Archive | November, 2012

the receipts: notes on voting abstention

12 Nov

one. 

I was defriended on Facebook this summer after a rather dramatic set of exchanges that took place publicly and I recently began to think about that defriending because I wanted to consider how mishearing and misreading were the grounds through which a purportedly critical analysis of my position was given and how that mishearing and misreading allowed the individual to feel good about himself once he finally clicked “unfriend.” Mishearings and misreadings are often foundational for argumentation, and though one’s argument may or may not, in fact, be correct, because of the straw man against which they contend, incongruity is often the result in such conversation. I reposted a status written by Mark Naison that argued, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of the person for whom people would vote into presidential office, that grassroots organizing must, of necessity, take precedence, given the economically unviable world in which we live:

‎”No matter who wins the next election, the US is likely to become a poorer, crueler country with leaders in every walk of life seeking to protect their own advantages while demanding sacrifice from those who work for them, or depend on the programs they offer. If there is going to be kindness, generosity and compassion, it is going to have to come from people ‘on the ground’ and be reflected in how they help one another when they are in trouble. [A]nd how they share dwindling resources.”

The individual that eventually defriended me responded by saying it was sad that I was cynical, that I should have hope and belief in the “political process” and that I should simply join Team Obama. I resisted a lot of his language because Naison’s assertion was not about the limited category that we call politics, as such. It was about how we will need to build coalitions with folks from all walks of life, how the hoarding and greed of the economically privileged class squanders resources for the “least of these,” making of us all dependent on one another. I was reminded of this exchange because of the urgency of Naison’s words ringing ever more true today: his words were a call to sociality, to being together with others that is likewise the condition of emergence for imagining a new world, a world wherein we share together in resources, wherein we share together in life and love through generosity and compassion.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Chicago Teacher’s Union held a strike that lasted seven days in September this year, teachers fighting for better wages, better work hours, medical and mental health staff for students, better accommodations, books on the first day of class and a reduction in the weight given to standardized testing for teacher evaluations. Many folks on the left agreed with the CTU’s position. And when a candidate for president in 2007, President Obama promised not only to support unionized labor, but to put on his comfortable shoes to march with unions for better labor conditions. However, the striking in Wisconsin and the CTU illustrates the ways Obama wanted nothing more than the CTU strike to end quickly and quietly. In other words, whatever the teachers would receive would be gained through their own collective organizing with no support from the one that once promised to be with them.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that the Occupy Movement, under the guise Occupy Sandy, is one of the primary means by which folks in New York City are receiving resources after Hurricane Sandy. The Occupy Movement was certainly dismissed by both major political parties, with the Republicans thinking the lament of the 99% vacuous and tantrum, with the Democrats attempting to coopt the critique of the current political economy by attempting to “Occupy the Vote.” Funny, then, how it has been the support given by the Occupy Movement that gathered quickly and rose to the occasion of the current crisis, delivering meals, clothing and medical supplies.

Naison’s words reverberate, indeed, given the fact that Wal-Mart workers are calling for a strike, organized action against the superpower because of its varied, storied, many abuses of the workers there – everything from ensuring workers do not have schedules long enough to receive healthcare benefits, though forcing workers to labor extra “overtime” hours, to the general belittling and lampooning of workers as “stupid” and “dumb” by management. Similar actions are likely to proliferate rather than come to an end because we live in a world of economic collapse, the refusal to take Climate Change seriously during presidential electoral debates, the privatization of public services and the general assault of organized labor.

Indeed, if we are to thrive in the world, we will achieve this through collective organizing, by another politics, a politics that contends with and against simple assertions of “political processes.”

two.

(Trigger Warning: Lynching Image) 

Various reminders to “get out the vote” last week invoked the category of “ancestors” as the reason for such urgent action. It is, indeed, true that the history of suffrage movements in the US document various marginalized groups contending for the ability to vote in local, state and national elections, attempts to participate in the representational political form that is our republic. I was uneasy by the invocation of ancestors, of family members who once could not vote, as the reason why we must participate today. It is true that suffrage was, and is, held from peoples throughout the history of the US with violence and perpetual violation. The underside of such assertion was the implied critique that to not vote, to intentionally abstain, is mode of dishonoring the same past. But there were other ancestors, other modes of collective – and thus political – organization that did not desire the thing, we might say, was withheld them.

“‘Slaves and maroons from various plantations met regularly in the cipriere,’ Gwendolyn Mildo Hall writes, ‘Huts were built, with secret paths leading to them.  A network of cabins of runaway slaves arose behind plantations all along the rivers and bayous.’ Much of the social life of the city’s slaves became concentrated in the swamps where they could talk, dance, drink, trade, hunt, fish, and garden without supervision.  The settlements were hidden away, but they were also integrated with the life of the city.  Unlike in some places in the United States, these maroon communes had many women and children” (Disturbing the Peace, 62).

The ciprieré communities secreted from local plantations, maintaining a relationship to spaces from which they escaped, but established new patterns of behavior and aesthetic interventions for protection and peace. Setting traps, navigating the swamps, having sex, singing, raising children, eating – all these were aesthetic practices that always and likewise had to be forms of preparation. Maroons needed be ready at a moment’s notice for encounter with the political world of the exterior that would bear down on them and produce violence against them. Each practice, therefore, was a likewise preparation for the possibility of the threat of violation; each practice, thus, highlights the ways in which interventions always likewise have an aesthetic quality and theoretical underpinning. We might say that the CTU’s ability to organize quickly, that Occupy Sandy’s ability to gather and disperse resources at a moment’s notice, was but another figuration of the extrapolitical aesthetic practices of marronage, a way to be in worlds but not of them, a way to respond to needs as a critique of the institutional structures that create such need in the first place.

Michelle Wright writes about how “[m]ost of the Social Sciences and Humanities derive their standard notion of time from physics – specifically Sir Isaac Newton’s notion of time as a fixed constant, linear in its movement – physics itself abandoned Newton’s belief a century ago” (73). That which is considered space and time in Social Sciences and Humanities emerge from particular philosophical and theological movements. Such that interruption of an aesthetic practice offers a general critique of the normative political sphere, such that black power disturbs historical narratives and the ease with which ancestry is sometimes deified, such that blackqueer atemporality troubles binaries of rocking or mocking votes. The interruption that is black power, that is black feminism, that is the blackqueer aesthetic, also disassembles space as well. Such that it becomes increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to distinguish the Prison Industrial Complex and the general militarization of police power in cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Oakland in the elusive borders of something called the United States from the heightening of militaristic power that terrorizes in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. 

So while it is true that abstention from electoral politics does not, of necessity, protect, attending to another ancestry, the history of marronage, perhaps presents us with other ways to think abstention-as-protection, where protection was not about the participation in, nor the replication of, the spaces from which enslaved folks escaped, but was about the desire to be left alone, to organize and care for one another without the imposition of the state. In our world, in our interconnected cyberculture, the local becomes ever more important and Occupy Sandy, as a figuration of ciprieré marronage, is an illustration of the quick, intense and intentional emergence of sociality to current local conditions. And maybe the local is all we have. 

three.

I was defriended last week on Facebook, either the day before or of Election Day, for reasons similar to the opening story. I posted writing by Summer McDonald about her decision to not vote in this year’s election. I was confused not by those antagonistic to a decision to not vote, but that people were upset about the audacity to declare the decision of abstention in the midst of all the enunciations of support for the red, blue, green or independent parties. I hadn’t read too many things declaring abstention as a choice, so I’m still waiting for receipts about why this limited group produced such a seemingly loud response. 

I have attended a church locally in Durham for roughly two years (and I will return once I get out of job market / finishing dissertation … heaven. lol), though I am a self-proclaimed agnostic. Something about the sociality of being together with others was, and is, important to me, though I oftentimes disagreed in some pretty huge ways with things being said. There was something about struggling with others, while struggling within myself, to make a new world inhabitable by more folks than just ones generally deemed acceptable. But sometimes, struggle is too much and lines are drawn in the sand. The first time I walked into a church in Durham four years ago, as I took my seat in the very back of the church, the pastor quickly began bespeaking the horrors and sinfulness of being gay. And I don’t even think I wore my rainbow headband that day. But I picked up my keys and walked out as quickly as I walked in. And one of the ministers, presumably, ran out after me to ask who I was and why I was leaving. “I’m a gay dude…but I’m ok with it. And your pastor is just wrong,” is what I told him to which he replied, “give me your number so we can talk about it later.” Gotta love the contradictions. 

As a cisgender gay dude that grew up in Pentecostal churches as a musician, songwriter, singer and preacher, I am well acquainted with heteronormativity, sexism and homophobia that run in a lot of religious rhetoric, such that I understand when other folks choose to abstain from participating in religious communities. For them, religious ritual does not counterbalance the at times violent rhetoric used to dismiss large groups of folks. For them, religious ritual is something that they find otherwise and elsewhere than the church … and in many ways, they create gatherings in spaces that are just as sustaining and important. I think I’d be justified in never going to another church in my life, and I’m ok with that. But I also get why people continue to go back, with hope. We need not denigrate either position, as both emerge from a desire to be and be together with others. I do not dishonor my parents, my former churches nor my old way of life when I use the queer theoretical ideas I learned in elite, private universities just because I learned them in those elite, private places. You do not dishonor your ancestry if you choose to live in the world in ways that honor what you believe allows you to stand in your truth, to be transparent in a world that would have of us all to be fearful and afraid. Rather, we honor folks when we engage them, even when we disagree loudly. 

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After the Love Has Gone: Some Thoughts on Radical Community After the Election

8 Nov

If you’re like me you’re probably geeked that the election is finally over.  I mean, now I can turn all of my attention back to Parks and Recreation, Scandal, and the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally!

Welcome back to the Wig Crypt, Crunkadelic!

But, seriously. I’m glad the election and the election coverage is over. Sure, I love a giddy Rachel Maddow gushing on MSNBC. Sure, I like the idea of chastened, sullen, defensive conservatives whining and licking their wounds, embarrassing themselves by saying increasingly stupid, pitiful, and asinine things, while all the while revealing to anyone with good sense that their ideology and policies are out of touch, retrograde, wack, and shamtastic. Their tears are delicious. So, yes, I’m not above putting the shade back in schadenfreude.

Mostly though, I’m really ready to be done with the in-fighting among the Radical Left. If you feel that Barack Obama is the antichrist because he has initiated moderate health care reform but are cool with his policies on Guantanamo and drones, I am yet lifting you up in prayer and inviting you to take a stadium of seats. Just sit this one out, boo.

Some folks voted for President Obama, albeit in a range from enthusiastic to reluctant support. Some voted for progressive third party candidates like Jill Stein, choosing to give the side eye to the binary of the prevailing two party system. Others abstained altogether, rejecting the notion that voting for the lesser of two evils is any choice at all.  The Radical Left is not a monolithic entity, but rather a diverse set of communities that approach the realization of justice in a variety of ways. I’m not suggesting that we become more alike, but I am concerned that the way we talk about our differences is not only unproductive but oftentimes a violent distraction from our shared goals.

While some folks are still popping bottles and dropping it like it’s hot to Jeezy’s My President is Black, others are shaking their heads at the complicity of supposedly progressive folks with the imperialism of the State, and, because of Sandy and now Athena, still more are just trying to get electricity and heat on in their homes permanently and aren’t exactly studying this ongoing family drama at the moment.

The past two years have been like a family reunion gone terribly wrong. Folks get drunk and start arguing, secrets get exposed, proverbial dirty laundry gets aired, people choose sides, and nothing gets solved. Then we do it all again in a couple of years. It’s not that we don’t love each other—we just got some major ish to work through. So let’s work through it. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but a few ideas to the get the conversation started.

  1. Let’s reject binaries: good/bad, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, revolutionary/uncle Tom. I think we experience and engage politics on a spectrum and trying to take a snapshot of someone’s beliefs from one action (e.g., voting and not voting) and then running around being like, “Aha! You’re not quite right because you believe in xyz!” is neither cute nor productive.
  2. Along those lines, let’s rebuke authenticity wars. I think the most recent fissures in the Radical Left should invite us to consider the ways in which the organizing and ideology coming out of the Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s challenge/inform/undermine our current work. I see some folks wanting to eschew the call to honor the legacy of the civil rights movement, finding such calls often mean shutting up about their concerns in order to appear legitimate. Other folks warn that if you completely abandon the ideology and action of what came before us we are doing a disservice to history and not wanting to authentically connect to the struggle. I don’t think these conversations are completely at odds, but reducing the convo down to one about legitimacy just doesn’t serve us well.
  3. Let’s reject elitism and navel gazing. We are a part of complex communities and we don’t deserve to be leaders simple because we have degrees or work at certain organizations. Yet some of us treat our family, friends, and neighbors with condescension and disdain, acting like we are radical evangelists among ignorant heathens (h/t crunkonia). That’s why sometimes the folks we work with and serve don’t like and, more importantly, don’t trust many of us.
  4. Let’s be nuanced in our discussion of respectability politics. I’m all about calling out investments in dominant notions of what is normal and acceptable as a way to harness power, especially in communities of color and among queer folk. (I’ve spent the last few years writing a book about this very thing). But, sometimes the zeal in calling out respectability politics fails to recognize the complicated, ambivalent ways in which folks adhere to and/or reject what it means to be respectable. Also, see #3.
  5. Let’s recognize that pretty much all of us have some type of privilege and we should make pains to interrogate our ish and really listen to one another. Also, being an expert on racism, for example, doesn’t mean you always get the nuances of, say, ableism. But, thankfully, you—we—can learn. Our brains are awesome like that.
  6. Let’s passionately disagree with one another without eviscerating each other’s humanity. For real.

Ultimately, my thoughts are that we need to have difficult dialogues without cannibalizing each other. Let’s embrace our diversity in the movement and not call for a unity that steamrolls over dissension. We see how the Far Right is imploding, but the difference between us and them is that they have boatloads of cash and no scruples whatsoever and we have an abundance of ethical concerns, passion, and student loans we cannot ask our parents to pay for. They will rise again, but if we become too fractured it might be a different story for us. This is a call to keep our eyes on the prize—it’s not just about being right, it’s about working together for justice.

What are your thoughts on radical communities in the wake of the election? Please share in the comments.

Black Women Rock the Vote. Black Men Mock the Vote?: An Election Day Story

5 Nov

The first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote was the 2000 Gore-Bush contest. On Election Day, my mother called me and said simply, “I wanted to make sure you voted today. Your great-grandmother (born in rural North Louisiana in 1903) took great pride in voting. You do the same.”

  My great-grandmother Daisy, made sure that one of her granddaughters came during every Presidential election to take her to vote. Even though she didn’t walk well, because of a physical disability from her youth. Even though she signed her signature with an X.

 When I got to the polls adjacent to Howard U’s campus as I headed in to vote, I ran into an older man named Lawrence Guyot. He was gentle and called us eager young voters up to him one by one to explain that he was running for election to the City Council (I think) on the Green Party ticket. I obliged him politely, albeit probably a bit impatiently.

 And then I went in and cast my vote for Al Gore. I may even have voted for Mr. Guyot. I can’t remember now.

We all know how the story ended. The Supreme Court disregarded the will of the people in Florida and stole the presidency for George W. Bush.

And today, we find ourselves still reeling from the economic and geo-political results of that decision.

 

It would be years later, when I was in graduate school, before I came to know who Lawrence Guyot was. As director of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and as chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, he had literally been beaten and arrested for my right to vote. We know the MFDP because it put Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on a national stage, as the MFDP moved to unseat the state Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.

 

When I walked in and cast my vote that day, there was literally someone there who had fought for me to be able to be there. And he brought along the presence of the ancestors, my great-grandmother, Fannie Lou Hamer, and so many others who understood the value of the vote.

The thing that staggers my mind today is how easily history had moved to forget Mr. Guyot. I think about how I didn’t even know his name until I was privileged enough to go to grad school, something most Americans will not do.

 I think about how easily the battles and struggles to get here are forgotten.

 We have re-learned this lesson this year as the GOP has waged a veritable war on Women’s Rights. And voting rights, too.

 

Despite these lessons, this history, I have seen a profusion of young radical brothers and old school radical cats declaring brazenly that they will not vote.

Over and over again, I saw in my FB feed, them reposting an excerpt from a 1956 W.E.B. Du Bois speech in which Dr. Du Bois declared:

 

“The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. … It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1956 

 

He could just as easily have been talking about 2012 as 1956. And yet, it was after he said this that Martin Luther King marched, that Fannie Lou Hamer got beaten, that Malcolm X demanded “the ballot or the bullet.”

 How do we reconcile our history of Civil Rights, our deep belief and investment as a people in the franchise with today’s legitmate disillusionments?

I know that many of us who tend toward the radical left in our politics cannot help but see the problems with the kind of imperialist, capitalist, deeply racist and patriarchal politics that continue to structure American society. We do not want to keep co-signing the madness for the sake of “tradition.”

And certainly, it goes without saying that President Obama governs just slightly to the left of center on his best days. On his worse days, he could be an actual Republican.

And yet, statistics show that in 2008, Black women were the single largest voter demographic of any group. Is it that Black women are politically naïve, that Black men are more politically visionary? Does Black women’s support for President Obama suggest a reckless disregard for life of people of color everywhere else?

Of course not.

It was Black women like Jessie Fauset and Anna H. Jones, who organized the Pan African Conferences that Du Bois is so famous for. It was Black women who started the International Council of Women of the Darker Races in 1922. It was Black women who started the Third World Women’s Alliance in the early 1970s. We have always had a global perspective.

 And unlike, Du Bois, (and James Baldwin and Richard Wright), we didn’t quit the country.  Sisters as wide-ranging as Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, Pauli Murray, and Angela Davis, have journeyed abroad, found racial conditions much more livable there, and still chosen to come back home and fight for the lives of Black folks in the U.S.

Black women have never had the luxury of disillusionment. While brothers have gathered in elite organizations and institutions to hash out Black people’s political future, to engage in a lot of intellectual dick politicking and pissing contests, sisters have done the community organizing and voting that has held the racial body politic together. We have voted for the candidates that would make sure we could have a job, put our kids in safe schools, and put food on the table.  

We have clawed and struggled for every meager gain we have gotten in this democracy. And sisters have the broken nails and bloodied knees to prove it.

Far from being short-sighted, we have what Stanlie James and Abena Busia call visionary pragmatism.

 

I know it is not only Black men who have problems with President Obama. I know plenty of radical left sisters who are fed up with the utter ineffectiveness of a two-party system.  Black women, in fact, have a long history of defying the two-party system. Charlotta Bass ran for Vice President on the Progressive Party Ticket in 1952. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente ran on the Green Party ticket. And in this election a young sister named Peta Lindsay is running on the Socialist Party ticket.

And while I will be voting for President Obama, despite my varied disappointments, I can understand voting for a 3rd party candidate. But not voting is unconscionable.

Brothers can tell themselves that not voting is fine, because they by-and-large don’t have to worry about the cost of birth control. Good condoms cost what? $7 a pack. Birth control pills? $25 a pack with good insurance! Brothers by-and-large don’t do the care work in our communities. The care of the elderly is deeply gendered work.  So they can tell themselves that withholding their votes serves a greater good even though the choice to do so might make life a hell of a lot harder for the elderly folks they hold so dear, not to mention continuing to place an undue economic burden on women.

 

In many cases, I do believe in drawing lines in the sand. I do think we have to take a stand for what’s right, that sometimes doing what is convenient in the short run will short-circuit our ability to change things for the better in the long run. But as a Black feminist, a Hip Hop Generation feminist, I also fancy myself a both/and kinda girl.

 Can I hold in tension the fact that my vote simultaneously eases tax burdens and healthcare costs on the poor and the middleclass in the U.S. while also going to fund wars I don’t believe in and capitalist trade practices I don’t support? Can I hold in tension the fact that President Obama has arrested and deported more Brown folks than the Bush Administration, greatly expanding the operation and reach of the Prison Industrial Complex, while also being reminded that his is the first administration to reduce the crack vs. cocaine sentencing disparity that had disproportionate effects on communities of color?

 Can I hold in tension the fact that every single brother I know who says he’s withholding his vote in pursuit of a revolutionary future is an academic at a fairly elite institution?

Consider this recent editorial in the NYT as one such example of Black male academic disillusionment.

Though Professor Frederick C. Harris does go so far as to reject voting, he writes among other things: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality. The tragedy is that black elites — from intellectuals and civil rights leaders to politicians and clergy members — have acquiesced to this decline, seeing it as the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.”

Professor Harris also decries the decline not only of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality, but also a decline in the Black prophetic tradition, particularly that, which grew out of the Black Church. While I agree with his critique of the ways that Black religious cultures have become depoliticized in the wake of the rise of the prosperity gospel, I continue to be totally disappointed by all these Black male academics who construct their notions of the best of Black political visions around a procession of Great Race Men.

 Of the paltry number of Black women mentioned, only Ida B. Wells is celebrated. Like many of his contemporary Blackademic male colleagues, Harris dismisses Melissa Harris-Perry as “all but an apologist for President Obama.” 

 Moreover, since it is Black women by-and-large who voted for President Obama, he reduces our political decision making to a desire solely to see a Black family in the White House. This assumes that we don’t see beautiful, functional Black families in our lives every day. Moreover, it shows a real myopic understanding of the political pressure put on Black women to maintain the Black family as a viable political and cultural institution, particularly while academic elites like Harris proclaim the decline of Black political leadership a la Harold Cruse. Even if it were true that Black women voted for President Obama solely out of a sense of loyalty to Black male race leaders –and there’s no denying that this is a part of our thinking, but not the whole of it—to dismiss that as a kind of fantastical naivete is to engage in a kind of willful ignorance about the ways in which racial patriarchy compels Black women’s loyalty to Black men, particularly when they are as impressive as President Obama.

 What I’m really trying to get at is this sort of Black male political and intellectual arrogance, this smugness with which Black men levy these political critiques and the ways in which Black women either disappear from the histories that undergird their perspectives or become  dismissed as unthoughtful apologists for a broken system.

But if your prophetic and political tradition starts with Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth, moves through Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Church Terrell, takes a gander through Claudia Jones and Flo Kennedy, stops by the house of  Fannie Lou Hamer,  Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan and Fran Beale and doesn’t forget Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, bell hooks, Patricia Williams, Donna Brazile and all the nameless faces of sisters that can’t be named because they were never doing it for the spotlight, then it would be harder to see Black prophetic traditions as being in decline. It would be easier to see that what’s really in decline is a Great charismatic Race Man model of leadership. (You should check out Erica Edwards fabulous new book Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership for more on this point.)  And even though Black men know all the limitations of that model, in many ways the world of Black politics feels safer with Strong Men running it. We are in a world deeply in need not only of new political models but also new leadership models. And based on Black women’s long history of staying connected to the pulse of Black communities, I’d say that the places where Black women put their political energies are a good bet for all of us.

As for tomorrow, I’m sticking with the President. I hope you will, too.

 

 

Below feel free to share your thoughts on voting or not voting, how you do or don’t reconcile a radical politic with a choice to participate in tomorrow’s elections, or your general thoughts on Black leadership.

 

 

Mourning and Name Calling!

1 Nov

For some reason this week I have been visited by and/or reminded of people who passed away over my lifetime.  Their passing was sense-less so it hurt without boundaries or the protection provided by reason.

  1. Sharon was my stepmother and she was shot at my father’s work league basketball game while cheering for him in the stands.  She was 33 years old, a huge sports fanatic, she had big cheeks and my final memory is my 8-year-old self kissing her cheek good-bye at the funeral.
  2. Johnny was my friend from high school who committed suicide when he was a senior.  He was struggling with being successful at a predominantly white high school as a black male and being relevant in a predominantly black neighborhood.  He got caught stealing sneakers at a local retailer and hung himself with his Judo rope; he felt that he had dishonored his family.  A Judo champion on the yearbook staff and student government, a cutie pie, and smart.  He could not have been older than 17.
  3. Brandon was another friend from high school in the same senior class as Johnny.  He was shot breaking up a fight at a football game between two celebrated black schools (neither of which he attended).  He was an athlete, popular, cute, smart, great personality, and just plain nice.
  4. Cassandra, my distant cousin died suddenly alone in her home in her fifties.
  5. Stacy, an elementary school friend died last December.  She was missing for months before they discovered her body in the woods.  Her cause of death was ruled “hypothermia.”  I had reconnected with her and had dinner six months prior to her death.  She was quiet in school and a quiet adult.  She had a beautiful smile.

While I feel I’m in mourning that came over me like a soft blanket, I also feel surrounded by many of my people surrounding me at once.  Daisy and Jack Davis were my older grandparents, both died in their nineties and celebrated a 70 year wedding anniversary.  Dot and Pappy were my younger “sharp-tongued” grandparents both died early of cancer but they sure knew how to Get Crunk! when the occasion required it.  Some I only knew through their words, lyrics, and offerings, but I feel them here with me.  Giving me guidance.  Holding me accountable.  Showing me my path.

ImageNina Simone (Waring Cuney)

“She does not know her beauty.  She thinks her brown body has no glory. If she could dance naked under palm trees, and see her image in the river she would know.”

ImageLangston Hughes

I’ve know rivers.  I’ve know rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.  My soul has grown deep like the rivers….  I’ve known rivers, ancient dusky rivers, my soul has grown deep like the rivers.

 

ImageOctavia Butler

All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.  The only lasting truth is change, God Is Change.

 

ImageAudre Lorde

Change means growth, and growth can be painful.  But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals.

 

ImageJune Jordan

Freedom is indivisible or it is nothing at all besides sloganeering and temporary shortsighted, and short-lived advancement for a few.  Freedom is indivisible, and either you are working freedom or you are working for the sake of your self-interests and I am working for mine.

I hear these voices talking me through my mourning.  When you are mourning, but can not identify the cause try name-calling and see if doesn’t help just a little.  Name-calling is recognition.  Recognize mourning and be at peace. 

Who are you mourning? Whose name will you call?

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