Murmurs and Antagonisms

Orthodoxy via Heresy

Category: America

On Not Being Unworthy: Antifascism, Racism, and Trump

Donald Trump is president. And I’ve already yelled at my father, cried alone, watched friends cry, witnessed friends worry, seen friends planning for the worst as best they could, partaken in this planning. I’m still processing. I posted initial thoughts on Facebook but there’s more to work through. Everyone has a hot take. Everyone has a desire to explain how we failed. It’s most certain that someone failed. But shifting blame and responsibility to third party and non-voters (statistically improbable), to Clinton’s pandering to the elite (evidenced and clear but not primary origin of people’s hatred), to the failure of the two parties to reach out to working class white people, all these are shifting blame and all them true to some extent.

Can we straight up give people the barest dignity of agency? White men and women, the majority of whom voted for Trump hold a lot of blame. They voted, they chose. Whoever voted for Trump consciously is to blame. I don’t care why so much as they did this. Do all these persons support Trump fully? Of course not. But they clearly support Trump enough to vote for him. Today at an event to lament and express anger and sadness two white men spoke. One spoke, scared shitless, of how he was a Republican but wanted to try to understand people’s hurt. No one said anything except encouraging him to look at the faces. The second white man spoke and stated how he had voted for Trump because of the same fears as everyone there. He hadn’t listened. And much has been sad about the failure to listen. Also true.

I don’t have clear thoughts. But it’s worth noting a few things, scattered thoughts:

  1. Liberal fantasies are failures. The liberal consciousness cannot account for white rage. Liberalism has become the location for celebrities and easy memes. It’s predicated on a naive cosmopolitanism and humanism that makes Trump being elected unfathomable.
  2. Leftist politics needs to exercise caution. As my friend Sean has stated in various places: suddenly remembering that poor white people are harmed by capitalism and systems must not mean we ignore racial antagonism.
  3. What this moment, the next succession of moments, demands of us is hard. It demands that we somehow find a way to sit with the family we have (though no one is obligated to do so) who voted for a man we find repugnant. It demands radical education. If Jared Sexton is right that ” Blackness is theory itself, anti-blackness the resistance to theory,” then radical education is an encounter with Blackness. It is, as Frank Wilderson states, trying “to develop ways and means for your speech and action to be authorized by a Black/slave grammar of suffering rather than the grammar of suffering of subalterns.” It demands disruption. When the KKK take to the streets in December to celebrate: throw rocks, stop them, disrupt their movement. It demands getting involved with local organizations. It demands staying angry. It demands that if Trump follows through with his threat to create a registry for Muslims you register. It demands that disrupt walls being built. What it demands is everything other than checking out, sitting out. Be creative, disrupt, think more from the grammars of suffering and not those of dominance.
  4. If you’re white: start educating yourself; start listening; don’t question anger; don’t question ideas. If you want to question ideas educate yourself and find friends who will engage with you. Build relationships. The work is on us. The goal is not to get persons of color to be our fans, to ignore their distrust of us, their anger. The goal ought to be to find ways to be comrades together, to keep working to fight in good faith as best you can. The goal is to educate yourself and step back. Anger, distrust, that is all valid and okay. All we can do is to sit with those who hurt and do the work to educate ourselves, to think new ways. That is on us. Never on our friends of color. Ever.
    [Addendum: If you’re white and “woke” get off your ass and do the work to educate other white people. Correct white people. Call them out. Shame them to be better.]
  5. If you’re male identified/straight: listen to your LGBTQ friends. Care for them. Educate yourself. Stand with us. And learn to see how the World favors you.
  6. The World is anti-Black.
  7. Antifascism is always self-defense.

 

I’ll probably have more theoretical and articulate thoughts later. But these are concrete thoughts I can articulate right now.

On (Not) Voting

Let make this clear from the outset: I don’t hate America. And most times when I’ve said that I do it’s been in a fit of frustration about some incident or another. Am I jaded and cynical with regards to America and its dream? Yeah, absolutely. But I think that makes sense to some degree. I care about America, if by America we mean it’s varied people and not just some abstract ideal of America. I care about America because I hate to see it screw up constantly. But none of this is to say I want America to keep doing the whole, “We’re sorry. We’ll try to do better to live up to our liberal, democratic ideals,” shtick. Not interested in that. I want to be a part of change in America, to criticize the system, and to acknowledge the good.

This leads me to voting. I’ve been eligible to vote for almost two years now. And in neither of those two years have I voted. I remember getting my drivers license at 18 and seeing the old gentleman at the desk raise his eyebrows when I said I didn’t want to register to vote. In no way am I opposed to voting. It’s worth partaking in if your conscience so dictates and if you think it meaningfully contributes to social change. I’m skeptical, especially lately given the Citizens United ruling and the money it’s brought to political campaigns.

But the reasons I’m skeptical aren’t just because of big money, the fact that we are in no way democratic, and the neoliberal system has failed us in numerous ways. Nor is my skepticism ignorant of the major movements to secure the ability to vote for women or persons of color. Those were, and are, important movements which we’d do well to heed with the onslaught of (racist) voter ID laws. I acknowledge all of this. But I still remain doubtful about voting.

Part of this ties into thinking the unthought. Why is that we haven’t gotten past the whole, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” deal? Even progressives partake of this weird logic, albeit in a more passive aggressive way. Somehow not voting is apathy, a failure to account for grassroots movements, etc. In contrast I want to start thinking what a democratic republic might look like where voting isn’t some sort of deified, often too easy, means of social change. Why is voting given so much importance?

Now, contrast the American situation with that of Greece. America doesn’t really need our vote, in fact if less people voted the system might actually be bucked a bit and change might occur. Greece needed a turn out, in both its elections and referendum because, in those moments, the vote meant something. But Greece has had a history of numerous left anarchist groups and right wing groups that clash, riot, protest, etc. America has that history too. But somehow it’s become easier for us to go vote  than to go in the streets, go to local town hall meetings, engage with local news, protest, call people out, situations where we’re actually unconvinced.

Maybe Zizek is right, we need less action and more thought. And maybe the most violent way to effect social change in a system predicated on wealth is to do nothing at all, let the system run itself into the ground, keep hoping, keep protesting, but don’t bite the bullet. As a friend recently posted on Twitter, we thought Obama was going to change the American situation but he hasn’t, not meaningfully. We think Bernie will, but Bernie is still part of the system and is less a socialist than he claims.

So, I’ll let people vote.

But I’ll be over here thinking, trying to imagine a world where we don’t need the call to vote, where voting isn’t the end all be all of politics, where politics isn’t just about elections and the current system, thinking a world better than this one, a world where thought is actually respected again. Call me a utopian, call me an idealist, call me an apathetic bastard, whatever, but I want to actually think about why we feel the need to vote, what spurs us to vote, to think like this, and then I’ll go from there.

On Gay Marriage: Pissing People Off

[This is a follow up to my post On Gay Marriage, just a few various thoughts]

1. The question, or point, the previous post was aiming towards was not one of the rightness or wrongness of gay marriage. Rather, I wanted to suggest that in  being in the world feeling multiple things at once is possible, good even. But ignoring that some of the comments made it abundantly clear that we are discussing surface level issues. Marriage is the idol of our allegedly secular (read: Christian) nation. It’s the project towards which big money has been going these past ten some years. None of this is to discount the lives lost to get us where we are today, but it is to say that marriage is just another Christian commodity, gay or not. Everyone has been sharing Justice Kennedy’s statement about marriage. Other than the fact that he sounded like an idiot high school kid he was expressing a distinctly Christian form of marriage.

2. Like it or not, these issues are uninteresting in many ways to me. It was increasingly clear over the past three years or so that gay marriage would be ruled legal in the US. It’s all centered around discourse that still partakes and finds itself embedded in the Christianity so many people seem to want eschew.  I get it. But when you’re talking about love in an American context you’re still talking about a colonizing, often Protestant love, a love that extends the Christendom project of America.

3. And that’s the rub. The liberal, capitalist elite run the social justice issues of the day and in a sense co-opt the labor of the average person. When you can make your Facebook profile picture a pride flag, when WordPress has a pride flag at the top of the dashboard the other day, it’s clear that this isn’t anything resembling a small person issue. And in many ways I can respect the middle America conservative folks who feel threatened by big money shoving an agenda down everyone’s throats. So, I get it. There’s something to be said when one’s values are threatened. Laughing conservatives off the stage is understandable but at the same time it kind of reifies the discourse.

4. If our single concern is marriage equality I think we’re missing the point. I think I’d rather combat my whiteness and subvert it to the best of my ability than worry about equality especially if equality merely means sharing HRC logos and the passionate speeches of celebrities who have nothing to lose.

5. As Yasmin Nair states, “But the sad truth that many of us learn after years in sexual playing fields (literally and figuratively) is that how many people you fuck has nothing to do with the extent to which you fuck up capitalism.”

6. I’m going to eschew sex positivity if it’s still tied to capitalist, Christian, pseudo-secular discourse. I’ll pass on talking about marriage equality while those in power are murdering the least of these.

7. Gay marriage is part of the commodity forming machine of capitalism at this point. We can definitely do better.

On Gay Marriage: There is No Contradiction

Gay marriage is legalized.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone who reads the news, is on social media, or has friends who do the former two. Gay marriage is legalized and I’m celebrating with my friends who are married, who want to marry, and who need to have their marriages recognized by law so that that they and their families can partake in the benefits everyone else can. But I have some other, more curmudgeonly thoughts. Thoughts directed primarily at Christians who hold a traditional ethic. But thoughts also directed at progressives.

A traditional ethic is fine. Hold dearly to what your conscience dictates, what you interpret the bible to be saying. That’s fine. But at some point maybe ask some questions. At what point does traditional marriage become an idol? At one point does fighting for heterosexual unions distract from other, more important issues? Where’s the outrage about Charleston, Ferguson, Beavercreek, McKinney, New York City, and any other place where Black bodies are under attack? Where’s the outrage about settler colonialism? Where’s the outrage and worry about the capitalist system that’s killing our economy and environment? Where’s the concern for nonhuman animals being slaughtered for our mass consumption by factory farms out to seek a profit? Care about any of those? Or just gay dudes making out? And maybe ask if your view actually is hurting queer folks?

Cause frankly you don’t need to like, support, endorse, or even give a single shit about gay marriage. Like stated, I don’t care if you change your views and in some ways I’d rather you not. But marriage seems to be the hard on of choice and it bugs me. I think Jesus cares a bit more about the Palestinian kid being murdered at the hands of Israeli soldiers than gay couples marrying. Could be wrong.

I’d like someone to tell me how gay people are impeding the bringing of the just kingdom to earth in all its fleshly glory?

But it’s okay. Hold to your traditional beliefs. But if you’re not coming out and fighting against the murder of trans persons, against the workplace discrimination of LGBTQ persons, against police brutality, against nationalistic terrorism done in the name of the red, white, and blue, please step off. Otherwise, I’m going to say you’re making marriage an idol, a bigger deal than St. Paul ever made it, than Jesus ever made it. And wondering why you don’t care about the actual least of these in society.

But this isn’t just anti-conservative Christians. I’m kind of pissed at the progressives too. At one point did we decide it was okay to be a part of a screwed up system? Why do we want equal rights to be in the military and government? It confuses me? I feel like honesty demands that any progressive worth her salt admits that the gay marriage movement isn’t a minority movement, not meaningfully. Sure, go off population stats but then you’re playing into the hands of the conservatives. When Apple, White House, Amazon, Starbucks and basically any other large company endorses you you’re not a minority movement anymore. Not really.

And that’s not always bad. Gay couples can marry and receive benefits, as they should. But it distracts from more pressing issues surrounding trans healthcare, murder, and assault. Big money isn’t gonna save you, it just makes gay marriage another privatized commodity in the capitalist machine.

What’s the point of this point? I’m just pissing on peoples joy and sorrow. Yep. That’s right. Mostly I’m registering publicly that the work is not done for progressives at all and that conservatives need to get their priorities in line.

I rejoice with the couple who drive me to church on Sundays in Michigan. They’re two of my heroes and I admire, love, cherish, and appreciate their friendship and for welcoming me into their lives. Appreciate all that more than they can know.

I love my conservative friends who challenge me and push me to do better. More than I have ever made clear or probably ever will.

But I can’t get behind either side full heartedly, not when queer people are being murdered and killing themselves, not when people are being killed by the police, not when sentient beings are being slaughtered for our pleasure and enjoyment.

I rejoice and mourn. Both are possible.

Conservatives: rejoice in your gay friends today and mourn the loss of a traditional ethic. There’s no contradiction.

Progressives: mourn with the conservative Christians and rejoice. There is no contradiction.

I rejoice with my progressive, gay, queer, friends and mourn the continued loss of life.

I mourn with the my conservative friends, because they feel attacked and regardless of whether they are or not they feel something and I mourn and suffer with them.

That’s being human. This isn’t just a piss party. It’s a post to try and get us to focus on bigger issues, on issues that are pressing still, demanding attention, and to move on from our victories and losses and use them as motivation to move forward, to learn to think the unthought and work from within difference.

Thinking the Unthought: To White People

[Very brief, altogether insufficient thoughts…but I needed to put them down somewhere.]

 

Kendrick Lamar raises an important question that we as white folks in America would do well to start asking: “You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture.” It’s a hard question, a question that needs asking, that needs to be dealt with. Thinking the unthought, seeing the unfelt in our hearts, the unacknowledged. Do we hate black people?

Do we?

The heart is deceitful above all things according to Jeremiah. Let’s not abstract that. Let’s face our reality as white Christians: that we say racism is evil all the while reifying white supremacy. It’s easy for us to condemn the terrorist act in Charleston and say we’re not racist but we still support the police officers who murder black people in the streets, we still partake in systems that are unjust. We are complicit. Our hearts deceive us and we deceive ourselves.

White silence is privilege, is complicity. I don’t really have words for how to deal with the continued destruction and disregard for black bodies in America. In the words of Fred Moten, “What I need you to realize, motherfucker, is this shit is killing us both?”

White supremacy that remains unthought by white Christians kills black bodies.

White supremacy that remains unacknowledged in our hearts destroys us and makes it easy to seek pat answers and pray.

Justice is too general. How about, as a dear friend said, “Stop killing black people.”

Affirm black life.

Affirm your complicity.

Acknowledge your guilt in your silence.

And start asking if you actually hate black life?

The Failure of American History

American history is, too often, a failure. This isn’t to say that America is a failure since, by most standards, we’re pretty powerful and successful (though, I’d argue, in the wrong areas). Rather, the way American history is taught is a failure. History is a construction, just like anything else. Events occurred and years down the line we attempt to construct an accurate, or acceptable, image of what occurred. And, so far, American history is taught from the constructed narrative of the dominant group, namely white folks of European descent and with liberal values. Yes, history textbooks will mention the slave system, the forced migration of large swaths of people to not only America but the West in general. Sure, they’ll mention a few stories about the Trail of Tears and the brutality that Andrew Jackson committed against Native Americans. But rarely do they emphasize how intimately tied to the growth of America these policies and actions were, and to some extent, still are.

The slave system is presented, conventionally, as a sad misfortune in this great land of Liberty. The opposite is in fact the case, as Du Bois states, “It was the plain duty of the colonies to crush the trade and the system in its infancy: they preferred to enrich themselves on its profits.” Instead of dealing with this evil the founders blatantly ignored it. The early history of America from, say, 1780-1830 were formative years in which the slave system was advanced in the name of profit. Andrew Jackson forcibly removed Native Americans from their lands to sell land to investors for cotton growth. Millions of acres taken by force and with bloodshed for the benefit of white landowners and that great profit maker: cotton.

Yet, somehow American history has been taught in a way that makes this unfortunate rather than a central focal point of the industrialization of America. Baptist notes in The Half Has Never Been Told that, “the 3.2 million people enslaved in the United States had a market value of $1.3 billion in 1850 – one fifth of the nation’s wealth and almost equal to the entire gross national product” (pg. 352). The slave system was one of the most disturbingly efficient means of production in the modern world. On those 3.2 million people’s a good half of America’s wealth came through primary, secondary, and tertiary effect. This wealth fueled the industrialization of America (Baptist’s book is a powerful resource on this).

But this isn’t taught in American textbooks. We weren’t taught that our first President spent three years attempting to catch an enslaved person who fled for her freedom. We minimize the complicity of our leaders and the men we admire. And American history has failed to deal with this properly. As Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel has noted, “that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Whether we like it or not our history has failed. We’ve failed to teach what founded this nation. And I wonder what it would look like differently. I also wonder what it means that Oklahoma lawmakers want to suppress this “bad” side of American history. For white Americans we are responsible, whether we like it or not. And we need to look at our past and deal with it seriously. We also need to realize the implicit racism we are born into and with. American history has failed to deal meaningfully with its past, a past built on the blood and labor of human beings from it’s inception well into the 20th century. All founded on whiteness as being the dominant group. I wonder what a re-centering would look like. And I don’t have an idea what it might look like but it needs to happen.

God Cried First: Thoughts on SELMA

[Critiques are welcome. Just thoughts I had right after seeing the movie last night.]

I don’t cry during movies. It’s not my type of coping with the feelings and experiences in a film. But I cried twice tonight. And it wasn’t just because the images on screen were moving— though they were. It’s more than that. It’s knowing that we’re not past the past, that my brothers and sisters of color are still fighting. And maybe they’re fighting me. And maybe they’re more broadly fighting the dominance of whiteness that has over run this country. In fact, there’s no maybe’s about it—they are. Tonight I saw the film “Selma” for free (theater chain let students in for free). And tonight I saw art. Art that spoke. Art that silenced.

The entire time in the theater I knew factually what was going to happen, at least to Dr. King. But it was no less pressing and beautiful to watch nonviolent (potentially the most violent) action happening on screen. So many thoughts are flooding my mind right now, too many to track and catch and tie down meaningfully…

I don’t think I should try to tie them down. I should just write. And as I write I think and think and think of what else to say. And there’s nothing. As my friend stated on Twitter: “‘Selma’ is singular,” and I think he’s right. Of the films nominated for Best Picture only two make sense to me : “Selma” and “Boyhood”. “Boyhood” only because it’s so artfully done and is a masterpiece of cinema and what slow film making can do. But “Selma”…”Selma”, I hadn’t even heard of it till about three weeks before it came out, and I normally keep up on films. It came out of nowhere. And of course I read reviews and all were correct on their praise.

But something hit home during the movie. Something beautiful seemed to click for me, or I guess, something’s been clicking for a year or so and sealed itself (more) firmly. For a year I’ve been trying to unlearn my ties to whiteness, I’ve desired to center black persons and bodies. And I know I’ve failed and messed up. But “Selma” made me realize something beautiful (a lot of beautiful things actually). During the final sequence when you have Dr. King and a whole army of beautiful souls singing freedom and smiling and walking proudly, the camera frame centers them, focuses on them, emphasizes them. They are the center. And I think it clicked for me that to take seriously the centering of black bodies I need to take seriously history. I need to take seriously what Laverne Cox so beautifully called, “The practice of freedom.” To do that I, we, need to take very seriously what Du Bois said:

“Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?”

Du Bois is right. And that’s what the movie reminded me of. Not my struggle. Not my song. Not my cheer, and not my blood. Martin Luther King Jr’s., blood, Malcolm X’s blood, and the thousands hung from trees and posts in the South. Their blood, their suffering, their toil, that’s what brought America to where it is. They are the heart of America, literally. I think I truly believe that now. I think I finally in some way see it now. I see more clearly what Du Bois was saying through this movie. As Dr. King (the character) says early on in response to a grandfather mourning the death of his grandson at the hands of police, “I know this…God cried first.” God cried first for Trayvon, for Michael Brown, for John Crawford III, for Tamir Rice, for Eric Garner, for Islan Nettles. God cried first for these bodies. God cried first. And I see humanity more truly, more beautifully than before. I left the movie in awe of the actors, actresses, director and screenwriter(s), everyone involved in the film. But I left humbled. I am part of “Jim Crow under a bald eagle,” whether I like it or not.

“Selma” is vital to the American consciousness I think. It makes black bodies matter to white people who only payed lip service previously. It made them matter more to me and I hope I haven’t just paid lip service. It’s odd and wonderful what a film can do to you. I think it made me more human. And I think it’s a reminder that God cried first. God always cries first when a black body is torn from this world by white supremacy, by the white supremacy I am embedded in.

Remarks on Jesus’ Blood

Blood is weird.

Anidjar thinks blood exists everywhere and he’s not wrong. Blood functions within Christianity rather oddly. This function is summarized nicely by the line, “Oh, how precious is the flow/that makes me white as snow/no other fount I know/nothing but the blood of Jesus.” I’ve been thinking about this line, about the ironic ability of red blood to make white (or is it white blood making white?). Even that phrase, “makes me white as snow,” seems odd. Making white, odd. In American history blood and sin tie together in intimate ways that reflect a strange back and forth between blackness as privation and salvation as life in whiteness.

I think my hesitance with this hymn stems from the fact that it bears a similar line of argument to that of Samuel Cartwright’s abhorrent argument regarding the blood of African Americans. His argument goes as so:

It is the red, vital blood, sent to the brain, that liberates their [African Americans] mind when under the white man’s control; and it is the want of a sufficiency of red, vital blood that chains their mind to ignorance and barbarism, when in freedom.

Earlier Cartwright states that the blood of a person of color is darker than that of a white person. And if Anidjar is correct in states that “Blood must become a category of historical analysis,”(44 of Blood) then the logic of Cartwright and the hymn go hand in hand and a brief look at the function of blood seems apt.

Without the white washing blood of Jesus one is unable to be “saved” which really only means, in American Christianity, being more white. “Christian master, enter the dark cabin of thy servant [read: slave], and with the lamp of truth in thy hand, light up his yet darker soul with the knowledge of him, whom to know is life eternal…” (A.T. Holmes, “The Duties of Christian Masters”). The gospel no longer stands as an end, but a means to extract labor, to civilize. The ultimate goal of the message of Jesus seems to be: blackness is the privation of the saving blood of Jesus that makes white as snow the “still darker soul” through enslavement’s catalyzing effect on blood flow.

My friend Melanie has written much more beautifully, and holistically, along a similar vein of thought here.

AIDS: An Ongoing Epidemic

I’m angry.

Angry at people, society, the past, the Church, and how people are silent today. And I’m angry for my friends, fellow members of humanity. My friends who have suffered, who know people who died and are suffering still and face the unbearable wall of silence from . . . everyone. Since the 1980’s, when, for America, AIDS hit home, it took the normal swell of social controversy. Up went the outrage (rightfully so) and after pills came out to help down the swell went. Privilege called and finally the epidemic seemed to recede. But it hasn’t. America and Canada and the Western world generally may have achieved equality for gays and lesbians but only at a cost, a cost which now rages onward, with little to nothing done on the matter.

I’m linking to a post by a friend who says everything much more aptly than I can. He’s opened my eyes to the singular vision that we have in the US, a vision too narrow to get past our own comfort and see how much there is in the world still needing to be done. Read. Listen.

(Side note: I think I’m gonna do a blog series about AIDS and probably post more about it on Facebook and social media. Something needs to be done even if all I’ve got is emotion, a computer, my privilege and social media and time.) Please read the linked article below after the jump.

If LGBTs are scapegoated abroad as the source of the spread of a pandemic that people in the west, in rich nations are blind and clueless to now.

If I express outrage at the horrors inflicted against my brothers and sisters in the news that I see, but not at its source and cause.

If that points right back to our own silence and inaction. If it points to teachings of lapses of morality that we’ve sown in foreign lands.

Then let me stay single and unmarried.  Silence the voice that only cares about my own narrow scope of rights. Silence the voice that has seen much and should know better.

(If I’ve Survived to Achieve it All by Kenny Pierce)

 

America as Church

America has its creed – the Constitution, specifically the Amendments.

America has it’s own, Credo! – the Pledge.

America has it’s own worship anthems – the National Anthem, America the Beautiful.

The only real, true difference between the Christ’s Church and America is this: one uses weapons of war and violence to maintain its liturgies and habits. The other follows the way of a dead (risen) King who throws away violence and instead offers his Body and Blood as the way in which our habits are maintained and formed.