“Transformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanization and announcing the dream of a new society.”
As we continue to strive past our current oppressive systems here in the USA and across the world there often becomes an urging for us to define what the alternative looks like. Often when I denounce white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and heteronormative patriarchy the response is often well if not this than what else? It is often hard for a being to think outside of their current frame of reference. It is true that no idea is original. All of our creations are simply manipulations of existing ideas and/or the collaboration of existing ideas and none is in fact truly and wholly unique on it’s own.
This inclination of human progression is important in understanding that a fully envisioned future would be an exercise in futility. As people we need to build on innovation to reach a more improved future. That being said the progressive approach should not be used to justify stagnation in progression towards liberation for marginalized and oppressed people. We must push the envelop of revolution in a constant and steady direction where we will often be walking in the dark with a flash light where we can only point the flash light no more than a step or two ahead of us.
This may be frightening for some but it is the reality of how human progress and innovation has constantly happened. There has been many innovations by “mistake” and many innovations that in no way reflected the original vision of the innovators involved. Alexander Graham Bell for example intended the technology that would eventually become the telephone to be a sound device for his deaf mother. Who would have envisioned that the intended sound device for the deaf would evolve to a handheld cellular device with near immeasurable functionality over 100 years later.
We must continue to denounce the process of dehumanization that the systems of oppression facilitate. This part is more clear in it’s practice. We also must constant envision a future society and in that vision we must be amendable, adjustable, and comfortable with their being gaps that must be filled at a later time. We must be conscious of the principles and culture that must be embodied by that future society and allow the fluidity of human invention to fill in those gaps as they stay true to the principles and culture.
It seems in our society we have an over abundance in belief that everyone is entitled to their opinion and they fall back on the freedom of speech (note I have already pointed out some of the fallacies in the freedom of speech here). This basis of everyone being entitled to their opinion becomes incredibly problematic when we look at the huge influx of intentionally fake news stories, the lack of desire to truly educate one’s self politically, the lack of true political education within our education system, and the lack of existence of spaces for dialectical discourse to take place.
Opinions by definition is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. The free range of the exchange of ideas that are not necessarily based on fact or knowledge is a huge detriment to the growth of the collective consciousness of our society. These things should not be encouraged and should not be allowed in any way shape or form. I am not for freedom of speech in the liberal way that it has been applied in the USA. Here in the USA certain ideas get propagated and protected even if they have no factual basis because of who says them and the access of those people. For example the KKK has zero, count them, zero political prisoners from the research I have done. On the other hand the Black Panthers have had more than I can keep count of, the Young Lords, the Macheteros, FALN, the Communist Party of the United States, American Indian Movement, all have a plethora of political prisoners and have a drastically lower history of violence as well as a justified rationale for rising up against a system of oppression while the KKK simply seeks to uphold it’s “opinion” that whiteness and hetero-normative patriarchy = supremacy and use that justification to protect the capitalistic interest of whiteness.
These structures need not be replicated if they can yield such ugly results. True we do still need places where popular ideas can be challenged and fleshed out for their validity but they should be done through dialectical discourse. dialectical discourse is described as discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. As you can see this process will allow for truth to reveal itself only if the participants use reasoned and logic based arguments to defend their stance not the idea of “I don’t know but this is my opinion on it.” which is a rationale held way to often.
It is also clear that not many people have a firm backing in true dialectical dialogue, a firm backing in logic and how to identify logical fallacies, a firm backing in how to construct an argument, and honestly not many people have a desire to. They rather sit on their computer shoot off a couple unverified and unjustified comments on Facebook based on their opinion and how they “feel” with no real verification. I have been guilty of such behavior myself and it sways others you may be influential on who may believe that you have done some research on this topic to guide your thought when in fact you have not.
With this we need to truly engage in popular education which provides the basis of these tools to people and we have to create the mechanisms that allow for responsible and dialectical speech to occur. Until then free speech will continue to be a detriment and a tool for misinformation and the rise of fascism and fascist like figures and regimes based on propaganda.
I challenge you all to no longer hold so true to “opinions” and instead research philosophy and how to construct logically arguments and identify logically fallacies (here is a good start), no longer hold your opinions that are not based in dialectical discourse so dear to your identity, and not be afraid to say “I don’t know” in given situations where you don’t in fact know and wait to gather necessary information from credible sources before you formulate an argument to present to others for dialectical critique. Until you do all that you are NOT entitled to your opinion.
With Revolutionary Love,
In conversation with a friend she seemed to have the idea that she could just will herself out of her dissatisfaction with her life. Will herself to happiness. That happiness was just a choice that she could make every day if she was just strong enough to do so.
It seems with the rise of books/documentaries like the secret this is a common idea among people.
From what I have experienced you cannot simply just choose happiness or sadness. Your choices have to be a change in the material conditions that facilitate your happiness and sadness. You can’t continue to do the same exact things when you were sad or angry and think just telling yourself these things make you happy actually will. Your emotions towards these things are valid and should signal in you a desire to change. So changing your understanding of the world around you and changing your behavior will help garner incremental improvements. But the real improvements will come when environment is changed. That is when you will truly begin to see a shift in your emotional state and well being. A change in people, places, and things as the fellowships would call it.
These are the lessons I have learned through quitting a high paying job to chase my dream as a social change agent using dialectical materialism as my guide.
I hope this helps.
With Revolutionary Love,
A week after the debacle that we are calling election day 2016 I was at the Jermaine McBean Art Show opening night with the family of Jermaine and my organizing family. At the end of the event I was talking to Jasmen and Asa and they asked me if I would wanted to/could go to Standing Rock next week as a part of a delegation from South Florida. I said I would try my best to do so. I am currently in a diversionary program so to do so I would need to get approval from the court. After jumping through plenty of hoops I was able to get permission from the court to go to North Dakota just a day before we were set to leave.
Asa sent out a great email with some fantastic information (listed just below this paragraph) that he received from the #NODAPL people but even with that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never spent extended time around indigenous folk so I was really excited about that. I also was worried about the weather. I had always said North Dakota was one state I would never want to travel to because of how cold it was and because …. I mean come on it’s North Dakota.
Note: Special thanks to Paula, Tifanny, & Jasmen for doing the majority of the logistics in planning the trip.
(Links sent by Asa – Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet, How To Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective, How to support Standing Rock and confront what it means to live on stolen land, Media Guidelines from Sacred Stone Camp)
The drive up was challenging as we were jammed pack with people and supplies. As well as being ill prepared to deal with the eventual cold we would face. We paced our way up to North Dakota and finally got there after about 42 hours.
The cold hit us like a ton of bricks while there and we did our best to stay warm. Some of us requesting to sleep in the car and the emergency tent, wary of the possibility of shock due to the drastic weather change as well as to deal with ailments and illness caused by the trip.
We also noticed the really terrible cell coverage and the erratic behavior of our phones. They would drop all the way from 50% battery to nothing in seconds and then minutes later come back to life without being charged back at 50% battery. The cell coverage would go from 4 bars to nothing in moments. No matter how many bars you had it was near impossible to get data to go through making checking social media impossible.
We stayed on Sacred Stone camp and were oblivious to the existence of other camps. We were a bit shocked by how many white people there were and how few indigenous folk and people of color. After thinking through power and privilege and ability to just pick up and leave a job and responsibilities and have the resources to make it all the way to North Dakota we realized the racial dynamic shouldn’t be that surprising.
We began working all collectively on different projects throughout the camp until we were advised that there were in fact other camps that also had trainings and it was recommended that we attend the trainings and explore the camps before getting to entrenched in the work. We really had the mentality of just wanting to give over all else but we decided to take this recommendation and go exploring for the rest of the day. In our exploration we found out about the difference in racial dynamic and cultural dynamic of Sacred Stone Camp and Osceti Camp which we found to be the bigger of all the camps. Osceti camp was much more diverse and had a lot more indigenous people there. We also found the information for all the trainings.
During these explorations we also noticed how incredibly communal things were. You could go into any of the communal tents and take whatever you needed. There was no request to barter or pay for anything. If you needed clothes, medicine, tea, tents, blankets, food, water, etc. it was there for you to take. There was also just a natural inclination to help. As we walked past people working we would just ask if anyone needed help with anything as we saw them laboring away and they would tell us how we would help and we would work together and get to know each other as we did so. Very unusual to the alienation of labor that usually happens in the capitalistic structures I have seen.
That night we had to insulate our tent some more to deal with the cold and we also had to go pick up another comrade from the airport that night. Her flight was set to arrive at Bismark airport at 10 PM and it was about an hour drive so we had to leave by 9 PM. We used that time to insulate the tent some more and then all of us except the four of us who were staying in the emergency tent went on the drive to Bismark. We also decided we would use that to make a supply run for the camp as a whole and for ourselves. We were running through water very quickly and we also wanted to have small snacks available for quick meals and in between meals.
As we were waiting for our comrades flight to arrive we began checking social media. Since we were away from the campsite we were able to get service with ease. As we were sitting eating dinner we came across a FB live feed from the camp that was showing water cannons being used in 19 degree temperature (not factoring wind chill) on the protectors that were involved in a direct action against the builders of the DAPL or Black Snake as the protectors took to calling it. The video is being taken from a distance away on facebook hill which we later found out is the only place on camp that has any semblance of consistent reception because they do have WIFI devices and tech personnel there to help with facilitating the operations of the legal teams and others that would need internet access for the fluid function of the camp. We continued to watch this grainy video from an hour away from camp and see flash grenades going off in the distance, hear the chaos of the night being broadcasted for millions across the world could watch via Facebook. Our hearts sunk collectively. We wanted to be there to help the people in the camp in whatever way we could. We felt guilty for not being there even though we knew nothing of the possibility of an action that night before we left. We wanted to go back immediately but we still had to wait for our comrade to arrive at the airport. Finally when our comrade arrived we drove back to camp. When we got back we were told that there were drives going back in forth to pick up people from the front lines and take them to medic tents throughout the different camps. People had been pepper sprayed, tear gassed, had flash grenades thrown at them, shot with rubber bullets (some bullets were said to have had the rubber part taken off of them to increase the impact), as well as hit with the water cannons. People were suffering from hyperthermia as well as countless other ailments. We were concerned and scared about the thought of entering that intense battle brought on by Morton County Sheriff’s office but we knew we had to help in any way we could. As we began to drive to the front with our van we were told we were not needed anymore. They already had a 10 car caravan heading to the front lines and that would be enough to bring everyone back. We turned the van around and headed back to camp and picked up a woman on the way back who was walking. She said she was at the front lines but seemed to be making it seem as if it were a spectacle to be embraced and reiterated how much “fun” she had and even suggesting that the officers enjoyed it along with her. We were a bit confused by this.
The next morning we made it over to Osceti camp and heard more about the damage brought to the camp, and the people both physically and morally. A young woman could have potentially lost her arm due to having a flash grenade thrown directly at her during the action the night before. Hundreds of people were being treated for various ailments, the most common being hypothermia. This reinforced our disconnection from the person in our car the night before. This disconnection from the true conditions and intent of the camp would be a recurring theme.
We attended the workshops which were led by a varied of racial background and all non-male identifying folk. They were very powerful and reiterated an idea that I would begin to hold very dear to my heart as my time in Standing Rock progressed. The idea was “take what you need and give all that you can.” This was very important as resources were so limited it is very important to only take those things that you absolutely need. If you are sick, see the medic, if you are cold, take some clothes, if you are hungry, then eat. Overindulgence was strongly discourage and the constant evaluation on what you truly “need” was emphasized heavily. On the other hand it was duly recognized that all you have is gifted you from the earth, from the land, and you owe that back to the land and all the things and people the land has also created. So all that we had we shared with the people and the land. That meant our possessions as well as our physical labor. If we didn’t need it at that moment we gave it. This was heavily rooted in spiritual practice. Everything was heavily rooted in spirituality and prayer. That was taught to us in the training and practiced throughout our time there. Every morning there was prayer and before every action there was prayer. Prayer for them was very much rooted in the chrishing of the land and all it provides for us and how much we need to protect and give back to the land. I really valued that lesson greatly.
The workshops were also incredibly indigenous people centered. There was always an ask for indigenous people to respond to a question or make a comment before it was then opened up to people of color and then white people. This was an interesting practice I had never before seen and it was explained as a way to encourage others not to take up too much space and further colonize the land and opportunities of indigenous people.
The direct action trainings and legal trainings were extremely thorough and valuable. I really appreciated the time they took to put together these important and valuable trainings and now saw why we were told to explore and attend the trainings before working.
Between and after the trainings we still found various ways to help by washing dishes, or helping cook, or helping build tents and things like that as we walked through camp sites.
After our last training we went to the legal tent to fill out legal support forms. Some of us had some legal issues that we had to be wary of as well as non-citizenship status that could be affected by an arrest at a direct action. So we wanted to make sure to have the legal team be aware of that. It amazed me how smooth they were running considering the thousands of people who come in and out of the camp on a regular basis.
At the legal tent we were also told about the cell reception issues we were having and how that is due to the planes flying overhead to survey our phones and jam our signal. Some of us figured as much being that we have encountered similar technology used by Broward Sheriff’s Office at our actions but never to this level of consistency.
The rest of the days on camp were a mix between working on camp doing construction type jobs, cleaning up, trash pick up, washing dishes, eating, staying warm (which was toughest when we slept), keeping from getting sick, and direct actions.
The direct actions were intense. The police officers from Morton County were extremely combative and underhanded. They brought border control to one action to scare people that may have documentation issues from participating. At another action they told the people they had 5 minutes to get to their cars before they began arresting people. As people returned to their cars they were already towing them and they would snatch people up who had nowhere else to go. We spoke to many people on the campsite about the holding cells as they waited. The holdings were so full that people were being held in cages that they believed could be dog kennels. Others were being transported 4 hours away to neighboring cities to use their holding.
When we went to a county commission meeting with Veterans for Peace who acted on behalf of the camp to file a formal complaint about these behaviors of the sheriff department the county commission declared their committed support despite the urging by the veterans that these tactics are often discouraged as beyond drastic in war let alone to be used against USA citizens.
All this is being done to protect the building of a pipeline that isn’t properly permitted and has the potential to damage the land and water supply of the people trying to protect the earth and water. The amount of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism in that idea is nauseating at the least.
Also the residents of the towns in North Dakota near the camp were full of anger towards the protectors. In direct actions that happened in town we had racial slurs thrown towards us multiple times. Stores would lock there doors near actions to keep protectors out. There was provocation done by the citizens of the town speaking about how they don’t want us there and threats to act violently if we did not leave.
As we stayed in the camp though we were so inspired by the resilience of the people there. The indigenous folk and their allies, for the most part, were so dedicated to the stopping of this pipeline and creating all the sustainable structures on camp to make that happen. Making sure to honor the land and the original people of the land with each action. They were building actual structures to prepare for the winter cold which was only getting worst. They were creating schools, mess halls, security buildings, etc.. The people there were constantly trying to solicit all the things they needed to preserve the safety, security, and stability of the camp so they could be in this fight for the long hall. I was amazed by this. So much more advanced than any organizing I have ever seen and heard of before including occupy.
The camps though were not without their challenges. Many white allies took this as a hippy retreat and escape from the capitalist world and didn’t see fit to contribute and live up to the “take what you need and give all that you can” ideals encouraged by the camp. They took up a lot of space and offered constant critiques without contributing to growing those critiques and ideas into tangible solutions. That is another valuable lesson delivered in the camp. The importance of following through with suggestions and ideas instead of dumping them on other people. I have experienced this constantly in movement work. Where people will give me an idea that they have no desire or will to carry through and expect that I will do all the emotional and physical labor to deliver it to fruition. I have also been a perpetrator of this practice myself. A lot of these people had not gone to the training to learn these lessons shared with us by the indigenous leadership. They continued to perpetuate the ideas that were counter to the trainings and direction of the camp. Many of these things happened at Sacred Stone camp and maybe because of the distance between this camp and Osceti camp that led to a bit of a disconnect between the mentality of the two camps.
There also were many complexities on camp between the indigenous folk and the various tribes on site who haven’t been together sharing the same space ever. So finding common ground amongst colonized and displaced people I can imagine to be a challenge in itself.
Even through these challenges the camp was such a magical place. We left feeling drained, renewed and refreshed all in one. The drive back was only 36 hours including a brief stop in sabal trail pipeline to leave supplies. It felt like we brought some of that magic home with us as we began reentering our daily lives. The inspiration of the movement to create these tangible structures for the facilitation of resistance is something we seek to emulate locally while simultaneously uplifting the struggle all the way in standing rock. I will never forget the 8 days plus spent traveling to and from standing rock and the time on camp. I will always seek to take only what I need and give all I can in the basis of a spiritual connection to the land. I will never be the same.
Continued… A week later
As I sit in a restaurant in Puerto Rico discussing the Mijente conference and the various learning experiences we have had it is brought to my attention that the army corp of engineers has denied the permit to the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. The first thing that hits me is shock. Why? Why would they deny the permit? Why the sudden new found altruism when they were just recently seeking to remove the water protectors from the Army Corps of Engineers land in because they claimed they were concerned for their health during the cold winter but didn’t release a statement in concern for their health when they were hit by water cannons used by the Morton County Sheriff’s office in 19 degree temperature not more than a week earlier. Were they genuine about their concern for the water protectors? Is this denial of the permit a display of that. I go on Facebook to see other posts speaking to Obama’s involvement in the pipeline being blocked. I am frustrated by the exalting of the “heroes” named Obama and Army Corps of Engineers in some instances and thankful at the recognition of the political pressure applied by the Water Protectors at the detriment to their own livelihood and health as the key reason why the pipeline was stopped.
The articles still make me question, is this real? The Army Corp of Engineers have talks about rerouting the pipeline. Then is the work really done? I am still worried and concerned. It doesn’t feel like it is time to celebrate but everyone is so overjoyed. Calling it a much needed “victory for the people.” I hope they are right.
The next day I get to the airport in San Juan named after an imperialist advocate and former governor of Puerto Rico. While waiting for my flight I receive a text from Wendy, an amazing indigenous rights advocate that traveled with us to Standing Rock. It reads
“yeah there is talk that DAPL will continue”
“Since it has to be built by January or most backers will pull out”
“And they will just take the fines”
I looked this up and learned that there are rumors that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, will incur a $50,000 a day fine to continue building the pipeline. The machine keeps moving, black snake keeps moving, and the people are left searching for more and new ways to stop the machine. The people will continue to fight for victory. One thing I learned at standing rock and will continue to spread to everyone I know is that the people will take what they need and give all they can. This will not stop, we will not stop, we are who we have been waiting for.
The Power of Spectrums – The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house
We have often fell into conversations of binary and duality. Even amongs people who reject binaries in many other areas and see binaries themselves as an act of violence.
One such binary that has been forced on us is violence vs. nonviolence. We must choose as people how we will attain our liberation. We must choose which side we are on. This stance would fully ignore the reality that we are full and complex beings who may act violently or nonviolently in various situations. ALL OF US ARE AND HAVE BEEN VIOLENT. That is an assertion that needs to be recognized. We must resist the system’s need to box us in and force us to deny part of ourselves. The compartmentalizing of our being is an act of violence. Forcing us to deny parts of ourself is a tool of the master’s house to deny understanding us as the full and complex beings we are. Only acknowledging our pain as marginalized people when it fits clearly in a box that they can digest.
This same idea holds true in many other areas of our life. Artist, lovers, friends, family, etc.. We should have a basis for healthy interactions with the people in our lives but that basis should not be so restrictive that it doesn’t allow freedom for that person to express themselves fully in ways that is not a detriment to your mental well being. Now it is important not to use this caveat of detriment to someone’s mental well being as a crutch to guard against challenging conversations that may reveal to you truths or alternative perspectives you are not ready to hear. Rather it is to establish rules of clear, healthy, fair communication and conflict necessary to growth and not condoning abusive and subjugating interactions.
Though it may be uncomfortable at times we must resist the desire to box people into well hold perceptual categories that prevent them from stepping into realms that may surprise us. Marginalized rage and pain need not only be expressed in digestible forms for their oppressor. Marginalized people need not be relegated only to spaces when they are teaching of their oppressor. The perspective of the marginalized people must not be tokenized but instead uplifted in places that it is typically not present. We also must not compartmentalize people’s struggles. A woman should not be forced to ignore her oppression as a woman in order to uplift and fight against race/culture/ethnic based oppression. All the same a working class or poor person should not have to be on the fringes of the feminist struggle. These ideas also work in reverse as well. We need to acknowledge that people are complex beings constantly fighting to uplift our own personal voices and struggles that have been muted by systemic oppression in the many various ways it has and at the same time we are recognizing our privilege and undoing the ways in which we perpetuate the oppression of other people in other conditions that we never directly experienced. We are oppressors and the oppressed at all times. We cannot fit into the binaries and categories created to divide us and often use to perpetuate that divide through tokenism.
To dismantle the master’s house we need to reject this categories and embrace our spectrum of complexities while recognizing the solidarity that exists between all of us in our struggle for liberation.
I got into a conversation with a friend a while back about first amendment rights and specifically within that the freedom of speech. We talked about how important and integral this is to our advancement as people. Through this conversation I began to question the validity of this freedom of speech and expression. It seems to me that freedom of speech and the ability to freely express yourself and speak is on a sliding scale based on various levels of privilege.
Take for instance Trump. He is allowed to say any number of patriarchy, xenophobic, neo-liberal, racist things that he wants. Why? Because all the things he says upholds the systems of oppression already in place within the current US socio-political-economic power structure.
Now if a black working class woman were to run for president and have the same level of momentum in her campaign it would be impossible for her to push forward a radical black feminist inter-sectional socialist narrative. She would be outcasted and ostracized immediately. Her lack of privilege would automatically make it so that she would be required to take a moderate stance on just about everything.
A perfect example of this is Barack Obama. He has to reassert as often as possible that he is not the president of Black America but America in general on numerous occasions. His policies have done very little for the material conditions of the black community despite being uplifted by the black community and driving out the black vote in record numbers during his original election cycle. Often his rhetoric has reflected blaming the black community for their own problems, citing lack of adequate parenting and mentorship, without truly addressing the systemic reasons why these broken families and communities are the way they are. His need to take the middle road has been troubling. It begs the question, is he really free to speak? The most powerful black person in the US arguably and is he really free to speak?
The reason I start at the “top” is because I want to illustrate an important idea of access. The freedom to speak also is undoubtedly tied to access. What is the purpose in being able to speak freely about ideas if no one can actually hear these ideas and they are shut out from any forms of dialogue. Freedom of speech becomes empty and hollow when only certain types of speech have the volume turned up when they are broadcast while the rest is only played through a filter of white noise. When you have 6 major corporations that own 90% of all media that propagates the problem even further.
Now an argument may be made that these ideas are appropriately marginalized because they represent a minority in our culture and thus the ideas that are being uplifted are those that fall in the spectrum of what most US citizens think and feel. So freedom of speech allows you to speak but the popularity of the idea itself is what carries it into the mainstream or not.
I respond that is a double edge sword. Ideas that now lay on the fringe must be allowed within mainstream discourse in order to allow for the challenge of traditionally held dogmas to prevent from perpetuating false narratives. Also how could we really know if an idea can gain popularity if allowed, if there is no actual access to spreading the idea to those who may accept it. Ideas themselves cannot change if they are not allowed to spread freely and with similar access to those they could possibly change.
Also I think it is important to recognize the drastic repercussions faced by those who attempt to spread ideas that may counter the oppressive power structure currently in place. Most notably MLK, Malcolm X, Oscar Lopez Rivera, and many of the Women and Men of the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other third world or anti-imperialist movements. Many of these people have been arrested, killed, beaten, and harassed by government agencies as well as denied employment for their ideological viewpoints that were not degrading of any person or group of people but instead a recognition of oppressive forces and the way they have beaten down people like themselves.
Now these may be drastic but what about your average working class person who may not be so entrenched in this kind of alternative thinking. Courts ruled that a person can be denied employment for wearing dreadlocks, a traditional hairstyle mostly worn by black people. This freedom of expression thought to be covered by the first amendment is sacrificed in the name of white-euro ideas of professionalism and conformity. Various typical white longer hairstyles worn by both white men and women have not been demonized to the degree as black natural hair has and is rarely cast into the realm of “unprofessional.”
So again I reiterate that freedom of speech has to come with an important level of freedom to access the mechanisms in which speech is spread and dialogue is had at a level where the masses can be influenced by it. If only a homogeneous group of people have the absolute access to the spread of their speech that automatically undermines the freedom in and of itself. This could only happen if there is communal control and ownership of the means to produce mass media by the people themselves and not private corporations. Until this point when it comes to the question “Am I Free to speak?” the answer would be “not really.”
Trickle Down Crime: Debunking the myths that crime is inherent in blackness and browness
It has been a long standing myth that trickle down economics was a sound economic “theory” that would lead to the economic prosperity of the nation. This “theory” manifests itself in policies designed to create more favorable conditions and monetary incentives for the wealthy in hopes that these “job creators” will, through their business “ingenuity”, naturally uplift the economic well being of those in more challenging socio-economic conditions. I don’t think I need to spend any time disputing the validity of this laughable economic theory so I won’t. Instead I would like to change economics to crime and assert that it is not money that will trickle down from the top to the bottom but it is actually crime that does so. When those at the top commit crimes or create conditions where their exploitation of the poor, and working class have become normalized and in-effect non-criminal they will then create the conditions in which crime will be equally normalized in the most impoverished communities.
I recently had a meeting with the State Attorney of Broward County and we discussed crime and punishment and how it is applied disproportionately to the black community. After this riveting (draining and mind numbing at times) conversation I was pulled aside by one of the State Attorney’s employees before I left. He brought up to me how we are able to have this conversation in this room but if he were to bring up these same topics to a homeowners association, for example, they would think it absurd to discuss the protection of criminals as victim rights should trump all. I don’t think he realized he opened the door for a conversation he was ill equipped to have. I responded that yes he is right homeowners would express their concern for their property and that in itself is a further indictment on the criminal (in)justice system. The fact that the system is designed to protect the interest of property owners rather than humanity as a whole is evident in the juxtaposition made between a social justice/human rights group advocating for reforms and changes to the system in which we actually consider the humanity of “criminalized” communities (this is a drastic oversimplification of what we are seeking) and those property interest groups advocating for stricter punishments at the same time. Also it is very important for us to keep in mind the conditions that create crime and all of them have their links to poverty and lack of access to resources necessary to empower yourself within the current community. This is essential in the understanding of crime. The communities with the lowest crime rates aren’t those with the most policing, most overzealous prosecutors, and longest sentences. They are those with the greatest access to resources and income.
Have you ever looked at someone and been able to tell that what you just said just really fucked up everything else they were about to say to you and really have no idea where to go from here? Well that is the exact look he had on his face when I said this. Needless to say the conversation ended very shortly after that.
Reflecting on this conversation allowed me to revisit some ideas that I had mulled over previously about crime by these “wealthy landowners” who advocate for “tough on crime” legislation are actually what creates the crime they seek to end.
Let’s start with a list of the unpunished crime of the wealthy, just in recent years:
- Subprime mortgages leading to the collapse of 2008. Unfairly targeted black and hispanic families. Disproportionately impacts the wealth of black and brown communities. Only one person arrested for these atrocities.
- HSBC admits to laundering $679.4 billion in drug money. Agrees to pay $1.9 billion in fines to the US and receives immunity from all criminal charges.
- Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Western Union have all been accused of similar practices.
- Flint Water crisis. See below for descriptions. So far 6 people have been charged. The water in Flint is still contaminated. The residents of Flint still have not been given a means to leave the city or sustainable access to an alternative water supply.
- Donald Trump – various levels of sexual misconduct – 11 separate women. Still our 2016 presidential candidate.
- Hillary Clinton – Allegation of electoral fraud against Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Still our 2016 presidential candidate.
- More than can be named in criminal (in)justice system. Kalief Browder, Jermaine McBean, Rekia Boyd and countless others unjustly targeted and killed by the system.
Now these are just recent and obvious cases put together very quickly. I am sure you all can come up with plenty more that I may have missed (I actually challenge you to do so, jump in those comments). I list them to show not only the frequency, but their massive impact over hundreds of thousands to millions to billions of people. Then compared to the amount of punishment received by those involved. Now going back to an earlier assertion people commit crime in situations of poverty and lack of access to resources needed to better their situation. All these crimes are massive and overarching acts that both eliminate wealth and/or limit access to resources to change their conditions. For example the two presidential candidates crimes (though one a bit more directly and obviously reprehensible) both dishearten marginalized people from the belief that the political process will yield any change which is a common thought spread amongst poor and working class people. If you vote you can change the system. Yet when the people you are voting for have shown little regard for respecting people and their choices it makes it removes access to that mechanism to uplift you. In Flint the access to water is denied which is essential for human survival. Without access to that essential human need how can one worry about education, wealth attainment, etc..
So now when you have these crimes at the top you create conditions for working class and poor folk that their work is now erased by irresponsible governance and corporate greed. Yet these people still have their basic needs to be met. Beyond having their needs being met there is a resentment created amongst working class and poor people that facilitates their disillusionment with the “American Dream” of work hard and keep your head down and you can make it out of the despair. That coupled with the communities being flooded with alternative and illegal means in which to make money through selling drugs (facilitated by money laundering banks receiving no more than a monetary fine as well as, at the very least, some government blind eyes turned), prostitution, and theft. The picture begins to become much more clear as to why crime exists in our society when the broader picture is taken into account.
I want to make note that I have taken this picture only from 500 feet but if you go up to 5000 feet and start accounting for historic oppression between immigration practice of importing and deporting cheap labor, union busting, and denial or worker rights as well as they even more atrocious genocide, slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow and decades worth of mass incarceration termed as the New Jim Crow by the brilliant Michelle Alexander the picture will begin to take an even clearer form as to why crime exists the way it does.
I think a very important note here is that though incarceration rates try to tell a drastically different story according to the bureau of justice statistics that violence and violent crime rates are very statistically similar when compared in similar economic and social conditions (click here for full report). Marijuana use and distribution by race is roughly equal yet incarceration rates are drastically higher for black people (click here for brief article by washington post, click here for full report by ACLU). The idea that criminality exist in certain type of people, particularly black and brown people has been nothing more than a marketing campaign pushed forward by political parties to demonize people of color and allow for the “tough on crime” legislations and campaign strategies to catapult political careers on the backs of people who have been victimized by that same political system time and again while simultaneously trying to convince us not to worry because eventually the money will trickle down if we keep working hard and paying our taxes.
It is obvious to me that the money was never intended to trickle down, but they knew full and well that the crime would as they continued to create greater disparities in wealth and increasingly less access to resources for poor and working class people to improve their conditions. So as the crime trickled down they just threw us in cages hoping we would continue to ask for their protection and safety from the conditions they created.
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“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
- an ethnic group; a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like: Representatives of several ethnicities were present.
- ethnic traits, background, allegiance, or association.
- (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.