Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Final reflection : Recovery and moving on from 2014--abridged

Note: I did not like the original post written. Mostly I am not sure I believe half of what I wrote. True I am in a continual state of recovery and growth but the original post is not how I would express that if I had thought about the matter more clearly. Below are fragments from that post that I do grapple with as I ponder recovery and growth into a more loving, tough-minded, soft-hearted self for others.

It has been challenging to transcend programming that critiques based off what is ideal, socially acceptable, attractive, normal, and so on. Pain and fear are so rooted into this, it ends up determining so much of how we live (or maybe that' just me). If I am to accept and love myself for who I am, and continue working and refining myself into the person I want to be, how do I turn this stuff off? Especially in light of reminders of the fact that no matter how "good", or "positive" I can be, I am not guaranteed to be subject to good treatment. I am just as subject to disposal simply for being. It hurts to think that no matter how hard I try (and for those who know me well, I have lived most of my life trying to be a model citizen) nothing positive is likely to result.So what is the point of improvement?

I wrote a letter to my son that references current events surrounding the deaths of black people at the hands of police and Earth Wind and Fire's That's the Way of the World . Notably with this song, I referred to children, flowers and pearls, and hearts growing cold. It forced me to think about experiences I've had and how the ways of the world have worn me down time and again. It made me think about how I can keep my heart revived, warm, and loving, so I can be just as good a model for my son as he continues to grow.

Being a good model for him means full engagement in this process of recovery and growth of self. As I continue on, it helps to intentionally understand and love myself more while doing the same for others regardless of who they are. Who I think I am and hope to become is key in this process.

What I think of myself is this: At my best I am happy, goofy, hopeful, intelligent, creative, wise, thoughtful, helpful, generous, loving, caring, and kind. Along the spectrum, I am naively gullible, self-conscious, absent-minded, moderately patient, stubborn, and tolerant of a lot. At my worst I am defensive, hurtful, gloomy, pensive, brooding, distant, and hard-headed. Picking my battles has therefore been a lifelong struggle.

So, what is the point of improvement having wandered this far? Why try?  Maybe it's knowing and having experienced the kind of good worth giving to others. Maybe it's doing what I can to make sure others do not suffer as I have.  Maybe it's as simple as belief in a better tomorrow--something I can help begin to manifest through my work, my acts, and my self. I'm a creature of habit and one my longest lasting ones--besides nail-biting--is being hopeful. Living to love, become, and do better in spite of the ways of the world is a hope I have for my son. I won't live as vibrantly as he does and will, but I want there to be the kinds of loving spaces that allow for others to live justly.

My hope for the New Year? Besides a better world, to continue finding teachers in the people and world around me that help me get closer to realizing my purpose, my hopes and dreams, and myself. I hope to continue being of benefit to others and the world around me (but not of the doormat variety). As I continue to find my voice and my way, I hope to actualize my recovery and manifestation of a strong mind and soft heart so that I can be more than I currently am. Current challenges: compassionate responses to troubling things, trust, and faith in my instincts. The ways of the world consider me disposable, but my stubborn self will continue on in spite of that because I choose to believe in and be something different. This is my act of refusal, and one I hope my son will take on, the will to shine on regardless of a status-quo that wants us to believe we are disposable.

Until next year! Peace!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Social media participation: At least one aspect of the Matrix that's easy to unplug from

Well, after a little over a month I decided to end my journey of participation in one social media outlet. What is interesting is that like education, literacy, and being well versed in other social constructions, participation in social media is being touted as a social good; something one needs to be a part of in order to be considered a valid member of society. I mean, who wants to be left behind right? Like most forms of peer pressure, not being part of what the cool kids were doing, in other words, feeling like I was missing out on something got to me. So I joined.

A lot of my social media participation felt like being in a club--the kind one dances, mingles, and gets drunk in. I never felt at home in the club scene. Much like drinking, going out just wasn't my thing; I felt awkward and like I generally didn't belong. I couldn't come as myself, and I have never felt the desire to own the kind of outfits I would tend to see at a club--it was just not my style. Let alone the feeling that going to a club was a lot like going to a pointless beauty contest that I couldn't begin to compete in.

Don't get me wrong; the only times I enjoyed going out were when I was with friends but usually when djs that played awesome music (usually non top 40s) were in attendance. I have fun dancing and hanging out with friends under that particular condition. But I digress...

My initial reaction was that me being part of social media is great because it can be a resource for news and regular exposure to ideas of all sorts. But it really ended up being a source of procrastination--and I certainly do not need any of that--and a place where I began having the club experience. Being aware of social norms like how being liked and paid attention to are signs of validity as a social media presence, having followers (whatever that really means) and being followed, surveillance, masks, and micro-aggressions galore--needless to say my vision became clouded by what I could consider the rather shallow mindset these norms can embody, that of immaturity.

Not that I'm all grown up (far from it!), but that I need to own up to the fact that as far as social experiences go, there are places I am not meant to be. Like Sly Stone says in Remember Who You Are, "somebody else's medicine may be a poison to you". If I am to recover and become the person I want to be, there are some things that simply must be given up (if only I could have given up high school in the same way). But experiences like this that are of no consequence to my future calling (still not sure what that is but I am doubtful it requires I be present on any given social media medium) or wellbeing,  are easy to walk away from and say no to. I wish I could say the same about social things and mindsets that really have a stronghold and can be quite damaging.

 For now, I've unplugged  from one aspect of the Matrix in favor of being present in the "real world", in peace, with some...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Recovery as the continual state of becoming: What does that mean again?

I find I am in a continual state of recovery. Recovery from enacting the negativity that seems so much a part of my being. Even as I reconnect with the practice of meditation and prayer in addition to reconnecting with the ideas that come from The Four Agreements, All About Love, The Strength to Love and The Gifts of Imperfection with The Road Less Traveled  following close behind, I find myself tripping up and leaving pain, heartache and disappointment in my wake.

As of late, I have become more aware and mindful of when this occurs, which I have been told means I am one step closer to truly disrupting the patterns of the unwelcome yet old friend--which maybe closely associated if not in all actuality pride itself. Still, as aware as I have become about these damaging aspects of myself, I wonder about on the one hand becoming the person I want to be and on the other, accepting who I am and loving myself unconditionally--pride included.

The person I want to be is loving in an unconditional manner, subsequently unfazed by situations that would otherwise call out the unwelcome old friend, a healer in all she does, a positive presence in the lives of others along with herself, happier, of a tough mind yet soft heart (see The Strength to Love for more on that), and generally at peace with herself. The books mentioned earlier do pretty well with helping me contemplate these things. A large gap in my understanding and effective actualization of these things I think has to do with not fully comprehending and being aware of who I truly am.

This begs the question of what it would mean to truly accept myself for who I am. In thinking about stories like The Iron Giant (awesome movie) I would like to think I am who I choose to be, but in accepting who I am, which has a good deal to do with embracing(?) the unwelcome old friend, does this mean I, in treating this "friend" as unwelcome, am really setting myself up for continual misunderstanding because of an actual lack of acceptance? Does that make any sense?

It reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (awesome series) where I might be stumbling on my quest for internalized greatness, which could readily be expressed externally, by way of attempting to purge what is essential to my whole self--old friend/pride(?) included and the quest at large. The unwelcome old friend is part of who I am but I want to be something more. I fear I might be mistaking my growth process as one where I cut this facet off or turn away from it rather than acknowledge and accept it with loving arms as I continue.

I want to believe self-definition and spiritual growth is possible, but I don't want it to be at the cost of denying or simply purging myself of the very thing that our godliness consists of, the less than savory or desirable things. I realize this judgment is less than compassionate, which means my task really lies in figuring out how to treat this self with compassion while working on becoming who I want to be. What I want to be able to do is enact this: I don't have to be negative in my response to triggers which I am troubled by so I won't (see The Iron Giant); I will find another way to respond. Is this the compassionate response; one of self-love, self-acceptance, and the growth which I am seeking?

Side-note: Sis shared with me criticisms of "Western" modes of mental health and healing that are inherently isolationist that come from people from African countries. Their answer, healing in communal loving spaces that celebrate through singing, dancing, and general engagement with one another. I experience the healing power of this approach when I simply get together with familial folks, close friends, and my family. These are people who model the kinds of attributes I desire to adopt, with acceptance of what others would perceive as flaws among themselves and others, being part of the interactions I have with them. It reminds me of how I consider myself a  student for life and why; my teachers are everywhere! Even the ones I hurt with my negativity. I want to grow up to be them. I think there is something to mental health and healing being just as much a matter of being connected and in-tune with people and how they celebrate life and living as being in isolation through counseling and/or meditation. It is the communal loving spaces and interactions where I thrive.

Monday, December 15, 2014

And the journey continues: the oppressed oppressor

Note: So it's been a while. It's been a busy period and i notice i've got a lot pent up that needs to be spoken to. A clearing of the mind is in order so that i can stop hanging out in my head so much and actually move productively!

All too often when i ponder the journey i am on i tend to find media/movie references that fit what it is i am getting at. I say it in so many words but a scene captures things so well! Case in point, my desire to work toward transcending/overcoming/ending oppression in its many faces. What i find myself facing time and again is my potential to become the oppressed oppressor--mistaking elevation for liberation, all the while doing unto others what i have been conditioned to believe is the norm and without thinking.

What comes to mind is the final duel between Luke and Darth Vader and the moment when Vader's artificial hand is cut off  forcing Luke to come to terms with their undeniable connection. When it happens to us, we might not see, or even deny the connection we have to our oppressor, to the system which we abide that is also implicated; a denial that allows for the perpetuation of the very oppression inflicted on us at the hands of our oppressor to be cast upon the oppressed. This is worse when it happens at the behest of those that would claim to be our liberators and even allies.

I came across this epic poem--"fake deep"--that speaks to this reality of the oppressed oppressor. It is a reminder not only that this is happening, and that i am not crazy after all, but that i need to maintain my hypersensitivity on the matter of my potential to become no different than that which i seek to disrupt and upend.

 Working towards the potential to spiritual growth and wellbeing in others, and in spaces of the institutional and social variety is a challenge when it comes to disrupting mindsets that condone perpetuation of the status-quo because it usually gets interpreted more as negativity than an opportunity to consider a less oppressive standpoint. So perhaps the question is how to go about such "consciousness raising" without being silenced the moment one's status-quo comes under scrutiny. How can change be encouraged without the act becoming just another mode of oppression?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Out of the mouths of youth: There is no justice.

I love my GA job. Interacting with youth that are in the process of finding their way through college and life itself is a blessing all its own. Though there are troubling moments when not even I have a viable solution to their challenges, I most enjoy our conversations where I learn about them, which usually leads to philosophical dialogues that get at bigger pictures and ideas. Of course, I am there to listen and question, but sometimes I wish I had said things that really get them to thinking, the way my favorite mentors do from time to time.

Recently, among a group of students, the matter of our justice system came up as it pertains to Michael Brown and especially Eric Garner. Not even I was aware to how much these students rely on social media like Twitter and Tumblr to get an accurate read of these situations and public responses to them. I shared in their dismay and hopelessness about these and the multitude of other related incidences where justice did not play out the way we thought it should, prompting the response that there is no justice.

Relatedly, I had the fortune of working with one of these students on a final paper that looked at not only these cases but media and social media responses that could be used as an explanation for why such acts against black men are allowed to occur. The essence of this student's problem statement was, "this isn't right, so why is it allowed to happen?". Being objective about this is a challenge when it is apparent that in so many ways our lives and the lives of those we love and feel for is at stake. Luckily for me, I have the kind of academic training that allows for a good deal of my bias to be placed on the back burner in favor of finding scholarly articles that pretty much prove my bias to be valid. All of this to say that we were able to examine the problematic history of black men and how they are depicted in American culture via media. We did the same for (white) police officers--not that all of this made it into the student's paper.

 Hopefully this student has a better understanding of how and why it is so easy for black men, and other perpetual victims of the justice system who happen to be majority black but typically of marginalized statuses, to be blamed for their own demise and therefore not readily empathized with nor regarded with compassion by the larger American public. Indeed the "new racism" (also discussed in the student's paper) is alive and well when mainstream responses do everything in their power not to consider race as a factor despite discourse that demonstrates it all too clearly.

 So what do I wish I had said in response to the claim that there is no justice? Suggest that there is justice, but that it's just not for us and perhaps was never meant to be (which reminds me of  MJ's "They Don't Care About Us") . But what good is this response without offering some sense of hope to counter the inevitable fatalism that results? I have enough trouble digging out of the hole of fatalism as it is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do as I say, Not as I do: Social Justice in Academia

Academia is so much like church sometimes it sickens me. The final straw would be a collection plate going around with the professor/preacher justifying why your money should continue to go in. Then again, that comes in the form of tuition and fees, so there's no need. What there continues to be a need for, is the kind of preaching, certain churches are notorious for; where in order to make a point--and usually a weak one--some entity needs to be berated as an example of why the teaching makes sense. Sure we could all be a little kinder to each other, but did you have to bash the shit out of so-and-so's point of view just now? Where is the kindness in that? Oh you mean we should enact a kind of social justice that is connective and compassionate but will judge the crap out of anyone who uses commercial means like the only store in town in order to make such connectiveness a reality? Real classy. And just what are people supposed to do to share resources, make them out of whatever is around the house? Am I going to turn my nose up at somebody's contribution just because I came from a huge corporation? Hell to tha naw! I will instead be grateful as all get out that we were able to pool our resources enough to help each other out at all.  Growing food and sharing it is one thing, but is a potluck really that bad if someone made an apple pie from the apples they can only afford to buy at Wally's World? Has the spirit of community been undermined by such a heinously evil act? Hard not to get that messaging from a person who will turn around and try not to be classist about the fact that sometimes our choices are that limited when it comes to shopping.

Judgement is often cast the harshest within the walls of academia with the don't do this or this, and then turn around and do just that because that's how they keep their jobs. Not cool dude, not cool. How am I supposed to model this ideal behavior when I keep receiving the exact kind of modeling I've been receiving for years, only this time it's packaged as somehow radical or liberatory? Can't help but see right through that one. Not to say that there is no hope. I mean at least the professor/preacher is mindful enough to know what is happening is f--ed up, just not enough to know when they are participating in the perpetuation of it. We are complex creatures, we human beings, but those who find themselves in positions of power and privilege  either flaunt it shamelessly or pretend like they aren't doing it or that they even have such things! And this is not a pipe (that I wish I were using to bash my brains out for having once more subjected myself to such nonsense)! But I digress, just like the other beloved preacher/professors who love to go off on the kind of tangents reminiscent of the kind found in "Don't be a Menace" when that reformed prisoner is preaching away. And is it really the so-called leaders in academia that should really be sought out as potential enactors of social justice? This is not what I intend to be about. I try to live it, but who am I kidding?

Of course I am guilty of judging and would try to justify it with some reasoning like, isn't the point of judgment to know what not to do in the quest to reclaim oneself, to adhere to a higher ideal even? How does one respond compassionately to such happenings? To listen without judgment is perhaps my greatest challenge. To pull from what is heard and unheard gems that help get us or maybe it's just me closer to actualizing the underlying messages of community and education that undermine and perhaps undo the status quo that were intended to be preached about. In the meantime, I need a break and a place to find my own way for a while. Modeling the kinds of behaviors that lend to compassionate and loving community and education are what I thrive off of. I honestly can't expect to do it without perpetuating the very modeling I've come across to date. Where to find that kind of modeling is a mystery. To think I could solve it myself is a rather lofty mistake to make.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Victimization and the “Strong Black Woman’s” response: A dry run at expression

When someone asks “is she really the victim here?” and follows up with “As a black woman she likely has some power in the situation,” it is a challenge on two fronts. On the one hand, the listener is challenged with considering this as a possibility which means further pondering what kind of power a woman could have in this situation and to what extent the power one has is also racialized. On the other hand the listener is challenged with the assumption that once more, she is likely to be blamed as the cause of her own demise. It’s even worse when a black man posits this question and dichotomizes responses among women especially black women i.e. the strong black woman’s response versus the black feminist response; where both groups place their blackness and womanhood on the stereotypical dominantly derived hierarchy and are thus mandated to view them as a negative juxtaposition.

Should I be considered black first and a woman second? This seems to suggest that I put my womanity on the back burner in favor of highlighting my blackness.  Black people have long been subordinated as a group and made to feel as though our lives are hardly meaningful and worth snuffing out on a moment’s notice. So, is this to say that in situations where black men are being called into account for treating black women in this very way that my blackness should be at the forefront of any response made? If so what response should that be? According to the strong black woman mythos, the suggested response is to “stand by your man” because we are both black and our spirits and lives have been similarly disheveled. But look what ends up escaping the attention of both groups; a battered black woman. But hey she’s strong, she’s black and she certainly is not a victim right? Her blackness is what gives her her power, her strength. What ends up happening is a familiar sort of abandonment, especially when it appears the black male counterpart was provoked into doing such dastardly deeds. It’s almost as if to say, she WANTED to be attacked or else she wouldn’t have done what she did. –How this does not seem familiar when it comes to black men  having been attacked and murdered by white men  in positions of power who would claim the victim was being aggressive  and thus illicit such an uneven response on the part of black men is beyond me—The result is abandonment by black men, black women, and anybody else with a similarly dominant mindset that would rather believe they deserve what they got than be considered people worthy of living without fear of being minimized off the face of the earth.  He is upholding a status quo which is amplified by a blackness that demands his dominance over any woman. Questioning this means undermining the black man and by his logic the black community.

Why does there seem to be this insistence of this kind of “strong black woman’s” response? That she massage and soothe the black man’s wounded pride in favor of her own internal and external wounds which he insists she deserves and/ or should considered insignificant to his pain? Who is there to comfort and help her heal? Based on the black man’s response of the sort where he demands the black woman consider her blackness above all else, it appears as if he should not be expected to do such a thing blackness considered. A strong black woman could be a viable option, however if a similar mindset is at play,  then proceed with caution. What s/he can be counted on to do is reiterate how the black woman being treated this way is not the victim and is powerful. A damning eulogy for those who undergo soul and actual murder by the hands of their supposed savior—and this goes for all supposed saviors.

A powerfully painful reminder that no one is coming to our rescue; which is not to suggest a commitment to the kind of strong black woman mythos that has the iron skin and soul that equips us for our continued subordination.  Rather it is a painful reminder that no one is going to neither hold him responsible nor make him change his mind about us as beings who deserve the unconditional care and support as he does. When his love and support is given on the condition of your unyielding subordination it is hard to imagine him as any different from the people he claims to be protecting us from. (near tears when considering this possible truth)

She needs a community that looks out for her unconditionally and without judgment. A community that can model for her what that looks, feels, sounds, and acts like. A space where her blackness and womanity are acknowledged as parts of her whole self not to be minimized or negatively juxtaposed as competing entities.What kinds of space exist like this beyond family and friends (which can also be problematic depending on what dynamics exist within these settings)? How can we get to a place where, when taken as a whole, we are valued and value others--strength, weakness, and power included? I am continually searching for this space, albeit cautiously.   

Note: This response meant to challenge an often dominant response to black female victims of battering and/or murder--especially by those black men who inherently look down on black women who value both their blackness and womanity. By no means should this be considered a general rejection of black men, more-so a response to black men with a dominant masculine ethos. Instead it could be read as challenge to what it means to be a member of the black community in terms of love and support. When blackness has been accounted for, how are women regarded? How is this community different from a status quo that operates similarly on the grounds of gender, let alone sexuality when it comes to expressions of power? What would it mean to truly liberate ourselves from such continued nonsense? Why do we continue to find such responses acceptable?