In the Spirit of John Brown: a letter to so called whites after Charleston

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My heart is heavy this morning, a terrorist has killed 9 people in Charleston, South Carolina. A 21 year old white man went to a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Church after which he took the lives of 9 Black people. In the church which was home to Denmark Vesey, in a state that still displays the Confederate flag,racial hatred and white supremacy has stained the country, once again. My soul hurts, as it should.

This is a crucial moment for my people, so called whites. Many of us will be horrified, many of us will want to be there to support our Black brothers and sisters, and that is great. However, many of those same people will talk about this event in isolation. They will talk about how sick the shooter was. They will say things like “not all white people.”  Please, stop with that shit. This incident is not about one person. This is a single manifestation of a system that has always seen Black people as less than human. This is a single manifestation of a genocidal system. Yet, there will be those (Fox News) who try to separate this from our history, from our current situation.

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At this time- just as the ancestor Denmark Vesey has been invoked- it is time for us to invoke our ancestor, John Brown. Those of us who truly want to stand in solidarity, who truly want to be a force for good are not without our own models. John Brown gave his life for the end of slavery. He understood it was much bigger than one white slave owner, one plantation, it was  system that must be destroyed, a way of knowing that must be erased from that planet. That fight is still going on this morning. We must have the courage to take up this legacy. To be fearless in the face of genocidal terrorism. If Black Lives truly Matter then we need to confront every person who wants to rationalize, or make apologies, or minimalize this as an isolated incident. In every workplace, in every home, in every church, in every area of government so called whites need to be talking about, reflecting on, and putting together plans to actively dismantle white supremacy. To avoid this is an act of cowardice, pure and simple.

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Lastly, this is not a time to police the emotions and reactions of the Black community. We need to be doing our own work: looking at how we are colluding with the system that is taking the lives of Black people. May the spirit of John Brown guide us and may we be brave:  “Caution, Sir! I am eternally tired of hearing that word caution. It is nothing but the word of cowardice!”

Rachel Dolezal and the Case for New “White” Identities

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In the midst of social media’s response to Rachel Dolezal a clear theme has emerged: White people, get your folks. But, from what? And, how?

As filmmaker and educator Ali Michael wrote about, Rachel Dolezal is not experiencing something new, or even unique. Dolezal is stuck in the “immersion” phase of racial development. This is actually not an uncommon thing. Lots of European-Americans, when they first become aware of just how pervasive white supremacy is, no longer want to identify as white. I know that feeling. And, it is here that we find the answer to the first question: From what must we get our people?

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There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem- Richard Wright

We must get our people from whiteness and race-thinking. Whiteness is the cause of white supremacy and racism. The elite (propertied) Anglo’s in Virginia needed something to distract and divide the increasingly rebellious multi-racial laboring class, whiteness was that thing. Whiteness was the consistent that everything else was measured against. Whiteness was codified in law yet also remained fluid in order to serve the needs of the ruling class. As immigrants, especially European ones, continued to invest in the traits and characteristics of whiteness it solidified as a legitimate racial identity, which also solidified the other. This is the point James Baldwin was making when he said: “As long as you think you’re white, there is no hope for you. Because as long as you think you’re white, I’m forced to think I’m Black.”

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The fact is, Whiteness is not real. Historian and Critical Whiteness Studies scholar David Roediger says whiteness is ” not only oppressive and false, it is nothing but oppressive and false.” It is a socio-political alliance with no grounding in reality, nor roots in culture. It is this identification that so many European-Americans are trying to distance themselves from, sometimes in disastrous ways. And let’s be clear, Rachel Dolezal is a disaster. Which brings us to the second question: How do we get our people?

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The first step is to, as Jamie Utt says, accept the tension that comes with being perceived as white –and therefore receiving its benefits– while working for its abolition. Next, we must begin to think and act culturally. Culture is real. It is rooted in place, it consists of shared experiences, and has roots to people — to ancestors. However, culture is not an artifact from the past that we simply reach back and bring to the 21st century. Yes, we need to learn from our ancestors and root cultures, but we also live in different times, in different places, and in community with different people. So, we must accept that culture is fluid and work at building healthy, harmonious relationships with each other and creation.

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There is a lot going on with Rachel Dolezal. Who knows why she may have made up death threats? Who knows why she pretends her brother is her son? Her actions can not be fully explained by the immersion, or any other, theory. I don’t know if having an alternative way to identify would have kept Dolezal from appropriating Blackness; there is some real deep-seeded trauma there combined with what looks like some straight-up insidiousness. Maybe some folks just can’t get right. However, this Rachel Dolezal saga can help us to understand a bit about the dangers of not working to create healthy identities rooted in culture.These identities need to serve as places of healing for Euro-Americans looking to dismantle white supremacy by striking at its base: whiteness. Truthfully, we are the only ones who can do that work. And, Black Twitter is right: we need to get our people.

In Reverence: prayer for Mckinney

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The violence of a sunset:
light breaking on the horizon,
like bones, and spirits
at their unholy feet. They feel they have won. Foolish.
We are in awe at your beauty.

It is darkest before the dawn.
On My Mama
They mock your warning as weakness.
See your flesh as gaps in armor.
On My Mama
Cannibals lurking
Zombies zoned on the zeitgeist
On My Mama
But shadows don’t linger,
dispersed by a rising sun.
Tides turn:
Battles lost become wars that are won.
Bones heal, wounds seal, and
sutras become movements
that can’t be killed.

The violence of a sunrise:
light breaking on the horizon,
welcoming a new day.
On my mama

On Trusting and Order: a response to City Pages

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Recently, there has been heightened attention paid to issues of equity in education, and closing what is commonly referred to as the “achievement gap.” Most recently Susan Du wrote an article for the City Pages which illustrates the fundamental failure of this discourse. The article examines the current tensions and conflicts arising from Saint Paul Public School’s attempt at achieving racial equity, specifically the new suspension policy. The article relies on racist norms, while centering the feelings and intentions of white educators, blaming a culture of dysfunction for the problems plaguing the school district.

How Do You Know It’s About Race?

Let’s get the most basic element out of the way: this is entirely about race. As is the modus operandi of racism in the 21st century, explicitly racist language is avoided, substituted for language that pathologizes culture. So, while the article never says “Black boys are the problem,” Du makes it  clear that they are the subject of this particular examination. In fact, the very first lines of the article primes the racial imagination of readers: “A student walks down a Harding High hallway wearing headphones, chanting along to violent rap lyrics… The kid stares at [the teacher] with chilling intensity. He points at the older man, fingers bent in the shape of a gun, and shoots. Then moves on.” The reference to “violent rap lyrics” quite clearly invokes a Black male body. Even if the reader doesn’t picture a Black male walking down the hallway, Black men are still responsible given they are the overwhelming practioners of Hip-Hop music. Add to this problematic anecdote the insinuation of natural violence, and the atmosphere is perfectly set for Black bodies to be the main culprit in their own oppression.

Later on in the article, Du abandons the racial ambiguity all together and directly names the source of tension: “The district also shifted its thinking on discipline, influenced by data that showed black kids being suspended at alarming rates.” These suspension rates, and resulting education debt were the impetus for SPPS hiring Pacific Education Group to conduct racial equity training in the district. It is these trainings, more specifically the perceived failure of the trainings along with the suspension policy, that has lead to the tension in SPPS.

While Du is attempting to give voice to teachers, and express valid frustrations, she falls into the trap of thinking in binaries: “this or that” type of problem-solving. We are supposed to decide if the teachers are right in (largely) opposing the policies, or if the district is right in implementing these policies. Du also positions education in  a vacuum free from the influences of the larger society. She attempts to fight for teachers by painting them as the victims of random acts of violence, “intrusions,”  of students “barging in,” and even of death threats. The reader is supposed to feel sympathy for the teachers and contempt for the students causing this chaos. The language invokes the historical stereotypes of Black males as violent, lazy, and animalistic, in need of being trained and controlled. All the while the real concern that whiteness has an objective, tangible, and damaging effect on schools is trivialized.

Whose Culture is the Problem?

A reasonable response to Du’s article would be horror at the working conditions of teachers. These poor people, these award winning, kind-hearted people are being taken advantage of by the race-baiting superintendent, and victimized by students who need to be “tamed.” I have no doubt that these teachers are indeed kind, that they love their students, that they are “good” teachers, and that their intentions are well-meaning. Those things, though, don’t matter; they certainly don’t matter as much as what impact they are having on the life chances of their students. It is here that Du, and many, many others have missed the ball. Instead of suggesting that society and structures are the issue they have placed blame on the students, and by extension their families.

The articles states: “Harding isn’t much different than most big city schools. It squats in St. Paul’s most economically depressed zip code, where 83 percent of kids receive free or reduced-price lunch.” But this fact isn’t mentioned again throughout the article. Nowhere are the consequences of poverty, or of being a person of color in this society, discussed. In favor of discussing these issues Du relies on the default: cultural pathology. She leaves in place the overly simple equation that poor students, especially students of color, are inherently broken, in need of fixing, which is the job of the school. This analysis perpetuates the white savior mentality that pervades too many schools, and encourages defensiveness at the idea that whites may have some cultural work to do themselves before being effective in the classroom.

That is not to say there is no validity in the frustration of the teachers.

Yes, and…

Too often in this discourse we are left choosing: teachers or students of color. As a teacher, for nearly a decade, I categorically reject this binary. In the article, a teacher, Becky McQueen, stated: “There are those that believe that by suspending kids we are building a pipeline to prison. I think that by not, we are…I think we’re telling these kids you don’t have to be on time for anything, we’re just going to talk to you. You can assault somebody and we’re gonna let you come back here.” There is truth in the idea that school is a place to teach social norms, and that there should be accountability; however, the question that needs to be asked is, whose norms are being taught?

Too often the dominant society escapes examination, especially when we talk about schools. In a racist, classist, and sexist society it is more than understandable that marginalized students are not eager to buy in to their social training.  Eric Brandt, another teacher cited in the article, begins to approach the necessary analysis, yet still defers to the idea that the job of students is to learn how to behave: “There is a sizable chunk of students that — for a variety of very complex reasons — don’t know how to behave in a decent, sociable way with other people in a school setting.” It would be better if Brandt focused more on those complex reasons and less on how students respond to those reasons.

So What Now?

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It is foolhardy to believe that one year of racial equity training is going to result in significant gains, or that there would not be pushback to an attempt at creating equity. This work is hard, and painful, and takes a long time, but it is work that must be done. This can only happen with a strong critique of society, and an understanding of the structural causes of inequality. It will not happen by instituting harsher, more severe, more militant discipline. However, it’s a win-win situation, this approach actually builds the necessary foundation for real accountability. It is actually counterproductive to fight efforts for racial equity.

As a classroom teacher, who has been in some of the most difficult environments Minneapolis has to offer, I can tell you that the students are not the problem, nor are their families. They all come with a context, they are all products of our society.  When you acknowledge this point you create the space for a respectful and healthy culture to develop in your classroom. This culture allows for true learning, dialogical learning, that values the wealth of knowledge and experiences the students bring with them everyday. If we are to take racial equity seriously we must take this cultural exchange seriously. This starts systemically, by districts requiring cultural study for their teachers, especially the Euro-American teachers. How to best facilitate the cultural evolution necessary should have been the focus of Susan Du’s article, not pitting teachers vs. students with the district as proxy.

Rain and Healing: A letter to Zoe

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Zoe,

I don’t usually write when I feel like this. It feels too vulnerable, too much like at any moment I will be washed away. I’ve spent years building this castle and on days like this I am reminded that shit is built with sand. Maybe it’s the rain. Rainy days have a tendency to elicit these feelings.

I am driving home, in the middle of the day, your Mom has a doctor’s appointment and its raining hella hard. When I called her this morning I could hear the exhaustion, she got up with you this morning to comfort you back to sleep. She was tired and we didn’t have an umbrella at home. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but sometimes the smallest things can feel unbearable. It took me a little while but I eventually remembered I had an umbrella. I decided I was going to take it to her. When I pulled out of the garage the rain immediately blurred the windshield. It just made sense tears should blur my eyes. I pulled over and cried.

There is something in us. Something beautiful and burdensome. Sometimes it comes on with no warning. For me it’s always been around helplessness. I want to do so much. I know so much should be so different. It overwhelms me. I feel like I should be doing more, write better, work harder, make more money, fuck the world and get the revolution cracking. That’s usually when the dam in my throat breaks and the levy’s overflow. It suffocates you, but only when you fight it. Don’t fight it.

I dropped the umbrella off and got a text from your Mom: You are awesome. That was so sweet. I love you. Rain brings healing Zo Zo, mostly when we realize we are not in this alone. You are not alone. We are not helpless.

Rape Culture in the Classroom

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The statistics around sexual assault are staggering: 1 in 3 women will be assaulted in their lifetime. And those numbers are grossly under-reported due to the ordeal women have to go through once coming forward to confront their attacker. While I am aware of these statistics the terrifying reality of rape culture didn’t fully hit me until I saw it being perpetuated in my own classroom.

I had one day left in the week and didn’t want to start a new unit, so I decided to do a spot social justice lesson. The lesson examined the racialized and gendered messages mainstream media send us by analyzing Lupe Fiasco’s song “Bitch Bad”  and various responses to it, like this one from Crunk Feminist Collective. The lesson went well, the students were able to discuss with clarity and share profound insights into the songs lyrics and video. They discussed minstrel, they discussed their own use of the term “bad bitch,” and most importantly the young women in the classes told their truth around dealing with the pressures of looking “sexy” while maintaining respect and not being seen as ratchet. While many of the young men listened and were respectful there was a handful that simply refused to accept what was being said. They rejected the idea that women actually didn’t appreciate how they are viewed, both my larger society as well as the young men in their lives.

It was at this point that the conversation turned troubling. A young man we will call Michael was particularly vocal about his disbelief. He was adamant that women lied constantly and that despite what they were saying now, in front of him and the rest of his class, when he talked to them individually they agreed with him. Despite the often times passionate objections from the women in the class, the other males remained quiet, Michael was not to be moved.

By the end of the day I taught the lesson three times. There were many more positives to take than negatives, but Michael’s reaction was the main one that stayed with me. It wasn’t so much Michael’s reaction in and of itself that was scaring me, while it did. What was getting me was that when the class ended,and the young women were obviously still upset, the reaction of the other men in the class was to rush Michael out to keep him from getting yelled at or “punched,” as one young man told me. This is where I really saw the danger of rape culture. It is not just in Michael’s response, it is in the silence of his peers. Instead of checking their friend they remained silent, passively siding with him. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them would remain silent at the party when a friend wanted to “have fun” with the passed out girl, like in Steubenville? How many of them will say the girl “wanted it?” How many of them will, despite dozens of accusations, refuse to believe that one of their friends is a serial rapist? Worse, and more heartbreaking than that, how many of them will be able to have a healthy relationship with a woman? How many of them will be able to listen to, and truly be supportive of, their sister, mom, aunt, girlfriend, wife, or even daughter when one of them has the courage to face our devastatingly sick society and say she was sexually assaulted?

Me and Zoe

As a new father, I look at my daughter and understand with incredible clarity that the responsibility for healing from this trauma lies with us men. It is up to us to model healthy, loving, and complete humanity by refusing the narrow definitions of manhood. The homie Jamie Utt talks about this with incredible compassion, this is just one of his pieces, please check them all out.  Above all we must not be silent. Just as white silence is tacit acceptance of white supremacy, when we are silent about rape culture, patriarchy, and misogyny we are accepting them as part of our society, we must refuse this.  We must talk about manhood and masculinity, and the entire gender spectrum, early and often. When we do this, our young people will  grow up with a healthy image and understanding of not just themselves, but others, more capable of healthy relationships. And what can be more life-giving than healthy relationships?

What Educators Can Take From #BlackLivesMatter

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“each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.“- Frantz Fanon

Who would have thought from the obscurity of a small suburb of Saint Louis  this generation’s most influential movement for justice would be born. The murder of Mike Brown galvanized communities across the country: they were sick of seeing their children’s lives being stolen by police once every 28 hours. From these communities’ collective pain and consciousness rose the Black Lives Matter movement.

Led by young people who came of age in the so called post-racial and colorblind meritocracy of America Black Lives Matter shatters these illusions. They are exposing the eroding foundation of America as fundamentally built on white supremacy and incapable of reform. They are demanding society reorganize itself, that the Racial Contract be done away with in favor of a truly inclusive and democratic one.

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Of course, the movement is not without its critics, both on the left and the right. The most common claim is that the movement does not have a demand. Quite to the contrary the movement’s demand is actually quite clear, its even in the name, they want Black lives to matter. So, what does that look like?

If Black lives are to matter it is going to begin in schools. Currently, the education system in America is a mess of colorblind idealism and corporate interests. It is the intersection of class and race and that intersection is a multi-car pile up. This is due to the combination of over-saturating the institutions and curriculum with whiteness and then filling nearly every classroom instruction position with well-meaning, colorblind fundamentalist so called “whites.” The result is an education debt and opportunity gap that is crippling every aspect of this country.   But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Black Lives Matter movement offers us the perfect opportunity to fundamentally alter the trajectory of this country, but we must take advantage of the opportunity. Here are some ways we might begin to do that.

1) So Called “White” Educators, you are not White!

This can be a tricky one because the world prescribes whiteness and its privileges onto us. But if the Black Lives Matter movement has done anything it has been to publicly shine a light on and proceed to undress the lie that race is an issue for people of color and that whiteness is the default. Whiteness is something. We must do the work of understanding what that something is and abolish it from our systems of knowing. When we do this we realize that we are cultural beings and that whiteness is a sociopolitical arrangement with no real anchor in reality, and certainly not in justice. Here, here and here are some resources for beginning to do that work

2) Dialogical Over Banking, Surplus Over Deficit

Another sad hallmark of our system is that it views poor students and students of color as suffering from an “achievement” gap, as lacking the necessary ability to successfully withdraw what has been deposited by their teachers all year. This is preposterous once given more than a second to consider. Students coming from a world marked by poverty and the violence of racism, a world that they intrinsically know was not set up for them are, of course, not going to care at all about Calculus or Shakespeare. They are certainly going to care even less about what the unrelatable “white” teacher has to say about those irrelevant subjects. Their lived experiences and accumulated genius are not represented or valued in the classroom so why should they value the classroom? This has to change. We need to recognize that every student is bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and it is all valuable. The classroom should be an incubator for ideas meant to make sense out of the world. Any assessment should measure the ability of young people to be creative, to critically think and to solve problems. Anything less than that is simply not valuing their existence, their lives; Black Lives Matter has made it clear that is unacceptable. Paulo Freire is a good place to start for those interested in fostering this type of classroom.

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3) Implement Ethnic Studies Curriculum and Requirements

The second point leads directly to this third and last one. We need to immediately implement ethnic studies courses and require them for graduation. For too long the story of America has been of European immigrants coming to this continent, Americanizing it and themselves, all for the better. We know this is far, far too simplistic, and often times patently false. There are many more perspectives, many more truths that must be told for our young people to be ready for a world that decenters whiteness. Beyond the moral imperative Ethnic Studies courses have routinely resulted in increased academic performance, something only the most vile person could suggest is undesirable. Here, here and here are resources and information on implementing Ethnic Studies

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Black Lives Matter has made it impossible to remain colorblind, to ignore race and racism. They are calling a spade a spade and are demanding fundamental change. A main battleground for this struggle is, and will continue to be, the classroom. What an amazing opportunity we have, let’s not waste it.

Some Poems

To celebrate poetry month (April) many people write a poem a day. I did that this year and wanted to  share some with you. Hope you enjoy.

29/30

Your mouth is a delta,
saliva pooling, threatening
to drown every inch of common sense that lives within your body.
Your eyes replay tragedies
you heard shouted through whispers.
Still refusing to
believe, this weight is too heavy,
truth too obscene.
If this is real life we have genuflected to paper tigers,
spilled blood to fill gilded chalices,
fake gold turning our souls green.
Yet, you cling to your illusion
like a sailor drinking in the sea.
How long before your thirst betrays you?
What a glorious day that will be.

25/30

Ya’ll are like the stars
Very few will ever know your names
Yet you make the night beautiful.
Soldiers on the front line,
History will forget you, but I wont.
The winds and the rains will erode
you from the textbooks,
Still we learn your lessons.
Pass your tests every time we wake up.
Our original teachers.
Mother’s and Father’s
With GED’s and doctorates in life.
Heros with no national holidays,
Just overtime and time and a half.
Ya’ll are supernovas.
Constellations.
Forever enshrined in the heavens.
Mapping our way.

24/30

I see you, grinding on the daily
paint splatters and wind burned face,
putting on for your baby girl. I see you.
Young solider got so much love, so much energy,
waking up is fusion. You are sunshine.
Enough warmth to turn houses into homes– like ma dukes,in more ways than one.
I see you, feeling the world in ways most can’t fathom.
It’s so much more than a turn-up.
This is church. 
But they don’t got that in the wild, so you scribble scripture in journals
for generations yet to come. I see you.
Scoundrel cornerstone.
Lord of the dance. Grinding daily. Molding the future, mumbling raps.
The future is bright soldier.
Brother,
we thank you for that.

23/30

Got you decked out,
Million dollar makeover, but
I still see the stretch marks.
Remember the contractions.
You birthed real life.
Labor pains dulled by the high life.
They want charm with a blunt edge
And entertainment fees.
We got grit and razor sharp nerves
Only blunts ease.
They swarm like locusts
Feasting on the fruits of our labor
Got us griots
writing tributes to ghosts.
But this can’t be a eulogy
Got you in me, so
We seance and free up.
In ways they only mimic, their
Too bland:
Art districts, faux country clubs,
Gimmicks.
And the proof is in the footing.
Soil we watered with tears.
Scars that are still visible after all these years.
This is what makes us:
Good, bad, and the ugly.
Raze the city,
We comfy.
NE been beauty in the muddy.

21/30

The first time is the hardest, the words don’t quite roll off your tongue, they are sticky and jumble, messy. It gets easier though, with a little bit of practice you will be smooth with it, professional. Then it’s easy to do it to other people. The words move like water filling well carved out riverbeds. This becomes the path of least resistance, and you build habits. All from that first time… that first lie

16/30

I’m peeled back
Exposed
In the most grotesque way
Fake ass knight buffing tarnished armor
Paper mache rock
Castle built from sand at hightide
They see your weakness
They hear you wandering at night
Summoning spirits
That don’t speak your tongue
Only silence resonates in your hollow
Acid rain falls down your cheeks
Nothing grows in your garden
You are not organic
You are exposed
Protect your neck
In the most grotesque way
Be unflinching
Bury your fear
Ball up fists
Wrecking ball
You are exposed
Mouth dry
Like the dust you came from
Thirsty
Not real enough to be perfect
Not perfect enough to be real
Bite your lip
to keep the fear from spilling
Your cup runneth over
Terracotta warrior I am
Peeled back
I am
Bone with no marrow
Exposed
Navigator with no compass
In the most grotesque way

15/30

the future is bright
the type of bright that blinds
that hurts the eyes
brilliant bright
life-giving light

8/30

8 shots, middle of the day.
8 shots.
8 excuses, 8 apologies, 8 lies, 8 8 8
every 28
hours before the dawn
8 shots. 8 8 8.
what if there was no video?
8 angles, slow-moed 8 times.
8. 8. 8.
trying desperately not to swallow the hate

7/30

I try to mind my own business but they are talking loud enough for me to hear. “They just expect everything handed to them.” I’m not sure what “they” means to them but know it’s either poor people or people of color. Part of me wants to make a scene, part of me wants to just go fill up this glass of water. As I stand up still unsure of what I’m going to do I see the Obama 2008 sticker on his laptop. I turn and leave the coffee shop. Life in MN Nice.

6/30

We are connected.
We may have gulfs between us,
of fear, of
fun house images of God,
but we are connected.
And we will find each other.
With interstellar technology not even Google could map.
We will find each other.
We will speak in matching laughing accents,
and conjugate hugs to dull the pain.
We are connected

4/30

There are stories searing my tongue
Histories erased
Memories meandering
Ancestors accents anglicized for assimilation
But we are here
Buried under dollars and cement
Our roots remain
Ruins no more
There is truth to be told
Stories searing our tongues.

The Fire Right Now: Ally vs. Accomplice

RIOTS BREAK OUT IN BALTIMORE

Once again the country is faced with the harsh truth of its own brutality. The Baltimore police department severed Freddie Gray’s spine and took him from his family. This happened because when an officer made eye contact with him he had the audacity to run. The officers involved were suspended with pay and the rhetoric surrounding the case has been very sympathetic to the officers. This has resulted in Baltimore’s collective anger boiling over into massive protests which many have labeled a riot. In fact, rioting has dominated the headlines and social media with many excoriating the mainly young, black protesters who participated. I am not going to go into the politics of a riot, you can find that here. I am not interested in pointing out the inherent racism of the criticism of young, poor, and mainly black people being called criminals and thugs (as Barack Obama did) while white rioters get treated with kid gloves, you can find that here. Given these facts, I want to suggest a course of action for Euro-Americans who consider themselves progressive and anti-racist: We need to contextualize these events in history and unequivocally support these actions, calling out any criticism of them by Europeans.

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Recently there has been criticism of the term ally. This criticism rests on how those who identify as such position themselves to benefit from, and actually require, the very conditions they supposedly are trying to dismantle. This phenomenon is sadly on full display at times like these. Many “allies” and anti-racists have been mega-critical of the uprising happening in Baltimore. They cry for “peaceful protests” and working within the system, at the very most civil disobedience. This approach lays bare their investment in the system. They see the destruction of property as violence, but ignore the fact that much of that property is owned by others and was obtained through a long line of  violence. That violence doesn’t count.  They can not wrap their minds around the idea that the system is actually built on oppression and as such can not be reformed. They quote King’s I Have a Dream speech but forget that he called riots “the language of the unheard.” They are comfortable in the system and don’t want to feel guilty about it. They love the system and when it comes down to it they will condemn its destruction. They are will placate by asking “why did he run?” They will ponder with condescending paternalism “why do they destroy their own neighborhoods?” And they will say nothing of the violence and rioting that gave birth to America.

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We must not be allies. We must be accomplices, and right now is a perfect opportunity. By standing with those in uprise we are saying we understand that the system is inherently unjust and that it must be drastically re-envisioned. We are acknowledging that this is life and death and that Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones and all the rest will never be back, but CVS will. We are acknowledging that the distribution of resources and who gets to profit from those resources needs to change. By refusing to call the destruction of property a violence we contribute to a refocusing on the violence of the state. In short, refusing to rein in the birth pangs of revolution is a small but real rejection of the the culture of whiteness and as such is a blow to white supremacy. It is a very tangible way we can affirm that #blacklivesmatter.

The Disconnect and Finding Home

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This weekend I drove by the home I went to my first house party at, and it reminded me how long I have felt disconnected. I was in the 8th grade, there were only 20 or so students in the entire class so pretty much everybody hung out with everybody. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t tension, particularly with me. I didn’t fit in, I wore my hat backwards, wore different clothes and talked funny. There was one guy that was particularly rubbed the wrong way by me, and at this particular party it boiled over. He called me a wigger and tried to turn my hat around, I wasn’t going and it escalated from there. Before it got physical the adults broke it up (yup, it was that type of party) and him and I were told to go home. I remember crying when I got back to my house and wondering if there would ever by a place for me. The feeling hasn’t gone away.

It’s not uncommon for me to be asked “what are you?” The folks asking this are often times genuinely confused: I don’t present like the typical white male. Most often, then, the conclusion reached is that I want to be, or am trying to act, black. It took me a long time to really deal with this accusation: did I want to be black? The journey to answering that question has been a long and often times trying one for me. I have always tried to be as authentic as possible the problem was, and still is at times, I don’t always know what that is. I listen to Hip-Hop and have since the 3rd grade. I speak in the way that comes naturally to me, and I dress how I feel most comfortable. But, to me, the accusation got at something much deeper than my aesthetic. The accusation was more about how I move in the world. I didn’t fit in, it was hurting me, and I needed to know why.

It wasn’t until this past year that I have finally gained the tools to begin to confidently wrestle with the accusation that I wanted to be black. Through my studies at the Wellness Center I have been able to realize I don’t want to be black, I want to be cultural. That is to say I didn’t, and don’t, want to be white. I was recognizing at an early age that mainstream white American culture disconnects us from cultural practices and cultural knowledge, it is a parasite that eats at our souls ultimately disconnecting those who identify with it (whether consciously or not) from the larger human family. That is why I was drawn to Hip-Hop, and other ways of knowing (in 5th grade I asked my teacher why communism was bad), I wanted culture.

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I know I am not alone in this, there are so many Euro-Americans who are hungry for something real, who want culture. They are sick of having their worth dictated by their income and stock holdings. They are sick of trading their labor for the profits of a few. They are sick, and they want to be healthy. Beyond that, the nation has come to a point where whiteness is eroding and there needs to be something to replace it. The #blacklivesmatter movement has put everybody on notice: whiteness is over. This prospect terrifies many so called whites. But that need not be the case. We are human. We have culture, something to draw on. We must use that root culture to become poly-cultural and build something here and now to replace white supremacy. It must reject the pillaging of the earth. It must value humans over property. It must value community over the individual. It must call us home. But mainly, we, those who have had whiteness prescribed to them, must hear the call and come home.