping from coffee shop to used bookstore like a character in a Dandy Warhols’ song, I’m ready to settle down and start a family. It is my hope, after reading this cover letter and attached resume, that one of you lovely women would consider marrying me.

I have very few requirements for a life partner. I am open to any race, ethnicity or religious background. I prefer high powered non-profit attorneys, human rights attorneys, politicians, successful writers and artist though I’m also willing to consider seasoned teachers, tenured professors, mid to high level civil servants. As long as my partner is an avid reader, critical thinker, enjoys open and honest communication, and is open to having or adopting children and of course, fine with carrying at least 95% of the families financial burden, I’m good.

I should say that I am an exceptional [and improving] chef, a decent [and coach-able] maid, amazing with children [taught children with special needs for two years], and very good and hosting dinner parties as well as talking up professional women at work events. I am a surprisingly good networker and conversationalist willing to be perfect First Man to your every executive ambition. I

f you are interested please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you shortly. We can go Dutch on the first three dates but after that all further dates, social events, vacations and engagement rings must be funded by your ambitious career.

Thank you for your time, and your consideration.

Your future fiancé,
Aaron Goggans

We Laugh So That We Don’t Cry

Pam B Office

 

Earlier this week I sat down to watch an episode of the Office with my roommate. It was an early season of the office, one that I hadn’t watched in few years. I had forgotten just how sexist the “Pam is so hot” subplots are in the office: Michael Scott staring at Pam’s breasts, telling her to be hotter, asking her to show more skin. I was laughing at the first couple until I realized that they just kept coming and coming. I looked over at my friend and she was not laughing. I began to feel uncomfortable at my own laughter. What was it exactly that I found funny about these jokes? Was it the outrageous show of sexism, Michael Scott’s lack of a filter, the cleverness of the writing? I think, deep down inside, I found I enjoyed the ridiculing of this female character and seeing men put themselves above her. It was sad but I didn’t stop watching…
I mentioned to my roommate that I had forgotten how sexist the early episodes of the office were. She gave me a blank look, the kind of look I have been known to give white people laughing at racist jokes. It is a look that can mean a lot of things. The umbrella meaning is best translated as: so do something about it. It is the look marginalized people give dominate groups when they look to those they oppress to take away their guilt. I recognized a few minutes later that that’s what I wanted from her. I wanted her to tell me that it was okay to keep watching, that it didn’t mean I was sexist if I thought it was funny. She didn’t and she should not have been expected to.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that moment and I’ve been replaying my roommate’s look over and over again in my head. It has caused me to think about the ways in which I ask people to assuage my guilt and the ways in which I am expected to do the same for others. It has caused me to think back on all the old habits I learned in Falcon as self defense mechanisms. I have mastered the non-threatening tone, volume and syntax to use around white people that is just Black enough for them to believe it’s real and white enough not scare them. Dropping my g’s and enunciating strategically is almost second nature to me now. I am reminded of all the years I spent subtlety perfecting creating distance from myself and those Black people.
I remember getting into a debate about crime with an older wealthy white man in my native Colorado Springs. I was a teenager in his house, in his space and desperately wanted to be accepted. I remember remarking about how I hate that every time the “Black Community” got up in arms about a police beating the victim was a criminal, a crack addict: someone who deserved it. I used the statement to segway into the fact that it obfuscates the real beatings of innocent Black men, women and children but… I realize now that the second part always fell on deaf ears.

It felt bad at the time…

It still does….

But not being welcomed in that space would have felt worse….

I realize I had mastered this Booker T. Washington like tight rope dance, mitigating white anger to try a slip a few progressive ideas through the fog of white supremacy. It gave me access to white spaces to an amazing degree for someone as dark and not-wealthy as myself while allowing me to not completely whitewash who I desperately wanted to be. I went into National Honor Society meetings, Parade of Champions award nights, and eventually the University of Chicago still proud of being Black. It seemed like a decent trade off; access to educational privilege at the cost of ignoring white racism. I remember sitting in an AP history class, the only Black student there, and seeing friends, classmates, crushes and even teachers look at me when they told a racist joke or accidently called someone colored. They gave me the same look I gave my roommate, they wanted me to tell them it was okay, that they weren’t really being racist, even though they were.
I learned in elementary school that there was only one way to respond to this look. I learned that if you said that a white person said something racist they wouldn’t invite you to their birthday party. I also learned if you ignored their racism it just got worse and they would eventually stand silently as their other friend called you a nigger and your whole class laughed. I learned if you cried they would just call you a faggot. The only thing you could do was make a joke.
Needless to say, I’ve cultivated a sense of racial humor since the first time a group of white kids laughed at their nigger. Around the same time I learned that white people don’t like it when you bring up race, you have to wait for them to bring it up first. I also learned [the hard way] that black people and white people have a very different definition of what it means to “bring up race.” For my white friends growing up, code words like urban people, inner-city poverty, “people from Fountain” [a personal favorite] were okay but saying Black was vulgar. Yet, as I mentioned before, you had to call white people out on their racism or else it just got worse. So I’ve gotten better, funnier and more nuisanced as time goes on.
I learned another funny fact about white people in the course of avoiding their anger. Liberal white people can be just as segregationist as conservative white people subconsciously. The trick to get liberal white people to say– let you join their study circle without them constantly looking at you like you are going to steal their laptop—is to make them feel guilty. Basically, the best way to combat liberal racism to make them feel guilty about it or, to continue the metaphor, to make a joke about stealing their laptop. Soon guilt will replace suspicion and they will casually go to the restroom and make a point about asking you to watch their laptop. When I really need access into a white space, like a study circle in college, I learned it was best to make my Blackness something not at all scary. Fortunately for me, and I suspect many of other Black kids finding themselves in white spaces, Dave Chappelle was popular at the time. Quoting Dave Chappelle is of course intrinsically rewarding and it is also a great way to show white people you are “down” and not going to get upset at their racism race jokes.
By the way, you can laugh. That last paragraph was funny. I laughed writing it. I laughed because, truth be told, I’d rather not cry.
If I’m honest, and I suppose I should be, I’m really angry. I’m really pissed at how often I am expected to joke and laugh away white racism. How often I’m supposed to pretend that I’m not afraid of white spaces but I am.

Yes.

I said it.

White people scare me.

I have to 25 years of experience telling me that at any moment any white person can assert their whiteness and exclude me from a space, a conversation, a job or even my housing. What scares me most is that much of the time, especially now that I’ve left rural Colorado, white people don’t even know they are doing it. They remain blissfully unaware of their power until I joke about it. Yet every day I have to deal with micro-aggressions that are only micro in a relative sense. They are only micro compared to time my brother got ran off the road by a group of white teenagers cursing at him, compared to the times I had to joke my way out of an ass kicking, micro compared to the times someone threatens to lynch my sister on OkCupid.
Every time I find myself in Virginia I have to walk to through crowds of white people who refuse to acknowledge my humanity, refuse to look me in eye and recognize I am there instead of expecting me to move out of their way. Those looks, those looks through me, terrify me more than the looks of expecting me to say something to assuage white guilt anger me. I have learned, through 25 years of being Black in America, that the look is not only a look of disregard.

It can also be a prelude to violence.

I’m tired of pretending I didn’t have to be afraid of that look or mitigate that look to prevent traumatic emotional or physical harm. I’m tired of arguing with white women about male sexual harassment vs white violence. I’m tired of equivocating my harassment by white people on a daily basis because it’s not polite or is not talked about as often as sexual harassment. I’m tired of talking about those Black people to fit in. I’m tired of worrying about what it means that these jokes are now reflexive and automatic knee jerk reactions. I’m tired of asking women I respect to excuse my sexism…

I’m tired and I’ve run out of jokes…

I’m going to apologize to my roommate when she gets home. What I did was not okay. She will probably say its no big deal.

 

She’ll probably make a joke about it…

Life Before The Revolution

Image For Life Before The Revolution

 

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

 

 

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

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

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