Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughts of a Black Transgender Woman Living in Perilous Times, the Call of Activism and A Thoughtful Solidarity

We are living in perilous times, times of change, transformation and fear.  We are living in the midst of an empire of white supremacy and privilege built on the backs of Black people, people of color, poor people and those on the margins over a period of three hundred years in a state of gradual decay.  I believe that some of the symptoms of this gradual decay are increasing poverty, increasing class inequality, the emergence of a police state, and a school to prison pipeline, governmental surveillance, homophobia, transphobia, rampant racism and patriarchy.  While these concerns have shaped life in the U.S. since its founding a shifting demographics, globalization, an economic system which works for fewer and fewer people, voter suppression and a President who is Black has shaken an empire meant for white privilege to its core causing it to double and even triple down on its strategies of oppression.

In the midst of these perilous times I believe that the activist has a great opportunity to do the needed work to liberate real bodies from oppressive visions.  Activism in a real sense becomes a means to a love supreme and as such reflects a great love for all.   Reflecting on the life of Ella Baker, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), I am reminded that love is the imperative and life its witness.  Life continues because love is the imperative must be the ground of a revolutionary movement.    

My goal with this work is to contribute to the imperative to love, to humbly add my voice to the conversation, to assist in the manifestation of a different vision for humanity.  Mindful of the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and the coalitions which represented the dreams of Black people I seek a way forward from this present situation, within A Thoughtful Solidarity framework with Latino people, people of color, those in poverty and people on the margins, and, if the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice then I am compelled to experience myself and those similar as that critical presence within that arc.  My thoughts on A Thoughtful Solidarity emerge out a meeting with other Black Activist Scholars who live Black Life in America.

My objective with this work is to develop a space of activist scholarship regarding the present situation of Black life in America and its implications to a larger conversation on injustice.  Through analysis of personal, i.e. Prayers in the midst of Helicopters, and societal narratives, i.e. the Eric Garner case, I will lift up some, not all of the underlying issues which signify an empire in gradual decay and those opportunities to build movements of A Thoughtful Solidarity for the freedom and liberation of all people. 

Writing, similar to planting seeds gives great productive outlet to a righteous anger.

Sitting in Church on a Sunday evening in prayer I began to hear helicopters overhead.  Hearing the helicopters, my heart began to race, adrenaline began to flow ever so briskly and memories of my South Central Los Angeles neighborhood began to crowd my mind.   These memories swirling in my mind, I was mindful of the people protesting in Berkeley because of the injustice perpetrated on Black men and boys with implications far beyond Black life in America.   Later after a conversation with a friend and colleague that evening I reflected upon the protests in New York, Ferguson, Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and now Berkeley, historical hotbeds of dissent.  In those centers of protest I saw people holding hands and protesting injustice across color lines. The perpetration of injustice upon Black life has galvanized people across the nation into movements of A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

A Thoughtful Solidarity, as an organizational structure, is framed in an ethics which has as its core value love and respect for all people and their desires as incarnations of the divine.  Within this ethics hope becomes a profound transformative move which allows a divine presence to move in the midst of our greatest concerns.  I believe that A Thoughtful Solidarity can be a provocative means to encounter, in fullness, the injustice which seeks, more and more to shape and contour daily life.   This becomes evident as people of different races, nationalities and ethnicities, who, marching in A Thoughtful Solidarity, encounter police and their helicopters and even drones, paid for with tax dollars, as tools of the establishment for the protection of that establishment.  A Thoughtful Solidarity is a powerful response to unjust laws which disproportionately target Black, Latino people, people of color, and people on the margins.

The death of Eric Garner, a Black man, husband and father of six at the hands of New York City police, after telling the police eleven times, “I can’t breathe”   for selling loose cigarettes, a law put in place by politicians in Albany, New York, from my perspective, reflects the agenda of the establishment grounded in the agenda of white supremacy and privilege becomes a significant means to oppress and sequester voices it deems as dangerous to its agenda.   In an interview with Ron Paul (R-KY), in Newsweek magazine of December 6, 2014 entitled, “Garner Killing:  Cops shouldn’t be policing cigarettes[1], Paul points out
“New York City's total cigarette tax is $5.85 per pack (the $4.35 state excise tax plus the $1.50 local tax). State and local officials enacted the tax to discourage smoking, but the hardest hit by high cigarette taxes are the poor, who are more likely to smoke and, unlike middle- and upper-class tobacco users, can't afford healthier alternatives.”

On the surface we have a Black man breaking the law yet when we look deeper and systemically what we have is law that reflects an agenda which is disproportionate in its enforcement and oppressive as those in poverty, now considered criminal, cannot afford to escape a narrative developed and designed by politicians, i.e., agents of the establishment.  As I look more in-depth I find that the Eric Garner case presents significant implications towards the dismantling of civil rights by a police state deputized by a white supremacy that is increasingly fearful and as such blatant in its abuse of people like Eric Garner and their civil rights. 

Gathering with Black activists, ministers, theologians, professors and scholars in Sacred Black Space to process what it means to be Black in America today, to pray and to vision a way forward, I sat in righteous anger thinking of how to respond to white supremacy and privilege.   I sat in righteous anger because of the pervasive and profound oppression inflicted upon Black people throughout U.S History.   That said I am compelled to consider the concept of idolatry in this matter simply because white supremacy and privilege have been constructed to be that all pervading communal presence of economic necessity.  This idolatry sequesters humanity for the sake of its own consuming evil, seeking to devour blackness, its soul and its spirit again, and again. 

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson for Public Research Associates
I suppose that this is the root which frustrates idolatry, that it cannot consume my blackness, my soul or my spirit.  The longing of idolatry to consume my blackness is a conversation as old as the U.S. itself and to a very large extent, through the tools and strategies of Slavery, Black Codes Willie Lynch, Jim Crow, Lynchings, Segregation and now through the New Jim Crow, Voter Suppression and the Prison Industrial Complex it once again seeks to consume my Blackness.  In the midst of these “tools and strategies of idolatry”  Blackness becomes that critical center of identity which cannot be consumed.  I am mindful though, “That which cannot be consumed strikes great fear in the hearts and minds of the one meant to consume and as such blackness must experience the joy, sadness and the danger of the inconsumable." 

The implications of the inconsumable are a particular fear, loathing and hatred embodied in the idolatry of white supremacy and privilege, witnessed in the death of Black life at the hands of that idolatry, becomes a compelling call for A Thoughtful Solidarity.  Ideas and concepts on A Thoughtful Solidarity emerge out of an engagement of activists and scholars such as bell hooks, Sojourner Truth, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Tim Wise, Audre Lorde, Mayra Rivera, Simone Weil, Michele Foucault and others.  A Thoughtful Solidarity develops as historical-critical cognizance, borne out of honest conversations of the heart take root displacing thoughts emerging from the idolatry of white supremacy and privilege.  From a postcolonial perspective A Thoughtful Solidarity becomes a means towards encountering one’s humanity, an authentic sacred space of being and in this sense it is a calling to a new and different horizon, where authenticity and imagination come face to face with oppression.  In comparison to Solidarity which only engages the external concerns and issues, A Thoughtful Solidarity embodies postcolonial desires, which in the midst of those external concerns, to somehow escape a humanity shaped and contoured by the desires of economic necessity first formed on the plantation of Southern Slaveocracy.  Its intent is transformational.   

A Thoughtful Solidarity is composed of progressive coalitions, alliances, organizations, groups, and voices of the unaffiliated with like minds, on the margins, “its leadership is group-centered rather than leadership-centered”[2] and as such a serious challenge to the narrative idolatry.  This challenge embodied in a thoughtful A Thoughtful Solidarity is magnified as those elements of A Thoughtful Solidarity in concert and collaboration develop strategies which have as their goal a constant, steady strain of transformative intent.  I do believe that long term transformative intent requires significant reflection as the establishment daily bombards those living in A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

A Thoughtful Solidarity rests on a dynamic spiritual foundation.  A strong dynamic spiritual foundation rooted and grounded in prayer maintains the path for a project of A Thoughtful Solidarity as well as for the one who longs for real systemic even revolutionary change.   Prayer must be the starting point of any endeavor which engages empire and those notions of idolatry.  A Thoughtful Solidarity is also bound together by a core spiritual belief in the inherent value of all people as incarnations of the divine with intent, purpose and the gifts to manifest that intent.  That said, life continually seeks liberation and as such the discourse that undergirds A Thoughtful Solidarity is liberative.  Beyond prayer this is the most significant component within A Thoughtful Solidarity framework. 

Most importantly there are times when issues of sectarianism deny the very liberation sought.  As such A Thoughtful Solidarity must transcend Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jewish or Pagan or any other form of religious sectarianism and politics  It must have a holistic spiritual ground which reflects a divine cosmic spirit.  A Thoughtful Solidarity can only contribute to the gradual decay of the empire through love for all people as incarnations of the divine.  As such identity and what it means to be human in the context of A Thoughtful Solidarity framework is a matter of intimate togetherness in the midst of difference as espoused by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount and the thoughts of 13th century mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi.  This runs counter to empirical notions of identity and existence immersed in popular fears.

The great strength and determination of the movement rests in the heart of the person longing for liberation from their oppression and in this sense a love sustainable for all must be the core vision of A Thoughtful Solidarity. 

[1] Newsweek Magazine December 6, 2014 entitled, “Garner Killing:  Cops shouldn’t be policing cigarettes by Jason Pye. accessed December 8, 2014.
[2] M. Bahati Kuumba.  Background and History:  The Case Studies in Comparative Gender Perspective in Gender and Social Movements (Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001) 35.

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