Wu Wei or What If Our Movements Were Like Water

It has been so long since I sat down and wrote something for this website. My world has been so consumed with work, with relationships and self-examination that I lost the habit of writing here. In some ways, not needing to have my thoughts be profound enough to be shared with the world was a practice of releasing ego’s hold on me. In other ways, it allowed that egoic grasping to take me into the realm of action. I was focused on doing things to change the world.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Just like I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with ego. It is a tool. It can protect us from a world that says we are nothing. If we listen to it, it can reveal what unmet needs are arising and what hurts need tending. Yet when we forget it is something outside of us to listen to, when we think it is us, we get in trouble.

Speaking your truth into the void and delving your hands into the earth to plant and water seeds are both worthwhile tasks. Yet they both have the capacity for overindulgence and ego. Thinking that my brilliant writing would change the world had a very similar energy to planting seeds frantically hoping to grow a forest that topples empire. I have come to believe that both fundamentally misunderstand how change happens.

Both see human agency as something that can transcend nature. Human agency is the conscious thing. We can figure out how to counter the waves of history and the natural world and direct them as we will it. All that is needed is an understanding or decisive collective action. They both see change making as a struggle. An active fight over power against the forces that oppose us.

Yet what if that view, of the necessity and centrality of struggle to change, is wrong? What if we don’t need to always be struggling to be free? What if struggle is secondary to movement rather than its impetus? What if we moved with the current instead of struggling to swim upstream?

I have a sense now, not an analytical knowing but a sense. I can sense now that change is not a linear process. It cannot be directed to a specific, pre-determined end. Change is a constant force to dance with, lean into, co-shape, to nudge, to nurture.

In Taoism, there is a similar belief in the idea of Wu Wei or non-action. It’s a concept I am leaning into. It is, in many ways, antithetical to how I am used moving in the world. Honestly, it causes me a lot of anxiety because it requires giving up my sense of control that is so baked into my sense of security. Because of this, I can’t say that I fully understand it. Yet I feel invited in this moment to practice it. To try it. To see what it can teach me.

From my very limited understanding, Wu Wei does not have one meaning in all Taoist texts. The aspect of Wu Wei I am talking about here can be summed up by this description of Bruce Lee’s Wu Wei Gung Fu, a fighting art that expressed his ultimate philosophy:

“Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget technique.” At the highest level of this discipline (as well as other martial arts), the warrior becomes one with the flow of reality around him. In that state of oneness, he is able to act without the necessity of volition. To the bystanders, he doesn’t seem to do much, and yet he delivers the exact minimum of impact at the exact right time to accomplish what needs to be done and not one iota more.Derek Lin

 

Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget Technique.

 

It is about allowing what we learn to be so incorporated into our being that we do it naturally as the need arises. We do not need to seek out opportunities to prove it. We merely view opportunities were the technique might be useful as an invitation to practice. We practice until it is how we move through the world. The goal is to move the through the world skillfully rather than to transform it actively with a predetermined plan.

What if this is how we thought about liberation. What if we actively tried to learn it. Practice it with each other and then embodied it so thoroughly that it becomes as natural as breathing?

We are practiced at struggle. We know how to do that. You cannot survive within capitalism without learning struggle. Wage labor is struggle. Even capitalist learn to struggle against their own empathetic humanity. But what if started practicing what we actually want?

In a recent romantic break-up, my ex and I were discussing our relationship. She was explaining the pain that arose from some of the dynamics in our relationship. I wanted her to see how much I loved her in that moment. I felt a strong desire to interrupt her and correct her perception. To struggle with her, the very thing she was naming as hurtful. “You don’t understand what I was trying to do in that moment!” I wanted to scream. “You have to understand I was just afraid. I just wanted you to really see me!”

Instead of battling it our with her, I cried, I reflected back what I saw as her perspective though it was not my own. I acknowledged the harm she felt and explained how, in my perspective, I was reacting to her pulling away from me. I acknowledged how much I loved her, wanted to be with her, and just need her to know that. Rather than refute a perception of me that I thought wrong, I affirmed what I thought was good and right and spoke my truth. By being loving and gentle towards her, I changed her perception of me in that moment and got the human connection I wanted.

Within the practice of loving each other and connecting we could have the space to see all the truths and perspectives of our past disagreements. We didn’t have to struggle or contend with our different truths. I also didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t hurt by her perception or that I viewed it the same way she did. Because winning the struggle wasn’t the goal, proving that I was good guy and she was mistaken wasn’t the goal, being seen and connecting was.

It still saddens me that it took being broken up for me to realize that. That you can just love. You don’t have to scheme or try to argue with people to love you. If we practice loving we can embody Love.

 

Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “Be like water, nothing is weaker, yet nothing is better at overcoming the strong.”

 

 

I know many of you think, okay, you can do that in a loving relationship, but politics is different. Yes, politics is different, which is why I’m starting to think it might be more effective there. In politics, the oppressed have nothing to lose from speaking their truth to power. The state is going to kill them anyway. In intimate relationships we have whole worlds to lose. I care more about what my ex thought of me than I care what the police think.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we go bear our soul to the cops or hug Nazi’s. Rather, I’m suggesting we think about what we actually want and try to learn how to get it, and practice it until we embody it. Is what we want to shut down a highway? Is that our true goal? Or is the goal to make the wound visible? To have our society grieve for the loss of life? To be seen by the powers that be as a force to reckoned with?

If our goal is for society to grieve the loss of life, are we actually, consciously allowing ourselves to grieve? Are we re-learning how to grieve? Are we practicing it, gently holding our selves through anger, bargaining, denial, depression and acceptance? If not, how are going to expect society to do it? Why are struggling to get people to do something we ourselves won’t do?

If we practiced grieving in our lives and communities we might learn some more effective techniques to do it at scale. We can master inviting society into our grieving process. What if America actually grieved the killing of Black people? How would empire change if it had to come to acceptance of what it has done?

Is our goal to be a power to be reckoned with? If so, are we actually  building power? Are we practicing the wielding of power or we just critiquing it? If we have power, do we need to argue with the state or can we just wield it to get what we want? Why do we feel we need power that the state can understand?

Wielding power on the small, organizational scale was an eye-opening experience for me. As local community leader, I realized how difficult wielding the small amount of power I had according to my principles was. It allowed me to see how much material, spiritual and emotional infrastructure needed to be in place to wield power well. That understanding sharpened my critique of the state. It is simply not set up to wield power in the ways we want. By actually practicing wielding power, I realized my fundamental assumptions about power had to change. Now I focus on embodying my true power, which for me, is based in love and compassionate understanding.

 

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Do We Have An Alternative?

Why not get real about what we want? If we really want liberation then let’s practice it first. Let’s love each other without grasping or policing how that love needs to be received or repriprocated. There is struggle in that believe me. Its taking me years to understand that, to heal enough to even attempt that.

If we want joy then let’s practice it! Struggle should not be the impetus for movement. Liberation is a much better one. If struggle is necessary for Liberation then let’s struggle, but how can we know that without practicing it?

Have we asked ourselves…what if we win? What if we overthrow the Trump administration? What if we overthrow capitalism? Have we practiced an alternative enough to embody it when things get rough? Will love, self-determination and abundance be as natural as breathing when the collapse comes? If we freed all the children in the detention centers tomorrow, do our communities have to process to heal children on that scale? Do we have an alternative to policing and drug wars that are fueling this crisis?

We live in a world that is dying, a tower that is crumbling from neglect, an empire that refuses to look in the mirror. We can struggle with it, to try and overcome the reigns before it falls over the cliff or we can remember that Empire isn’t what we wanted anyway.

What if our movements were like water? What if we went with our own flow? What if we practiced loving each other and finding belonging as the world ends? What if we practiced a form of humanity in which we saw each other as an invitation to remember that we are Love? What if we practiced finding refuge by offering to others?

 

Honestly, all I want to say is this:

What if we tried being Liberated first and saw the opposition to our freedom as an invitation to heal each other? What if Liberation didn’t have to be so hard? What if we looked at our family who disagreed with us, who asked us to go slow, to not cause waves and asked them, what hurt stops you from wanting to be free? How can we care for each other in this moment? Maybe we would be surprised by the result.

I’m not suggesting that shut down’s are not necessary. I’m merely inviting us to think about what would be different if we only did BLOCKing actions to create space for BUILDing the world we want in order to BE Love?

I’m inviting us to think about what we are practicing.

I’m inviting us to consider seeing opposition as an opportunity to heal.

Mostly, I’m inviting myself to remember to keep practicing love.

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

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

 

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

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

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

I was immediately filled with rage.

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

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

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

We do.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadowboxing My Pain

Our shadows are powerful things. Our shadows can guide our actions if we allow ourselves to chase them or we can reckon with them. Our shadows can be reminders of what we are afraid to feel and what we need to forgive ourselves for in order to stretch and grow. As my friend Rebecca taught me, our shadows are the things we hate about other people because they are the reflections of what we hate, fear or are most ashamed about in ourselves. Shadows are powerful things.

My entire political framework is based on convincing people to move past their shadow, show up as their greatest selves and walk with vision. For someone who uses organizing to push the existential dread of the ultimate meaningless of life out of my mind, this is a terrible political moment. It feels like all the world is in my shadow and our collective vision is clouded with shame, fear and pain. There is still work to be done. The work has not changed due to an election. Yet here we are, caught in a cycle of hurt and longing and fear; passing trauma back and forth.

There is a fear that has been creeping into my mind over the past few days. There is an anxiety at the base of my skull that feeds on my need for belonging and love turning itself into dread. It is a fear that strikes me so deeply at times that I manifest it into the world. It is a fear that before the oceans rise and food riots begin, before the camps and the cleansings, before the inaugurations become bloody affirmations of power we will tear each other apart while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

I see that I am not alone in these kinds of fears nor in my manifesting of the coming dystopia in my interpersonal relationships. As a dear friend recently put it, we are all expecting the repressions that are surely coming and living out our nightmares of them in real time. For some of us, for the marginalized and the oppressed, our fear is amplified by the real trauma caused by the pieces of the dystopia we have already lived through. It is amplified by the knowledge what though we might “have survived worse”– many of us didn’t. In this amplified state, we are so afraid of economic insecurity that we are fighting over money with our friends and family. We are so afraid of being alone, of our friends leaving, of being deporting or being killed that we are pushing them away before anyone can take them.

Some of us, I suspect, are just so hurt that we want to watch the world burn. Some of us are so afraid that we will turn to the devil to keep our communities alive. Some of us are merely shouting vitriol into the universe hoping it lands on someone who deserves it.  Some of us are retreating into our intellectual conclaves hoping to protect ourselves from the things we are afraid to feel. We are fortifying our echo chambers with shame hoping to create a world in which even if we are afraid and hurting we are not wrong…we are not to blame for this. Yet still, we are in pain. Our world is on fire. We are on fire and at some point, we have to admit that we are doing this to ourselves.

Of course we did not start the fire. The history of racism, sexism, genocide, classism and xenophobia are the tender. Our material insecurity and emotional pain is the fuel of course. The spark came from the rusted gears of empire turning as they have for centuries. No, we did not, as individuals, set this fire. Even the men in hoods merely lit the bonfire America built for them. Yet, this flame, this context, this system, and soon this rapist Klansman in chief is killing us. We have to recognize that regardless of who set the fire, we are burning and we are allowing ourselves to burn. We have been consumed by shadow, by what we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel. We are letting ourselves burn in hopes that those people in our shadow die first as we take a sick pleasure in the screams.

That is what we are doing when we point fingers, when we shame others. We are taking pleasure in the pain of those who are more at fault, more to blame, more ignorant, more privileged, more poor, more fucked, more of what we hate most about ourselves. It is a pleasure that corrupts. It is an addiction to cynicism. It is an emotional crutch that keeps us from feeling vulnerable. It leaves us feeling dirty and alone in our shame. As MLK stated, it is a guilty broken act that we double down on in an attempt to drown out our sense of shame. That is how addiction works. It is a pleasure dipped in the most profound pain. Yet it is the only pleasure we can see for ourselves. We are so blinded by hate, fear, hunger and loneliness that we have convinced ourselves that this pain is all there is. Now, I know our pain is not the same. In many cases it is not even similar in degree or kind, nor are our reactions to it. There are some people responsible for this pain and they must not escape justice. Yet we are passing bits of this pain around.  This pain is shared by all.

It is the pain of our hunger, abandonment, victimization, confusion, violence; it is the pain of vulnerability, the pain of hypervisibility and invisibilization, the pain of domination and forced submission, the pain of expropriation and exploitation; it is the pain of privilege and oppression. The causes of our pain are as dissimilar as their degree. Yet the existence of our pain is universal. It connects us. It ties us together in web of death. It is the black shroud of mourning for the joy of our highest selves, of better days, or another possible world, that even those in pickup trucks screaming racist slurs at their shadow wear. Yet it is not all that connects us and not all that can.

I am not writing this to convince anyone to love their enemies. I am not writing this as an attempt to unify with words rifts that have been caused by genocide, conquest, enslavement and deprivation. This is just me shadowboxing my pain. It is my plea to the universe. It is me asking that those you are able to close your eyes and remember that we deserve something better than this. Remember the joy we felt when we embodied our greatest selves. Remember that love can connect us and that light can push away the darkness. Remember the cracks in your soul that you have been told are weakness but are really how the light gets in…and shines out.

Share your light with me please. It’s cold and dark and I’m in pain and more pain is coming. I need your love. I need your light. I need to get rid of my shadow. I need you. Share your light please.

Meditation for Queer Bodies

Please closes your eyes, make yourself comfortable and reflect on these words.
Forget any misgivings or preconceptions you may have about meditation. This is intended to help folks trying to process today’s violence.

As my friend Marybeth says, it’s not that serious.
Just make yourself comfortable.
Relax and reflect upon my words:

 

 

Honor all of your emotions in this space.

Do not repress your fear, anger or hate.

All of your emotions are valid.

Everything about you is valid and deserves affirmation.

But let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

Search for your connection to our gorgeous queered future.

As you breathe deeply,

Taking in all of the love and joy of the universe with each intake,

Releasing a little bit of the stress and pain with each exhale,

Imagine your soul as an endless stream.

Imagine the flow of your soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge.

 It is flexible, malleable but head strong,

cruising ever southward, home.

As you meditate, ride this well of feelings and information towards your greater, more authentic self.

Know that your emotions are not a distraction.

Your emotions are inherently valid.

Your emotions are data points.

Sorrow is a natural response to a world full of pain.

Anger is a natural response to world full of injustice.

Your joy is necessary and life-giving even in the face of oppression.

Take a deep, loving breath in, letting the air fill your stomach.

Let the air rise and fill your chest.

Exhale slowly into the room.

As you breathe in, let a feeling of love fill your belly.

Marvel at its ability to hold what you need it to hold.

As you let the air rise into your chest, feel the power and beauty of your lungs.

As you exhale out, allow yourself to relax into your beautiful body.

Know that you have a beautiful body.

Know that your body is loved because it is worthy of love.

As you love your body, know that you are so much more than your beautiful body.

Breathe in all of the love of the universe with each breath in.

Let this emotional stream that is your soul wash over you.

Let its brilliance seep into and mix with your brilliance.

Let its genius flow into yours.

Let it carry away your hesitance and your fear.

Let the power of this energy give you permission to be your fullest, most gorgeous self

Let your shoulders relax.

Let your chair or ground or bed support you.

Enjoying the feeling of your body being supported.

Know that you are supported.

As you breathe in all the wisdom and joy the world has to offer,

As you imagine your soul as an endless stream,

Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and reflect on these words:

You are exactly who you need to be.

You emit a queer energy that will transform this world.

When you love yourself you stand in opposition to hate.

When you love others you are committing an act of resistance.

When you are your most authentic self you are standing in your power.

You are transformative. You are powerful. You are Love.

As you breathe, let a sense of hope fill your stomach.

Let it rise as joy into your chest.

Imagine steams of joy flowing into your beautiful body with each breathe out.

As you breathe love deeply through your nostrils,

Let hope fill your belly,

Let joy rise into your chest,

As you exhale, let the love and joy circulate through your body.

As the energy flows through your body feel the power of that love.

Feel the power of creation within your liberated self.

Know that this power and joy is yours.

Breathe in more of the power of this space,

Know that you should never apologize for your existence.

You are exactly who you need to be.

You are connected to a glorious queer future.

Allow the river of power that is your soul to pull you closer to that future.

Feel yourself float in your own power towards your most authentic self.

As you breathe in all the joy of the universe, imagine yourself liberated.

As you breathe out a little bit of the stress and pain, feel yourself getting lighter.

As you breathe in all the power of the universe, feel that power circulate through your body.

As you breathe out a little bit of the trauma and the hesitancy, feel yourself getting stronger.

Repeat the phrases: I am a beautiful and I am loved because I deserve to be loved –until you are centered.

Now allow yourself to come back into your body gently. Reflect on any and all feelings of joy that you experienced. All those feelings of joy to be your north star as continue your journey to Liberation.

Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditations On Liberation

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Liberation is ultimately an internal, self-reflective process even if it requires years of systemic change and collective action to be possible. Liberation means tearing down the barriers between who we are now and who we could be. Liberation is both a state and a process, each barrier destroyed, each chain broken, brings us closer to it.

Liberation means breaking the chains that limit our human potential and cultivating a communal nirvana. Liberation means believing in ourselves enough to love each other without limits. Liberation means trusting our strengths and bonds enough to be vulnerable to each other. Liberation means unlocking our greatest most authentic selves together.

Liberation means pushing ourselves past fears of inadequacy rooted in internalized oppression and into a realm of self-love which is the well-spring of communal self-determination. Liberation is not struggle even if struggle is necessary for liberation. Liberation is fully realizing that you are beautiful and together we are powerful beyond measure.

Liberation is celebrating our shared humanity through action. Liberation is making out between protests. Liberation is a meal between friends. Liberation is feeling loved, making love, spreading love, finding new love, rekindling old love. Liberation is preparing yourself to handle the soul bursting joy that healthy communities produce. Liberation is a block party, a birthday party and a wedding that can’t begin until everyone has the means, the time, the support and the invite to join.

Liberation is not dancing like no one is watching; Liberation is dancing like the world is cheering you on. Liberation is dancing like the movement in your hips is all that is keeping the lights on. Liberation is dancing like you were made to dance, like God is divine musician that just needed an audience.

Liberation is the life we lead in the narrow spaces between our oppressions. Liberation is the intimate moments where our full selves show up. Liberation is when our identities are not barriers but starting points; holy departures for interpersonal exploration; prologue not destiny.

Liberation is that good shit.

It comes in spurts and stutters and rarely all at once. It can be temporary, fleeting, and elusive. So we chase it, we long for it and search for it. We create gigantic mechanisms and machines to try and produce it yet Liberation can neither be found nor created. Liberation is all around us, we need only create space for it.

We need only destroy the soot and oppression and grime and hate and stand back as Liberation seeps into the vacuum. We do not need to destroy the old world in order to make space for the new. We do not destroy institutions of oppressions to wipe the slate clean and build a more just society. We destroy the systems of oppression because they are taking up the space where Liberation would naturally be.

Humans were not simply born free; we were born before the concept of slavery. Liberation is what will exists when slavery, privilege or rape are no longer options. Liberation can take many forms and it is not defined by its aspects. Liberation is simply the lack of social limits; it is unchained, untraumatized humanity flexing its communal muscles of self-determination.

Liberation is not an end, rather it is the most beautiful of beginnings…

Meditation for the Living

*If you were triggered by my piece please read through this taking deep breaths. Pausing after each stanza to reflect. Focus on your breathing to center yourself*

 

You are not alone in this struggle, collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

You are loved even as we struggle, collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Your emotions are real and valid. You can feel the depth and strength and complexity of your emotions rise and fall with your breath.

You are valuable and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

The fact that you feel this pain, this sorrow, this anger means that despite all the hate and despair your remain in touch with your humanity, you remain empathetic. Our empathy makes us beautiful.

You are beautiful and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

This empathy may allow you to feel pain in this moment but remember that empathy is your heart seeing itself in another. It is the same empathy that allows you to feel love.

As you continue to take deep breaths, remember again that you are loved; that you are not alone.

You feel because you are human and you refuse to give up your capacity to love.

Know that bearing witness to pain of others is part of the responsibility of all humans.

Know that the first step to processing our own pain is recognizing that it is there, that it is valid and we deserve to process it.

If you are reading this you are loved and together we are powerful beyond measure.

As you continue to take deep breaths, focus of each breath.

Focus on the rise and fall of your chest.

Imagine the tension leaving your body slowly with each breath.

Imagine each intake of breath brings in all the love of universe and each exhale dispels a little bit of fear.

You are beautiful and together we are powerful beyond measure.

Imagine each intake of breath brings in all the love of universe and each exhale dispels a little bit of fear.

Repeat the phrase: I am beautiful, I am not alone and together we are powerful beyond measure. Until you feel centered.

 

 

 

I recognize that my art may be triggering to some people, some of the time. The purpose of this piece, like most of my pieces was three fold: to express and process my own emotions and to bring the issue home to people, both in an attempt to get some to recognize that they on still on the fence and to let those who have been thinking similar thoughts know that they are not alone. If you know me and are still upset by this piece, please feel free to reach out. I am open to talking this through with people.

A Complex Argument For Love

Silence

 

Below is a copy of a speech I gave  at a Jews United For Justice Event on Black Lives Matter. It was a great night and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. It was hard to come up with the words to use to express my feelings in the right tone: both healing and producing productive discomfort. I do believe that it is not the duty of Black people to teach White people how to not be racist and it is not our duty to prove our humanity to them. Yet, my 26 years in America have taught me that White people need to have the pain of being Black made real to them in order to take actions to stop it.

It would be easy to dismiss White people for this were not for the dozens of White feminist who articulated their pain to me and explained to me, in great detail, my own privilege as a man. I recognize that my thoughts and analysis on gender is rather half-baked, flawed, often rambling and sometimes to focused on me so I am willing to forgive White people for the same. Though to be honest, mostly still begrudgingly.

What I enjoyed about the night most of all was lending a hand to my dear friend Rebecca who planned the event. Working with White allies can be frustrating, infuriating and tiring but it can also be incredibly validating. Working with Rebecca reminded me that we are all in this together, fumbling along the path towards righteousness, as unsure of where we are headed as we are of how to get there, making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, lifting each other up and rebuilding stronger bridges…hopefully eating fried food and singing along the way.

 

A Complex Argument For Love 

Good evening.

I am at once honored, saddened, angry, hopeful and deeply ambivalent to be here this evening. It is eerie to see the pain of your internal emotional universe reflected in the faces of so many strangers particularly when you are used to spending so much mental energy debating whether or not that pain is justified. In fact, it is in many ways profoundly frightening.

Everywhere I turn in America I am faced with an unavoidable specter of whiteness. As I walk through the streets of downtown D.C. I am acutely aware of every white woman who clutches her purse when I am near, every white person who walks straight at me and refuses to acknowledge my presence expecting me to step aside. I am aware of every police officer that slows down to get a better look at me. I am aware of the eyes of our society watching and waiting for me to prove them right.

I am also acutely aware of the times I have pointed this out to white friends only to have my concerns explained away. She was just cold. That’s just how business people are or, the police stopped to look at me too!

Here I am always torn. On the one hand, I am upset that once again my experience is so easily explained away. On the other hand, I want so desperately to believe them. If every look held malice; if every time I am called “articulate and well spoken” is the testament to low expectations; if every eye is waiting for me to prove them right–how can I possibly exist in this place without being torn asunder by the unbearable whiteness of it all?

So to be here, in front of this crowd, speaking to this issue is profoundly unsettling for me. As nervous and anxious and angry as I am, I’m going to talk to you today about the necessity of love. As I see it, love is the only practical way forward. But I want to be clear that my arguing for love, for forgiveness, for restorative justice does not nor cannot negate my pain nor absolve white people of their complicity. Tonight I would like to make a complex argument for the pragmatic necessity of love.

What you have to understand about this movement, this fight to make an America so infatuated with a blind justice system see the humanity of Black people, is that it is not actually about police brutality. Police brutality is terrible but it is a symptom not a disease. Militarized policing is only part of the problem. Anti-Black racism is the illness that rotting away the foundations of our illiberal democracy.

Michael Brown was not just simply gunned down. Before he was shot he was forced to live in city in which the majority of the population was Black and the vast majority of city officials were white. He was forced to live in city that preyed on low income Black residents by ticketing them for minor offenses at outrageous rates.

Then he was executed.

Then he was lynched by the media and by the politics of respectability.

Like the strange fruit that used to hang from trees in the Bayou, or still hang from North Carolinian porches, Michael Brown’s public lynching was a message, a warning, to all Black people. Every time this teenage boy was called a criminal, “a grown man robbing a store” or a demon was the sound of the noose tightening around his neck.

His body hung in the public conversation for over 120 days before the white powers that be decided that no crime had taken place.
It is difficult to describe the level of anger and pain I felt over these past few months. White people whom I knew and cared for were participating in this public shaming. Even when they didn’t, it upset me how easily they could go about their day knowing that this conversation was not a warning for them. It would have been easy for me to let my rage turn into hate. It would have been easy for me to let that hate build a wall between me and everyone else.

In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open up before me. A path through which I could cast off my connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring.

You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea.

I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear that I would be seen as just an another angry Black man. I just wanted to rage to express the part of me that was hurting.

The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. To give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.

In that moment, I choose love.

I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.

Hate, for all it’s bluster, just isn’t not strong enough to keep the world at bay until it destroys your humanity. Without that humanity, without the ability to love, and laugh and grow, nothing else matters.

In choosing love, I stepped back from that path. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world.
I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope.

In essence: in that love I am human.

In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love, when I feel my humanity resonate in soul of another, suddenly it all feels worth it.

It is, again, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity intact. I do not believe that all of those that I choose to love deserve it. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. I know that my love is not magical. But my love, my commitment to see the humanity in others allows us to work together.

In this way, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. My love for other Black people gives me to solidarity to help shut down streets. My love for my fellow man allows me to see past all the whiteness and work with allies.

It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before me. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own.

I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human.

I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.

So, this speech is statement of my love for all of you; a promise that I will never stop seeing your humanity; a promise that I will never allow you to deny mine. I promise I will never stop agitating you. I will never stop pushing you to see the errors of your ways.

So I leave you with this call to action, understand that I call you to rise as strangers whose inherent humanity I find beautiful:

 

If we as a nation cannot all agree on the simple fact that All Black Lives Matter, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, ability or religion, then we can never be whole; we can never heal this gaping wound across our nation. This festering sore that is one of America’s foundational sins will continue to grow, to ooze and to infect every institution of our nation.

Because I choose to love my fellow Black people, I will no longer allow this infection be contained to Black bodies.

No longer will Black people be the ones who bear the weight of their oppression by shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities.

No longer will we let the tonnage of white racism sit on our chests, crushing us slowly while we pretend it isn’t there.

No longer will I dismiss white people as monolithic mass of privilege.

If this movement is anything it is based on the belief that all of you can and must do better.

It is the articulation of a promise that if we can’t breathe, you can’t either.

So all of you! Get off the fence. Join the struggle.

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

White House #ferguson Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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