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?

150805-eleanor-roosevelt-jsw-109p_94af2607b8c2d02f356e6ae6dd1152a1.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

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

An Age of Enlightenment

image

Paris in Morning

Sleep now.
The city of lights has gone out.
The shining beacon
The guide through the night
Of our fantasies, gone.
The Tour looms
A sleeping dark giant
The only sound, the wind in its frame.
The Arc is heavy
And silent and grave
A tomb for the gaiety
Lost in one day.
The metro is still,
The Opéra is dim,
And Our Lady sleeps
And weeps in the stillness
As she wades through the Seine.

And so you too are gone,
My light, my love
My shining beacon
Who guided me through this night called life.
My city of lights has gone out
Forever.
Yet, once again it is dawn
And the morning has begun.

(For the people who lost loved ones in the recent Paris attack.)

Seeing the images from Paris makes me weep.  I’m brought back to that day when I was standing on a London street watching the twin towers collapse.  Or the summer in DC when I heard of the London bombings…or Madrid…or the Boston Marathon.  I find myself, as a spiritual leader and writer asking so many questions.  What are we fighting? Do we even know?  Why?

I am also a student of the Enlightenment.  As such, I have learned that during the 16th – 18th centuries, “identity” became fixed in the Western world as something that could not only be personally defended, but as something that could be collectively defended and celebrated as a “nation.” In an age where we saw the birth of “race,” “nationalism” and “political parties” these social constructs took on the functions that had previously been ascribed only to religion and family. This development of national “identities” created the foundation for the current state of war in which we exist.

The horror and grief over the Paris attacks is extremely accessible to us in the US.  Not only as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but as a Western nation who’s identity is in large part directly a result of the French identity, we feel this pain immediately. But ISIS is not playing the same game of “identities.” Theirs is not, as some would have us believe, a simple question of wanting to supplant the French or even Western identity. Theirs is a question of a total world view and I believe is rooted in the broader question of how they see existence. Most unfortunately, this idea about existence and the nature of human life on earth for them is rooted in their gross mis-interpretation of Islam.  We must be clear, the people behind this violence are not evil because of Islam. Rather, they are using Islam for evil purposes. To grasp this concept, you might consider turning the situation around and thinking of an organization or ideology like the Westboro Baptist Church or even the KKK.  Both are legal organizations in the United States, and both organizations would happily exterminate those who do not believe as they do (in the supremacy of white heteronormative Christianity.) A homegrown terrorist like Dylann Roof should be a reminder to us that there is little difference between ISIS and the Aryan Nation.

But, religion, specifically Islam, is not the problem here. The problem is fundamentalism that we have in part learned from religion.  Yet,  fundamentalism does not need a religion to hang itself from…although it has clearly been done in the past and will surley be done in the future. In our increasingly secular world, religion has frequently been supplanted by everything from capitalism to liberalism to atheism and even vegetarianism. The term “fundamentalism” must be viewed through a broader modern lens and as a result our current state of crisis must be as well. We are choosing the language and the tactics of “war” to counter a “nation” that is not fighting a “war” with us as much as it is reinforcing its view of existence. This is in no way an apology for ISIS/ISIL.  On the contrary, it is a call to action for us to be truly smart in how we prevent any further senseless loss of life.

The call to action will begin with the right conversation and the right questions.  Why are Western targets being attacked; why is this extremism attractive to young people, abroad and at home; why do the leaders feel like this kind of violence is productive to their ends; who are the targets…really? Part of the right conversation forces us to examine where we stand in terms of our own Western “fundamentalism” and what role we play in this conflict. No one is entirely free from accountability. We don’t want to see innocent people blown up and gunned down, but we tolerate regular mass shootings because gun companies want to make money.  We want to shelter refugees from “radical Islam” but we squabble over how to provide refugees from our own border the same protection.  We talk about police brutality and race and give little or no protection transgender people who are targeted simply for being alive.  We are horrified by the violence of people blowing up ancient shrines, yet we carved of Mt Rushmore into a sacred Native site and continue to desecrate native land for oil. We criticize somem cultures for oppressing women in the style of dress but we live in a nation that lets men legislate women’s bodies.  We cry “All Lives Matter” in a nation where blacks are 12 times as likely to be murdered than whites.

ISIS is completely and utterly wrong in what they have done. There is no excuse for the attacks in Paris or the other sickening global violence inspired and perpetuated by both ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram. They are not Islam.

But in our response as “Western nations” we must remember that the only true victims are the dead and those they loved.

Does God Still Work?

I have not read the full report…only seen the headlines. Frankly, I suppose at this rate it is fitting that I would choose to come back from a self imposed month long social media blackout today, and more relevant that I would come back with the question that came to me in the wee hours of this morning before whoever decided to start shooting on yet another college campus…

Does God still work?

I don’t pose this question to be provocative, or to call into question anyone’s personally held beliefs. Nor do I pose the question as a rallying cry to Atheists or Theists to offer the “right” answer. You see, I am studying for my Masters of Divinity degree and today, I have my Intro to Theology class and tomorrow, I have my Intro to Old Testament. Ironically, in both classes, we are at a point where we are discussing/questioning the many names for “God/god.”  I will hear plenty about God in the next 48 hours.

So, I will spare you technical analysis, exegesis or deep theological reflection or sources and footnotes. For the record, I can handily jab a parry with some pretty hefty brained people at this point and there is a place for that. This isn’t it. My question comes from the gut wrenching feeling that we have to question whether we (the human race) have actually got it all wrong at this point. I am overwhelmed by a feeling of sitting in a school that is not unlike the many places where it suddenly feels very unsafe to be. I am surrounded by people who are invested in the greater good and understanding of human life as a spiritual journey, yet I have the overwhelming feeling that it is simply a bunch of crap. Hundreds of thousands of hours, millions of dollars, lifetimes, spent trying to explain, justify, affirm, deny life in relationship to one word: God.

…and a shooter can walk around a school and kill innocent students. A tsunami can kill hundreds of thousands of people. Governments attempt to exterminate people who disagree. World leaders are assassinated. Cancer still spreads. Death comes to the young…

And it has always been this way.

…and a child is born, the sun still rises, illness is overcome, prophetic words inspire, art is created from nothingness, people are fed…people are freed. There is love.

And it has always been this way as well.

We no longer live in a time of intimate communication. When I went to get a coffee this morning, I watched an entire line of people with their heads dangling into electronic devices, bumping into each other, unresponsive to the barista’s cheerful “good morning!” unengaged with each other. Many would make the excuse that in a coffee shop in the morning, people are still not awake. Frankly, that’s bullshit. This zombie parade is a product of the smart phone…which has made dumb people…and the commercially driven technical age. Even sleepy people can say good morning to one another…if they aren’t texting, tweeting and obsessing about things that aren’t actually present. Eye contact is dead. The simple return of the question “…and how are you?” is met with surprise, because it has fallen out of vogue. There is too much emphasis put on what’s next?, what am I missing?, aspiration and acquisition combined with self reliance and independent spirit. An entire culture of Generals…and no one willing to actually be a soldier…no, no one willing to be daisies in the gun barrel, or better yet, a daisy among the field. Everyone is starring in their own personal reality show. In an age when we are surrounded by bright shiny things, science as the rule and capitalism as the goal, is seems in so many ways that God has been totally left behind.

Yet, we are still alive, we are still human, we still question our existence, we still search for meaning in the way time and experience unfold, we still yearn for hope and comfort…and contact.

And it has always been this way as well.

Leaving the coffee shop, I saw a friend who spends a lot of time in the street. As such, he is often outside of places where I simply breeze in and out. He asked me how I was and I replied that I was fine. I returned the question and he answered that he had a bit of a cold and a stuffy nose as a result. He asked if I could get him some tissue from inside the coffee shop. I did so without hesitation. Simple for me, not so simple for him, but if my head had been buried in text messages, or my ears plugged with my music…I would never have heard his soft voice with the simplest fillable of human needs.

…we are still alive, we are still human…we still yearn for hope and comfort and contact.

I don’t know if God still works. But I do know that everything that compelled us to speak the name of God, or not speak the name…whatever it is that caused us to deny that there is a God or to see god in our human experience of nature…whatever brings us to church or the mosque or temple…what keeps us at home watching football instead….what makes us genuflect, wear religious garments, respect symbols of faith…and even what makes us believe that the only thing is here and now…all of that does still work.

And it always will.