Monday, September 15, 2014

Domestic Abuse and the Age of the Pundit as Righteously Indignant Performer.














No one that we can comfortably classify as human can watch the film of Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée in the elevator and not feel appalled and sickened or at least disappointed. Even those of us who are committed to the healing sciences and understand that ones lowest vibration is not their whole vibration are still bothered by that moment in the elevator. Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence, however, while it is Ray Rice’s problem—it is not a Ray Rice problem. It is an American problem and has been since America’s birth, as has the notion that women and children (and men deemed as other) are commodities to be owned, bought, sold, beaten, abused and discarded.

The ownership of people and their commodification are the bedrock upon this nation was built and its system of commerce established. This has not fundamentally changed; we have merely expanded the range of stakeholders to whom we tacitly extend ownership privileges. Men can own and abuse women. Parents can own and abuse children. Police can own and abuse laws and people. Businesses can own and abuse their employees. Lobbyist can own politicians and abuse our democracy. Politician can own our votes and abuse our trust. Powerful moneyed interests can own our Supreme Court and abuse justice. 

Even our most cherished and well-intentioned notions of pet ownership are rooted in a basic hierarchy of power, which suggests that might makes right--our perceived dominion over them gives us the right to name, to own them, to decide their destiny. Chattel slavery was premised on the rules of animal domestication. Lives were arranged, decided and controlled much in the same ways they went about making the decisions about whether to spade or neuter their pets, much in the same ways they made decisions about separating puppies and kittens from their mothers and selling or giving them away. It is this same logic that still undergirds our society. Before you send PETA after me or my good friends who have pets come for me, I am not attacking pet “ownership,” I am merely pointing out how the logic of ownership pervades nearly every aspect our relations in our society.

Professional sports are no different. I love football but it takes no real stretch of the imagination to watch the scouting combines and the draft and see the analogies to the slave auction blocks or understand the notion of teams OWNING players rights to get the gist. (See Rick Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.). My sense of rightness compels me to admit my own contradiction; my honesty acknowledges that I am not yet ready to stop watching football. Contradictions should always be confronted even if we decide to maintain them because part of growth is also being clear about what ones contradictions are. This awareness of our own contradictions can help us to work with others and ourselves with understanding, sensitivity and generosity rather than simply judgment.

Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence has been a problem in NFL for decades. This is an open secret. So it is good that it has now become a part of a national conversation, so that so many women, who have had to suffer in shame, because they could get no real support, now have a national forum that vindicates them in a sense by providing space for their stories to gain oxygen and breathe. It also means that men who are in need of help and healing might be forced from the shadows of their own demons and through illumination find some paths to their healing. And that young folks begin to get the message: abuse of anyone is wrong.

I want to be clear: If you abuse children or women you deserve three things in this order: Punishment, whether that is in the jail or under the jail; a chance at rehabilitation, and if you have successfully done the work to resolve the issue, a chance at redemption.

There is, however, an element of how these national issues get foregrounded that is troubling to me. I listened to Hannah Storm, who has worked at ESPN since 2008, speak emotionally about domestic abuse as if she had just found out Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence existed in the NFL. I listened to a number of pundits who have been as silent as a mouse pissing on cotton for all these years on this issue, similarly express righteous indignation. The indignation is certainly an appropriate response given the severity of the crime and its pervasiveness in our society. And as someone who grew up in house with a man whose hands were loose at times when it came to women, I certainly have no tolerance for any man laying hands on a woman. However what I also have a problem with is the televised Righteous Indignation that really seems to be more about performance than about social justice, more about appearing enraged than courageous action. It has all of the theater of the person who talks trash to the criminal AFTER the criminal is in handcuffs.

You see in order to be a Pundit who serves as a Righteously Indignant Performer you need five things: 1) A way to get in front of a movement you didn't start and act like you were in the lead all along--to appear heroic after the battle has already been fought; 2) You need an issue in which you dont have to be courageous, just merely speak like you are because now its safe to do so; 3) You need a television camera; 4) You need a microphone; and 5) You need a Black face to attach to the pathology.

Time and time again, whether it’s the mythic welfare Queen or the go to option that many European American use—the mythic Black Boogie man. We seem to be comfortable with attaching Black face to national problems that impact all ethnicities. Black women become the face of welfare and not the European American corporate robber barons that nearly tanked the economy. Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence is male problem in America and like most aspects of American life it expresses itself in a deeply segregated fashion: Domestic Abuse/Intimate Partner Violence exists with greater frequency in within group dynamics than between group dynamics. In other words, abusive European American men tend abuse and rape European American women, abusive African American men tend abuse and rape African American women, etc.

Let me reiterate as unequivocally as I can. If you beat on women, if you defend men who beat on women, if you think that women are subordinate to men in any way, we cant build so much as a sandwich together.


Neely Fuller has cautioned that if we “don’t understand white supremacy, what it is and how it operates. Then everything you think you know will only serve to confuse you.” As a people whose very existence in this country is premised upon a moral argument we must be dedicated to stamping out within our communities all forms of abuse, within group bigotry and discrimination, even as we advance our assault on racism and white supremacy. Both require not just our vigilance, but our courage and integrity and a vision rooted in the greatest good for the greatest numbers of our people. What kind of world can you really have in which women (the givers of life) and children (the perpetuators of life) are fundamentally unsafe from the very people who are supposed to be their protectors?

Women and children will never be able to truly move through this world fully empowered until men decide to take on males who think that manhood is about suppressing life rather than helping it blossom. Any movement towards the liberation of Black people that does not include the liberation of Black women from the tyranny of Black men incorrectly oriented is merely walking on quicksand.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Becoming A Wondrously Beautiful New Creation: Doing the self-love work




There is a subtle but profound difference between personal growth and personal transformation. We often confuse the two. Personal growth is an expansion of ones current self by way of refinement. Personal transformation is a new creation. A watermelon that ripens over time is experiencing personal growth; a watermelon seed that becomes a watermelon is potential that transforms itself into a watermelon, a new creation, even as the seeds of its creation are still embodied in the transformation.
One the things I have discovered on my own journey and in observing friends and others is that many of us grow but we don't reach for personal transformation. We simply develop more refined, more mature ways of dealing with our issues, but we don't eradicate them—we merely learn how to coexist with them better. While personal transformation means you have become such a wondrously beautiful new creation that those issues evaporate like mist on hot summer concrete—the conditions for them to live no longer exist.
It is a process. If we are courageous, we embrace the work of personal growth, and then, if we are brave work towards personal transformation. I want see what I look like as a wondrously beautiful new creation.  For those of us who consider ourselves healers—a popular and increasingly vacuous term—we have a special responsibility to do the work within our "community of self" to push past the self satisfied comfort of personal growth, and do the heavy and hard work of transforming ourselves, so that we too become wondrously beautiful new creations, divine beings cloaked in immense transformative power. Personal transformation is a quiet revolution that gives birth to movements that transform the world. This is a lesson I think our ancestors hope we get from their living gifts to us.

In life, love and liberation,

 Ádìsá

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Limits of (Black) Power in the White House

The Limits of (Black) Power in the White House



It is not within the arrangement of personal constitution see elected official as heroes. (Perhaps that would be different if I were in that federally protected one percent.) So I come to politics clear eyed, unsentimental and with no expectation that they will do anything exceptional--their job is to rearrange furniture, not renovate. Exceptional people who are deeply principled and wish to really do good tend to either stay away from the griminess of electoral politics or are unable to get enough traction to get elected. Ancestor Chowke Lumumba, former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, stands out as an exception that proves the rule.

Five things I understood about the election of President Obama early on which positioned me to understand that the goal of Black folks should be to survive his presidency rather than to expect to thrive during his presidency, just as we had every other president, were these:

1) You don't run to be head of Empire to end Empire any more that the one fights to be head of an automobile company to end automobiles, positions themsleves to be CEO of an oil company to end oil dependence, or fights to be the Grand Wizard to integrate the Klan. You run to be the head of Empire because you think you can be a more efficient manager of it than the other candidates, not because you have a problem with Empire. That to me is common sense.

2.The President has authority but no power. This may appear to be a paradox. But if you understand how Empire works, government leaders are managers of Empire, they are not owners. Managers have authority to carry out the will of those who empower the Empire. Just as the overseers on a plantation had authority, but not power. To the enslaved African it may have been experienced as power, but power resided with the plantation owners. In other words, the President is free to execute the will of the powerful but he is in no position to contravene their wishes. It is important remember that those billions that elected him twice did not come from kickstarter--they came from monied interests who expect a return on their investment. Capitalism is our national religion (let's not pretend otherwise) and the office of the President serves as one of its High Priest. The job of the High Priest is to advance and elevate the religion, not the congregants. Wu Tang told you, its all about C.R.E.A.M.

3. Within the frame of having authority but no power, the President has the latitude to do two things: 1) Advance Empire which means increased destruction in foreign lands in the interest of empire. This is also known as foreign policy; and 2) Engage in harm reduction strategies at home or what we call domestic policy. Harm reduction models are helpful in stemming the bleeding but do little to address the violence that produces the wounds. ACA or Obamacare is a harm reduction strategy. Harm reduction is not insignificant, but its chief goal is addressing the symptoms, not the disease.

4) Leadership is lonely. Anyone who has ever been a position of authority in a hostile space and tried to do good for Black and Brown folks, whether it was your college MEChA or the BSU or in a business setting or at a job or in academe, knows that your folks will cheer you on from the stands but when the fighting starts most of 'em ain't showing up for the fight. This means that expending political capital on constituents, whose vote is all but assumed, and whom you know wont go to battle to back you up if you do step up for them, in the cold economics of political capital is considered wasteful spending.

5) The same mentality of the men who are militarized and primed to terrorize Black and Brown lives, who are throwing flash grenades and tear gas like dice in a crap game share the same mentality as most of the folks that make up the Secret Service—the disrespect and destruction of Black and Brown lives is practically a job requirement at every level of law enforcement. In other words, his safety is in the hands of folks who often don't believe in Black folks right to exist.

In the end, what we have learned, beyond the extent to which people will pretzel their integrity to be close to the illusion of power, about the limits and limitations of a kind of cafe au lait power in the White House is that it is mostly cream and very little coffee.

—Adisa.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our Awakening

Our Awakening


There is a form of incomplete awakening that looks complete on the surface, it is blindness masquerading as sight. Now, when we awaken, we have healthy bodies inhabited by thinking minds. When many such people with able bodies and thinking minds are united by a shared goal, consciously chosen and embraced, the resulting interaction is powerful, purposeful and loving. That interaction of minds moving toward a shared goal is the closest thing I know to religious power.

— Ayi Kwei Armah

Awakenings can be painful. In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus gives Neo the choice between the blue pill (the continued slumber of blissful ignorance) and the red pill (an awakening). Neo accepts the red pill and the reality he is awakened to, while rooted in the real, is nonetheless painful. America for all of its boastfulness about exceptionalism and being beacon of light and life remains, paradoxically, a painfully insular, ahistorical and therefore self-absorbed society. We think that things only exist when we become aware of them. It is a salient feature of an Object Permanence society.

Twitter and Facebook are abuzz about what bad shape the world is today, how things seem to be getting worse. We point to the atrocities being conducted by Israel in Gaza; the violence in Iraq; the civil wars and diseases in Africa; poverty and quality of life struggles in Latin America; the wanton destruction of Black bodies and lives here at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes as if these are new phenomena, or at very least a rising occurrence in an old phenomenon.

But…

Palestinians have been catching hell since they were pushed off their land in 1948; America has been overthrowing democratically elected latin American governments and supporting brutally violent dictators for decades; supporting violence in Iraq and other countries in the region for as far back as at least as the US effort to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mosaddegh, and installing a puppet, the Shah of Iran in 1953; King Leopold chewed up and spit out ten million African lives; Stalin destroyed perhaps as many as twenty million lives, and we know about a holocaust that extirpated around eleven million of which six million were Jews.

Closer to home, the white vampiric destruction of Black bodies and lives by a blood thirsty society has been an constant feature of American life since at least 1619. There has never been a time in American history when Black folks were safe, just times when we assumed ourselves to be in less danger than others. Brother Mike Brown, Sister Renisha McBride, Brother Trayvon Martin, Brother Eric Garner and so many others are new names added to an old, ever expanding roster of lives prematurely and unnecessarily destroyed at the hands of the few whites, quietly supported by the dulcet complicity of the majority of whites in this country. It is telling that the destruction of innocent Black lives, many of them teenagers, is met with silence by so many of this nation’s white citizenry. The lack of white outcry our the poor treatment of their fellow citizens is tantamount to tacit complicity.

When we as a nation share a collective wail over Columbine or Newtown, and then, notice an absence of white wails and protest when unarmed innocent Black teenagers are deprived of opportunity and oxygen by the police or vigilantes, your silence tells us ever more clearly who you are and what you stand for, especially when we then hear a a rising crescendo of your collective wails again over animal cruelty. Your silence speaks for you, tell us exactly who you are, and what you stand for—that despite liberal protestations, you agree: Blackness is a de facto crime punishable by death. But wait for it, we know: You voted for President Obama.

White murderers no matter how heinous the crime will almost always be afforded context: whiteness must remain humanized at all costs, even in its demonstrations of inhumanity. White supremacy is the sanitizing context, the only context that is assumed to be self-evident.

White supremacy is a chameleon though, and a shape shifter. Aside from the salient oppressive manifestation, it also takes peculiar and distorted forms when one Black life erases another. Here the Black wails are sharp and loud too, but they are not sustained; at least not with the force and vociferousness of protestations of a Black life erased by a white person. Here context is introduced as well as its function is to push a deeper conversation about community culpability and responsibility to the margins and let blame have the floor. The context is the same as for the whites: White supremacy, it has merely assumed a different grotesque form.

A grotesque form in which the tacit implications are that a Black life erased by a white life is more valuable than a Black life erased by a Black life. Even in this carnival of Black carnage, we still behave as though the white person’s murdering is of a better quality—more deserving of passionate intensity—than the black person’s murdering. The logic of the white man’s ice being colder prevails even in tragedy.  In the algebra of white supremacy the answers for both is that same: One more Black life deprived of its giving promise.

The twentieth century was particularly brutal, bloody, misanthropic and violent—more so if you were a Black or Brown person. The twenty first century is no different; it is really just the twentieth century trying to improve upon its performance, trying to overachieve by offering us a more necrotic humanism. And yet, something seems different about the contours of this age. I submit that what may be different is not the violence or venality— or its frequency and intensity—but our awareness—our awakening.

Social Media has invited more of the world into our small personal universes. Made it impossible for us to ignore the systemic and systematic design by which hurt is planned, organized, structured and executed. Twenty years ago Mike Brown’s murder, Eric Garner’s lynching, Renisha McBride’s execution would have likely been local stories that garnered very little media attention –locally. Most likely their lives would have been relegated to the hinterlands of local newspapers—the metro section under crimes. They almost certainly would not have made national news and would only get local coverage on a slow news day to fill up airtime.

But social media has made us aware of the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, all over and everywhere. For many, Twitter and Facebook has become their red pill, their awakening; others have chosen the blue pill, choosing instead to turn over and continue the long good night. But there is a third group, those who have taken half of the red pill and half of the blue pill and have become indifferent without becoming inured. 

They are legion. 

The incessant flooding of our timelines, newsfeeds, twitter feeds and instagram feeds of images of lives irreparably destroyed, of communities ripped apart and torn bodies, of lives cut short in their prime—without the slightest acknowledgement that this is someone’s husband, daughter, brother, mother, father, uncle, niece, friend. Just totems of carnage meant to emphasize our vacuous point, to keep our feeds poppin’. Ostentatious displays of our lack of humanity as we rush to be the first or the most current poster of atrocities. We post under the disingenuous guise of awareness and concern. An awareness and concern that is rarely followed up on to tell us what has become of the person or their family that we used to fill our feeds. In our rush to demonstrate the bigness of our commitments we often reveal the smallness of our compassion. Many of us have become Hashtag humanist or if you prefer, #hashtaghumanist.


We need another freedom movement like the one that SNCC had in the South, where we work with people in assisting them in organizing themselves in a variety of areas: neighborhood safety and protection, food development and resource identification, knowledge and resource banks, political awareness and action collectives.
 
In this age of social media you could establish community groups that discuss how best to identify, develop, and organize their resources. Students and others could volunteer in the summers to work either with their home communities or communities that they have adopted. Seems to me that we have enormous resources that are poorly arranged, underdeveloped and therefore under utilized.

You cannot beat systematized and organized violence with individual initiative detached from organized resistance, no matter how well intended.

Being awake simply means that the day has begun. We still have to do something with the day, to make the day count. Because if we don’t the only difference between us and person who took the blue pill is that while they are sleeping, we are merely walking while asleep. (Sleepwalkers can be a danger to themselves and others.)

All the great spiritual traditions of the world teach us that an awakening is not an destination point, but invitation to begin the journey to locate our best selves—and along the way introduce some beauty into the world.



In life, love and liberation,

Àdisà