When one thinks of raw funk and jazz rhythms the vibraphone isn’t the first element that usually comes to mind. Not for me at least. No shade against the instrument. The vibraphone is an important part of jazz and a standard component of any percussion section. It’s just not a central instrument in most funk situations. However, Roy Ayers mixing of jazz styles with funk and r&b created tracks that would put the above statements to shame. He is a legend. Not necessarily a consistent legend. The wealth of his work reflects more quantity than quality at times. But the stuff that is good is real good, and important. His jams spawned other memorable jams, and helped lay the foundation for hip hop. Recently I discovered the unreleased track ‘Liquid love’, while exploring the 2005 released Virgin Ubiquity II: Unreleased Recordings 1976-81. I am always interested in checking out an artists unreleased work, because there are gems to be found in material that fails to meet the low standards of bourgeois popular culture. ‘Liquid love’, featured below, proves to be just that.
The track opens with a rolling bass line that greets the crisp hi-hat and snare beat setting a soulful and funky vibe. Ayers takes his time entering the track, coming in around 30 seconds, adding that signature vibrating wind effect that makes you feel magical and romantic. As the vibraphone’s tempo begins to accelerate the rhythm shifts, and crashes up against joyful vocal harmonies belting ‘liquid love’. I couldn’t help but dance with myself through the spotlights of Oakland sunshine filtering in through my curtains. I felt so damn good; good in the body and in spirit. Perfect track for these days of warmth and sunshine making you want to make love to yourself or your lover or both. Enjoy!
Recently i have been thinking a lot about identity: my own, others, and the ways the system conditions us in certain identity categories that relate to our overall material power within society. Some people have more freedom to be and act the way they want, because their privilege affords such movement. Specifically, I have been reflecting a lot about race and sexuality. What does it mean for a person to be white or primarily of European descent, but to identify as a person of color or a mixed person? What does it mean for a straight person to identify as queer? What I am really trying to understand is what does it mean to me as a queer/lesbian, mixed black womyn. Ultimately people’s business is none of mind, but people can be triggering and that isn’t always bad if you process those feelings in a productive and healthy manner. I try to check the judgement and ask myself what do these feelings say about my own character and life experience? How can I learn more about myself and my own triggers through paying attention to these complex feelings that rise towards others.
Sexuality and ‘race’ have colored my life deeply. Ever since i can remember having consciousness i have been conscious of skin and desire. This is unavoidable under capitalism, where ‘race’ ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ have become social categories regulated through the system. Under no other historical epoch has sexuality and gender been used to limit and enforce relationships and identity so severely. This is due to European colonization and the development of capitalism globally, and its structural and ideological relationship to patriarchal/western puritanical religious practices and beliefs. This has created a hierarchy of what is socially acceptable sex and love and what isn’t. My working-class background has always been expressed through my identity as a queer womyn of color. These are identities that I have been socialized in through the system and bourgeois society. But as long as I have lived in this physical body, I have carried these identities and contradictions, and nourished them with my own thoughts. As I have grown these thoughts have been imbued with revolutionary politics and values. A type of reclamation on this path for liberation. This has been no easy task, and it will be one that I am actively engaged in all my life, because i have no other choice. This is who I am.
I grew up in a diverse home of strong womyn, where gender, race and sexuality were fluid. The womyn were/are economically and spiritually independent of men. The ‘luxury’ of co-dependent heteronormative relationships were not the norm for me, nor are they even a possibility when you are working-class. My mother was always a fierce ally to queer community yet I still waited till I was 23 years old to come out to her despite the fact I knew I was queer from the age of 5. This speaks to the depth of oppression and patriarchy within society. As queers, especially working-class radical queers of color, our existence is too threatening to the workings of capital so we do not exist. And not only are we not represented in mainstream society, but the ruling class uses its material power over popular culture to speak on the ‘evils’ of homosexuality. When queerness is represented it almost always reflects some problematic aspect of bourgeois patriarchal society. For an example, The L Word is a transphobic, bourgeois, femme dominated, racially problematic representation of lesbians. But it is not The L Word that is the problem. It is the power structures of society that produce The L Word. The structures that have created a physically and spiritually violent process of regulation that keeps a lot of us in the closet for longer than we need to.
Capitalism needs to control the populations of people within this world, because it needs people to exploit in order for it to exist. Not just to work, but also to notwork. The bosses use the unemployment rates as a mechanism to hyper exploit employed workers. You don’t like the low pay or conditions? Ok bye then, because there are plenty of other people who need a job. How do they control people? Through patriarchal conditioning and the regulation of people’s social relations and bodies. We learn from a young age that homosexuality is a deviation from what is socially acceptable, and abortion barely exists for the vast majority of womyn around the world. This is why the issue of homosexuality and abortion are still incredibly relevant to the survival of capitalism. Not because these things are seen as morally wrong to the system, although the government uses morality to brainwash people, but because they threaten the social order of the system. When people choose to engage in queer relationships they are deviating from the heteronormative relationship model, which socializes men and womyn into specific roles within the home and within society as workers reproducing the next population of [un]employed workers. When womyn decide to terminate their pregnancies they are also threatening this social order through reclaiming control over their bodies and reproductive functions. It is not about morals; it is about the money and the government, which facilitates the whole process.
Racially, my home was mixed, primarily black and portuguese. I understood the diversity of ‘race’ through the truths from my home in comparison to the contradictions and harm of the racist society we lived in. Being mixed politicized me, because the divisive nature of race placed me outside of racial categories, within the system and within my community, which can’t help but internalize the system. Yet, I was, and am, very much a product of society and colonization, which restructured the world and brought people from all over it closer together. However, I never saw myself as anything other than my people, yet I have been ‘othered’ by my people my entire life. This has been a challenging experience, but as I have become more spiritually and politically awaken, I am able to move through the feelings of alienation with more ease and grounding. Understanding the ways the system has othered me as a mixed womyn and lesbian, has allowed me to humanize myself, and my people. The system is structured in ways that pit us, as working people of all colors and sexualities, against each other in competition over limited resources for survival. The capitalist government does not need all of us to survive for their hustle to continue. With the economic crisis we have a surplus of workers and alarmingly high unemployment rates. What does Obama care if people are robbing, policing and killing each other? The founding oppressors of this system have created a world structured by power and domination that we reproduce within our communities. They colonize us; we colonize each other; and they get to reap all the material benefits of the violence.
Understanding the system and my own origins has been important to my emotional health. No longer do i blame myself, and my community for my alienation and feelings of otherness. This has been something enforced upon us and we all hurt and hurt each other. I am trying to develop compassion for myself so that I may have compassion for others. We all live in this system, and have our own truths that have shaped us and made us into who we are today. Recently these compassionate practices have been challenged as I struggle with the many layers of feelings that rise when I engage and work with people, who carry privilege, but identify with communities I am a part of that do not have the same privileges. There are choices that have been denied to me and loved ones, but given to others. For an example, I struggle A LOT, with people who solely engage in heterosexual intimate relations, whether they be partnerships or lovers, and still identify as queer or any other queer signifier (femme, stud, top, ect.,). In the bay area this is unavoidable when being queer is so in vogue. I have met a lot of straight people who identify as queer, because they are poly, and are therefore resisting bourgeois heteronormative enforced relationships. However, they still have the privilege to live in a heterosexual world, where these are the givens, where spaces are abundant, and where safety is more accessed. When straight people identify as queer I feel erased, again, from the category. I also can’t help but fear that as more ‘straight’ people get the freedom to identify as queer then we lose the militant origins of what queer and queer struggle means for queers; a people shut out of mainstream society, and, depending on where you live, violently punished for not passing. This is something that straight people will never understand, no matter how queer they are. Our open existence is resistance, when employed correctly. This speaks to the seriousness of the conditions and the militancy required of us, to not only survive, but to struggle for a quality of life denied to us, but with which straight people have access to. To be queer is to be against the system in it is totality; to understand the ways our sexuality relates back to capitalism. To be queer is to be revolutionary.
I have similar feelings towards race. When ‘white’ people decide to identify as people of color without acknowledging the white privilege given to them, then the realities and struggles of people of color are erased. For an example, I met this person a few years ago in struggle, who had pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. They claimed indigenous ancestry and identity, while aggressively rejecting white people and European everything. They were able to speak very authoritatively about native people and native struggles. This was confusing and difficult for me, because I felt their experience as a native person from the city was much different then native folks, who look native and who are in native communities and struggle. I also thought of my great great grandmother Didi, who is half native. Most black people in the US have indigenous ancestry somewhere along the line. I am proud of this ancestry and the legacy of rebellion by black and indigenous people in the America’s. But, you won’t see me speaking on behalf of Native people, because I know I have a different experience than my indigenous comrades. It is one thing to grow up with your culture, and to become politicized through the system oppressing your people and culture. And it is another thing to grow up with primarily european lineage in a ‘white’ community, and then decide later that you are native, because you discovered you have some native blood in your family, and then proceed to present yourself in a way as if you have the same experience as the latter. Even as a mixed black womyn I will never understand what it is like to fit easily into the category ‘black’. My experiences with blackness are different than my friends, but we share a common colonial experience of being objectified in the system and denied privileges given to whites.
Privilege blinds people from the realities of others. When white people or straight people identify with categories of difference (race and sexuality) without understanding or expressing their privilege then it is assumed that their experience is similar to other people in those categories. However, their privilege gives them a different experience. To not understand that is to erase the experiences and truths of people, who deal with real struggles because of their race and sexuality within bourgeois society. I brought up these complex feelings recently to my comrade and brother Crunch and he, as always, gave me some tips and insight. He also has had similar thoughts and conversations around the subject matter. He brought up the examples of white ethnic studies students and whether they should be in the department. He said we can’t police people and tell them what they can do and how they can identify, but what we can do is ask what their intentions are. I really liked this bit of wisdom, because it helps shift the direction of the conversation from a place of judgement or attacks to a place of learning. When we engage in political dialogue about our life experiences with each other we are able to better understand our commonalities, but also our differences, which helps us understand the system. i have no time for emotionally driven conversations that largely seek to just smash people with privilege, when the system is killing us directly and indirectly. Sure, white hipsters and straight people are annoying, and also filling up oakland, but hating on them isn’t giving the people any more clarity of the system and why it oppresses us. Vulgar identity politics offers no agency for the people to struggle, and therefore is liberal at the root, and we definitely have no time for liberalism. The frustrations, and, sometimes, anger that rise when we encounter privilege in society is righteous and should be dealt with, but from a emotionally productive place of seeking its roots. This is necessary work for revolution. We must always be striving to understand the total picture of the system we live under if we want to change it. And we can do this through understanding our different positionings within it. We have been colonized and exploited objects of this system, but we are also the subjects of our history. When we strive to understand ourselves, and each other, from a place of making history then we will finally begin to take hold of our own destinies and stop doing the work of the system on each other. And I have faith, because as my wise brother Crunch once told me, ‘the people got this’.
What does Fourth of July mean to me, a working-class queer mixed Black revolutionary indigenous communist womyn? Not a whole lot. More bourgeois lies manifested into rituals of blind worship of this system. They inoculate us with patriotism so that we do not question or rebel. These types of celebrations distract people from the truth.
What does come to mind when I think of this bourgeois holiday is land. That’s what it is all about, historically and presently. The stealing of it to develop a foreign system that harms, that waste, that is unnecessary. Land. And the coming struggles to reclaim it and ourselves. Malcolm X very directly and eloquently breaks this down in his important speech Message to the Grassroots given October 10, 1963. Within the speech he attempts to define what revolution is and what it would take to achieve it and full liberation for black people. By defining the basis and purpose of revolution he then critiques the black struggle for failing to represent these revolutionary politics. Reformist politics versus revolutionary politics; negro revolution versus black revolution. He draws from many historical examples of revolutionary struggles around the world, and places them all within the context of land,
“Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what? For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed. Number one, it was based on land, the basis of independence. And the only way they could get it was bloodshed. The French Revolution —— what was it based on? The land—less against the landlord. What was it for? Land. How did they get it? Bloodshed. Was no love lost; was no compromise; was no negotiation. I’m telling you, you don’t know what a revolution is. ’Cause when you find out what it is, you’ll get back in the alley; you’ll get out of the way. The Russian Revolution —— what was it based on? Land. The land—less against the landlord. How did they bring it about? Bloodshed. You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed… Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.”
Land is freedom. Under the current system only those with economic privilege have access to it, and therefore the freedom to move around. Capitalism, and its exploitative system of private property, was developed through European conquest of land, and the violent removal of people from it. Indigenous people everywhere were turned into slaves, while European peasants were proletarianized. A racialized and gendered caste system within the division of labor was created so that the people would remain divided from each other, thus weakening any potential rebellion to Europe’s colonial plans. I am always disturbed by the violent and oppressive history of Europe. Indigenous/non-European people, historically, have not treated each other with the same type of harm. I am not saying that everything was a peaceful utopia. Local tribes in the America’s and Africa were very protective over resources and land, and confronted other tribes if they became a threat to their territory. However, these actions were fueled out of the reproduction and preservation of their communities, not at the expense of them. Africans were not going around and completely annihilating other civilizations, in the manner that Europe did to the world. Their capital and technological innovations (fire power) gave them freedom and power in their movement to access the world, and rebuild it in their own selfish image so that it may support a ‘white’ patriarchal global power. This was no easy task though. The people rebelled. There have been revolutions, as Malcolm X points out above. But the global tyranny of Capital is still in place, although slowly crumbling, due to the conscious actions of the people.
As the world transitioned into the new historical epoch of capitalism, the terrain and way of living also dramatically shifted. Concrete paved over earth. Factories are built to produce commodities that the people are manipulated into consuming. New housing is constructed around factories to support the workers, who produce products they do not own for the profit of the owners. No longer are we to live peacefully with the land. People are violently removed from it and then crowded into urban centers to support this new industrialized way of living. The new cities reflect the divisions of power and privilege within society. People of color, who historically have been enslaved and then proletarianized, are lower within the division of labor and therefore are paid less and live within the poorest conditions. The poorest conditions are also heavily policed, because the pigs are here to protect the rich and their property. This brings us back again to the root of our oppression and exploitation: the fundamentally unequal system of private property.
This legacy of European conquest has given white people, people of European descent, centuries of privilege and more total power within society. They are represented strongly within the global ruling class, because they have had more access to capital historically. Even among the working-class they are the highest paid and always prioritized for work. Their quality of life, even amongst the exploited is better. They have more material privilege to move and access space, due to this legacy of privilege. Oakland is a prime example of this legacy of colonization. The Ohlone people originally inhabited the land until the Spanish violently displaced them in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was the beginning of the process of industrialization, which transformed Oakland into a booming port city and trade hub. During World War II working-class people in general, and black people in particular, migrated out of the rural south looking for employment in the new urban centers. Many settled in Oakland, due to the concentration of industries. After the war many factories closed down and jobs became scarce, but the new black residents decided to make Oakland home. This caused the racist and affluent whites to leave the city relocating to Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito in the North and San Leandro, Hayward, Castro Valley and Fremont in the East. All areas that still carry racial and economic privilege and divisions. This was called ‘white flight’ and it was a part of a nationwide trend, where white people had, and continue to have, fear and anxiety about living among poor black and brown people, due to their racist conditioning. They flee to the suburbs, because they have the material privilege to do so. Oakland transformed into a ‘black’ city, and with this transformation came the escalation of police force within the city. Starting in the late 1940’s the Oakland Police Department began to recruit fascist officers from the south to come and occupy neighborhoods and discipline the rising black population. The southern KKK was an excellent model for OPD, and I see and feel these origins when I think of Alan Blueford, Raheim Brown, Oscar Grant, all black, all unarmed, all murdered by OPD fascists with no response from the local government.
The continual violence and exploitation of working black and brown people within Oakland exists alongside rapid efforts by the local bourgeoisie to gentrify the city to compete with the opulence and privilege of SF. I am reminded of this when I look at the changing faces and spaces of Oakland and the harm, materially and spiritually, that gentrification is causing. Rising unemployment and the violent closing of schools, day cares, free health clinics, and social services in general, are disproportionately effecting working people and families of color, while there is steady flow of privileged white people moving into the space with such ease and access. I feel the weight of history and colonization resting on my shoulders, when I observe the changes within the city I live in. Oakland has been deemed the ‘cool’ place to visit by bourgeois travel sources and alternative press. This combined with the cheaper prices, in comparison to SF, has resulted in droves of white people moving into the city. All kinds of white people. Affluent white people looking to make money and start families as well as working class whites and artist, who cannot afford the gentrifying prices of SF anymore. This, of course, is driving up the prices within Oakland, which is effectively pushing people of color out or deeper into the hood. The new white residents and their pocketbooks are welcomed into the city with new spaces to take up, and no awareness of the land they are on and the history of colonization and racial tension within the city. For white people, affluent whites in particular, the world is their playground and they can come and go as they please, without any understanding of the consequences of their movement and actions. Privilege truly blinds.
The Oakland first Friday Art Murmur reflects the racialized class tension within the city as a result of gentrification. The murmur consists of a free art walk, where the public can check out local artists at the many exhibitions occurring at galleries around downtown Oakland. According the Murmur website,
“The mission of the Oakland Art Murmur is to support art and cultural venues that are dedicated to increasing popular awareness of and participation in the arts of Oakland.”
In theory it is an excellent event featured in a city that carries important cultural and political history. As an artist I was excited to learn about the Murmur upon moving to Oakland. It reminded me of a similar event in Sacramento called Second Saturday Art Walk, where I had my first gallery show featuring paintings and drawings at the tender age of 19. However, when I first attended the Art Murmur I was immediately disappointed with what I saw, which was a whole bunch of drunken white people stumbling around the street in front of police cars with pigs doing nothing. If black and brown people were running around in the streets with bottles in hands, the cops would call it a gang and guns and handcuffs would be drawn. My students in East Oakland can barely walk through their neighborhoods without pigs hassling their movement. This is the freedom that comes with privilege. The galleries were also full of largely white artists, white aesthetics and white rituals. I felt alienated and angered. Art Murmur had become an event to help support and facilitate the new white population moving into Oakland. It also reminded me of the importance of creating our own spaces and taking space back. This is a struggle always.
Gentrification has many layers that support the racial and class privilege within our society. Working-class white kids moving into the hood are a part of the tension, because of the privilege given to them due to their skin, but they are not at the root of the problem. In the words of Malcolm, land is the source; private property. It is the property owners, capitalists and landlords, who are at the root of gentrification. They are able to control the housing that sits on this stolen land, and therefore get to regulate the populations within the neighborhoods. White people are prioritized as tenants, just like in jobs, because they have more material privilege, and the world is not conditioned to fear them in the same manner as black people. Even within working class black neighborhoods. I witnessed this when I was waiting to look at an apartment a year ago in downtown/west Oakland. The apartment owner was an older white womyn. When I got to the apartment I saw she was in the middle of showing it to some other people so I looked around by myself while waiting. After a few minutes a young black couple came in to look at the place. As soon as the landlord saw them she told them the place had already been rented. After they walked out she turned to the women she was showing the place to and said ‘oh no they are the bad kind. Baggy jeans and white shirts that’s how you know.’ I walked out disgusted by her and the jim crow system still in full effect.
What is happening in Oakland and cities all across the world are new forms of colonization. It is Capitalism’s nature to continually look for new ways to expand and exploit all in the sake of profit. Primitive accumulation of capital is an ongoing process, where people of color historically and presently have been on the colonized side of the equation, while white people have used their privilege and power to colonize and own all the wealth within the world for themselves. This power is maintained through stripping us of ours; forcing us to live and work in poverty. Creating a stratified working-class, where we are pitted against each other for survival.
So what does fourth of July mean to me? Bloodshed and centuries of colonization that have disconnected us from ourselves and each other beginning with the stealing of land and the removal of the people indigenous to it. History that is ongoing with the gentrification of our cities. I am also reminded of the struggles, historically and presently, that have been waged to resist colonization. The worldwide revolutions that Malcolm speaks so boldly of. Today I will engage in rituals that keep that history alive in our consciousness so that we may be inspired to direct it through conscious actions for freedom.
Fuck fourth of July. All power to the people!
These are times of great shifts, emotionally and physically, which can take quite a toll on the spirit. I wanted to share a spell I crafted for a close friend to help ground them through times of uprooting. Surviving within this system is nearly impossible. We cannot forget who we are and where we came from.
This is a healing spell, and for me healing means achieving or reconnecting with a sense of wholeness. When we are seeking healing, physically or spiritually, it is because there is some type of disconnection or rupture within our vital life energy that runs throughout our body and mind. For an example, when we break a bone we get a cast to mend it back to the skeleton so it will be a whole foundation again. When we feel depressed and emotionally broken we seek out therapists or self-medicate in order to feel whole or at least reclaim some kind of self-control. Capitalism keeps us in a constant state of disconnection; disconnection from ourselves and each other. The separation between the healing of the body and the healing of the mind reflects this disconnection. Therefore we must also strive to be in a constant state of healing in order to stay strong as a community so that we may achieve our revolutionary tasks of liberation and wholeness. Spiritual awakening and reconnection with our ancestors plays a role in struggle; our spiritual struggles within as well as against the system.
This is a healing spell birthed out of love, conceived under the rising sun, and to be completed under the illumination of the full moon. The sun represents vital life energy that keeps our bodies strong; solid foundations to house our spirits. Its light, reflected against the moon, grounds us in the present and now, while the moon draws us back into the past through connecting with our feelings. The moon radiates our emotional centers; the parts of ourselves that rest deep within. Together they represent our totality. Our origins and our present. The spirit, which helps us be self-actualizing people.
One gold pouch mixed with sacred herbs: Mugwort, sage and lavender. I broke the herbs up and mixed them using my mortar and pestle. After that I blessed them in ceremony, which involved the burning of sweet grass and cannabis, and prayer song of healing and love. When the ceremony is done I place the mixture in the pouch.
Purpose/Significance of Materials
Container: The gold pouch represents the ankh and the sun, which is sacred to our ancestors, because of its connection to life energy and overall health.
Sage: Offers protection. Helps clear the air and remove negativity. Brings clarity to our thoughts.
Mugwort: Also a cleanser and protector, it helps stimulate our creative center and flow of life energy. A strong healing herb that promotes vivid dreams and visions. It will nurture intuition and psychic abilities.
Lavender: Stimulates love and calm and brings peace and health.
Place the pouch of herbs under your pillow or near your bed to protect you from bad spirits and help conjure healing visions of transformation. Hold on to these visions until the full moon, where you will release them in ceremony into the universe to be manifested.
With love and magic