Race-Nation-Gender-Class-Nation: Forget it. Never Forget it

Pat Parker (1944-1989), poet, teacher and activist, wrote this poem: For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend  and had this wonderful line:

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

For any social difference that exists in any society, we can place it there, in the space of “Black.”   In any case, color-blindness, gender-blindness, mixed-space blindness, sexual orientation blindness, socio-economic class blindness, neighborhood blindness, body-size blindness, nationality blindness etc. etc. —  we have to pay attention to how quickly we may subsume, make invisible, refuse (ignore), make trivial, something that makes a difference.  Sameness is too valorized in the globalizing society.  It’s not about any particular choices we have in holding on and letting go—-because even this is an action and a series of action (holding or letting go, that is), that come from political positionings that rely on privilege, luck, ability, amount of trauma, fear, violence, and a host of other things that come from oppression and social constructions of society.

Let us not forget how completely and utterly different we are from each other.  This way, we truly understand diversity.  If we “understand,” then perhaps we do not understand difference at all.  We just consume, co-opt, and bring into our own history and culture and language and values, that OTHER.  This is a violence to that Other.

But in saying they are different, do we automatically become AFRAID?   Or do we automatically become ANGRY?  Do we automatically IGNORE?  Do we assume we can translate, communicate?   Yes we can communicate, but understanding its partiality is important.

Honor you.  Honor me.

In our difference.  Utterly different.  Utterly ourselves.  Yet somehow, we are related as humans, as that who has experienced pain.

Perhaps other things.  But do not assume equality.

Be human.

There . . . . . .  Can we allow difficulty, struggle, powerful connection and dissonance?


Racism & Comedy #2

In the previous post, the video speaks of racism as something we can destroy.  Yes this is true.  However, the one thing–one MAJOR aspect of racism that cannot be ignored in order to eradicate racism, is the fact of racism within social structures.

As I had mentioned before, and I’m of course not the only one who says this, I’m just writing here…….racism has been internalized from the structures of society as well.  This is our laws and policies as well.  If we look beyond ‘hatred’ as the guiding post of racism, and look at it in many manifestations and forms and strategies, then we can see many things that oppose a whole community or group but a racist ‘word’ or gesture is never presented.  How do we ascertain racism when it’s not personal?

I feel that this is where each person needs to study, reflect, ask questions, think……respond to yourself, advocate for change.  For instance, to give you an example:

Let us say a poor urban black family, has been living as a clan with grandmothers and grandfathers and aunties and uncles and cousins taking care of each other, while perhaps the parents work three minimum wage jobs and can only sleep when they are home because they are exhausted, and the entire family must cope with perhaps the other issues in the neighborhood that make it difficult–perhaps there are drug dealers with large guns that make the youngest child more afraid to go to school, etc.  And perhaps the child is depressed from not sleeping and is punished at school for sleeping during class, etc.

One of the neighbors, during a casual conversation with a white person downtown, mentions that the mother is never home and the father is never seen.  This white person turns out to be a social worker.  He/She then visits the house and in the end, perhaps has the children taken away from that home because the parents are seen as unfit.  This, even after the entire clan is there saying that their children are fine and that the others take care of them.  This is an old and classic example that has been repeated over and over again.  The policy of nuclear family life, for instance, and the care of two parents for children, can be racist.   You might argue that this is not racism, it’s about families.  However, most of the people affected are people-of-color: Latinos, African-Americans, Southeast Asians, for instance.  While this has not happened to most of the low-income white families by-in-large.  What is the law for?   It’s not that the social worker intended it to turn out that way.  The social worker was trying to do the right thing in his/her mind.  They were not ‘evil.’  But certainly that worker is playing out the racism of the policy and the assumptions of family, life, care, and how this may look.  Individualization and nuclear families are industrialized, neo-liberal, capitalist and colonial enterprises, beginning its dominance in history during the rise of these frames of living.  Even white people themselves largely lived in large clans before the domination of our present system began during the colonial period.  Racism comes from without, through us, and we are practitioners of it.

We are all, regardless of what race/ethnicity (which are constructed terms during the same rise of colonialism, etc…as you may know), colonized mentally and emotionally, by racism and the other isms.

Let’s be willing to look at racisms working through me and you and everyone in different ways and degrees.  Just because we ignore it personally, doesn’t mean anything except that this ignoring is a condoning of the continual creative manifestations of oppressing ‘the other.’  In institutions, in our laws, in our long-held assumptions, in our ignoring, in our saying and perceiving, in our everyday, it is moving and morphing.  It has been allowed by us in varying degrees.  Some have been more victimized.  Others are privileged enough to be able to ignore, leaving others to the repetitive knife of oppression.  We have divided ourselves as individuals and as societies and cultures, into the hidden and the shown; the discarded and forgotten. Faking what we need to show, preferring to wish it would just go away. This is what is making pain in the world.  Most wars are based on racism, the preparations for war and the propaganda required, creates a society.  Afterwards, when the victor and the defeated are friends (more like having developed colonizer and colonized relations), the culture has, meanwhile, acted upon and remember the racisms that proliferated, and institutions have not changed from those times.  This makes the structures we are living in as producers of racism.  Personal change is not enough.

In a sense, we may try to reflect on that fact that we are in exile from ourselves.  We must take our power and our senses into our own hands, change its direction.  Start our way home, which is unknown at present, but infinitely more just.

Sam Cooke – “A Change ‘Gonna Come”

The legendary great Sam Cooke.

Everyone has ‘bad’ days, days of sadness.  But for some communities, groups, there has been a social oppression that brings more than most. This song is about history, the ancestors, and how it is still alive today.  It is not just ‘personal.’

Sam Cooke was killed, dead at the age of 33.  The circumstances of his death are, till this day, ‘controversial.’ A woman’s account told of Sam Cooke being the perpetrator.  The evidence suggests otherwise.

Here Sam Cooke brings us this amazing and soulful original song of survival and hope amidst unimaginable loss and grief.  It was re-done wonderfully by many artists.  Recently, I feel Seal did a great re-make.

Bill Miller: Native Americans, Aborigines, Dersim Kurds in song

Bill Miller is of the Mohican peoples, one of many who are the first peoples of the North American continent in the modern lexicon, before the arrival and subsequent destruction of their communities through modernization/colonization. He has composed and sung music, created visual art, and speaks to the history of the Native peoples of North America in the present. His music and words resonate with many peoples around the globe whom have spiritual traditions inclusive of nature and its movements, relations and community, and values which are made increasingly irrelevant to the modern world unless they can be co-opted.

Although, as usual in European and US American mentalities, the Native peoples’ culture can be romanticized and listened to for feeling personally sad or guilty, Bill Miller sings to invite advocacy and memory, in memorium to things and people and ways that are largely disappearing, and asks us not to forget.

As you may or may not know, when Christopher Columbus arrived accidentally onto the North American continent, the Natives were there for centuries in various communities with various different cultures. From this period to WWI, the United States proceeded to think of the continent as belonging to the European settlers and governing forces of France and Britain, Spain and others. As the United States began taking form through their own wars, the extermination of the Native population was a purposeful act. Of course, as is today, propaganda was necessary. Precursor to this is the thinking that ‘might (domination) is right.’ The Europeans thought they they ‘deserved’ the land and others needed to be vanquished. Some Native tribes, surrendered, while others wanted to fight for their own lives. The fighters and the those that surrendered, were all less-than-deserving to the emerging ‘United States’ visionaries. Here is a small portion of Thomas Jefferson‘s letter to Alexander von Humboldt in 1913:

We have cut off all possibility of intercourse and of mutual aid, and may pursue at our leisure whatever plan we find necessary to secure ourselves against the future effects of their savage and ruthless warfare. The confirmed brutalization, if not the extermination of this race in our America, is therefore to form an additional chapter in the English history of the same colored man in Asia, and of the brethren of their own color in Ireland, and wherever else Anglo-mercantile cupidity can find a two-penny interest in deluging the earth with human blood.

(from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition (Lipscomb and Bergh, editors), 20 Vols., Washington, D.C., 1903-04.)

So as Bill Miller sings, the memory of being with Grandfather and of loss and sbjugation, is alive. Of course in assimilation, of every country nearly, it is hoped that this is forgotten and we just ‘blend in’ with the rest of those who have forgotten. In addition, the consciousness and therefore values and views of the dominant, who has forgotten, is viewed as more ‘normal’ and more sensible. Such is the dynamics of the present-day struggle of memory and ancestral heritage. I think that if this forgotten past and the elders were not feared, there could be tremendous healing and incredible amounts of energy–no longer suppressed and ignored, that can help our future.

Those Natives that surrendered–those that were not killed off by new European diseases or direct tactics, were put into small communities on government-built groups of housing, usually in the middle of barren lands. These housing areas–or basically concentration-type camps, became residents to most Native-Americans to this present day. These are called ‘reservations.’ Add to this the introduction of alcohol and other means of destroying the community and we have the picture of the intent. Natives that assisted the US government were paid and were ‘more free’ to move and run the schools, which were controlled by the US government. Thorough assimilation and subjugation. This same system was a model used in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, etc. The Dersim people in eastern Turkey, has also had this system used. In the 1920s, Sıdıka Avar, a woman was sent to Michigan by the Turkish government to study the Native American schools, to learn assimilation and national citizenship education. Upon returning, she was in charge of the girls’ boarding schools in the mountainous Dersim region of Turkey, where there were many orphans from the devastating genocides there, as well as mixing them with Turkish girls from more wealthy areas. For girls, this was their only way into being considered ‘human’ by the modernizing middle-class Turkish society and to be educated. So as with the Native Americans, the Dersim girls, and others such as the aboriginal tribes in Australia and others, were systematically made citizens and also divided amongst themselves as a result. How much of this results in self-hatred? (see Unfolding Republican Patriarchy: The Case of Young Kurdish Women at the Girls’ Vocational Boarding School in Elazig – Master of Science Thesis of Sevim Yesil, Middle East Technical University 2003).

I, having Cherokee ancestors on my father’s branch of my heritage, had clan members on ‘The Trail of Tears,’ one of many ‘events’ in the genocidal necessities in building ‘The New World.’ (http://www.nps.gov/trte/index.htm) I refuse to forget. Not to be sad, although mourning is necessary, but to think of what is going on and how we can create new worlds without killing and prioritizing ethnic cleansing as a way to freedom. Afrter all, that is what the newly arriving Europeans thought. Kill to build freedom.

The first song is “The Promise,” which he sings about the peoples’ relationship with the ecology that is threatened presently.

For the second video, “Reservation Road,” I have included the lyrics. Ancestors are with us. Forgetting must be fought. From remembering, we learn.

If you enjoy and/or want more information, visit the website:

Bill Miller Arts http://www.billmillerarts.com/

Reservation Road

I was holding on to my grandad’s hand
He was pointing to the promised land
That lay beyond the reservation road
He said don’t make promises that you won’t keep
Don’t betray the earth beneath your feet
As we walked on the reservation road

And just for that one moment we were racing with the wind
And sound of horses thundering they echoed once again
Back to a place where our hearts and souls belong
A thousand dreams away from that reservation road
A thousand dreams away from that reservation road

Then his spirit soared into the sky
Beyond the place where eagle fly
And my tears fell on the reservation road

Now a hundred moons have come and gone
And I’m holding on to my newborn son
One day he’ll walk on the reservation road

And just for that one moment we were racing with the wind
And sound of horses thundering they echoed once again
Back to a place where our hearts and souls belong
A thousand dreams away from that reservation road
A thousand dreams away from that reservation road

I was holding on to my grandad’s hand
He was pointing to the promised land
That lay beyond the reservation road
It went way beyond the reservation road

Have you ever walked on the reservation road?
Let me take you down the reservation road
Like to take some Senators down the reservation road
Let me take you down the reservation road
Let me take you down the reservation road