Pocket Rocket

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” – The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution

These words were written by a group of angry and frightened men in 1791 to enshrine in law their right to protect themselves from perceived tyranny by using lethal force.  Today, every time we face another societal wave of grief over the senseless loss of life due to the easy access people have to guns in the United States, it reverberates in my ear:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

In these words, freedom and violence were linked as a consequential pair and presented as an ethical norm.  What is more, when they were written, these words codified a right exclusive to white men with financial means [1].  The Second Amendment was literally a declaration of rights to justify white masculinized violence.  Today, the NRA lobbies the government every day for guns that are bigger, more powerful, higher volume, longer range, and they use the Second Amendment as a protective defense for a macho gun culture that would be adolescent if it weren’t so deeply tragic.

It is hard to tell which might have come first: the projection of virility issues on firearms or firearms projecting virility issues on how men in the United States see their embodiment.  I do know however, that the combination of guns and ideas about how maleness is embodied has left us swimming in a lethal brew that easily conflates male potency with violence.  One look at the number of women (and men) who corroborate stories of rampant male sexual assault (the United States ranks among the highest numbers of rape per capita in the world [2]) alongside the epidemic of gun-based terrorism in this country and it is difficult not to consider a connection.

One problem is that men in the US don’t talk about their penises, something I’ve learned from my own experience growing up in a male identified body with biologically male genitalia. As an adult, I’ve taught sexuality education to youth and studied the impact of sexuality on faith and politics, and it is clear that boys are given a specific rhetoric of shame about their genitals that is tragically entwined with ideas about power.  There is little to no counter narrative to this message and the result is that the shame carves a space for defensiveness and self-styled myths about what is sexually right and wrong.  So, despite men handling them several times a day for a variety of reasons including function and fun, penises are rarely spoken about, never truly understood and most often the subject of performative mockery.  Everything from the casual crotch grab to eating a phallus-ized banana becomes part of the act.  We can joke about penises (thanks a lot Amy Schumer), but we can’t actually discuss them and what they are capable of both positive and negative. Despite being external organs, the profound mystery of the penis is more pervasive than we are willing to culturally admit and undoubtedly more dangerous than we realize.

Negative penis/masculinity narratives are prolific.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the grossly racialized stereotypes of male sexuality in the United States. In these pathetic exercises, black boys are burdened with the assumption of over-sized and threatening ‘Mandingo’ status; Latino men are a disposable ‘walk on the wild-side’; Asian boys are entirely de-masculinized and relegated to a sexual scrap heap, and so on. Meanwhile, all of this unfolds in the shadow of white masculinity as the definitive shining American cultural norm.  Yet when white masculinity is directly linked to violence we are trained to socially accept, endorse or excuse it as “boys being boys” and never, ever allowed to call it terrorism…although it most definitely is.  Personally damaging, false and impossible to realize just like the black stereotype, the white heroic myth of masculinity, becomes the idealized standard of every savior image projected in the US, and is a cornerstone of how we expect to see figures of authority including our modern day “well regulated militia”, the police.  If you consider all of these gendered, sexualized and racialized cultural elements together, the acquittal of white officers for killing unarmed black men and the labeling of non-white terrorists as “animals” takes on an entirely new significance.

For me, fixing the Second Amendment, isn’t just about guns.  It is about de-commissioning the tools that prop up toxic male embodiment and the excuses that enable an almost exclusively white male entitlement to violence.  Gun violence, sexual violence, economic violence, environmental violence are all parts of a culture, fed by a racialized capitalism that cultivates a male embodiment whose only purpose is to dominate and take without being questioned; to relentlessly penetrate everything it encounters with fear and intimidation.

The project of American manhood swinging between rape fantasy porn and a constitutional entitlement to hold the power of life and death in one’s right hand, has made us “dick dumb.”  In this increasingly winners versus losers society, we don’t talk about penises and because we allow ignorance to feed our unspoken fears, too many men are empowered to wantonly misuse their penises and the cultural leverage that is associated with having them regardless of racial or ethnic identity.  Our legal system underscores the misconception that we must live in a world where the only route toward security and freedom is through violence and the penis becomes every man’s most handy surrogate weapon of defense always locked and loaded.

But our government has no tyrant king and does not represent the voice of only one race or class of people.  We are not colonial oppressors trying to fend off slave revolts or Indian uprisings.  Our states no longer require private militia and all aspects of our law enforcement and armed forces are no longer entirely male.  We do not live in a society of duels and honor killings and we are finally willing to recognize that a marriage vow doesn’t include consent to assault.  Gender statistics on mass shootings are a clear indication that gun violence in the United States is a male problem…just like rape. If we are to find an antidote to all toxic masculinity, we need to begin by de-weaponizing male embodiment.  This means the careful dismantling of all the language and social structures that equate the power of masculinity and the penis with lethal force.

We will never fix the fatal flaw of the Second Amendment until we disband the not-so-well-regulated militia in men’s pants.

Cut

Every cry from a child is hunger.
Not just for a hole in the belly,
but for emptiness, lack or abandonment.
Hunger names what we feel
as uncomfortable or raw.
There is hunger for being held…being loved,
and hunger for just being paid attention to.

Every hunger has a sound.
The hunger of pain,
when emptiness is left by safety
stolen from our bodies…
a spank, a fall, a needle,
all the unfamiliar sensations leaving holes in
a newborn sense of world
where there was no abandonment
no stings or burns,
only fullness…safe and alive.

The cry of circumcision is hunger.
A full-throated mortal terror
of being torn
for religion, society, medicine
“for your own good”…for good.
Every male who is cut
carries the phantom ache of this hunger
in sensations he will never know.
The scar he handles is a reminder
of the trade that was made with his flesh:
trust in the world, for someone else’s “div-anity”.

You, cut male child
are told to fill your role.
Penetrate the world with your most wounded self
Through deeds, seeds, desires, passions.
Do as you are told, ignore your basic hunger.
While every day longing for fullness, rarely feeling safe,
forever unable to recall being wholly functional or alive.

If I Had a Bell…

CALL FOR SOLIDARITY AGAINST ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE: If your spiritual gathering place has a bell, as the minister of First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist*, I encourage you to join a growing number of faith communities and ring it on SUNDAY October 8 between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. EST (or in your local time zone). Ring it intentionally with the purpose of first honoring those who have been the targets of violence in our society but also as a warning to those who would promote, glorify or carry out violence and violent rhetoric. This is one simple act that may unite those of us who believe in a world of peace.

First Parish Cambridge will ring its bell 59 times on Sunday to honor all of those impacted by the shooting in Las Vegas. Our message is clear as a bell: we will not be silent in the face of violence.

In a time when too many live under the threat of governmental, societal, political, social, sexual and personal violence, many in the developed world are at a loss as to what can be done. Although we may not agree on the means, surely people from every walk of life can agree on the goal: peace. A culture of violent action is encouraged by violent rhetoric and aggressive and irrational politics. In such a world there must be voices that call for humanity, unity and love.

Bells in houses of worship and spiritual gathering places have historically been signals to the community…of death, of warning, but also of joy and birth. They call us into relationship with the realities of our lives and our worlds and there is no more stark reality that we face today than the fact that a culture of violence is literally killing us all.

On your day of gathering or worship, ring bells. Whether it is your church bell or hand bells or a singing bowl, ring bells to let the world hear that you still believe in peace. Ring them in the morning, ring them in the evening, ring them all over this land.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1337548363040284/

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*This event/action is co-sponsored by First Parish in Cambridge

Family Wall

I keep hearing the story, mostly from my non-POC friends, about family members or people they are close to who voted for the incoming administration. These friends are all struggling to navigate feeling as if the world has been swept from under them, while having to face the people who did the sweeping on Facebook, on weekends home, and over the coming holidays. They are asking tough questions: when do you argue; when do you sit silent at the table or “just not talk about politics because…well…family”; when do your actions or inactions enable the violence that is steadily marching back into the norm of life in the US? Christina Sharpe wrestles with this question in her article for THE NEW INQUIRY titled “Lose Your Kin”…check it out!

When I consider this situation, I can’t help but think about the many people I know who were thrown out of their “families” because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I think of families divided and ripped apart by war or extremism. These are people who have had no choice. They had to pick a side, just to survive. And they chose “family” that will always unabashedly have their back. We are taught in our Western democratic world that life should not be about choosing sides but about compromise. But the current “compromise” trades on the basic ability to survive for too many of us. It is not just that we are being asked to wait for another election cycle, we are being told to watch our communities get torn apart; we are being told that our lives matter even less than when we have been shot in the street; we are being handed an aggressively paternalistic message that says inequality is entirely justified by skin color and chromosomes. As a result, for those of us in the crosshairs, family cannot first be about blood. It must be about who we see in the mirror standing next to us. Liberals are woefully unprepared for the painful decisions that are needed to make the “beloved community” we so loftily talk about. “We did this to ourselves” is a tepid, inadequate and inaccurate response in light of the fact that so many seem to know someone they may call brother, or father or spouse who did this and did it proudly. We must be more.

There can be no easy answer to the question “what is family” but we must ask this question boldly and with a new sense of urgency. How has the desire to justify and make excuses for “kin” fed the growth of fear and hatred on the other side of family walls of denial?

Your family sits in the other room.
They have been there for a very long time.
It used to be easier to see them
…for them to see you.
There used to be an open space
where your room ended and theirs began.
It contained the support
that held the house together.
There you saw pictures and mementos
of the many lives before yours
that added up to who you are
…your birthright, your heritage.
Then someone thought
“French doors would be nice”
still letting light in from either side
but something to keep the sound out,
some privacy
while you learned to dance to music they didn’t enjoy.
Then you woke up one day
to the glass painted over
(did they do that…or did you do it in your sleep?)
You could still hear,
but couldn’t see them any more.
The doors still swung both ways
occasionally
until over time the hinges grew rusty
in one direction from lack of use
and the door was no longer safe to open.
The door was as good as a wall.
That’s when the lock came
…and the lost key.
Then you forgot altogether there was a door
let alone that it had ever been open
behind the shelves and the couch.
Occasionally, you heard them
your “family”, in the other room
claiming more mementos and taking pictures
of all that had come after you
…the noises of life.
They heard your sounds as well.
What a peculiar price to pay
when no one seems to care enough
or have the courage or the lack of pride
to shift the furniture and find the key
or just pack up all the memories and finally move away?

 

#unraced, #eraced

A Poem in (the) Twitter Verse*

Racism is not just about white people and non-white people hating. It is about who has “race”.

In the United States, there are “un-raced” bodies and “e-raced” bodies.

E-raced means there’s a social algorithm that makes your color, culture, religion and customs an opaque burden.

Un-raced means your color, culture, religion and customs are invisible and weightless.

If you are un-raced, sometimes you turn around to see racism in the distance, and you hate it.

If you are e-raced, you are the physical location of racism. You see it in the mirror, and you hate it.

If you are un-raced, you hear about shootings and poverty and say “what a shame.”

If you are e-raced, you wonder if you are next, or if someone in your family just died.

Most white people in the United States are un-raced.

Most everyone who is not white in the US is e-raced.

The Bundy family and their accomplices are free because they are un-raced.

The Alt-Right wants to protect the exclusive white privilege of being un-raced.

White liberals who write songs to speak for brown mouths are un-raced.

The Movement for Black Lives is a demand for an end to being e-raced.

Black youths being killed by police or each other are being e-raced.

Black conservatives being thrown out of Republican rallies as thugs are also being e-raced.

Muslim women having their scarves ripped off their heads are being e-raced.

Latino/a/xs being told to speak English are being e-rased.

The tribes protesting at Standing Rock are being e-raced…again.

I have never experienced the United States in an un-raced body.

Every day I wake up to news that reminds me how often and how easily my body is e-raced.

America, seen from inside an e-raced body is a nightmare.

No government or President alone can solve the tragedy of the un-raced vs. the e-raced.

Regardless of how you are “raced”, don’t vote for an ideology…vote to be seen.

The goal is not to be un-raced or e-raced.

The Goal is learning to share what it means to be human-raced.

-ALD

 

*This “poem” originally appeared line-by-line on Twitter

Pulse

I’m with blogger Anjali Sareen, I’m sick of this shit (see her blog post HERE). I’m tired of writing about death in the US and abroad (see my post on the Paris Attacks).  I’m sick of writing about people’s religiously motivated biases.  I’m sick of writing about terror.  I’m sick of guns.  I’m sick.

So with the killing in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub, I’m now waiting for someone to make a statement that blames all Muslims for the latest attack.  I’m also waiting for someone to say that gays get what they deserve living their “sinful” lifestyle.  And like Anjali, I’m waiting for us to all too quickly forget and continue with business as usual.

But there’s one thing that we can’t forget or run away from or pray away or extinguish with bullets: the human condition.  Its greatest gift and challenge for us all is the perpetual state of being utterly different than every other human on the planet.  Although we might gang up on each other because of a perceived threat of skin color or idea of the divine or sexual partners, we’re still stuck with the fact that we are in the human soup together.

Folks, we can’t get over being human…so deal with it.

Pulse

When someone’s eyes meet yours
and you know that it is either sex or love
…or both…

When you say the words to your family
and wait for the tears,
shouts,
silence,
embrace…

When you march in the parade
being spat on
and verbally attacked because
“God hates fags!”
still holding your head high…

When you break up with a lover…

These are the pounding beats
of the racing heart
that skip and dance and fight and play
in our veins.
This is life being lived
not a “lifestyle”, choice or sin.
This is a way of being “human”
as old as the planet
that throbs in us all.

No gun,
No religion,
No politics,
No hate,
Will ever stop this
Pulse.

(for all of the kids who just wanted to have a good time last night, the staff and owners of the club and the families and community that is now torn apart.  We…loving, breathing human beings…are with you.)

Living in the 90’s?

SandersClintonOn the eve of Super Tuesday, I should be finishing a paper that is due tomorrow, but I’m preoccupied.  I can’t get past the image from last week of UNCC activist Ashley Williams confronting Hillary Clinton[1] in the middle of a private event reminding the candidate about her 1996 statement about “super predators”.  I applaud Williams for her highly effective act of awareness-raising.  This statement from Clinton was ugly and non-productive language that perpetuated the image of the criminal inner city black person.  Granted, it was 20 years ago in a speech that also makes reference to the importance of community policing[2]…but I digress.  Overall, I am grateful for this particular action because it highlighted exactly how important it is for Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton to substantially address racial violence and inequity in our country with a much more aggressive and public stance.  She needs to do this, fearlessly, with a much clearer understanding of the impact that the 1990’s Clinton administration had on today’s racially biased system of justice.  But she is in the unique position of having to manage her direct association with a previous administration in which she had no official political role.  This is unknown territory; we’ve never done this as a nation before.  We’ve never had to psychologically separate a potential president from their role as First Lady and it is an insult to Hillary Clinton to reduce her candidacy to her marriage.  But this is made more complex because Clinton actively took on the job of re-claiming the role “First Lady of the United States” as someone who wasn’t just arm candy to the president (sorry Jackie).  She fashioned a new presence for the First Lady much on the lines of her hero Eleanor Roosevelt*.  But Hillary is no Eleanor yet. Acknowledgement and accountability for her active support and presence in the previous Clinton administration plus thoughtful public consideration of how she was complicit would go a long way with voters this cycle.

But what has me preoccupied is historical context. I would like to respectfully point out that unlike the 23 year old Williams, Clinton lived through the 90’s as an adult.  And unlike both of them, I lived through the 1990s as a black man in his mid/late 20 in New York City.  I remember very, very clearly that despite graduating from an elite university, in order to get jobs or housing, I had to distance myself from any kind of image or association with anything even vaguely “urban” (code for black/African-American). It was still the “Huxtable” era and public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy and Whitney Houston were redefining what black success, marketability, upward mobility and general social acceptability were all about.  And we all bought into it. The “Buppy” (Black Urban Professional) was an image that was in stark contrast with that of blacks who were stuck in poverty, struggling with drugs and battling crime first hand.

Shamefully, the dominant solution wasn’t focused in significant ways on restoration or reform.  We all spent too little time solving the real reasons why we faced drug problems in black neighborhoods and those of us who could were more focused on achieving financial mobility with the Clinton economic wave.  Socially, we were still trying to get past the senseless Reagan era labels like “welfare queens” and the completely out of touch “Just Say No” bullshit to have a baseline of legitimacy in the public discourse on prosperity.  From someone who was a 20 something voter at the time, we young blacks of the 1990’s were deeply invested in redefining our mainstream racial identity and we were pretty desperate to see the end of drugs and crimes that were devastating our communities and (in 1990’s language) “keeping us down”.  All of which brings me to my historical obsession.  In today’s heated and necessary battles over race, we forget that our black congressional leaders were also among the supporters of the “war on drugs”. The legislation that most people are pointing to during this election cycle is the draconian Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994[3]. It was handed to President Clinton with approval largely along party lines (Democrats in favor Republicans against.)  It also had the “yea” votes of 23 of the 34 black members of the House of Representatives[4] plus Senator Carol Mosely-Braun[5].  I do find it prophetic, however, that key black leaders, Charles Rangel (NY), Maxine Waters (CA), Cleo Fields (LA), and John Lewis (GA) opposed the bill.

Hillary Clinton, as First Lady had no vote.

My goal here is not in any way at all to defend the results of this law, or to say that the “war on drugs” was/is a good or correct thing or to blame our black leaders. I am only trying to point out that we are all getting lost in historical amnesia.  I am tired of hearing the national discourse obsess over the political records of both Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders like it is the exact guidebook for how they will govern as President.  Barack Obama was not elected based on his political record.  He was elected based on his political potential and his plans, which he has lived up to in both good and disappointing ways. What I believe we should be trying to determine this election cycle is who will actually be able to make targeted and lasting changes in our system of government so that the legislators (who are the ones who actually make law based on their constituents) have the negotiating room and tools to make better laws and repeal the ones that hurt us all.  Our priority needs to be electing a president who will focus on getting Congress unstuck.  If we look only at history, Sanders has never represented black people in any significant number[6] and Clinton was First Lady to the administration that sealed the fate on today’s mass incarceration.  On the other hand, Sanders has never wavered from support for LGBTQ issues and Clinton has more national and international experience than any other politician in the history of our country.  But, the real question is who are they now and what are their actual plans to be the leader we need today and moving forward. Which one will convince Senate Republicans to stop acting like petulant 6 year olds and actually follow the law of the land?  Who has a plan to codify the changes that will end the racial profiling and mass incarceration of black and brown people and what does that plan look like?  Who will not tolerate another year without equal pay for equal work?

I have yet to hear a Republican candidate other than John Kasich, speak about race.  What is more, most of them have not said a word about women in politics that hasn’t been either demeaning or downright offensive including their terrifying remarks against a woman’s right to choose.  If the Democratic party loses this election, it will not be the fault of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  The responsibility will sit squarely on the shoulders of the voting public that got caught up fighting with themselves over who remembers history better.  Meanwhile, the folks on the other side of the aisle who could care less about women or people of color (unless it means votes) will waltz into the Oval Office. The Republican candidates represent a political system that is not yet prepared to see equity in government or in public life.  They are determined to normalize hate speech and xenophobia and they falsely claim God as their witness to do so[7].  The entire voting public, regardless of party, has a responsibility to elect a president who will actually govern the entire US population and not just the people who have, as former KKK leader David Duke said endorsing the Trump campaign “the same kind of mindset you have.”[8] Both Clinton and Sanders believe in governing all of the United States, now and in the future. So let’s press them on the details of their policies.  I have no interest in electing either 1990’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.  And really, were any of us all that great in the 1990’s…except for maybe Oprah or Whoopi Goldberg?

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Not Hillary (or Oprah or Whoopi)

*Eleanor Roosevelt had her own “super predator” moment when she originally supported President Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese.  But she pivoted from this stance.  Below is a link to the text of a speech she delivered as part of that evolution.  Many would consider her break, though mild, treasonous during a time of war. http://www.nps.gov/articles/erooseveltinternment.htm

 

[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/25/clinton-heckled-by-black-lives-matter-activist/

[2]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0uCrA7ePno

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violent_Crime_Control_and_Law_Enforcement_Act#Legacy

[4] http://clerk.house.gov/evs/1994/roll416.xml

[5] http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=103&session=2&vote=00295

[6] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/50000.html

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/its-embarrassing-to-be-an_b_9326650.html

[8] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/02/25/david-duke-trump/80953384/

A Song for Brown Bodies

I’m reposting this poem that appears in “Love Beyond God”.

I am sick with the onslaught of lynching and physical terror to which we have become accustomed and complacent.  The time to act is now.  Fuck respectability and not offending people’s sensibilities and playing the damned game.  This is not a game, it is life and death.  My life and my death.  

I try to hold the precious gift of this body called “black man” with graceful defiance, marching in the face of those who would dispose of it like so many used rags, walk by it with no recognition except fear or reduce it to cliches and childish curiosity of the totally unfamiliar other.  If you will not join me in this quest…then get the hell out of my way.

A Song of Brown Bodies

Each morning I wake
And see “me” as one of many

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

And my own skin and hair
Has the same shadows and light
As what I see online…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Lifeless and limp
Or trying but failing to flee
Battered and broken…never free

Could be me…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Scattered in streets
Grotesque golliwogs
Raggedy animated
By “white” imagination
Like puppets…playthings
For the progeny of hate.

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Used for a target, tune or fuck
Diversions of passion
Co-opted visions
The promise of “change”

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Living on the wrong side of “gentrified”
A fetish for the hipster “dark side”
Always “columbused” then ghettoized

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Sacrificed to places
Where water poisons
And viruses thrive…

Where language fails
And walls rise…

Where war rages
And rape cries…

Where profit outpaces peace
And hope dies.

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies.

Yet, the blessed curse
Of genetic fecundity
Means no onslaught of nature
Or man-made conflict
Or in-bred hatred
Can delete the DNA
That comes back for more,
Millennium and again.
It is the human penchant
For pandemic procreativity
That means there will always be

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies…

Do not believe what we are taught to be.
Each morning we all must arise
To see ourselves among the many

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Embracing these colors of earth
Breathing the sigh of the sky
Quaking with the power of mountains alive
And feeling the spray of oceans
As we awake to celebrate

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Where dance is blood
Where song is vision
Where touch is art
Where rhythm of heart
Pulses through words
And tumbles in rhyme,
Lovingly schooling the wicked
And scorning the vainly wise.

These are the real

       Brown bodies
       Brown bodies

Each one is precious
And holds the legacy
Of what it means to be wholly alive in

Brown bodies
Brown bodies