Tag Archives: activism

For Whites Who Consider Being Allies But Find it Much too Tuff

6 Aug

Trigger Warning: Some language about sexual violence to follow.

The following post is a crunk public service announcement for our own post most racial times.

For the record, being a white ally means…

Not expecting your friends/colleagues of color to do the heavy lifting around your own privilege…

Not recentering the conversation back to yourself when difficult subjects come up…

Not asking people of color to be less angry so you can really listen. Child, please…

Not petulantly zeroing in on petty aspects of a person of color’s argument or analysis because it makes you feel uncomfortable or illuminates holes in your thinking. It’s really transparent…

Not bringing up the fact that your best friend/boo/adopted stepchild is black/brown/polka-dotted. Such “facts” are not get-out-of-jail free cards for saying stupid shit or generally being racist. You can have intimate relationships with people of color and still have fucked up race politics….

Not expecting/demanding cookies and milk because you are pursuing anti-racist activism. While we may be happy to work with you, you are doing what you’re supposed to do. Period. Point blank…

During conversations about race, the phrases “race card” and “oversensitive” don’t even enter into your mind, much less escape your lips. It’s never the right answer.

And, never forget, being a white ally means being less concerned with potentially being called racist and more concerned with actually perpetuating racism.

I’ll end this PSA with the wise words of the late, great poet, Pat Parker.

“For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”

the first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,

but don’t play here every time i come over.

An if you decide to play Beethoven-don’t tell me

his life story. They make us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me

to locate your restaurants

of cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,

mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,

rips your house or is just being an ass-

please do not apologize to me

for wanting to do them bodily harm.

It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than

whites-don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words-if you really want to be my friend-don’t

make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.

This was a crunk public service announcement. Carry on.

Images in the River-Black Girls Dialogue

22 Mar

Nina Simone’s haunting ballad “Images” based on the poem by Waring Cuney tells a story about black girls we know all to well.  Not knowing our beauty and not seeing our images; for many of my friends and family it has been a struggle for us to see ourselves as beautiful, worthy of love, and major contributors to the world around us.  However, when we found Audre Lorde, Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Darlene Clark Hine, Alice Walker, Faith Ringgold, Toni Morrison, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Smith, Shirley Chisholm, June Jordan, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu and so many more we saw our image in the river and we knew…

Currently black girls are under attack, on display, and undereducated. Cyberbullying on FB, actual bullying at school, constant surveillance by school security, heterosexism and homophobia all contribute further to the marginalization of black girls.  There are no palm trees in the streets, but they have to deal with unwanted sexual attention in public, and sometimes private, as well as fat-hatred on billboards and tv commercials.  They are not getting adequate general health education or sex education.  Neither their public or private education tells them of the streams of powerful black women and girls in their lineage.  As black feminists, womanists, Afrafeminists, women of color scholars and activists we cannot wait for them to come to us.  We must seek them out and as we guide them to the river we must listen to what they have to say.

Last year the CFC learned the power of our community when we reached out for support with our Feminism 101 for Girls workshop and we received an outpouring of love.  The workshop was a success and we provided a report back in good feminist form, but it was just the beginning.  Since then bloggers Tami Harris and Julia Stevens from Love Isn’t Enough contacted the CFC and workshop facilitators to participate on an online panel and we agreed.

Join us for a live panel discussion, Images in the River: Black Girl Dialogues, at 9 am ET, Saturday, March 31, featuring Sheri Davis-Faulkner, member of the CFC and American Studies PhD Candidate; Mashadi Matabane, Fem101 facilitator and PhD Candidate into transformative agency; Bianca Laureano, founder of the LatiNegr@s Project, who has worked with and taught youth of color and speaks at national and international organizations advocating sex-positive social justice agendas; and Asha French, member of CFC and Doctoral Student in English to discuss planning, funding and facilitating feminism 101 discussions for black girls. The conversation can be accessed on Love Isn’t Enough, Crunk Feminist Collective, What Tami Said and Cover It Live.

This conversation is about sharing best practices and learning from one another.  It is also a call to action so after the panel we encourage participants to schedule dialogues with black girls in your communities and report back.  Specific details for joining the discussion are forthcoming.  Tweet using the hashtag: #blackgirlsdialogue.

It’s time we see our images in the river.  It’s time to talk about black girl problems.  It’s time to talk about black girl joy.  It’s time to talk.

Some Reflections on the Limits of Sainthood

16 Jan

 How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?

 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Martin Luther King day is here again. For many, it’s simply part of a three-day weekend and, thus, a time to sleep in.  For others, MLK day has become yet another day to shop till you drop. It’s also a day where we are privy to various snippets from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, played on loop and quoted by the most conservative pundits to the most liberal, although, quiet at it’s kept, he said many, many brilliant things.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a literature of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) course. Although I live in Alabama, a state filled to the brim with vital civil rights history, many of my students knew very little about the CRM, and even less about King, even though they all claimed that he was very important or even a personal hero.  It was during that time that I really fully recognized how limiting political sainthood is. All my students knew who MLK was (or thought they knew), but the information they had received about him was so sanitized and incomplete that his words and philosophy were simply platitudes trotted out once a year to underscore that we had achieved his Dream. Imagine their surprise when they read about King’s anti-war stance, his thoughts on capitalism, and his emerging radicalism towards the end of his life. Take, for instance, King’s words just months before his death:

 And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

“A Christmas Sermon” (1967)

 King’s sermon is not a series of platitudes but an admonition for our own time. Indeed, it’s high time that we take our icons, our saints, off the pedestal and really heed their advice. Keeping MLK and others as distant, perfect leaders is really a cop out, a way to assuage our guilt at being “inadequate” heirs to the Movement, or to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve achieved some “post-racial”  paradise, or to convince ourselves that the task of liberation is just too daunting. On this MLK day, I think that we owe it not only to MLK’s memory, but to the many forgotten foot soldiers of the CRM and Black Power Movement, to do more than recite sound bites or raise our fists in mock salute.  We need to remember the richness, the complexity, the contradictions, and the power of black political struggles in the U.S. and across the Diaspora, and continue not only believing that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but we must continue doing something about it–at home and in the streets. 

From Time.com: “King said in an interview that this photograph was taken as he tried to explain to his daughter Yolanda why she could not go to Funtown, a whites-only amusement park in Atlanta.King claims to have been tongue-tied when speaking to her. ‘One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky.'” 

The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice

16 Nov
The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice
Guest Post by Yolo Akili
“Emotional Justice” is a term widely recognized as coined by journalist and Radio Host Esther Armah.

 

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a  “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives.  In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity
Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end.  Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line
There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and  will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability
In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”
Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.
Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language
What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole.
An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like,
“I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues.  If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality
Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be  invaluable in times of challenge.  There are many tools for this;  one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence
“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places.  When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.
These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country.  My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques.  It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and  to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at Yolo@yoloakili.com

12th Annual Allied Media Conference Report Back

22 Jun

12th Annual Allied Media Conference flyer Yellow sun burst stripes on teal sky with white lettering

This weekend I attended my favorite conference, The Allied Media Conference in Detroit. This year was way more subdued than the last two years I’ve attended. There were less people of color present, I didn’t go to very many sessions, I was on my period, feeling real low energy and  it was still amazing, transformative, and once again reminded me of what I’m here to do in this world. Even with its challenges, the AMC is the kind of conference that has me checking the calendar to make sure I’ve got it on deck for next year.

The most powerful part of the conference for me was being connected to the Creating Collective Access folks, organized in less than a month by some of the fiercest people I know. I was reminded how conferences themselves create a non-sustainable way of folks relating to each other, to themselves and their own needs. On some days the conference schedule was filled from 8am- 2am. Being connected to the collective access folks allowed me to give myself permission to chill, to not push through exhaustion and inattentiveness to be at every session, to not sacrifice a really good slow conversation to make it to a panel presentation on listening. I felt more in my body, more aware of my needs.

Creating Collective Access also had me questioning what collective space looks like and what to do when access may be so different for different people. I went to one of the sessions that was part of the Indigenous Media and Technology track and the presenters were using smoke as a tool in the workshop. I was thinking about folks with disabilities that need scent free spaces and how you hold those things together or if you can’t, what do you do? Are we willing to do what it takes to create or use tools to share across real boundaries?

I was amazed by Adrienne Marie Brown’s Octavia Butler Symposium, people’s overwhelming interest as well as her awesome awesome facilitation skills. Adrienne is so fierce she had the notes up later that day! Check them out here! I was once again struck by folks reluctance and perhaps inability to talk about trauma in our movement and how we heal or don’t from all these –isms that impact our lives.

I feel softer now and sharper at the same time. Refined and focused, recommitted to kindness with direction and more prepared to speak up as an ally for the disability justice movement and the rights of indigenous peoples. I’m full and content and feel myself coming into a new era of myself.  I’m hopeful and it feels really good.

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