We Must Embrace Feelings of Agency Within Us

Everyday I come more and more to the conclusion that being black is a state of mind more so than anything related to biology. That everything that ultimately becomes the “black identity” … you know those stereotypes that embody the common notion of “blackness” and that create the black and white binary… those things are all fiction. I’m no more a child of Egypt than I am nigger. My most recent ancestors slaves, my more distant ancestors west Africans. Not in any way inferior to a slave owner or inferior to those glorious Egyptians. Just being dark and nappy headed is in and of itself glorious. Carved by the sun and the earth. We are what the birth place of humanity produces when you never leave it. Or when you left it but a few 400 years ago. Nothing to be ashamed of there. We are different on the surface, but all a part of a connected humanity. We are one. Our difference and variety should be marveled at instead of scorned. Proof of our species’ adaptability to nature. Proof of our resiliency literally visible in our genes.

Being yourself is indeed a revolutionary act, but I want to push that further. If you can create an identity that neither aligns with the dominant culture’s values nor is created in opposition to those values, but instead an identity that transcends those values. If you can understand that you can’t refute fiction with more fiction, and that we must instead grab hold to those concrete and transcendent human values of liberty, justice, equality, and fraternity. If you can do that you are a revolutionary. You must recognize that feeling of agency in you. Don’t smother it with drugs and alcohol. Don’t turn away from the feeling nagging you inside. Stop clinging to blind positive thinking. Stop trying to block those feelings of agency out.

There is a latent criminality to the American psyche. We understand the blood shed to make America what it has become, and we accept it. We understand that all the children of Flint Michigan were poisoned, and we accept it. We know people with vast wealth steal from us, break the laws they haven’t already found a way to rewrite, and lie us into wars, and we accept it. There is a latent criminality in the way we think, and it reveals itself in what we allow to happen.

We will either confront the fictions we’ve allowed to be constructed around us or we will perish under the weight of them. Those are our options.

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Reparations…The key to Revolution?

I have to admit that when Ta-Nehisi Coates came for Bernie Sanders last week over Bernie’s position on reparations I was like, “chill Ta-Nehisi he’s with us,” but the more I think about it the more I understand exactly what Coates was trying to hip us all to. Any candidate who understands the true nature of white supremacy and institutional racism, and wants to fix it, would support reparations. If you do not support reparations you are not even remotely concerned with righting the wrongs that have plagued this country since it’s inception.

Bernie Sanders said he is against reparations for African American’s because,

First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.

Well, as Coates points out, almost everything on Bernie’s agenda, if he wins, will likely be divisive and unpopular in congress, but he’s willing to go for it, because he believes those things are the right things for most Americans. Reparations are the right thing too, and his dismissal of the idea is directly related to how radical he is not and how uncommitted to moral and social justice for African Americans he is.

Coates discussed this further in a piece published two days ago. In it, Coates addresses the idea that just focusing on reform of the current system and policies centered around class are not enough. Coates says,

Here is the great challenge of liberal policy in America: We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel. We know that being middle class does not immunize black families from exploitation in the way that it immunizes white families. We know that black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the same kind of neighborhoods as white families making $30,000 a year. We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood. This is not a class divide, but a racist divide.

Coates does not stop there. He adds,

Across Europe, the kind of robust welfare state Sanders supports—higher minimum wage, single-payer health-care, low-cost higher education—has been embraced. Have these policies vanquished racism? Or has race become another rubric for asserting who should benefit from the state’s largesse and who should not? And if class-based policy alone is insufficient to banish racism in Europe, why would it prove to be sufficient in a country founded on white supremacy? And if it is not sufficient, what does it mean that even on the left wing of the Democratic party, the consideration of radical, directly anti-racist solutions has disappeared? And if radical, directly anti-racist remedies have disappeared from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, by what right does one expect them to appear in the platform of an avowed moderate like Clinton?

The democratic party will not save us. We must save ourselves. We can use reparations to start anew.

A comrade of mine recently posed to me the idea of starting a new nation. He said we must consider a demand for land as part of our reparations and we must use that land to start a new black socialist nation. At first, like I did with Coates, I was resistant. I was stuck focusing on class warfare (which is important), but not really seeing the big picture. I imagined revolution being this populist uprising of poor people of all shades rising up to claim their liberty. That’s unlikely. The number one thing liberals say when you talk about system change is “well what are your alternatives.” Black people… we can be that change. We can take what is owed to us, our forty acres (let’s not forget these ideas are not new) and our money, and build the alternative. It might start out as a black socialist nation, but where socialism goes equality goes, and everyone is invited.

If we as black people can at least unify behind a demand for reparations anything is possible. We would no longer need to look to White America for anything. We cannot reform the current system. It is working as designed. We have to look beyond it, and Ta-Nehisi Coates is spot on. It starts with reparations.

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Black Lives Matter Has To Be About More

To say that I find it inspiring to see so many beautiful Black Lives Matter activists battling on the front lines all across this country would be a huge understatement. They have been like breath in my lungs. They give me life. From Deray to Bree to Aurielle and all the many others I cheer on, follow, and respect – I appreciate their courage and tenacity. They’ve help put the phrase “white supremacy” in everybody’s vocabulary and they’ve ushered in a new era of civil disobedience, resistance, and racial awareness. We’ve got Macklemore and Ryan Lewis preaching to white America this week. We’ve seen some police arrests and the conviction of a rapist cop who terrorized black women. The work they are doing is amazing. I would just pose these questions to them and others? Why don’t black lives matter? Where do racism’s roots lie?

Racism, institutional or otherwise, is a tool of capitalism. How do we know this? There are tons of writers, thinkers, philosophers, economists, and activists who have explained it to us. If you don’t know its because they have been erased by history and/or marginalized. Let’s explore.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander states,

What is completely missed in the rare public debates today about the plight of African Americans is that a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all. It is not just that they lack opportunity, attend poor schools, or are plagued by poverty. They are barred by law from doing so. And the major institutions with which they come into contact are designed to prevent their mobility. To put the matter starkly: The current system of control permanently locks a huge percentage of the African American community out of the mainstream society and economy. The system operates through our criminal justice institutions, but it functions more like a caste system than a system of crime control. Viewed from this perspective, the so-called underclass is better understood as an undercaste—a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society. Although this new system of racialized social control purports to be colorblind, it creates and maintains racial hierarchy much as earlier systems of control did. Like Jim Crow (and slavery), mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs, and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.

In defining the current mass incarceration problem in America as one element of an ongoing racial caste system in America, Alexander is also evidencing the reality that a racial caste system exists. Racism is not just about attitude or beliefs, it is about power. Institutional racism is a system of laws, policies, and customs that serve to solidify the racial caste system. Who benefits from this caste system? Well, obviously those at the top benefit, but we know that there are also poor white citizens, so who really benefits? Alexander discusses the beginning of this caste system,

The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines.4 Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery—as well as the extermination of American Indians—with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

During early slavery revolts led by free whites like Nathaniel Bacon unified free whites, indentured workers, and slaves against the white land owning elite. Alexander discusses the response of the white land owning elite:

In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves. Instead of importing English-speaking slaves from the West Indies, who were more likely to be familiar with European language and culture, many more slaves were shipped directly from Africa. These slaves would be far easier to control and far less likely to form alliances with poor whites. Fearful that such measures might not be sufficient to protect their interests, the planter class took an additional precautionary step, a step that would later come to be known as a “racial bribe.” Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias, and barriers were created so that free labor would not be placed in competition with slave labor. These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position.

In that passage we have the explanation for the beginning of American white supremacy and the solidification of the racial caste system in America. The racial caste system exists for the sole purpose of protecting the wealth and status of the wealthy elite class.  

Let’s let others weigh in. Malcolm X on race and it’s connection to capitalism:

Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America and it’s impossible for a white person today to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism.

Martin Luther King Jr.:

The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism

Angela Davis:

I believe profoundly in the possibilities of democracy, but democracy needs to be emancipated from capitalism. As long as we inhabit a capitalist democracy, a future of racial equality, gender equality, economic equality will elude us.

W.E.B. Du Bois:

The espousal of the doctrine of Negro inferiority by the South was primarily because of economic motives and the inter-connected political urge necessary to support slave industry…. The South could say that the Negro, even when brought into modern civilization, could not be civilized, and that, therefore, he and the other colored peoples of the world were so far inferior to the whites that the white world had a right to rule mankind for their own selfish interests

So now that we’ve answered questions about why racism in America is so pervasive, its origins, and subsequently answered why black lives don’t matter…what can we do about it? Will body cameras fix this? Can electoral politics fix this? If not, what type of reform can fix this? Well, I’m certain that no reform of the current capitalist system will produce a society where black lives matter. We can only create this society by dismantling the white supremacist-patriarchal-capitalist system. This is where the only hope lies for true liberation of all oppressed peoples globally, and with America as the bastion and center of this capitalist system it is up to us Americans to do the heavy lifting. We need Black Lives Matter to be about more than just reform. We need Black Lives Matter to be about spreading the message of how to reclaim our power, how to find liberation, and explaining that these things cannot happen within the current capitalist system.

Once the message changes the reaction from our oppressors will intensify. MLK Jr. survived many years working for integration and civil rights, but as soon as his focus changed to a discussion of socialism and anti-war speeches everything changed and soon he was murdered. This is where power draws the in the sand. Power will protect this system until the bitter end. We the people are stronger. We the people are waking up, and I ask all the activists engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement to focus their message on Power, and to expose it, and the help lead true revolution to dismantle capitalism.

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What It Means To Be Woke

I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “woke” lately. You hear it from the conscious crowd all the time. #Staywoke hashtags are plentiful around the black twitter landscape. In terms resistance what does it truly mean? How can you know if you’re awake?

Being woke is not a destination. It is not something you arrive at and then the work is done. It’s a humble process of continuously challenging yourself to learn more, understand more, and love more.

Love is a big part of the process. I don’t mean a selective kind of love. I don’t mean the kind of love you have for people that come from where you come from, look like you, love the way you love, or reside in the same economic class. I’m talking about a love for humanity that extends beyond all barriers and all class conflicts. I love police officers. I love Republicans. I love racists. I don’t love many of the things they do, say, and believe, but I love them as people. Love is radical. Love is resistance. Love is what our oppressors fear most. What divides us is hate. What destroys global unity is hate. Hate never advances a just cause. Hate can never reside in the same space as progress. You’re not awake if you aren’t ready to love.

We all have had white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalist, and sometimes religious propaganda ingrained in us since birth. The cops that brutalize, the soldiers that kill, the teachers that treat minority children unfairly, the judges who give longer sentences to minority offenders, the governors and mayors that hide crimes against humanity (selling citizens poisoned water is indeed a crime against humanity for example) are victims as well. They’ve been raised by a system that teaches us to hate and teaches us to exploit, but even more it encourages it.  When you are woke your job is to love these people. Sometimes that love means you have to stand up to them, challenge them, force them to see what they have been taught not to see.

You cannot be silent. What is the point of being woke, if you do not bring others along? It goes without saying that you will encounter resistance. Even still you have to stand in your truth and be unrelenting in your fight for justice. Silence is the enemy. We have to find our voices and demand our liberation. Frederick Douglass understood these basic truths. He said,

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Being woke is an action not a state of mind. It’s the choices you make everyday, it’s the struggle both internal and external to be the change you want to see in the world, it’s the action of loving, and it’s reaching out and building unity and community where there used to be division and isolation. Being woke is understanding what the oppressive power structure takes from each of us, and demanding it all back.

So yes, brothers and sisters, stay woke.

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Friends: Televized White Privilege

I’ve never seen a single episode of Friends, well not in its entirety anyways. That’s blasphemy, I know. I hear about that show quite often even now, and never mind it’s popularity in its hey day. That’s all anyone seemed to talk about back then. I’ve heard it all before. Friends is so funny or It’s my favorite show. I know people with the dvd box set or that binge watch it on Netflix. Yet, I’ve never been interested in watching it at all. Why?

Simply put, Friends was white privilege in sitcom form. 

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I was almost ten when Friends debuted in 1994. I didn’t yet possess the language to describe the show in terms of it’s white privilege, but immediately things stuck out to the nine year old and already cranky version of me. Where were all the black people? This was a show about living in NYC, and they barely even run into people of color on the street? They couldn’t even get a light skinned extra to stand in the back of the scene somewhere? Even nine year old me knew something wasn’t right here. Hell, I knew from the first few seconds of the theme song something wasn’t right.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way/ Your job’s a joke you’re broke…

Um, I’m black. That’s exactly what we expect life to be like. Our expectations are often low. Right now there’s been a spike in the mortality rates of middle aged, poorly educated, white folks.  According to some analysis it isn’t a spike so much as other ethnic group’s mortality rates are declining while the mortality rate for middle aged whites is holding firm. The 2008 crash ruined their privileged dreams of upward mobility. Now many middle aged white folks are drinking, drugging, and pitying themselves to death. Other ethnic groups are used to living in tough economic times. This is nothing new to us.

What I have seen of Friends just reenforced my preconceived notions. It’s a show about a group of white people doing white people things.

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You know… Culturally appropriating, hanging out in coffee shops, living in a segregated world oblivious to anything outside of it. Cultural appropriation combined with zero actual minorities on screen = millions of white funny bones tickled. Ratings success for sure.

It has always bugged me to see so many people crazy about a show with so little concern for diversity. I remember being floored when Aisha Taylor got a brief role on the show. The reality is she was one of 23 minorities ever seen on the show in its 10 seasons and 236 episodes.

Prepare yourselves for a truth bomb… I didn’t really watch Seinfeld for the same reasons. In its 180 episode run, Seinfeld only managed to feature 19 black characters. From what I have seen of Seinfeld, which I’ll admit I’ve watched more than Friends, it was pretty funny, but again a show set in NYC with no minorities to be seen or heard from just ruined, for me, whatever laughs it elicited.

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Perhaps the best description of “Seinfeld” that exists.

 

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We know how Kramer feels about the importance of diversity.

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We’ve come a long way. Kind of. One of my favorite shows, Modern Family, had Kevin Hart in like two episodes, but to be fair there are gay and Latino main characters, so it’s more diverse than most of NBC’s hit sitcoms from the 90s combined.

All I hope is that more white people speak up about the lack of diversity on TV. We should all want to see representations of different people and cultures in popular shows. Gene Roddenberry has always been a hero of mine. His insistence that Star Trek have a diverse cast way back in the 60s was a trailblazing move. I don’t see a lot of black folks on TV, but I see even fewer Asians. Star Trek had both represented in the original cast. Roddenberry was a white guy making space for minority representation on his show. That’s how things change. It’s white people taking responsibility for their privilege and insisting on inclusion that has the biggest impact in the advancement of racial equality. The results of diversity are beautiful, and we really need more of it.

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I’m Black and I’m An Atheist. Ask Me How.

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It’s hard out here for black atheists. I’m from the deep South, New Orleans to be specific, and I can’t remember a time where church wasn’t apart of my childhood. My grandfather was a preacher out of Donaldsonville Louisiana, or simply “the country” as we called it, and my mother was on the usher board of our church in the city. I remember her getting dressed up in these ornate matching outfits with the rest of the ushers for their anniversary celebrations every year. I loved church actually. I loved the music. I grew to love sermons. I loved going to breakfast after church. Ha! I loved it all. I even become a junior usher board member at one time. With all of that said, I’m 31 now and can proudly declare I’m an anti-theist.

Let me first clarify that this does NOT mean I hold any contempt for most religious people. My mother and most of family and friends are religious, and I have the deepest respect for them all. I remember around the age of 13 or 14 asking my mother questions about the dinosaurs, evolution, the earth being only 6,000 years old, who were Cain and Able married to etc, and I remember the feeling of unease when she had no answers. She referred me to our pastor at the time, “Ask him” she said. Not even contemplating the seriousness of the questions and her inability to answer them. That she, and so many others, would base their entire lives around writings that are so clearly imperfect, so clearly fantastical, and from an era in our history where science did not yet exist to answer any of our questions about life or the world around us is frankly disturbing to me, but I respect people’s choice to believe whatever they choose.

Black people, my people, have a particular connection to Christianity in America that we have to examine and explore. There’s the common misconception that slavery is the beginning of the African connection to Christianity. This is false. As discussed in an Ebony piece by Nana Ekua-Hammond

Christianity reportedly arrived in North Africa in the latter part of 1st century AD/early part of the 2nd, while “the adoption of Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the fourth-century,” according to findings by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Bible also documents the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch as the early church was forming.  Likewise, Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta mentions Christians in Nubia (an area that covers present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt) in his 14th century travelogue. But when Europeans penetrated Sub-Saharan Africa in the 16th Century, ultimately mining the region for Africans to enslave, the historical narrative shifts which is perhaps why many associate the religion most with Europeans to this day.

Black folks could have ended up Christians no matter where they were located on this globe. Slavery or no slavery. Now I don’t want to falsely paint the picture that Africa was a largely Christian continent before the slave trade and colonization, but the point is that religions spread and they spread through various methods, and while Christianity’s connections to slavery makes for a good place to start when asserting African Americans should question their faith, it’s not the only reason or even the most important.

I don’t reject just Christianity. I reject all religions. The first thing people then often ask me when I say this is, “So what… You don’t believe in God?” They ask it in that do you hear yourself tone. Like if I take a second to think about what I’ve just said I’ll regret it and apologize. Better yet I’ll drop to my knees and confess my sins to god and ask Him back in my life. God is a him, right? You never hear most folks talk about God being female. I’d call that patriarchy, but I don’t want Him to hear me say that. Wait…can’t he hear my thoughts? Doesn’t he know my heart too? I guess there’s no getting anything by God. He’s obviously not a huge fan of privacy . He should probably work for the NSA. 

I want to further discuss that often asked question. Do I believe in god? No, I don’t. Furthermore, I don’t have any clear idea of who this figure even is. I’ve asked theists time and time again, what is God to you? Is it an old, bearded, white guy floating somewhere beyond the universe? Is god some spirit watching over us, but uninvolved in the things that happen? Is god some omnipotent force with a master plan dictating everything from who wins each football game to what diseases we find cures to? The god I like the least is the vengeful god. The version that says listen to all the contradictions of the Bible and follow all my ridiculous suggestions OR ELSE. The mention of hell is purely a new testament thing. It’s Jesus that presents the my way or the hell-way choices, and since we can’t even confirm the existence of Jesus on earth I’m skeptical. As Christopher Hitchens has mused, what would we have now if someone had rushed the Romans and helped Jesus to escape crucifixion? Would our sins then be forever unwashed and unforgiven? Did god have a back up plan in case the death of his son had been somehow avoided? Bigger questions arise. Why present the option of sin? Why the connection of the first sin to knowledge? Why would you create a species, with the capacity for knowledge, give them free will, and then punish them forever after for using that free will to seek more knowledge? Was it just so you could later send your son to die for these sins you created to begin with? Jesus’capital punishment is what earned us this forgiveness? You would think murder would be a worse crime than Eve giving in to temptation and biting into some fruit, but He’s the boss who am I?

There are so many logical reasons one could list as to why theism is ridiculous. Perhaps I’ll do more pieces just on that, but this piece is really about Black atheists. When you’re black to think like this is almost unheard of, or at least rarely talked about. The black atheists I personally know of, outside of social media, could be counted on one hand. I know plenty of black folks who don’t go to church, and who say things like “I don’t believe in organized religion,” or “I believe in spirituality,” but very few who will go so far as to say, “I’m an atheist.”

Black culture, as many wonderful things as it gives us, is resistant to non conformity. With over 80% of African Americans reporting religious affiliations, compared to other ethnic groups, we are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation. Our connection to religion is complex. We are an exploited community, we live and breath white supremacy every day. We’ve been slaves, survived Jim Crow, and now we are struggling through mass incarceration and continued racism. We have a lot to pray about. Or do we? What kind of god would allow you to suffer through all those things when more than 80% of us are praying to him daily? Were the slave masters not praying to the same god that he’d keep us in chains? Do we not drop bombs to protect our Christian nation, and are the people we drop them on not praying for our destruction simultaneously to the same god? What sense does any of this make? Black folks have been too docile for too long. We sit and pray for solutions to our problems when the logical solutions are just waiting for our consideration and our action.

I understand the desire to pray. Everyone needs someone to talk to, to confess our deepest darkest fears to, and to relieve us of our worry. I even understand the desire to believe in a deity. I’ve often pondered how maybe god is just the fabric that holds the universe together. This entity, a metaphorical conductor, leading this vast orchestra and guiding the rhythms and vibrations that create our physical existence. I don’t have any proof of that though. That’s just my human desire for answers talking. My universe exists, I exist, and I want to know why. More truthfully, I want there to be a reason whyThe reality is there isn’t any reason to believe there’s a reason we exist. At least no more reason than the dinosaurs had for their existence or the ants in my yard. We see ourselves as being important. Much more important than we truly are. Perspective is everything. The famous quote from Stardust goes,

Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human? Pointless, really. Do the stars gaze back?

I am a proud black atheist. There are no reasons to be ashamed. Morality is as human as anything. The golden rule exists, because reason tells us we must have rules and we must respect the rights of others, or our own rights mean nothing at all. Good exists outside of religion, and “evil” exists within religion. What rationale dictates is love for each other, and more importantly love without the promise of reward in the afterlife. We are present in the here and now. Without any thing remotely concrete to prove that the afterlife even exists, should we not build the best life possible here on earth? Black people especially, should we not let go of faith and live on fact? Could our experience in this world be any worse if we did?

The Reality of Lower Gas Prices

Everyone is aware of the recent drop in oil prices. Poor and middle class Americans, who have spent the better part of a decade dealing with increasing prices, have breathed a collective sigh of relief as the struggle to afford just normal everyday travel has become less burdensome. Democrats everywhere sarcastically rejoice PhotoGrid_1453156219692-1.jpg, while conservatives secretly rejoice in the lower prices. I think it’s important to ask a few questions though. Why the sharp drop in prices? Are there any negative impacts to the price drop? What does cheaper gas mean for our immediate and far off futures?

So why the sharp drop in prices? Three words: supply and demand. Not too long ago we were dragged through a peak oil hysteria. We thought the demand for oil would continue to rise as growing economy’s demands for oil grew. There was talk of shortages, potential world wide wars over oil, and overall panic set in as forecasts about oil demand got bleak. Then two major things happened. The global economy has been tanking behind the continuing collapse in China and increased supply due to US production. The world’s oil supply is overflowing right now, particularly due to America’s fracking boom. Fracking – a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock deep below the earth’s surface – has pushed US oil production to its highest level in 30 years. With such an abundant supply of oil on the market the price has sunk drastically. According to officials in Venezuela, the world has an oil surplus of 2 million barrels daily. The result is that current projections say the drop in oil prices will continue through at least 2017. It seems OPEC’s strategy is to push US oil fracking companies out of the market. Its cheaper to drill in Kuwait than it is to frack in middle America. Even still American fracking seems committed to continued production. They are aided by the fact that extraction costs have dropped almost 50% over the last year due to new technologies, and extraction costs continue to drop.

One of the immediate impacts of the drop in oil prices is the tumultuous impact the fracking bust is having on the American mid west. As recently as September 2014, we were still hearing about how fracking was revitalizing the rust belt, but by March of 2015 the bottom was already clearly falling outUS-rig-count_1988_2015-03-13oil This boom began right as the crash of 2008 was hitting us the hardest. Now regions that were managing to do ok since the 08 collapse, buoyed by the oil industry, are now joining the rest of America in our “recovery” we keep hearing about.

Beyond the economic impacts on oil industry dependent regions there are the obvious negative impacts of low oil prices on the environment. We’ve already seen proof of people’s short memories. Nicole Friedman commenting for Barrons.com writes

Bullish investors point to robust demand as a key reason that they expect oil prices to start recovering in the second half of 2016. It’s not just that drivers are hitting the road more, they say. They’re also buying less fuel-efficient vehicles, such as big SUVs, which suggests that demand could stay high for years. In addition, U.S. drivers traveled 2.6 billion miles in the first 10 months of 2015, the highest number for that period on record. And U.S. car sales also hit a record high in 2015, with many consumers opting to buy larger vehicles.

Those of us on left understood that gas prices were too low even before the drop in prices, and have an even harder road ahead if gas prices remain low. I know what those who support lower gas prices say, “Isn’t this good for struggling Americans?” As a working class person I understand the strain higher gas prices place on the budgets of working class people, but I also understand that our continued oil dependency is bad for our foreign policy and bad for our environmental policy too. Automakers want to continue to sell gas guzzling vehicles. The auto industry does not want Americans (or the rest of the world for that matter) to transition to different eco-friendly technologies, and they do not want Americans to consider the benefits of mass transit on road congestion, pollution, and auto accident related deaths. Only gun related deaths are trending to surpass auto related deaths as the number one cause of death in the US. Cheaper gas prices can only hurt the efforts to move past the multiple issues we face with continued reliance on personal vehicles, and gas, for our everyday travel. With climate change already impacting our lives in real ways will we sit and wait to act until it is too late to reverse the effects of our negligence?

We don’t quite know what this drop in oil prices really says about our global economy. Some economists present a mixed picture. They are unsure how strong the global economy will be with so many world conflicts ongoing, the slow down in the Chinese economy, and with comparatively high and rising debt burdens across a number of advanced and growing market economies matched with incomes constrained by sluggish growth… Let’s just say it may be a bumpy ride for the global economy in coming years. We know that gas prices are expected to rebound some with increased demand over the next year or two. We know that fracking is not likely to go anywhere, and it’s impact on earthquakes and local water supplies will still be a huge concern.

With all these things I’ve just discussed the reality of low gas prices is clearly a complex one. What’s good for our pockets may not always translate to what is good for us overall.

MLK The Leftist Hero

MLK Day is a day full of varying emotions for a leftist. I find myself infuriated at the way he is often remembered. Tavis Smiley, who has written a must read book on the life and politics of Martin Luther King Jr’s last year of life, has commented that people often think King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, the mountain top speech, and then he was assassinated. Folks often don’t know about the really radical positions that Martin Luther King Jr. adopted in  the years after the “I have a Dream” speech became his iconic oratory moment. This happens a lot with radical figures in history. The public is often sold a sanitized and convenient image of radical figures. King’s message would grow and his outlook would change. American foreign policy, specifically the Vietnam War, would help to shape his growing radical conscious. MLK’s message of unity and color blindness delivered in the IHAD speech is often studied and included in textbooks, but speeches that include quotes like,

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world : My own Government, I can not be Silent.”

are often pushed to margins of history. The radical message he had is often abandoned from the public consciousness until writers like Smiley and others focus us back in on the truth of his status as Leftist Hero.

Outside of the fury his whitewashed image can create, I also find myself feeling hopeful on this MLK Day. You have to feel a real pride in the fact that such a remarkable example of the human spirit, human intellect, and human compassion could be made in America and that it was exemplified in a young, southern, black preacher. I don’t spend too much time examining MLK the man, although I think it is important to understand that he was just a man. He was flawed, he was human, and that does not take away from his accomplishments. Its makes them all the more impressive in my estimation. When thinking of MLK’s legacy I spend most of my time trying to understand his lack of fear. How did he stand up there on the mountain top and never flinch at the impending doom? I like to think I’m ready to die in the pursuit of righteousness and the advancement of the human condition, but the truth is everyday I accept the horrible things done in the advancement of the American capitalist agenda, and I do not do nearly enough about it. Many of us don’t. It’s why I can look to MLK’s example and I’m filled with hope. I know that kind of courage is possible. King exemplified it. We just have to commit ourselves to living without fear.

Why I think it’s important to understand MLK in the context of “Leftist Hero” is that its exactly in opposition to his image as just a leader in the fight for the advancement of black civil rights. He stood for the advancement of human rights. He understood racism as a tool of capitalist oppression. He knew that poor white folks should not be the enemies of poor black folks.  He knew that we all are being abused by a system that creates extreme economic inequality.  King made it very clear his understanding that “injustice anywhere is a threat the justice everywhere.” He expressed that not only should we not be divided by race as Americans, but that we should not be divided by nationality and against other poor people in the world. His speech on why he opposed the Vietnam War is an important moment for the American left.

This speech is where we get that damning quote from above declaring that America is in fact the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, but this speech gives us so much more. It gives us a critique of class warfare. In this speech he says

I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor

and he goes on to say

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home: it was sending their sons and their brothers and their husband to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and east Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony: watching negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation which that has been unable to seat them together in the same schoolroom, though we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta.

These are the words of a Leftist American Hero. Not only is he attacking how race divides us at home, he is also discussing the hypocrisy of supposedly exporting ideals we haven’t even achieved here in the US. He masterfully explores the sick irony of the poor and oppressed youths of America being sent off to kill and be killed by the poor and oppressed people of Vietnam. This message still ever important as the years creep on of our continued presence in the middle east. We have young and mostly poor and middle class Americans again waging war against their global counterparts, american neighborhoods still as segregated as ever, neoliberal economic warfare on the poor only intensifying and the gap between the wealthy and the poor only increasing over these last several decades since his murder. King came to understand that the color blind dream for America he had before was an incomplete vision.  Harry Belafonte has quoted MLK as saying

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”

Here is MLK accepting that assimilation into the capitalist and white supremacist paradigm is not the solution at all. King understood we must reject the crimes against justice being perpetuated by America and stand up in opposition to them. King discussed how we needed to free ourselves from the triple headed albatross of  imperialism, racism, and economic exploitation hanging from the neck of America. He went even further asserting that America might indeed go to Hell if we don’t. We can’t continue to hold on to that too popular image of him that erases the leftist legacy he left for us. It is time to reclaim his image, review these words, and rally around the message he so eloquently spells out for us here.

Reclaiming Mlk” is what the left in this country has to do. He is one of our leaders. He joins a proud Black American tradition of truth tellers, martyrs, visionaries, and thinkers who rose up from the margins to try to lead us on the path to liberation. Let us memorialize him as the Leftist Hero that he was, and may the tradition of the left live on in us all.

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Will black masculinity survive the era of the skinny jeans?

Of course I am half kidding. The era of the skinny jeans is really better aptly titled the “Era of Non Conformity.” That is essentially what we are referring to when we discuss what makes a black male in skinny jeans so abhorrent to “real black men.” Real black men apparently too MASCULINE, too MANLY, too CIS-GENDER to ever consider form fitting clothing.

We’ve all seen the discussions on social media surrounding black males who venture too far away from “acceptable” black male wardrobe. Take Russell Westbrook. Whether you find his often changing and edgy apparel appealing is one thing. Comparing him to a woman is really something else.  Misogyny is what is being employed when Russell is compared to a woman in a disparaging way. Even if that is what Russell is attempting to do with some of his fashion choices, dress I suppose in a way Russell must think is feminine, what’s inherently bad about that? Who decided that manhood and masculinity is related to the fit of your pants or the cut of your shirt? I know, I know… You aren’t homophobic if Russell’s “girly” outfits disturb you. No one is these days. Even if they are espousing homophobic ideas no one is homophobic anymore. Sometimes we just skip the pretense and call non conformity like many truly see it, the promotion of  black male homosexuality. In more cautious circles they call it the “plot to emasculate the black male.” These non-homophobes want it to be clear it’s really a white supremacy plot, and Russell Westbrook is either a pawn or too weak minded to see it. Another successful black brother lost to white supremacy. RIP to Russell’s manhood. Never is non conformity in black male fashion seen for what it is, self expression, and freedom to engage in full self expression is actually an assertion of your humanity. Individuality is a often almost uniquely a white  person’s privilege. Especially if the way that you choose to express your individuality in any way approaches on androgyny.

We’ve seen other examples of this with rap artists like Young Thug youngthuggay and the ever evolving non conformity of hip hop prince, Jaden Smith.FFN_Coachella_PRCPRO_041715_51714224 These examples are met with lots of the above discussed misogynistic critiques, but these non conformists true to the name, continue to push through the criticism to express themselves in new and daring ways.

The original question still looms; will black manhood survive the era of the skinny jeans? Well, we’ve already attacked the notion that black manhood is related to what one wears, so how IS black masculinity defined? I would argue you can’t define it. That any definition falls short, because all definitions of masculinity trace back to hetero white cisgen male standards. This is what the idea of black male masculinity is based on. Black male masculinity shifts back and forth between trying to measure up to the standard and rejecting it. I would argue many want to establish the inherent superiority of black males as a response to their treatment within white supremacy. They want to establish that the black male is actually BETTER than their white counterparts. Some have gone so far as to sometimes blame Greeks and Europeans as the source of homosexuality, and often trying to out patriarchy the white male patriarchy that sets the standard. Perhaps that is unfair. Patriarchy is after all a disease, and the ways it can impact your thinking are often subconscious. Talking about patriarchy as a disease Cornel West writes,

I grew up in traditional black patriarchal culture and there is no doubt that I’m going to take a great many unconscious, but present, patriarchal complications to the grave because it so deeply ensconced in how I look at the world. Therefore, very much like alcoholism, drug addiction, or racism, patriarchy is a disease and we are in perennial recovery and relapse. So you have to get up every morning and struggle against it.

Accepting Dr. West’s assertion that patriarchy is indeed a disease, we have to consider how it shapes even what we think of as rejections of white supremacy. We have to define ourselves not in opposition to the white hetero cisgen standard, but free of it.  We must pave a new path of discovery towards a black masculinity that does not seek to limit self expression, but in fact applauds it. A black male framework that embraces non conformity and seeks to explore the limits of self expression, because again the freedom to express every side of your personality and identity is essential to your right as a human being.

So…no. Black masculinity will not survive the era of the skinny jeans. I posit that it will be transformed in this era. A transformation that hopefully results in freedom of self expression being much more equally accepted among all racial subcultures and less self policing of the non conformists among us.