Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What are you listening for and have you heard, the call to respect contextualities and their language

Language has the greatest potential to make us aware of context.  As one speaks, their context becomes clear and heaven help the poor soul that misses the God within the sacred witness.

Imperial Leather by Anne McClintock
I struggle, daily, to communicate a language of inclusivity, one not grounded in a plantation culture.  Within this challenging , albeit difficult context, I, like many others,  long to make my points clear, to communicate who I am in a world of people and communities that experience life differently, who experience me through a lens constructed by and for the oppressor.  It is a language of the binary, i.e. female or male, a language of economy promulgated in support of a normative culture, regardless of how they themselves identify.  Particularly as a tall, black transgender woman socialized as male I find language, at times, challenging as those around me refer to me, even by mistake as he, him, etc., and this regardless of my presentation.  Seemingly, the only language known is the language of the plantation owner, a representation of white supremacy.  That said, I find that language, and I include listening in my engagement of language can be, if critically engaged,  a window into the joy, sorrow, pain, anger and grief experienced by the person who longs to be heard.  It is a window into their soul.  Communication must be taken as a fine art. 

Hearing various speakers on the radio, television and at public gatherings I listen intently with an ear, hopefully reformed, and attuned to a postcolonial perspective.  Listening from a postcolonial perspective is about hearing differently than taught at the feet of my sixth grade teacher and a curriculum which taught me what to hear and not to hear, words and phrases approved and not approved, a curriculum which supported the visions of white America.  It is about listening intimately to the context of the speaker as well as the speaker themselves.  It is taking each word, phrase, symbol and their color and hue as they come without preconceived notions or judgment.  The goal is to hear, to listen to the speaker and possibly experience transformation.   Hearing and listening from a postcolonial perspective as it pertains to hearing and listening then is a process of decolonization.

Decolonizing hearing and therefore listening is crucial to a project that seeks to be a ground of a different legitimacy.  Reflecting further on this topic, those of us who embrace a postcolonial perspective of hearing and listening are called to listen for the soul and the heart of the person, to become intimate with the speaker.   This is necessarily opposed to hearing and listening as a structural event where the speaker may be detached as a content of authority from the audience.  I suggest that detachment occurs because hearing and listening, within the normative culture, engages the speaker and the listener through an identity complex which negates the humanity of the person speaking or listening.  What I mean is that when we use constructs of identity as a means to speak, hear and listen we deny the authentic voice seeking to be heard.  This was particularly evident as I listened to an historic black transgender activist tell her story using her own words to describe her experiences of living as a black transgender women engaging a culture of rejection.

Her words, for some, were colorful and enlightening.  For others, her words were inflammatory, derogatory and unsettling.  Through her words she revealed years of engaging a culture of rejection.  A culture of rejection is one that systemically maintains laws, regulations and codes as sacred by elements of Church and society that reject the humanity of the person who doesn't mirror the normative image codified by political, economic, social and religious regimes.  These rules then undergird a particular mindset present within certain communities which then exhibit a narrative of a modern day watch dog of the plantation class.   Particularly as a black transgender woman I have experienced this reality as certain black people I encounter become, at times, the main purveyors of the very rules that have historically dehumanized black people for over 300 years.

This dehumanization, while present in the black community, goes far beyond one race or class or culture.  It goes to the very core of the American citizen.  Regardless of how a person identifies, whether a transgender male or female, race or ethnicity, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, wherever you are on the spectrum of human identity, it is there, always lurking in the shadows ready to leap and pounce on the unsuspecting.   This was the case as one person got up and proceeded to criticize her for speaking her truth in her words.  In fact there were a few comments about her language.  As I listened to these comments I heard normative ideas of decency and etiquette, which, for me, became realities of a white subculture. From my perspective then the comments were grounded in a longing for domestication as produced by and for white supremacy reminiscent of a reading of Anne McClintock’s book, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest.[1]    I was somewhat surprised, disappointed and as I look back upon the affair somewhat embarrassed at this occurrence because most or all of us were students, faculty or alumni of the institution.  How, at a supposed progressive seminary, where issues of context and identity are so central to religious leadership, did this occur?  Much more work needs to be done!!!

As a way to remedy this unfortunate affair I suggest that a postcolonial perspective be more embraced by the seminary community, students and faculty.  I suggest here that four important questions are significant in this endeavor, (1) who is speaking? (2) what is being said? (3) what am I hearing? and (4) what am I hearing with?  These questions seek to break open a postcolonial reality of hearing and listening.  When deployed the community and the institution will be functioning from a positive project where all people and their narratives are lifted up.  Of course there are many answers to questions of hearing and listening this is just one such possibility.

[1] Anne McClintock.  Imperial Leather:  Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York, NY:  Routledge Publishing, 1995)

Friday, April 4, 2014

The call to queer race or Queering identity, and liberating the soul or why in the hell should race be the most intimate identity in the United States

Why should race be the most intimate of identities to the human condition in all facets and matters of life in the United States?  At some point the human condition must move beyond this juvenile engagement of life.                                                               

I am an intellectual, an academic and a mystic at heart.  I engage social justice issues regarding race, gender and sexuality from that reference point.  That said, the context presented in the opening statement and throughout this post in regard to queering race seeks to present a most intimate encounter of the republic.  I must say that in my experience, both at the personal and institutional level, race is the most intimate affair of humanity in the North American U.S. context.  Seemingly, all things great and small begin and end with race.  I humbly ask the reader, "Is this my imagination?"  Now, I am compelled by the memories of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and the transgender and queer communities, of which I am apart, to engage this master deception of race.  I am also compelled because of the shifting demographics which require, no, demand that race be less of a factor in American life.  To contribute my thoughts and reflections to this transformative, even liberating discourse.  My experience of “truth”, “authenticity”, “hope” and their credibility in regard to race is that they can be very emotional and tense, inflicting physical as well as spiritual violence upon the mind, soul, and body, they can get really, really messy.  As such my goal is to frame these particular contexts in terms of healing, sustainability and a longed for embrace of the intimate sacred. 

Literary text:  James Baldwin

One of my favorite authors, James Baldwin writes, in On being White and other lies: The White World and Whiter America writes eloquently of racial credibility in America.  He writes of the many communities in the United States and how these communities, through a process of racialization become white, like it or not.  People formerly Irish, French, Jewish, Swiss, who, when they enter the United States, historically through Ellis Island in New York City, become white[1], these identities then given access to economic empowerment and realization, in essence, I suggest here that they become the imperial identity with all the rights and privileges not afforded to those of a lesser hue.

Primary and Secondary Biblical Texts:  Genesis 1:26-27, Galatians 3:28, 2 Timothy 2:15
On queering Sacred Text:  For a moment I would like to focus on the sacred text.  Queer rips off the deception of white supremacy as it seeks to uncover the realness of a diverse humanity and not some representation of empire.  Queer, whether a question of being or doing empowers a critical lens that should be applied to the sacred text as it cannot and should not be separated from the people and their agency, i.e., institutions of political, social, cultural or economic power in which it was written.  Human interactions and associated agenda’s have a huge say in what goes in and how interpretations arise.  One might ask, “Where then is God in all of this?”  Well, I suggest that God is looking and watching and is intimately engaged and does partner with each of us yet will not violate our human agency except on occasion, culturally and historically known as miracles.  That said, there are no qualifiers regarding “made in God’s image.”  Whatever qualifiers there may be are related to power, position, voice, fear, responsibility; policies of colonization, but God has no particular qualifiers beyond a divine spark of imagination. 

In Genesis 1:26-27 there is no mention of qualifications except that the human is created, gifted and given a name.  In Galatians 3:28, God’s image is taken further by the Apostle Paul to say constructs of identity fall in the presence of God.  So, then the only qualifiers put upon “God’s Image” are pretty much a matter of deception for the sake of some type of survival usually experienced as human empirical control.  Into the mix of this deception, the one who finds themselves in this unfortunate situation, that, for some actually seems concrete and normative, understanding life as inherently unequal, and accepting that “this is just the way it is”, 2 Timothy 2:15 provides solace as this text provides some relief if received from a point of non-qualification.  This text is critical as we queer the construct of race.  

The text reads, “Study to show thyself approved before God a worker that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  Now while this text, at least in my experience, has been traditionally interpreted for some as an external call to study the bible, I suggest that it should be interpreted as a more intimate internal calling of God.  What I mean is that you and I are the book; you and I are the incarnation as well as cosmological presence and authenticity of God and this has no qualifier.  In this sense race becomes the ultimate deception leading to a culture of exploitation, and self hatred.  And this is what maintains white supremacy.

Race, similar to the constructs of gender and sexuality are tools of white supremacy, a legacy of the plantation culture of the southern slaveocracy.  This has become the ground of race, gender and sexuality and their many institutions in the American context.  And this is the context in which the biblical sacred text is immersed.  Queering race, queering consciousness then is subversive in that it challenges the very deception of white supremacy and a sacred text which has been sequestered and even perverted.  It seeks to impart a different consciousness of human existence as it addresses the very real inequities of the American construction of race. 

What does it mean to queer race?
I.                 Queer is living beyond the constructions and norms determined and authorized as true by the Church, culture and/or society and supported by interpretations of sacred text as a matter of colonization framed in terms of survival.  Queer then is living out loud a particular divinity.  Queer necessarily challenges the accepted common vernacular narrative in place.  In some sense queer is a matter of doing and being what sustains you and not those interlocking oppressions which are the ground and support of white supremacy.  The one who lives queerly recognizes that race, like gender and sexuality is a construct, challenging indeed.  

Queer engages those questions which address, “how do I live authentically and awake “and” survive within those interlocking oppressions agreed upon and determined by American society as structures of and for survival. 

As one who seeks to live queerly, this is a matter of critical faith. Queer means not living or embracing the deception that, for some, means survival.  It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. terms cruciform living.   Queer, for me as one professes Jesus of Nazareth is grounded in cruciform living, which is shaped by the cross and not necessarily by even the institution of the church. 

Bodily mixing and matching or going where no one has gone before

I find a fair number of people embracing more than one race.  They proudly define themselves for themselves and not as the “systems of racialization” dictate.  They move in the world of hybridity becoming a new gospel for the world to experience.  They realize that race is a construct as they bend and blend this construct as they see fit in accordance with their authenticity, and their survival.

II.                The call to queer race

a.       There are significant issues that need to be addressed that are obscured by race.   Reflecting on the words of  preeminent scholar and activist Dr. Cornel West, daily I experience a catastrophe visited upon humanity which is never addressed as race becomes a means to separate people, who, although have a different color of skin, actually suffer from similar issues.  Poverty, crime, homelessness, unemployment, etc.  I remember when I went on an immersion in Appalachia where I met people and systems which had similar experiences to South Central Los Angeles.  Race is the ultimate distraction!!!  Race consumes our humanity for the sake of power and profit which denotes further a plantation culture.

b.      To authentically engage those interlocking oppressions which impact each one of us.  The interlocking oppressions seek to maintain the power of the wealthy, the well to do, and the 1%.  Engaging oppression must be an “all in” strategy.  No one can be left out.  As such race, gender or sexuality cannot be privileged.  You may ask, “why?”  Simply put the privileging of one identity over the other negates the very intimate work so needed to liberate humanity from the vestiges of white supremacy.

c.       If we are going to live into this liberation a new consciousness must emerge which frames humanity in terms of a different ground of legitimacy.  We must transition notions of legitimacy from white supremacy and its various regimes to one that is life giving and sustainable.  What I mean is that my legitimacy is intimately engaged with sustainability.  Who I am then comes down to a matter of sustainability and this at a personal spiritual level. 

d.     Creation of a common ground begins as we no longer look to white supremacy for the words, cues, concepts and ideas of a common ground based in and on social-cultural and economic disparity rooted in a plantation culture but on a radical non appropriated love.  This non appropriated love calls for a critical lens that really looks at love and the agenda’s that emerge from love.  Is it the type of love displayed by Jesus on the Cross, a love that regards the Simone Weil’s needs of the soul or is it a Madison avenue or k street kind of love with it various agenda’s.  

e.       The construct of race is unique to the U.S. North American context.  It is a means to promote certain modes of privilege and consumption as well as economic and political discourse.  It imparts a false sense of importance becoming abusive to the soul.  In his book, Dog Whistle Politics:  How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, published by Oxford University Press, Ian Haney Lopez, The John H. Boalt Professor of Law at UC Berkeley writes of a Republican Party that seeks to reconstruct race through expanding the definition of white. Their strategy, because of the increase in the population of black folks and folks of color, they are actually using a strategy to embrace certain Hispanic, Asian and other groups as white.  What this means is that for the Republican Party and more conservative groups such as the Tea Party and their allies and agents America must always be a “white” project designed and produced for the consumption of whiteness.  It is about controlling and maintaining power.  In other words white supremacy must always define what it means to be American.  For these groups then shifting demographics is a crisis of immense proportions creating notions of global war terrorism.  Whiteness actually inhabits a state of terrorism.  Now while this strategy has not been embraced by more conscious democratic justice oriented peoples this is the narrative put forward by those elements who value racist political and economic realities and power.

f.       Queering race is queering consciousness and in this sense it is about creating new space, to shift the thought processes from one of white supremacy to a different more “diverse” thought process.  Shifting demographics is an opportunity to create new spaces of thinking, to transform the structure of thought from what bell hooks calls a plantation culture to one that actually reflects a country and an economic system of the 21st century.

g.      Holding space.  I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that there are groups like the Buddhist who are holding the space as demographics shift.  I suggest here that this that must be an interfaith project welcoming all in this space of healing.

III.             A question of obligation, who or what are we obligated to?

a.  For the sake of liberation, freedom and the evolution of mankind we have an obligation to queer race.  When you know the truth there is an obligation to live the truth.  Without this obligation the questions of life go unanswered, as the deception, like pacman, eats away at your humanity.   Simone Weil, French philosopher, mystic and activist has a lot to say about this matter.  She writes, in her book, The Need for Roots, of obligations to mankind and in this sense to the soul and the criticality of that obligation. 

b.  Considerations of persons and institutions.  Rising suicide rates, unemployment, various forms of abuse are signs that race and its associated constructs are unsustainable and as such become systems of abuses.  Within this discourse we must question what French philosopher, mystic and activist Simone Weil entitled “needs of the soul”

c.  Obligation becomes a matter of history as we remember the ancestors.  Remembering those who have gone before and made the way in which we journey.  

d.  An obligation to contribute to a discourse which seeks to decenter and delink race regarding the various systems of identity that characterize life in the U.S. 

And obligation becomes the ultimate reason to queer race.  An obligation to the spirit, soul and body of God's humanity and to the quest for a better life for all people in the United States of America.  I guess for me, in the final analysis, it does come down to an obligation to my relationship with God.

[1] James Baldwin.  On Being White and Other Lies:  The White World and Whiter America.  (New York, NY:  Orbis Books, 1987) pp 177-178.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Excerpt from my forthcomng book, States of Being, Discourses on the Divine Black Transgender Feminine and the Sacred Black Masculine out this summer

The election of 2012, even more so than the election of 2008, exemplifies the state of race and power in the United States.   My God, the formally enslaved have run amuck, they have lost their way and their position in the social and cultural order.   The position of a black man as the most powerful man in the United States, i.e. the head of the house, is antithetical in a society grounded in white supremacy.  It is a scandal, an affront, consequentially causing white supremacy and its agents to double or even triple down on the oppressions which are strategies toward a narrative of dehumanization.  This situation is real, a core narrative strategy within a grand narrative of American society. 

A treatment then of sacred black masculinities is necessary because in a real sense the Black man, regardless of place of power, along with the black transgender woman, is one of the least appreciated, and least understood in the context of U.S. racial patriarchy.  Considered a threat, sacred black masculinities as a whole, historically, have suffered various regimes of dehumanization, i.e.,  frameworks and structures of interlocking oppressions which deny his legitimacy and in this his sense of humanity.   This sets up the black man for various forms and processes of marginalization which are meant to assist in the maintenance of a structure created and developed by and for white supremacy. 

That said, sacred black masculinities have significant stratifications and intersections of oppressions to work through which have been developed specifically for them.  This is primarily because white supremacy considers sacred black masculinities to be a primary challenge to its totalitarian regime.  Clearly the sacred and the truth must be separated from the hyper-myth established to support the interests of white supremacy.  I suggest here that this is one reason why most of the black militant/ intelligencia were slaughtered both physically and politically in 1960’s and a reason today why music industry hiphop in particular spew lyrics that maintain the dehumanization of those sacred black masculinities, the black feminist/womanist and their community as a whole.  This is a strategy produced in concert with programmes such as “Stand Your ground” in Florida and Stop and Frisk in New York City which maintains a myth first imposed by the plantation owners in the days of southern slaveocracy. 

No secret here that a concerted effort, structured and strategized through various racist sexist frameworks, oriented hyper-myths, on the part of the U.S. government, the corporate community, media complex and their agents continue to marginalize any stirrings of Black Power and black men simply because the only authorized power in the U.S. was and still is white supremacy, even in its so-called social and political diversity and inclusion in a mindset of whiteness.[1]  This is also a reason for various political discourses on poverty, education, HIV/Aids, economy and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare to become proxies for a civil war.   Reflecting on this unfortunate circumstance I find that sacred black masculinities can present a different moral vision of humanity.  Even with the layers and layers of oppression meant to marginalize, even destroy their humanity overall sacred black masculinities have been able to survive, overcome, even thrive within those interlocking oppressions. 

Sacred black masculinities have been that critical difference causing their nemesis to reckon with their totalitarian colonial ambitions of patriarchy and historical discourses on racial superiority.  Most notably this has been evidenced in black men such as President Barack Obama, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Malcolm X, General Colin Powell, senator Corey Booker, 100 black men, community activist Bayard Rustin, professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, and, in their deaths, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, just to name a few.  These black men and their particular masculinities, and many like them not mentioned here, represent a different moral vision, one very much influenced by the black experience in diaspora, yet able to mediate their particular masculinity with a structure that was not developed or created to reflect their vision of the masculine. 

As evidenced by the reaction to the election of Barack Obama as the first black president, for some, these men represent a clear and present danger to the ideas of the totalitarian regime.   In a weird sense these black men, and others like them, become a compelling reason for white supremacy to invest in a prison industrial complex.   Surviving in a context of racial patriarchy the black man must focus on building movements of sustainability, i.e. movements that change the racial and economic terrain imposed as a matter of collective privilege and power.  The black man, cognizant of the unfortunate situation must see and experience their particular sacred black masculinity as transformative within the culture and society through the creation and development of ideas which emerge out of their collective experiences.   

I suggest here that as the black man experiences his sacred masculinity as the critical difference he will gradually shift a narrative which has been ingrained by the oppressor but will also liberate his mind regarding more diverse genders and sexualities even within the black community.   That said, sacred black masculinities are called, in concert with the divine black transgender feminine to make a space for a new and different space of gender, sexual and racial legitimacy.   I suggest that the ground of this new legitimacy should be a ground that reflects notions of a postcolonial imagination in which the black man is distinct from the imagination of white supremacy and its desire and by definition racial patriarchy.   What I mean here is that the black man similar to the black transgender woman, must create and develop his own space of being, even his own legitimacy; they must be their social revolution.   This requires what Kwame Nkrumah, one of Africa’s most renowned philosophers and political leaders, calls an intellectual revolution.  He writes, in his book Consciencism, Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonization and Development with particular reference to the African Revolution, “Social Revolution must have, standing firmly behind it, an intellectual revolution in which our thinking and philosophy are directed at the redemption of our society.”[2]  Decolonization of sacred black masculinities must have as their primary purpose the decolonization of the black mind.

[1] Bell Hooks.  Don’t Make me hurt you, Black Male Violence in We Real Cool, Black Men and Masculinity (New York, NY:  Routledge, 2004), 44 – 66.
[2]Kwame Nkrumah.  Consciencism.  Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization and Development with particular reference to the Africa Revolution (New York, NY:  Monthly Review Press, 2009), 78.

Copyright © 2014 Monica Joy Cross.  All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.