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.

Juneteenth meditation for BEAM

juneteenth
june nineteenth
nineteen years – i dedicate this to the activist, Toyin.
nineteen Black breaths guided by nineteen Black genius revolutionaries. (edited to be i/we statements so that this meditation can claim for each of us all the Black magic we need)

come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me / and has failed. (lucille clifton)
caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self-preservation. (audre lorde)
when i liberate myself, i liberate others. (fannie lou hamer)
to tell the truth is to become beautiful. to begin to love myself, value myself. and that is political, in its most profound way. (june jordan)
my purpose is to make revolution irresistible (toni cade bambara)
all that i touch, i change. all that i change, changes me. the only lasting truth is change. (octavia butler)
i have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. and i have to do it all the time. (angela davis)
nobody’s free until everybody’s free. (fannie lou hamer)
until the killing of black men, black mothers sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest. (ella baker)
i am no longer accepting the things i cannot change. i am changing the things i cannot accept. (angela davis)
when i dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether i am afraid. (audre lorde)
i am a light to this world that is unmatched. (toni-michelle)
black lives matter. (alicia garza) black trans lives matter. black disabled lives matter. black queer lives matter. black children’s lives matter. all black life matters.
yes, i mean literally abolish the police. (mariame kaba)
when i say abolish the police, i also mean the cop in my head and in my heart. (tourmaline)
we make abolition possible. (charlene carruthers)
if i hear the dogs, keep going. if i see the torches in the woods, keep going. if there’s shouting after me, keep going. don’t ever stop. keep going. if i want a taste of freedom, keep going. (harriet tubman)
the mandate for black people in this time is to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, to earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work (mary hooks)
my people are free (harriet tubman)

let that flow through you. and feel yourself in your black dignity – that line from the center of the earth to the stars with your name on it. feel yourself in black connection, the great circle of us holding each other. feel our allies at our backs. feel our ancestors at our backs, feel us on black time (prentis hemphill). you are on time. on purpose.

what you pay attention to grows. grow this revolution. black love.

happy juneteenth my loves

happy juneteenth!

i hope you are celebrating our freedom journey today Black loves, definitely by not working, hopefully by being involved in radical acts with your mind, body, heart, and spirit.

i am extending my heart protection over every Black person who needs it today. i invite those who aren’t/can’t be on front lines today to join me in this spell:

i dedicate my life force to Black people

that we may celebrate and leap forward,
know freedom without waiting,
that when our chance to be courageous comes,
we feel no hesitation

i extend protection over our freedom fighters
pulling up from the earth mountains around each cluster of Blackness

i lend speed and flexibility to our body and mind for moments of adaptation, a river of Black liberation

i cast away all effort to harm us, today and all days, may it fall away as pollen no creature will carry

today we continue the work of burning down slavery
today we cannot be distracted from the target
today we cannot be kept from the joy
today we cannot be made small
today we can only be free

hold on to your collaborators, dance in the face of provocateurs, ignore those who try to draw your attention from the collective target of defunding police/evolving beyond policing. keep love at the center, and enjoy your precious Black life all day long.

if you wonder, worry or doubt about how you’re doing the day, listen for harriet whispering to you, “my people are free.” not will be, but are. act accordingly.

#defundthepolice #DefendBlackLives #blacklivesmatter #blacklovesmatter #juneteenth

Octavia Tried to Tell Us

the other day i had the honor of being the fifth guest in the Octavia Tried to Tell Us series, hosted by Monica Coleman and my teacher-friend Tananarive Due!

here is the full video if you want to watch it!

here are some highlights of what i shared that were posted on social media:

we’re in a very parable time.

if you’re feeling numb, dig into that feeling. numb leads to overwhelmed. overwhelmed leads to rage. rage leads to heartbreak. heartbreak leads to something’s gotta change. don’t give up on pursuing yourself.

Organize as if we’re going to be here a long time. Not as if we’re only going to be here until tomorrow.

This is an immense time to pivot into the kind of community you want to be in, and articulate it.

We do know how to care for each other and ourselves when we are given a little room. ritual, song, circle, conflict resolution, healing, staggering, rest, etc. WILL emerge in community given the right space.

people creating togetherness in this moment is a form of creating, a form of art.

“How do I help?”…”Take yourself seriously as someone who has the destiny to help.”

you’re not late to the movement. whenever you get here, you made it.

There are some things you can teach, but there are some things you can only learn through experience.

Ask yourself, how do I break my relationship with capitalism today? When I feel I’m satisfied, I don’t need to buy anything. When I feel, generosity emerges.

There’s power in giving ourselves permission to be the one to imagine the next phase…what am I contributing to what comes next?

A major city is defunding the police? It’s now done. You can’t tell me it can’t be done.

So much of emergent strategy is being able to let go of what’s no longer working. If an experiment fails, you don’t double down on the experiment. The experiment of policing has failed. It’s time to imagine something new – a system that values ALL BLACK LIVES.

Thoughts on sabbatical and unplugging: ‘It’s not that I’m not needed, but that my rest is ok.’

We want to create a culture where it’s irresistible to do the right thing. Let’s make it culturally unacceptable for Trans lives not to matter’.

Part of rejecting white supremacy is rejecting Black respectability.

Nature says each of these lives is miraculous, and can never be created again. Each of these breaths is miraculous.

With the trendy BLM posts shared by corporations, we can see these cynically of course, but also as a culture shift – now we have something we can hold these companies accountable to. Capitalism doesn’t get to claim our work. WE are the ones shifting the culture.

and here is the big announcement i made at the end:

On June 22 (Octavia E Butler’s birthday) we are launching Octavia’s Parables!

It’s a podcast with Toshi Reagon and myself going chapter by chapter thru both (all three!) parableswith summaries, analysis, questions to address in community, and original music.

Patreon.com/oparables
twitter.com/oparables

for oluwatoyin ‘toyin’ salau

if it was up to me
i would reach back through time
push away the hands that groped you
amplify your no into an earthquake
it would open the dirt
all would-be assailants crash and slip down
into a realm of heat and solitude and reflection
to sweat out their demons
as you sashayed to a safe home

if it was up to me
if i couldn’t stop the crime i’d pull you close
not asking you to ask what you need from me
cold cloth your forehead
thumb away those tears
place my palm over your trembling heart
remind you that miracles
are stronger than violations
and celebrate however you survived

if it was up to me
we would march side by side
me old, slow, and rolling along
you nineteen, and then twenty,
and then fifty and then eighty
those cheekbones high enough to hold ages
feeling the worship due for your labor
sacred child warrior, newly arrowed
you took so many unlived stories with you

if it was up to me
you would get what you deserved
black nights full of pleasure
heart swoons and heart aches
dancing in Toyin Park all Sunday
spirit child i hope you cannot even hear pain now
but if it was up to me, to we who needed you
this would never be the way
you got free

– for oluwatoyin ‘toyin’ salau
#blacklivesmatter

returning from away: wow

this post is a bit mantra, some thoughts, and some resources. if you just want the resources, skip to the bottom.

center
you are not the center
face the center
follow the center

repeat

“the world isn’t going to fall apart just because you stop to rest.” – me, to myself and many coaching clients over the years. also many people to me as i prepared for sabbatical.

“things fall apart.” – the world, roughly two seconds after i stopped to rest.

returning, may 31st

at a certain point you realize that the world is like the body, it’s a falling apart world, after a while it’s mostly deconstruction. something beautiful, pure, naked and sacred has been abandoned, again, taken, again.

while i was away, the world fell apart and many days felt like trying to meditate with a raging army at the door, knowing that i didn’t know how to calm that army, or lead it, or make any move that wasn’t obligation, surrender or loss.

i return knowing even less about what to do at a mass scale. i am only armed with what i know to do at the smallest scale. i took my own life and made it satisfying, joyful, livable, on purpose. my usefulness feels clear, though i may never quite be able to articulate it more than saying i carry light in the darkness. i hold it like the earth holds a fire for sharing love stories, secrets and song. without shadows, the precious miracle of light, fire, heat, becomes either a scorching end or a beauty unnoticed, and that’s fine. knowing how to channel something as honest as fire has taken a lot of precise wearing down of myself from rock to soil. it doesn’t make me special, and if i’m not careful, it overwhelms me. we all have a role to play and mine involves telling stories, prophecy, song, conversation, solitude, creative responses and instigations for movement, and fully inhabiting my freedom.

something i noticed on my journey is that i am one of the freest people to ever exist. this freedom is not yet total. but it is a freedom from certain oppressions my ancestors survived, and didn’t. i see them everywhere, taking shape in the clouds, in dirt formations, in abstract patterns on curtains, in the shapes of flowers – a mouth, a jaw, a wrapped head, strong shoulders. and a freedom from certain burdens, supremacies, that other ancestors carried.

i do not feel the myth of safety that some white people walk with. i do not feel the myth of innocence some black people walk with, try to cover ourselves with even though it doesn’t save us. i have the freedom that comes from having ancestors who sacrificed a lot, prayed to a variety of gods and goddesses, sang a lot; there is a wave of good work behind me. i have the freedom of living in this era in a place where i learned to read and write and my words can reach beyond my range of motion or travel. i have the freedom of having been politicized early and lived my adult life moving away from the toxic distortions of capitalism and respectability. i have the freedom of being a sinner in touch with my divinity. i still have some freedom of mobility, both in the form of my passport (a freedom in constant threat based on federal fuckery), and my arthritic body – though each step hurts so much that i only do what’s necessary, which feels clearer each day: yoga, dance, praise, listen, make love, eat, drink, bathe, cleanse, write.

fight is not part of my nature, but to protect my life, our lives, i am learning to wield the weapon i have been gifted: words.

i want everyone to have their own list of what is necessary, what is just right for their own lives. we, all of us, were given this utopia of a planet in order to exist and learn and feel and change. without harm.

which doesn’t mean without suffering, the part of changing and loving and the life cycle that includes death…no, ‘without harm’ meaning without acting from a constant insecure attachment to life. that insecure attachment makes us harm the planet, break the children, shrink the women, require the men to be gladiators or slaves. that insecure attachment to life makes us insatiable for something other than the most incredible thing of all time: life. being alive, being present, having agency, loving others in all manner of ways, finding that balance – that’s the most exquisite liberating way to be. i say this from experience.

i am learning how to be happy in most conditions. i am learning how to return to happiness even when walking with grief, rage and overwhelm. i am learning how to protect my happiness from those who can’t find theirs, and cultivate mutual happiness by sharing it when it seems to be in limited supply.

my lessons involve a lot of the things you might guess – stillness, reflection, rest, boundaries, being able to feel. giving up numbness, escape, judgment, codependence and, often, social media and the news.

but more than any of these it requires a taking myself seriously. giving myself time to figure out how to be myself in any condition. the rest gets easier, comes when needed, doesn’t require massive amounts of discipline or self flaggelation or sacrifice. just acceptance.

my theory is that the more individuals who can increase this acceptance – of ourselves, of the cycles of our lives and connections, of our conditions – the easier we can pull back the veil on how ridiculous a society we’ve ended up in. the more of us can pivot right now to living lives that are compelling to ourselves and future generations.

so. this is what the next phase of my life will be about. building on emergent strategy and pleasure activism, bringing attention to this acceptance, uplifting practices i know to be liberatory, writing the way, singing the way, living the way.

the world ended at least twice while i was away. or 100,000 times. in ways that feel newer and bigger than ever. but of course they do because this time it’s us living it. the sooner we can accept that this is the inevitable, and we get to shape what’s next, the sooner we stop participating in other people’s cycles and start shaping new patterns that allow more of us to have outstanding beautiful lives.

returning June 8th

as i return to the world from a strange sabbatical marked with reality checks, it is amazing to feel my own center in relationship to the center of movement, of nation.

in the practice of centering, we organize ourselves around what we most care about and want to see in the world. at my core i want to love and be loved, to trust and be trustworthy. i want loving and trusting to be the primary ways i spend my time, the primary skills i hone, the way i define community, the liberation path. intimately, yes, but i also want to live on a planet that i know loves me and get to experience that love. i want to live with people i can trust to make decisions from a foundation of love.

here i mean love as a good parent loves: nourishing, patient, abundantly feeding, carrying without complaint, cleansing, comforting without the kind of judgment that shrinks, holding in complexity.

trusting the way healthy lovers trust – not trusting in a staying the same, but trusting the other(s) to constantly change, with integrity. to change in ways that unveil and fortify our whole selves.

i want to feel whole with my family. in every relationship. in my home. at any place i work. on a drive to the store. in the places i gather food, supplies. it seems simple to me, to want to feel myself a whole human in the mundane flow of my life. it’s all ritual. it still befuddles my higher nature that so many systems in human history have been structured to deny that simple whole feeling to the majority of those both alive and anticipated.

for months i have felt like a ghost of myself in the world, an after image with no promise of return. imagine me dashing across borders with one wet wing, dragging a split cocoon. then trying to knit a safe space back around me in a hailstorm, trying to expose the least of myself to danger, knowing i am only half transformed, but maybe that’s all there’s time for. #sabbatical2020.

recentering during the pandemic meant finding dignity within caution and boundaries, finding and deepening connection with no contact – the last 3.5 months is the longest i’ve ever gone without human touch, and it changed me. it’s also meant surrendering to this moment in time and my role in it without rushing ahead of myself.

“i am a writer, i am going to write.” – lorraine hansberry

“it just seemed like writing was absolutely the most important thing in the world…somebody asks ‘what do you do?’ and you print it out: WRITE.” – toni morrison

nervous and thrilled, i return, two wings dazzling and fragile, pushing and peeking back into the world, rested and happy and grateful for the space i carved out against all the odds. i am here and i am writing.

(George Floyd drawn by Joaquin Zuniga-Perlstein)

and of course what i return to is a new moment, a moment that feels historic…perhaps unexpected in the midst of a pandemic…but of course it’s like this, of course the containment is followed by mass explosion, our attention contained and focused makes it easier to see our rage.

the risk of being in the close proximity of protests is heightened by the global pandemic, such that a wave of sickness will likely follow all of this exerted power. those in the streets assert it is worth it for the gains, and i feel all of us negotiating between the rocks and hard places we always navigate.

police brutality is a constant, but in the past five years we in movement have pivoted, brought our collective and global attention to it such that each death is an escalation, and the responses to it grow, the demands sharpen to a point: defund the police.

when society is in such upheaval it helps me to remind myself that love is the foundation of everything, love is gravity. when we can’t see and feel it, we must uncover it, open the channels. when it’s this blocked, it can feel like imprecise work to disrupt and peel back and clear off the layers of sediment that have distorted our understanding of everything.

capitalism is the sediment of greed and colonisation.

white supremacy is the sediment of ignorance and gunpowder.

brutal policing is the sediment of slavery – the worn down granules of sloth paired with fear and hatred of the perceived other.

these inherited and assumed norms are the least of ourselves, leftover from rigged debates over competition vs collaboration, abundance vs greed, biodiversity vs monoculture. now we traverse a barren landscape stinking of gasping fish, the abundance and true wealth evaporating.

but watching this round of protests, i see our tears from violent loss and raucous laughter beginning to flow.

amidst the terror and my tender hearted daily cries, so often i find myself laughing. this generation of protests is woven through with black twitter and drag culture and shade rooms and viral contortions of cool.

it is pc, but also pointing and laughing at pc, not from a place of benefiting from the offenses, more from a place of realizing how much ego drives pc (“see how right i can be? don’t punish me!”), and how anything become trend is in some way laughable.

we have learned how to take ourselves very seriously and also shrug it all off. to weep and wobble, march on the beat, march in second lines, for justice.

i say we but i can feel my distance from the epicenter in a way that feels appropriate. i am responsible, i am finding my ways to contribute, but my time closer to the center was back up the river a ways, fervent and righteous – and not nearly as effective. not nearly as fun and funny, either.

i feel my currents in these waters, i feel work that was done last year, one and two decades ago, all in the flow. i imagine that older organizers and movement shapers can feel all the moments and small shifts and breaks and splits and sharpenings of their work present and shining in this moment.

i still feel crucial, and that my choices matter. but i am thrilled by this feeling of being outside the center, facing it with wonder and humility.

this movement moment is irresistible because there is less respectability at the center, and more queer Black feminism. there are fewer attempts to join and assimilate into the norm and more efforts to leverage the norm towards humanity, justice, love and life. it is more compelling to hear a mass scream from the heart than a pundit pontificate from a false center. i love the murmuration of sounds as we sing and heal and listen. we dreamed aloud this ferocity and politicized and trained and held and tilled and watered and shat and wept and fought and mended and now many of us get to be participant-witnesses to this cycle, collective doulas.

a few years ago i realized that the privilege walk exercise is more compelling to me if it’s done in a circle, to represent the interconnectedness that is true to all human formation. it’s more compelling if, after the questions are asked, it centers those who have faced the most structural adversity and innovated their survival – that’s whose needs we should follow, demands we should center.

once we unveil the privilege and power and oppression in the room, we can imagine turning this circle on its side, creating a bullseye, a direction, a center for targeting attention and resources. a way to follow the center, set the pace by the center, measure relevance by how much an idea touches the needs of the center. i often do this mentally and somatically – note and acknowledge and feel the distinctions in privilege, access and struggle in any interaction. if we believe we are all equal to each other, why doesn’t it always feel that way? mindfulness helps me see where i have been trained i am less than another, or more. where i should be the center, claiming attention and resources and pointing direction, and where i should be closer to the edge, protecting and resourcing and following.

in this moment, with all the layers of impact and vectors of change, i can see that i am not the center of this moment, and that is the blessing. the center is younger, is trans, is willing and able to risk it all. in some places the center is white self-responsibility, in some places it’s black integrity, in some places it’s brown and borderless and global and post binary. the center is in the streets using full voice, unashamed, celebratory, ready for this confrontation. the center is pure, a fountain of hope and rage and possibility that feeds our greatest callings.

i notice in this returning that i mostly feel like i do when i come back to visit a family i was a doula for: i can take no credit for the actual miracle. i did encourage deep breaths and pleasure for the womb to soften, i did whisper ‘trust yourself, adapt, transform yourself, open, you can do this,’ alongside the panting sweating birthing. i feel grief for the losses, and a weepy explosive tenderness for the life that comes thru. and there are more births to come.

not being the center, but facing the center, doesn’t mean i am removed from impact. i am a black woman, with family in several uprising cities, and tentacles of work and love woven into and throughout movement – i feel the grief and the tenderness, the danger and the need for change. but i also have every possible need met right now, safety nets of community if i find myself without resources, and no direct intimate losses to police violence. i am slowly but surely paying off my debts. i am able to speak and write freely.

so i turn and face those who are grieving and teaching us about how to do this work in a way that actually helps those who are shocked by loss. or homeless, jobless, targeted by the state. or without a safety net, a reputation, an education or analysis of this moment. i acknowledge that i can feel the depth of our suffering and still not fully understand, still listen to those closer to the broken heart of this nation.

and listening to that pain, to the wisdom that follows pain, for clear leadership, i hear the brilliant emerging call: defund the police.

which is to say, redistribute the budget of community safety.

this is a logical, experimental pivot.

let us recognize a broken thing. in birth work, it is incredibly dangerous not to face reality. if the baby is in a perilous position, or unable to access sustenance, or if the baby spirit has left the flesh, we must find an adaptation.

here and now we live in a system where there is something fatal at the center of our being. this system, made up of millions of people, billions of actions, has blood on its hands, seeks vengeance and dominance under the guise of protecting innocent people, and is causing immense harm. we the body politic must release it to survive, to create compelling futures for our children. it will change us completely to release it, to divest from the violence, acknowledge that this isn’t the way, that brutal militarised police are not leading us to safety or peace, but increasing conflict and tension and danger and racism.

we can grieve the longing for safety that was dashed time and again. and then, having faced reality, we can see what has the potential for life, and we can make new realities possible. facing the reality at the center allows for the necessary induction of birth/change, the intervention, the c-section, even the miscarriage that the parent can survive.

in this pivot we face the life, the miracle, still possible from our stardust selves, our freedom dreams and precious tomorrows.

one or two steps back from the center, it is easier to see that every nuance is not urgent. every distinction doesn’t actually need the same amount of room. priorities can be localized – uprising culture is localized and better for it.

facing center, it is easier to see that while the police and 45 crew are doing the expected, we are doing things in a myriad of ways that show how we have been learning from our struggles – with each other and with the state.

i return rested and centered, shaken by all that changed in my absence, saddened by all the loss, inspired by all the expressed rage. i feel ready to follow, document, write between trenches, uplift and shine light on the workers, sing, comfort, and hold.

every time someone reaches out to me for resources, it feels so clear where to point to. it’s all over the internet but i’ll put it here too:

in general, follow #m4bl, the movement for black lives. m4bl is a set of unleashed black minds operating together with historical integrity. that is the way.

here’s a collection of healing spaces for black people as the grief compounds, adrenaline crashes, high comes down, victory unveils next steps. follow prentis hemphill and BEAM.

in most towns, there are chapters of black organizers in BYP100, black lives matter, and others who you can either join or pour resources into.

building movement across cultures/races/ethnicities? there are so many formations and alliances and efforts – the one i know most intimately is the rising majority, which flows out of the action arm of #m4bl.

white? some white people thought about y’all – here’s a scaffolded resource list. black folks think about y’all too, particularly this mama scholar writing specifically to white parents.

generally the three most helpful things you can do if you aren’t from/at center are:

– educate (read more yourself and help others see the center clearly – bell hooks, angela davis, michelle alexander, charlene carruthers, andrea ritchie – there are a wealth of living writers who can get you together)

– bless the center with a just redistribution of resources…keep gathering wealth from stagnant legacies and moving them towards the future. small or large, your generosity lets the brilliance scale up.

(when possible, don’t make organizers do additional unpaid labor {answering a bunch of questions, making sure you feel seen and thanked, educating you} for your donations. yay you were generous yay! seriously it’s great! just don’t take time or strategy away from the work of those you see and hear being effective. search, find the donate page on their website and give.)

– stop business as usual. strike, march, act, blow whistles, disarm. leave harmful positions in harmful institutions or become a wrench in the gears. be impolite. disrupt white supremacy and patriarchy and policing wherever you encounter it. don’t look for praise for doing the right thing, just do it and notice how it sharpens you, strengthens you.

look what happens when we follow the truth. yes even if you are not the center, you can drop into your center, face the center and follow.

remember, the front line of cultural struggles is wherever two or more are gathered.

i have written a lot, i was away a long time. and i am grateful to be alive with y’all specifically.

for George Floyd: fire

have you learned nothing from sunsets
flaming the entire sky with soft edges
fuchsia periwinkle whisps,
taut and temporary nature taking day,
inhaling light

have you learned nothing from autumn
blazing the earth with gorgeous death
burnt orange kiss-red fragility reaching
last chance for the sky, floating, releasing,
exhaling life

have you learned nothing from war
inferno dappled muddy hose water, puddled
green edged flames of files, photos, losses
our battleground wherever you make us
defend life

have you learned nothing of justice
the deep ever changing heart must breathe
the fire in our veins needs oxygen,
do not unleash us if you don’t want to burn
we’ll keep choosing life

have you learned nothing of love
you on your knees but we the ones praying:
let us never give up on each other
even when grief is the only match for the pyre
we honor life

it is the end of a day, a season, a way, an era
the change is tumult, terrifying and beautiful
we will never be convinced to be expendable.
alchemize every death system, liberate
our divine lives


(photos via ny times)