A Few Words For You, Inspired By Your Survival

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A Few Words for You, Inspired by Your Survival
(many thanks to GH)

You are resilient. You are hardy.
Even your sensitivity is in service of your durability.

This will continue.
Remember.

You need not fear any of your emotions.
You have felt them all before.

This will continue.
Remember.

Even though your strength sometimes surprises you,
it is always there behind the scenes, supporting you.

This will continue.
Remember.

You have survived everything that life has fed you,
however horrific, and metabolized it for your growth.

This will continue.
Remember.

You are resilient. You are hardy.
Even your sensitivity is in service of your durability.

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I Advocate for Hope, Because Hopelessness Does the Oppressors’ Work For Them

A few days ago, I came back from a meditation retreat for People of Color. Today, with all that has happened, I am feeling so much gratitude for the socially engaged Buddhist community at the East Bay Meditation Center and for my meditation practices and the ways that these practices help deepen some sense of groundedness and some sense of spaciousness where these horrific things can happen and can land in a more balanced place in me, somehow.

Today, I have witnessed horrible things that I cannot now unsee. The killing of Alton Sterling. The aftermath of the killing of Philando Castile. And, while there is more equanimity present for it all to land in, I have also been feeling sorrow, I’ve been feeling grief, and I’ve been feeling the physical impact of what I have been exposed to. I have felt the clamping down of my body, the hollow in my chest, the tightening in my belly, the stiffening of my jaw and the tug in the direction of despair and the tug in the direction of hopelessness.

But, there’s some way that it feels more possible, having spent four days meditating really solidly, to turn my intention towards hope and towards faith and towards optimism in this horrific situation when the circumstances are not inspiring hope or faith or optimism. It feels really important to practice the discipline of hope and to find the ways to cultivate and nurture it, even if that is not what the circumstances are inspiring, because the cost of hopelessness on one’s personal being and on our community and our energy and on our effort and on our dedication to the work of making change is too great.

I believe that hopelessness is internalized oppression. It does the oppressors’ work for them. It exhausts, it demoralizes, it overwhelms, it paralyzes. It dissipates energy. It leads to despair. It also leads to depression, to stress-related illnesses, to addictive behaviors, and to suicidal ideation. Hopelessness is one of the precursors to suicide. Not everyone who feels hopeless will commit suicide; but everyone who commits suicide has lost hope. And if I know anything for sure, I know that if White Supremacy or Homophobia or Misogyny wants me dead, somebody’s going to have to do the work of killing me themselves. I am not going to do the oppressors’ work for them.

I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home.

–Jericho Brown, from “Bullet Points

Hopelessness also halts resistance. The powers that be would like for us to believe that there is no hope. That our actions do not matter. That change is impossible. When we believe that change is impossible, it is hard to throw our energy into the monumental work required to change systems of oppression, to educate, to donate, to demonstrate, to activate, to organize, to agitate, to protest, to heal, to inspire, to vision, to nourish, to care, to create, to shape sustainable systems, to change hearts and minds and laws and culture and values. When we are hopeless, it is hard to put one foot in front of another, let alone to launch a revolution.

I do not advocate for hope because I believe that our current situations inspire hope. I advocate for hope because our current situations require hope.

If we give in to hopelessness, we stop fighting and we damage ourselves, instead, and everyone with a secret wish for our annihilation gets their way.

If we give in to hopelessness, we will not do what hope would do to transform the world we live in.

Even if it will take hundreds or thousands of years, Hope says, “Keep going. Don’t stop. We’ll get there, in the end. No matter what it looks like right now, we’ll get there. Keep going. Don’t stop. What you’re doing to help is useful and important. Your small part in this colossal movement matters. Keep going. Don’t stop. Connect with some other people, because change requires us to work together. Keep going. Don’t stop. Do a little more, if you healthily can. Take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world, take care of yourself, take care of the world. Don’t stop. Keep going. You’re doing great. Thank you. I love you. Keep going.”

Thank you. I love you. Keep going.

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A Taxonomy of Grief, In the Wake of the Orlando Queer Massacre

A Taxonomy of Grief, In the Wake of the Orlando Queer Massacre

I have thrown all of my shortcomings at it,
this hole that won’t go away.

I have thrown cocktails into it and candy and tastykakes.
I have blasted it with computer games and obsessive internet scrolling.
I have gone shopping and bought things that nobody needs.
I have hired N.K. Jemisin to distract me with stories
of some other planet, worse than or better than our own.
I have considered the young, open-faced human,
warm and insubstantial, who talked with me on and off
for something like an hour in between serving me delicious food,
eyes suggesting openness to contact comforts that I crave,
who looked at me like a new adventure or maybe like a lifeboat.
Cards were exchanged, but I am nobody’s life raft, today,
tumbling, as I am, over the cliff of my own dangerous despair.

I know my addictions. None of them surprise me.
They slip in, unknocking, like old friends who have my key on their chain.
Familiar, they whisper niceties that I know are fictional,
but that I try to take comfort in, anyway.
They tell me to look away, look away, look away
while they bind and gag my heart
to hold the pain at bay.

In my better moments, when I have looked that black hole hard in the eye,
and seen the grief and fear and rage that it is made of,
the grief and fear and rage that threaten
to eat my flesh and obliterate my bones,
I’ve cracked open wide and in those moments
when I could not contain my insides,
I have teetered on the verge of crazy,
losing my grip on the ground that holds me
and sometimes fails to hold me
down.

I have flooded that dreadful emptiness with a monsoon made of my own salt and water.
I have offered it every emotion I know how to make – in full technicolor.
I have made many, many, many words, ill-considered,
ill-advised, and unconcerned about appearing wise.
I have trampled toes and elbowed eyes in my flailing about,
I have picked fights with friends and lovers and strangers on the street
and my own, tender, sweet vulnerable self, panicked and unskillful,
shredding my flesh in trying to claw the hollow out of my heart.

I have done every single thing I do when grief is too great to bear.
I have doubted and condemned myself, compared myself to other people –
Would they be emoting and leaving their DNA all over every accessible surface –
hardwood floor, bed, public bathroom tile,
asphalt, armchair, carpet, kitchen counter,
restaurant table, bookshelf, fridge door,
dirt, grass, dressing room,
laptop, paperback, brick,
airplane window, human shoulder,
tree trunk, sandwich, smartphone,
stucco, steering wheel?

The rain I make is great and terrible.

I am Alice drowning in the flood of my own tears,
swimming against the current, fighting,
rejecting reality, foundering,
submerged, shipwrecked, bedraggled, choked,
exhausted, in shock and suffering
from exposure. Half-dead, at last
I surrender to the current
of life, the flow of where it’s going, like it or not,
and I wash up on some kind of unknown and empty shore.

I taste the emptiness and know it as space:
Open, awesome, infinite, and possible.

Having exhausted every maladaptive coping strategy at my disposal,
I give up and turn to wisdom, who has been there all along
whispering my name so tenderly, inviting me
to come and stay, come and stay, come and stay,
embracing my battle-weary heart with relentless compassion and interminable grace
offering me all of her tools to heal this grief and fear and rage.

Now I will sit quietly and breathe for a long time,
maybe forever, letting everything go but this moment,
and this one, and this one, and this one
listening to nothing but the bass drum of my own heart,
and the mellifluous whistle of my lungs
calling out across the expanding universe of space inside me
in incontrovertible evidence and celebration
of my own queer brown life,
infinitely precious and utterly tenuous, which,
despite the voluminous threats against it,
has not yet been lost.

When You Are Living In Circumstances of Systemic Oppression, Just Surviving is an Act of Resistance (There is No Right Way)

Do not shame people for not marching.
Do not shame people for not protesting.
Do not shame people FOR marching.
Do not shame people FOR protesting.
Do not shame people who are weeping.
Do not shame people who are silent.
Do not shame people who are removing themselves from the pain.
Do not shame people who are re-blogging everything they can get their hands on.

Self-care takes different forms.
Help each other heal.

–Ashley R. Oliver

For people dealing with systemic oppression, there is some idea that there is a right way to deal with it. There isn’t a right way. There are so many ways. Sometimes living your life and trying to be as happy and healthy as you can is the right way for you. Sometimes trying to make as much change as you can is the right way for you. Sometimes the right way is educating yourself as much as possible. Sometimes the right way is reading science fiction or playing basketball. Sometimes the right way is making art. Sometimes the right way is writing or talking about the situation to everyone who will listen. Sometimes the right way is taking a bath. Sometimes the right way is organizing within your community to meet the needs of the people. Sometimes the right way is to get politically involved. Sometimes the right way is to give up on politics. Sometimes the right way is to protest. Sometimes the right way is marching in the street, sitting in an intersection, picking up a megaphone or a microphone, handcuffing yourself to something inconvenient, annoying people into paying attention. Sometimes the right way is staying home, putting your pjs on and turning the news off. Sometimes the right way is going away where there aren’t any people and reconnecting with the sky and the sea, the earth and the trees. Sometimes the right way involves talking and crying or laughing about it with a friend. Sometimes the right way involves destroying inanimate objects. Sometimes the right way involves donating time or money to an organization you believe in. Sometimes the right way involves putting your fingers in your ears and saying La-la-la-la-la-la-la because you just can’t tolerate hearing about another person who could have been your sibling or cousin or child or parent or lover or partner or best friend being lynched in some way.

For many of us, what is right for us is going to be different on any given day, in any given moment, for any different reason. One day, I need to read every single page of The New Jim Crow or The Warmth of Other Suns. The next, I need to watch Scandal. One day, I need to march in the streets and scream at the top of my lungs. The next day, I need to meditate and for everything to be still and quiet. One day, I need to talk to everyone I encounter about racism. The next day, I need to make love to someone wonderful and make jokes with them about nothing much in particular. One day, I need to read everything I can find about the last person who was a victim of extrajudicial execution. The next day, I just can’t. La-la-la-la-la.

There is no right way.

My friends, my community, may we please honor the different ways that people take care of themselves under circumstances of oppression. There do not need to be divisions between us based on having different strategies for dealing with what has been done to us.

My friends, my community, please listen to the needs of your body and your heart and your spirit and take the kinds of actions that support your being whole and healthy as you engage with the horrors of the world.

You are precious.

When you are living in circumstances of oppression, just surviving is an act of resistance.

 

Take care.

I Invite Us All to a Greater Level of Racial Honesty

First, check out this speech:

http://fusion.net/story/229269/deray-mckesson-gay-blacklivesmatter/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=socialshare&utm_content=desktop+top

Then, read the rest of this post:

In the past year or two, I have been, as DeRay McKesson says in this speech, “coming out of the quiet.”

I have joked often about how I’m “coming out as Black,” and it’s more than a joke. I have been challenging myself to speak up and speak out about racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as I see them, experience them, and/or as the have affected me and others. But, particularly, I have been finding my voice as a Black person to name issues of race as they arise in my life, in my history, in my life circumstances, and within the world.

The taboo against naming, acknowledging, and dealing with matters of race in this country is profound. Just naming my own truth, my own experience of the subtle and profound racialized experiences I am having and witnessing on any given day is a radical act. It is terrifying. Yet, the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I feel my strength and my power and my vitality growing to overshadow the fear of harm coming to me (in any of the innumerable ways that harm can come, from social/professional censure to incarceration to assassination a.k.a. “suicide in police custody”).

I have been moved and inspired and emboldened by activists in the #BlackLivesMatter  movement to speak out, to protest, to educate, to agitate, and again and again to refuse compliance with the conspiracy of silence that insists that people like me keep our mouths shut in the face of overwhelming and systemic oppression, discrimination, violence, and tyranny.

Not only do #BlackLivesMatter, but #BlackVoicesMatter, #BlackStoriesMatter, #BlackTruthMatters.

I may not be able to change systemic racism all by myself, but I can change the volume setting on my own voice. I can take my voice off of mute. I can project it. I can add my voice to the chorus of people speaking up.

Whether or not anyone else listens to me, *I* listen to me speaking up on my own behalf and on behalf of my own Blackness and it strengthens and empowers me. Some part of my soul that was dying due to voicelessness comes alive again and grows strong.

But, there is power in numbers. I want to invite us all to a greater level of #RacialHonesty. The invitation is for those of us whose voices have been more silenced in this country on the basis of race to acknowledge our racial experience (to the degree that we safely and healthily can) and for those whose stories and voices are privileged in this country on the basis of race to be more honest about what they do not know about the experience of people of color. It requires bravery on all sides. The more people of color who bravely speak up about their racial truth and the more white folks who bravely (and with cultural humility) listen, learn, and ally with us, the more change is possible.

Let us all come out of the quiet.

(P.S. Do actually listen to the speech DeRay McKesson gives here. It’s good.)

The Necessity of Rest and the Discipline of Hope in the Social Justice Movement

 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.
It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

–Audre Lorde, from A Burst of Light, Essays.

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I am back from Oahu. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the time in close companionship with my love Joy. We talked and laughed and processed and cried and swam and hiked and snorkeled and bodyboarded and cuddled and cooked and ate and sang and celebrated and meditated and took pictures and read my journal from the POC meditation retreat and read aloud to each other from Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

We felt big feelings. We held onto each other while feelings were felt. We fed our souls on the ocean and the sky and the wind and the rock and the sand. We fed our souls on visionary Afro-futurist fiction. We fed our souls on each other.

Inspired by a story in Octavia’s Brood, we considered writing letters from Joy and me post-capitalism to Joy and me during capitalism, the two of us here in the present day who could use some hope that a better future is possible.

We considered the deaths of John Crawford and Michael Brown. We considered the history of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Joy dissertated. I applied to the Practice in Transformative Action Program at the East Bay Meditation Center, trying to put words to my beliefs about social justice, about how change takes place, about my vision for a just and peaceful future. Joy read Twitter newsfeeds, taking in what was happening in Ferguson and telling me about the protests, about the gunshots, about the arrests. We alternated using our hands and our thumbs and our smartphones and our hearts and our guts to write posts about race on Facebook, to dialogue and discourse, to do the work of learning, of educating, of honesty. We tried to understand the role of rest in social justice work, the necessity of replenishment, the investment in self-care that makes the lifelong work sustainable.

We rested. We replenished. We invested in self-care.

We sang on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. We sang “Ella’s Song,” the Sweet Honey in the Rock Song that goes: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons, We who believe in freedom cannot rest….” The whole song is a manual for revolution. We redefined “cannot rest,” as cannot quit, because rest, regeneration, and replenishment must be part of our revolution, because we must find a way to sustain ourselves through action that will require generations of collective and committed effort. We expressed our continued intention to dedicate our time, energy, effort, action, and heart to vital and necessary work towards social justice and equity. We took a moment of silence. We sang, “I can hear my brother saying ‘I can’t breathe. Now, I’m in the struggle saying ‘I can’t leave. Calling out the violence of these racist police. We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free. We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free,” dropping flowers into the river and sand, a commitment ceremony. We recommitted ourselves to the movement.

Today, we talked about hopelessness. The truth is that I do not have faith that change is possible. When I look at the civil rights movements of the 1960s and consider that the words that James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time could have been written today, rather than in the 1960s, I have little faith that we are moving in a positive direction. Yet, I must continue to hold onto hope, beyond all reason, beyond all evidence that there is any cause for hope. Not because I have faith that change will come but because if we give in to hopelessness, we will cease to work towards change and then, for sure, change will never come. If we lose hope, we will not resist, because we will not believe that there is any point to resistance. We will give in. If we give in, racism wins.

Hopelessness is not an option. Resistance is mandatory.

People are dying in the streets, in their homes, in their playgrounds, in their stores, in their places of worship, because of racism. We must continue to protest, to find the ways in our lives that we can work towards changing this reality, to care for the people who are suffering the most oppression, to educate those we love and those we don’t love, to create visions of the world we want to live in and take real and practical actions, however large or small, towards building that world right here in our own communities. We must care for ourselves and for those who are different from ourselves as if they were our own kin.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata Shakur, from Assata: An Autobiography

 

Forgiveness is Not for the Forgiven, but for the Forgiver

http://the-toast.net/2015/06/23/misunderstanding-black-forgiveness/

I really liked Mallory Ortberg and Carvell Wallace’s commentary “You’re Not Off The Hook: The White Myth of Black Forgiveness.”

I really appreciated someone speaking about this right now. As we read about the ways in which families of the Charleston massacre victims are forgiving the white supremacist murderer who took their loved ones’ lives, it seems to me that there is some confusion of forgiveness with absolution. In this humorous interview, the differences between those concepts are spelled out and the pernicious re-interpretation of the concept of forgiveness as absolution are called out. Forgiveness is not absolution. Forgiveness doesn’t make this whole thing nice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we stop fighting with all our might to stop this from ever happening again. Forgiveness is not for the forgiven, but for the forgiver.

Forgiveness is for the soul of the person doing the forgiving. It is not an absolution of the person who has done you wrong, by, for example, massacring people you love. Forgiveness is an act that allows a person to free their heart from some degree of rancor towards the one that did them harm so that they can set about focusing on the grief and the healing that is necessary and do whatever work they may want to do to make sure that this never happens again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean, ‘That’s okay. You can even do it again. I don’t mind.’ It more means, ‘I’m going to choose not to hate you, because I have to carry my hating you around inside myself and my hating you hurts me more than it hurts you and I don’t want to have to hurt like that inside myself while I’m dealing with the carnage you have created.’

As they say here, we must “forgive and fight at the same time.”