Sacred Masculinities : A Poem

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

 

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

 

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

climbing towards the sun

A Brief Defense of Identity Politics and Intersectionality

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

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

 

 

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

 

Hint: they are not.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Emerging Analysis, Relationshit and Transformative Love

Two weeks ago Omolara Williams McCallister and I spoke at a regional UU conference at All Soul’s that was centered around Black Lives Mater and racial justice. Also speaking that day was Alonzo Smith who is a professor of Black history. I decided to turn our talks into a podcast but unfortunately have been super busy. So here is the raw audio from that talk and Q&A.

The first 20 minutes is me talking about the emerging analysis of BLM: on White Supremacy, Capitalism, Patriarchy and lovelessness and alienation. The next 20 minutes is Omolara talking about “the Wheel of Relationshit” [not a typo], a TED talk worthy presentation on organizational accountability with the movement. The last 40 minutes are Omo, Alonzo and I answering questions from the audience. Hopefully I will have time to mix and render this into several shorter, smoother podcasts but that might be a while.

 

Enjoy!

The Case For Inter-Personal Reparations

 

**Unlike most essays on the well examined life, this essay is in response to a series of specific conversations in which specific questions arose. This essay is written for Standing Up For Racial Justice’s DC chapter as part of our own going conversations about rethinking the white-allyship role and journey. Specifically, this is part of a project about using interpersonal reparations to divest from white supremacy and invest in Black liberation as the first step in creating transformative relationships with Black people. For the case for state sanctioned reparations read Ta-Nihisi Coates the Case for Reparations. For more information on how cities relate to the frontier. “The Frontier Is Our Home” by Lynda Schneekloth, State University of New York at Buffalo.  **

 

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Slavery, White Pillage and Settler Colonialism

It is often said that slavery is America’s Original Sin. This statement in itself either erases the genocide of first nation peoples or starts American history at the Revolution, therefore obfuscating much of our settler-colonial origins. It also sets our understanding of America in a Eurocentric lens of Christian redemption and repentance. It would be more useful to say that slavery is the foundation on which we built the very idea of America.

America imagines itself as a frontier house: a well-stocked, nearly self-sufficient, autonomous construct created to advance a manifest destiny. Yet what is manifest destiny if not an imperial idea? While the frontier people who populate this house may not agree or even be aware of this imperial idea, they continue to serve it and their worldview is shaped by its needs. In many ways, America is the pinnacle of a specific settler-colonial project, built on stolen land.

When various European empires launched their various colonial projects in the Americas, they shared a fundamental imperial assumption, that land could be owned and indigenous people could be seen as disposable or could be dominated to suit the needs of empire. The needs of imperialism or empire, whether British, French or Portuguese, we pretty similar. Broadly speaking, empire wants dominance or power over land, people, wealth and other nations. A colony is an imperial project in so far as it is created to further the goals of dominance.

The American colonies were an imperial project to extract resources from land stolen from first nation peoples. It is crucial to understand that the settler’s existence is predicated on pre-existing violence. In order for a place to be settled, for the land and people to be pillaged, it first has to be “pacified” through genocide. The first imperial agents sent to a new world are not settlers but explorers who are themselves merely scouts for armies of extraction, domination and speculation. Settlers were sent to the colonies after the genocide began to further this colonial project by providing labor and management.

The settlers were themselves often refugees and European indigenous populations that were deemed semi-disposable by various European empires. We often forget, everyone is indigenous to somewhere, even our oppressors. Regardless of their personal reason for fleeing Europe, once they became settlers they became a part of the imperial project of domination, speculation and extraction. Once they were handed land, they were told it was theirs and told that they must defend it. In defending their land they became complicit in the genocidal colonial project even though it preceded their birth and their arrival in the new world.

Imperialism is a positive feedback loop of domination. As the colonial project advanced; more resources were being extracted which fueled the size, and power of European states, increasing the size and scale of European wars which in turn increase the demand for resources: more labor was needed. The indigenous populations of North America proved to be difficult to subjugate into forced labor as they were likely to flee plantations and rejoin their native tribes which were in active and violent wars of resistance with colonial empires. European indentured servants fared little better. For one, it was too easy for light skinned European indentured servants to run away from their contracts early and pretend to be free Europeans in other settlements. Secondly, the most valuable crops were grown in the American South and the Caribbean a clime that many Europeans had difficulty adapting to.

Third, and most importantly, after the ruling class of American’s plantation system had to put down a series of intra-racial rebellions such as Bacon’s Rebellion, it became necessary to separate poor European migrant workers and enslaved Africans. European indentured servants and enslaved Africans coming together in solidarity threatened the economic and political system of the pre-revolutionary American south. White Supremacy was the solution to this problem. It allowed the payment of a psychological wage, or systemic benefits and privileges that messaged to Europeans [increasingly “raced” as white people] that they were better than enslaved Africans, in lieu of the land and wage reforms that the American European immigrant working class had been demanding.

Whiteness is an elaborate story created not only to justify inequity and enslavement but also to teach poor European immigrants a standard of conduct. White people were told that the system works for them; if they just worked hard and assimilated they could advance up the social ladder. In addition to cultural components made to build internal solidarity with other white people, and by extension the state [Protestantism, English language, work ethic etc], whiteness also set a standard of conduct and achievement.

Whiteness as a standard meant valuing formal Eurocentric education as the pre-requisite to economic success, listening to your boss, not speaking out and using the courts and other institutions when problems arose. This is a concept often called labor discipline, crucial to keeping workers obedient in the inhumane capitalist system. If your boss treated your poorly and the systems for redress didn’t work in your favor, you were prevented to going outside the system by a counter story of lazy, unruly Black masses. In time, ideas like “white trash” further cemented whiteness as tied to middle-class bourgeois values and “good workers.”

This is basis for what is now called white middle class dominate culture: perfectionism, sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, belief in only one right way, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, belief in one’s own objectivity and the right to comfort etc. [Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, Change Work 2001]

Through this lens, it is clear that white people did not create white supremacy, they are in fact creations of it. This is the context in which America currently exist and has always existed. Our revolution was not an anti-colonial one in the normal sense. Our revolution was not against empire itself, it was coup, as desire to begin our own settler-colonial empire within our own tax system. In this new neo-colonial era often called neo-liberal, we often shift between roles of indigenous surplus population and colonizer depending on our identities, social mobility and the current mechanization of both formally organized capital [developers and city planners] and non-formally organized capital [market trends].

 

“Gentrification” and Urban Neo-Colonialism

 

“The contemporary American city is often represented as a frontier. From the vast literature on the imaginal place, the frontier, three themes are addressed that reveal the power of the imaginal in making and subverting places. First, the frontier was invented rather than discovered, and second, it is the landscape for sanctioned violence. The third theme is the reminder that the space on which the frontier is enacted, whether the wild West or urban America, is and always has been someone’s home. It is this masked aspect, frontier as home, that offers a standpoint of resistance and hope for our cities.” “The Frontier Is Our Home” by Lynda Schneekloth, State University of New York at Buffalo.

 

Fast forward centuries later and this story is still being told, if updated for modern sensibilities. Now, instead of the west being seen as this vast frontier that is both empty and full of dark skinned “savages,” our inner cities are the new frontiers. Displaced Okies, baby-booming yuppies and now millennials have been the explorers and settlers of the last century of urban colonialism. The term “gentrification” itself contains an invisible violent history. Gentrification comes from the idea of landed “gentry” or upper class aristocrats coming into place that was formally rented by lower class individuals. To use the term gentrification in many was reinforces this classed [and now raced idea] that gentrification comes not only with visible improvements and infrastructure investment but a better class of people. Basically, it’s okay because wouldn’t we rather have white people living there any way?

 

“Areas of urban decay are seen both as vacant land ripe with opportunities to be exploited by capitalists and dangerous “uncivilized” areas that need to be tamed. This cry for taming or “civilization” is then used as justification for violence against the native population, now Black Americans instead of indigenous peoples and enforced by police instead of the United States cavalry. One can see settler colonialism on a structural level in the recent “urban renewal [i.e. negro removal]” of Columbia Heights, the current development of Petworth or the impending development of Historic Anacostia.” – 5 Pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy in DC

 

Hipsters, artists, yuppies and hill staffers are the new settlers of this vast urban landscape. Like the buffalo soldiers, Mexican cowboys and Chinese train workers before them, these settlers are not all white. Transplants like myself come in all shades and races. Yet, like the frontiers people of our past, it is the white hill staffers and yuppies that bring in the Calvary and the speculators. One of the truest statements I’ve heard about displacement is the axiom “white faces bring white money.”

This means that while many actors play roles in subtle community changes that bring about displacement and neo-colonial development, it almost always takes white people being in neighborhood for that neighborhood to change. For instance on U Street, Black artist developed a vibrant go-go culture and arts scene in the 90’s. They took over various buildings in the “blighted neighborhood” but didn’t have the access or resources to spur the kind of capital development we would see in the early 2000’s. Yet when white folks came on to the scene, drawn by Black festivals like the Funk Parade, it signaled to developers that investments could now be made.

Of course, the actual story is much more complicated than this. Crime rates, changes in development laws, land deals that Marion Barry helped orchestra, foreign investment, sub-urban backlash and other factors played in important roles in this story. Yet, all of these factors exist in the same settler-colonial structure and all of these actors are reacting to the same story. Even the most sympathetic accounts stem from a settler-colonial forgetting that the frontier is home. Through this lens, a complex pattern develops of investment and disinvestment interwoven with enfranchisement, uprisings and structural change.

American cities have gone through multiple cycles as the new frontiers. Edith Wharton and other gilded age authors tales of “Old New York” are full of landed elites fleeing to the country to escape the influx of immigrants and then starting progressive movements to “clean up the slums.” Young white transplants to DC are the newest in long line of disposed, uprooted or socially mobile settlers following speculators and prospectors into new frontiers. They spend some time in their “dangerous surroundings” and eventually take part in great pacifying activities like bringing new and expensive vendors to Saturday markets, taking over festivals like the H-street and Funk Festivals, calling the police to address [read arrest] “suspicious characters” etc.

Another great recent example of the power of whiteness in gentrification is in Petworth. There is a long history of respectable Black folks asking for increased policing in the neighborhood. Yet for decades the calls of elderly residents and middle class homeowners went unheeded by the MPD. Yet, as white folks begin to echo these calls, policing presence increased dramatically. Eventually the calls from the low income Black community to end police brutality will be joined by the middle class Black residents who only wanted a few more police who responded in less than an hour to a call. But white residents will keep calling the police until they have pacified the neighborhood and feel secure and protected and eventually, once all the young punks have been displaced, safe.

 

“The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”
Paulo Freire

 

The result of this pacify-settle cycle is well known. American cities are heavily segregated by race and class. Black communities are systemically divested from until it is time to start flipping housing. Racial segregation breeds cultural unfamiliarity that leads to misunderstandings. White fragility not only makes overcoming these misunderstandings challenging but legitimizes emotional and, in case of the work place, economic violence for Black people who bring up race.  The unnatural standards of whiteness breeds a racial anxiety in white communities and inhibits empathetic and emotional supportive family relations by making so many things off limits for conversations.

All told, this creates a culture that lacks many of the spiritually fulfilling traditions and activities that typify ethnic cultures. Again, it is crucial to remember that whiteness is a culture of dominance, not an amalgamation of European cultures. If you were to ask most white people space, habits and activities that are “white” and spaces that fulfil them emotionally and spiritually there would be little overlap. White people tend to invest heavily in subcultures, regional cultures and multi-cultural events for spiritual and emotional fulfilment.

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

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

Consumerism, Capital Production and Cultural Appropriation are an unholy trinity of exploitation and marginalization. For instance, it provides fertile ground for white America’s obsession with Black pain and trauma. Whether it is in the tragedy porn of shows like the Wire or advocacy organizations love of Black tears but aversion to Black power, this obsession forces Black people [and POC’s] into permanent victimhood. The permanent victimhood of Black people is one of the reasons that the Black Liberation movement is so viscerally frightening to some white people. Black Liberation’s expression of joy, rage and even apathy are beyond the box that liberal white America puts the Black American other. –5 Pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy

 

For Black communities, the lie of Black inferiority, when internalized, creates its own self-limiting beliefs and habits. Racialized stress often leads to horizontal oppressions as feelings of shame lead Black people to lash out at each other. The lie of Black inferiority when combined with a disempowering social script that expects “docility” in oppressed Black people and a history of white violence causes many Black people to be uncomfortable speaking out against white people either because they have been socialized to expect silence from themselves or because they have experienced the violence of speaking out first hand. Equally important white supremacy and settler colonialism create economic security in Black communities. This forces Black people to have to prioritize acquiring basic economic necessities over activities that might allow for eventual liberation from capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and other forms of domination.

Relationship and Building Power in Coalitions

All of this means that effective coalitions between white and Black people are difficult and tends to be transactional. Transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality. Transactional relationships are unable to make systemic change or even effective reforms because they are not strong enough to get people to make any sacrifice. Transactional coalitions tend to fall apart at the first obstacle. They also tend to do more harm than good as power differentials and resource differences tend to build resentment over time. For instance, Black communities have grown to resent white organizations coming to us with fully planned out campaigns and asking for our support by telling us how “their” issue affects us.

Reciprocal relationships are far more effective. Reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision. Reciprocal relationships center on real conversations about needs of both parties and reframe the asks, goals and terms to respect those needs.

Reciprocal coalitions tend to be able to overcome moderate obstacles because all parties see a need to fight and overcome adversity. Reciprocal campaigns are often still susceptible to divide and conquer strategies however. Privileged groups often take deals with those in power that meet their major demands, sometimes at expense of the core demands of marginalized partners. Tipped workers getting left out of minimum wage increases are a great example of this. Even the strongest reciprocal relationships can only achieve reforms of enfranchisement, reforms that bring marginalized communities into current systems.

Transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform the context in which the relationships exist. Transformative relationships transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties. Transformative relationships means investing in each party’s capacity so that together you can create a world in which you both thrive. Transformative coalitions are not concerned with asking demands of the current system, they are concerned with dismantling the current system and building a new one. Transformative relationships are aware of each other’s past, current context and visions for the future and are able to take this into account when plotting a shared course.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Divesting From White Supremacy and Investing In Black Liberation

 

 

Stokely Carmichael once said “if a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem but if he has the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.” The problem with white supremacy is a problem with power. But it’s not who has power, it’s what kind of power they have. White Supremacy and settler colonialism gives white people power over everyone else in the world but leaves them with little power over their own lives. It’s a power so indebted to the master/slave relationship that middle class white people are able to order any resources they want but unable to provide for their own spiritual wellness and wholeness. They are too used to relying on Black people to raise their children, cook their food, and entertain them to develop an organic culture of their own and as long as they have the power to force Black people to do it for them, they won’t.

Black people have power and lots of it. We have spiritual power and communal power built out of a long history of resistance. Yet our communities are under attack and the onslaught of neo-liberalism means that we must rely on white institutions and economies in order to survive. So we live in this constant paradox of not being able to live healthily with each other but being unable to live without each other. Instead we are killing ourselves trying to exist in an abusive relationship that is over four centuries old. In order to untangle ourselves from this abusive relationship we have divest from the system that supports it and invest in something else. We must heal and be whole before we can come together as equals.

For Black people that has meant divesting from the lies were are told about ourselves and investing in Black community, healing, love and joy. This why the BLM:DC focuses on Black Joy Sunday, supporting Unchained’s Emotional Emancipations and hosting Black Organizer Dinners. This allows Black people to heal and decolonize our ideas and relationships with our bodies and ourselves. From these spaces we can build a liberated culture and dual power.

Briefly, liberated culture is culture born out of resistance to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and alienation. Elements of a liberated culture include: value of iterative processes, abundance, generative ideas and processes, being adaptive and conducive to life, transformative, grounded, communal, poly-centric, poly-rhythmic, nurturing, creative and centered on manifesting our greatest good.

Dual power is idea first posit by Lenin and further developed by Marxist, anarcho-socialist, Black nationalist, revolutionary nationalist and others. At it is most basic it is building alternative power. It is building a community’s ability to collect and leverage the resources it needs for its own survival that do not depend on mainstream oppressive structures. In many ways it is Gramsci’s counter-hegemony in practice. It is, to borrow an IWW saying, building a new world in the shell of the old.

BLM:DC, like many other M4BL groups, is beginning to formulate a plan for building our own version of dual power based in an explicitly Black Queer Feminist liberated culture. This plan is both informed by and birthed in the unapologetically Black spaces that we create and fund with our own salaries mostly from government and non-profit work. Many of the vibrant cultural aspects, art work, chants, songs, and events that we have thrown which have enriched your lives and inspired your activism come from these spaces. This website, my personal analysis and even the gift of this blog post also come from these spaces.

It should be clear then, how white folks in our network are directly benefiting from this work. The work of the M4BL is providing the keys for white people to dismantle white supremacy. This means:

  • Divesting from unattainable white middle class standards that teach you self-limiting ideas about the scarcity of power.
  • Divesting from ideas of patriarchy and addressing toxic masculinity so that you can organize white people from a place of love, collaboration and resilience based on mutual encumbrance
  • Divesting from systems that feed your body but enfeeble you soul
  • Organizing other white folks [base building] to counter the growing white nationalist and counter-revolutionary backlash the movement is upsetting
    • This means building with low income white folks to bring them into a broad anti-racist coalition that centers Black leadership
  • Divesting from all systems of oppression to build a coalition that is strategically placed to fight for collective liberation.
  • Build a new identity based on love and radical inclusion, one that will survive the dismantling of white supremacy and therefore whiteness
  • Investing in Black futures and Black Power so that we can stand together as true partners in social transformation.
  • Fund Black organizing to continue providing the energy, vibrancy and analysis that they rely on to inform their own

 

Dana (generosity) Practice


In the Buddhist tradition, the teachings are given freely because they are considered priceless; in the Buddhist tradition we also practice dana, or generosity, by making monetary offerings for the teachings. Dana is not payment for goods or services rendered; it is given from the heart. Your generosity is a gift that supports not just the teachers, but also the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and your own practice. – See more at: http://dharmawisdom.org/teachings/articles/meaning-pali-word-dana#sthash.zL56Uig3.dpuf

Reparations should not be seen as merely repaying a material debt. Reparations in the form of giving sustaining gifts to projects of Black queer feminist dual power is a communal ritual, a form of restorative justice, in which White people let go of their power over in order to sustain their access to their power with. It is better understood in terms of Buddhist dana than the modern non-profit industrial complex’s donation. It is not charity nor are you buying something. It is the process in which we can begin to close the wounds of our past and head towards a brighter future. Reparation, when paired with a revolutionary communal praxis of direct action, reflection, analysis building and healing, is about letting go of whiteness and building something better.

 

“If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”

–El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X)

 

 

Against the Idea that Interpersonal Reparations Obfuscates the Role of the State

Interpersonal reparations is a necessary first step for state sponsored reparations. Blacks asking the state to force unwilling white people to pay reparations depends on and therefore invests in the state’s ability to take commit economic violence on its populace. For reparations to not invest in a new ability of the state to commit economic violence it would have to rely on a pre-existing value or structure. It is also highly unlikely as the state was created to protect the power relationship that white supremacy was created to justify.

The closest America ever came to reparations was in the uncompensated emancipation for slavery. This was only possible because of anti-southern sentiment and industrial north’s desire to profit off the industrialization of the south. Because it did not come with an actual commitment to ending white supremacy and was a project of capitalist reconstruction was halted before the fundamental inequality of America could be addressed. It set up the powerful backlash that led to convict leasing program and black codes. Any alternative, like the state taking wealth from corporations or rich families obfuscates the role of whiteness and the complicity of individual white people.

There is an alternative. A mass movement to dismantle white supremacy. A transformative campaign for reparations in which the campaign for reparations creates the cultural transformation that allows for the maintaince of the structural transformation reparations is advocated to bring.

Decolonizing Male Allyship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/

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.

#ILoveBlackWomen Day Four: ACT!

#Sayhername national day of action graphic

It’s no coincidence that #ILoveBlackWomen is happening during the same week as the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. When I conceived of this project it was important that I could at least point people towards a collective action aimed at supporting Black Girls, Black Trans* Women, and Black Women. I’m really happy that BYP100 is putting on a forum for Black Women and Girls tonight. Here is a description from the Facebook event below. I encourage everyone who can to go. I also urge Non-Black people to respect the space as a Black Space. Likewise, for men to be aware of how much space you take up at this event.

“From Ferguson to Baltimore, and beyond, Black women have been on the front lines of change in our liberation movements. When we discuss the prevalence of state-sanctioned, anti-black violence in our communities, we often neglect to uplift the narratives of black trans, cis, and non-binary women, femmes, and girls, too. If we believe that Black Lives Matter –all of them– then it is urgent that we begin to shift our organizing framework into one that includes black people of ALL genders, particularly, trans and cis women, femmes, girls, and black people who experiences gender-based marginalization. Join us this Thurs. May 21st, as we honor, celebrate, and imagine a world free of violence for black people of all genders . #SayHerName. ” BYP100 For more information visit the Facebook Event.

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