#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

Love Beyond God

I am thrilled to share with you all the publication of my first collection of poetry/meditations for the Unitarian Universalist Association and Skinner House Books.  There are many people to thank for making this happen, and I will try to capture a few of them here.  Thank you Mary Benard and the Skinner House board for actually taking the chance on this work and thank you Marshall Hawkins for pushing me through the editing process. Much gratitude to readers, colleagues and mentors Jim Mitulski, Marta Valentín, Janice Marie Johnson, Jo Green, Dalila Butler, Lee Whitaker, Shaun Travers, Clyde Grubbs, Roy Whittaker, Joellynn Monahan, Kenny Wiley, Charlie Sullivan, Chip Smith and Mark Morrison-Reed (and so many more!) for egging me on and really hearing me. Thank you to First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, the Pacific School of Religion and PolicyLink for continuing to support me through this project. And finally to friends Scott Nicolay, Talvin Wilks, John Hennessy, Ben Bobkoff, Benjamin Dunks, Nicola Rosewarne and Jamin Shoulet who all light creative fires under me that will never be extinguished.

And of course the biggest thank you to my entire multi-cultural, international and wildly over educated family. I love you all!

 

Excerpt from Love Beyond God

First Breath

That first breath must be delicious.

It must be more tantalizing,
more intoxicating than any drug,
fragrant like no flower will ever be
enticing like no body scent.
It must be all of this, and more
yet without words or memories, how do we know?

That first glorious rush of air
wants us to keep breathing
wants our hearts to keep beating
wants our eyes to open and see
wants our souls to open and say “yes.”

The first breath wants us to live all our life saying,
please God,
let me live
let me breathe
for just one day more

until we breathe our very last.

Order your copy from Skinner House Books Here:
Love Beyond God Thumb

UUA Bookstore Love Beyond God

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now available on Amazon for Kindle: LOVE BEYOND GOD (electronic)

Read more in the latest issue of UU World here:

UU WORLD Summer 2016UU World Summer 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Please post a review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29823791-love-beyond-god?ac=1&from_search=true

 

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

Respectability vs. Resistance

This week, when I read Barbara Reynolds column on her challenges with the Black Lives Matter Movement in the Washington Post (read here) I was deeply disappointed. Here was someone who is a respected leader and a member of the clergy, intelligent, articulate…someone who embodies all of the respectability of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s coming across like just another whiny baby boomer.  But I cannot and do not wish to get into a lengthy discourse on the pros and cons of her argument. I am not qualified. I am the cusp generation…Generation X…we were the product of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and are the parents of the Millennials driving #BlackLivesMatter. We cannot claim a place of leadership in either space, yet we are deeply impacted by both.

Today’s activists are working from a point of enfranchised disenfranchisement and that is a direct result of both the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and my generation actively reaping the rewards of that struggle. Arguably, an enormous benefit that my generation received from struggle of our parents and older siblings, was “respectability” which came from a few key sources. Schools were systematically and aggressively de-segregated, not just in the South but in places where the practice was more insidious like Boston and San Diego. Affirmative action was in high gear whether some of us received the direct benefit of it or not, and for the first time, college admissions teams were asking questions about “diversity” in their school populations; the Ivy League started admitting women and people of color in significant numbers. That education led to greater visibility and so we also witnessed the power roles in media go from entirely white and male to including the regular faces of Barbara Walters, Connie Chung, Bryant Gumble, Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey and Jayne Pauley. Mini-series like Miss Jane Pittman, Roots and television programs like The Jeffersons, Dynasty (and even Good Times) changed the visibility of black history and black life. Magazines like Black Enterprise, Essence and Ebony were staples of newsstands, not just in black neighborhoods like they had been in the 50’s and 60’s and we even saw the desegregation of white fashion…thank you Beverly Johnson. By the time 1985 rolled around, when the oldest of those folks who currently claim the moniker “young adult” were just being born, we were already used to the “Huxtables,” Will Smith both Michael and Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston was at the top of what was once considered the white “pop” charts, echoing the achievements of her aunt Dionne Warwick back in the 1960’s but on a scale unprecedented by any previous artist. Colin Powell was poised to become the first head of the military (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) paving the way for back to back black Secretaries of State in the 2000s. Basically, today’s young civil rights leaders have not known a time when blacks didn’t have what appears to be access to education, high ranking jobs and “respectability.”

But that is where the communication seems to break down. Barbara Reynolds and others can’t seem to get past this word, and this is a sentiment I’ve heard from several older folks who talk about hair and sagging pants and profanity. But honestly, these are exactly the things they fought for. The church-going-white-lace-socks-and-mary-janes respectability image worked extremely well to say in the 1950’s and 60’s that once and for all, blacks are not animals. The strength of the black church over the years not only sustained and supported community, but it said to white America “we have souls.” These two questions, not being animals and having souls, were actually arguments that were frequently levied against blacks in the post Civil War era and throughout the early 20th century. The US military was segregated through WWII not because of some kind of unspecific dislike of blacks or a feeling that blacks were incapable of warfare, but rather because of more specific over arching sense that blacks could not be trusted. There are shades of this evident when looking at the events that unfolded in Britain in 1942 (see article here) The greatest achievement that Barbara Reynolds points to is respectability, but I say the greatest achievement is the buy in to American culture that the respectability gained for blacks.

This is the disconnect. Today’s youth and young adults cannot find jobs (see some stats here ) If they attend college, they emerge carrying more debt into the start of their adult lives than many of their parents incurred buying their first homes…something many black young adults may never be able to do.  They have a broader language of music and media interaction than the old guard can even conceive of and because of technology, they are internationally aware without ever having set foot out of the US. They not only know about black history, but the history of African countries, Asian countries. Middle Eastern Islam, Buddhism and other non-Judeo Christian religion is not a mystery to them and yes, some of them are Atheists and “nones.” Many of them place greater importance on the right to their gender identities and sexuality than they do their concepts of God. In short, today’s youth have taken the “respectability” of an earlier generation and turned it into fully developed lives and cultures lived without fear of certain kinds of oppression. The work of the 1960’s worked on one level; we “overcame” the question of being people. Today’s black youth feel fully enfranchised in what it means to be completely human in the United States. This is what the Herstory of the Black Lives Matter Movement says. It is unapologetic and expansive in its inclusivity.

So why are blacks being killed at random by overly zealous police?

Oh right…because even though we figured out the whole “respectability” thing, even though we got the education, the job, the visibility; even though black culture has become “main stream” through Hip-Hop, Rap and slam poetry; even though in some respects “we have overcome”… even though we are human and have souls, white centered US culture says…black lives don’t matter. With all the respectability in the world, black is not white and white is the context for US culture. THIS is what I believe the Black Lives Matter movement is resisting. It is a movement of resistance against contexts that are constructed for white success and safety only; a movement of resistance against cis-gendered, heteronormativity as the starting point. It is an invitation to everyone to benefit from fixing one of the most polarized cultural relationships in our nation’s history and create a new baseline. It is a movement of resistance from within the system that the Civil Rights folks of the 60’s fought to open the door to. Well guess what Rev. Reynolds, we got in. The ranch house in the suburbs belongs to us. And my generation tried living with that old flocked wallpaper and the shag carpet but the young folks who we’ve passed it on to, have decided to renovate…actually, to tear the damned thing down altogether and build something new. You fought for them to have the right to do this and unless you don’t believe in what you were fighting for, if instead you were fighting for them to remain as “respectable” non-threatening, non-violent negroes, it might be best to stay out of the spotlight…close enough to be supportive when asked…but let them drive the wrecking ball.

Finally, I would like to remind our elders of a highly ironic part of this whole “Old Civil Rights/New Civil Rights” conversation, as someone who is neither old enough to claim a place in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s and who is too old to claim a place of leadership in #BlackLivesMatter. On April 4, 1968 a gunshot rang out that many people believe brought to a close the great hope of the 1960’s movement. But it is very clear to me that the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. was not the end. Instead, it was a beginning. His assassination was proof that black respectability, even as clergy, could be trumped by the context of angry whiteness. In that context, his life didn’t matter. Before Trayvon Martin, MLK was the first death in today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

Where Is Your Faith?

Unitarian Universalists have struggled in the past year to embrace the “Black Lives Matter” movement. In June, we passed our action of immediate witness to embrace the movement officially, but not after a contentious, overly “processed” and public debate at our General Assembly (UUA AIW). Our congregations have been struggling with the questions of whether or not to put up public banners on our churches resulting in strained relationships between congregants and sometimes clergy. We have had ministers preaching non-stop from the pulpit about race and racially motivated violence and some of us have seen numbers drop off as a result of fatigue. Now, we are seeing hate speech appear on our Facebook pages and banners are being cut down or vandalized (See this beautiful statement from UU Fellowship of San Luis Obispo: READ HERE.)

“Why can’t we just stay a nice club?”

This is a sentiment that I’ve heard in our churches repeated over the years all over the country. It is echoing louder than ever in my head these days, and it has me scared…

Scared that as a predominantly white community, Unitarian Universalists don’t have the stamina or the self education to do this thing we call “anti-racism/multi-culturalism”…that I call “being a person of color in America every day.”

Scared that we will retreat from the “fad” of “Black Lives Matter” in the reality of today, and only resurface 25 years from now to commemorate “Michael Brown Day” and converge on Ferguson, Missouri where we will cry and sing spirituals and march praising our UU presence while forgetting the thousands of people outside of our denomination who have died seeking justice for blacks in this country.

Scared that we will climb on the bandwagon to start electing old white men to the Presidency again because they talk a good game, entirely missing the point that it is more important to continue changing the face of the US presidency (and more importantly change the gender) than any political platform at this moment in history.

Scared that Unitarian Universalists and other folks of “liberal religion” are actually more concerned with protecting their white enfranchisement (regardless of their racial identity) than having a nation that is balanced in opportunity, safety, security and government.

I’m scared most of all that Unitarian Universalism isn’t strong enough as a faith.

So I ask that you don’t applaud, critique, or “white-splain” my honesty here… I don’t need the flattery of your attention. I need you to prove that my fears are wrong. Dig deep. Find the wellspring in your core that sustains you as a change agent. Where is your faith? We are on a long journey; we’ve only just begun marching up the hill…we aren’t even close to the crest. Where is your faith? We are entering a new reality where people of color are going to tell white people that they have no say; where whites are going to feel helpless and ineffectual; where people of color, trans* people and people of different abilities are going to disrupt, dismantle and disrespect the “order” that has been put in place to disrespect and disempower them.  They/we know exactly where our faith is.  Where is your faith?

Certainly, none of us knows where this will end. But we are sure as hell clear that it is headed away from single culture dominance, single gender influence and single ability perceptions.  That is the only way we will ever have real multi-culturalism and anti-oppression…

So, go put the banner back up. Let the trans*woman of color speak. Learn ASL. Trust someone else’s leadership…repeat.

And ask yourself, where is your faith?

Black Is Beautiful

image

Black is Beautiful

It is 1972. I am 7 years old. My mother who normally wears her hair in a large easy to care for afro has just gotten back from the beauty parlour where she has had her hair whipped up into an impressive multi-tiered array of cornrows (a la Cicely Tyson.) It sits atop her head like a crown and will be the glory of the ensemble that she will wear to emcee a gala fashion show being held in the nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. She is dressed to the nines. Her black and gold embroidered gown echoes tudor fashion and quite simply, the entire ensemble makes her look like a queen. It is moments like those that taught me what it meant to say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

imageWhy do I return to that moment now? Because, every day, there is a new video, a new story, a new revelation about how black people are being beaten and victimized by police and society in general. There is another mass shooting by a male white supremacist who can’t stomach anything female or browner than him having any sense of public pride. My Facebook feed is full of cries for help and justice. There are arguments about why “all lives matter” and the importance of animal rights and Iran and nuclear proliferation…and in the midst of it all, I fear sometimes we have lost the point.

My brothers and sisters, we have forgotten the simple fact that:

BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

I recall that those three words caused just as much storm back in the day as #BlackLivesMatter does today. White people were not only offended, but downright scared, because just a few years earlier, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers made it clear that they meant business. They were literally prepared to die for Black Power and the idea of BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was deeply linked to that passion.

image

1968 Olympics (AP Photo)

But of course there were those who would soft pedal this message. Way back when he was relevant, Bill Cosby, chimed in with a quote that the “all lives…” folks would like:

“It isn’t a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is white is not all that’s beautiful.”

…yeah, Bill, that seems about right coming from you now.

People, I want to take this moment to unabashedly and most selfishly say that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. I say it not to take away the beauty of any other people…with a family that looks like the United Nations, that includes black, white, Asian, Latino and all variations in between, I couldn’t do that. I say it because, I need to be able to look in the mirror today as a 50 year old living through a media hell that feels like a constant throwback to 1964 Alabama and say BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Just as I did as a 7 year old in a world where I was frequently surrounded by and asked to live up to whiteness. If you are black, you need this old 1970’s language more than ever to simply get through reading the papers. Say it aloud: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. If you are not black, you might want to take a moment to chime in and support those of us who are seeing nothing but images of ourselves dying and being tortured and an ongoing parade of oppression…try it: BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Consider this, because my education has been here in the United States, where we only learn about the dominant culture history (white and male), I’ve had to promote and support and glorify and praise whiteness my entire life.  My college degree is based entirely on how much I know about white history, people and ways of being.  I celebrate national holidays praising white men and barter with paper covered with their image.  I cross bridges, pass monuments and all but the odd MLK or Cesar Chavez boulevard, is named for white people. I’ve been taught more than enough about “white is beautiful.” Having a moment where we all declare that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL is not too much to ask.

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Black Panther Party 1965-1970 (Ilka Hartmann 1970)

No, we should not turn away from the difficult work at hand, police and prison reform, elimination of public firearms, more comprehensive education, etc. And we need to find ways to get past the black white narrative of oppression in the United States.  But in this moment, for me, I have to pace myself through this epic march. I need a cool refreshing, replenishing drink of self love…

#BlackLivesMatter…yes, but let us not forget for one moment that before that, BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.

Hey Dylann,

imageHey Dylann,

Its been a while. Its been a while since we last saw you out in full view. 1968 to be exact. You’ve been kind of hiding in corners and shadows since then…yeah, its been a while.

I wanted to let you know that since you were last here, there’ve been some changes. You see, the last time you stood in full view you really pissed us off and, well, things might play out a little differently than you may be expecting. There are a lot of people who look just like you who are downright sick over being associated with you. They look like the people you go to church with, the people in your family…the people you trust. But they aren’t you. They’ve woken up to the fact that there is no basis for hating because of the color of someone’s skin and at every turn they are determined to change what happens next. Sure, they struggle with hearing about everything you did in the past, genocide, slavery, rape…because like you, that is the history they are associated with. Unlike you, that history causes them agony; unlike you the only way forward they see is to write a new narrative. They are willing to look at all the ugly you represent and say loud and clear, “I am not that! I will not be that!” More importantly, they are willing to act on what they believe and frankly, they want to see you dead.

Another thing that has changed? All those folks who don’t look like you have now put themselves in positions of power so that when you’re looking up at a jury or a judge, there’s a good chance you will be looking in the eyes of someone who looks like the 9 innocent people you killed this week…or the people you set dogs and hoses on in 1965 or the men you lynched and castrated before that or the immigrants you abused to death at the turn of the century or the Native People you burned and raped when you arrived on their land. In fact, the highest attorney in our country is now someone who, 165 years ago, you might have taken to the woods and used. What a shame that you didn’t realize that every time she gave birth to one of your bastard children and every time you excluded those children from your family/club because of a silly “one drop” mentality, they went off and became part of an army of people who now hold your very existence in their hands.

Yes, Dylann, its been a long time since we’ve seen you in plain view. We knew you were there, just as you had been there for all those years before. But you know what, this time, we’re ready for you…we’re all ready for you and that, my friend, means there’s no escape.

– The People

Update: the following is a link to a Huff Post article that claims to have a “manifesto” from Dylann Roof : READ HERE