Monday, December 31, 2007

And The Beat Goes On


I was going to post this later this evening, just before I go out to dance the new year in around a bonfire, but I made the mistake of playing it again and got so worked up, I can't wait. So if you're already in the mood for a jam featuring B.B., Bo, Ray, James, Fats, Jerry Lee, and a host of others, here it is. It's even better the second time. And if you can stay in your seat through this one, you need new speakers!

Sunset

Year's end. How can that be? I read a poem this morning that used the image of the hourglass to talk about how we watch the moments of our lives slip through the tiny hole that is time, into "the past," leaving an ever smaller supply of moments to expend.

As I get older, that decreasing supply becomes mesmorizing. It moves whether I move or not. It threatens to leave me staring fixated as I lose all opportunity to finish what I imagine is "my work." I only see the back of the tapestry and it is not a pretty sight, albeit colorful.

The end of a year always makes me melacholy now. Time speeds so ridiculously past me that I've long since stopped trying to grab it as it shoots by. There is so much to do, so much that's wrong. And I am so helplessly befuddled (yet) by those elements of existence that could have but didn't ultimately shatter my ability to function at all. I work so hard at trying to keep the edges from unraveling, too often taking myself FAR too seriously. But maybe this mark of the tormented soul is what opens a window on a deeper consciousness. Yes?

Am I tormented? I certainly used to be and sometimes still find myself in that space. But now, increasingly, my torment is for others rather than mySelf. It hurts me deeply how little I have been able to do to make a difference in the world, no matter how diligent I have tried to be, no matter what I do accomplish. I spend so much of the little time I have doing what amounts to pleasuring myself. Yet is not the joyous exhale, too, part of healing a world gone wrong?

You, dear members of the Blogosphere, whether you are readers or writers or both, have held me to the earth another year. And for that I am most positively grateful. Let us shake off the past and celebrate the breath that we are given. Let us trust the process to end up where it will. Let our voices rise like the scent of many flowers in the darkness that seems so deep, but can only be followed by the coming of the light. Come, Light. I pray you find us still prepared and ready to do our part.
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The photo above was taken by my good friend Ed, a fellow struggler on this path we call life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Please Help Save New Orleans

Tomorrow, the City Council of New Orleans will vote on whether or not to allow HUD to begin demolishing 4500 units of affordable public housing. I moved to Louisiana to be a part of the re-building of New Orleans back into the beautiful, historical, multi-cultural and heavily diverse city that it is famous all over the world for being. We have enough White-bread gentrified playgrounds in the U.S. In the end, they are boring, at best. If the City Council backs the forces of corporate development and allows New Orleans to turn into just another same old thing, everybody will lose in the end. Many of the residents who want to return to these housing units--and have not been allowed to do so--were the low income workers on which New Orleans culture and tourist trade have been based. Shutting them out will change not only the face of New Orleans, but eventually, its finances, as well.

If you've ever been to New Orleans, then you know what I mean and you will want to act immediately to stop this process by signing the petition at Color of Change. If you've never been to New Orleans, but someday hope to see for yourself the magic that you've heard so much about, then you must act, as well, or lose your opportunity forever. The damage of Katrina and the collapsed levy didn't end two years ago. It is still occurring, one day at a time. Are your fingers in the dike?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Word To The Wise

In line with my recent theme of connecting the past to the present and, if we're not careful, to an foreboding and unavoidable future, I really must link to The Unapologetic Mexican's post on how we are haunted by the spectre of slavery in the United States. He features, besides his extraordinary and poetic description of our haunted land, a piece by Cynthia Boaz that appeared recently on Truthout.org. Boaz writes:

"[T]he institutionalized ownership of one human being by another - is arguably the most disempowering system ever created by humans. It is intended to degrade and humiliate to the point that a person no longer feels agency over his own life. Like other systems of injustice, its effects can run so deep that when the institution is removed, the sense of indignity continues for members of the formerly repressed group until there is an open and comprehensive addressing of past injustices and the pain caused by the systematic abuse. In the last 25 years, in countries recovering from severe oppression, "Truth and Reconciliation Commissions" have been set up to accomplish these tasks. Peru, South Africa, Morocco and East Timor are just a few of the places where TRCs have helped their societies heal and have facilitated reform by acknowledging past wrongs and ensuring that the horrors of history will not be repeated.

"Because there has been no significant attempt to deal with the history of slavery in this country, it is as though our collective mind has been asked to exist in a state of cognitive dissonance. There are no national monuments in the US to former slaves, although they exist for almost every other group who has sacrificed for the "vital interests" of the nation. As a country, we prefer to pretend that slavery never happened, or that it existed too long ago to be relevant to our lives today. This historical amnesia comes easier to some than to others, and it may be that those who have the hardest time reconciling some sense of injustice with the legal rights afforded to every American are young black men. They know that they should feel powerful - after all, they are young and living in the "world's greatest democracy." But for many there must also be (what I imagine as) a constant, gnawing sense of indignity whose source may be vague, and which is easily manifested in rage, aggression, and other substitutes for true empowerment. To a young, misguided and righteously indignant person, a gun equals power."

Ignore this truth, if you want to, but over at The Free Slave earlier today, I ran across a quote by Lao-Tzu: “To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.” And to pretend you're asleep when you're not asleep is not only stupid, but can be very, very dangerous.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jena One Plus Five -- And So It Goes

I heard it from another blogger on the telephone a couple of nights ago. Word is that Mychal Bell beat up his girlfriend, resulting in the prior charges he had on his record. Even if this is true, I commented that it's typical of the racist criminal "justice" system in this country that a Black man beating up a Black woman wouldn't be treated as strongly as it probably should be. For the longest time, a European-American woman who crossed the color line and was beaten up by her boyfriend was as good as told that that's what she got. And in his best-selling memoir, Makes Me Wanna Holler, Nathan McCall points out the graphic sentencing differences between how Black-on-Black crime (even murder) was dealt with as compared to, say, Black-on-White crimes.

But for those who've been around the just-us system for a while, one of the slickest tricks commonly used (besides the plea bargain, which has turned into an art form) is the practice -- particularly against juveniles -- of "saving" charges for later. In other words, it's as if the prosecutors say, "We don't really care about this situation right now because, you know, this is just the way they are, so we'll just put this one up here on the shelf in case we need it for leverage later." Leverage. Such as in the case of the Jena Six, which may after all have really only been the Jena Five in the first place since there's reason to believe that one of the young men charged didn't even arrive on the scene until the deed was already done.

So the prosecution:
  • slam dunks Mychal Bell,

  • turns him from a victim into a weapon against not only himself, but against his team mates,

  • destroys six young lives while protecting the White racist instigator who most certainly was supportive of the noose-hangers, if not a noose-hanger himself,

  • circumvents and then neutralizes community support for the Jena Six,

  • and teaches those who don't know better that The Man always has the power, just as he threatened the Jena Six from the beginning.
Carmen D. at All About Race tipped me to all of this. Check it out. And tuck this away for future reference: Carmen's right. We dropped the ball, high-fivin' each other for the march when we needed to be vigilent. This bob-and-weave strategy has been around longer than Br'er Rabbit. Better recognize. And don't be too quick to villainize Bell. If what he did wasn't worth locking him up over when it first came up, why is it worth locking him up over now? Given just the right circumstances, it could be any of us. Even the ones that look like me. If you don't think so, hide and watch what happens now that the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 has passed. The key word in that title is "Prevention" and just how do you suppose the Powers-That-Be intend to accomplish that...hmmm?

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Song For Humans And Their Rights

When I get tired, my head works differently. More negative. Depressed. Sinking into some dark torpor. Swirling into a space I normally try to avoid.

Most of the time, however, when someone asks me how I am, I reply "Peachy!" And they laugh.

On Sunday, a cashier asked me how I was, and I quietly replied, out of nowhere, distracted and not even looking up, "Happy." We were both suprised.

"Happy?!" she exclaimed, startled. "As long as I've worked here, I don't believe I've ever heard a customer answer that way. Happy...humph."

But honestly, that's where I try to live. I mean, with people all over the world starving and being bombed by weapons of mass destruction and eating coca leaves to stave off the pangs of an empty stomach and snorting glue to kill the hopelessness; with people all over the world dying of infected mosquito bites and the result of drinking water that should not -- but must -- be drunk; with people all over the world being forced to make their bodies a sexual receptacle either because they do not have the power to resist or will not eat otherwise; with people -- even children -- all over the world fighting wars they never started and cannot win, despairing of ever again being free of the nightmares that have been deposited in their minds; how could I dare whine about my condition?

I eat, have health insurance, know my job (paying a living wage) will last at least until May. No one is subject to bomb my town tonight. I talked to my mother today on my daytime minutes and wasn't even worried about it. I have -- thanks to a lot of work and a lot of help -- bested most of the demons that were visited on me as a child. I do work I love. I no longer resent being born a woman. And overall, I do expect that, for the time being at least, my human rights are more or less protected. Looking like I look, living in the nation in which I live, having enough money to live on and having the support of others who care about me and know I dance well over the line sometimes, having been taught the skills of articulation and argumentation, having been granted the grace to finally stop apologizing for my existence, I am -- most of the time -- when I'm not tired, peachy.

But I am incredibly conscious of those who are not being allowed to exercise their basic human rights. The right to dignity, safety, privacy, and health, for example; the right to a decent education and meaningful work for a living wage; the right to express their views without being threatened, to worship the way they choose without harassment, and to participate in governing themselves without intervention; the right not to be locked up unjustly or tortured under any circumstances; and possibly above all, the right to equal treatment no matter what.

Last Friday, while starting my day in prayer and meditation, I suddenly began to cry. I couldn't stop the tears. I beseeched the Higher Power I call God to please save us from ourselves, to protect those who are powerless, to comfort those who are suffering for any reason, and to move on those who think they are the only ones who matter. I was a bit unnerved. The episode (as it were) came unexpectedly. And while it wasn't by a long shot the first time I've despaired of our human condition, its effect -- or the effect of what caused it -- has lingered.

And now here it is Human Rights Day. And I've been thinking about the death of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, who was killed by the police on December 4th, 1969, for such heinous crimes as coming up with the first school breakfast program.
And I've been thinking about Joseph Conrad, whose book, Heart of Darkness, recounted the story of what Belgian King Leopold II did in the Congo between 1880 and 1920, killing, it is said, as much as half the population of the country in what Conrad called "the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of the human conscience." Conrad spent four months piloting a steamboat up the Congo River until he couldn't stand it any more, but it was ten years later before he could finally write down what he had seen, including the stuffed heads of Africans jammed onto stakes around a Belgian trading post. "The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary;" wrote Conrad, "men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."

And I've been thinking about how what Conrad saw and what Hampton experienced laid the ground work for the dual consciousness of my current students of color, who have been socialized to carry the belief in their hearts that they are inferior to people who look like me and that it is hopeless to imagine that they will ever be allowed to assume that their human rights -- the rights they OWN as citizens of the world -- will be respected.

My White students will write in a heartbeat how happy they are to live in a country where everybody's human rights are protected and how terrible it would be to live in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan where people are denied those rights. And my stomach turns. And my heart breaks a little more. And I become a little sadder.

Then I remember what Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: "I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream -- a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality."

And I become a lot more resolute.

And then I listen to a poem such as the one written and recited here by Roger Bonair-Agard and I smile. Because where there is life, there is hope. And where there is breath, there is life. And so far, we're still breathing.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Connections Between Then and Now

Much more often than I can bear sometimes, a White person will kick off one of the standard scripts on race with the line, "I'm really tired of hearing all about the history of slavery. I never owned any slaves. My father never owned any slaves. Why do Black people keep using history as an excuse not to go on with their lives?" Or some other similar more or less developed rendition of this thought. It's so common that I feel my brain immediately shift over, lock onto the file of standard addressals, and put my mouth in gear to respond. It's not history that's making African-Americans crazy, I say, it's the present (duh!) By the time we finish, they seem to have gotten it without a meltdown, but I have learned that sometimes they have and sometimes, by twenty minutes later, White Supremacy being what it is, they've lost it again. Frustrating.

Anyway, this is crunch time in an already overwhelming semester, but I've been walking around with a headful of thoughts lately on how neatly history connects to the present. Here are a few of those:

1) Eric Stoller hosted the newest Erase Racism Blog Carnival here. It's all about White Supremacy and much of it focuses on Thanksgiving, which was a wonderful idea considering the fact that most folks in the U.S. still "celebrate" that holiday without a backward glance at what it ultimately meant to the indigenous people who made the first feast possible. Eric's choice of topic inspired me to write my own post about Thanksgiving by the day itself.

2) Yesterday marked the anniversary of two important historical events: Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus in 1955 and Abraham Lincoln's State of the Union address in 1862. I see them connected, of course. Lincoln's address is what took the Civil War from being about State's Rights to being about slavery, though the only reason Lincoln took it in this direction was because he was trying to win the war and preserve the nation as one cohesive whole. He had emancipated the slaves in the seceeded states just 10 weeks before so that African-Americans could legally join the Union forces and take up arms against their former "masters." And he only did this because northern White men were becoming seriously disinterested in fighting the war themselves, at least partly because most of them didn't mind slavery all that much, if at all. Lincoln was smelling defeat, so he clutched at a straw, saying: "In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free... We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth." Thus, he enlisted (literally) the aid of nearly two hundred thousand former slaves to put a finish to the war -- and they did. But, while this released them from the bonds of legal slavery, it did not institute either justice or parity for U.S. citizens of color. So Rosa Parks, nearly one hundred years later, still had to plan and implement a personal self-destruction of her individual right to privacy, employment, or peace by challenging the practice of keeping African-Americans "in their place." The final irony: both events, while defining moments in their respective ages and successful in their immediate results, have only changed the surface of our social milieu, leaving it to us to dig up the roots of racial oppression in the United States and free ourselves -- finally -- from the toxic poison that still and maybe even more effectively threatens our nation's survival yet.

3) For those who need more "proof" that Lincoln did not lay slavery to rest in all its manifestations, Kirshan Murphy over at Nubian Waves relates a story that will leave you staring at the floor.

4) Last, but far from least, a few days ago, I was reminded that forty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a Poor People's Campaign against those whose interests require the continued oppression of all who work to make this country rich without being allowed to share fully in that abundance. An example of what he was saying: "...There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life..." It's most interesting to note that King was a major power player in the civil rights movement for more than four years prior to this new evolution, but the minute he started talking about poor Whites and poor Blacks organizing themselves as one unit in their collective interests, it took only four months for some individual (acting entirely alone, of course) to kill him. Catch just a whiff of the power that was on the move in this video clip. Can't help but wonder if that kind of power could be lurking just under the surface if poor people today would pick up the thread of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last thought...