Tag Archive for 'white supremacy'

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

1.
amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
 
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

2.
amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

3.
amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
 
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.

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a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”

love
amb

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from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”

one week of poems on love and terror

i was supposed to be working on a novel this month but it will keep. instead i have written thousands of other kinds of words – blog words, journal words, and with my clarion writers group, a daily poem. here is some of the poetry, which feels very much like the journal stuff, my terror/despair/love, clarified.

….

1. survival

the brittle tissue was layered and piled up
rung dry
stretched on a repurposed loom
until diaphanous
torn strips for the days to come

she rolled the flesh up
suffocating the thru line
doubling it, fat grease
thick in her fingerprint
placing gray life on her tongue

it was salt and steel
it was cold and still
it was the fat end of the day
and she was the only one hungry
the open mouth

in this way
she ate her own heart
before they came
to break it

….

2. moving forward

i wake up into clouds
and all day i reach in my hands
feel my way forward
i think forward
its hard to tell
sweeping the nothingness away
i gather the mist with my palms
ready, not ready
for the sharp tomorrow
to slice my fingers

….

3. reducing myself

i am accumulating crust and feathers
pinching and piercing my skin
and threading through me
and making a bloody mess

it gathers at the edge of eyes
too fast to wipe away
the salt-ring
soon i will decide: open? closed.

i used to love all the colors
i used to love all the titles i could gather
but i can let my skin cake up with dust
be a no one from here to there

at first i was so brave
and i had a framework, an answer, a flow
now, i just choose life over death, today,
today,
today

4. becoming brightness

im far away from myself
a distance between heart and skin grows
fills with brush fire
until inside i wheeze and my eyes tear up in public
am i a stray spark
am i of danger

if i keep an open mind it means maybe there are multiple interpretations of “lynch that nigger”
a humorous way to grab a stranger’s pussy
and logic by which descendants of immigrants can tell anyone ever to go home;
that my love is less than sacred

but i am the infinite accumulation
of millions of small sparks in the night
saying:
i am not your dream, i am my own

now i feel smoke in my mouth
now i begin to burn through those i touch
i begin to feel a hunger for anything that stands still
i begin to slip out of system

….

5. every time i choose

on one side of me is the terror
a shoreline with a violent water
sucking back teeth
lifting up to swallow
me and all of us
making all my distinctions silly
drowning my horses and
dashing my obsession with living

on the other side of me
she is holding my hand
she has already lost several nations
and all faith in men and politics
she loves me without ever saying it
watches me until i become goddess
saying its ok to grieve, to be terrified
let us feel as much as we can while we are living

every time i choose her
i feel the miracle of touching skin that isn’t mine
her life comes from a desert
and she laughs at how i am american
grandiose and self important
then she shows me something smaller
and more precise
than i ever dreamed

this time it is a tiny elephant named earl
she wants me to travel with him
before that, a soap from aleppo
to remind me that nothing is forever
and once it was a book of male genitalia
to help us laugh at those who care for power
now, with my sea of terror behind me
all i can gift her in return

is my life

….

6. my heart can break but not in two

i am not half of myself
my mother’s cells do not inhale in me
pulling themselves away
from the skin that terrifies
her neighbors

my mother grew up around
men on horses with rifles
told a lie about their hearts
(irrelevant)
and a lie about their destinies
(supreme)

my heart can break on a story
about a poor white person
who lost something beloved
person, place, thing
but show them my picture
ask if i can lead them…

so, my heart can break

i am not half of myself
my father’s cells do not terrify
the tender world in me
which whiteness inhales in infinite lines
feasting on its neighbors

my father grew up around
women who held kitchen courts
lost their teeth early
(truthful tongues are sharp)
lived almost forever
(raising everyone in sight)

my heart can break on a story
about a poor black person
who nurtured the deepest sweet
but stepped onto the pavement
and was swallowed up, whole

so, my heart can break

7. your safety and your pins

there is nothing wrong with safety pins
i imagine that where you are
it is brave
the world around you
held together by a gleaming oil-ish bubble
chartreuse and bulbous
inside like a snow globe
small and white and seeming to fall down
earth flat, that sort of thing
and you want a real life
you want to stop being shaken
and responding to a false chaos
where the only thing that changes is the
position of the sky
you want to feel dirt and
to find a heartbeat in your chest
so you prick inward and out
and with the sharp and rounded pin
you shout:
i will change

and there is nothing wrong with this
it is a morning action
and you still have sleep in your eyes

an emissary from the night might tell you
there is nothing wrong with safety pins
but you may find you need a sword
a shield, a baton, fireworks,
a megaphone and a rested voice
and to feel the ocean inside you
before you can step onto this line
between me and hatred

for the line is long and fatal
and the war so quiet
it could break you in two
like a confession

for the line is sharp
and the war so deep
it could swallow you whole
before you can say stop

#blackband: how to, a reflection

#blackband: how to, a reflection

i am just over a week into the practice of wearing a black band on my left arm as a statement of grief, and as a statement against white supremacy in all it’s manifestations.

it’s been a beautiful, simple practice so far. people either already know why i am doing it or, when they hear my reason, vigorously agree with my rationale.

i have had people ask me questions about how to participate in #blackband, so here are some answers (with the caveat that i am learning the practice as i go):

1. where do i get a #blackband?

i made mine from old leggings. other friends have made bands from t-shirts and bandanas, or taken black ribbon or hair bands or bracelets and created their bands. my friend sabrina, a detroit artist, drew hers on with permanent marker. my friend adela showed me the black band of one of her sacred tattoos that inspired me to consider that for my next step.

i love the DIY nature of this so far. it was a deeply personal commitment for me to don a black band, and making/finding my band, imbuing it with intention, feels like part of the strength and magic in it.

2. where do i wear it?

left side of body, closest to your heart. i have been wearing mine around my left arm just above or just below my elbow.

you can wear it right on skin or over clothes – visibility is important.

if you don’t have a left arm or wearing it on your arm isn’t possible, wear it on your left leg. if you don’t have a left leg or wearing it on your leg isn’t possible, pin a black circle to your left side, near the heart.

wear it to all of your life, in transit, at work, in sacred spaces. let your resistance be constant.

3. i have my band on. now what?

once i had my band on, i invited conversation around it. i let my friends, family and y’all know what i was doing and why. now i answer strangers who ask about it, pointing them to resources for more information based on their entry point – black folks i point towards ongoing movement for black lives work, non-black people I point towards amazing solidarity work. i invite them to join me if they are tired/devastated by white supremacy and constant grief.

it’s been interesting to hear the responses – a few black folks have said their skin is their black band, and others have said it feels important as a black person in a professional environment to wear the black band to counter the way white supremacy wants to normalize the trauma.

some of my friends indulge me in what they see as my practice, others take it on. i am not pushing it on people, i am inviting us to make visible our resistance in a world that wants to silence us with fear.

i do notice that each time i see someone take it on i feel a bit safer. audre lorde taught us “your silence will not protect you.” the black band feels like a vocalization and harmony.

3. so…can non-black people wear a blackband? can white people wear it?

absolutely!

i wasn’t really thinking about this part when i committed to wearing the black band, but lots of non-black people have been asking me about it and rocking the black band and it feels really important and comforting to see non-black people visibly making a statement against white supremacy and anti-blackness.

it’s an emergent win.

for non-black #blackband-ers i would ask a few things:

– that you pair the wearing of the band with a monthly/sustainer donation to BOLD, blacklivesmatter, byp100, or other groups affiliated with the movement for black lives. support local work led by black people. (donations of any size count – $5 a month from a million nonblack people would really increase what our movements can do and i believe there are more than a million nonblack people who are against white supremacy in this country)

– for white people especially: be ready to be transformed. look to the thorough analytical work of catalyst or the action network of surj for other practices to be in to unlearn white supremacy.

– and if you haven’t yet, bring it up to friends and family explicitly. have the conversations i can’t have with your parents and grandparents, with your kids.

4. how long are you wearing the black band?

i don’t know yet. it may be the rest of my life. i need to see explicit and significant advances of justice and liberation for my people. a lot of people have to wake all the way up to make those advances real. i see the black band as a small daily direct action that helps to turn up the volume on that ‘white supremacy is over’ alarm. i suspect when it is no longer needed, we will all know.

below are images of three people wearing the band – taylor renee aldridge, aurora levins morales, erin ní chonaill, paury flowers, chelsea cleveland, and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha (in black lace!!):

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‘all lives matter’ is the sickness of white supremacy spoken aloud

today #blacklivesmatter is three years old. so is BYP100. it is a blessed day for black people.

and a tragic one. a year ago today, we learned that Sandra Bland had died in police custody. we watched a video to get to know her, to grieve. and we watched her do what we would have done in her circumstances, and then she was gone and we had to quietly, privately imagine what we will never know about her last hours.

and that day, and that week, and even today, after a week like last week, people ask, “but don’t all lives matter?”

oh i see, i see it now
it’s because the way you feel
about your skin
is that it is the center of the world

because it is so cleansweetfairlightbright and pale
so dazzling-as-the-sun to you
that to speak of yourself
you must climb a stairway
and a ladder slid tall and ever away
to a platform
up a pedestal
mount a throne
don a crown
and you must even put your face on the deities
and – actually, no, there can only be one –
a white one with flowing hair
in three persons
but all of them blonde
and vengeful
and so on

you project, you hallucinate,
you shoot.
you shoot to kill.
blackness a blank slate to you
chalk lines your grand art

supremacy is a lens
no it is a sickness
no. – yes! – right?
it is an overlay
between your dreams and the world
between your fears and the entire world

for anyone else
and i mean anyone who
receives the sun differently from you
to say, to feel
‘i love myself
i love my children’
from your height
we are running at you with bayonets
with machetes
with the guns you adore
coming to take all the future from you
and everything else

but you want us to be one with you while we are dying

but when we live and walk
and breathe and play and mother father
and dance and drive and breathe
and breathe
and just breathe?
you are so terrified
you bend everything to distortion

black band

i am going to begin wearing a black armband on my left arm, closest to my heart, to indicate that i am a warrior in mourning.
that #blacklivesmatter to me.
that i recognize i am of a targeted nation inside a violence-addicted nation.

i am so moved by and so grateful for the work of #blacklivesmatter, the blackout collective, BYP100, black organizing for leadership and dignity (BOLD) and so many others working to generate actions for our liberation. (give money to each of those groups if you are at a loss of what to do. redistribute a portion of your salary to their work. for serious.)

and…we can’t hope that these currently under resourced formations will just do all the work for everyone. we all need to act. we need a tipping point of brave people willing to move out of complicit silence into action. (yes, i am saying that the resistance in your head or even in righteous conversation between you and a few friends is not enough – honey i wish it were. no one wants to feel all of this and do all of this. but we are in a moment of genocide and anthropocene and we must take ourselves seriously.)

we need all kinds of action – direct action, organizing, healing, strategizing, redistribution. grieving is an action. feeling is an action.

and solidarity. not “ally” solidarity, but solidarity and action by non-black people who recognize we are in one struggle for humanity.

one action is actually being public and open about our resistance, to say we see what is happening and we say no more, not today, never again, stop. we see beyond what is happening and we know love must win.

so. i want to wear what i need – a black circle, a wholeness.

as i cut up a pair of black leggings to make my armband i felt all the things i am longing for. this isn’t what everyone who wears the armband may mean, but i wanted to share.

mervyn marcano posted #blaxit the other night and i thought – ‘yes!!’ and then, ‘but seriously how do we divest from this system of genocide?’

i want to stop paying the percentage of taxes that goes to police, ICE and military forces – to defund this perversion of justice and invest in community models, mediation and healing spaces.
i want to pull all the babies out of schools that teach them they are more than or less than anyone else – either with sloppy histories or preferential treatment and funding of education.
i want a landless workers movement to secure farmland. i want my hands in some dirt – i want octavia butler’s acorn and earthseed.
i want all my money to go to people who love me, love us.
i want the precious earth to be a shared precedent that unifies our decision making.

i want all white people to catch up to the white people i hold close to me, who show me what is possible – those who never make me wonder about our equality, who never say all lives matter, who never ask me to carry the weight of their learning and unlearning.
i want to banish any white people who don’t get it, and who aren’t working on unlearning racism, from my life and the lives of everyone i love (you don’t have the range).

i want significant work stoppage across the country every time our lives are stolen because someone imagined we were dangerous to them. our money matters, our labor matters.

i want people to know when they see me that i am to be treated like a griever and like a warrior and like a healer and nothing less. i want us to come out in our grief and radical commitment to liberation.

this is bigger than police killing of black people – this band is my public declaration of war on white supremacy in all it’s manifestations, including racialized capitalism, colonialism, difference-phobia, gun fetishes, violence as a way of resolving conflict – all of it.

it is also my public vulnerability – i grieve every time i see humanity turned against itself, i feel it. and i believe it is part of my life’s work to feel it and turn others towards feeling it, to un-numb us so that we realize we are on fire. i am not going to keep adjusting and maintaining the social status quo. i am angry and numb and overwhelmed and terrified. i am mourning and trying to step into the shoes of all my newborn ancestors. i need it to be known. i need the world to interact with me with more awareness.

in studying public signs of mourning this one seems most appropriate and accessible. it has also been a sign of protest and political affiliation at times. i think we need it to be both for grief and for resistance. i also know i would feel safer in a world where those who stood against the genocide of my people were visible to me.

i recognize i may be wearing this armband for the rest of my life. i keep thinking of the length of slavery, how not being the property of a white person seemed equal parts necessary and impossible for generations and generations. not being the target of police, ending white supremacy and racialized capitalism feels impossible to me now…but it feels absolutely necessary.

all the love i walk with only lets me move in one direction, towards our liberation.

join me.

#blacklivesmatter #blackband #blaxit

blackband

(and yes, join in all my non-black and international beloveds, especially those being targeted too – this week i have cried for so many people and places all over and i feel our togetherness in our resistance even if we start from different locations. i wear this band with love for palestine, syria, bangladesh, turkey, brazil, iraq – and that’s just this week. together we are the future.)