I Paused To Watch Terence Crutcher Die

I was going to do work when I got home tonight. I was going to eat dinner and do some work. I was going to reduce my stress by dealing with my neglected to-do list and tidy up my bedroom. After salmon and salad greens and maybe some quinoa. But, I paused to watch Terence Crutcher die.

I paused to watch him walking with his hands up in the air. I paused to watch him be tazered and fall to the ground. I paused to witness him be shot on the ground, after being tazered, after having his hands up, after being no threat to anyone at all, after his vehicle stalled in the road.

After he needed help because his vehicle had stalled in the road.

A crowd of cops standing around with their guns out like their pants down. A crowd of cops, guns drawn, backing away from what they did. Their murderous fear.

The dash-cam video. Then the helicopter view.

The amused commentary of the helicopter pilots. The grave commentary of the lawyers representing the family. The measured commentary of the family, mastering their grief to call for peace.

I have no commentary. I have not had dinner. I have not done work. I have stalled on the road.

My eyes are fixed. My heart rate is high. My breathing is shallow. My belly is tight. I have been stuck to my seat. I have been arrested in my movement.

Another snuff film, courtesy of the Tulsa Police Department.

This is what lynching looks like in 2016.

This is the sort of thing that gives me pause.

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We Are All Criminals. No One Deserves To Be A Slave.

Please read the following article: http://theinfluence.org/a-call-to-action-against-slavery-why-were-about-to-see-the-largest-prison-strikes-in-us-history/

This is important.

The control of black, brown, and poor white bodies by the State for the profit of wealthy white people, for the profit of businesses & corporations, and for the profit of the government, itself, is a tradition that has founded, expanded, and maintained the wealth and dominance of the United States. Slavery and genocide (genocide, generally, to aquire what the US wants – land, oil, wealth, power, position, etc.) have been going on since the beginning of the US and are more American than proverbial baseball and apple pie.

Slavery and genocide continue to this day. State sanctioned modern day slavery in the United States has largely manifested as the mass incarceration of black and brown (and poor white) people for the purpose of putting money into the hands of the corporations who own those prisons, corporations and business owners and governments who benefit from prison labor and the maintenance of control over despised demographics within the United States.

Prison labor is exempt from labor laws, can be compelled against the will of the inmate, is often paid pennies an hour or unpaid, and in no way prepares one for a life outside of prison. It is slavery.

People may say, “But those people are criminals. They deserve it.”

We are all criminals.

Who among us has never broken any law? Who has never crossed against a light, speeded, taken something that wasn’t ours, photocopied a book, burned a CD for a friend, used a recreational drug or a prescription drug off-label, driven with a rear light out, lied on our taxes, pushed or hit somebody when we were really upset, done something when we were desperate that we wouldn’t do if we weren’t desperate, or made a choice that harmed somebody that we would regret later?

We are all criminals, but not all of us have had our freedom taken away. Not all of us have been killed in the street for it or been taken into slavery. That honor generally goes to the least privileged classes of people in the US:  to black folks, to brown folks, to poor white folks, to homeless folks, to undocumented folks, to people whose first language is not English, to people dealing with mental/physical disabilities, to people struggling with addictions.

No one deserves to be a slave.

Prison abolition may sound radical, but so did the abolition of Slavery 1.0, back in the day. Let us work towards the abolition of Slavery 2.0: The Prison System. In the meantime, I would like for us to support and amplify movements that raise awareness of what is happening within the prison system and contribute to diminishing the reach of this current form of control of black, brown, and poor white bodies for the profit of wealthy white ones. These upcoming prison strikes are revolutionary and deserve our attention and support.

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.

2016-06-02 Oakland-2

An Open Letter to My Straight Friend N. In the Wake of the Orlando Massacre of Queer Brown People Like Me

An open letter to my straight friend N., who wrote: “You matter to me. Sending you love from across this country and am mourning with you.”

N., thank you. That means all the world to me. You’re the only straight person who has actually reached out to me directly to make contact with me around this. The grief is so enormous that I barely know how to hold myself together.

I was on a plane yesterday, flying from San Francisco to Pennsylvania, going from my community full of people I love who are as impacted by these events as I am to a place where I don’t have any queer community or anybody who routinely holds me when I cry. It was the loneliest feeling.

IMG_9388

I was so so sad. I cried in every airport and in every airplane. I was full of grief about the loss and the death and the hatred and the homophobia and xenophobia and racism and Islamophobia and I was also profoundly shaken and scared about what it means for queer people and brown people and brown queer people everywhere.

I feel afraid. This thing that has happened reminds me of how vulnerable my body is, how vulnerable my communities are, how impossible it is to stay safe as a brown queer person. My mother keeps telling me things like, if I go dancing make sure to know where the exits are. She’s so scared for me. I keep telling her it is impossible to be safe. Those beautiful innocent people who died didn’t die because they didn’t know where the exits are. They died because this country breeds hatefulness and intolerance and violence. There is no set of rules I can follow to ensure my safety from the violence that comes with hatred.

I will be marching in the San Francisco Pride parade in two weeks. Who knows when and how my life will end? Maybe it will be then.

I have felt so isolated from community – it is scary to come home to the place I left literally because it was too homophobic for me to stay and to be here when I’m dealing with this kind of colossal tragedy. I want to be with all of my people and we are all scattered to the wind, in our separate places. As I talk to some of my queer friends, I notice that that is when we become most distressed, most grief-stricken, most afraid: when we are separated from the people we feel the safest with, when we can’t hold onto each other’s bodies for comfort or for confirmation of their continued existence.

Why isn’t everybody, everywhere in mourning? Crying with me in the streets, on the airplanes, in restaurants?

It feels relieving to hear from my queer friends and to know how they are coping with all of this, to share contact and comfort and to reflect back to them that they are not crazy and that all of their feelings make sense and whatever they need is the right thing to do – and it also feels relieving to hear from my straight friends who care, who get it.

The world is full of straight people. I need to know that you care and that you get it and that you feel it and that you are with us and that the most horrible thing in the universe to me isn’t trivial to you. That I’m not trivial to you. That our lives matter, not just to ourselves.

That helps me feel safer. Less invisible, less like the colossal impact of this horrific nightmare of a situation on queer brown people everywhere will go unnoticed. It helps me feel like there are people, maybe even here in Doylestown, Pennsylvania who might be feeling these things, too, and who might be safe haven or ally.

Feeling reckless, but needing to be in solidarity with my people even when isolated and far from home (especially when isolated and far from home), I put a big button that says “Queer” on the bag I carry everywhere. I couldn’t stand to be invisible as a queer person here, even though I feel more afraid, more aware that my outness as a black, queer woman could cost me my life.

I have been having trouble making words about this situation. I mostly make tears and snot and gasps and gulps of air and racking sobs. Thank you, N., for writing to me and helping me make some sentences, even though many tears were shed in the making of them.

I hope that straight people everywhere will reach out to queer friends and family and co-workers and neighbors to check in. (It is not too late for this. It will never be too late for this. It cannot be done enough.) Let them know that they are seen and cared about and valued, that their lives matter to you. Offer them support and safety and sanctuary. Affirm that whatever they need right now is okay, that their feelings are valid and make sense. Mourn with them and stand with them and activate your resources (of heart, of mind, of time, and/or money) to help make change in this situation. Love is needed and thoughtfulness and education and effort and activism and financial contribution to a wide variety of places. It’s going to take a lot of work to care for all of the people who have been impacted by this situation and it’s going to take even more work to make the changes necessary to transform the culture and change the laws so that things like this (homophobic/racist gun violence) don’t happen in the future.

Please let us know you’ve got our backs. We need you.

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.

We Live in a Country in Profound Denial About The Nature Of Itself

I am currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism), about the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South during the Jim Crow years. It makes me shake and cry with every chapter. It makes me feel sick and nauseous and angry and enraged and horrified. Sometimes I don’t have the strength to pick it up. I want to run away and hide from the horror of what happened in the last hundred years in this country – in the lifetimes (and in the lives) of my grandparents and my parents and beloved family friends.

At the same time, I cannot turn my face away. The Warmth of Other Suns is enlightening and it is empowering for me to read it. It is brilliantly written. It is well-researched and engaging. The narrative structure of the work follows the story of three specific individuals and their stories are interwoven with incredible detail of the culture and the history of the time, painting a vivid, poignant, and personal picture of life for black folks in the decades following the “end” of slavery. It explains so much. It explains things that I didn’t know I so desperately needed to understand. As I realized that people I was close to in my lifetime would have been alive during the hellish decades post-slavery (and would have dealt with some of the horrors described in the book, firsthand), I could feel the impact of the events of the first half of the 1900s on my own, personal life. It made my own grandparents and parents and, therefore, my own life experience, make more sense to me.

The book fills enormous gaps in the so-called “history” that I was taught in school. I think that most of us think of slavery as something that happened a long time ago, to other people, elsewhere, and that things got better after that and that now they’re way, way better and we’re really far from where we’ve come. What is astonishing is that slavery and neo-slavery has been happening and happening and its ramifications have been happening and happening, continuing inexorably forward, and somehow we have been hoodwinked and bamboozled into believing that it is all lost in the distant past. It is yesterday and it is today and it is tomorrow. Even now.

In the past couple of years, I have been trying to educate myself about anti-black racism and how things are in the shape that they’re in right now, racially. I’ve been trying to build a bridge in my mind between the Middle Passage and whoever was the last black person to be on video this week being killed by a police officer, extrajudicially. It has been clear that I didn’t have enough of a grasp of the history to connect the dots from here to there.

The more I educate myself, the more I come to grasp the enormity of my miseducation. It is profoundly astonishing to me the degree to which the history of this country has been concealed and the degree to which propaganda about both the past and the present has been fed to us all. Before I began this arduous, painful process of self-education, I could tell you more about the history of British, French, and Spanish monarchs from the Renaissance through Queen Elizabeth, the history of the Spanish Inquisition, and the history of the Crusades, than I could tell you anything about the brutal realities of Jim Crow, neo-slavery, redlining, or the mass incarceration of black people in the United States within the last hundred years. The excellent formal education I have received did not include almost any meaningful detail about the real cultural, structural, institutional, and economic ramifications of slavery and of the hundred years or so since then on this country and on all of us who live here. I am still shocked at the ways in which my education has been corrupted and I feel foolish that I am still so shocked.

Having been raised to believe that I live in a democracy where freedom of speech is the law of the land and the free-flow of information is held to be some kind of birthright, I am still astonished at the degree to which I have been brainwashed. We have been lied to, over and and over and over again and we mostly have no idea it has happened.

We live in a country in profound denial about the nature of itself.

As an individual, it takes consistent and persistent effort to break through that denial. But, it is worth it in order to be sane in the midst of this insanity. Collectively, it will take an enormous amount of consistent and persistent effort, on the part of an entire nation, to burn through that sweet, sticky fog of insanity that has left us as a culture in a stupor of denial and delusion, unable to meaningfully repair the impact of hundreds upon hundreds of years of slavery and systemic, institutional racism because the culture cannot even acknowledge that it has happened and is still happening.

I cannot singlehandedly overthrow this epic, wide-spread denial. I can only work to burn through the ignorance and denial that fogs my own vision so that I can see more clearly. I can share my truth and my meager tools with you and invite you to do the same. Burn through your ignorance and denial, share your truth about it with others, and share your tools.

I am only just beginning to scratch the surface and my research has primarily been concerned with the people I am descended from. There are so many more books and articles to read. There is so much education to do. For me, it has been exquisitely painful, but phenomenally liberating. Waking up to reality is so empowering. I invite you to join me on this journey of self-education, of burning through the ignorance and delusion, of waking up.

A partial list of what I’ve read on the topic of anti-black racism in this country (that I would highly recommend) includes:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations (article: http://www.theatlantic.com/…/the-case-for-reparatio…/361631/)

Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow

James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time

Robin DiAngelo: White Fragility (article: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/index.php/ijcp/article/view/249)

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me

Baratunde Thurston: How to Be Black

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns (I’m about halfway through)

There have been so many, many others, but these are the ones I can remember easily off the top of my head, because they were so useful for me.

The next book in my queue is Douglas Blackmon’s: Slavery By Another Name, but I’ll need a good work of science fiction – maybe something by N.K. Jemisin – or two between now and then, because I need a break between ordeals.

“It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country.

It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us.

The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness.”

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, from Between the World and Me

The following image showed up in my Facebook feed and it seemed like a good (albeit flimsy) excuse to talk with you all about all of this. Consider the green part of the image a typo. Consider, perhaps the red part extending through the entire part that is currently yellow. Then consider the green part orange, perhaps on its way to eventually someday, maybe being yellow. Green is off in the distant future, someday, maybe, hopefully, if we all work really, really hard on a collective level to wake up.

American Slavery - Segregation

 

 

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.)