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Mary Mariah

Understanding Empowerment from a Lived Experience

“Black on Black Crime?”

Black on Black Crime
Photo Credit: Pascal Marchand (Flckr)

In my hometown, there was another fatal shooting by a police officer.  Of course, it has influenced many people to start talking.  And naturally, as is typical when African Americans get upset upset over the loss of black life at the hands of a cop, someone usually has to recycle the lame ass “but what about black on black crime” response.

On Facebook, one of my high school classmates published the “what about black on black crime” argument and it really ticked me off.  Please know that I come from a family of cops and as a former public school teacher (i.e. a state paid worker), I am sensitive to the burdens of public service.  But, I don’t like people talking about apples as though they are oranges… so I feel compelled to offer my two cents.

Here goes.  Below are the comments that I offered on Facebook…

1) The problem is best understood as social vs institutional. When it is black on black, it is social and can be addressed socially by educators, parents, pastors. There is no need to march because we have within our toolbox social strategies to take action. When it is cop on black, it is institutional and can only be handled by the institution. As a community, marching is the only action we can take because we do not have institutional power to implement institutional strategies. I hope I am being clear because this constant comparison of black on black vs cop on black is nonsensensical.

2) The reason black on black crime prevails is not that people are apathetic to it (as though they don’t care) and it is not that they are succumbing to it (as though they are not taking action). “Black on black” crime truly is a fallacy. Most crime is geographical meaning that a criminal is not going to leave his/her neighborhood to drive to different region in order to be politically and morally upstanding.  That doesn’t even make sense!  A crime is committed out of need… not out of morality.  So, black on black crime will always exist just as white on white crime will always exist as long as there is CRIME!

3) The last thing I want to say (and trust me, I want to say MORE!!) is that people who use the black on black retort (when blacks are angry at the loss of life at the hands of the state) are attempting to silence/oppress the black voice.  It is a psychology that suggests that blacks are subhuman and don’t have the basic right to feel, to name their world, and to protest.  I am sorry if I went too far  into academic jargon but sometimes, education is power.  Pick up a book or read some statistics the next time you want to start shaming people from their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to protest!!!

***
Please feel free to paraphrase my words and share if you understand my position. Every time someone tries to shackle our right to protest, we should take them to school!!  We should shut them down all while telling them to shut-it-up!!!

Being Politically Insulated

 

Insulation
Photo Credit  Dana Enzor (Flickr)

Seasonally, I engage in counseling for reasons that mostly deal with surviving in and escaping from the margins.  I wish more of us would take the time to attend to emotional health especially as relating to choices around life, love, career, money, family and friends. Whether one accesses a life coach, a mentor, or a therapist, having an objective lens to help tend to matters of the heart can have a significant impact on attaining one’s goals.

Earlier this year, we were talking about my genuine love for people and my genuine need to have space.  As a guide, my counselor suggested that I consider my karaoke community as a model (for simultaneous connectedness and distance).

Let me explain…

While I have been asked to formally sing at a few public events, most of my singing career (#sarcasm) is located inside karaoke, country dive bars.  As an attempt to apolitically attend to my love for country music, I slip into one of my favorite spots once or twice a week, belt out a few songs, and listen to a range of other talent while sipping on wine, beer, or a diet soda.

I don’t take my karaoke community for granted.  But, I am not delusional about my attempt to be apolitical.  Most (but not all) of the spots where I have achieved local (I mean very local) recognition is in politically conservative spaces.  I am pretty aware of their views on abortion, guns, taxes, police, justice, and God.  And because they are not hyper-concerned (honestly, they are not concerned at all) about being politically correct, there is a sense of safety that surfaces because there is no dissonance between what they feel and what they say.  In short, they say what they feel and knowing where I am, I feel no qualms about the discourse.  I don’t need them to be wrong in order to make myself feel right and I don’t feel politically and morally invalidated because I am so grounded in my beliefs that I do not need their validation.

The lesson is that I enter my karaoke, politically conservative, white dive-bar space heavily insulated, closed, and disconnected.  I know why I am there– for the music, to people watch, and to practice my social science skills of being objective and critical (inwardly speaking)—and I do not have unrealistic expectations.

My counselor and I discussed the distance I practice in my karaoke spaces as a tactic for my other heart spaces.  The conversation was not so much about being closed and disconnected as much as it was about being insulated.

When I go home to spend time with my family of origin, I need to understand that there is an embedded acceptance of patriarchy that at times evokes a culture of misogyny.  When I go into church spaces, I need to understand that there is an embedded acceptance of emotionalism that threatens my preference for intellectualism.   When I enter into sister-girl spaces with my closest friends (usually black and educated with advanced degrees),  I need to understand that there is a collective condition of suffocation that lingers from the outside world… making our inside practice of love confusing because we are all still fighting to breath.

My counselor suggested I become more conscious of these dynamics so as I enter, like I enter into my conservative leaning, country karaoke spaces, I can be insulated and not disarmed when those conditions surface that feel toxic.

Her suggestion made sense.  And even if my heart practice with family, church, and friends cannot be closed-off and disconnected (because in those spaces my heart, mind and spirit are open), it would help to be more mindful of and insulated in the specific difficulties that I have in those spaces.

So, we’ll see. I just wanted to put words to paper so as I experiment and practice the art of being insulated, I can come back and reconsider the impetus to my efforts.

To be politically insulated in heart spaces.

We’ll just see how that goes.

 

 

Mother’s Day

… and the child within.

Mother's Day

You are not pretty.

You are not likeable.

I only love you because you are my daughter.

****

Today on Mother’s Day, I am doing the work of self-care.  I have been working with a heart-coach over the past seven months and she is forever reminding me to mother the child within.  And, after first learning more about what she meant, I have taken this assignment seriously.

When old thoughts surface from my childhood, the adult me full of love and resources, I can counter those thoughts with healthy ones and I can have compassion for the little girl within that did not have access to such words when I was a child.

Most years, I spend Mother’s Day celebrating the amazing mothers that have crossed my path.  My sister for example is an amazing mother.  Having three beautiful daughters and one stepson, I have seen her time and time again embrace the humanity of her children.  Regardless of how other people perceive them or her for that matter, she never requires them to serve as her armor or her badge of honor. I have watched her focus on each as individual beings and do her best to provide for their development.

I did not grow up with this experience.  My own mother was a different kind of amazing.  Having had me at almost 19 years hold, she taught me how to be a political force.  She taught me how to own my own thoughts.  She taught me how to take action against social injustices.  And she taught me that reading and writing were tools of power that can never be taken from me.

But my mother also taught me that deep personal pain could be recycled even when we have no idea we are doing it.

You see, my mother is a survivor of domestic violence.  And before anyone thinks that I tell her story as an echo of what she told me, let me be clear.  My mother was honorable in that way.  She tried really hard to uphold an image of her abuser so as to allow my sister and me to have our very own special relationship with the man we called Daddy (my word) and Dad (my sister’s).

But being her first born, and wanting very much to give me something she did not have in her own childhood, she stayed in that relationship long enough for me to witness the abuse first hand… and with my very own eyes and ears, I witnessed her pain.

At times, the violence was so tough, that I would go get my sister (me 5; she less than 1) and put us in a place where we could be safe.  I felt responsible for her and felt that I was her protector.

It wasn’t until I was seven (my sister was then two years old) that my mother finally divorced my father and in the years that followed, in her own heart break and her struggle to raise us alone, she sometimes used words and took actions that were not too kind for my child’s heart.

So, I have had to do heart work over the years.   Because as a child of a woman that has been abused, there was no place to work through mine.  So I turned to studying psychology and sociology so I could better understand my mother’s broken heart and to learn that deep down the verbal and emotional treatment was simply a byproduct of her injuries.

****

My heart-coach has been trying to teach me to do what my mother could not.  Affirm me with positive words. To validate my emotions as real.  To give myself space to cry when I hurt.   And to know that I really, truly, am someone special.

At age 46, this is a very tough lesson to learn.  And as soon as I think I get close to getting it right, something will come along and trigger me.  Making me revisit the past that I thought I had put away.

The weirdest thing serves as triggers these days.   Because my mother taught me how to be a warrior, I can go into any battle with my heart intact.  But, what throws me for a loop is when I don’t know that I am in a battle and I therefore, don’t know that I should armor up.  With my heart fully exposed, I get thrown when someone that has not made him/herself known to me as a foe and covertly acts aggressive (because I know how to fight overt and passive aggression but covert aggression, like that of my childhood, still confuses me).

I get thrown when a friend tells me I ought to be and act like someone else.

I get thrown when my family has a function, and I am left out and forgotten.

This is when I have to do the work of self-parenting.  Because my adult self knows that these events by themselves are trivial.  And, as a political warrior, I have had bigger battles to fight.  But a part of my self-parenting is validating my emotions where I can finally say, “Hey that hurts” and there will finally be an ear to say, “Yeah, and I get it.”

In oppressive spaces, the oppressed are denied their basic right to feel.  Feelings and emotions are human conditions.  But, culturally we have been so focused on survival that we often deny ourselves of those rights just so we can live.  So we grow up living, reproducing, and parenting with repressed feelings and broken spirits and all the while, we celebrate and take pride that we are still alive… yet promoting death along the way.

On this Mother’s Day, I am embracing my humanity. Yesterday, I found out about an invitation I never received and those feelings of pain from years ago, seemed to be upfront and centered.  Who would have thought a denied invitation would make me feel like a child again.

I am not feeling vengeful. And, I am not feeling mad.  I’m just not denying those feelings. I am feeling the sadness and giving myself permission to say, “Hey, that hurts.”  Not the denied invitation.  But the trigger.  Of a haunted past.  Of the words that I left back in my childhood. Of memories, I don’t think much about anymore.

Because today, I am mothering myself with words and telling the child within, “Yeah, I get it.” And loving myself with all my passion and might!!

~Happy Mother’s Day

 

 

 

Betsy DeVos? Um, no thank you. 

DeVos.jpg
Photo Credit:  Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

I guess because I am an educator, people think I should weigh in on the new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. But if I am honest, I don’t want to talk about it.

And here is why…

I don’t respect the man who appointed her. To discuss the merits of DeVos is to respect President Trump as a normal president… or as a normally wired human being for that matter.  But, I don’t.  I don’t respect his communication style.  I don’t respect his world view.  And, I especially don’t respect his style of governing (as we have seen so far).  To seriously consider DeVos would be to accept the judgement of the person who put her there.  It would be to validate a process born out of hatred, division, and disruption. Again, I do not. And, as a result, I refuse to delve into her past or the weird hearing where she talked about saving students from grizzly bears. It simply does not seem to be a good use of my brain space.  So typically, when people ask me about my opinion about Betsy DeVos, I simply respond, “Donald Trump appointed her.” And, I pray like hell they get it and leave me alone.

I don’t respect the current division in the public school debate.  Even more, I cannot stomach the same old tired narratives that keep getting recycled.  While I like that people are talking (it’s about time), I am exhausted by the short-sightedness of the conversation.

  • First, people are comparing apples to oranges. Traditional public school (TPS) advocates are focused on the institution of public education as a democratic practice (and the rights of children to be free in that system).  In another universe entirely, Choice public school (CPS) advocates are focused on the rights of children/parents to choose and access quality education (based on a specific standard of “quality”).  These are separate conversations yet people act as though they are the same.  The conversation is about deciding what is good for the public based on two polarized agendas… individual choice or democratic institutions.  Really?  Is this what we should be deciding?
  • Second, as relating to the first point, shouldn’t we be talking about protecting both? Shouldn’t we as a society believe in individual choice and democratic institutions? I absolutely believe public education as a democratic practice is critical for our democracy. And, at the same time, I absolutely believe that low-income students and students of color need more choices (i.e. individual power) inside of this “democratic” system. So when these children and their parents start asking for choice, I understand! And, when TPS teachers fight to make sure that public education remains democratic, I understand that as well!

The “So what do you think about Betsy DeVos and charter schools” question doesn’t honor two equally important agendas.  And, I am unwilling to talk as though apples are oranges (as though we are having the same conversation). Nor, am I willing to accept the choice as either apples or oranges (as though there is only one conversation worth having). Protecting individual choice and protecting democratic institutions are both important and we need to talk about DeVos as relating to both!

I don’t think we are willing or ready to address our current treatment of children and learning.  This is my third and ultimate point about why I am not really interested in joining in the DeVos- charter/public school discussion. Truthfully, I feel as though there are two competing systems that are no different in how they treat children and learning.  In other words, they are trying to be the best at being the worst.

In short, this is what I believe about children and learning…

  • Children should be held to multiple standards of achievement that are relevant for the 21st century. I call it 3P Achievement. They need to know how to produce, to prosper, and to promote growth.
  • Children need (as related to 3P Achievement) to learn different types of literacies. They need critical literacies (those that cannot be standardized nor bubble-sheeted) and, wait for it… they need traditional literacies (those that can be standardized or bubble-sheeted).  In order to achieve in the 21st century and within the context of a social-structure that is racist, sexist, imperialistic, and capitalistic, they do need access to the traditional.  Melissa Harris Perry makes the argument that no one completely resists oppressive structures and no one completely accommodates them either.  Knowing when and how to resist and accommodate is a navigational decision as much as it is a skill.  And, whether we like it or not, students need the competencies to do both…to decide and to do! Somehow the current construct of learning and achieving pits one type of literacy against the other (either we are giving students the literacies to accommodate (the traditional) or we are giving them skills to resist (the critical). But here is a thought.  Recognizing both critical literacies (born out of constructivism, social justice, and radical self-love) as well as traditional literacies (born out of the oppressive world that students will have to navigate) seems to be imperative for 21st century achievement… especially when coming from the margins.
  • Children should not be stripped of their humanity in the learning process meaning they are not objects where learning happens to them. Instead, students should be treated as agents, where they, by way of their subjectivity (voice, choice and dominion) happen to the learning process.  While I find that TPS advocates champion these ideals (of liberation and resistance) more than CPS advocates, I must argue that very few TPS educators truly know how to teach while using students’ humanity in a way that produces meaningful results because of the cultural-political divide that exists between schools and the communities they serve.

This development, truly achieving in the 21st century and its social-structural order, is what matters most.  And, because both systems (TPS and CPS) are treating students as objects (either by political intention or by professional malpractice), the Betsy DeVos debate hardly gets my attention.

***

For those that do not know, I am a former charter school founder/operator.  But unlike many charter founders, I, as a licensed Director of Instruction, actually designed my school model and was the developer of the curriculum used.  My premise for launching the school was about the curriculum… it was not because I believed traditional public schools were failing as a whole. It was because I wanted to make available a type of learning and development that was not offered to low-income, urban learners. And, I wanted to be a part of a tradition of black female educators who have served as pioneers in the work of liberation and empowerment.  And while I understand the socio-political structures that make African Americans (and other disenfranchised communities) dependent on public education, I did not want to rely on the traditional system as the only means for empowerment.

Over the past few years, I have been committing myself to unpacking those socio-political structures that impede and restrict learning and leading.  As a result, the Betsy DeVos conversation, for me, is not just about public schools as relating to democracy and choice.  It is about justice.  And neither side is willing to take an honest look at self and consider how it works to both promote justice and disrupt it.

So until we can talk about the Betsy DeVos and the choice debate in a way that talks honestly about educating low-income, urban students, then no thank you, I really don’t want to talk about it.

 

Am I Black? Or, of Color?

Of ColorWhen I went to Minnesota, I was confronted with being a minority.  It is not that I thought that I, as a black woman, was the majority.  It is just that I had never been personally referred to as a minority.  

I had a similar but different experience when I went to Georgia.  Again I was assigned an identity in which I was not familiar.  The difference this time was the context.  I was engaged in a series of face to face conversations with whites about social justice and being black.  In response, the other person in the conversation bypassed my self-identication as black and referred to me as a person of color.

In the newness of this designation, I silenced myself. I needed to know more about this phrasing and I needed to sit with my reaction.  Inwardly, I did not like it but as is the case with my new self (certainly not my old self), I don’t like having knee-jerk reactions.  As a result, I politely nodded and continued on in the conversation.  And afterwards, after the conversation was over, I processed it.  I processed my feelings and I processed the syntax of the people of color designation.  And finally, after repeated occurrences in which I was confronted with the designation,  I realized why I did not like it.

This post outlines my thinking… my rationale of why color is not black and why we need to rethink the designation.

I processed the syntax of the people of color conversation.  And after repeated occurrences in which I was confronted with that designation, I realized why I did not like it.

Let us start this discussion by dealing with the issue of logic. I saw an excellent conversation online where those who were white argued that they were people of color.  Naturally, other people got really upset because they felt as though this treatment of white erased, or at least minimized, the political treatment of those who are not white.  And while I agree that politically, whites are not of color, I totally understood and respected the argument.  

Think about it. It’s quite reasonable in terms of how we treat white as a color outside of the political landscape.  When children color in their coloring books, there is a white crayon in the box.  When we choose colors for our interior walls, white paint is an available option.  Finally, and maybe only a few will understand, when Labor Day arrives, we suspend wearing white garments and shoes… until Easter grants us permission again to access the color.  So in all of these examples, white is a color.

 Now I know that whites are not typically included in the people of color schema.  And that is because color is really not about color. It is about politics.   But for those that do not want to consider the political dimensions of the designation, I agree. It is illogical because, yes, white is a color.

Color is really not about color. It is about politics.

This point about politics leads me to my second concern with the people of color identity.  But before saying more, let me offer some qualifiers. I do respect the term when trying to distinguish the political experiences between whites and non-whites. And truthfully, while I have never in a face-to-face conversation given any of my students a person-of-color-identity, I have used the phrase in my writings in terms of trying to draw a line of distinction between students who have access to race as a currency and those who do not. 

But even though I have used it, I struggled with it.  While I was trying to find a way to politically distinguish and categorize those who are not white, I knew the designation was not clear. It was not neat. And in many cases, it was not accurate.  

Here is why.   

The person-of-color designation does not take into consideration the political distinction of what it means to be brown, to be yellow, to be red, and to be black.  And, it does not take into consideration of what it means to leverage whiteness– to even have the capacity (or not) to leverage whiteness even while being brown, yellow, red, and black.   And finally, it evades the issue of class as a dimension of race.  

Consider it from this point of view.  While reflecting on my experiences with teaching urban students, I can think of many little white girls and little white boys, by their poverty and geopolitical proximity to blacks, who were left in the margins.  Likewise, the of-color designation obscures race as an access point to resources and does not convey economic means as a mechanism to mitigate the of-color experience.

I have (tried) to draw a line of distinction between students who have access to race as a currency and those who do not. 


And finally, this notion of mitigating the of-color experience through socioeconomic means as an asset or a liability of race leads me to my last issue with the people-of-color designation.  It relates to the specific conditions of being black.  

In short, I am not color. I am black. And while I fully agree and argue that being black is not a monolithic condition, I do contend that it is one that defines a sociopolitical history that warrants recognition in race-based discourses.

The treatment of blacks in the U.S. Constitution, in America’s social institutions (the housing market, employment rates, and the prison industrial complex) and in the day-to-day cultural practice of fear, distrust and even hate toward the black body dictates a black-specific designation.  Black is not brown, it is not yellow, it is not red.  It is black.  And while each of these groups (including whites) could rightfully say the same, in that each can argue that it has its own unique story of pain and suffering  (as suggested in the previous paragraph), it is almost deceitful to not make the distinction …regardless of where you fall in the color spectrum.  

Do not erase, obscure, or minimize the politics of my body when I make a political distinction of identifying as a black woman.  It is insensitive to my right to identify as I want.  It is dismissive of what it is like to walk in my shoes when I leave my house each day. And in some cases, when the conversation is about racial justice, it is insulting that “of color” is used as a replacement when black is stated specifically.

Do not erase, obscure, or minimize the politics of my body when I make a political distinction of identifying as a black woman.

It is interesting, if not contradictory, that I wrote this post.  You see,  lately,  I have been critically examining the way that I self-identify.  At the end of the day, I think saying that I am a black woman is reductive as it reduces me to social constructs that someone else has created. I would love, love, love to engage in a world where I am just human.  

And, just as much as I am concerned about the racial dimensions of this identity, I am also concerned with those relating to gender.  Frankly, what it means to be a woman is loaded, sometimes misleading and often times misappropriated, but, lol, that is another post for another day.  

For now, let me just conclude that one day, I hope that we can drop all labels (in terms of their political limitations) and simply identify as human.  But for now, it is what it is.  I am in this body and like all other bodies, it carries with it degrees of assets and liabilities that must be discussed …even when it is uncomfortable.

The day-to-day cultural practice of fear, distrust and even hate toward the black body dictates a black-specific designation.

So to clarify,  I am of color in terms of being non white. But, politically I am black. 

It is a distinction that speaks volumes. 

So listen. 

That’s right.  I need my non of-color friends to stop telling me what I am and just start listening. 

****. 

This piece was slightly modified from it’s original publication.

Becoming a Memory

I wrote this poem 20 years ago.  It was written and dedicated to the 8th grade, graduating class of St. Rose Catholic Urban Academy (Class of 1998).  As part of my student dedication series for Poetry Month (April), I am sharing it here.

BecomingAMemory
Photo Credit:  Marcus Greco (Flickr)

Continue reading “Becoming a Memory”

The Writerly Me —A New Level of Political Disruption

 

Writerly MeI have been asked to take part in an open mic project where writers from different backgrounds headline their work in two, 20- minute segments.  As an undeclared writer, being invited to share my work as “a writer” is a little weird because writing has never been about writing as the end.  It has been about writing as a means to an end.  It has been about writing as a part of a larger process for healing, self-discovery, strategy, and development.

To get in front of a room full of people (mainly other writers) to share my work seems a little out of character. To stand in front of them as a writer, not as an educator, a social scientist, a social change agent, makes me confront a private-me and make her more visible.

Funny, I have been writing for as long as I can remember.  My first writing experience was a daily journaling practice where, at age four, my mother would ask me about my day and then would write down what I said.  Now, technically, this is not when I started to write.  But, it is when I began to think and to reflect… when I learned the value of putting thought to paper… to return and experience the inside me in an outside kind of way.

So, when the day came and my mother told me she would no longer write my thoughts—that I would have to do it, I became acquainted with writing as a form… not as a reflection.  And I had to start thinking about the rules of writing… the imposition of someone else’s preferences for style on my preference for expression.  And, while at age four I clearly did not have the mind of a critical pedagogue, I fully believe that I had the heart of one.  I was unwilling to chisel away pieces of me in order to accommodate an outside power structure. So, as I learned the rules of writing, I chose to continue my personal style of writing in private. And I learned to publicly submit to the master’s language in my academic/professional life.

I was unwilling to chisel away pieces of me in order to accommodate an outside power structure.

As a clearly established introvert that has discovered that I have a moderate level of extraversion within (where I have started gravitating to people in new ways), I accept that the weirdness  of being asked to share my work as a writer is not about sharing my thoughts in front of people. It is about getting in front of them with an identity in which I am not familiar.  And, when I am in front of people talking (as much as my inner extraversion delights in coming out), the introvert in me needs the comfort of a familiar me… the educator, the social scientist, the advocate for social justice and social change– the social entrepreneur.  The me as a writer is just not part of that familiar terrain.  Publically, the writerly me is a stranger… a foreigner… and I have never had to confront her until now.

As discussed by Juanita Rodgers Comfort, Cornell West describes a condition of Black inferiority that is enacted by cultural authorities governed by a “Eurocentric (masculinist) cultural framework” (2000, p. 4).  He further states that, for the black diaspora, this framework promotes invisibility and namelessness while, at the same time, we struggle “for identity, dignity… and material resources” (p. 4).

It is a struggle that is real… not just at the personal level, but at the structural level as well!

See, I have credentials that give me “credibility” to be an educator, a social scientist, and a social justice advocate.  I don’t have the credentials to be the writerly me– the writerly me that engages, in a unique form, as a radical stance of my own authority.   And, I know how the public looks for those credentials while at the same time looks upon the body as evidence (or not) of credibility.  So, while my body does not shout credible in terms of being a curator of new knowledge (as does a white man), my PhD does.  Yet, my private writing style does not honor my academic training.  And that is by choice.  And trying to get the world to understand my willful disruption of my training and, at the same time, see the physical (black-female) me as credible is one hell of an under-taking.

So while I am out doing the work of #empowermentstartshere (the work of social change, social justice, and social entrepreneurship as both an educator and a social scientist), I have kept the real writerly me in the closet… a practice for radical writing that is for my private world only.

But, recently, I have started experimenting with ways to break free… to come out.

Mary Mariah, my latest blogging platform, allows me to merge my two worlds…  the inner me and the outer me… the public and the private.  Here, I can do whatever I want with my words. I can write in complete sentences. I can write in fragments. I can use academic words and I can use slang. I can use properly formatted sentences.  Or, I can use one big juicy run-on.

Yep. My platform. My prerogative.  The private in a public space.

I have kept the real writerly me in the closet… a practice for radical writing that is for my private world only.

So, as I think about this invitation to share my writings with other writers, I see it as an invitation to formally come out.

You see, under my Mary Mariah, the names of my foremothers, I have not been exactly anonymous.  I have used this pseudonym so as to protect my brand– the public me and the public work that I do.  But, I have not denied me in the process. I just have chosen to not link my professional name to the work.  Knowing that I professionally belong to a world that does try to make black bodies (even more so black-female bodies) invisible and nameless, my professional name must publically stayed married to a Eurocentric (masculine) world—and all of its Eurocentric (masculine) rules – for a little while longer.

But, as I prepare to publically introduce myself in the flesh as the writerly me amongst other writers and their writerly selves, I will dip my toe in sharing and merging the private. To cause a level of disorientation to intermingle the informal with the formal… the illegitimate with legitimate, the black-female inside of the white patriarchy that this audience pretends to not uphold.

Because this introduction, a disruptive orientation, is where the political me resides.

To cause a level of disorientation to intermingle the informal with the formal… the illegitimate with legitimate.

Political disruption. It is what constitutes the educator, the social scientist, the advocate for social justice, and the social entrepreneur, public- me.  And, it also constitutes the private, writerly me. It always has.  Now I am finally bringing it all together and making it public.

Feeling strange but feeling good.

The private writerly me going public—a new level of political disruption.

 

The Sunken Place

SunkenPlace
Photo Credit: Terrorama (Flickr)

 

Two weeks ago, I went to see Jordan Peel’s movie, Get Out.  As a horror story, it was original, creative and most important, it was relevant!

The greatest value of the movie was the depiction of the Sunken Place as a political and psychological condition.  Through the Sunken Place, viewers are able to wrestle with the body as a place of consciousness, identity, and control. And through the Sunken Place, viewers also face the fear of knowing that for many African Americans, as a disenfranchised subculture, it is a place of constant seize, defeat, and submission.

And this is the genius of the movie—fear was creatively used to showcase the psychological horror experienced by many African Americans in (undeclared) political spaces.

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A week before seeing Get Out, I went to see Split and had an opportunity to consider the political nature of fear.  Split was about a villain with multiple personalities (some of good character and some of bad) fighting to gain control of the body (pretty much the same premise as Get Out).  In trying to assess the writer’s nuanced understanding of the disorder and the accuracy of his storytelling, I went on a Google-search. I found that people were against the movie (Split) because of the use of the disorder to generate fear and the psychological damage this exploitation creates among those affected.

Initially, I related to the argument against using personal conditions to generate fear (even when the legitimacy of that fear is based on illegitimate stereotypes).   Specifically, I thought about how African Americans are harmed every time a movie director uses a black body to create tension because of the cinematic power of a commonly accepted stereotype (check out my piece on the stereotypes of the black female body).  But after a while, I questioned, does a horror movie or a thriller have to be politically correct in its attempt to generate fear?  And, after sitting with this question for some time, I concluded, no—it doesn’t.

This is not to say that I support the exploitation of disadvantage communities to create fear.  But, it is to say that the writer himself does not create the fear.  Instead, he uses it.  Fear is based on beliefs we hold as individuals and as collectives.  Horror movies and thrillers draw upon this reality and get viewers to look externally at something that we internally muse.

And this was the beauty of Peel’s literary treatment of the Sunken Place.  He turned our psychological experience of being politically seized and controlled into a place—a thing that puts our fears in front of us to be explored and understood.

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I did not initially want to see Get Out because it’s billed as horror movie.  But, my movie-mate told me that it was based on the violence of white liberalism and THAT got my attention.  I became curious about the political construction of white liberalism, its violence, and the fear that it generates… and I wondered how THAT fear would be exploited to create horror.  So off to the movies we went.

The first half of the movie was brilliant in how it set the stage to understand white liberal violence and the Sunken Place.  In the first half, you see the utopia of white liberalism. Through an interracial courtship, you see ideals like liberty, equality, and fraternity embodied by a white female character while, at the same time, you see these ideals questioned by a black male character.  She wins.  Against his better judgement (along with the cautionary warnings reinforced by his friend), he goes to a secluded place to visit his girlfriend’s liberal parents.

Through this first half, you can see how African Americans are drawn into white liberal spaces because of an outward celebration of these ideals.  White liberals talk about it.  They join clubs and movements to promote it.  And, often times, they wear it… as a badge of honor.  They give these beliefs life.  And, for those of us living in worlds where there is very little liberty, equality, and fraternity… the personification of these ideals is not only attractive… it is enticing.  We are hungry for it.  So we blindly move towards it until we find ourselves trapped in the second half of a movie where the horror begins.

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To understand the Sunken Place as psychological horror, you first have to see the allure of white liberalism.  And to showcase the allure, I have to present it as a dance.  You see, it is in the initial dance that you feel free… you feel that you are in the company of people who get it… who understands and hate (as much as you do) the barriers that puts you in the margins and then vilifies you for being there.  But after you delight in the dance long enough to start feeling a little safe and open, you realize that they only see you in your blackness.  And then you start realizing that when the party is over, you’ll go back to your world where liberty, equality, and fraternity manifests as oppression and they’ll go back to their world where liberty, equality, and fraternity manifests as opportunity.

This is when the dissonance starts to happen—the initial state of crazy-making.   It is here that you begin to tilt your head to the side to get a closer look at your white liberal friends because you start seeing—literally seeing– their words as a performance… not as a conviction.  You start looking for the action, as in personal sacrifice, where solidarity is more than a safety pin, a meme, or a march.   And all kinds of bells and warnings start to ring out like a five-alarm fire.  But before you can adjust yourself to withdraw, you realize that you cannot escape… that your being there is not because you were drawn … it is because you were lured.

You start coming closer and closer to understanding that your presence serves a function– to make your friends feel the words that they champion… as though the dance is the work… the dancefloor is the battlefield… the music is the weapon… as though the collective swaying of hips brings down barriers.

And when you finally see that it doesn’t, you start realizing that you are somewhere you don’t belong.  So you try to leave.  But you can’t.  Because, they need you as an exercise.  Without you, they cannot be liberal.  So you are stuck in a web of their performance where your voice, your agency, your body, and even your consciousness become objects of their manipulation.

And then, with trepidation, you watch as their agenda becomes lodged in your very own psyche …so much that you begin to police yourself (and others) accordingly.

And that sh#t is scary!

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This is what Peele showed through the Sunken Place. He exploited the enticement, the entrapment, and the hijacking that many African Americans experience on the regular as a source of fear.

Was it politically correct?  Hell no.  Because, all white people are not malicious… even if they benefit from a malicious system.  But truthfully, at times, we do as well … as we successfully move upward…  becoming more and more complicit in our ascension… and our entrapment.

Get Out—where the political becomes psychological—no movie has ever so keenly captured this experience for African Americans. Through the Sunken Room, we see the psychological warfare of the political suffocation we endure among friends.

 

Dear Mr. President (A Civics Lesson)

dear-mr-president
Photo Credit: Gossip Magazines (Flickr)
Dear Mr. President:
 

Based on your recent travel ban and your defense of it, you seem to not understand some basic principles  of our Constitution.  So, as a former social studies teacher, I am writing to offer you some help.

Here goes.

The Constitution of the United States is driven by six basic principles.  I offer them in three ways: in name, in scope, and in application. 

Popular Sovereignty
Our Constitution grants sovereignty to the collective; not an individual.  This means that the power to govern is given by the people of the United States. 
 

Your travel ban it is not a ban by the people. First off, you are not the president of the people. Now don’t get me wrong.  You are the president of the United States but you did not win the popular vote.  The Electoral College and gerrymandering (very real things) made you the president. Not the people.  And with this in mind, you must understand that only 45% of the American people support your travel ban and even fewer, 43%, believe it is not a ban on Muslims, and still even fewer, 42%, believe such a ban is American..  Understanding popular sovereignty would present you as more attentive to the voice of the people—not your base, not your family, and not your foreign buddies but the people. And, unfortunately, I have not seen you do this. 

Limited Government

To reinforce this idea of popular sovereignty, the second principle of our Constitution is limited government.  Through limited government, and governing by the rule of law (not the rule of man), it is clear that government as its own entity does not have sovereign power.
 
In language that hopefully is not too disrespectful, you cannot pull an executive order out of your butt just because you feel so inclined.  The rule of law as supported by the principle of limited government mandates that all actions of the government must be constitutionally warranted.  This means that when you are challenged by the people, you must submit to the law of land and provide a rational defense of your decision.  As argued by the 9th Circuit court, you failed to prove that America is in imminent danger of the seven countries that your ban targets.  This failure is deeply troubling.
 
Separation of Powers
Unlike a parliamentary system where executive, legislative, and judicial powers are all located under one rule, our Constitution delegates these three powers to three separate entities.  This delegation is called the separation of powers giving specific authority to congress, to the federal courts, and to the president.
 
So yes, as the head of the Executive Branch, you have the right (established by Article II) to institute an executive order. And while I don’t trust your judgment for the travel ban and simply cannot respect your roll-out of it, I do believe you have a right to defend it. But it is not unreviewable, a legal term I’ll explain in the next section. The courts, an entity of itself established by Article III, have the jurisdiction to make sure your actions are constitutional.  And if they don’t rule in your favor, it does not make them “biased” as you claim. It makes them separate.
 
Checks and Balances
While the Constitution gives specific authority to three separated branches, they actually work together, as a system of checks and balances, to protect the people. 
 
Such was the case with your ban. When your attorney, after being asked by the 9th Circuit Court, declared that your actions were unreviewable, he was saying that your authority to regulate national security and immigration can go unchecked.  And, that simply is wrong!  Our government ensures a balance of power and you somehow seem threatened by it.  Sorry Mr. President. Your power must be balanced out by two other branches!
 
Judicial Review
Our judicial system has the power (by the wording of Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 78 and James Madison in The Federalist  No. 51) and by precedence (in the case of Mary v. Madison in 1803) to monitor the constitutionality of the government. 
 
It is this principle of the judicial review that gave the 9th Circuit Court the legitimacy to maintain the hold on your ban.  Their argument that you 1) failed to be clear about who was affected by the ban, 2) failed to provide evidence of the threat against the American people, and 3) failed to answer the question around the religious nature of the ban wasn’t “political” as you argued. It was constitutional.  This is how the system works.
 
Federalism
Above all, in light of how our country came to be, the idea of federalism is very important.  As a result, we have a national government– where the president holds executive power– and we have regional governments–where states and local municipalities the power to self-govern.
 
At the end of the day, federalism was at play when Washington and Minnesota decided to fight for the right to protect the immigrants in their states.  These states were able to sue you because our framers sought to create a strong central government that would, at the same time, maintain power at the local level.  This is not about the people not liking you Mr. President. It is about their desire to not be eaten alive by an overbearing central government.
 
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The bottom line is that we live in a democracy… a democracy that gives power to the people, limits the government to rule of law (not of man), gives different powers to different branches, allows those branches to hold each other accountable, ensures the legal protection of the constitution and makes sure that local regions are able to govern and protect their constituents.
 
Whether some people like it or not, you are the president of the United States.  But hashtags like #notmypresident are valid when you fail to honor our democracy.  Your entire campaign and the first three weeks of your presidency has been about disrupting our way of governing.  And while you were voted into office, you do not have the support of the majority of the people.  This means, that the majority of people don’t want you to disrupt our way of governing. 
 
We are a government of the people by the people and we would very much like for you to get out from under your ego and recognize that.  Again, it is not the base. It is not your children. It is not your business or your foreign allies.  It is the people of the United States that matter. 
 
To govern for the people by the people, we need you to understand these basic principles of our democracy. Please take some time away from Twitter and T.V. to learn them.
 
Thank You.

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