We need to think. This is what's missing from us, energetically speaking...
We can't out-fight them, but we can out-think them. -
John Trudell

Friday, December 26, 2014

There is no right way to be in white supremacy.

I am thinking of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco, their work “Couple in a Cage”.  They toured museums in a cage as the last known primitives.  You could “observe” them in their cage or for a dollar they would perform a tribal dance, tell a traditional story or you could have your picture taken with them.  

The Couple in a Cage

Everywhere they went white people either:

Didn’t get it was satire and thought they were real. Some of these white people were fascinated and marveled at how they had never seen a TV before or were upset by the fact that in the 1990’s people were being toured around in cages. 


They “got it” and assumed they were in on the joke.  They paid for the dances and stories and to have their picture taken with the savages, laughing the whole time.   Or they “got it” and were upset by the responses of other white people acting in all of the above ways.   

I did not see the work in person but I did see a later piece at The Evergreen State College with Guirromo and another collaborator Roberto Sifuentes which had a similar idea but invited the audience to dress the artists up with various stereotypical outfits like living dolls.  This time no one thought it was “real” but white people’s responses fell into the “I’m in on the joke.”  or “The joke isn’t funny.” category. 

For white people this work speaks deeply to the experience of whiteness in a white supremacy.  In the face of history, racism, whiteness there is no “right way to be”  and that is a very uncomfortable space to be in.  Often those that think they are most in the know or in on the joke can act out the most racist behavior which proved true at both of these performances.  

Another truth is that the behaviors of white people in that space can cause people of color pain and anger. And people of color will have different and to be clear many differing experiences with being there.  I attended the Evergreen performance with several friends that were not white.  One of them left she was so upset by the racism being displayed in the space, another woman was playing with the dynamic, laughing and egging on the white people who were so sure they were “in on the joke” while dressing up the men in racist costumes.  

So there was no right way to interact with “Couples in a Cage.”  or the other work by Gomez-Pena because there is nothing right about it and the bloody history it draws from.  Messy, painful, confusing.  That is the reality when confronting white supremacy.  The work white people need to do is not going to be neat or easy and often that work can be painful to people of color to witness. 

But to figure out what to do next is going to require some real thinking, some real daring.  And this process is not one that many People of Color are going to enjoy witnessing because it is confusing and messy.  We as white people are behind in many ways and as painful as it is to deal with that it is time now to do the real thinking and from that thinking the real work.    But we need to do that work not to be liked by anyone, or to be the good white people or the white people who get it or thinking there is a right way to act within white supremacy but to figure out how to rejoin humanity in the struggle to transform and heal our world from white supremacy. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why no one not even the Klan seems to want to be called racist.

“He called me a racist.”

“Well, what he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

“That’s — “he’s a racist.” And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.” It’s another thing to say, “This man’s a racist.” I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency.”

Whenever Rush Limbaugh or the like are called out directly for being racist or fueling racism with their comments they always respond in the same way, they deny they are racist and then often accuse their accusers of being the ones who are racist.  They treat the naming of racism as the ultimate crime as when George W. Bush who was president during 9/11, Katrina and the invasions of two countries calls the moment when Kanye West named his lack of response to Katrina as not caring about Black people one of the most disgusting of his presidency.

I think it has less to do with the idea that no white person wants to be called racist in 2014 and more to do with racism itself.  Yes in 2014 there are a lot of white people that balk at the idea of being called on their racism or being labeled as racist.  This is for the most part white people that truly do not want to be racist and may not have the tools or the ability yet to confront their own learned racist behavior.  But the folks that I writing about here and their followers don’t shy away from inflammatory comments about race.  So why do they constantly deny the label racist and act as if the very accusation is itself the worst possible of actions?

It is not because these folks are merely uninformed or making a thoughtless comment or assumption, these folks are true white supremacist and they know what they are saying and why.  White supremacists actually believe (or are willing to align themselves with the belief for their own benefit) that white people are some how genetically superior just for being born white and that it is white people that are under attack.  Furthermore the white supremacist believes it is not the history and reality of white supremacy that has caused the bulk of suffering for people of color it is their own savagery and inferiority that has brought it about.  Or as equally prevalent the idea that people of color have not suffered at all from racism and merely play the race card and sit back while the money and power roll in. 

“You’re dealing with people who are professional race baiters, who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader ever. It’s time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong with all the other vile racist groups that emerged in our history.”  - Mark Williams president of Tea Party Express

One of the most insidious parts of this is to deny that you are racist and then accuse your accusers of being racist.  This plays directly into the white supremacist ideology that white people, the so called “white race” are under direct attack by people of color and that it is actually white people that suffer at the hands of racism. 

It is part of the white supremacist belief system that when people of color (and to a lesser extent race traitor whites) name your racism they are merely crying out against the true and the natural order of things.  Of course you ridicule their audacious attempts at naming for themselves what is happening.   Naming is power.  You can study the history of our country from colonization and slavery through the attempted genocide of Native Americans, forced relocation and boarding schools, lynchings, segregation, denial of voting rights, internment of Japanese Americans during world war two, the on going attack against recent immigrants, the war on drugs and prison industrial complex and the death squad mentality of so many police departments towards communities of color.   You will see again and again how necessary it has always been for white supremacy to deny people the ability to name what is happening to them.  

This brings to mind the term gaslighting which is defined in Wikipedia as a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to the play/film Gas Light that show a woman purposely driven mad by her husband. 

In these cases of racist gaslighting it’s not really about getting people to admit their racism.  That is a waste of time and actually a fight most of these folks want to have especially folks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who profit from their white supremacy.  It is really about supporting the people who have the courage and clarity especially in a public venue to name white supremacy when they see it.  Because as we witness time and again folks that name this behavior especially People of Color, are often met with incredible backlash.  

Race is a very complex subject but white men and women who are pursuing a white supremacist agenda in this country will always deny they are being racist because that is part of the very agenda of white supremacy; to deny, ridicule and dismiss anyone who attempts to name their behavior and to name an intricate part of our national history for what it is.  So keep naming, resisting and staying clear about the agenda of those who play this game. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I wrote this poem ten years ago and it resonates tonight...

The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart
(for Henry and Eleanor at 2 years)

1. It all comes at once the ever breaking and mending of the heart.  I was dreaming and then I woke to the sun in the sky and a bus full of people heading to D.C. to say no to war.  We were driving so close to the place of my birth, the only land my little heart and fists ever knew.  Born into exile on tribal land, the makers of the Serpent Mound, the People of the Valley.  My own tribes destroyed long ago into states and a history of brutality offering only this lethal legacy of white supremacy.

And yet I can still kiss the Ohio sky and the city, Dayton, only my arms width wide.  You know how you can love a place for the geography of how you survived?  The girl in me alive again, expect good things from people like you do from trees and rocks and the beloved dandelions of childhood alleys. Dandelions, they insist on calling weeds.  Weeds that can make wine and nourish and crowns for the heads of city kids, that deserve beauty. 

Always the babies are the back beat to my heart.  Even sleeping on this bus going 70 across Ohio I know the weight of them, slung on my hip with great care.  They are all heartbeats and openings, soft breath and delicate bones and something of stars that floods them and they shimmer.  Effortlessly they re-knit my spirit back into the universe as over and over it is torn from the very fabric of what it means to be human.

In turn I am all mama bear protective, wanting to shield them,  realizing with the force of breath knocked out of me, that I would die for these children.  I want to keep the world gone mad from their door, from their beauty and souls.  I know I can’t and it breaks my heart again and again and gives me the reason to go on.

And to feel how much we need children to be wanted, not had like car accidents or accessories. This society rides it’s indifference towards children with poverty and bombs and a sick disneyfied morality full of toys that beep and flash and will talk to your children so you don’t have to.  As if some piece of plastic crap can hold them, when they are still so much stars and deep roots that shudder under the bones of knowing. The true names of things written in a language beyond words on the back of their lids, a map to another world.

2. It all comes at once, the ever breaking and mending of the heart.  It is easy to have fun in America, entertainment is cheap and plentiful like gasoline and Big Macs we consume endlessly, on the pay later plan.  I tell you almost everyone that has ever been my teacher in life was a drunk once, had to be.  Walked closely, the razor edge of self-destruction, wandered lost in America with one more round to take the edge off civilization.  One more round to take the edge off remembering.  Empty for the promise of a good time to fill you up.  Too hungry to ever be fed.

This is the dream.  You wake from the troubled sweat of sleep, the blur of lights you navigate by are gone, only the darkness cradling you.  Run now from quiet stars into frozen fields, beat cracked hands till earth opens like steaming bread.  Go all the way in.  Emerge small and newly afraid but clear-eyed. You have to survive America to have something to teach.

And in that is the real lion’s share of joy, because the people who can really party in the scared sense of the word are the people who know surviving is worthy of celebration.  Anyone who has ever danced with a room full of people to Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothing or Spearhead’s People in The Middle or screamed along to Bikini Kill’s, Rebel Girl or the drums or the fiddle or whatever gets you off- you know what I mean. Singing and dancing are your birthright.  Joy, a commonly held need like clean water and the air we breathe.
Sing now the praises of men that write sexy songs without the tired old hatred of women in the beat.  They gave me back a freedom to shake my ass, without feeling shame or dirty. Taj Mahal, I would name a son for you.  Sing now the praises of women that  never gave up their sexuality  though it was bought and sold, loped off by the church and slavery,  packaged as Jeans!  Beer!  Get some!  To know true pleasure in a society that wouldn’t know sexy if Aphrodite herself rose up on the half shell and bit Hugh Hefner on his boring porno ass is some kind of fine revolution.

3. It is not original sin we are born into this world with, it is a broken heart we inherit.  So often I question the usefulness of things, I want my poems to stop all the rape and killing.  I know if we could turn bombs from earth we would.  I know peasant or villager are just metaphors by the powerful for people who do not matter.  Like the urban poor, they are there to be studied or killed depending on the need.  To be studied or killed, depending on the need.  Then in that madness they will deny that you grieve.

I am mad with this world and I must remember again that without the music and art of other people.  Without the good company along the way, I would be dead or worse. The audacity, the sheer audacity of people to go on loving,  demanding bread but roses too.  The eleven year old boy in Mississippi who was asked by the cop with the club, What’s your name? and he shouted,  Freedom! Freedom is my name.

The audacity of buses and buses of people riding through the night to D.C. and they don’t get weary.  And the Muslims in the parking lot of the truck stop in Maryland, facing the rising sun because war or no war, the day breaks and you pray.  I am shy now, with my coffee, my lack of cultural ways  but I pray too, am humbled by the sunrise that makes me dream a bigger dream.
Rollin’ on in good historical company
marching with all those ghosts
that know the way,
don’t fear the dead
they are the path we walk on
the bones will rise
from earth, blessed clave
giving us the rhythm
to go on marching
fall in love
raise children
don’t give up

all at once
and among the mundane details of the day
resistance flows through us
and it is beautiful to witness
and it is beautiful to feel
and the real joy of living
is in that moment,
our scarred and sacred hearts
mending and breaking
mending and breaking
and beating strong.

Note:  The title of this poem is from a book by Alice Walker whose words have been a gift to me on this hard, beautiful journey.  Much of this poem was inspired by a bus ride from Minneapolis to Washington D.C. and the subsequent Anti-war march I attended on April 20,  2002. The poem is dedicated to my beautiful niece and nephew and to all children.  It has been read at many peace and justice events and protests.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I am carrying names around.  Chants of grief and confusion.  Chants of love.  I know deeply loss and longing but there are things I do not know.  Nightmares that walk up to you in the day or under the moon and steal your child.  White supremacy is predator energy manifest.  That is not a metaphor.   Trayvon Martin,  Jordan Davis, Renisha Mcbride are not metaphors.  Real things in the real world that must be done like repeal these stand your ground laws and the spirit cries out to take them back from a world so sick at heart it must say out loud- they were good, they did nothing wrong.  To sing these names as they were given with love and to not forget.  

This is a poem speaks to the madness of white supremacy and I feel that madness right now.   

It Was A Long White Night

I can not speak

                  it breaks under me cold and brittle
                  it cracks and turns to dust in my worn hands

the hands of a house cleaner
the hands of a woman
last night despair and maddening thirst
to know culture
what it feels like to be inside
not seeing, buying or appreciating but being
             birth, life, death always belonging

like driving by the Grand Canyon or taking a picture of it
or living in that wide, deep place so that every stone
knows the rhythm of your breath
the weight of each bone set in motion

in the car next to me at the stoplight
white boys yelled, Take that stupid sign off your car!
You ugly lesbian dyke!
The sign asks How many white men were attacked after
the Oklahoma bombing for looking like Timothy McVeigh?

I had to laugh, what else can you do?
Especially at lesbian dyke as opposed to heterosexual dykes?
they were not laughing
their faces flushed red in that way white folks get
when we are angry,
we blush like that when we are making love too
but I didn’t think of that until later at home
in the bath tub, I choked on tears
while my neighbors through the apartment wall cheered on
the football game

it wasn’t their anger that got to me, I’m used to it
it was this thirst
                           I carry like grief

they carry like weapons.

I can not speak, whiteness
does not even use the same language
black pride means loving yourself
white pride means burning crosses
we don’t say white folks and hear home
don’t know how home might feel
we’ve lost so much
we often don’t even know
we are lost anymore

so when they ask me
I will have to say yes
yes, I know the hard set faces
of young white men
the cruel mouth spitting
the flat lean bellies
the red flush of beer and hatred

                                                  I have studied for my own survival
                                                  for the sake of sanity, angry white men

waving the flag to ward off the sky
the blue that could break something in blue eyes
and yes,
I do
and do not
claim them
as my own.