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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Love in Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

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

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

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

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

Re-framing the Ally Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

On the culture of Lovelessness:

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

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

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

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

Silvia Federici:

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

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

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

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

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

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

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

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

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

Shouting #ILoveBlackWomen to the Universe

#ILoveBlackWomen Graphic

Tomorrow starts the first day of a weeklong celebration of Black Women. The goal of this week isn’t to break down all the systems of oppression that limit the human potential of Black Women. I wish we could do that in a week.

The goal of this week isn’t uproot the hold that transmisogynior has on the Black Liberation Movement. Yet we all desperately need to engage in that work. The goal of this week isn’t even to give the Black Women and Girls in our life a reprieve from the daily flood of negative images and messages that they are bombarded with. Yet I dream of that day.

The goal of this week is much more modest. It is a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

The goal of this week is to be intentional about telling the Black women in our lives that we love them. The goal of this week is to spend some time celebrating the Black women who created meaning, value and joy for our human existence. The goal of this week is to call-in all of us, including myself, who have sat on the sidelines for too long. The purpose of this week is to create a space to love.

I know that there are many things stopping us from doing this on a daily basis. We live in a world which tells us to hold in our love. We are told it is naïve to talk about love. We are told that emotions are a weakness. We are told to keep our love a secret. So we hide it. We are ashamed of it. We have little experience truly allowing ourselves to feel it, let alone express it. Or worse, we begin to believe the constant deluge of fear and hate that say we cannot or should not love Black Women.

This is why shouting #ILoveBlackWomen is so important. That is why it is so radical. In order for capitalism and patriarchy and white supremacy to sustain themselves, they had to convince us to stop loving each other. They had to persuade us to stop supporting each other. They had to make us believe that we were unable to work to together. They had to tell us we were not worthy of each other’s love. They had to divide us to conquer us. They had to convince us that another world was not possible.

So while we all need to commit ourselves to tearing down these systems of oppression, we must also commit ourselves to creating alternative spaces. We need spaces full of love. We need spaces full of unity. We need spaces full of joy. We must raise terraced beds of laughter and harmony and healing in which to plant the seeds of a better tomorrow.

There is no one way to tend the future. There is no optimal procedure for growing tomorrow’s, no obvious starting or end point. Yet I decided to start with creating a space to celebrate Black Women. I am starting there honestly, because that’s where it started for me.

My mother taught me to love the world. My sister’s taught are how to love myself. The Black Women I’ve met in the Black Liberation Movement have taught me how to harness the power of love for social change.

Black Women have given more to me then I can ever repay, but I’ve decided to start trying to pay it back anyways. I hope you will join me in celebrating Black women next week. Your reasons don’t need to be mine. Your celebration doesn’t have to look like mine. Yet hopefully, together, we can plant the seeds of tomorrow that loves, honors, respects, listens to, uplifts and supports Black Women, Black Trans* Women and Black Girls.

How I’m Going to Celebrate Black Women:

Everyday: I will be giving out Laniappe’s or DIY [Do-It-Yourself] gifts to the Black Women in my life and tweeting about it from @wellexamined and posting it on Facebook under the hashtag #ILoveBlackWomen

Monday: Read: I think it important that we get used to centering the narratives of Black Women and Girls in our own lives by consuming media written about and by Black Women. So I’ll publish a list of Black Women writers to read with links to purchase their works. I will be spending some time reading the poetry of Nikki Giovanni and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Tuesday: Donate: Since we live in world that does not trust Black leadership or Women in leadership, I’m going to donate to several organizations and Black Women who empower Black Women, Black Trans Women and Girls in my community. I’ll also publish a list of projects and organizations that you can donate to.

Wednesday: Listen: I encourage everyone to spend time with the Black women in their lives and just listen. Take your mom out to dinner. Take you co-worker out to lunch. Strike up a pleasant conversation with your neighbor. I will also try and release a podcast of some of my favorite Black Women writers, artists and intellectuals talking about their lived experiences.

Thursday: Act: Support the various national actions for Black Women and Girls being coordinated by the Black Youth Project 100 and Black Lives Matter. If there are no actions being planned around you, consider planning one. Or volunteer with an organization that empowers Black Women and Girls. Mow your neighbor’s lawn or clean your friend’s car for them. Do something to show that we know that while Black Women are capable of anything, they don’t have to do it alone.

Friday: Celebrate: Black Out Black Friday with pictures of people holding signs saying #ILoveBlackWomen and posting picture of the Black women in their lives. Post messages on facebook shouting out the Black Women who bring joy to our lives.

Saturday: Heal: Do something to help the Black women in your live heal from some of the trauma that comes with being Black and Female. Host a prayer session at your church. Host a party at your house to talk about some of that pain. If you can’t think of what might be helpful and healing to the Black Women in your life, ask them!

Sunday: Uplift: Twitter Storm lead by @wellexamined under #ILoveBlackWomen hashtag that tries to tie all of this together. Feel free to write posts on your own blogs about what you did you celebrate Black Women this week. Post pictures of you line-sisters going sharing a meal together or your church’s mother’s day celebration.

 

Next Week: Rinse and Repeat! Integrate your love for Black women into your daily praxis!

#ILoveBlackWomen

keep-calm-and-iloveblackwomen-1

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

#BlackLivesMatter Podcast

 

Silence

There is a movement happening in America…

All across America young Black people are articulating the damage, the pain, the fear, the lynchings that come with being one of the backs upon which this white supremacist nation was built. It is important that we all bear witness to this pain. If you are Black, it is essential that you open yourself to the pain you push behind your mask so that you can function in this society. That pain needs to be released. It it needs to be spoken. You will find power in its utterance. In articulating your own humanity, in flaunting it in front of the very society that denies it, you will find a type of individual freedom from which is the raw material for our collective liberation.

If you are not-Black then you need to bear witness to this pain. You need to force yourself to see the humanity of the Black myn and womyn who are mourning their own deaths. You need to force yourself to understand that this pain is not new just because you haven’t heard it before. It will not go away until we as a nation can come to terms with the Blackness of 36 million Americans. It will not go away until the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers no longer have to wonder what their role is in their own nation. It will not go away until we recognize the humanity of all Black people despite class, nation of origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ability or criminal records. It will not and cannot go away until you understand that #blacklivesmatter.

If we as a nation cannot all agree on that simple fact we can never be whole; we can never heal this gaping wound across our nation. This festering sore that is one of America’s foundational sins will continue to grow, to ooze and to infect every institution of our nation. Yet no longer will this infection be contained to Black bodies. No longer will Black people be the ones who bear the weight of their oppression by shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities.  No longer will we let the tonnage of white racism sit on our chests, crushing us slowly while we pretend it isn’t there. If this movement is anything it is a promise that if we can’t breathe, you can’t breathe.

 

Get off the fence. Join the struggle.

Dear White People: Ferguson Protests are a Wake Not a Pep Rally

White House #ferguson Rally

I get it. You’re frustrated. You’re angry. You’re sad. You’re confused. You know that the killing of Mike Brown and the lack of indictment of Darren Wilson are a travesty. You are probably aware that the system you live in, the nation that raised you, the institutions that educate and protect you, commit or support massive amounts of violence against communities of color. I’m sure for many of you the cognitive dissonance must be profoundly disturbing. For others, for those of you who, though white, are marginalized and dehumanized daily, this moment is probably an agonizing reminder of the pain you carry around everyday. I’m sure the discomfort you are feeling, the rage, the sorrow, the guilt, the confusion is probably further complicated by an excitement. I’m sure some of you are excited that things are happening, that movements are starting. I’m sure a part of you is hoping that this will be our 60’s movement moment.

I feel you. All of those emotions are valid. I share all of those emotions though likely in different combinations and at different levels of intensity. This piece in is no way intended to invalidate how you feel or to suggest that those feelings are not important. I feel your pain, I share your pain and I wish that pain would end. You need to understand however, that our pains are fundamentally different.

As most of you can imagine, this last week as been hard for me. It is not just the indictment, or lack thereof, of Darren Wilson that upsets me; in all honesty I had expected that for months. It’s the national conversation we are having on race, justice and, most importantly my very status as a human being. Can you imagine that? Can you empathize with what it might feel like for your own nation to not think that you are a human being? Can you imagine then, what it feels like to for me, dealing with all of this, to have to politely ask you to step back?

Over the past couple of weeks I have nearly been torn apart by society’s ontological debate of my humanity. Every few hours it hits me. America doesn’t think I’m human. I am just another Black man worthy of suspicion and doubt. Another looter. Another criminal. Another statistic. The only home I’ve ever known thinks that I do not deserve to live.

I am a centuries old problem with no solution but genocide.

Like Brittney Cooper said, “I am undone.” In these moments, when the despair feels like it’s ripping me apart, only the solidarity of other Black people gives me real solace. It’s the moments when a co-worker and I randomly catch each other’s eyes and we both see the pain, and the fear, and the exhaustion and one of us says “shits f%$” and we both laugh. We laugh because it’s all we can do. We laugh because sometimes the pain is too much to bear. We laugh because screaming might get us fired. We laugh so that we don’t cry.

This is why I went to the White House after the announcement. I was hoping to be surrounded by my fellow Black people, to yell, to scream, to cheer, and to sing. I wanted to gather my people around me and boldly assert my humanity to the world. Yet that’s not what I found. What I found was a mostly white crowd of college-age liberals chanting, hugging, and taking selfies with their overly-dressed up roommates. There was energy, an excitement in the air that I couldn’t share. Being surrounded by a group of young white people alternating between hugging friends who had joined them and shouting angrily at the cops (many of whom were Black) was not validating my humanity.

I questioned leaving then, angrier than I was before. Eventually, Howard University students showed up and staged a die-in. Their powerful, distinctly Black presence was welcomed. I felt alive in that moment. Later, their cries of “HU” were punctuating cries of “Black Power” and for moment I felt that sense of unity mix with the energy: I felt hope. I really believed that together we could do this. Then other chants began to compete for air with the cries for “Black Power,” and that hope vanished.

As much as I was troubled by the cries of “H.U.” due the historic social tension between Blacks who went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCU’s] and those that didn’t, I understood the impulse for that level of solidarity. I understood that desire to say we are united, we are here, we refuse to be quieted and we refuse to deny our Blackness in a world that hates us for it. That unity, that solidarity, was shattered as Howard students shouting “Black Power” were suddenly competing with white people starting chants like “No Justice, No Peace.” I began to notice that even in this crowd; we have self-segregated ourselves into clumps. White people whose friends had not yet arrived were uncomfortable and searched for their own.

This impromptu rally was the perfect metaphor for the state of the anti-racism movement in America. We agree on (most) the facts; white “allies” come out to support the cause, yet struggle to feel comfortable surrounded by Black people and so clump with their friends, take pictures to prove that they were there and subtly and unconsciously fight to control the space with their chants. Often, this fight for control is more obvious, like white people taking the mic and talking about why they are there, sometimes it more subtly like white people trying to be inclusive and chanting “all lives matter.”

To be clear, I don’t think that white people were actively uncomfortable with cries of “Black Power” en masse. Instead, I think that in large crowds multiple chants always start as one side can’t hear the other. As chants compete well-meaning white people will react either by chanting the one chant they can be a part of or by trying to be inclusive by shouting “all lives matter” over the fray. Eventually though, the subconscious wills of white people will always win out.

Similarly, due to our racist history and our own internalized oppressions, little divisions in the Black community become aggravating and concerning in a mixed audience as I become aware that white eyes are watching us. I feel a need for us to represent ourselves to society instead of just being able to be. Instead I feel like I have to mediate my emotions, my reactions and, subconsciously, police my fellow Black people, to confirm to how I wish we were viewed. I feel a need to perform my Blackness instead of just being able to be unapologetically Black when my people are dying. White people need to realize that their presence can change whether an event is a safe place, almost private in its feelings of security, or a threatening public space.

This is why a woman at the Rally in Mount Vernon Square got on the bull horn and re-affirmed that it was a Black issue, that the call needed to be Black Lives Matter and not All Lives Matter. It is instructive that this woman (an every Black woman who spoke at the beginning) was interrupted by cries of “no justice, no peace.” <— Giving the words an added level of unintentional irony.

It’s a subtle problem. But subtlety builds over time. Eventually, as moments turn into movements, it stops being subtle. So here we have it, the crux of why I’m writing this letter. You need to understand, that for many Black people, Ferguson protest are not a public pep rally for racial unity, they are a living wake. We are dying. We are being killed by the police. We are getting lynched by the media. Our souls are nearly suffocating by the pressure of being a problem.

Pep rallies: A pep rally is a gathering of people, typically students of middle school, high school and college age, before a sports event. The purpose of such a gathering is to encourage school spirit and to support members of the team for which the rally is being thrown. The pep rallies are often very loud and have a lot of excitation to keep all the students excited for the upcoming game and to cheer on the team.

Wake: A wake is a ceremony associated with death. Traditionally, a wake takes place in the house of the deceased with the body present; however, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home. It is often a social rite which highlights the idea that the loss is one of a social group and affects that group as a whole.

Now, not all wakes are solemn, tear-filled occasions taking place in funeral homes. In fact, all cultures do wakes differently. Some celebrate the dead. Some drink until they can no longer feel the pain. In Black communities wakes take many forms but often try to bring the community to not only mourn but reaffirm our hope that things will get better. The most well-known example of this is perhaps the funeral processions famous in New Orleans. In Black churches across the country funerals are often filled with Gospel songs brimming with a mournful, desperate hope as friends and family members testify about the life of their loved one. These spaces are about community healing. Community solidarity. Individual validation through collective story telling. It builds to a sense that we will continue on because we have no other option, together we will move forward because its only way we know how, together we will change the world.

This was the tone of all the actions run by the Black Youth Project 100 yesterday. While the demands delivered to people in power were crucial to getting change, equally important were the validating cries that protestors shouted in unison.

“It is our Duty to Fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The group was instructed to look each other in the eye, to make connections, to validate each other. What might seem like a great photo op to outsiders was an unspeakable validating experience for me. I was nearly in tears connecting eyes with other people, mostly Black, and shouting my humanity to the roof tops.

It was wake. It was a celebration of Black lives cut too short. It was a dirge for the death of our perpetual bondage.

When white allies clump together at protests and fight for inclusiveness, that community healing can’t happen. Imagine going to funeral services of a good friend’s brother. You might be very close with your friend, you might even be closer to them than distant relatives. Yet you have to remember that as close as you might be with them, as sad as you might feel for them, as much as you might have loved their brother you are not family. You have to take a step back and let the space be what the family needs it to be. By asserting that “all lives matter” you are denying us a chance for internal solidarity, not standing in solidarity with us. This is to not say that white people are not welcome, or needed, in this movement.

Quite the contrary, racism is a problem for white people to fix. This piece is just to say, that if you are white and you find yourself at a march for racial justice surrounded by white people: something is wrong. I understand the inclination to be surrounded by your own, just remember that you have the luxury of being surrounded by your own every moment of every day. POC have to seek out.

So to all my White friends, community members and allies, I hear your desire to express yourself and to be a part of the solution. Please remember that sometimes the most radical thing an ally can do is show up and remain silent, to allow Black people to lead. Sometimes the best way to insure that All Lives Matter is to give Black people room to own a space, to be surrounded by (mostly) fellow Black people, to yell, to scream, to cheer, and to sing. Give us our space to mourn our own deaths.

Processing #igotthetalk While in Mourning

It has been a rough week. A week that has forced me to think a lot about family, the bonds we build and the comfort we provide each other. It was also a week of tremendous social upheaval in Ferguson, MO. Already the conversations about Ferguson on Facebook and Twitter were giving me anxiety as many people were processing the event as if this was the first time they ever considered police brutality as a real thing which I viscerally read as “oh, I guess you all weren’t making it up after all.” This is the kind of thing that I would sit in my Great Uncle’s room for hours discussing. Those memories increased by anxiety as I felt I had no way to process the two events separately.

 

Over the past couple of days I have had the support of my family, friends and co-workers which I appreciate greatly. Still, I needed an outlet for all the emotions that have been making it hard for me to breathe, focus on work, move forward or even put on a brave face recently. So I turned to my art and tried to process Ferguson and my Uncle’s death through that. Here is a new podcast I just finished which is an exploration of my emotions over the past couple of days.  I hope those of you coming from calm places find it interesting and that those of you dealing with similar feelings might find a bit of validation.

I should also warn people that this piece includes explicit and sometimes jarring descriptions of violence as well as some explicit language.

 

 

 

THIS is what I’m doing with my life.

Service Learning

Facts and figures fly over the iris’  of the eyes of  Jack as I serve him potatoes. He asks me if I’ve heard of the Jesuits. Though confused at his reasoning I want to answer honestly saying “I’ve heard of those proselytizing teachers, over payed priest turned popes who preach populism from the pulpit.” He smiles knowingly, like my alliteration was a code word of our conspiracy seeking society “the noble order of know nothing street poets.” I imagine in this reality my cool demeanor and nickle platted watch and rosary were all he needed to identify me. He would then ask the real question: “Do they come from Nigeria?” I think hard on their lineage and wonder if where they hail from is more definitive then how they saw hello. In all this jive talking and sly tongue walking I’ve forgotten my divine truths. I say to my brother, the honorable abbot, the divine preacher and thought tamer “Only the wise women know the origins of such fiends for only the mind of the three fold life givers can comprehend hailing and beginnings. I’d call the mother superior for consultation if only my mind’s eye could see her number written in Arabic on the Rolodex of God’s memories.”  Jack would look at me like I’m the crazy one.  Instead I smile and ask if he wants more potatoes.

Behind him Daze is laughing his raspy, sinister laugh. “Man, Chicago, you one crazy mother I tell you that.” I know it means that you doesn’t remember my name but I love when the guys at the soup kitchen call me Chicago. It has got to be my all time favorite nick names. The only other nickname that compares is when my uncle calls me “The Franchise.” Terrel comes next, muttering to herself incomprehensibly. I know not to engage her when she is talking to her ex-husband who may or not be a demon depending on if she took her medicine. I serve her and wish her a happy Tuesday though I know that, her at least, it will be anything but.

This is how I spend most mornings now. After I wake up at 6 a.m. read e-mails, check the news, meditate, try to say words of encouragement to my niece and then I walk two miles to Capital Hill United Methodist Church. The walk is generally cold and now that it is December, dark. Yet, for some reason the coldness but in my a contemplative mood that the setting moon only amplifies. Some mornings I listen to talk radio and learn about something new on the walk. Once I get to the Church I wait by the entrance with people facing homelessness as one of them pushing the door bell repeatedly. Eventually someone comes to the door and we all pile in.

I’ve learned to respect all the people who share this morning ritual. I realize we are all here to fill a need. Some of us come here to eat. Someone us are here for fellowship. Some of us are here to hear the word of God. Some are here because their lives would be lessened without service.  While I respect all you come as they are, I have a tremendous amount of admiration for the organizers. They give up a lot of time, money and energy to make this Soup Kitchen run. They remind me what is really important in life.

Because the Soup Kitchen is important to me, I get there around 7:30 and leave around 10:30. I help cook, serve food and clean up afterwards. Its a meditative experience that keeps me calm and grounded. It soothes some of the unease I feel about state of the safety net in SE D.C. It is hard for me to sleep comfortably on my sister’s couch with a full stomach when I know their are people going without food and safe place to sleep. I have very little money to name at the moment and my net worth is completely in the red but I know how much economic privilege I have that the people I see almost every morning do not. Serving each morning reminds me of that privilege and reaffirms my commitment to removing myself from actively contributing to systems of oppression. It is a process, one that I struggle with every day but I believe that I am morally responsible for the outcomes of the systems I contribute to. When I buy my food from a company with terrible labor practices I am contributing to the oppression of those workers.

The problem with constantly worrying about how you contribute to these systems is that it is almost impossible to remove yourself from them completely. How do you get what you need without buying from a less than perfect corporation? How do you find a nice place to live without contributing to displacement? The answer would be go off the grid and only use what you make yourself. Of course, you are still responsible for the violence and oppression done on your behalf. If you are in America, you property rights are upheld by the same government that sends drones around the world. Not to mention that idea that all that needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing is a compelling argument for actively ending oppression being morally superior to removing your self from those systems. Yet is there a way to do both? Can you work to end oppression completely from the outside? Could you be off the grid and walk into the city to engage in activism? At what point would you come up against the moral complication of being the perennial outsider telling other communities to how to live?

I haven’t yet found answers to these questions so I continue my commitment to “active confusion” or refusing to let my uncertainty breed inaction. I am constantly trying to improve the way in which I operate through the world, yet sometimes the constant effort to do the moral thing is hard to maintain. I compromise on my morals for the sake of ease and comfort far more often than I’d like. Yet, there are moments at the Soup Kitchen that make me feel better about my flawed commitment to justice.

The other day, a man who comes in for Breakfast asked me if I was a volunteer. I told him that I was and that I try to come four days a week. He was puzzled and said “oh, you must be a student then?” I informed him that I had graduated from college some time ago. He confusion deepened and he asked “then what are doing with your life.” I laughed, looked him in the eye and said “This, this is what I’m doing with my life.” He laughed, probably assuming that I was crazy or joking but I affirmed, if only by my own certainty in my answer for the first time in a long time. I am living my life, the best way I know how. I want my life to be defined by how I move through it, not what I do for money. I try to move through life intentionally. I try to move through life ethically. I try to move through life with a eye towards growth and increasing self awareness. I try to move through life knowing that everyone I meet has the tiniest yet most priceless narrow piece of the human experience. I am a interactive performance artist who works in several different mediums but whether I perform service, writing, organizing or labor each piece tries to understand and improve the world. That is what I’m doing with my life.

After the Soup Kitchen I walk back home. I usually make lunch and jump into writing. While I have been lax on updating this blog I have been writing for other venues a lot. I usually write until 6 and either head to an event, do some paid work around the neighborhood, edit my writing or [for a month a least] try to see the girl I was seeing. [Everything I say that I think of Forrest Gump “I see lots of girls, I sit next to them in my home economics class.] I’ve also been doing more commenting on other people’s blog’s which has been interesting and surprisingly has brought a lot of traffic to my site which I was not anticipating. So, to all you who were wondering. That is what I’m doing with my life.

As for specific developments:

I currently earn what little money I have through filling out surveys about safe and healthy housing.
I am currently working on improving my editing skills and finding my unique voice
I am recently began, enjoyed and ended a relationship with a woman. It was positive, if somewhat confusing, experience. It was the first romantic relationship I’ve pursued with my new outlook on life and after several months of thinking about my feminist allyship. It taught me, among other things, the vast difference between my intellectual understanding of how things should work and how things actually do in the real world.
I am more aggressively sending out pitches for articles and submitting articles for publication. This is the next serious step my writing saga and I am excited and cautiously optimistic.
I am continuing to apply for more conventional part-time work and am pretty pessimistic about it.
I am trying hard to make new friends here in D.C and have already met some wonderful people.
My best friends from High School are doing well. One came back from Afghanistan and the other just graduated from college. Both have been pretty exciting
I am working hard to maintain relationships with people from Chicago [even those who have now moved to SF] and am excited to from them.
I can now say that I no longer have anxiety about talking on the phone which is pretty big deal for me.
2013 will go done in my personal history as the most formative year to date!

My Problem With Equality

Defend Equality [face]                                                                                                                                         Defend_Equality [fist]

Sometimes I forget what equality actually means. By that I mean I sometimes forget that equality is a two way street. If I treat others as I would want to be treated then I have to treat myself how I would like to be treated. I have to cut myself the slack I cut others and have to hold people to the same standards I live my life by. If I recognize that this human being in front of me is a worthwhile being with a narrow but valuable slice of the human experience then I must recognize that I too am a worthwhile human being. Equality means that while my sister is a wise, responsible pillar of support for me, she is also needs help from time to time. It means that even my father who seems almost static in his resiliency needs a break every now and then.

I am amazed at how little time I actually spend thinking about people as fully functional entities outside of the role they play in my life and how often certain people in my life are put on pedestals and seem divorced from petty concerns. As my uncle might say, I have slowly come to learn that “everybody’s shit stinks.”  Everybody worries, gets scarred, and everybody has flaws. It is as limiting and bothersome to interact with people as if “their shit doesn’t smell” as it is to assume that they are inferior. By putting people on a pedestal we refuse them room to run, exercise and grow strong. Pedestals are as limiting as chains.

I’m reminded of this more and more as I enter the dating world of new city. This means meeting and interacting not only with different women but different kinds of women. I have learned to appreciate this diversity and try to not go into each date assuming I know more than I’ve been told about them. This is complicated with a personal tendency, a waning tendency but a tendency none the less, to try and place people in some hierarchy in relationship to myself. In terms of dating this usually means that a girl is put so high on a pedestal as to be labeled unattainable or I spend an inordinate and honestly disturbing amount of time finding enough flaws for her to be brought down to a “manageable level”. I used to think that this “manageable level” was the same as equality, that in a sense I was reassuring myself that they were as flawed as me. Yet, over time I’ve come to realize that this is not the case. A manageable level is comfortably below me in some way because, as stated earlier, I have a problem with equality.

In trying to figure out exactly what problem was I was aided, ironically, by a particularly bigoted blog post. A female friend of mine, with whom I would often talk about gender with, recently sent me a blog post called “The Case Against Female Self Esteem.” I won’t post a link to it, as I normally would, because I don’t feel a need to give it more traffic but you can Google it if you feel the need.  The blog post, written by a man with a different problem with equality, makes a few main if illogical points. Most notable are that most girls have done nothing to deserve self-esteem and that vulnerability is inherent to femininity. I will look far beyond the factual inaccuracies of the post, the readily apparent projections of an emasculated psyche and out right bigotry.

The first thing that pique my interest in the post was the claim that most “girls” have done nothing to earn to self-esteem. The author goes on to explain unlike the supposedly lazy female self, a man who is “jacked” has dedicated time to his physique and that dedication is admirable. The author proves this fact by saying that no one would respects a man who sits down and plays video games all day. Women, in his mind, tend to spend their times getting college degrees in puppetry or other soft [i.e. non-STEM] degrees, working in human resources, teaching, nursing and other non-essential industries.  Thus, having done nothing of note, women have no right to self-esteem, which is earned and not inherent (a claim, if not outright dubious, at least begs proof).

What is thought provoking about this to me is how the author clearly gendered his world and proclaimed all things worthwhile are Male and all things supportive or extra are Feminine. Not to mention that my mother was in Human Resources, as was my father, and their dedication to craft far out stripped any body builder I have ever met but is an argument for another time.

Upon reading this piece I began to wonder how this author’s problem with equality compared with my own. Like the author, my world is inherently gendered. I still think of speaking about my emotions as a feminine activity. Even this blog feels slightly feminine to me. I realized in exploring that idea, that of my gendered world, that I have come to think of the world as split between Male and Female as two cooperating forces that seek balance. I don’t intellectual think this feeling has a ton of merit or truth yet it a sense of how I view the world that I have come to realize subconsciously informs my actions. The author of this blog post on the other hand seems to think of Male and Female as complementary forces, each with a specific duty and place within a specific hierarchy.

[I’m still trying to flesh out this idea of a gendered world and would love to hear any thoughts about it]

Like the author against female self-esteem, I do find vulnerability attractive. Yet, I have the sense that what I find attractive about vulnerability defers from his. There was I time when I could sympathize with the desire to be a “real man,” the type of man whom protected women, sheltered women and provided for women. I think that idea, that women have an inherent need to be protected by men, speaks to a great deal of insecurity within men. For me at least, it speaks to a need of mine to be needed. A need which itself arises from feelings of uselessness and a profound lack of self-worth. In this mind set, women become something to give me meaning and value. This either chains women into a role as tools or sets them on pedestals as tokens of self-worth and personal prowess. As I grew up and found my own feelings of self-worth in other endeavors, the need to be needed did not go away but lost a significant facet of it urgency. I eventually found that I wanted to be needed and, honestly, who doesn’t want to be needed every now and again? [Again, commitment phobia is yet another topic for another time]

As I became less insecure I became more open. I developed very strong and sustaining friendships with several women who taught me a valuable lesson: vulnerability allows for intimacy and when someone is allowing themselves to be vulnerable with you, that is as much a sign of strength and security as it is trust. While, problems with intimacy is literally a blog post for another time, I will say that it took be a while to learn the difference between when vulnerability speaks to an inherent weakness and when allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to increase intimacy is a show of strength. I think this is so fundamental that it is a lesson that men who have learned it need to discuss more often and teach their sons.

It was not an easy lesson to learn and was not learned over night. There were a lot of times when every vulnerable statement had to be stated in the most masculine terms [droping my voice an octave, cracking my knuckles etc]  and qualified a million times over. This posturing before allowing yourself to be vulnerable not only lessens the intimacy between two people but again, speaks to insecurities that should be worked out.

Now my more mature, almost emotionally adult, self views intentional vulnerability as attractive because I have learned to value of intimacy no matter how fleeting. Intimacy allows us to see each other with our walls and guards down and I believe that we have a lot to learn from each other when we do. This intimacy is valuable far beyond the romantic endeavors that many men think off. Intimacy between two human beings is useful not only outside of the bed room but devoid of any sexual or romantic context.

For example, while in Chicago I grew very close with one of my cousins. I talked to him about every aspect of my life in an open and honest way. As I sat and listened him talk about his marriage, trouble and triumph at work and heard stories of fatherhood I learned the value of family as well as the burdens and rewards of being responsible.  The intimate conversations I’ve had with the few men I trust enough to have them have taught me a lot about what if really means to be a man; what it means to be a responsible adult for that matter with all the burdens, chains, freedom and strengths it brings.

Yet speaking to people with your guards down is inherently dangerous. The more you open yourself the more you risk. What if they don’t like what they see? In thinking about this fact, I realized that I solved this problem in a very juvenile way at first. I examined the other person for all of their flaws and gathered enough ammunition to destroy my respect for them if they wounded me. It allowed for an awkward mix of vulnerability and security. It is if instead of building a wall around my self esteem I established a nuclear deterrent. Over time I have consciously tried to build my own confidence and feeling of self-worth up enough to be open to the world without the nuclear option. I believe that that is yet another difference between my problems with equality and the problems of the aforementioned author.

I have trouble seeing anyone as an equal because it means that it would not be fair to stock up ammunition on them. This stems from the fact that if someone doesn’t like me that doesn’t make them a bad person and part of interacting with people as equals is recognizing that. The flip side is that if I show them my vulnerability as my equal I am forced to take their response to heart because I value their opinion. Again, I have to understand that, like me, they have a narrow sliver of the human experience than informs their world view. So like mine, their opinion is just that, and opinion not a statement of fact. This new world view and understanding of equality is tiresome but incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much from conversations among equals in the past few months. Even the phrase “narrow sliver of the human experience” is one paraphrased from statement a friend made during an intimate conversation.

I suspect the author of “The Case Against Female Self Esteem” would disagree with the benefits of intimacy and the basic idea that we have anything to learn from each other’s human experience. That is why spitting fact after fact about equality means nothing to people who hold fast to bigoted ideas. At the end of the day, they fundamentally deny that a women’s narrow slice of the human experience has any value.  I think this is true of most, if not all, prejudice. It stems from a refusal to accept the validity of each other’s human experience. No amount of facts and figures can change someone’s opinion of a group if they refuse to acknowledge that simple fact.

So, with no further ado, I bring you my thoughts on how to treat people:

  1. Treat people as equals.
    1. There are a lot of arguments to be made for the inherent equality of people but I’m not actually sure I agree with them. I treat everyone as an equal because it is the easiest way to learn from the human experience and the most sure way to ensure that the people in your life add real tangible value to your life.
  2. Equality is not only about raising everyone to your level, it is also about raising yourself to theirs.
    1. By refusing to deny the nobility of the least among us we cannot help but affirm our own nobility. If you can value the poise of the women asking for money to feed her family than it should be easier to stay poised when facing your own triumphs.
  3.  Our worldview is determined by our sliver of the human experience and given the vast multitude of lives that are being lived it is important to recognize that that sliver is inherently narrow. We cannot know what it is like to be an orphan because we read Oliver Twist. The most we can seek to do is gain access to the equally narrow human experience of others through honest dialog and expand our world view.
  4. Help other people.
    1. Like equality, there are a lot of arguments for helping people. Some with more merit than others. The only argument I will give is that from my experience compassion and generosity are as much muscles and tools as they are virtues. The more we utilize them, the stronger they get and the more useful they are. We will all be faced with moments where a little more patience would help get us what we want or need. Whether it is teaching a child a lesson or dealing with a difficult boss. The more exercise you have treating being with generosity and compassion the easier it will be to tap into them when it is to your advantage.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from people about their own thoughts for how to treat people or thoughts on mine. Do you also have another problem with equality?