Tag Archive for '#metoo'

oprah is already an emperor

i watched oprah winfrey’s beautiful speech the other night…actually the next morning. that night i watched different people from my community documenting their experience as #timesup activist guests at the golden globes. a friend sent me the speech and i sat on the edge of my bathtub and watched it and cried hard because i get moved by bravery and collective moments.


i thought oprah was stepping into a new territory, wielding her power in a new way. i didn’t think she was beginning a run for the office of president. i’ve been reflecting a bit on why, as i’ve seen tons of very heated debates on her qualifications, her wealth (which seems suddenly surprising to some people), her liberalism.

the first thing is that i think we all need to change our understanding of what presidency in the context of this country means.

i was recently at the obama summit. i met the 44th president there, and sat up close for michelle obama’s speech. in both of them i saw elegant beautiful brilliant black people who had survived something horrific. when the first lady spoke of the white house, it sounded like the biggest, fanciest prison experience available. listening to obama tell stories at the dinner table, i wondered how he carries the weight of the decisions he made as president. and i understood, again, that brilliance, and even individual integrity, are not enough to change a corrupt system.

Octavia’s words “all that you touch you change, all that you change changes you” are also a warning. so far, to hold the role of presidency means to become the keeper of war, the one who manages oppression, the prison guard and executioner. it is a role of drones, prison bars, barbed wire borders. it is a curse, even when held in competent hands.

and i am tired of seeing power handed off at the moment of implosion – as a coach i often support women and people of color who were celebrated and given roles of executive power only to learn that it was power over a hot mess. we’re lucky we survive these brushes with toxic hierarchy – power imbalances that put all the worst kinds of work on the shoulders of those willing to risk being leaders. the job description to come in after 45 is like firefighter-janitor-ER nurse-in chief.

so one reason i am not over here thinking #winfrey/[insert powerful feminist here]2020 is because the role of president as it currently stands is a set up to do the worst harm, and i don’t really want to see another black or brown person take on that burden until we have revolutionized the whole system, at which point the role will likely be obsolete.

and we’re far from revolutionizing even that role; at this point we need to reassert that president is a role of service, not empire. we don’t want to accept the precedent that wealth can qualify you for a role that is meant to be held by experienced politicians who have been practicing service to the people for most of their adult lives. my great uncle just passed – he was a state senator in South Carolina and he was beloved, available to his constituents, responsive. they guided his hand.

it isn’t actually meant to be about who is the most articulate, or charming, or rich. democracy is supposed to be about finding those who can listen to the people, uplift the best of our skills and longings, and weave a society that works for all of us.

as a post nationalist, i am divesting my energy from the federal experiment as the place where this kind of leadership can get elevated. 45 is a clear indication of failure. a system at this scale without a humane economic view (such as socialism, a pluralist commonwealth or other forms of economic democracy) leads to boorish, egotistical monsters in power. it’s what we will put our attention on – look how many people are reading the news every day now that it’s all dumpster fires and disaster.

we have to invest in a different way of being american than this experiment allows for, and our cities and communities are the spaces for that investment.

let’s give oprah a slate of incredible local leaders to back, help her redistribute her wealth into powerful feminist leadership in that way. politics is a field that requires diplomatic and collective skill, and there are brilliant women walking in the fire of elected office right now, learning to survive and lead – she can support them in 2018 and 2020.

because the other reason oprah doesn’t need to be the president is that she is already the emperor of her own life, network, wealth and narrative. oprah is living her best life as oprah. and i’m not mad at it, she’s been shaped by her time and taken great risks.

i am rarely angry at an oppressed person for besting the system, but it’s a corrupt system, and those who rest comfortably in its spoils should not be expected to lead us to the next system.

oprah is a black billionaire who loves love and transformation. she’s a survivor who has lifted herself out of poverty and lifted a lot of others with her. she has learned a lot in public, and she is generous and vulnerable with that learning. she claims her joy, her book nerdery, her health, her right to be a black woman on the cover of a magazine every month, her actress self, her producer self, her i-don’t-have-to-get-married-to-have-solid-partnership self, her podcasts full of spiritual leaders self…who knows what she’s like behind the scenes, but she’s a fucking fantastic public persona. let’s not destroy that with an american presidency.

ode to Tarana Burke

i hope you feel the black joy, and woman joy, and human joy
our species is writhing free of an old shape
and celebrating you, goddess
griot of your own survival stories
ground for a swell of truth
standing next to you we transform our shame into a spotlight:
here is the wound
and we are the healers
thank you for putting seed in the dirt
now the bloom is blood red
we reclaim our right to be wild
to be whole
to be here
we are not the error,
we are the unveiling


first the unbearable (learning of Egypt)

i hear the condolences first
read the written word, the name, the place
someone is sending love, with rage,
with shock, with tears, with analysis
with their people
with all people
and i go looking for the fresh wound

i want to not know
to not step from here, without this pain
to the next moment, marked by blood
looking past the flayed horizon
whispering no. no not this many no.

the numbers grow on my tongue
i say them to no one
i read the news to whomever is near
even if they have read
or are reading it
i want to lend my voice
to the spell of awakening
to make every head turn
look, look what we’ve done
look what we have not undone
what we have allowed and encouraged
what we have invested in
what we forget, what we remember
look who we are now
look who we still are

i want to change the story being written
the history still warm and wet on our fingers
i want to focus on the intimate heartbreak of violation
what stole my smile, my childish peace
boorish men, the mountain of offense
we have all burrowed through
the memories we walk with, and the terrors
navigating legacies of genocide and erasure

i know all of the harm intertwines at the root
i know the medicine has to go deeper down
to the core of existence
to the cord between us and god
to the faultlines between us
that make us think: i can be without you

but first, the unspeakable
the unimaginable, the unbearable
we have created hell with our boredom
we birthed hierarchy, greed, and the foolish need for victory, for righteousness
it is killing us
it is killing everything
eating us up from within
the detonation of cancer in a living body
the cancer of violence in a living world

some days i am nothing more than a prayer
a vessel of tears being emptied
stunned by my own insignificance,
our inability to stand in the way of our demons
the brightest truth about us

some days i have to focus on one story
out of the hundreds of deaths,
one person telling god everything
feeling the sacred flood all of their senses
planning the next meal’s portions
and what to say to their sweet and distant lover
one person remembering they are enough
one person smiling as they gather themselves
for the world outside
enjoying the mundane pleasure of bodies
all around
in and of faith, wearing faith, speaking faith

the doors will open
the violence will burst in
so sure of itself, so wrong
i will learn your name in your absence
perhaps i cannot fathom
the entirety of gore
the scale of destruction we have committed to
but you, stranger of faith
comrade in the act of prayer
beloved to your God, your mother, your son
you i will grieve for
you i will grieve
for all the time and sea between us
i feel the shock of losing you
it is a devastation
i would have loved you
but my species
we are terrified of love.