White people, like banks, think they are too big to fail

The other day I was having a group conversation with a culturally diverse group.  The race was pretty monolithic.  Mostly white American or white Latin.  In this conversation a guy tells us this story.  The story starts with him telling his mom she is a “bitch” in french (I’ll give you one guess as to what his race is).  He then takes his mom’s car and jumps on the turnpike going 120, swerving in and out of traffic dodging cars like he is in Grand Theft Auto.  At a certain point a car “cut him off”, as he says, because the road is obviously his and anyone with the audacity to change lanes going normal speed in front of him must be just the most incredibly self-centered piece of shit that ever existed.  This forces him to switch into the shoulder of the road outside of the lanes to avoid hitting the car in front of him.  He then tries to switch back into the lane but as his tires go over the rumble strip to go back into the lane he begins to lose control.  He begins to very intricately describe to us how time just slowed down, his car tail spins a couple times, hits the median wall, flips, tumbles, rolls, and finally stops upside down where he can see the skin of his forehead lying on the dashboard.  A chopper has to be called to the scene in order to get him to a hospital on time to save his life.  He says it very matter of fact.  

After telling his story I ask him, “so during all that, you never feared for your life?  You never once thought you would die?” He replied, very simply, “no.”  Not much tonality or inflection to it.  Almost matter of fact like, why would he?  I was stunned.  Then he said he hadn’t really learned his lesson.  He said he still goes 120 on the turnpike regularly and that he actually was pulled over a couple of months ago going 120 on the turnpike.  I stopped him again and said “you know that is reckless endangerment and you can go to jail for that, and don’t you already have a charge on your head that you are doing probation for?  You know that a cop can use that you are on probation to do whatever he wants?  He can pull you over and search your car and violate you for just about anything, especially if you are doing 120 on the expressway, and with your existing charge you are looking at years!  Are you crazy?!”  He replied back “I don’t know man, maybe because I’m white cops never really do anything to me when they pull me over for speeding, they just give me a ticket and send me on my way.”  

I was in awe.  Not because I did not already realize that the criminal justice system and police stops are vastly different for white people than it is for people of color.  No, what really shocked me here was how incredibly inherent his white privilege had now manifested itself in him.  He isn’t even from this country but he knows that the police here will treat him different because he is white.  I find that white people from other countries are often more aware of the existence of white privilege and can name it better than white people from the US (I’d love to hear other’s perspectives on this thought in the comments).  He has years on his head and he knows that his whiteness will keep him out of jail.  I responded by telling a story about a time I was in Martin County, FL and got pulled over for rolling a stop sign.  They immediately told me to get out my car and ran dogs around my car to see if I had any drugs on me.  He responded “It’s because of your beard and your color man you look like you can be muslim.”  I couldn’t help but laugh at this now.  

I started to reflect more on the first story he told me though and think, could his white privilege had played a role there?  Who in their right mind can experience that traumatic of an accident and not question their existence.  Not once fear for their life.  Is that another inherent trait of white privilege?  Is there an inherent perceived infallibility of white privilege?  What I mean is do white people think that just because of who they are (some may be able to name it as because they are white but most probably can’t) they will somehow always make it through.  As marginalized people, black, brown, immigrants, etc. we are constantly confronted with our mortality and fallibility.  Second chances for us don’t come very easily so we are acutely aware of how easily our whole world can fall to pieces.  From poverty, gang violence, low quality food, crossing borders on hastily constructed boats, forced engagement in “alternative” economics (drugs, prostitution, etc.), state violence (police, prisons, schools, etc.); something will get us. With white people are they so used to things always finding a way to work themselves out that even death at a young age is something that they think will just “work itself out”?  This was a mind boggling concept for me but at the same time revealed my newest theory:

White people, like banks, think they are too big to fail.

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Election Boycott – Why aren’t we really talking about it? Serously?

Over the past year or so it seems that we have had numerous and constant political debates about democrat, republican, green party, and libertarian in regards to our presidential candidacy.  The main focuses of these debates recently have been the magnitude of “shit” (I am sorry no more appropriate language can be found at this time) we have got ourselves into between Hillary and Trump.  Which shit smells worst, which shit would be easier to swallow, which shit would be more conducive to social progress and liberation of oppressed people.  All valid and necessary discussions.  Though between the two of them I believe that the choice may be obvious and at the same time irrelevant but that is a different post for a different time.

The other post I have seen floating around has involved a lot more name calling and what I view to be dissensions among organizers and activists about the privilege and narcissism that can be associated with voting third party (mostly green from what I have seen, hey that rhymed, I must be a poet ;-))  versus voting for Hillary.  Again this is another conversation that has been had ad nauseum and is better served for another place and another time.

Simultaneously it seems there has also been constant discussions about boycotts.  These discussions include their usefulness or their lack thereof.  What situations they are appropriate and which they are not. As well as some going so far as to begin attempting to organizing boycotts. Shaun King is actually in the process of putting one together as we speak. You can find more information here.

I bring these topics of discourse up because it seems to me there has been a key discussion missing from all of this back and forth that has merely been glazed over (something like my eyes after watching any political debate these days) and that is the discussion around whether or not we should simply boycott the whole thing.  

At this point you have probably already read the title of this article and got over the shock value or you haven’t made it this far and have already written me off as an anarchist cook but for those of you who have indulged me long enough to make it to this point you are probably feeling a lot like how I felt as I wrote this.  “Isn’t that a tad bit hypocritical?” My internal response to that … “Yea, kinda.”  

It seems as organizers and activists and people who are beginning to see the socio-political-economic systems for what they truly are we have embraced rejecting the system in many ways with the exception of that being voting.  I had to do some serious reflecting to try to deduce why.  And no voting third party doesn’t count as a voting boycott despite what many have attempted to convince people to believe.  It is still a belief that you should vote for the “best” candidate available even if that candidate has no perceived shot of winning you still are voting under the guise that you believe if that candidate does win there is power in that election and somehow the president of the united states has the power to instill or facilitate change within our current democratic structure as is.  Now that is where I lose me (yup, I lost myself, I hope you are keeping up better than I am) with this philosophical discourse.  With the amount of money and power involved in politics pulling legislation, candidates, and court decisions in their favor; I find it hard to believe that the current political structure is even democratic (Noam Chomsky argues it isn’t here) and also that the power structure would even allow for our country to become a democracy (at the risk of seeming to drink too much of the Chomsky Kool-Aid see him drop the one two punch describing that as well in the same link, “Oh, Yea!”).  

So if we do not believe either of the two party candidates are viably fit to serve our interests as oppressed people in this country, we cannot decide whether or not voting third party is beneficial in this election or any for that matter in getting us towards a more democratic society, and we have begun to have some serious discourse around boycotts that brings up the question as to why organizers/activists/oppressed people aware of their systemic oppression (note my struggle in finding an appropriate term identifier) have yet to begin to reject voting and begin to seriously discussing a voting boycott.  Back to some reflection.

As organizers/activists we often have a sense of social capital that guides people who may not have the privilege/desire to get as ingrained in radical progressive movement work as we are or we do.  So a lot of times we will serve as the “tip of the spear” so to speak.  Now we, like all others, are guided by our material conditions.  What are the material conditions of organizers/activists of the radical progressive movement that would lend to an almost seemingly deep committal to eliminating any discussion of election boycott?, why I thought you’d never ask.  

Organizers are people like everyone else.  In that we have to find a way to pay the bills.  Oftentimes that means take paid organizing jobs, mostly with workers unions but often times with other progressive groups.  These groups mostly are heavily funded by political candidates and political parties.  That funding incentives these groups to push forward voter registration drives, political candidate forums, and political endorsements to secure the future influx of their financial interests.  For them to reject the voting system or our “democracy” as a whole would be biting the hands that feed them in a sense and as we all know someone has to pay the bills.  Organizers are now caught in a catch 22.  If they do not believe in voting and do think an election boycott is an idea worth discussing they are exploring this idea often while simultaneously holding get out to vote drives.  So in order to have a serious discussion they would have to face the contradiction that their employment puts them in and work against their best interest.  For those who know anything about system theory or even how psychological incentives work they are well aware that getting someone to work against the systemic reward system is something that is very difficult to do, especially when it is tied to your ability to eat and pay your rent.  Now this happens every election cycle and consumes many organizers time throughout that cycle.  

Another psychological theory that influences the lack of discussion on the election boycott is the Sunk Cost Fallacy.  The Sunk Cost Fallacy makes it so that people begin  to reason that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment.  Now what does that have to do with voting?  Absolutely everything.  There was so much time, energy, lives, blood, sweat, tears devoted to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  It had a charismatic “leader” in Dr. King (and we know how much we love our celebrity, male, charismatic leaders) that convinced us how important voting equality is that we went all in on it through non-violent resistance and legislation that would allow you to use the vote as a source of power and influence over the communities of oppressed people, specifically black people.  To have conversations about not using that voting power to vote for an actual candidate that you feel will be most inclined to (thought they probably will not fully commit to) push forward your interests would feel like discrediting all the hard work down by so many people before us and it has been positioned that way many times when someone expresses they will be making a deliberate choice not to vote during this presidential election cycle.  This feels so counter-intuitive. We are at a time now when people are seeking to think about things in a revolutionary way and are already discussing, critically I might add, the topic of boycotts.  We should make the connection that since we have “earned” the right to voting “equality” we cannot use that vote in a powerful way by denying its validity in the same way we are doing with our money (see the parallel we “earned” the right to make money “equally” therefore we use that money powerfully in denying its use at certain venues or outside of “essentials”).

Now I do not want this writing to be taken as a hard critique on any of the organizations or people included.  This is simply an analysis of the conditions and a call to question whether we need to create new conditions to be more conducive towards radical progressive change.  We have to take a serious look at the Zapatistas election boycott in Mexico, the “No Land! No House! No Vote!” campaign in South Africa, and other election boycott campaigns to judge their effectiveness and/or lack of effectiveness and if any of those methods used are applicable to our current conditions to further our liberations struggle.  I hope that this piece serves as a spark for that conversation that can last through this election cycle and beyond to future elections.  Just the thought of people writing in “Black Lives Matter,” “Native Lives Matter,” “Trans Lives Matter,” “Migrant Lives Matter,” “Women’s Lives Matter,” “LGBTQ Lives Matter,” etc..  That is a romantic idea and I surely don’t want to get caught up in the romanticism too much.  I just hope that maybe some romanticism can guide some dialogue that can create the foundation for revolutionary theory on this topic as it applies today and embrace the fact that in order to be revolutionary we may very well be or be perceived as kinda hypocritical towards past or current action.  Can we put something together quick enough to be effective for this current election? I am not sure but this election could serve as a catalyst for powerful actions around the the non-use of your vote to create strong and long lasting political statements to transform our political system to a true democracy.

NOTE:  The election boycott being addressed is that of the presidential election as local politics are completely separate discussion to be had that I am more than happy to have as well.  Future posts on this topic are to follow.

Please share your thoughts and feedback!

(In)Dependence Day For Puerto Ricans

On July 4, 1898, in the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, the Reverend J. F. Carson read from the Holy Bible, “And Joshua took the whole land, and the land rested from war.” He sermonized that “the high, the supreme business of this Republic is to end the Spanish rule in America, and if to do that it is necessary to plant the stars and stripes on Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines or Spain itself, America will do it.” That same night, in the Presbyterian Church of Fifth Avenue, the Reverend Robert MacKenzie prophesied, “God is calling a new power to the front. The race of which this nation is the crown . . . is now divinely thrust out to take its place as a world power.” Senator Albert J. Beveridge also saw a divine plan. “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing,” he declared. “He has made us adept in government so that we may administer government amongst savages and senile peoples.”

On July 21, 1898, the US government issued a press release stating, “Porto Rico will be kept. . . . Once taken it will never be released. It will pass forever into the hands of the Unites States. . . . Its possession will go towards making up the heavy expense of the war to the United States. Our flag, once run up there, will float over the island permanently.” On the floor of the US Senate, Republican Senator Joseph B. Foraker declaimed, “Porto Rico differs radically from any other people for whom we have legislated previously. . . . They have no experience which would qualify them for the great work of government with all the bureaus and departments needed by the people of Porto Rico.”

This is what “independence” means to a 2016 colony, the last colony in the world, Puerto Rico.

People may be aware of the recent news that has been highlighting the Puerto Rican economic crisis, 73 Billion US dollars of debt hanging over the head of the Puerto Rican people.  That is over 20,000 US dollars per person living on the island.

Currently there is a bill that was signed by President of Obama called PROMESA that was supposed to help with the restructuring of the debt for the people of the island of Puerto Rico.  Here are some highlights of the bill:

  • No clear path to restructuring the debt, no clear bankruptcy or restructuring protocol or procedure is outlined.
  • The installation of a Financial Control Board of the island that can overrule any financial decision made and voted on by the people or governmental bodies of Puerto Rico.
  • This Financial Control Board is allowed to receive “gifts”, no description on what is meant by “gifts”, on the bill though it is obvious this creates the inherent conditions for bribery.
  • The people of the Financial Control Board are to be selected by the US Senate, where Puerto Rico has no voting representation at all, and approved by the President. Not a single one of these people have to have any ties to the island.
  • The minimum wage of the island will be reduced to $4.25 for workers under the age of 25 on the island, a place where Cost of Living is already drastically higher than most other places in the US.

This bill obviously exerts the colonial rule of the US over Puerto Rico in 2016.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Other things are contributing to the miserable human and social conditions of the island.

  • Puerto Ricans pay the same amount for Medicaid as any other state or US territory but they only receive 50% of the Medicaid benefits that other states and territories receive. This coupled with the economic crisis has helped contribute to the closing of hospitals and clinics throughout the island creating a health crisis on the island that is already experiencing the Zika virus scare and the possibility of poisonous gasses being sprayed on the island to kill the Zika virus at the detriment to the health of the Puerto Rican people.  That gas spray is being protested by the people of the island.
  • Schools are being closed and privatized due to lack of funds. University of Puerto Rico has raised its tuition again making educational attainment ever more difficult for people already struggling to meet high tuition costs.
  • Public Beaches are being sold and privatized to pay for the debt. Obama also announced the “Promise Zone” which favors US developers to build resorts, entertainment, and high end real estate on the eastern part of the island.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will no longer monitor water resources in Puerto Rico because the island’s government owes it $2 million

The slow death of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people through an economic and colonial chokehold has gone mostly unnoticed and unchecked.  The reason why it has gone mostly unnoticed is because most people don’t know how it got this bad or that it really is this bad.  Until the debt crisis and PROMESA no one really knew anything about Puerto Rico outside maybe Jenifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.  Even many people within the Dream Defenders organization know little about Puerto Rican people or the history of US oppression in Puerto Rico despite the use of the Young Lords in the DNA development.  DD is no outlier here, many Puerto Ricans don’t even know the history of the island that led to these conditions.  That is due to the incredible refusal of US media to cover things pertaining to the island and, until recently, a scarcity of educational resources detailing the progressive destruction and now, in my opinion, a guided gentrification of the island and slow murder of the Puerto Rican people.  It would take too long for me to detail these things but if anyone is interested in taking a deeper dive read War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis.

Now why have these oppressive forces gone unchecked?  There are many factors that have contributed to the inability for Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters to do so through legislative or political means.

  1. Puerto Ricans on the island are unable to vote for the President of the United States.
  2. Puerto Ricans have no vote in congress, only an elected representative who can speak to the issues on the island but has no voting power at all.
  3. The Supreme Court ruled that Puerto Rico is in fact a “Territorial Possession” of the US and therefore any law or decision made by any governmental faction of the island can be, and usually is, superseded by the United States Senate.
  4. Puerto Rico was not allowed to vote for any government representatives on the island until 1941. Electing their first governor Luis Munoz Marin.
  5. 1953 Gag Law made it illegal to outwardly show any support for any Puerto Rican independence movement, which included even owning a Puerto Rican flag.
  6. 1917 US Citizenship granted to Puerto Ricans, only months before World War I draft is initiated. This allowed the US to exploit the people of the island for military means as well as recruit island people to the mainland to serve as cheap labor in industrialized cities in the US guised as the “American Dream.” This creation of the Puerto Rican diaspora has created a rift between mainland Puerto Ricans and island Puerto Ricans especially through language.

This also doesn’t directly account for the 1943 proposed Tydings bill that outlined a path to independence for Puerto Rico similar to that given to the Philippines that was blocked by then governor Luis Munoz Marin, who ran on the platform “Pan, Tierra, Y Libertad” (translated: Bread, Land, and Liberty).  Why would someone running on that platform vote against the bill.  FBI files show that J Edgar Hoover, a familiar name to Black Liberation movements in the US, had evidence that Marin had made an FBI case against him for drug trafficking and use “disappear” and J Edgar Hoover threatened that he would pursue not only the drug charges but federal fraud charges as well.  This was all the “incentive” Marin needed to betray his people and convince Congress that the Puerto Rican people were uninterested in independence. This wouldn’t be the last time that Hoover would be involved in infiltration and disruption of Puerto Rican independence movements.

Beyond the legislative pursuit, there also have been many different independence movements on the island that have sought to free the people of the island by “Any Means Necessary” if you will.  The US, at every turn squashed all movements towards independence created outside the US corrupted Puerto Rican political system.  Some of the main incidences are listed below.

  • 1937 The Ponce Massacre, the Puerto Rican Insular Police murder 19 peaceful marchers for Puerto Rico independence, including a 13 year old. They would later use photography and media to create the appearance that the independents instigated the shooting though it was later discovered that none of them were armed.
  • Pedro Albizu Campos Nationalistas bombed in Jayuya, PR by US Air Force in 1950. Shortly after Pedro Albizu and others would be arrested on charges of conspiracy.  Albizu Campos would be used for radiation testing while in prison causing him to get cancer and leading to his eventual death.
  • The Young Lords, a more household name stateside, were riddled with FBI infiltrators, fictitious arrests, and trumped up charges similar to that of the Black Panthers.
  • 1981 Oscar Lopez Rivera is arrested for seditious conspiracy for his involvement in FALN, a Marxist-Leninist Puerto Rican independence movement organization. At 35 years he is among the longest held political prisoners in the history of Puerto Rico and in the world.

This culture of infiltration and subjugation by over policing, AKA “The Trap”, has been existing in Puerto Rico since the beginning of Puerto Rico’s pursuit of independence.  As recently as 2012 the ACLU and the DOJ completed an investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), which was founded in 1898 the year the US occupied the island of Puerto Rico.  The systemic use of the PRPD to subjugate the PR people into docility and fear is apparent through this report. Below are some highlights.

  • Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death.
  • Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960’s.
  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 police officers were arrested for crimes including murder, assault, and drug trafficking. That’s roughly 10 percent of the force.

The similarities between the current state of Black America and the trap used to subjugate black communities through economics, gentrification and disruption of black communities, and the use of the TRAP are eerily familiar.

Don Pedro Albizu Campos once said “[US] cares more about the cage than the bird.”  Our cage is physical, mental, and spiritual.  Colonialism has infiltrated our very veins through the 118 years of US rule over Puerto Rico. Now as the conditions have worsened for the people on the island to a breaking point independence movements and solidarity movements have begun to take form. It will be a long and difficult road but what more could be worth fighting and dying for than Freedom?  Vive Puerto Rico Libre!

 

“What Are You? Confusions of the Racially, Ethnically, and Culturally Ambiguous”

“What Are You? Confusions of the Racially, Ethnically, and Culturally Ambiguous”

 

“What are you?” is a question I have heard all too often throughout my life. You would think that, after being asked it so often, I would by now have more clarity on how to answer it. But it seems the more it is asked the murkier the waters get.

In our society “what are you?” is how we ask about racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. But how do I even begin to answer this question? Sometimes I want to say “a humanoid” but I know that answer will only beg further questioning, so I resist.

In America racial, ethnic, and cultural identities have always held tremendous weight in regards to status, achievement, and perceived value. With so much weight placed on this one single question, I better get it right.

Both of my parents parents have roots in Juana Diaz–a city in Puerto Rico–but they both grew up in New York City so most would refer to them as “Nuyorican”.

My mom (and all her siblings) gives the outward appearance of white and she associates as a white Latina (I believe but I honestly have never asked but we will operate on that assumption). Though she is 1/8th Taino Indian and embraces those roots as well. So I guess that would expand her identity to White Taino Rican. Still with me?

My dad is dark skinned. His African roots are very apparent in his features and All his family is very melanated. The history of my father’s family I am not so clear on since I was not raised by my father and have limited interaction with my dad’s side of the family. The last name he passed down to me is Cosme. Its place of origin is France.  “Saint” Cosme brought the name to Brazil while doing missionary work to spread Christianity. Saint Cosme was actually the inspiration for the Christ the savior statue in Brazil. I’m unsure of how this has stretched to Puerto Rico and if I have French or Brazilian heritage or Cosme was simply the name of a slave owner that held the rights to the livelihood of my paternal ancestors. Whew!! That was a trip! Did I lose you yet?

Now, if I just go by that I would answer the “what are you?” question as follows: “Racially I am black, white, and native.  Culturally I am Nuyorican. Ethnically I am Taino, and possibly Brazilian, French, and/or Moorish.” Wow that’s a mouthful. Now what does all that mean?

These identities are important to who? No really to me. I could care less about answering the question of “who are you?”.  I feel these identities limit who I am. I feel my being expands much further than these identities. So who cares about these identities? I mentioned earlier that it is society who cares. Society defines these identities and enforces them. If that is the case and all these identities are defined and reinforced by society does that mean these identities are agreed upon by society, and what metrics does society use to place people in each designated identity? Let’s explore this last question further.

For race I will use my two favorite formal definitions according to dictionary.com because I want this philosophical delve to retain a sense of scholarly repute. At the same time I want to have a little fun here, if you’d be so kind as to indulge me.

Race formally defined below:

  1. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
  2. a socially constructed category of identification based on physical characteristics, ancestry, historical affiliation, or shared culture.

In my opinion, these two definitions do well enough to encompass the totality of what is used in America to classify someone based on Race.

Now let’s define culture and ethnicity.

Culture

  1. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

Ethnicity

  1. an ethnic group; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like: Representatives of several ethnicities were present.
  2. ethnic traits, background, allegiance, or association.

Ethnic

  1. (of a human being) displaying characteristics, as in physical appearance, language, or accent, that can cause one to be identified by others as a member of a minority ethnic group.

After reviewing these definitions it becomes apparent why I have been unable to feel comfortable identifying solely with one cultural, ethnic, or racial group. Based off my racial makeup I cannot associate only with one racial group.  The wildcard then becomes historical affiliation and shared culture.

Nuyoricans, in general, have historically affiliated with and shared culture with black Americans much more than any other American racial group. That being said I think one thing missing there is acceptance by said group of black Americans in order to identify and that is something I’ve never been able to obtain by any racial group.

My awareness of race and feelings about it have changed and developed throughout my life. These changes have been influenced by how racial groups have treated me, which has varied over time depending on my age and/or the environment I was in. Anytime I would come to a new basketball court black folks would always refer to me as “the white boy”, “the Spanish kid”, or simply “chico”. All evaluations being quarter or half truths. I honestly never had much interaction with white Americans beyond the age of 8. At that young age and because of my racial ambiguity I was not fully aware of race or how people viewed me racially. While interacting with white identifying Latins they made it clear to me that I was different. I was never called black by them but I was always considered “non-white”. Then, when I got to college I began interacting with white people in an environment where they felt comfortable expressing their interpretations of my racial, cultural, and ethnic designations.  I had a slew of classifications given to me, most being “half and half” as in being half black and half white. I’ve never had a situation where my native racial designation has been guessed or assumed by others. That and my lack of historical affiliation with native culture makes it hard for me to stand behind that affiliation. Racially I’ve always felt I’m too black to be white, too white to be black, and too black, white, and americanized to be native/indigenous.

Culturally things are just as confusing.  I definitely associated strongly in my childhood with black culture growing up around black people early on in NYC and having firm roots in black american and black Caribbean culture once moving down to South Florida at the age of 8.  But I would say even in those cultural associations I always felt like an outsider looking in.  The same applies for Puerto Rican or Latin American culture especially because I have never been fully fluent in Spanish, my mom’s main dishes that she cooked were Lasagna and Baked Ziti, and I spoke very “White-American” English.  My

I feel all these things drive home the point well enough that culturally, racially, and ethnically I do not fit into traditional categories laid forward.  Currently, the reality of our society is that these identities that others place on me has put in positions of disadvantage, privilege, and confusion based on various circumstances, especially in the context of our current era of increased consciousness towards racial issues and even more so in activist/organizing/movement spaces.

For those who are unfamiliar with activist/organizing/movement spaces a lot of these spaces are very race and culturally conscious.  In this consciousness there is often an emphasis on uplifting groups that have typically been oppressed or silence, rightfully so.  If you are of a group that is typically the privileged group than you should be more of an observer and learner in spaces that focus on the group traditionally silenced and/or oppressed.  This is easy to decipher for me in groups based on gender because I identify as male it is obvious I am the most privileged in these spaces and am able to decipher my role clearly.

This becomes complex when you have people that don’t fit as cleanly into the designations and classifications as I have shown I do not when it comes to race, culture, and ethnicity.  An example that captures this well is from a movement conference I attended previously. It was an amazing conference with incredible movement people from across the US.  In this conference we had some breakout session.  One of these breakout session had a topic that was deliberate and intentionally about blackness.  I can’t necessarily remember the name of the breakout session but it was something along the lines of “What does it mean to be Black?”  After we all reconvened from the breakout sessions it was brought up by the group that held the “What does it mean to be Black?” session that only black people attended the session and that they felt this was in itself a lack of acknowledgement of blackness in these spaces.  I had not attended that session either and what followed was a very frank conversation where people were very open and honest about a lack of acknowledgement of blackness by “non-blacks” in the group.  This whole situation was very confusing to me because I don’t know what I qualify as or fit into.  Does the critique pertain to me?  Had I attended would I have been counted as a “non-black” individual who attended the session?  Or had I attended had the same response occurred?  Even after the fact speaking to the woman who voiced the group concerns I was still unable to gain clarity.  I told her my feelings through the experience and she replied by asking me “well, do you identify as black?”. I tried both times to remove egocentrism from the critiques and comments to take in the feelings and emotions of her words.  It has been something I have learned greatly from.

These type of situations happen often.  I have certain people who I feel highlight and want me to claim my blackness more while I have others who want to constantly remind me that I am not black at all.  When we have dealings and interactions with police officers this becomes the case as well.  I am told since I am white I should be the one to talk to officers.

This lack of identity leads to heightened criticisms of what causes I support.  I feel I support the causes of oppressed people in my community and try my best to maximize my efforts to causes that are most needed and most winnable, but I have been criticized strongly.  The main critique being is that I should “stick to my own kind” when it comes to helping them attain equality and justice in our society.  As stated above “my own kind” can become a very confusing alternative as “my kind” changes depending on the angle you look at it from.

Recently I had the privilege of traveling to Denver, CO and while staying in an AIR BNB there I stepped outside for a smoke.  I met an older black couple from Chicago.  I introduced myself to both of them and we began talking. As usual with me small talk turns into deep conversation about race, ethnicity, oppression, and revolution.  The man began speaking to me about Islam and the type of work he has done to help the black community in Chicago.  When he talked about the black community and things that needed to be done he kept using the pronoun “we.”  At first I wasn’t sure if he was including me in this “we” but it seemed so the way he was speaking directly and passionately to me as if he was convincing me to take up his cause.  Then he started speaking directly about the things the black man needs to do to uplift the black community and I was shaken out of the daze I had entered from listening to his patriarchal rhetoric by him directing action now towards me specifically and saying that I “as a black man” need to take ownership of these things to uplift the black community.  This took me back a bit.  It was the first time I was included in the “our kind” category by someone who identified as black.  This confused me before it began to provide clarity.

Through all these frustrations and confusions though it is very easy for people who are racially/culturally/ethnically ambiguous to forget just how privileged they are.  The fact that I even have the autonomy to share in mostly if not all “black spaces” and be somewhat accepted and still be able to be viewed by whites as acceptable to a certain degree as well affords me incredible amounts of range in terms of my experience and understanding of the world as well as just sheer greater volume of opportunities.  Not to mention the ability to blend into Latin communities.  Though my Spanish speaking is mediocre, my ability to speak fluent Latin American slang English and relate to cultural experiences affords me higher levels of success within the Latin American community than most.  These are in themselves huge blessings.  To have various groups of people from very different backgrounds feel very comfortable around you to let their guard down and allow you to see into their world.

I can tangibly say that this has affected many things that have accounted for my perceived “success” in the world.  My name being very ambiguous I am sure has resulted in more callbacks for interviews as many studies have shown.  My current profession is as a sales person.  My ability to sell has been impacted greatly by this ambiguity. I can sell anywhere from Miami to West Palm Beach because I can blend into most, if not all, environments.  Now I might not personally feel comfortable in all environments but that doesn’t change the fact that I can blend in to them if I so chose.  There is a lot of power in that choice.  Very much like Rachel Dolezial and her Transracial claim.  Whether or not you believe her to be truly to be transracial or whether or not you believe that the designation is even a valid one, it goes without saying that people who can blend in with whiteness as well other racial/cultural/ethnic groups have a strong amount of privilege afforded to them that many others who have what America deems as “more prominent” black features do.

In the exploration of my ethnicity, culture, and race I seem to have come full circle. I sit in a room and watch Diane Nash, a very white passing woman who led SNCC on some of the toughest campaigns of racial justice fighting for black people, owning her blackness.  I come to a bit of an epiphany.  Who does care about my racial and cultural designations?  Society does, but to pretend that societies designations and validations of my various doesn’t affect me is naïve and if I refuse to own my identity the world will surely own it for me.  In the world we currently live in these designations are important and we have to own them, embrace them, and understand them so that we can use them in the most appropriate ways.  Yes I am diverse, yes I can claim many designations, yes others can place their perceptions of my race, culture, and ethnicities on me, but through this exploration I have decided to take more ownership over this designation.  I acknowledge my privilege and I acknowledge my ambiguity.  At the same time I cannot deny the parts of myself that identify most strongly with.  I am black and I am Nuyorican.  I once was lost … now I may have found a bit of clarity.

 

 

Who Is Really For Peace???

Who is really for peace?

It has been about a year since I first started to really entrench myself in movement spaces.  The murder of Mike Brown was a catalyst for many of us to get up, speak out, and act accordingly. I was no exception.  Before being deeply involved in movement spaces and organizing I would say I had read a number of books and heard a plethora of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Huey Newton, Kwame Turee, Angela Davis, Che Guevarra, and many other revolutionaries of their time.  Their time was characterized by massive civil rights protests, actions, legislations, and even guerilla war based revolutionary overthrows of governmental structures

The argument of militancy vs. non-violent direct action is a common theme in most of these texts and speeches.  This argument has been muddied greatly over the years to mean “Violent vs. Non-violent” or even “peaceful vs. non-peaceful” action. I always find it very peculiar how interpretations of the words violence and peace can vary so widely amongst so many people.  This division in ideologies has always made me very interested in the word “peace” because the meaning of it seems to vary so greatly depending on who you ask.
I was confronted more directly with this idea when I went to a confederate flag rally this weekend as a means of non-violent direct action in which a group of local activists intended to march through the path of the confederate flag supporters to express our discontent with the symbols they choose to honor.

The confederate flag rally supporters and participants envisioned a meet up at the first park where they would socialize briefly till everyone arrived and then hang their confederate flags outside of their car and drive to the second park.  Once they get to the second park they would have a nice barbecue reflecting on their “confederate heritage” and the like.

Our intention was to throw a monkey wrench in their plans by making it known that people were in opposition to what was going on.  We showed up with signs in protest and we blocked the entry way to the park in order for the people to stop and recognize our opposition.  We were chanting many of our typical chants, black lives matter, no justice no peace, etc. While doing so we were welcomed with a plethora of racial slurs and degrading remarks.  Many of the people in our group returned the favor and decided to make degrading remarks in return.  Eventually a confederate flag was burned.  We then moved out the way and they began their drive to the new park.

We were able to beat most of their participants to the new park but and we blocked the entry again with similar chants.  They began to push us out the way with their cars.  We moved out the way to allow them to enter the park.  We followed them in and continued marching and chanting.  This led to some of our participants having one on one break off dialogues with their participants discussing the implications of the flag and mutual feelings on the topic.  These conversations ranged from productive to embattling.  There were allegations that one of our participants threatened a dog of one of their participants.  There were allegations in turn that participants on their side pulled a knife and a gun.  Police reports were filed.

It was a tense and heated exchange throughout.  Tears were spilt on our side.  A lot of ranges of conflicting emotions from hope, distraught, pain, and strength.

When I was leaving this action, which was while we were blocking entry into the second park, I walked past a car where two women with confederate flags flying saw my shirt, which said “world peace” on the back. One woman   complimented it saying “does your shirt say World Peace on the back?” I said it did. She then insisted on being overtly complimentary of the message on my shirt, which led me to believe she was mocking me.  Anyway, I thanked the lady for her compliments and went about my way.

Now why would this woman be mocking my shirt saying “World Peace” in this situation?  Yes, we were making noise by chanting and disrupting their normal pathway in order to express our discontent.  By my definition we were being peaceful and our action was derived solely from the desire to bring peace and harmony to a world we all love so dearly.

To better understand this let’s examine a few definitions of peace to see where incongruences may lie.

3.  a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations: Try to live in peace with your neighbors.
4.  the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security: He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.
6.  freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
7.  a state of tranquility or serenity: May he rest in peace.
8.  a state or condition conducive to, proceeding from, or characterized by tranquility: the peace of a mountain resort.
9.  silence; stillness: The cawing of a crow broke the afternoon’s peace

Source: Dictionary.com

After reviewing the definitions it becomes quite obvious where the disconnections arise. When I speak of peace I am referring to definition numbered 3 above.  From our interaction it is possible that the woman I spoke with was referring to definition numbered 9 though there may be a lot of overlap between there.

When Dr. King and most movement people speak of peace we are speaking of the mutual state of harmony that can exist in the world if we all do our part to be global citizens. This means keeping our governments, businesses, people, and ourselves accountable for respecting the states of disadvantage many people in our society are encountering so that we can all be uplifted to a state of harmony that is not reserved for those born into more privileged social, racial, or economic classes.

When many objectors of protests and rallies speak about peace they are saying “Shut the Fuck Up!” without directly saying it and referring to definition numbered 9 above.
There is obviously a great variance between this these two perspectives. For example, definitions numbered 6, 7, and 8 refer to tranquility and having a state conducive to that tranquility.  For the confederate rally goers we disrupted their tranquility and thus are were not being peaceful in our actions according to definitions 6,7, and 8.  On the other hand we could make the same claim that their rally disrupted our tranquility and also refer back to definition numbered 3 stating that we must act to bring about that mutual harmony we were referring to.

We can go on for days with these variances and stances back and forth. But at the end of the day, both sides being are just as warranted in their feelings that the other side is not being peaceful and they are in fact the “peaceful ones.”  So what does that mean?  Who is really for peace???

This question brings me back to an idea by Huey P Newton of the Black Panther party:

“I think that words, I think that Language, I think that poetry, none of it works.  I don’t think that human language has caught up with the human evolutionary process.  Because it seems like every time we try to express a deep thing, a heavenly thing, a God like thing, we come up short…So what do we do when our words fail each other?  We wind up trying to touch each other…”

In the context Huey was speaking he was relating this to poetry and expressions of Love but I think this is applicable across all areas of human interaction.  When words fail us in a confrontation we try to touch each other in a way that we feel is appropriate to express the emotions of anger, pain, or frustration.

So what does it all mean?

That question is a daunting one.  If we cannot even find common ground in a word as simple as “Peace” what can we find agreement on?  Are we meant to find common ground on anything or is this polarity a necessity to the balance of life?  A ying to a yang so to speak?

Towards the end of MLK’s life he alluded to America being a house that is burning down around us.  There is genuine merit to that perception. If that is truly the case, is there a way to create a more cohesive dissidence between the people?  Where we can all maintain our autonomy of thought and uniqueness while being more constructive and cooperative in our dissent?

These are ideas we must confront and address to truly create a long-term sustainable revolution in the world we live in.  What will this future society look like? I hope not one of group think.  I hope we are truly able to maintain the ying and yang and balance of individuality while still creating a culture of worldly human interconnection.  That is the goal we must challenge ourselves to live out.  But with every great pursuit there is left many unanswered questions.

I believe there is much value in the unanswered question.  The unanswered question has driven humanity to heights we never thought were possible.  We must not shy away from them.  In the unanswered we will find our truth.

So who is for peace?  The lady at the confederate flag rally is, I am, we both are, and none of us are.  We need to find a way to come to each other with communication and understanding rather than condescension because as the house burns. . . more fire won’t be what puts it out.
-Sobreviviente

Editor – Iris Nevins

Letting Go (an essay on love) 

It’s a difficult feeling when people view you as being transient and replaceable. Indoctrination in our societal structure seems to be coupled with this instinctual urge to be desired, to be favored, to be liked and loved.
We want to empower others but it’s painful when the that empowerment leads to you having to step back and remove yourself from a place you felt valued and appreciated at one point. It’s another of life’s many ironies. We want to see others great but when their greatness exceeds their need for our assistance or guidance we are terrified. It’s a strike to our ego. At that point we need to decide which feelings our more important to us, their success or our desire to be needed.
I find that desire to be needed so egotistically driven. Human has the need to center itself in everything. Hence why we thought earth was the center of the universe for so long and killed defending that thought. Watching a movie I once heard a monk character say “our comfort is never more important than the comfort of another living creature, our life is never more important than the life of another living creature. How self centered would that be to think otherwise?”
I have learned that true love comes with the ability to let go. Even if the person you love resents you for it. If you know in your heart that the person is better off without your presence or if there is no longer space for you in that person’s life you must let go of you truly love them. You have done your part in empowering them to no longer need you. Now you must find the next steps in your path. Walking away brings you closer to the true love you feel for that person. It brings you closer to ridding yourself of ego. It brings you closer to enlightenment.

Plant trees

I am beginning to appreciate my mixed heritage more and more in how privileged it makes me. Am I white man privileged? Surely not. But it’s a lot easier to leave people confused about your racial or ethnic make up than having no ability to escape your anatomy. That burden is real as fuck and tragic that it is fully people’s everyday life. That their anatomy can literally be the death of them as Lupe said. I just seek to use my places of privilege to ensure a more level playing field that unfortunately I don’t see myself living long enough to see. But there is a proverb I believe that says “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” That’s the realest shit I never wrote. 

Sometime … You Can Never Go Back Home

It has taken me a while to get these thoughts down on paper. A large part of me has been afraid to but I think this will serve as a necessary catharsis for me in this challenging life experience I am growing through as well as possible serve as a way for someone going through something similar in some respects to see themselves in this post and build and add on to it to grow as well.

Some of you may know and some may not that recently I was forcibly removed from a group I hold very dear to my heart. The reasoning and rational are not important to the writing of this. Justified or not I feel the emotions expressed here are still poignant and revealing to the human experience.

Many people in this group I called my brother and sister. I would and have risked my safety and freedom along these people. I would and have risked my life with and for these people. The word brother and sister gets thrown around somewhat lackadaisically at times in the movement but I can truly say that there were a select group of individuals that “brother” and “sister” are words that could not fully articulate the bond and respect I have for them.

Unfortunately due to this removal by the heads of the group I am no longer privileged with the tremendous opportunity to grow with these people. This has been the greatest challenge of this whole experience. Amplified by the existence of social media. Seeing their posts, their ideas, their thoughts, their faces, and understanding how distant we have become in such a short time after coming together in such a short time. It almost feels like a pin ball colliding at the speed of light with it’s target only to be sent spiraling wildly in the other direction after finally feeling something. It leaves you wanting. Like a part of you was left behind with that collision and a part of them will always be a part of you. Because for a brief moment you got as close as you could to occupying the same space at the same time. For a brief moment you were one.

Someone asked me if I think that their ability to write me off so quickly and with, what seems to be, such ease indicates that maybe we were not as close as I thought we were. That could very well be the case. But in the end I don’t know if maybe they are feeling just as betrayed by me and the circumstances that caused my “exile” (for lack of a better term).

In the Autobiography of Malcolm X he discusses his brother’s exile from the Nation. In no way am I implying that the feeling I am experiencing now are to the level of his brother’s described in the book. But I can say that I truly do have a better ability to empathize after what I have experienced. Feels like part of your identity is snatched from you. Your chosen family is gone. People you have shared every range of the human experience with. People who have inspired so much change in you that you can never go back to the way life was before them.

“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.” This has quickly become one of my favorite phrases. It so perfectly encapsulates life. So simplistic yet so complex. The universe has taught me many lessons in letting go. This has proved to be another. I will forever love all the people I grew with in the group. I will forever treasure all the experiences. I can only hope that I can grow to a point of being able to do that and still let go of my urge to vindicate myself and prove removal to be unjustified. I am still so much influenced by my desire to be understood and loved. I must learn that despite your most indelible efforts to spread your genuine Godliness in this world there will still be people who are skeptical. I have seen too often how history can omit with ease the Kings and Queens of our past that did nothing short of shine their light so bright that they brought sight to the blind and blind those with short sight.

It bothers me just to type the idea that I am still greatly affected by the opinions and beliefs of the people I care about. For some reason I have this notion instilled in me that I have to be above the influence of all others. I don’t mean for this to be interpreted to mean that I am controlled or a slave to it. Those who truly know me know that I am an extremely free will who does what he feels is right regardless of the repercussions he must deal with resulting. But that is not to say that I don’t feel the weight of disapproval from those I love when they bear down on me. Maybe that is a bad thing. Maybe it is not.

I would like to end this note with love. Because the revolution, whether the revolution of the world, the country, the state, or the mind should always start and end with Love.

“Dejeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridiculo, que el revolucionario verdadero esta guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor” – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Negative to Positive

Today as I woke I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. This new felling felt familiar to me at the same time. The feeling that I can move through the world day after day. Speaking every word I know, doing every great thing I am capable, and touching every person in the most positive. But still be unknown, and unrecognized. Like a ghost. After all I have done I could so easily dissapear without a trace. And be nothing more than a breeze in the wind. Foods don’t have the same taste. The world seems so dull and melancholic. My passion leaves me with every thought. It is like my soul is oppressed by my own mind. I hope to one day put this feeling as a distant childhood memory that only arises when a seeker of advice mentions the symptoms. Hope is a word I should no longer use. It implies a long shot, or a slim possibility. I know one day I will put this feeling into the distant abyss of my mind. Stored deeply in a file cabinet of longterm memory that collects dust until I have to revisit the file to look up the details of the case for academia purposes.

In order to get this feeling to be stored in distant memory I have to first confront it and understand why I feel this way. Why I have phases when I feel like a neglected child that wasn’t hugged enough by his parents. Was that in fact the case? Do I still hold on to past pains of losing my father at such a young age and my mother leaving me to fend for my own through my high school years when she was attempting to find her own happiness with her new husband at the time?

These are obvious possibilities but what does recognizing he source do if I cannot also recognize what pains those experiences have left me holding on to. What agreements did I make with myself as a result of those experience that are not valid and causing me to think in errant ways about my experience in this world?

It made me feel like a drifter in this world. The feeling that my parents could let me go so easily, my father for another plane of existence, and my mother for her husband than why would anyone else notice I was gone. But that is not the case. My father gave his life to protect me. I am sure if he could have chose a path that would allow him to be here with me today he would have. But he did what he felt was best for me and my mother. He died a heroes death. My mother was just trying to find happiness that had alluded her for years. She thought she was doing what was best for me by making me self sufficient and independent because those were the skills that helped her excel in this world. She didn’t realize that at such a fragile moment in my life all I wanted was the love of my mother. When most kids were pushing their mother away. I just wanted to hold her close. And now my mom does all she can to make up for lost time. I am her greatest pride in this world. Despite my critiques on some of her actions in my upbringing I can nver deny that the end result is something I can never complain about. My mother created an amazing man destined for greatness.

SO quickly by analyzing the false agreements and putting things into an accurate perspective and able to transform my thinking from strong sense of drifting and pain to a positive outlook on what the truth of the situation really is. I will one day soon be able to organize the path that allowed me to be able to have this skill. The thought that changed the world.

Silence My Mind

After a conversation with a friend where I shared that I very rarely sleep the whole night through and she told me how I need to have the ability to turn my brain off and be at rest. I had never really thought about that. I always had an issue with sleeping the whole night through and being overly pensive so I never saw it as much of an issue. But she really opened my eyes to my lack of ability to be at peace and tranquility without thinking about other things and getting caught into ideas about work, life, fraternity, etc..

So today I decided to try my best to be in the moment and quieting my mind so that I can live in the present and in the moment instead of having to deal with my mind wandering into areas that cause greater stress in my life. It was so difficult for me to feel at ease and tranquil for an extended period of time.

I really have to take this as one of my immediate learning priorities. To learn how to be at ease with myself. It is very important for my health, physically, mentally and spiritually. All three key areas of my health are impacted by such a subtle idea that had not occurred to me to very recently. But that is how it usually is isn’t it? The smallest things make the biggest ripples.

I am off on this next journey. My Pursuit of Happyness.