Accountability is a Gift

Accountability is a gift. Even, perhaps especially, when it comes in a form that it is difficult to handle. When I was kicked out of BLM:DC last year, Khadijah approached me and gave me the best advice about accountability I had ever gotten. She said that it’s possible to rebuild from this kind of damage but only if you apologize and only if you apologize what’s actually yours and not more than that. Good advice, but hard to follow.Coming back into this collective was tough and it took the whole group a lot of effort to heal.  I think that most criticism has a kernel of truth to it and it is hard to decide how big or important that kernel is.

The truth is my actions and inactions hurt people I care about. I’m sorry that I have disappointed Schyla, an organizer who I respect, who has defended me and who I have defended to others. I’m sorry that I did not reach out to Melanin Uprising earlier. I’m sorry that I let some of you down and that you feel that my actions did not live up to my rhetoric. This is objectively true. I talk about learning to hold each other, to care for each other, being vulnerable and loving each other in order to get free. I talk about supporting Black women. A lot. Like all the time. I’m never able to live to my own standard. I don’t believe that I say that I do, I think that I try to be clear about my faults and complicity but clearly not enough. Learning to love people in a world that only teaches you how to hate is difficult. Learning to express and receive that love is even more difficult.

I love Chichi. I loved her when we argued over process and I loved her when she walked away from me in Virginia. I wish that she could have heard me in those moments when I told her I love her. I did tell her though. And I did try and show that to her by trying to come up with a process to resolve our conflict in the park that day. That was not how Chichi wanted me to show my love and that’s real.

I do need to say though, that I also love my self and the other members of the collective. When people who love each other disagree and are hurt and angry with each showing love for each other in ways that each other can receive gets real complicated. As I said on Tuesday, Chichi is a phenomenal human being who hurt me and who I hurt. I do feel however that we do all of us, including Chichi, a disservice by making this about an argument in a car in Virginia. This is about hurt people hurting people while trying to get free and the Beautiful Shit show that has been and will always be Black Lives Matter: DC. The was a lot that came before and after that car ride that led us here.

Most of the people who talked only to Chichi before the event assumed she was the victim and came away feeling like we attacked her. I understand that but I do not believe it is true. Most of the people who talked us before the meeting [the handful that asked us questions] saw that there was no victim just hurt people hurting people. For the record, all sides had the opportunity to change the format and invite who they wished. I choose to invite people who I organize with, including non-Black people. I advocated for people with whom I have personal beef with and do not organize with not to be there and I’ll own that, even when they came anyway. I did not want them to use my vulnerability against me. Perhaps that was small of me.

I wish there had been time for community input but we started late. I do realize and own that I did not really look into how to make the process be or appear fair. I did not have the emotional energy after the back and forth of getting it scheduled. I wanted a chance to tell my side of the story because I knew that there was a narrative that, according to some, made me look “foul” that was already out there. At the same time I did not think of my self as the offender.

It was, and is to me, a she said/ he said situation where I decided to wait to say anything until the circle. I waited until the circle to speak out because it seemed like the most constructive thing to do. It still seems that way to me. I’m not sure given how we all felt how this could have better. I was surprised at how gut wrenching it was. I did not expect that to be the case. I now also realize that my silence hurt people in ways I still do not understand. I am sorry if my not reaching out harmed you. I was a lot and I did not know, still do not know, what to do.

Those who are criticizing us now are doing it for all sorts of reasons, most of them seem very valid. We should be real though and acknowledge that most of these criticism existed about BLM:DC before there was any public circle.

BLM:DC is shit show. It always has been. We never quite get all of our ducks in a row. There is always something missing. Something we didn’t know we misunderstood. There is always a better time for us to act; a better way for us to build, share and grow power. We have done some stupid shit. We have not always held people accountable in the most strategic or constructive way [thought there is never a perfect time for critique]. We are not the organizing collective that city deserves [which is why we are not the only one!]. At times I’ve been extremely naïve and sometimes even a bit arrogant. At times I’ve organized from a place of feeling like a victim and feeling disempowered and it was not healthy. I own that. I’m sorry for the hurt that caused.

But it has also been beautiful. We have built something incredible. I feel with have done some things that have never been done. Not alone. Not without the help of the community, this moment, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and with the people who are now holding us accountable. But what WE have built is beautiful. I believe that at our best we have done this city that I love proud. We have leveraged this moment to bring changes to DC. I believe that Erika, Omolara and April and I have helped shift power to Black people in many spaces throughout this city. I think that Chichi was a crucial part of that work and will continue to build power for Black people in DC. Because of that work and because of the work of other chapters and the movement which bears a similar name, BLM:DC is really visible and we have clout. With that clout and visibility comes responsibility. It is a responsibility that I was not, am not, prepared for.

I believe, and I can only speak for myself, that this visibility and the mantle that we have been given was not the kind we asked for. I believe we have never claimed to be the only or most important M4BL group in DC. I think most people who look critically at the work being done would laugh at that suggestion.  Nor have we claimed that our movement, the Movement for Black Lives, is the only thing that matters. I think we used visibility as a tool and resource to try and build Black power. I think we tried to gain visibility for the cause and were not always prepared to handle the type of visibility we got.

I also know that I personally am not ego-less. Getting credit for my work matters to me. I think that the work I do is important and sometimes pretty dope. I believe that it is undoubtable that my ego, and my desire to get credit which stems from so often having people steal my ideas and take credit for them, has made me show up in some ain’t shit nigga ways at meetings. I did not show up to this movement fully formed. I am not a self-less saint. I am still not fully formed. I hope my growth never ends. I’m just an organizer trying to get free and learning on the [unpaid] job.

Yet there is still is these other expectations. I was naïve to not foresee some of them and others still surprise me. And, I still believe that every time we have been given credit for something that we did not deserve we have named that. I also believe that we have tried to use visibility and clout, including that which came from the name and not directly from our actions. I believe we did this to try and get our community free. I believe that the clout of the movement is a common good and we should all have personal use of it. I do not believe that we tried to own it or claim it for our private use. Some of these criticism seem to assume that power or clout or visibility are scarce resources and that if BLM has them no one can get them. I believe community power exists in abundance.

I do know that I tried to use the movement for personal gain, mostly to shut down white people who wouldn’t take me seriously without naming who I organize with. I think that displaying and leveraging personal power is an important tool for this work. I used my visibility, my writing and my organizing to get speaking gigs of $150-$300 to pay my rent [I do not have a 9-5]. I think my speaking engagements are work that furthers the movement and allows me to continue doing all the unpaid work I do. If you disagree or feel I do this in a harmful, disingenuous way, then let’s talk about it.

Also, BLM:DC is often called elitist. Personally, having grown up in this society I am constantly realizing the ideologies of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy that I have internalized. I have internalized a lot of anti-Blackness so its impossible that elitism does not show up in my work. I’m sorry if it showing up in my work has hurt people. It’s not me but it is mine.  That said, some of what folks are calling elitism seems off the mark.

People assume things about me that are not true about how I was raised, how much money I grew up with and have access to now or what I think about people based on their perception of me. That hurts because so much of their perception and valuation is wrong. But it will continue because I will not perform my trauma for people just because they called me out. I will not list the ways that I’ve been oppressed, apologize for not liking to process in public, how I speak or how you perceive me in social situations. I speak a good game because it has always given me power. My ability to write and articulate my thoughts has saved my life. I will not apologize for it or accept your narrative about it means about me. I write a lot, use big words and connect lot of shit to theory because that’s how I think. Just like there are always typos in the shit that I write, because that’s how I am.

I am beautifully flawed human being. I do dope shit. I do dumb shit. I make phenomenal things manifest. I open minds and change hearts. I also hurt people. I let people down. I do strategic things. I have a lot of privilege which I need to be held accountable for. I do amazing things that most people can’t while somethings everyone else does are a real honest to god struggle for me. I put in work. My work, our work, is flawed. If you can do it better then do it better. I’ve always believed my work was necessary but not sufficient. If you think I should stop trying to organize for liberation and you are putting in work [seen or unseen, organizing, art, child care etc] then please reach out to me.

The last thing that I want to say is, I joined BLM DC because I didn’t see anyone doing the kind of organizing I wanted. I hope that this criticism removes whatever pedestal folks have placed us on and cause more people to join the movement to organize how they think it should be done. Transformative accountable community power exist in abundance, it is all of our birthrights.

Going forward I will try to hear the criticism that folks are making about me and my work and about the collective I love. I will reach out to people to hear your thoughts. Please remember that communication works both ways. I won’t have the time or energy to reach out to everyone. I don’t know who all feels some kind of way. I want to do better. I will do better. But I will always falter. That’s what community is for.

Thanks for bearing with this long post.

In love and solidarity,

Aaron

 

Reflections on Korryn Gaines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eulogy for the parts of us that died with #AltonSterling

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn everything.

Burn the police stations where they strap their guns on

Burn the corner store where they get their coffee

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

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

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

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

Burn the courthouses where they will not be indicted

Burn the doors to the prisons they will not pass through

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

This nation will be torn asunder

Its sins finally exposed to the purifying evening air

And then we will go boldly into that good night

Finally Free. Unapologetic. Self-aware.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Love in Organizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

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

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

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

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

Re-framing the Ally Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

On the culture of Lovelessness:

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

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

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

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

Silvia Federici:

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

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

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

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

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

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

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

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

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

Preliminary Observations on the Analysis of the Movement

What is the Analysis of the Movement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Leadership and Storytelling in Building Counter Hegemony

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Femminist Reflections on My Spritual Sabbatical pt 3

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

My thoughts coalesce in long walks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

In another life I would have been a cartographer.

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

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

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

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

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

A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.

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

 

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

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

Notes on the oceans of power:

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

I can access it at any time.

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As if we could own it.

As if it didn’t own us.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on the Underground Landscape:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Reform is not revolution.

Equity is not liberation.

Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unbearable Whiteness of Advocacy

Dear White Advocates for Social Justice,
If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it

Zora Neale Hurston

There is a pain, and an accompanying rage, that builds when you are frequently in white spaces as a person of color [POC]. There are aggressions, slipped in between the dual reality of race as an outlandish illusion and race as a terribly real lived experience that reminds us of our place within the system.

These racial aggression come in equally contradictory dualities of what is said and not said; what is done and not done. The job held open for the white person and the door left to slam in your face. The supposedly tension easing jokes about Kwanza and the silence on the mattering of Black Lives. This is the death by a thousand cuts of America’s causal caste system.

The obvious solution, for any person of color, would be to just refuse to spend time in white spaces. Unfortunately, oppression breeds in isolation. This is as true for being the only POC in a white space as it is for allowing white people with power to make decisions without any POC’s in the room.

If you are the only POC in the room, you will be tokenized.

Your melanin will be used to push an agenda that is not your own. That same melanin that got them to center you in the photographs about their “victories” will be the reason they toss you out afterwards. Over time, without any other POC to vent with and discuss how to navigate through a cacophony of biegness, you will inevitably begin to believe what they say about you.

As a Black person, it is often not even enough to have another POC in the space with you. So often, Black America’s position at the bottom of the racial caste system makes it difficult even for non-Black POC to relate to our experiences. Our dualistic identities are real enough to divide us even in the shared onslaught of impending whiteness. As Meek Mills says, “there’s levels to this shit.”

White Supremacy is systemic, ubiquitous and holds the same insufferable dualities as everything else about race. There is the objective fact of what is said or done [or not said and not done] and the infinite subjective responses to and experiences of that objective reality.

The scary thing about White Supremacy for those of us in valuable relationships with white people [our daily beatings, humiliations and near death experiences not withstanding] is the fact that this duality means that sometimes it is not merely the case that white people don’t see what is going on, it is the fact that for them it didn’t actually happen.

When the subjective experiences of POC’s are not in the room at all, or worse, the POC in the room are too busy holding up their armor against a barrage of weaponized whiteness to speak their truth into the space, the subjective experiences of those without power are completely forgotten.

All of this is just to give weight to the following question: why is social justice advocacy so white?

Especially in a city like DC which only recently stopped being a majority Black city.
The overwhelming whiteness of advocacy is a disturbingly under asked question. In nearly every field of advocacy in the city, the advocates most often asked to speak to an issue are white.

I recently sat through a hearing on police body cameras in which the only Black person who testified was the police union rep. White man after white woman read about the turmoil of people of color [most couldn’t bring themselves to say Black]. Black people also received fewer follow up questions from council members, if asked at all.

I like to imagine, in moments like that, what it must feel like to be a white person who feels that they can so confidently speak towards an experience that they know nothing about. Does that sort of arrogance leave a bad taste in their mouth, I wonder?

For instance, I remember mansplaining child birth and parenting to my mother once when I was a teenager. The irony of speaking to my mother, a mother of four, about the real facts of childbirth based on a documentary I had just watched alluded me at first.

My mother gave me the most simultaneously disbelieving and dismissive look of my life and asked me what it was like when I gave birth. I remember that the slow realization of the irony left a dry but gamy taste in my mouth. It is the distinct flavor of remembering your privilege that has saved me and my acquaintances from many [though sadly not all] such faux pas later in life.

I wonder then, if the white advocates who decided to “compromise” on the private bathroom for the replacements to DC general tasted that same gamy taste when they decided what families facing homelessness [overwhelmingly Black] could live with.

I wonder if DC Council members tasted the gamy absurdity when they asked middle class white advocates what compromises they could live with.

I wonder if the white people who talk about the marginalized communities of color they work in taste iron when they provide their “expertise.”

I wonder too if all of those so called progressives ever wonder why all their co-workers but one, or two or maybe three are white. When they say their subjective truth: that they work on behalf of low income [read: BLACK] residents– does the fact that they haven’t had an authentic conversation with a Black person in months leave them with a bad taste in their mouth?

Maybe it’s just me…

To be Black in America, is to be the victim of an unending horror story with a multi-cultural peanut gallery more concerned with why you chose to run upstairs than the fact that an unkill-able white man is stalking you.

Think about that.

America is so concerned with how Black people have managed to cope with being oppressed that we forget to ask ourselves why they are oppressed. When the white man shows up with a knife, we might forgive the terrified victim of few moments of shock but eventually we begin shouting instructions at them. Run here. Don’t do that, do this. Don’t complain that you have no exits if you decided to run upstairs.

There are people, if you are reading this you probably know them, who make a living telling Black people what to do with their pain.

There are people, sadly some of whom are themselves Black [see Plantation Politics], who love to explain why Black people sat on their houses shooting at helicopters to get their attention when the levees broke.

There are people, most of them white, who make a living deciding what families facing homelessness [or low wage workers or mothers of color] can and cannot live with who have never been homeless [or low wage workers or mothers of color].

There are people who leave their newly white neighborhoods, to go to mostly white jobs to welcome their new white director replacing the Black girl…what’s her name?…

These are people who decide what changes to the mechanism of my oppression they can live with. They sometimes have the audacity to force Black staffers, whose labor they believe they own, to communicate these compromises on their own humanity to world. They under pay Black people and other people of color to shuck and jive just to give it all a shiny veneer of post Obama color blindness.

I haven’t named names. Not out of decency or a sense of professionalism. Not even out of a fear of back-lash. I haven’t named names because I don’t have the time to write them all. I don’t have the time to categorize the scars I have received from three years of working in this field and explain to you which one is yours.

While some events are fresher in memory and some advocates more culpable than others, I don’t want to give any one of you reading this the impression that this doesn’t also apply to you.

Sit with that for a minute.
You all need to do better.

As a cis-gendered Black man paid to do this work, I would remiss if I didn’t admit that I also need to do better. When a Black council member [you know who you are] asks a Black single mother facing homelessness due to domestic violence why the father is not in the picture, we cannot pretend that this is only an issue of race.

When the only people advocating for directly affected communities in the council are women who are constantly belittled and second guessed we cannot pretend that patriarchy is not also at play. When all of us talking about this on social media and at the Wilson building go home after losing a fight on homelessness, we cannot pretend like class is also a non-issue.

We all have to do better. We have to be accountable to the communities we serve. We cannot allow service to be paternalistic charity. We must realize that we all make our money off the backs of poor people. If we fundraise based on the extent of our clients’ marginalization and not on their resilience against unfathomable odds we are taking away their power.

We need to build power with our clients and not struggle to maintain our positions as gate keepers over them. We must build a culture of constructive disagreement on tactics when the strategy and goals are set by affected communities. Our inside game cannot continue to take us outside our authentic relationships with directly affected communities.

We must understand sexism, racism and classism as the stories of dominance that they are. We must create and live out counter stories that require us to sacrifice power over for power with.

We cannot be silent. We cannot rest comfortably in our privilege. We cannot rest comfortable in a fundamentally unequal status quo. We cannot continue to ask our fellow advocates to be silent, or be respectable or say “be practical” when we really mean “be docile.”

We cannot allow our Black co-workers to be “so well spoken” or Latina colleagues to be “feisty” or the young white women we work with to be “cute” and rhetorically patted on the head. We must recognize and actively combat the multiplying effect oppression has on the Black women we work with.

Oppression must not be comfortable around us.

You’re Welcome

Sincerely,
The [too often] only Black kid in the room.