we are no longer surprised

we are no longer surprised
not for years
not for generations

you have tried every which way
to strip us of the miraculous
to slice it from us, the future
to leave us without the womb
into which a next world can be born

you want to cover the sky
deny us the sun
we see you casting smoke against our visions
still we feel our way
you slick shit waste oil into our veins
we drag it all the way down and turn it into algae
eaten by, eaten by, eaten by the
market rate fish you overpaid for
back, back all the way into your throat
and you think it’s delicious

you have no idea
what it takes to protect magic
yours was damaged centuries ago
you think it is gone
we know it is not
you are just settling for the smallest
shortest version of delight
the bloody meal in your hands
while we set a decadent table
for our children

listen
you will never, ever, ever disappear us
we are beyond borders, categories,
names you mispronounce trying to steal them
for your streets and creeks
we are beyond your bars, walls, and limitations

listen
you will never, ever, ever erase us
we are known to the roots of the trees
loved by the sediment which listens
to the stories our cells tell as they
slough off our corpses

listen
you will never, ever, ever best us
we don’t retire when we die,
we come back to keep you hungry
when you’re so rich you can no longer taste
to keep you lonely
when you have everything that everyone wants
to keep you working
when no effort can satisfy you
to keep you fighting
over imagined spoils

listen
you will never, ever, ever be free
when you knot yourself to everything you touch
with the word mine, mine, mine
foolish is a lineage that tries to pass along
anything more than lessons
everything is made of everything don’t you see
you are as precious as any stone don’t you see
you are as sacred as any text don’t you see
you are as holy as any treasure don’t you feel
you are as gorgeous as any ruin

listen
run away from the cages that make you believe you have to lie to belong

listen
the reason you will never be superior is because it is in itself the lowest form of existence,
you are swimming towards the sewer
can’t you smell yourself

listen
inside of you is a seed that can only be released
by burning down the horrific separateness
of privilege
inside of you is a prophecy that can only be heard after the words: I was wrong

listen
I was wrong
we were wrong
our ancestors, we must say it
some of us have ancestors
who were so wrong
in so many ways
and now here we are
less and less days left in which
we can turn the tide
I feel grief welling up inside
so much grander than I can hide
for all that we’ve tried
as our species has bloomed
but in the same arc,
died

listen
we will never, ever, ever surrender
our story isn’t one short lifetime long
your horrors are not contained by an empire
you are the shadow of our own eclipse
and you are the only one
scared of the dark

listen
we hibernate and heal during dark ages
until you forget the world used to revolve
around mothers
until you forget how a spell is just
earth and breath joined across a tongue
until you forget how a finger or a look can be a wand
and the earth can tell you how to burn
and how to grow and when to harvest
and what it is to love as mother birds,
as a lioness, as peach against teeth,
as flower following sun
how a stand of trees teaches us family
how a ghost teaches us devotion
yes until you forget that ancestors walk with us
and guide us and make us dream
until we see the truth of it all
how we are each of us a pulse
in the singular life of the divine
unable to comprehend how beautiful
it is to take one, whole, perfect, never again breath
.
.
.
until you forget how we are all
part
of god

9/15/20

(see/hear this read on my instagram account)

42, what feels true

1. we each have a purpose worth the miracle and struggle of our lives
2. finding that purpose is not guaranteed, it takes effort to look within
3. the conditions we are given are not our fault

4. we are responsible for what we do with the conditions we are given
5. we can’t control what other people do with their conditions, realizing that is a liberation
6. supremacy will either hold us down with false weight or lift us up on false wings – believe neither lie
7. true love is worth the risk – of vulnerability, of future heartache and grief, of happiness – every time
8. every minute and effort given to practicing and learning true love increases our overall life satisfaction
9. the heart can lead when the head is confused or frightened
10. letting in massive love makes me stronger
11. it takes scholarship to be satisfied, and it’s worth the practice and study
12. we can learn everything from nature
13. we are nature
14. our bodies know what we want and need, if we listen
15. our bodies deserve our own devotional attention
16. our bodies are worth the devotional attention of others

IMG_6102

17. my body wants to be used in service of my own and others’ liberation, to sweat, to know pleasure, to be held
18. removing those who can’t see and protect our miraculous lives, bodies and time is wisdom in action

19. community works better as a support, spiritual cauldron, accountability space and strategy if we use the term community to mean specific people
20. my community is strong, brilliant, funny, petty without being cruel, intriguing, honest and brave. they flank me and help me learn
21. life is more effective and joyful when I approach a new year by scheduling togetherness time with family/love/friendships first, then regular well-being time (exercise, bodywork, therapy), then use what remains for my life’s work
22. writing is both my life’s work and my spiritual practice
23. what i write from heart and spirit resonates most deeply
24. my most successful writing comes through surrender and channeling
25. sex is a spiritual practice, a healing ground, and a favorite exercise
26. intimacy includes so many more acts, offers and touches than sex
27. true intimacy, being known, is nourishing
28. self intimacy precedes, lays and maintains the foundation for satisfying intimacy with others
29. breakfast in bed, footrubs and hair braiding are some of the sweetest intimacies
30. i have been blessed with black women therapists who help me see and love myself
31. i have been blessed with teachers I respect, who help me see and love my purpose
32. tarot allows me to hear the universe daily and channel it to others

33. astrology from the right teachers and practitioners is a delightful way to listen to the universe
34. auntie is my favorite role with children / I grow when I indulge and follow their brilliance
35. being a sibling, blood and chosen, is an excellent calling…I am so grateful for how many people are living alongside me
36. questions lead us to more interesting, honest places than answers
37. god is never separate from us – when I feel an absence of spirit it means I have abandoned myself, and it is time to intentionally return to myself

38. we can’t please everyone, and it will never be satisfying to try to
39. i can deeply please myself, and it is satisfying every day that i listen to and meet my purpose, needs, truth and longings
40. learning/remembering to feel returns us to the miraculous aspects of being alive
41. we are in an age of brilliant art and it makes the unimaginable manageable
42. life unveils so much wonder to a beginner’s mind

Black August Haikus, 2020

for years now, i have participated in Black August, a month of honoring the sacrifices and living wisdom of our political prisoners. inspired by the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity and Spirithouse communities, i’ve participated in a haiku writing practice in addition to fasting and reading. here are this year’s offers.

Aug 1

six feet apart or
six feet under, but alive
black freedom fighters

we fight for your lives
lift your names up, sacred song
we open your bars

we stop wasting time
chancing our liberation
we owe you rigor

Aug 2

fill your mouth with us
our lives, our deaths, mattering
say each of our names

fill your fight with us
our time, our years, sacrificed
remember our names

fill your lives with us
our dreams, brilliance, this culture
we are more than names

Aug 3

love, stop complaining
of all this freedom you have
that’s our blood, our loss

all our sleepless nights
praying for you, for your joy
you can be grateful

you can stay humble
keep learning, as we still learn
tomorrow’s lessons

Aug 4

our worst nightmare fears
are your daily bread, your sun
rises inside bars

every single year
you see life in snapshots, flash
the children are grown

this is the debt due
our attention to your hearts
to your brilliant minds

none of us are free
we are bound to your hours
to your sacrifice

this is the debt due
practice freedom every day
we belong to you

Aug 5

look at the glory
standing naked in mirrors
waiting for your glance

take in the beauty
stripped of all small attention
infinite blackness

turn towards yourself
and offer that precious love
you always have you

you cannot be caught
you’re never less than your soul
open your cages

stand in the moonlight
bathe, swim in that reflection
you, you are the light

Aug 8

you are meant to love
in spite of everything past
you need to be loved

you’re meant for freedom
in spite of constant cages
you are still so wild

you are built to hold
in spite of the erasure
you’re built for worship

you are here to thrive
this is your reclamation
your orgasmic yes

Aug 14

we hold multitudes
do not shrink, don’t simplify
black complexity
was never for sale
we are not simple, fragile
we are whole, come true
be kind to your wild
ancestor-fed fantasies
distinction matters
oh imperfect one
what you are is so divine
don’t let us miss you

Aug 16

the whole universe
is a black woman, vast, thick
glitter in her hair

she loves the quiet
small infinite busy-ness
cannot disturb her

on Sunday mornings
her languid body slumbers
while you pray on it

drift outside of time
and her silent company
will meet you dreaming

the revolution:
remembering power is
like her great stillness

which only gives trust
to those in mutual awe
no limitations

Aug 17

we learn to lose weight
smaller, grieving, contained: shrink
hush all that weeping

we learn how to lie
be fine, smile bright, say yes: mask
the truth is violent

we learn hunger pains
naked, alone, tired: fuck
this is who I am

we learn to expand
growing, loving, trusting: heal
we aren’t so heavy

we give up that fight
trying to be likable
we choose greater love

Aug 19

the real heartbreak is
even though change is needed
I feel death ahead

feel it every day
as we go thru our motions,
beyond miracles
to keep us alive
to grieve us, to let us go,
holding the broken
promises, prayers
treaties, amendments (they said
oh so many things)

even as chills come
and I find myself wanting
to trust tomorrow

even as I try
not to be selfish in spells
to speak gratitude

I see death ahead –
and know that face, injustice.
let my people live.

Aug 21

laying in the dark
counting heroes and saviors
praying up farmers

pray up prisoners
who fight fires when healthy
but caught the virus

pray up the teachers
forced to watch their dear students
for symptoms and signs

pray up the nurses
and doctors who toil, tired
no respite in sight

pray up the parents
meditating thru kid-screams
loving thru danger

pray up the artists
creating for us laughter,
dreams, threading forward

bless organizers
beaming light and direction
from here to justice

this is how I sleep
counting gratitude and hearts
beating, surviving

aren’t we a wonder
harnessing a tomorrow
we won’t surrender

Aug 23
black rest is sacred
time reclaimed, time indulged, time
that is mine alone

we need time to cry
to hold ourselves, each other
and this too much world

lay down in the dark
of your own sweet mystery
and wander, amazed

particles of star
waiting to whisper pathways
beam within your black

fill up your glass jar
press down the red dirt, water
and seed your garden

dreams may beckon you
smelling of vetiver, sage
visions live in sleep

humble into deep
slumber like a soul at peace
let the night hold you

Aug 24

birthday girl Marsha
your pink cake laughter comes home
when we turn to look
back across time you
broke free from invisible
smashed the glass and screamed
you left us unwound
from false binaries, from lies
you gave us beauty
you left us on high
celebrating all trans lives
thank you for guidance

aug 25
mountain range of rage
I punch the sky with longing
misunderstood. fuck.

how you gonna come
with those bullets for my back
and paralyze me

how you gonna come
to where I sleep, and take me
out of this sweet life

how you gonna come
with tear gas and shields and guns
to this small altar

where we keep praying
you’ll find some sense, you’ll come to
you’ll see our heartbeats

tectonic rage bursts
and the fraught landscape reforms
beyond your hatred

we are miracle
we cannot be killed, feel us
we are multitudes

pray we don’t taste blood
pray we don’t remember you
pray we feel mercy

pray for miracles
we have faith like seeds in braids
we have rage intact

we have grief within
we are heartache hurricanes
you will scream our names

Aug 29
we who lose our kings
grieve dignity, grieve honor
grieve our own best selves

no, we don’t need kings
we need our beautiful ones
to live, to survive

to hold our sick close
to face cancer, to fight it
that is a true war

Aug 31

did we do enough
we knew what was falling down
did we hold enough

our muscles trembled
our backs ached, our knees went out
forgot how to sleep

forgot how to pray
or why, remembered in tears
returned to the whole

raged and reposted
slipped behind scenes to reach out
broke each entered door

danced into the war
refused the disappearance
spoke names to candles

shared each known spotlight
whispered clues back down the line
spoke the truth we felt

did we do enough
when we speak of freedom then
did we do enough?

strategy and kamala feels

“we are fighting over which employee will best suit the needs of an important job. it isn’t political home – we both have those outside of the electoral process, places and people to whom we feel accountable. this is for mass strategy, mass protection, high level policy protection of the communities we love.

purist debate is important, honing how you feel and having a place to practice it fully is important. make sure you have a political home. don’t get that confused with the American experiment, with shaping the conditions of this experiment such that the most vulnerable stand a chance of surviving and changing it themselves. do not make poor people and immigrants and women” (and trans people and disabled people and students and teachers and essential workers) “and our babies the collateral damage of purist ideologies. your theoretical happiness is not more important than the earth’s and species’ tangible survival.”

one of my favorite things about being a writer is how sometimes my words come back to comfort me. yesterday i was not feeling much about the nomination of kamala harris as vp – watching other people have strong emotions one way or the other, and just feeling like, ok.

then i was reminded of how i feel about electoral politics! electoral politics isn’t and shouldn’t be our political home. it is a commons of service, meant to be accountable to informed people who direct the values and policies of those we elect to deliver and construct service provisions like home, health, water, education.

maybe you’re more excited about the dem ticket today. maybe you’re appalled. but either way don’t get confused: electoral strategy = placing human beings we can hold accountable into representative offices.

electoral strategy doesn’t include identifying ideological doppelgangers who will lose, or aren’t on the ticket, but assuage our sense of imperial complicity (yes, here i mean that american practice of paying taxes each year and then trying to distance ourselves from what we invested-in/didn’t-stop by not taking responsibility for who manages the money thru nonvoting or emo-voting). it does include assigning our paid representatives to positions where they are hired to govern, which includes synthesizing amongst many possible distinctions and directions to find paths that allow the majority of people to survive and grow.

political home, on the other hand, is a place where we ideate, practice and build futures we believe in, finding alignment with those we are in accountable relationships with, and growing that alignment through organizing and education.

political home is where we solidify our critiques and generate solutions for human and planetary futures that, with practice and time and a functional government, become viable enough to scale (deepen, normalize), or, faced with resistance and dysfunctional government, divergent enough to move for secession or battle.

the current occupants of highest federal office are opposed to all forms of life and evolution outside of power and pussy grabs. our current available move is voting them out, as no one has a viable secession plan (really open to being surprised/wrong on this) and their side is armed and militarised. our strategic option right now is to fight on an electoral battleground riddled with corruption and confusion. biden and kamala are the viable ticket opposing those in office. recognizing the available strategy doesn’t always equal endorsement.

and it’s OK to feel excited if you see yourself in kamala, to be excited about representation, or even to feel amused by uncle joe.

and it’s OK to feel the flood of critique, the way this ticket runs the faultlines of race and power. it’s OK to feel disappointed and/or bamboozled by the closing off of significantly more thrilling alternative futures (like an abrams/warren/knowles ticket).

either way, the strategic next move is to vote on november 3 and now you know the other name on the ballot.

feel all your feelings along the way, but don’t let those feelings keep you from seeing the biggest picture, the one that includes those more vulnerable than you.

let those feelings clarify and grow your political home, even as you create the external conditions in which having a political home can and will matter.

full moon in aquarius

full full full

i try not to have a favorite moon but then i feel the pull of your heaviest, fattest, juiciest night, and swell for you

touched by clouds you remind me:
release everything, reveal everything
fear no shadow

you remind me of the way to live, total
the way to love, total
the way to shine, total

the cycle will reclaim you for the dark
the mystery will return
but tonight, we cannot even lie

this is the most beautiful orbit in the known universe, a light worship
a dreamer’s moon

#fullmoon #aquariusmoon

learning and untangling

dear readers,

my last blog was one of the longest things i’ve ever written as a single piece, and one of my most read blog pieces. it’s also the most controversial thing i’ve written, and i’ve spent the last couple of weeks swimming in the light and shadow of it.

when i was writing it, i felt clear about the distinctions i wanted to make, the invitation i wanted to make to movement:

can we hold each other as the systems that weaken and distort our humanity crumble?
can we release our binary ways of thinking of good and bad in order to collectively grow from mistakes?
can we be abolitionist with each other?
can we be principled and discerning in movement conflict?

i had people i trust read it beforehand, and when i pressed ‘publish’ i felt scared of what might come, but also faithful…that every word was the most accurate one i know for the feeling i was trying to express, that people would understand my intentions.

the initial waves of feedback, and the overwhelming majority of feedback, has been gratitude and affirmation. i have received so many messages and testimonials from sectors of movement that feel seen in the piece and saddened by the quickness with which we turn against each other, troubled by our apparent collective excitement when we attack each other. the feedback was from long-term organizers, people who identify as survivors, and as those have caused harm, and as both, as neither. some of it was public, and some of it was texts from comrades i hadn’t heard from in a while. i exhaled – what i felt was not just in my head or an isolated crew. my publisher said, let’s get this in print! i felt on purpose thinking of a little book that gives us more options, more patience, more kindness and space for healing together.

but then a second wave of feedback came. from other survivors. and as i listened i felt defensive (did you read the whole piece?), dismissed (don’t you know i am an abolitionist survivor? don’t you know how much abuse intervention i have been a part of?), hurt (why are you coming at me like this?) and, finally, curious: what am i not seeing? not hearing? what do i not know? what can i learn?

i asked more people for feedback, and have had conversations, emails, text threads. i have learned a lot more about some things i thought i knew, heard a lot of tea that people assumed i already knew because my name is reaching further than i can track, learned that so many more people are struggling with call outs in this moment than i had any idea about, and some of them felt helped by my writing, while others felt offended. i have learned how in certain communities the piece exacerbated existing tensions i wasn’t fully aware of. i got clearer on what parts were triggers for people, what parts are political disagreement, and what parts are both. i feel honed in on what is within my expertise, and reaffirmed that celebrity activism is not my jam.

here are some things i am learning:

– i need to be much clearer in my distinctions between harm and abuse. as someone who has experienced both, i was reminded of how important it was to me that my abuse be acknowledged as what it was, not reframed into a lesser impact. how important it was that i be allowed total boundaries, space for rage, space for healing, how much i needed assurance that it wasn’t my fault, and that making sure those who abused and/or harmed me got their healing together wasn’t my job. but as i have moved away from that period of my own life, i have gotten comfortable with the catch-all language of harm and harm doers, which blurs the danger and impact. part of my critique of the way call outs are being used is that not liking someone, social media offenses, power misuse in work settings, movement conflict and sexual assault are all getting the same level of public response. but even in that critique, i collapsed all these distinct experiences into one word, harm. i am sorry for the pain and erasure i know that caused to other survivors.

– i will make better use of content and trigger warnings.

– i explored my argument with language that felt precise to me, and within my right to use as a Black witch. it is also language that has been weaponized against communities i love, and i am earnestly looking for other metaphors to work with.

– i don’t know how we get from here to there. i don’t know if we have what it takes right now to support survivors while also holding an abolitionist lens, and it isn’t fair on my part not to make that apparent gap clear. those who are expert in holding domestic violence, intimate partner violence, rape support and other skilled areas will have to lead in that realm of abolition, in part by pointing all of us towards the skills we need to develop in order to actually take on community accountability. the hopeful news is that we have the teachers…but will we prioritize learning? and how do we not drop long haul survivor support along the way?

– i do believe, deeply, in the power of mediation in instances of conflict and harm, within movements, and including interpersonal conflict and harm. i believe it works because i have held it, and i have seen movements benefit from having people experience principled struggle with each other, set necessary boundaries, request and receive authentic and adequate apologies, and continue to be committed to something larger than themselves.

– i have to be very intentional as i gain more followers. while i did not seek fame or ask for any pedestals, i can’t deny that more people are taking my words seriously. and that is a privilege. i am not taking down the piece because i think more can be learned from keeping it up and being transparent in what i am learning. i do commit to not putting it in print without adaptations that reflect my learning. i see all of this as a larger process of exploring abolition as an emergent strategy, and i am not alone in that exploration.

– i will respect my own depth and complexity and that of my readers by not engaging this conversation on social media. some learning needs to be face to face, heart to heart, or at minimum thoroughly expressed. i am excited for the conversations i am in as a result of the piece, and i feel so much possibility on the horizon around how we turn and face the harm and abuse rampant in our movement communities, learn to be in the complex work of abolition and survival, and actually transform the systems that hurt us into systems that hold us and allow us to heal.

learning in public,
amb

unthinkable thoughts: call out culture in the age of covid-19

update:

hi loves,

i am publishing a book called we will not cancel us and other dreams of transformative justice which includes a deeply edited version of this piece, reflections on what the responses to the piece taught me, other writing on tj, and what is still mine/ours to learn.

i am leaving this essay up here as part of the learning journey – it isn’t the beginning or end of the conversation or the learning. we aren’t going to all agree on every aspect of this, but i believe it’s up to us to keep learning together, keep growing each other, keep opening the conversation.

….

adaptation note:

Three pieces of information for those who see this and are moved to keep going.

One, the ‘we/who’ is movement workers, particularly those who identify as abolitionists, in Black and Brown centered organizing spaces.

Two, a trigger warning: in the piece below I speak of what I’m feeling and observing in this moment in terms of suicidal ideation, witch trials, and lynching.

Three, this piece is an invitation to more accountability, not less, to take each moment of conflict and harm as practice ground for abolition.

what do we do with unthinkable thoughts?

who are we in our unthinkable thinking moments?

how do we adapt together if the clues to our next pivot are unthinkable?

maybe sharing these unthinkable thoughts will help?

i’ll start with the scariest unthinkable thought for me, which is that maybe we are in a state of collective suicidal ideation – the state of thinking about, even planning, the end of us. i have thought this thought many times, for years.

i have ideated suicide in the past, thought it didn’t much matter if i was here or not, and so it didn’t much matter how i treated myself or others. when i was in that phase of ambiguous commitment to life, i took risks with my mind and body that i couldn’t imagine taking now. i practiced cynicism and hopelessness, as if they were the measures of humor, of intelligence. it was a brief phase of my life, but during that time i believed in nothing.

i tried to exit.

i then had to choose life from deep within me. that’s why i’m still here. i want to live. i want to want to live. i think everyone chooses to move towards life or away from it, though some don’t realize that they are making the choice. capitalism makes it hard to see your own direction.

as i have watched the world respond to the pandemic, the borders between nations shift meaning in my mind. i can see which countries choose life, and which don’t. which countries have a majority life-minded citizenship, which countries/regions elect leaders who care for them. which countries pivot at the highest governmental level to protect their people, to guide their people to protect themselves – places with a variety of economies and exposure have found ways to move towards life.

i wonder about the movements in those countries, what it might feel like to live and organize in a place that chooses life.

choosing life means being able to admit we are wrong when new information presents itself about the dangers around and amongst us.

choosing life means committing to the adaptations to stay alive, rather than the stubbornness to stay the same.

the u.s., as a nation, does not choose, or love, life. not yet, and possibly never before now.

other nations, many amongst the most developed in the world, initially shrugged at COVID-19. then they adapted.

the u.s. response has been more egregious than a shrug; it’s been a flagrant disregard, running towards a category five pandemic tornado. it’s meant that those of us who want to live are watching in horror as the mutating coronavirus fills in the pre-existing grooves of collective suicidal ideation and the resistance of those who love life – with climate deniers and corporate polluters on one side, environmental and climate justice movements on the other. white supremacists and patriarchs on one side, solidarity movements in race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability and sexuality arenas on the other.

we are a nation not divided but torn – pulled towards life and pulled towards death.

when i get that torn feeling within, which in recent years comes very rarely, in twinges and whisps, i now recognize it as the suicidal tendency in me. it’s not the truth, not the only truth, not my truth, not the choice i want to make. but the tendency is wiley, using the voices of people i love to make itself heard. i have to be vigilant, listen between the lines, ask: who would benefit from my absence? who benefits from my self-doubt?

our nation has a tendency towards its own destruction, a doubt of its right to exist, that is rooted in our foundation.

i think our movements struggle inside this larger national suicidal tendency – we want to grow, but at the same time some of us don’t believe we will all get there, or get anywhere better, in time. that we can’t, and won’t, put forth the effort.

maybe the idea of our future generations experiencing peace and abundance is not enough to keep us going.

maybe we just need some more immediate signs of life.

maybe we are terrified.

i, we, have to be able to discern what is me/us, and what is fear.

which leads to my next unthinkable thought: do i really know the difference between my discernment and my fear?

my dear friend Malkia teaches me that there is the fear intended to save your life, vs fear intended to end it. what i mean by discernment is the set of noticings, fears, wisdoms, deductions, and gut tremblings that want to save, or even just improve, my life, versus the fear that makes me unable to do anything, which makes me unable to draw on my life force to take action.

do i think i am being discerning when i am actually frozen in place, scared to change?

am i too scared of standing out from the crowd to pause and discern right action?

am i acting from terror?

am i able to discern a decision or action that makes sense?

i was in italy when the pandemic really became clear as a threat to my well-being. i went to one of the places i felt at home. and once i got there, i again found myself freezing, in denial of next moves, as everyone asked me where i was and when i was going home-home or elsewhere.

in my frozen state i would hear just a bit of the news, the new numbers of crisis, and shake my head at the idiots in office, and then numb back out. having quickly identified who i blamed, i was even less able to feel any agency in me. i froze and delayed and froze until i was overwhelmed by the inquiries.

then i had an excellent therapy session where i noticed:

oh. i am afraid.
i am afraid that the pandemic is on the rise everywhere and i am going to leave safety for a dangerous unknown.
oh!
i don’t know what to do!

as soon as i acknowledged i was afraid i was able to move into discernment. my fear became data – i am afraid because the numbers are clear that i am in a safer place than any of the locations i am considering going to. i should stay put, not because i am afraid, but because, as my fear is actually screaming on behalf of my informed intuition, this is the best place to be in this moment.

my fear made me freeze until i had to move. therapy helped me notice i was afraid, deepen my breath, and return to discernment.

i see the same vacillation between fear and discernment in our movements right now, with no therapist in sight.

we are afraid of being hurt, afraid because we have been hurt, afraid because we have caused hurt, afraid because we live in a world that wants to hurt us whether we have hurt others or not, just based on who we are, on any otherness from some long-ago determined norm. supremacy is our ongoing pandemic. it partners with every other sickness to tear us from life, or from lives worth living.

so we stay put and scream into the void, moving our rage across the internet like a tornado that, without discernment, sucks up all in its path for destruction.

our emotions and need for control are heightened during this pandemic – we are stuck in our houses or endangering ourselves to go out and work, terrified and angry at the loss of our plans and normalcy, terrified and angry at living under the oppressive rule of an administration that does not love us and that is racist and ignorant and violent. grieving our unnecessary dead, many of whom are dying alone, unheld by us. we are full of justified rage. and we want to release that rage. and one really fast and easy way to do this is what i experience as a salem witch trial, a false bid for justice, or the even faster method of lynching.

before i move on, i need to acknowledge that these are extreme terms, terms that refer to systems of death. i know that i am speaking of a social destruction, a significantly less extreme consequence – and i am trying to place my finger on a feeling of punitive justice unleashed in our movements.

in our movements, this feeling of punitive justice comes in the wake of call outs of leaders or those with some increased exposure or access. in the past week i have seen people called out for embodying white supremacy in the workplace, for causing repeated or one-time sexual harm, for physical, emotional or digital abuse, for appropriation of ideas and images, for patriarchy, for ableism, for being dishonest, for saying harmful things a decade ago, for doing things that were later understood as harm – for embodying all of the pain that supremacy holds. the call outs generally share one side of what’s happened and then call for immediate consequences. and within a day, the call out is everywhere, the cycle of blame and shame activated, and whoever was called out has begun being punished.

we are afraid, and we think it will assuage our fears and make us safer if we can clarify an enemy, a someone outside of ourselves who is to blame, who is guilty, who is the origin of harm. we can get spun into such frenzy in our fear that we don’t even realize we are deploying the master’s tools.

ah, audre, come in.

we’ve always known lynch mobs are a master’s tool. meaning: moving as an angry mob, sparked by fear (often unfounded or misguided) with the power to issue instant judgment and instant punishment. these are master’s tools.

we in movements for justice didn’t create lynch mobs. we didn’t create witch trials. we didn’t create this punitive system of justice. we didn’t create the state, we didn’t choose to be socialized within it. we want to dismantle these systems of mass harm, and i know that most of us have no intention of ever mimicking state processes of navigating justice.

the master’s tools feel good to use, groove in the hand easily from repeated use and training. but they are often blunt and senseless.

unless we have a true analysis of abolition and dismantling systems of oppression, we will not realize what’s in our hands, we will never put the master’s tools down and figure out what our tools are and can be.

oh – but you can’t say it’s a salem witch trial if it’s all Black and Brown and queer and trans people doing it…

oh – you can’t call it a lynching, because of the power dynamics! it’s a move against someone with more power.

but then – my third unthinkable thought – why does it feel like that? why do our movements more and more often feel like angry mobs moving against ourselves? and what is at stake because of it? why does it feel like someone pointing at someone else and saying: that person is harmful! and with no questions or process or time or breath, we are collectively punishing them?

sometimes we even do it with the language of transformative justice: claiming that we are going to give them room to grow. they need to disappear completely to be accountable. we are publicly shaming them so that they will learn to be better.

underneath this logic i hear: we are dunking her in the water to see if she drowns, because if she drowns then we know she wasn’t a witch. we are hanging him from the tree because then we can pretend we have exorcised ‘bad’ from our town. we are lynching to affirm our rightness.

which isn’t to say that some of the accused aren’t raging white supremacists in movement clothing. or abusers who have slipped through the fingers of accountability. or shady in some other way.

which isn’t to say that a public accounting of harm, and consequences, aren’t necessarily the correct move.

which isn’t to say we don’t believe survivors. because we must.

but how do we believe survivors and still be abolitionist? and still practice transformative justice?

to start with, i have been trying to discern when a call out feels powerful, like the necessary move, versus when it feels like the witch trial/lynch mob energy is leading.

it feels powerful when there have been private efforts for accountability.
it feels powerful when survivors are being supported.
it feels necessary when the accused has avoided accountability, particularly (but not exclusively) if they have continued to cause harm.
it feels necessary when the accused person has significantly more power than the accuser(s) and is using that power to avoid accountability.
it feels powerful when the demand is process and consequence based.

it feels like a lynch mob when there are no questions asked.
when the survivor’s healing takes a back seat.
when there is no attempt to have a private process.
when there is no time between accusation and the call for consequences. and when the only consequence is for the accused to cease to exist.
when the accused is from one or more oppressed identities.
when it feels performative.
when the person accused of causing harm does what the survivor/crowd demands, but we keep pulling up the rope.

no inquiry, no questions, no acceptance of accountability, no jury, no time for the learning and unlearning necessary for authentic change…just instant and often unsatisfactory consequences.

a moment on this: one of the main demands i see in call outs is for a public apology. to expect a coherent authentic apology from someone who has been forcibly removed from power or credibility feels like a set up. usually they issue some pr sounding thing and we use that paper as more fuel for the fire at their feet.

i have seen the convoluted denial-accountability-nonapology message from many an accused harm doer, especially when physical or sexual harm is involved. sometimes they are claiming innocence, sometimes they are admitting to some harm, rarely at the level of the accusation. sometimes they say they tried to have a process but it didn’t work, or they were denied. who knows what they mean by process, who knows if the accuser was ready for a process, who knows what actually happened between them, the relational context of the instance or pattern of harm, who knows?

the truth about sexual assault and rape and patriarchy and white supremacy and other abuses of power is that we are swimming in them, in a society that has long normalized them, and that they often play out intimately.

the truth is, sometimes it takes a long time for us to realize the harm that has happened to us.

and longer to realize we have caused harm to others.

the truth is, it isn’t unusual to only realize harm happened in hindsight, with more perspective and politicization.

but there’s more truth, too.

the additional truth is, right now we have the time.

the additional truth is, even though we want to help the survivor, we love obsessing over and punishing ‘villains’. we end up putting more of our collective attention on punishing those accused of causing harm than supporting and centering the healing of survivors.

the additional truth is, we want to distance ourselves from those who cause harm, and we are steeped in a punitive culture which, right now, is normalizing a methodology of ‘punish first, ask questions later’, which is a witch trial, lynching, master’s tool methodology. which, because we are in the age of social media, we now have a way to practice very publicly.

supremacy is the original pandemic, an infectious disease that quietly roots into each of us. we might have supremacy due to race, citizenship, gender, class, ableism, age, access, fame, or other areas where we feel justified to cause harm without consequence, sometimes without even realizing we’ve caused harm, because supremacy is a numbing and narrowing disease.

i want us to let go of the narrowness of innocence, widen our understanding of how harm moves through us. i want us to see individual acts of harm as symptoms of systemic harm, and to do what we can to dismantle the systems and get as many of us free as possible.

often a call out comes because the disease has reached an acute state in someone, is festering in hiding, is actively causing harm. i want us to see the difference between the human and the disease, to see what we are afraid of, in others and in ourselves, and discern a path that actually addresses the root of our justified fears.

this is not a case against call outs – there is absolutely a need for certain call outs – when power is greatly imbalanced and multiple efforts have been made to stop ongoing harm, when someone accused of harm won’t participate in community accountability processes, the call out is a way of pulling an emergency brake.

but it should be a last option. the consequences of being called out at this point are extremely dire and imprecise. the presence of infiltration in our movements is so documented and prevalent. call outs are an incredible modern tool for those who are not committed to movements to use against those having impact.

right now calling someone out online seems like first/only option for a lot of people.

i can’t help but wonder who benefits from movements that engage in public infighting, blame, shame and knee jerk call outs? i can’t help but see the state grinning, gathering all the data it needs, watching us weaken ourselves. meanwhile, the harm continues.

i don’t find it satisfying, and i don’t think it is transformative to publicly call people out for instant consequences with no attempt at a conversation, mediation, boundary setting or a community accountability process with a limited number of known participants.

it doesn’t make sense to say ‘believe all survivors’ if we don’t also remember that most of us are survivors, which includes most people who cause harm. what we mean is we are tired of being silenced, dismissed, powerless in our pain, hurt over and over. yes. but being loud is different from being whole, or even being heard, being cared for, being comforted, being healed. being loud is different from being just. being able to destroy is different from being able to generate a future where harm isn’t happening all around us.

we are terrified of how widespread and active harm is, and it makes us want to point the finger and quickly remove those we can identify as bad. we want to protect each other from those who cause harm.

many of us seem to worry that if we don’t immediately jump on whatever mob wagon has pulled up in our dms, that we will be next to be called out, or called a rape apologist or a white person whisperer or an internalized misogynist, or just disposed of for refusing to group think and then group act. online, we perform solidarity for strangers rather than engaging in hard conversations with comrades.

we are fearful of taking the time to be discerning, because then we may have to recognize that any of us could be seen as harmdoers. and when we are discerning, when we do step up to say wait, let’s get understanding here, we risk becoming the new target, viewed as another accomplice to harm instead of understood as a comrade in ending harm.

perhaps, most dangerously, we are, all together now, teetering on the edge of hopelessness. collective suicidal ideation, pandemic burnout, 45-in-office burnout, climate catastrophe burnout and other exhaustions have us spent and flailing, especially if we are caught in reactive loops (which include the culture of multiple daily call outs) instead of purposeful adaptations. some of us are losing hope, tossed by the tornado, ungrounded and uprooted by the pace of change, seeking something tangible we can do, control, hold, throw away.

the kind of callouts we are currently engaging in do not necessarily think about movements’ needs as a whole. movements need to grow and deepen, we need to ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’*, to ‘be transformed in the service of the work’**. movements need to become the practice ground for what we are healing towards, co-creating. movements are responsible for embodying what we are inviting our people into. we need the people within our movements, all socialized into and by unjust systems, to be on liberation paths. not already free, but practicing freedom every day. not already beyond harm, but accountable for doing our individual and internal work to end harm, which includes actively working to gain awareness of the ways we can and have harmed each other, and ending those cycles in ourselves and our communities.

knee jerk call outs say: those who cause harm cannot change. they must be eradicated. the bad things in the world cannot change, we must disappear the bad until there is only good left.

but one layer under that, what i hear is:

we cannot change.

we do not believe we can create compelling pathways from being harm doers to being healed, to growing.

we do not believe we can hold the complexity of a gray situation.

we do not believe in our own complexity.

we can only handle binary thinking: good/bad, innocent/guilty, angel/abuser, black/white, etc.

it is a different kind of suicide, to attack one part of ourselves at a time. cancer does this, i have seen it – oh it’s in the throat, now it’s in the lungs, now it’s in the bones. when we engage in knee jerk call outs and instant consequences with no process, we become a cancer unto ourselves, unto movements and communities. we become the toxicity we long to heal. we become a tool of harm when we are trying to be, and i think meant to be, a balm.

oh unthinkable thoughts. now that i have thought you, it becomes clear to me that all of you are rooted in a singular longing: i want us to want to live.

i want us to want to live in this world, in this time, together.

i want us to love this planet and this species, at this time.

i want us to see ourselves as larger than just individuals randomly pinging around in a world that will never care for us.

i want us to see ourselves as a murmuration of creatures who are, as far as we know right now, unique in all the universe. each cell, each individual body, itself a unique part of this unique complexity.

i want us not to waste the time we have together.

i want us to look at each other with the eyes of interdependence, such that when someone causes harm, we find the gentle parent inside of us who can use a voice of accountability, while also bringing curiosity – ‘why did you cause harm? do you know? do you know other options? apologize.’ that we can set boundaries that don’t require the disappearance of other survivors. that we can act towards accountability with the touch of love. that when someone falls behind, we can use a parent’s voice of discipline while also picking them up and carrying them for a while if needed.

i want us to adapt from systems of oppression and punishment to systems of uplifting and transforming.

i want us to notice that this is a moment when we need to choose life, not surrender to the incompetence and hopelessness of our national leadership.

i want us to be discerning.

i want our movement to feel like a vibrant, accountable space where causing harm does not mean you are excluded immediately and eternally from healing, justice, community or belonging.

i want us to grow lots and lots of skill at holding the processes by which we mend the wounds in our communities and ourselves.

i want satisfying consequences that actually end cycles of harm, generate safety and deepen movement.

i want us to hold Black humanity to the highest degree of protection, even when we have caused harm. i want us to see each other’s trauma-induced behavior as ancestral and impermanent, even as we hold each other accountable.

i want us to be particularly rigorous about holding complexity and accountability well for Black people in our movement communities who are already struggling to keep our heads above water and build trust and move towards life under the intersecting weights of white supremacy, racialized capitalism, police brutality, philanthropic competition culture, and lack of healing support.

i never want to see us initiate processes for Black accountability where those who are not invested in Black life can see it, store it, weaponize it. replace Black in that sentence with any other oppressed peoples and i still feel the same way. it is not strategic, and, again, it is rarely satisfying.

i want us to ask who benefits from our hopelessness, and to deny our oppressors the satisfaction of getting to see our pain. i want them to wonder how we foment such consistent and deep solidarity and unlearning. i want our infiltrators to be astounded into their own transformations, having failed to tear us apart.

i want us to acknowledge that the supremacy and suicidal ideation and hopelessness and harm are everywhere, and make moves that truly allow us to heal into wholeness.

because against all odds in space and time? we. are. winning.

we are winning in spite of the tsunami of pressures against us. we are moving towards life in spite of everything that wants us to give up.

we in movement must learn to choose life even in conflict, composting the bad behaviors while holding the beating hearts.

choosing life includes asking:
do i have the necessary information to form an opinion?
do i have the time to seek understanding?
what does the survivor need?
did a conversation/process already happen?
is a conversation/process possible?
how do we be abolitionist while gaining accountability here?
who benefits from me doubting that movement can hold this?
who could hold this well?
what will end the cycle of harm here?

we must learn to do this before there is no one left to call out, or call we, or call us.

….

thank you deeply to shira hassan and malkia devich cyril for loving feedback on this piece.

* grace lee Boggs
** mary hooks

Meditation Time Travel to 2050 (for Movement Generation)

guided reflection/meditation for Movement Generation (2050)

MG’s invitation: Movement Generation has been coalescing in our (virtual) dream tank and like many of you we are leaning into and processing the range of emotions stirred up by the pandemic crisis. We also recognize this as a time of possibility to act collectively to make the ecological and economic shifts we need. In that spirit, we are leading with our hearts to create a four-session online course series that helps reframe the COVID-19 crisis.

i am adrienne.

i use she/they pronouns. femme presenting brown skinned human with big fluffy hair tipped in rose gold. I’m wearing a bamboo onesie in black and white with lapis eyes, dragons kiss lips and orange glasses.

please join me to time travel to our panelists.

drop into your breath, into your body, and feel yourself, briefly, in the present moment.

now draw your energy back and fling yourself forward, future ward, through space and time.

feel the chaos of leaping over years and decades with only glimpses of place and people. and now let yourself land.

hello – welcome to 2050.

it is YOUR birthday in 2050, so happy birthday to you!

how old are you?

are you in the flesh? are you ancestor?
awaken and fill into that body and feel what you know to be true right now, today. feel the ease of a good life still unfolding.
what is this future you grateful for?

what is your birthday suit? naked? spectacular tech? organic and comfortable?

where do you live? on earth? on a space station? on another plane?

if you’re on earth, are you in the u.s.? is there a u.s.?

what is beautiful about the place you call home? how do you know you feel home?

what is the relationship between inside and outside?
what does the world look like outside your window, or vid screen? green? outer space? both?

when you’re thirsty, what do you drink, what do you eat to start your day?

where does that food and drink come from?

how do you offer gratitude for the abundance of this world?

what does your life feel like?

do you work on something beyond your home and land?

when you leave your home where do you go, and how do you get there?

do you feel free? how do you know?
safe? how are you safe?
healthy? what does healthy mean?
satisfied? how do you feel and know you are satisfied with this world?

this world is shaped and reshaped by movements, movements that you participated in, and still create change inside of, though in different ways.

what are you grateful to have contributed to the shaping of this world? bring your attention to yourself and say thank you for all you gave. and all you received.

how have you been changed?

what impossible battles have been won?
what endless cycles have ended?

what impossible battles are still being fought, or navigated?

what impossible creations are now commonplace?

what has been your best mistake?

how do you feel about facing the end of your life? or beginning of your ancestry?

is there anything else you absolutely must do?

let that fill you up completely, so anyone here in 2050 can feel that absolute commitment in you.

it’s your day: how do you let in the celebration of others?

what does your community do to celebrate?

we get together to reflect and think and be brilliant, so here we are.

welcome to the panel.

Hamilton

Hamilton is exquisite theater. Set, costumes, choreography, songwriting, cast, pace, character development, dazzle, excellence. The excellence of art made me cry most of the show. The songs are thrumming through my mind even as I write this. It is an act of undeniable theatrical genius.

It presents the founding fathers as distinct relatable human beings, and for me that makes it highly uncomfortable art. I don’t want anyone to watch it as a surface level experience, nor do I want anyone to miss it.

Any time I have to remember that there were/are no monsters, just flawed selfish limited human beings, it messes me up. It’s easier in binary, if I can erect an impenetrable boundary between my experience and that of those who would own/kill/dehumanize me…but that isn’t the world we live in. Heartache and grief are nearly universal, ego and foolishness too, and love.

The dream of America is/was so good. Everyone equal in a functional democracy? Yes! I just don’t know anyone who ever lived there. It was doomed by white supremacy, which made it impossible for these men in fancy shirts to see indigenous and Black and woman humanity. Today, watching this story that started 244 years ago, we are watching a lineage of our own doom. Watching while living and dying in a nation that could have been great, but the foundation is rotten with hate and it’s crumbling, toppling, turning.

With my analysis, there’s no way to see this musical as anything other than heartbreaking. My mind overlays it with the image @arlenparsa updated to show how many of the founding fathers were slaveowners, and then I sit with the contradictions. I don’t feel patriotic watching it, I think it’s more like seeing the childhood photos of someone who later abused me. Where did that wholeness go? Can that humanity be saved?

Hamilton is provocative theater because it is so excellent while dancing the same lines of centering white narratives and erasing others, even as the overt excellence of everyone from all their multitudinous backgrounds is why it’s so good.

I do want to see what Ishmael Reed did in Toni Morrisons living room though. And I want to watch Hamilton some more. I want it all.

a word for white people, in two parts

part one: what a time to be alive.

right now we are in a fast river together – every day there are changes that seemed unimaginable until they occurred.

if you are a white person (or a man) this is a time of intentionally relinquishing power, or having it pulled out from under you. i know it seems fast and everywhere, but it’s actually not a rapids, not a waterfall, not a tsunami. most people who aren’t white have in our lineages or lived experiences the whiplash of much more drastic changes, placed upon us by your ancestors. being snatched from home and shipped into slavery, weighed and measured, worked to death, lynched daily by authorities, reminded that our lives are expendable at any moment (and yes this is true even right now, hence #blacklivesmatter and #defundthepolice).

or being displaced from the land we were given instructions to love and care for, then raped, killed or reprogrammed.

or being burnt up by new weapons your ancestors created to speed colonization or domination. being cast as the savages or terrorists in their worldview in a way that stuck to us even outside the stage of their minds; stuck in your minds such that it’s nearly impossible for you to even see it without cultural ice buckets poured on the delusion.

your ancestors did not fight fair, and they didn’t teach you to be in right relationship with anyone. they didn’t give our ancestors time to wonder, ask for help, course correct, negotiate. this is why some say you should be grateful we seek justice, equality, and our humanity, versus revenge. because right now, after years of physical, intellectual and cultural warfare on peoples who were different from white, you have an opportunity to leap forward, dive into this river of change, rather than be deluged and drowned in it.

the time for denial is over. you were not raised in a secret mountaintop retreat disconnected from the world, you haven’t existed with no contact for over 400 years…so we know you see and know what is going on. and you’re scared, saddened, defensive, guilty, and unsure of who to be if you aren’t the default superior. so you make choices towards or away from or against your own highest self.

when you say ‘but don’t all lives matter?’ we hear ‘i refuse to acknowledge the harm i have caused you by benefiting from false constructs of supremacy. i cannot prioritize your pain over my privilege.’

when you say ‘ok ok so teach me’, we hear, ‘my time and needs continue to be more important than yours. i refuse to google and read, i demand your labor.’

when you say ‘but what do i do?’ it sounds like procrastination, because we have told you a million things. here.

here are ways i recommend for diving into this river:

learn to say, and mean, ‘i am sorry for the impact of my white supremacy.’ don’t post it on the internet, say it from your heart and gut directly to people you’ve impacted, especially in situations when you were/are in positions of leadership or authority. and then – and this is important – shift your behavior so you never need to give that apology again. riffing off fellow nerd albert einstein, practicing white supremacy and expecting a different outcome than race war is one definition of collective insanity. i don’t want the apology without the shifts in behavior, policy and access to power, without the end of the monsoon of constant harm.

commit to doing your own work without seeking accolades. yes, some people of color will be welcoming, will even celebrate what you do – i am sometimes moved to tears when i hear how acts-of-white-people-being-kind-to-black-people touch my black southern father, who just never thought he would see that. and/but many people of color won’t clap because the point of this moment is decentering whiteness in the story of humanity. that means not centering white course correction with the attention we give a baby’s first steps. we won’t patronize you for rejoining a collective path…and that should be good news.

don’t revert to supremacy under pressure. it breaks trust. if you are told you are practicing white supremacy, consider that we see and feel things you do not because they’re weaponized against us, weighted against us, scarring us, limiting us. we aren’t generalizing or reducing you, we are protecting our vulnerable lives.

redistribute resources. not as charity, which is just another way to assuage the conscience of privilege. redistribute money, leadership positions, decision-making power, land, time in meetings, visionary space, relationships with philanthropy, speaking opportunities, press attention, health care benefits – if you can measure it, you can redistribute the resource.

i am taking the time to write to you because i am a mixed race black woman. i am connected to the same lineages of harm as you, even as i am harmed by them. i am in intimate familial relationship with white people, and i want those relationships to be honest and accountable. i benefit from how the artifacts of whiteness in my skin, cadence, and cultural shaping make me more visible and comprehensible to you, more human to you.

it’s a devastating weight to carry, to work to be fully myself, humble and brilliant and messy and great, against a delusion of white supremacy so pervasive and invasive that it can grow within each of us without invitation. but just because something alive violates us does not mean we asked for it, does not mean we partner with it, believe it, or even let it live.

i in my wholeness am working to hold the contradictions of white supremacy responsibly, to weed my own garden even as i demand and build my and our black power. we all have our work, and none of us can do anyone else’s.

..

part two: a variation on paying attention to white people

in the spirit of ‘what you pay attention to grows’, i want to bring more attention to the white people who are in my life, none by accident, none tolerated, each beloved and cultivated. not everyone has an experience of white people who love, learn with, and follow them. i want to practice, in this moment, attending to them as much as or more than we attend to the swarm of karens and beckys and donalds and other haters.

i do not believe whiteness will just disappear in shame, or that white people committed to race and other offenses to science and god will self-segregate in a way that leaves the rest of us and the planet safe. so i must believe that something else can emerge, is emerging, even if it is still small and rare. and my belief is met by the presence, felt much more than spoken, of white people who are blessings, peers, beloveds, comrades, self-responsible humans.

i am blessed by my mother. she gave up everything she’d been raised in, family and resources, when she realized she was in love with my father. she began unlearning racism without training, decolonization curricula, language monitors. she began her unlearning in relationship, both as wife and as mother. she was the one who came storming into classrooms challenging our racist teachers. she has taken our sides and has our backs and asserts our brilliance at every turn. she doesn’t claim to get it right, she keeps leaning in and learning with love. she makes me consider that something can shift deep within when you birth a black child, or three. i am not interested in denying that, ridiculing that, making it smaller than what it is.

i am blessed by those in my southern white family who reach out to let me know they love me and listen hungrily to suggestions for what they can do to be in solidarity, to raise their kids to see beyond the racism they’re all raised to swim in. they do help to offset the pain of knowing there are white people related to me by blood who watched me be a black child and then chose to vote for the klan’s favorite president, frump.

i am blessed by the anti-racist white people in my inner friend circle. instead of perfection, these friends are committed to practice, to asking questions and really listening to the answers, to doing their own work and not putting it on me, to releasing rigid control and seeing that that there are many ways to be productive and efficient, to growing ease in taking leadership from black people, from people of color. and then diving in deep with other white people. and decentering themselves in their fields. and fucking up, and then letting it grow them rather than make them performative or bitter. they do most of their race work elsewhere, and yet it is palpable to me without feeling like guilt, charity, pity or other power-over emotions.

i have had a white partner in the past, and though i revel and thrive in black love now, when i look at movement i actually see a huge number of leaders with white partners, white family, white community. sometimes claimed, sometimes quietly kept off screen. i think we need to bring more attention to why those people get to be in our lives, why any white person gets the privilege of being in intimate space with those who have experienced enough ancestral harm from white people to stay away forever. attend not in a carrot/stick way, not denying your humanity, not cheerleading what you are already just supposed to do, but simply to acknowledge that it is work.

it isn’t a shift at the level of slogan, political correctness or press release, though those cultural quakes do soften the soil for new organic infrastructures of antiracist life to take root. it is deeply personal work to relinquish white supremacy, and it helps me if i think of the white people in my life not as exceptional, but just a few steps ahead in their work.

think of those confederate statues coming down. all my roots are southern…those statues seemed like they’d always been there and always would be. and then slowly the realization that they were celebrating the worst of humanity, the plantation hitlers, that that’s what white supremacy is really about. now it feels inevitable that we are pulling down the symbols, while inside everyone’s minds we are pulling down the ideas of racial supremacy.

but then there’s the gap, the statue’s empty base, the place where that idea once seemed right but now there’s just the wound, the world shaped around the absence of a clear way of being. i just purchased the bust of a black man, head full of amethyst, from damon davis; and last year i visited the lynching museum, full of statues to honor the murdered. both of these works are perfect and i wish they were everywhere, so i am tempted to make a case for replacing the statues with black heroes and martyrs. but i can also see the case for no replacement statues, in our town squares or our minds. we live in a beautiful interconnected world that needs our attention. maybe if we drop the performance of celebrating difference, we can make it possible to actually survive difference.

it must be possible. we must make it possible, or else we will always be in a position of demand, or counter policing, or rage. i want us to use this current justified rage to shape demands that take the labor and danger off of us. so that our grandchildren don’t have to live such taut, hurt and angry lives.

at the same time i want us to contend for power, and notice who truly invites that power. that is the common trait of every white person, every person, i allow into my life in a meaningful way: there is a mutual invitation. both of us in our power and truest selves are invited into every space.

so for the white people walking this path with me, thank y’all for keeping me faithful when a mass perspective on whiteness still feels pretty hopeless. thank you for being willing to be visible, or not. thank you for not waiting for praise as you unlearn the supremacy you were programmed to practice, and for not reacting personally to the righteous rage and shifting boundaries required to move through this collective transition. thank you for offering support instead of demanding more labor.

mary hooks has articulated a mandate for black people in this time – to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work. the white people in my life must align with that mandate – put your lifetime in service of undoing the work of your ancestors, earning the respect of future generations, and being willing to be transformed in the service of the work.