I want to go outside.
When i was a kid, my parents would force my brother and I to leave the interior of the house to play in the backyard – whiffle ball, basketball, hide-n-go-seek, freeze tag – or ride bikes in order to give them some relief from our noise. Theirs was a commendable desire: for us to get fresh air, to see the sunlight, to play with other kids, to exhaust ourselves so that we might sleep. But we were crafty and did not necessarily appreciate such desire, existing on the edge between playing outside and ColecoVisions, Atari 2600s, Nintendos and Sega Genesis game consoles. On the horizon of such 16-bit fun, neither being outside playing nor inside gaming, were of much satisfaction, at least to me. So though we would gradually make our way to the back porch, quietly open the door and retreat to our room, I always desired more.
What I have discovered years later most emphatically, however, is that if there was a place to go, it was not necessarily reducible to the geographic lines of forced distinction, it was not, that is, based on the ability to be mobile. If there was an outside, it was based on how my brother and I would work and play together, how we would argue and fight each other. Outside, in other words, was a condition of imaginatory faculty. And what I learned from “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” Bob Ross’s “Joy of Painting” and the “Eyes on the Prize” series is that imagination is foundational to creating new worlds of inhabitation. To be outside while contained, to be outside through lodging oneself into interiors.
The Black Panther Solidarity Committees in Germany was a local movement that emerged through noticing the vivifying force of blackness as resistance:
“The black power struggle is part of the struggle of all suppressed and exploited people. Their resistance struggle is also our resistance. This is why the American negroes do not need words, but guns. Only this language … Burn, Baby, Burn can be understood by the white ‘Herrenmensch.’” Berlin Komitee Black Power, “Solidarity demonstration for Black Power,” Flyer (1968).
Black Feminist Philosopher and Cultural Critic, Angela Y. Davis knows something about the inescapability of interiors, of being lodged into a system and structure that sought for her demise. But she also knows something about the power of voices, of speaking to other women behind prison bars, about enacting freedom through imagining new worlds. Davis became a particular figure for a local struggle for the Black Panther Solidarity Committees was that not reducible to Davis’s flesh; she became a figuration for the horizon of Black Power, what it can do and be in the world. The movement in Germany, and its struggling with and for Davis’s freedom, recognized the violence of theological-philosophical rhetorics that produce something like a political party, a nation-state, that perpetually marginalizes the “least of these,” sharing in antagonistic struggle against that violence. Black Power could not be contained in any one body but was a force that could be enacted and proliferated in various worlds through aesthetic practice, through enacting living in, but not being of, certain worlds. Attending to the local allows us to consider the conditions of our current moment, while not submitting to normative progress narratives.
“The struggle we are engaged in is international. We well know what happens in Viet Nam affects our struggle here and what we do affects the struggle of the Vietnamese people. This is even more apparent when we look at ourselves not as African-Americans of the United States, but as African-Americans of the Americas.”
This struggle for and with Black Power against imperialism was also important to Stokely Carmichael who, in 1967, argued that Black Power is concerned with internationalism, one that stands against marginalizing practices of these United States as a movement against colonialism and imperialist oppression. Engaged in internationalist struggle, any movement and resistance to colonialism and imperialism is a concern for Black Power, an articulation of Black Feminism and Womanism, an enactment of BlackQueer Aesthesis, producing change in various worlds of our inhabitations. Thus, the Black Power Committee in Germany participated in blackness as an interruptive force, seeking to reconfigure and reestablish modes of affinity and lines of resistance.
The concern for Angela Y. Davis’s abolition, the concerns Stokely Carmichael outlined in his speech, are aesthetic theories that disturb political economies and historical narratives that let state borders become the touchstone for radical difference that would have us misrecognize our interconnectedness. Their concern for others as a concern for self troubles the assumptive logic of racial exclusion, such that we can rethink the relation between, for example, the California Men’s Colony and the “open air prison” that is the Gaza Strip, or generally, any imposed set of statutory strictures. Black Power in its varied iterations compel a retooling of the concept of the “local,” where the local can now be the sociality that emerges as a response to moments of crisis – any decisive moment or staging, any critical occurrence or happening.
In her autobiography (1974), the section titled “Walls” describes Davis’s experiences being transported between, and sequestered in, California prisons awaiting trial for “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley.” Davis’s writing is an intellectual project about obstruction, about the meaning of being walled in and sequestered; but she does not stay there. The wall as obstruction also becomes the occasion for resisting, an occasion for thinking the possibility of opening even in the most horrific of conditions. She knows that walls and obstructions never eclipse the capacity to be otherwise, to change, to be inflected, to be, that is, outside. She knows that like Jericho, walls come down, that they disintegrate with time, with chance. Davis is in the tradition of Harriet Jacobs, of Henry “Box” Brown. That is, being boxed in, being in a “loophole of retreat” or being in a California prison could not take away the ability to cognize, to think, to engage in an intellectual project of the outside. The outside became that which is imagined as irreducibly social and resistant to enclosure. “The walls of my windowless cell were far too thick for [the people standing outside the prison’s] chants to penetrate. But I could feel them and I felt happy and strong because of them” (287). We might call what she felt, even on the inside, a moment of external insurgent feeling. That mode of insurgent feeling, we might say after Davis, is an illustration of the way “Walls turned sideways are bridges” (347). The sounds of chanting, the screams for justice, turn walls into bridges. But where can we go once the bridge is constructed?
“Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!” Thus begins the 2011 Gazan Youth’s Manifesto for Change, and attention to this document is evermore urgent, it seems to me, because of the recent escalation of Israeli violence that resulted in more than 160 Palestinians, many of whom were civilians, even after the agreed-upon ceasefire. Often described as an “open air prison,” Gaza has roughly 1.7 million people living in roughly 140 square miles, making it “one of the most crowded places on earth.” Borders controlled with access in and out of Gaza limited, with access to water, food and medical supplies curtailed, all of the people in Gaza are being held hostage, are being punished for the mere fact of living. Civilian deaths are nothing more than figurations of “collateral damage” and the United States supplies Israel with much of its ammunition.
Gazan youth recognize their being pawns in a set of political maneuvers that do not have their best interests at heart, but only the furtherance of a capitalist productions of state power. Their Manifestor eight times say they are “sick” of the conditions in which they are existing, what Fannie Lou Hamer would call being sick and tired of being sick and tired. But if they are in prison, if they are held in confinement, let’s think a bit more with them about such sequestering.
“Jails are thoughtless places. Thoughtless in the sense no thinking is done by their administrations; no problem-solving or rational evaluation of any situation slightly different from the norm. The void created by this absence of thought is filled by rules and the fear of establishing a precedent (meaning a rule they had not yet digested)” (Davis 290).
The prison is thoughtless, not because folks imprisoned lack thought, but because the administering of violence, the creation and maintenance of the conditions of confinement through brutality and punishment, lacks anything of problem solving, anything of recognition of something like humanity in the ones imprisoned. The Gazan youth claim: “There is a revolution growing inside us” and it is a revolution that allows them to keep heart despite the turmoil, the violence, the constant violation under which life exists for them. They conclude, offering the world what they desire: “We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace.”
What the youth document is an otherwise than philosophical-theological treatise, it is a critical practice of collective thought that emerged from the condition of feeling like a problem. Their Manifesto was a calling out into the world, a longing for sociality. The Manifesto does not offer a causal link to historical moments positing that theirs is a continuation and moment of progress. Rather, they offer an aesthetic theory about the concept of history itself through the performance of lament as Manifesto. They interrupt western philosophical-theological concepts of space and time through the present now, the urgent thrust, of their writing. The history their Manifesto performs is a theory of the commons similar to the Communist Manifesto and the Black Panther Party Ten Point Program. They offer a history that interrupts linearity of time and space through the set of demands as desires for the outside. Their history makes of their demands an urgently local concern for us all and we must be open to, vulnerable to, their longing.
Empire and its continual marginalizing of the “least of these” – what the Occupy Movement calls the 99% – it appears after November 7, 2012, is having the Best Week(s) Ever! With the drone attack of Yemen and the Department of Justice’s defense of indefinite detention – “plaintiffs lack standing because there is absolutely no basis for concluding that they would be detained under the challenged military force authorization”; I still have not figured out if this is tautological or simply circular logic – election day, Obama’s conference call about the Grand Bargain two days after the election asserting that the social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security would likely be on the next episode of Food Network’s “Chopped” or the US’s unambiguous response to and support of Israeli strikes in Gaza, what we are noticing is the continued movement rightward of left-wing politics. The concern about complicity – how we participate, by paying taxes for example – is one that we must consider deeply. Just how can we resist, from our admittedly small spaces in the world, such practices that further entrench inequity into the fabric of our lives like Cotton?
Perhaps it is something like Harriet Jacobs and her inhabitation in a crawlspace for seven years; that the consent that she could not give she could, yet and still, withhold. We do not consent to the atrocities done in our name, in the name of a nation-state. In absence of having a “choice” about how tax dollars are utilized, how we finance war and thus, participate in it, withholding consent is the power that catalyzes movement.
I have never shared with my parents the names of men that have given me great, unfettered joy, the names of persons who have made my heart flutter and the pit of my stomach churn with butterflies. They do not know the names – nor the occurrences – of the smiles I have been given and returned, the hands held; but also the sadness. They do not know who first broke my heart, or the one who most recently captured my dreams. If I had joy to be shared, sadness to be released, it would secrete itself after having been carried, held within until I could find a clearing space to laugh, dance, weep. And upon finding out she would be released on bail – a victory won in the long struggle for her freedom – Davis withheld joy: “I laughed out loud. If I had been anywhere else I would have shouted, but there in the solitude of that jail I held my joy” (Davis, 330). The religious convictions of my parents do not steal my capacity for joy; rather, having joy in the midst of such doctrine makes the joy felt evermore difficult. I want to tell them how I saw him recently and wanted a lingering hug. But I cannot. Like Davis, if I could be anywhere else, if I could be outside, the held joy – as withheld breath – could be shouted. I search for a clearing.
The clearing is a space of open exposure, of vulnerability, even as it is a likewise space of protection. Can we create a clearing – as a mode of solidarity – for Gazans? Can we see the violence under which they suffer, which is part of the US Empire, as connected to our struggles here? How is the Gazan enunciation of youth concern a “local” issue? Martha and the Vandellas solicit us still, telling us that dancing in the clearing of streets is generative for new worlds, a critique of the world in which we exist. So to the streets we must go, to the outside, even if initially the exterior within our own minds. It is there where we can gather and join in solidarity with others.
Angela Davis edited a collection of essays while incarcerated titled If They Come In the Morning based on a heartfelt letter she received from James Baldwin while locked in confinement. That letter claimed that if we sit idly by and allow the violence of state power to violate whom it considers Other, it will likewise come to claim whatever “us” of which we claim to be a part. We breathe the same air, share the same earth, so what affects me will undoubtedly affect you. Instead of the temporal privileging of presentist accommodations, perhaps we should share in and celebrate the mutuality of shared vulnerability, shared joy, to be in relation to one another, to – along with the Gazan youth – “scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in.”
Let’s go outside.