Saturday, September 5, 2009

Embracing Blackness as an Act of Resistance

(Title inspired by the brilliant Rebel Poet-girl.)

My partner and I were driving to Virginia listening to NPR which inspired us to have a conversation about "race." The news commentators were discussing Obama's health plan, some of the vehement opposition to it, and a question was asked, "Does this have to do with race?"

"Race." Does this have to do with race. After the question was asked, there was a discussion about how it does have something to do about race because many Americans view Obama as an outsider who has hijacked the Presidency with his supposed glib rhetoric and youthful appeal to a new generation of (predominantly white) people who would actually elect him despite him being a Black man.

My partner and I discussed how the generic idea of "race" is worded in the popular media, and perhaps in popular consciousness. Is there anything going on with race? as if "race" is some kind of embodied, conscious entity or being that can get involved with things political. Embedded in the media-generated question are three questions that never get asked openly but which ought to be asked more often: "Are white Americans consciously and unconsciously obsessed with the (false) idea of their own superiority and can't help themselves from projecting an idea of inferiority on anything having to do with Barack Obama as President of the United States?", "Does whiteness and white privilege play a role in white people's suspicion of all things Obama?", and "Are white people racist, stuck in their system of race-making, and scared to death of Obama's beauty and power?" These are the real questions the commentators needed to get under that day on the radio.

White people who have been involved for 500 years in building, participating in, and benefiting from systems of white supremacy have race issues. We Black folks, we have issues of trying to see ourselves as fully human, world citizens, with our own unique knowledge, wisdom, magic, spirituality, insights, strengths, vulnerabilities, and aspirations for peace and connectivity in living. White people are the ones with race issues and try to project the idea that race has somehow something to do with Black people and other people of color.

Since those of us in the Americas have been forever displaced from many of our sensibilities of origins, for 400 years we have been involved in a process of remaking ourselves against some of the most incredible odds. So, while we were once Ibo, Fulani, Yoruba, Wolof, we are now Black and for the most part stuck in the Americas. Black people in the New World, since our moments of capture have been shaping Blackness into a culture, a sensibility, and a way of knowing and being. Claiming and embracing Blackness in the liberatory sense does not have to be about getting caught up into the idea of "race", of white folks' creation of such an arbitrary, insidious, and crazy-making system of divide, conquer, and exploit. We are not a "race", though we have been shaped by white angst and obsession with "race" and have had to struggle against racism in order to lay claim to our full humanity. Black people don't have to take on white psychic angst. We can see ourselves as an interconnected people. We can remake ourselves as a people.

Embracing Blackness is an act of resistance to systems of "race" and white supremacy, it is a mode of survival in the interest of thriving and determining our unique humanity on our own collectively generated terms. In order to not be crazy, Blackness is necessarily an oppositional stance to all that has been imposed by white supremacy. Yet embracing Blackness is not embracing "race." Instead, it is a cultural move, spiritual work, an aesthetic claim, a love-making, the building of a community.

And so, while we are doing this redemptive, creative work as a people -- stay Black!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How Deep It Is

I am thinking today about how deep our colonization is, the internalized messages, images, and desires that thwart us as a people. We have been severed from our source and we're trying to find our way back home. Or, we are staying lost. Or, merely blind to how lost we are. Or, confused about what new learning, what kinds of righteous, healing, redeeming consciousness we need to be tapped in to.

I mean can we really talk about Blackness in the Americas without talking about whiteness? The profound assaults of whiteness. Continuous assaults, unrelenting assaults, subtle assaults, embedded assaults. We have been assaulted with white norms of beauty and desire. We are assaulted with a pervasive, persistent, ingrained message that white is right, that white is nice, that white is redemption. Even when we've done some Black power work these notions still seep in. We bleach our skin with skin cream. We (openly) oppress our hair. We (secretly) hate our color. We shape our own internal norms of beauty and desirability on foreign aesthetics, the sensibilities of invaders and stealers, avoiding Black looks, Black beauty.

Black decolonization is hard work. It is an unlearning, a project of everyday study, observation, and reflection, a learning how to be horrified at what has happened to us, a recognition that our grief, our loss is deep, fundamental. What other people got stolen from their ancestral lands, from millenia of culture, connection, belonging to be brought to a place where we have continually lived among our oppressors? Either we live among them or we live with the specter of their cosmology and ontology impressed upon us. We work with them. We see them. They're everywhere. And we only have mere glimpses of another world, another way.

What is a liberated Black cosmology, ontology? What ways of knowing can we access, create, recreate? What ways of seeing, hearing, being, longing can we claim as ours, here as we are in the United States, in Latin America, in the Caribbean? Where is this path of exile leading us?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Holistic Healing

I am interviewing for a project where the researcher is looking to understand internalized racism for Black folks. Being that I am Black folk and profoundly wanting my people to get free, I have contemplated for many years what the process of liberation would/should entail.

To emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, we need to work on multiple fronts, from the personal to the collective to the political to the level of the body, spirit, and consciousness. Our colonization/internalization of racism and white supremacy has assaulted us on all of those levels afterall.

Today I am thinking about a personal journey towards holistic health, pure living, having faith, spreading love. It is a journey indeed, the road less taken, with all kinds of detours on the path. I've come to understand that Black liberation also includes emotional liberation, spiritual liberation, and body purification. A number of practitioners like Queen Afua, Jewel Sookrum, Dick Gregory and others have confirmed this. As long as we are immersed in bad dietary habits and addictions, we cannot free our minds and spirits enough to get to the work of re-education, unlearning Eurocentrism, teaching our generation of a new, gentle, connected way of being brothers and sisters, of being Africans, of accessing the stolen knowledge and regenerating our being throughout.

Sure, the health food, healthy living movement among us African diasporic folks is accessed mostly by a privilege few. And I'm always wondering how to spread the word, how to get organic tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, sacred prayer and meditation, insightful relationships and peaceful living into our communities. How does this peace of Black decolonization -- the piece/peace of right diet, true spiritual practice, righteous and clean living -- become a part of our movements for liberation? Ital? Im-hotep? Vitality that is our birthright. Cleansing, fasting, purification? Nubian consciousness? Sub-saharan insights?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Philly summer

I am always amazed by the power of present-day consciousness to provide such inspiration for connection and simultaneously for disconnection. Today Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as the first woman of color to be a supreme court justice. On the same day despair and grief engulfed many. I'm reminded of Silvio Rodriguez's words: . . . quiero que me perdonen en este dia los muertos de mi felicidad/ I hope I would be forgiven the deaths that have happened while I am happy today.

I think of the privilege I have living in first world comfort, surrounded by books that speak of liberation and decolonization, the luxury to write, think, and talk for a living, contemplating my own colonization and the suppression of my people with some idea that we would get free someday. How can a middle class girl even think "revolutionary" thoughts amidst such privilege? Oh, the privilege to think. And to dream. To imagine another world is possible with despair all around me. Despair which is not mine today but which is present with somebody in this city today.

Is there a key to liberation for our folks when such inequality exists, such divergent realities co-exist?