2019: Resolve To Stay Awake All Year

I’m a big fan of new beginnings.  The more jaded among you may say that January 1 is just another day—random if we were to be honest.  The sun and stars don’t recognize the new year.  Not even every human culture celebrates the new year on January 1.  But right here, we do.  We are cyclical creatures: birth, life, death; spring, summer, fall, winter; eggnog, more eggnog, never drink eggnog again. So the new year finds us making promises, buying new gym shoes and tidying up our life for the new year to come. The number one resolution is to become healthier.  If you’re like most people, you have indulged a bit in all the culinary joys of the holiday season.  Maybe you’re looking more like Santa than a snack.  Perhaps you’ve raised too many glasses.  So it’s gym time, veggie trays instead of lasagna.

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Healthy living is hard to do in a world marked by injustice.  Looking back on the biggest challenges of the last year, racism has to be near the top of the list.  From the ridiculousness of BBQ Becky and Permit Patty to the sublime white nationalism coming from the White House, America’s struggles with racism were front and center.

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The daily drip of terrible stories felt overwhelming and unstoppable. ‘Stay woke’ isn’t just a catch phrase, it is a real challenge to remain conscious under such an onslaught of daily micro and macro inequities.  It is easier to limit our focus to ourselves, to stop paying attention to the ongoing injustice around us and retreat into a narrower consciousness. It is not hard to turn your self-care routine into a self-segregating wall, tuning out too long to stay awake, settling back into the comfortable routine of focusing on getting the bag, treating yo’ self, and ignoring the dumpster fire that rages across cable news every day.  This not-normal world is becoming the new normal.  We’re settling in to watch our country burn like it’s a Netflix special—put on your comfy pants and pass the popcorn.

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Just like too much eggnog, tuning out of the resistance will leave you foggy and full of shit.  Turns out, lactose and systemic inequality are not natural or healthy for humans to consume. So a new year is just what we need to clear out the fog and recommit ourselves to creating a better America.  Just two years ago at this time, we were measuring our heads for pussy hats and painting signs for the Women’s march.  We’ve come a long way since then with active and difficult conversations about racism and transphobia both in the women’s march and our country, and we still have so very long to go.  Time to fire up the knitting needles and stab them into the white supremacist patriarchy. Like your health goals for 2019, it’s good to start with truth beyond the myths of conventional wisdom and a few tips to get you started.

Myth #1 Racism has always been around and will always exist

False.  Racism is a man-made social construct, and as such can be dismantled by humans.  Race as we know it—black, white, Asian, latino—is a modern construction.  In fact, the printing press, fireworks, and Christmas are all older than racism.  We didn’t always have race; it is not inevitable that racism continues forever. We can dismantle the system of racism in America.

Myth #2 Racism is the fault of bad racist people

False.  Racism is a system that is used to structure power dynamics and is maintained in our culture by laws, rules, cultural norms, and interpersonal dynamics.  Each of us in America lives in this system. There are many behaviors of well-intentioned people that perpetuate this system. We all have the responsibility for working to change rules norms and practices that confer power in ways that are unjust:  we can educate ourselves, vote, speak out, listen, support, lead, confront, and collaborate with others to change the social structures that perpetuate racism.

Myth #3 Racism is perpetuated by old people; when they die so will racism

False: People of all ages can and are racist.  This picture alone from Charlottesville reminds us of that.  Proud boys, white nationalist groups, white terrorists all count young people among their members. Racism is not generational.  The heated battles over race take place on many campuses across America; racially motivated violence plagues schools across the country; white nationalist organizations continue targeting youth for recruitment. Racism is not going to die out unless we kill it.   

Myth #4 Racism is a problem for people of color

False.  Racism in America negatively affects all Americans.  People of color are the primary victims of racism in America, and white people are systemically advantaged. But the impact of racism extends to all the people who live within its system.  Unfair systems of advantage keep our nation divided, hurt people in marginalized groups, and prevent all people from experiencing the benefits of a unified population. We cannot know what we could have become if we chose the best leaders, and rewarded the brightest minds, not just the whitest minds.  With massive challenges ahead like climate change, we will need to be a country united to battle challenges, striving to make America the country it said it wanted to be. 

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Like dieting, there is not a shortcut to ending racism.  Even if we all decided today that we would like to end racism, the laws, policies, norms, and practices all need to change.  That takes effort. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try—we can see from the daily news headlines that we have to try or surely the new normal will become future terror. We need to build a system that is fair and equal, one where each person is truly free to pursue the life they choose.  Ending racism is a life-long pursuit, and like any healthy lifestyle change, it can have long-lasting positive effects on us and on those we love.

So let’s pledge to work with dismantle racism right where we live.  You don’t have to be a professional organizer to take on the job of tackling racism. You don’t need superhero skills to make a difference. Whatever your skill level you can take regular action where you are with what you have.  Let’s start slow:

Research—ideas about race are shifting as our knowledge about history, culture, and science expand.  Pick a book, article or even a video to help you learn more about what race really is and how it operates in the US.  Educating yourself is a good action to start with, especially if you haven’t learned about race in a while. Got a great read? Share it along with this article or in the comments.

Do your own personal survey—how inclusive is your world? Studies show the majority of Americans spend time with people of their same racial group.  Be aware this week of the kinds of people that you surround yourself with:  who is in your home? your town? your workplace?  Examine the vertical relationships you have—who are your peers, and who are people with less and more power than you? Journal out your own environmental scan and look for places where you can grow.

Set your intentions—It’s not enough to dislike racism.  We have to be clear with ourselves about what it means to be anti-racist.  Do we want to just send hopes and prayers, or do we want to take an active role this year to address the issues of race in our own community?  The new year is a good time to affirm our commitment to justice.  If you’ve been unplugged, tune in.  If you were drifting into the new normal, wake up? Add antiracism to your list of 2019 resolutions.

Experts say the average New Years resolution lasts until about January 17, but not us baby.  I’ll be here with ideas and inspiration to keep you working to build a more inclusive world all year long, so be sure to follow me here and across my social at #inclusive2019.  I hope you will keep thinking, learning and acting to end racism in your own life, so we can meet here same time next year to usher in 2020 with clear vision and loving communities.  Stay woke.

How To Love America

A few nights ago my neighborhood filled with a haze of smoke, roads and people obscured by the fog.  Just over the tops of the houses across the street, I could see a thick cloud blazing from a house on fire.  Some people had been shooting off fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July when they set their own house on fire.  Despite the inherent tragedy, it seemed like burning down your own house by lighting off gunpowder and throwing it on your porch seems an apt way to commemorate independence day this year. This is America.

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A poll released by Gallup shows pride in America is a record low–just 47% of Americans overall say they are extremely proud of their country, and that number drops to 32% when you split along party lines to look at Dems only. Half the country loves America like a stalker screaming “I love you!” when they walk into your job with a long gun and the other half are filling out asylum applications for Canada. Just over a decade ago, more than 70% of people were extremely proud to be America.  What could possibly have caused so much hatred and division? Vlad? Don? Any ideas?

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It used to be easy to love America–we are, after all, the land of milk and honey.  Now, though, everyone is lactose intolerant, the bees are dying and our democracy is unraveling at the seams. So desperate are we to revive the myth that everyone wants to be us that we are locking up asylum seekers, claiming there’s a wave of people pushing up from the southern border.  Many people believe this narrative even though net migration has been near its lowest for several years.

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Long-term relationships are hard, and when Bae isn’t treating you right it can be easier to break up than to do the work to make up.  But you can’t dump your country of origin.  Like a marriage or your Mom, you’re going to have to try to make this work. So this 4th of July, let’s revive our flagging love affair with America. And no, this isn’t a trip down nostalgia lane wearing a MAGA hat.  These are tips for staying in the fight when you’d rather throw a firework on the porch of America and let it burn.

Image result for i love america protest signAffirm your commitment

Your anger, sadness, and fear are a result of seeing something you love be destroyed by clown-faced hooligans.  Take a minute to focus on the first half of that. Hold onto the fact that you love this country like a life raft.  Despite all that has been and all that it is now, the promise of what we could be, the natural beauty of where we are, and the vast majority of our people make the US a place worth fighting for.

Image result for iconic protest photosLove is Accountability

Any relationship that is going to last long term is going to take a lot of work.  For too long we have floated along without attending the work needed to ensure the American dream is truly available to all people.  Just like Bey and Jay, once you are aware your boo has gone astray, its time to call it out, and then work it out.  You can be mad about America acting a fool and still love it.  You can love America and refuse to let shit go. The fun time we had ignoring our problems and yelling bling bling are gone. Time to hunker down and do the work.

Image result for charlottesville protester hairspray torchDo Not Accept Violence As Love

For any relationship to last, violence has to be unacceptable. No one thrives in an abusive relationship–certainly not the victim, nor the abuser. For centuries we have had successive waves of violence aimed at nearly every part of the population. This year we have seen 157 mass shootings, many of which are spurred by the dumpster fire of hate our country has become.  Call it what it is–nationalist terrorism–and demand public officials recognize it as such.  Relational, political and systemic violence is rampant, from kids in cages to police brutality, to aggressive deregulation and harmful economic practices.  Show up and speak out every fucking time violence erupts.

Related imageDon’t Lose Yourself

Being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back is a recipe for disaster as any decent love song will tell you. While we collectively try to love this country onto the right side of history, take time out to make sure you nurture and grow yourself.  Sad to say, we are on the downhill slide, and it may take some time before we’re done with this fight.  It is okay to remove yourself, to treat your wounds while the battle rages around you.  We are legion, so self-care is possible and important.  To give love you must first give it to yourself.  Do what you need to do to keep yourself right. Fall back and pant in between crises. Paint and draw and write and plant and laugh just for your own sanity. Spend time loving the people you love. You are not America. You do not have to mirror the chaos. You can take a break from the hate to remind yourself why your life matters.

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Refuse to Let the Sidechick Win

Trump enjoys wild popularity in his party–nearly 90% of Republicans have a favorable rating of the president.  But the party is shrinking.  As Trump does Trump, more “establishment” Republicans flee the party and our polarized system breaks down.  Trump represents neither traditional political base.  Ugly, attitudinal and demanding power he doesn’t have, Trump is the typical side chick.  No matter how loud she gets, you can’t let her take your boo.  If it means you have to slap a bitch in the elevator, so be it.  Despite Trump’s claims, his rabid base is far less than half the electorate. Get your neighbors and friends into the game and remind them who this country belongs to.

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Love is not easy.  I’ve had enough crappy relationships to know sometimes you have to walk away.  These days may have you fantasizing about Canadian bacon, but the American dream is still worth loving.  This 4th of July raise your tofu pup and locally brewed craft beer to toast America.  Drink up some good summertime vibes.  As you watch the fireworks tonight, remember how beautiful the fight for America can be.

 

A House On Fire

Imagine a world where there are 5 Parkland School shootings every day.  Imagine a world where there is a 9/11 every month. Now open your eyes to a country where 45,000 people a day die by suicide every year.  The suicide of two high profile celebrities–designer Kate Spade and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain–along with recent information released by the CDC have cast light on a subject that frequently goes unaddressed. Suicide–the 10 leading cause of death– claims more lives than school shootings and terrorist acts combined.

Graphic: Suicide rates rose across the US from 1999 to 2016

Kate Spade was a wildly successful fashion designer who built an empire on whimsy.  Healthy, beautiful, successful.  Anthony Bourdain was if nothing else a lover of life, taking us with him to connect with humanity over a bowl of food.  Again, wildly successful by any measures of our culture.  While we are familiar with the dark face of school shooters and struggling addicts dying from mental health issues, what does it say when those who live the lives we all fantasize about no longer want to live their lives?

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The airwaves and interwebs are full of messages about what to do if you are in crisis, ways to combat depression, helplines that are lifelines, and exhortations to check on your friend.  This is important.  Destigmatizing mental health and providing adequate supports is awesome and helpful.

Lurking beneath this mountain of advice is the subtle blame that problems with mental health occur because individuals are not maintaining their own shit.  But how can one be mentally healthy in culture so permeated with hate and violence?  How can one rise above crisis when crisis is the soup of the day every day?  What role do our wildly unstable world and crumbling communities hold in this uptick in mental health issues?

Despite the myth of the American dream, beneath the sheen of instagram feeds are lives of anxiety, sadness and loneliness.  While we can acquire the goods that mark a good life–our systems are calibrated to help us achieve the material success–we work long hours, and often end up with stuff but no satisfaction. Exhausted at the end of the day we have little energy for putting in work to sustain the relationships that sustain us.  Our communities  seem to be drifting away from an orientation of connection–people lost in their own virtual worlds building bridges online instead of next door. Our heads are bent over screens instead of lovers. And all around us, chaos and a deconstructed democracy.

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If we are a developed nation, what have we developed? Our country is permeated with sadness that sits just at the edge of our culture, a borderland on our beautiful dream, a place that some people journey to more than others, but a location available to everybody in this automated world of separation.  Mental health is a problem not just of individuals, but for the nation.  The National Suicide helpline and other organizations are important resources for people in crisis, but no call center can shift our damaged culture to create a space where more people feel safe and held and connected.

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There is a deep malaise at the heart of America. you might say that the dream has become a nightmare, but it always has been.  This is a country literally built on a Native American burial ground. If you’ve even seen a horror movie, you know that this is not good. With high rates of suicide, massive amounts of anxiety, rampant addiction to pain killers and drowning even at the highest levels of success–maybe especially at the highest levels– the lie is exposed for all its terribleness. Sadness and loneliness and racism and sexism and capitalism and this unattainable life: we eat and are consumed.

David Foster Wallace compared suicide to jumping out of a burning building:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

A quick trip through the headlines is enough to see that America for all it offers is a house on fire. To live in a home that is burning is bad for all the inhabitants, not just people with identified mental health issues.   The culture is not good for any of us.  Those that are struggling are an alarm– it’s past time to respond.

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If suicide is people jumping from burning buildings, then we have to start to knock down the fire in order to create healthy environments to support healing.  We cannot always know or understand the inner lives of those we love, but we can be firefighters helping to battle the flames that threaten them. We need to care about each other.  We need to check on each other. We live here in this home together, and the roof, the roof is on fire.

 

While we wait to rebuild our culture is you or someone you know is struggling please know that there is help.  Check on all your friends.

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I’m Just A Threat: Childish Gambino on America

Donald Glover wasn’t content to just reawaken our childhood trauma on Thursday’s episode of Atlanta and then round out his triple threat credentials hosting and as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

He had to remind us what kind of threat he really is in his Sunday morning video release of This Is America.  This dark minstrel-show video is more complex than a Kanye West history revision, swinging wildly from Bo Jangles shuck and jive to a roleplay of America’s dark chaos.

The video starts with the sound of light Caribean guitar played by a barefoot man in linen pants–a moment of black joy and happiness.  Childish Gambino jerks to life to the music, contorting to adopt the tune like a demon taking possession of the black body.  The happy tune is short lived as a stalking shirtless Gambino mercs his diasporan brother, menacing “This is America” to the throb of heavy bass.  He adopts the famous pose of dancing Jim Crow when he pulls the trigger: this is the black experience in America, our connection killed, our bodies possessed by the leering dark energy of American supremacy, turned into shucking zombies.  This is probably what it looked like when Kanye lost his mind.

The new Jim Crow two steps with South African school children against a backdrop of increasing chaos.  The stereotypical images of blacks dancing and singing ‘cars, clothes, hos’ are hip hop’s most marketable products.  Against the backdrop of hundreds of years of oppression, rappers that preach the prosperity+bitches gospel reinforce the slavery-era idea that blacks were greedy, lazy bucks, undeserving of freedom or justice.  Simultaneously, they lull listeners into focusing on a little cash instead of economic justice, a little flash instead of freedom These are the kind of images mass media loves to reproduce–and ship worldwide: they support hegemonic thinking about blacks and keep everyone sipping the white supremacy juice.  A twin set of school children dance in the back under the rain of a red money gun. Jim Crow is for the kids

Speaking of the prosperity gospel, a choir preaching “get your money, black man” sings in a room removed from the chaos.  Jim pops through a door to join them in joyful worship–for a moment–before mowing them down with an AR-15. He punctuates his shots again with, “This is America.” The scene calls the Charleston church shooting to mind.  It also reminds us that as black people, buying into capitalism as a way to salvation is a dangerous business: “Don’t catch you slippin.”

Throughout the video, the background is increasingly populated with people running in all directions. black people and white people, cops, people wielding sticks or bats.  The direction of the actions isn’t clear–who is chasing who?  Is this an uprising like Baltimore or a street war like Charlottesville?  Like the news on any given day, it is hard to make sense of the chaotic images broadcast salaciously without context.

Above it all, young men in white masks bear witness, cell phones out.  “This is a celly. That is a tool.” They sit above the chaos watching and recording.  Below the school kids circle Jim Crow while the apocalypse’s horseman rides through on the white horse of death (is everything apocalyptic? [yes.]).  With cars burning and police and people rioting, it is Jim Crow’s hand extended like a gun that sends everyone running, the scene dropping into silence as he nods off high on America’s heroin, violence.

His dance is brought back with a couple quick puffs on a joint.  He perches atop a car doing his best Michael Jackson. Scattered around is a field of cars.  These are not your usual rap-mobiles.  There are no spinning rims or chrome kits.  Instead, the cars call to mind the hundreds of cars we have seen pulled over in police shooting videos.  Sandra Bland’s car, or Samuel Dubose’s–cars that belong to working people just trying to get through the day without being turned into a statistic by the state.  Jim Crow dances among the graveyard of cars, with just his linen legged brother, hooded head and guitar restored and a sister wavering sexily on the hood of a Philando Castile look-a-like car.

Even the black man that dances possessed through a wasteland of black pain, shucking and jiving to the gospel of white supremacy, mowing down his brethren, is not free (take note, Kanye). The video ends with our Jim Crow now terror-stricken, running from the faceless unfocused chaos he was dancing above.  He is no longer funny or silly or swaggy, his face full of raw fear, his body pumping all his energy towards surviving.  Judging by our present state of affairs, he’s not going to make it.

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The video gives us a lot to examine.  Childish Gambino has created this layered stew worthy of reflection and not just reaction–so what do you take away?  Some have written that he is condemning black America for embracing shallowness while massive problems loom in plain sight.  Others have said he is pointing to a cycle of violence and numbness as we try to mumble rap our way past problems we can’t ignore.  I think both of these analyses put too much burden on black America alone to do the heavy lifting of eradicating white supremacy.

To lay white supremacy at the feet of black people who like to have a good time is also to deny black people their humanity.  In the last few years, I have seen activists go so hard that their life energy was depleted like a phone charge.  We plug ourselves into pop culture to get a boost, a little levity to remind us why we fight, a little art to remind us that to be free is to take joy where you can find it. The trick is to plug into pop culture that fills you up to fight another day, and these days black excellence is giving us plenty to sup on.  Childish Gambino’s song and video are another in a long line of important work being created by black artists–Cole, Lamar, Kweli, and Buddy and Caleborate, and Beyonce, and Solange, and, Joyner, and Vic Mensa and on and on.

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Yes, yes, the commodity factory of American media keeps pumping out crap-get-money-fuck-bitches-rap. You don’t have to eat that fast food.  You shouldn’t let the fast food being produced by corporations define what hip hop is or isn’t.  Don’t be fooled: there is always conscious rap happening.  Sometimes it is harder to find than others, but it has always been a part of hip-hop, and more broadly black culture.  In every era, the rebellion leaders and freedom fighters also consumed the pop culture of their day.  In other times as in our own, artists and seers showed us the way through their painting, writing, singing, and dancing. Let’s not let each new track make us declare consciousness is now alive, now dead.  Let’s just sit in the complexity. Let’s acknowledge that our world is not binary.

America is this– forcing all experience into a simple dichotomy of good and bad, violence and justice, joy and chaos.  We have to tease out what the relationship between these elements is–where is the cause?  which is the side effect?  who loses and who loses more? This Is America juxtaposes our country’s many masks so that we can see the complexity of moving through this world.  The video is a Rorschach test, the video sows both shame and sympathy, letting you grow whichever you choose.   It is we who must do the choosing: not just for this video, not in the abstract but at this moment. To get beyond the binge/purge cycle that devours black life, we have to rise above the choice to devolve into the chaos America allows for or to rest in the embrace of the joy and lightness that we need sometimes to survive.  To do both, to be all that humanity can be–this is America.

 

 

It’s 2018: You Survived the Apocalypse

As a kid, I had problems–bullying, a little racism, typical teen drama.  Sometimes when I would complain to my Dad he would impassively ruffle the pages of his newspaper and ask:

“Are you dead?”

Was he not listening to the blow by blow I just sobbed out?  What does being dead have to do with anything?  I would always spit out, “No,” with a pout.  I knew what came next.

“Then you’re fine.” He would offer from behind his paper.  Case closed.

What kind of bullshit was this?  Could he not see the angst and pain my personal battles were causing me? Didn’t he care?  I remember feeling that the simplicity of his answer was cold in light of the hard world outside our home.  As with all good lessons, only later I came to see I had it backward: the world was cold and he was helping me create a hardness inside me to protect against its chill.

Later, in my room, gnashing my teeth in anger at the exchange, what would make me most mad is that I could not deny that he was right.  No matter what anybody had said to me, no matter what emotional knots I tied myself up in over my battles, I was in fact, not dead, I was still here.  In the end, when I got out of my feelings, I found myself still alive.

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Over time this taught me no one’s taunts had the power to kill me, only to weaken me by pushing me off my mark, bending me out of integrity. Bullies were strongest when I let them push my buttons when I tried to go tit for tat.  The fear and anger I felt as a result of their harassment only clouded my ability to respond. Acknowledging that I survived each challenge I faced helped me see I could not control the actions of other people but I could control myself.  I could know that I was strong enough to face whatever was put in my way.  It was not really about being fine, it was about knowing that I had the power and fortitude to keep going and keep moving, motivated by a deep faith that I would persist.  I learned could thrive amongst difficulty.  Knowing this gave me the control I needed to face my bullies with courage and composure.

Over time, I began to ask myself that same question in times of difficulty.  When I thought I could not go on when the pain and misery of the world bent me out of integrity I would perform a quick gut check: am I dead? No? Then keep it pushing. I cannot control every monster but over time I learned I could control my own demons. This is the key to staying in the fight, to living to fight another day.

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Sometimes the world seems too much to bear.  I remember this time last year, seized with fear and uncertainty at the prospect of a Trump presidency,  at a country set to explode.  And then 2017 came. And we did blow up.

This year was a raging dumpster fire beginning to end.  A year of Trump driving America right over a cliff–killing Obamacare and net neutrality, defunding science, tax breaks for the rich, the immigration ban, appointing unqualified judges and championing racism and sexism and classism as patriotic values.  The country I love is on fire. The world is teetering on the brink of chaos. Our best hope seems to be a man with a rocket ship to Mars.   The details of 2017 read like a list of signs of the apocalypse right out of several Hollywood movies.

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And yet, we are not dead.

Even stranger, I feel wildly optimistic. The ground is razed and I’m in a mood to build. See, here’s a little secret I learned about the apocalypse.  The end is never the end, only a new beginning. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek apo–un and kaluptein–to cover–to uncover, to reveal.  An apocalypse isn’t an end, it’s an unveiling.

In the purest sense of the word, 2017 was a true apocalypse.  America had long slumbered in a self-congratulatory slump, shoving a big foam we’re-number-one-finger in the world’s face while racism and sexism seethed unseen beneath the mainstream’s gaze.  Globalization turned us into a nation of consumers, too proud to realize we were slipping behind in the knowledge economy. The untreated virus of white supremacy weakened our country for centuries and the only treatments rendered were to deny, destroy and disempower communities of color. Patriarchy kept one boot squarely on half the population, capitalism kept both boots on us all.  With all that going on, we were too busy buying shit and numbing out to the pap of spoon-fed pop culture to notice.

Then came 2017: the rise of the alt-right. The blossoming of the new black civil rights movement.  #Me Too. And Trump, Trump a pimple that exploded in all the ugliness beneath America’s skin. There are no more secrets here.

As a wise man once said, “if you don’t know, now you know…”

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The scabby underbelly has revealed itself, disallowing us the ability to ignore the contradictions at the heart of our country, contradictions that threaten to tear us all apart:  if we are the land of the free, why are we chained in debt? if this is the home of the brave, why have we ignored those who stand up to speak truth to power? if we are all created equal, then why are we so unequal? Can we ever be a more perfect union?

As painful as this year has been, we can see plainly what our country is.  Gone are our rose-colored glasses, numbness turned to rage and fear. The trick now is to not let the emotions of these times cloud our ability to think clearly, act cooperatively and build towards a new vision, not just defend against the daily onslaught. As difficult as it is to be woke, it is the only way forward.

The apocalypse is an end only to the status quo.  The upheaval is real, the chaos of old structures shaking to their core terrifying, but hush your fear and look for the opportunities to build.  Channel your anger to weather the upheaval. The apocalypse ushers in a new time, the next paradigm.  Don’t get lost in the distractions while new powerbrokers make new rules. The resistance is working, too, each of us in our own way. We have the knowledge, the technology, and–I know with every fiber of my being–the human compassion needed to build a better world, more perfect than our forefathers could imagine.

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So on this first day of 2018, I offer you this gut check:  if you are reading this, you’re not dead.  You’re still here. And 2017 was a bitch, so that’s really saying something. Strap on your helmet. Like Elon Musk’s rockets, we have explosions at each stage, shedding a firey ball of flame across the sky, but I assure you we are ascending. As we jettison the lies we had come to depend on, we will be free to evolve past our imperfect past.  As long as we don’t burn up in the process, we are entering the wider universe. We are transforming into something more.

 

 

 

A Year Without Sleep

This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.  The recent graduate was walking down the street when he encountered former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  Three minutes later he was dead.  Within hours of his death the first protests formed on the very street he was shot on.  The protests have not stopped since.

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Nor have the deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of the state.  The last year has seen the largest number of people killed by police, even as the nation has paid more attention to the issue, and the calls for action have been the loudest  in decades. For anyone passing through America’s race problems unaware, this year provides an answer to a question that floated gently over America on the night of Obama’s first election–is racism over?–with an emphatic no.

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From streets echoing with cries for justice to politricks and cable news echoing with old school racism, this past year has served to shake the sleepy giant of the American masses from their slumber  and awaken it from its dream of racial harmony.  Americans wake to find some of we the people are suffering the outrageous slings and arrows of white supremacy.  They wake to see young leaders of the new civil rights movement taking up the arms of protest against a sea of troubles.

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Even as republican presidential candidates bemoan the rise of political correctness, we sail past the tipping point, unlikely to make a full return to times when it is acceptable–and sometime good fun, wink, wink–to disparage blacks openly in the media. Significant because behind the battle over the words we use floats the scepter of power, hanging in the balance as the country moves towards a majority minority population. Make no mistake, this new world we find ourself in is not the promised land, but the wide murky territory between what we used to be and what we ought to be, a land full of deadly mines, traps and open warfare.

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photo credit: Tim Pierce, https://www.flickr.com/photos/qwrrty/15353495103/

Being awake this year has been difficult at some times, soul-crushing others.  Bearing witness and speaking truth and two heavy burdens born by the conscious.  It does not alway feel good to be awake, but to close your eyes to the reality of the world you pass through isn’t really living.  To ignore the oppression of the people of your own nation stands as treason to the dream of a people created equal. So stay up, and pay tribute to the life of Michael Brown with eyes that stay open.

After The Tear Gas, Before The Next Victim

It’s been 22 days since Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson and left to lie in the street like a dog.  For the first time in three weeks, the story of the shooting, the protests that followed it and the insane military police response is slipping down the news cast and out of the spotlight.

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Much has been said in the last three weeks about the case, about race in America and what we should or shouldn’t do about it. A lot of what has been said is important and thoughtful, from addressing the systemic racism inherent to the case to exploring a wide range of activist responses for black people and white allies.

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There has been a provocative and valuable outcry against media representation of black people, particularly #iftheygunnedmedown, which paired two pictures of a young person: one more socially acceptable and one stereotypical. The hashtag asks which picture is like to accompany a story of them being shot by police.

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I haven’t yet said anything about the case. I’ve written to you a thousand times only to crumple up the web page and throw it at the wall. I’ve written through all the stages of grief, though admittedly too much from anger. In the end I am left feeling that there is little worth saying that has not been said a thousand times already. I don’t mean that I want an idea that stands out, I mean only that this seems too much like a script from beginning to end that I’ve heard before: the incident, the outcry, the authoritative denial, the protests, the smack down, the prayers, all devolving into an argument about whether racism exists.

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And here is where I get stuck–in the face of a case that throws systemic racism into clear view, the dialog still trends to denial. I find my writing has been a defense, a plea that this is racism, that what the people protesting in the streets are saying is true. That black life matters.

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In a Pew Research Center poll, less than half of respondents thought that the Michael Brown case raised important issues about race, and 40% thought that race was getting more attention than it deserved.  The division deepens when broken down by the race of respondent.

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Despite a million tweets and a thousand blog posts that clearly outline how and why the police shooting of unarmed black men is a problem, the public response, especially from non-black people is one of doubt.  It reminds me of this scene from color of fear, a documentary about race when a group of men participated in a long dialog to untangle issues, and this happened:

Despite the wail of protesters, despite the avalanche of facts of he activists, despite the dead bodies of black men lying cold in the ground, still people choose not to believe.

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Police kill black people with impunity. Race is the issue. Please imagine a summer when a young white mother of five was choked to death going to the store, when a recent white high school grad was shot in broad daylight, when a laid back young lady was shot while browsing Walmart with a sporting good sold in the store under her arm. You must imagine it because 5 white women weren’t gunned down by police this month.

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had to find a stock photo–try searching white woman shot by police

This is the heart of white privilege. It’s not just accumulated wealth or housing or education or even political access; it is the power to deny the very existence of others and to negate their experiences even as they unfold before your eyes. It is the power to turn public discourse from the facts-in-evidence to your feelings while looking for the truth. It is the power to not see it, and therefore deny others see it. It is the power to think that others deserve what you do not for reasons that amount to little more than victim blaming and denial of overwhelming evidence.

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In a country where some people are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, there must exist a similar bias for people of the dominant group. Too often, we get mired in discussion about where the white whale of privilege exists–it does–and if this means all white people are living the dream– they’re not. But let’s not get sidelined by a conversation about white privilege.

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The debate about white privilege masks an even deeper truth, one that may just draw us together. We are all–black, white, latino and asian–disadvantaged by a system of racial privilege.  No matter your race, the shooting of Mike Brown matters to you and the ability of your family to life a happy life.  Denying racism keeps the country dependent on a broken system.  A country that is unfair to millions, that has laws legitimizing marginalization a and criminalization of some humans, while providing others economic and political immunity can never be safe, can never be just, and therefore can never be stable.

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While we argue if blacks are full humans– they are– or whether all whites are personally to blame–they’re not– the elite of this country continue to amass both wealth and power. We already know they have a lock on resources; less than 1% holds 23% of our nations wealth.  Research to be released in the upcoming Perspectives on Politics shows clear evidence that a very small group of people int his country also controls a vast amount of political power.

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The massive militarization of American police forces was very profitable for the military industrial complex. Continued conflict between working- and middle-class whites and working- and middle-class blacks, stoked by a racist, fear-mongering mass media, diverts attention from the real economic challenges both races face in an increasingly corporatized culture. Since the recession, we’re all more aware of how close we could come to ruin.  The politics of division don’t serve us.  Fighting each other, and killing innocents when we have real villains lurking behind unfair tax laws and politicians’ pockets is madness.

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Black, brown, female, poor, working class, elderly, disabled: isn’t a person on this list in your family? We can’t allow our national dialogue to run like a broken record every time evidence of inequity surfaces. We can’t stall out the conversation in “if it is”, or how to feel, and we can’t allow you to feel like you don’t have some skin in the games. No matter the color, your skin is a part of this system of privilege and disadvantage. You live in this game.

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It’s time to end racism so we can unite to fight our greater challenges, like economic injustice and resource management.  It’s not communist to want America to provide opportunities for upward mobility– currently we are 22 on the list of developed nations. It’s not un American to want our police and our politicians to represent people not super pacs. It’s not revolutionary to demand safety on your own street–it’s time.