Pretty Eyes

Paul Ryan

 

Such pretty eyes
big, limpid pools that seem both vulnerable
and searching
I could actually stare at them forever.
Well….

Yes, pretty eyes…
and I wonder what the world looks like
looking out of those big baby blues?
looking past the black and brown people
who are all looking at him for a clue
as to how they will eat
protect their families
or just feel safe…
like one might while falling in love with
those pretty, pretty eyes.

Pretty eyes,
that see the world
as a battle between good and evil
…good that doesn’t see me
and would sell me down the river
rather than look in my eyes.

Oh, those eyes
look past me
they look past so many
they look past anyone they don’t want to see
they only cast their sky pale glow
toward places already so well lit.

Don’t be fooled by pretty eyes,
those glistening mirrors
are fringed with darkness
that sprouts from a heart of coal
…such pretty, pretty eyes.
Intoxicating.
Exhilarating.
Reflecting the real darkness of a soul.

Today, House Speaker, Paul Ryan released his party’s agenda for creating a better plan to fight poverty in the United States.  No mention of the systemic barriers of race, gender, country of origin (and certainly not anything about LGBTQ people.)  Check out the snapshot here: A Better Way: Snapshot (full text: HERE)

And now have a look at some real solutions and strategies: PolicyLink: Equitable Economy

Click here to read more about my new collection of poetry “Love Beyond God”

Spring Will Not Be Silent in North Carolina

HKonJ-FB-Profile-pic“While [Rachel] Carson knew that one book could not alter the dynamic of the capitalist system, an environmental movement grew from her challenge, led by a public that demanded that science and government be held accountable.  Carson remains an example of what one committed individual can do to change the direction of society.  She was a revolutionary spokesperson for the rights of all life.  She dared to speak out and confront the issue of the destruction of nature and to frame it as a debate over the quality of all life.”  – Linda Lear, Introduction to the 40th Anniversary edition of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

On February 8, 2014, activists, clergy and concerned citizens will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina for the Moral March on Raleigh also known as HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street). This march is threatening to be “bigger than Selma” and is part of the wave of reaction to a Republican minority driving the North Carolina government toward exclusionary policies that hinder opportunity for all the poor and primarily the largely Democratic people of color of North Carolina.  These shocking policies,  most specifically around voting rights,  harken back, not just to the days of Jim Crow, but to the Slave Codes of the late 19th century.  Although not related to environmental justice on the surface, the call to action is the same:  we must fight back against short sighted public policies that serve to enrich an already wealthy minority while killing the larger population…and the time to fight back is now!

Silent Spring caused a firestorm of controversy around the use of pesticides when it was released in 1962.  Penned by celebrated author and pioneering biologist, Rachel Carson, the book called into question the entire biochemical industrial complex.  She made the powerful case for the toxic effects of biochemicals on all creatures, most of all on human beings, linking certain types of cancers directly to the production and use of chemical pesticides.  This was despite popular scientific theory of the time that claimed humans had “tolerances” and “adaptabilities” that surpassed these toxicities.  Her conjecture flew in the face of the greedy, ego driven, arrogant and entirely male dominated world of pesticide and chemical development.  Initially she was dismissed as a “hysterical woman” with no real scientific foundation for her claims.  But ultimately, when President John F. Kennedy took notice of her writing, things began to change.  Eventually, through public pressure, the government was compelled to investigate her theories finding them to be an understatement of the gravity of the actual situation.  Her work would lead to the creation of the EPA and domestic bans on DDT and other advances in the control, limitation and elimination of certain toxic biochemicals.  Her battle was not just for the masses, but rather personal.  Unknown to many at the time, while she worked on Silent Spring, she was battling breast cancer.  She would die in 1964 before seeing the full fruits of her labor.

Today, we still wrestle with big business and government interest around the environment, our food supply and ecosystems.  The battle for ecological justice is far from won, rather, it continues in earnest as the greed of a few continue to push Genetically Modified Organisms into our bodies and minds, with claims that they will be “better for us” in the long run.  The struggle will continue as long as the powerful, wealthy few live in fear of losing their power and wealth. Sadly, it is the same with the state of civil rights in North Carolina and other localities that are feeling the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling on key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights act last year.  But what is most shocking is the hubris of conservative politicians to assume that they are immune to the toxic political environment they have created. At the very least it is irresponsible, at its worst self destructive.  Reflecting back on Carson’s perspective on the environment, Lear goes on to state that Silent Spring:

…proved that our bodies are not boundaries.  Chemical corruption of the globe affects us from conception to death.  Like the rest of nature, we are vulnerable to pesticides; we too are permeable.  All forms of life are more alike than different. 

Similarly, the restrictive public policies that the Moral March is highlighting ultimately bring down not just people of color and the poor in general, but all North Carolinians and ultimately all people of this nation.  Like the rest of nature…we too are permeable to the pesticides of class and race politics.  We are all susceptible to the poison of public policies that benefit only the very few.  The benefits for those few will only last a short time; the illness and cultural cancers for the many will and have lasted for generations.  Ultimately, greed multiplied by fear is the most toxic poison to the cultural soul.

But there is hope.  We  have seen the images from the struggle for voting rights in the 1960’s: black people…children going to prison, adults being attacked by dogs, or assaulted with hoses and brutalized by police.  But there was also Unitarian Universalist minister and pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., James Reeb, a white man, who was beaten to death in Selma, Alabama for showing his solidarity with blacks in 1965.  His martyrdom and the actions of all the Civil Rights activists, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and non-religious combine to inspire a new generation of leaders and community organizers who believe that equality is not just for people who look like one group of people or speak the same language or come from the same economic class.  They believe, and the science of Rachel Carson and the science of nature itself, back this up: real social equity is something in which we all must make a deep investment.  It is the only antidote to the poison that permeates the current political climate in North Carolina and it is the only real cure to stop it’s insidious spread to the rest of our nation and maybe even the world.

This spring in North Carolina will not be silent.  March on, march on!

Update: The Moral March drew thousands on a cold rainy Saturday.  Despite conservative media challenges, the movement is poised for much greater national action (READ HERE)

Links:

Historic Thousands on Jones

Standing on the Side of Love

America’s Tomorrow – via PolicyLink

Equity Blog – via PolicyLink

Twitter: #MoralMarch

Black Male Achievement…Coming Out

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes – Author

The work around black men in America is very much in the news these days.  The Obama administration has made a bold statement of acknowledging the unique challenges faced by this population and making a commitment to promoting advancement and achievement among black men.  My home state of California has led the way with groundbreaking legislation including a unique House Resolution (HR 23), committing to changing the outcomes for black men and boys as well as all men of color.  PolicyLink, where I currently work on the program team, has been intimately involved in black male achievement work and will launch a new website and blog devoted to these efforts later this month.

The Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has declared the month of October to be Black Male Achievement Month (#bmaoct.)  At the same time, October is also recognized nationwide as LGBT History Month and includes National “Coming Out” Day on October 11.  Far from being at odds, this coincidence is a terrific reminder that while we seek to promote and support efforts to create better outcomes for black men and boys in general, we cannot forget to have the conversations within the black community about gender justice, sexuality, orientation and what it really means to be male identified and black in our world today.

LGBT communities celebrated earlier this year with great gains in terms of marriage equality; but the excitement was tempered for black LGBT people with the decision coming down in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act.  This juxtaposition of political concerns exemplifies how black LGBT people often sit at a difficult crossroads of race and social orientation in America.  Similarly, it is well established that black men find themselves in the most vulnerable positions in American society at large and the same holds true for black GBTQ men.  But the broader injustices of racial profiling, barriers to employment and advancement, health concerns and being targeted for violence, are only made more bitter when black GBTQ men are demonized within black communities and are  seen as a “weak link” in the strength of the black family or somehow buying into a white centered and therefore counterproductive view of black male identity.

If it were indeed true that black GBTQ men were a weak link or counterproductive, we would not have the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the writing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, or contemporary media voices like CNN’s Don Lemon, ESPN’s LZ Granderson or author Keith Boykin.  And of course, we would never have had the grand vision and epic social organizing skill of Bayard Rustin to bring together the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Through black male achievement work, we have an opportunity to really grow.  Leveraging the insight and creativity of organizations like Brown Boi Project and by exploring deeper connections with broader gender justice movements including women and transgender people, black men can not only lift up what makes them uniquely valuable to our society, but also explore the depths and breadth of the masculine of center orientation.  An affiliation with these other efforts will not “de-masculinize” or “ghetto-ize” the crucial work around black men.  Rather, these movements should serve as examples to declare a fully developed and enlightened masculinity for black men that does not oppress others to achieve its place in society.  This is a male identity that takes responsibility for ending rape; it is a manhood that does not deny or shame same gender love; it is a masculinity that embraces its own femininity. It is father, protector and provider as well as being fathered, protected and provided for.  It is, in short, what it means to “come out” as a whole, healthy and complete black male.

-AD

Point of View

20130720_071432My word for the day is ‘perspective.’

Yesterday, President Obama did something unprecedented.  He completely personalized an issue that he didn’t have to.  Until yesterday, He was treading the road of Washington D.C. professional, political navigator…insider.  But yesterday he made a surprise statement about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.  For at least a portion of those 18 minutes, he was no longer the President of the United States, but the president of black men in America.  A risky stance when it’s open season on black men.  But this was an important step and a step that only he could take.  Black men have never had a president say “I am unapologetically one of you.”  Conservative pundits are critical of him for identifying, for reminding us that 35 years ago it could have been him who was shot by a local vigilante; for reminding us that he has had people lock car doors when he walks by, women clutch their purses when they see him…just as I and millions of black men have had happen to them as well.  But where were the criticisms when George W. Bush put in place tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (largely white men) or when he made any number of statements about ‘conservative’ values (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) that only spoke to a specific demographic of white Christians again, largely men?  Yesterday, black men in America finally had their moment.  Deal with it.

Yesterday, there was also a wonderful program on KQED, Forum with Dave Iverson, Assessing Racial Equality and Justice in 2013 America.  His guests, Angela Glover Blackwell (PolicyLink), Eva Paterson (Equal Justice Society), and Peniel Joseph (Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Tufts University) brought about a rich conversation that highlighted both the passion and the data behind how we actually see race today in America.  The conversation between the panelists was extremely well balanced and full of great moments, including one where Angela Glover Blackwell said in response to a listener who said they were tired of the conversation about race, “I’m tired of having to come back to the same issues again, and again…but until I see progress, I’m not going to stop.”  You can listen to the conversation and view the comments here.

I’m using the word perspective today and pointing out these news items because I think it is crucial in this conversation, and as we start conversations about race that we maintain perspective.  That we realize that our personal perspective is always skewed in the direction of our personal experience.  If you have never been called a nigger in the street, you can’t understand what that feels like or what that does to your personal sense of safety.  That is the only word in the American English language that carries with it an immediate association with specifically white oppression, violence and privilege.  It is a word that no matter how much one may thing that blacks have ‘reclaimed’ it, will never be able to be anything other than a word of pure “otherization.”  It creates a barrier with its history.  In my comments on the KQED program, I reminded people who were complaining about the focus on “black/white” in the current conversation about race that our American perceptions of race are based almost entirely on the historical relationship between black and white.  You cannot have a conversation about oppression and bigotry against Asians or Latinos or Native Americans in America without talking about blacks.  Just look at the fact that the three groups I just referenced are identified by location or language; yet blacks are identified primarily by a color.  It is the total anonymizing and obliteration of a history and the complete packaging in the context of oppression that s contained in the word nigger and that is why this conversation must continue.  One can claim, Scoth-Irish ancestry, French, Chinese, Spanish, Mayan ancestry, but blacks in America can claim only a vast continent…Africa.  We can’t point to tribes or recognized ethnic groups within the African diaspora, it was erased when our humanity was erased.  When we simply became bodies that were part of the machine of America.

Although I believe that sexuality and gender oppression is the worst global issue, I believe that the lack of understanding between black and white is America’s worst issue by far.  But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other person who has lived with the fear and cultural restriction that goes with our history.  My perspective would, I’m sure be very different if I woke up every morning and never had to think about justifying my education or worrying about publicly expressing my solidarity with other black men for fear of being seen as a threat.  But I will never know that for sure.  All I can do is have compassion for your perspective and ask you to have compassion for mine.

Add your photos to my ‘un-mugged’ project on facebook or tumblr #adamdyersays