And if we don’t fight
If we don’t resist
If we don’t organize and unify and
Get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is.
The above words are taken from warrior poet Jayne Cortez’s magnificent poem And there it is. They radiate with much power and truth, and I have found my thoughts resting on one line in particular, ‘the dehumanized look of fear’. Fear is dehumanizing in many ways; it prevents us from living the way we want to. The system conditions us in fear so that we won’t resist its doings. We are conditioned to systematically having our desires and needs denied to us so that the ruling class may continue to profit off of our dehumanization. It works so well we do it to ourselves. As I gather more years on this soil I have realized the ways fear has marked my origins. I have built my whole world out of fear, adding to the harmful conditioning of this world. This has stifled my own development. We must organize, unify, resist and fight for a different world, where everyone has control and autonomy over our lives and we are not disconnected from our feelings and needs. However, it also takes courage to challenge the many layers of fear that accompany our daily living; it takes courage to confront ourselves and the state with the intention of building something better, more beautiful and healthy for ourselves, our community and the earth. It is this desire for wholeness for myself and my people, which lead me to revolution, and it is revolution which lead me to healing myself. And at the core of it all is love, and love is truth and justice. Patriarchal capitalism is not truth and justice and therefore stands in the way of the people fully living on the basis of love and togetherness. The system breeds fear and distrust amongst the people so that we do not fight for love through our actions, because that would be revolution, but revolution is the direction we must go. For me, to commit myself to this historical task must also mean that I must commit to challenging fear and cultivating love for myself and community. I wanted to share some recent reflections from those experiences as I progress into 27.
I am almost half way through my 27th year; the beginning of my Saturn return, and I have a lot of feelings about what that means to me. The planet Saturn brings structure and definition into our world. Often associated with responsibilities and adulthood. According to astrology saturn is suppose to reveal our own fears and limitations. Your saturn return means that the planet saturn is travelling back to its position at the time you were born. This first transit usually occurs between the years of 27-30. There seems to be a lot of anxiety around the saturn return and I think that relates to fear of all sorts. Fear of responsibility, fear of your deepest fears being revealed, fear of change. Change is necessary though and the only thing we can depend on. I am learning to find comfort in that as I try to ease through the movement of life. In some ways I see age as just a number; another thing manufactured like everything else under this rotten capitalist system. On the other hand age also brings wisdom and birth rituals and greater understanding of ones self and the world. These things are important, especially if you are a radical seeking to change the world. We are molded by this system, and positioned against each other within it. If we are not intentional about healing and rooting out such conditioning then we will carry it into our political spaces. If we are committed to changing these conditions of misery then we must be committed to making changes within ourselves to accept the challenges that lie within such necessary revolutionary work. I have studied, seen and experienced too many revolutions, struggles and movements ruined, because of patriarchal bourgeois ego and false consciousness. As revolutionaries we must be better than our oppressors. The people are not the pigs, and we must hold each other accountable to that if we are ever going to get organized well enough to find unity and to flex it in struggle against the ruling class.
The last few years I have been trying to heal my body and spirit so that I may do this revolutionary thing well. I was a part of a collective that I seriously dedicated 2 years of my life to building. I left, because I felt like it was no longer a place for me to grow in the ways I needed and therefore I could not help them grow in the ways they needed. It was a challenging experience that is still shrouded in a lot of mystery and hard feelings, but ultimately it was a beautiful experience. Through the challenges I was forced to reckon with myself in ways that brought me closer within. I grew to find love and compassion for myself, and therefore others, and that has helped guide my movement in ways that are more positive for my community. I have experienced, like the rest of the working-class, a lot of pain and trauma in my life that I didn’t know how to properly release in ways that strengthened my accountability to myself and others. I didn’t know a lot about communication and conflict and how to navigate those things healthily and I still don’t, but I am searching for guidance. Growing up I saw a lot of ways of how to do that unhealthily or not at all. As I have healed and continued to work with other working-class children I see these patterns of emotional neglect and lack of guidance. It’s hard for working class parents to be present with their children and give them tools on how to be a spiritually whole person. We don’t live in a society that supports that so we must do that for ourselves and that’s extra work on top of our waged work, and most of us don’t always have the time at the end of the day. The last few years I have been doing a lot of catching up and learning how to be a good human being and a humble warrior for my people. As I am now entering my Saturn return these reflections are sharpening into positive actions for myself, as I am learning my own truth and putting these reflections into thoughtful strategic practice. Before, there was a lot of chaos in my mind and movement. I was not grounded and I was seeing the ways it was effecting my own sense of myself and my political work, which lies at the very core of who I am. I asked myself If I could not do that work well then what is the point? So I made decisions that were scary for me, and I lost a lot of friends. But I also gained friends and new guidance and understanding on how to fight the system in a way that feels right for me; that reflects who I truly am, and that is deeply connected to our ancestors and Africa, something missing from the political spaces I was in.
Developing a revolutionary spiritual focus has allowed me to connect back with my body in ways that I have never done before. As colonized womyn this has always been revolutionary work; to keep our bodies for our own despite the fact that they are and have always been the subject of violence and sexual exploitation by the system and men socialized, as we all are, through the system. Under capitalism, health and wellness, like everything else, is a privilege. The vast majority of us struggle to obtain the basics, shelter, clothing, ‘food’. A lifestyle of wellness, where you have health insurance, non-toxic food, rest, exercise, and connection to the wilderness is a luxury. Most of us do not have the time or resources to obtain this lifestyle, but if you are an intentional, spiritual hustler like myself you can cultivate these things within your life. Over the last few years I have become more health conscious, and not because its being marketed to me by Whole Foods, which uses organic produce/products as a way to mask the real anti-worker exploitation that lies at the heart of its green capitalist enterprise. It was a natural process that developed through a conscious connection to my ancestors and what has come before me, and this oppressive system. At the core, health and wellness to me our revolutionary, when collectivized. There are folks, even radical folks of color, who want to talk about it in terms of self-care and how that is a revolutionary act. It is when applied to a larger analysis of the capitalism system and a need to destroy it in order to rebuild a world where everyone can live this way and not the privileged few. Individualized acts of self-care are not the revolution, but they are important if we are trying to keep our bodies and spirits strong so that we may have the energy and determination to prepare and inspire class struggle.
As I have become more connected with my body through my revolutionary/spiritual work, the idea of a raw juice fast was born within my consciousness. It seemed like a good way for me to deepen my conscious connection within my body through the abundance of the earth. However, there are material barriers to being able to accomplish a fast. First you need a juicer and they are not cheap so it is a luxury to own one. I am grateful for my mama who gifted me one a few years back. You also need to have good quality produce around at all times; ideally organic, because of the heavy pollutants and toxins in ‘conventional’ food. This will of course effect the length of your fast. Ideally I wanted to go 7 days, but I also knew that I was consuming larger quantities of produce throughout the week and that can be pricey if I am not strategic on how and where I shop. This brings up more privilege, because I have a car that allows me to leave my hood and go to the areas that have good grocery stores with deals (Berkeley Bowl, Trader Joes, Farmers Markets). People who don’t have that luxury are forced to accept what is around them and in East Oakland the options can be pretty dismal. My preparation consisted of googling juice fast recipes and plans to get a little more information and wisdom beyond my own intuition. The politics and realities of race, gender and class that structure and condition our society were reflected in the variety of sources that came up within the search. There was the immediate confrontation with Eurocentric Patriarchal gender conditioning; advertisements with skinny white womyn encouraging you to drink juice for 5 days and lose 5 pounds, and a slew of more harmful weight lost ads designed to make you hate everything about yourself and buy more commodities to fix it. Those were not my intentions for this fast. Then there were the liberal, appropriating, pseudo-spiritual lifestyle websites that contained a more intentional/magical perspective that I was searching for, but also reflected A LOT of race and class privilege, because these blogs/websites were mostly by white people, whose different positionings within this world have allowed them to obtain a lifestyle of wellness. This always frustrates me, because non-European people have always lived with the earth and have understood the beautiful life energy that runs through everything, connecting us with each other, and something much larger than us. We have known how to grow our own food and use the earth to manifest much abundance for our communities, as well as for corporate agribusiness which continues to super-exploit migrant labor. Capitalism changed things through European colonization. White people’s economic privilege supports their abilities to travel and learn about other cultures and religions, and then take that knowledge and present it as if it were their own. I think about this every time I am feeling alienated in a health food or spiritual/metaphysical store. Magic in western society is presented in a very Eurocentric fashion, but a lot of the ideas have been appropriated from non-European spiritual and religious practices. When I think of magic I think of Africa and the Diaspora. I think of the healing practices and beliefs of my ancestors and their profound connection with the earth and the cosmos; the power and force in what is unseen and yet all around us. However, I had to seek this out, learning to trust myself so that I may find this path of connection; connection to myself and what has come before.
I did accomplish a 4 day juice fast, and it left me with a lot of new-found appreciation and gratitude for my body. I have never felt such close intimacy to it and it’s inner workings. This is largely due to the fact that Patriarchal capitalism disconnects our minds from our bodies; this weakens us and strengthens our dependency upon the system for survival. It felt empowering to overcome some of the alienation by engaging in an intentional activity that could unpack some of the trauma spiritually and physically. After completing it I discovered that for the last few years Saturn has been positioned within the physical health sector of my sign Taurus, but come October it is moving into my relationship/intimacy/love sector, where it will stay for three years, the entire length of my Saturn return! This was all very thrilling for me to find out, because it affirmed the paths that I have instinctively set myself upon. My healing process began 2 years ago and my focus was on my physical health as a way to strengthen my emotional health, and the relationship between the two. Loving social relations are at the core of my revolutionary politics, because they stand opposed to the material exploitation and oppression that structure our society and relationships. Real communism seeks to restructure the world in ways that are built on love and the community. This is the work I am dedicating my life to doing, but when I made that choice I was not healthy enough to do it in a way that was physically and spiritually sustainable. As love becomes my healing focus I realize how much fear was a deterrent to me really receiving and giving the love I seek. Releasing fear is an intention that I struggle with daily and will continue to struggle with. I have fear about sharing these more personal reflections; fear of the vulnerability; fear of judgement; fear of rejection. I strive to have all my writing, creative and political, come from a place of my own truth and experience. It helps me continue to discover who I am, as well as break down the abstract and elitist nature of academic theory. As a child I organically identified as an artist and a writer, because I felt righteous power in those activities. My voice was strongly situated in my work, but as I progressed through my education I saw and felt the ways my voice was stifled as I was forced to accept this formal logic, Eurocentric, patriarchal way of thinking and writing. These last few years have been so important for me in reclaiming my voice and the strength I carried from a very early age. I feel more grounded in my writing, even when fear exists simultaneously. I understand that overcoming these fears are so necessary for liberation. We must always come from a place of feeling, because this is what keeps us whole and human despite a system, which seeks to deny us our humanity…And I have much gratitude for all of you who take time to read my words when you could be creating, dreaming, wandering, reading something else somewhere else. It fills my life with much encouragement and affirmation, which I have not named enough. So for now please accept my vibrations of gratitude and appreciation. I hope they find you steeped with inspiration for this new day, this new season, this new moon unfolding all around us.
With much love and magic.
In Oakland there is an event on the first Friday of every month called the Art Murmur that the art collective I am apart of, The Corner Collective, vends at. During the event art galleries around downtown stay open later, and vendors and performers line the streets with hand crafted creations and performances, while people are able to roam the streets freely. Our collective likes to participate in the event, because we are all artists living in Oakland. We are all writers, visual artists, musicians, dancers and performers that believe first and foremost that art is a revolutionary weapon in the hands oft the people. We seek to have art move people in directions of struggle and liberation. Art without substance is useless and only strengthens the bourgeois culture around us. The art murmur is one outlet for us to share our creations, but also our politics with the 100s of people who roam up and down telegraph ave throughout the night.
The Art Murmur began as a community event to bring people and artists together in celebration, but is rapidly changing into a tool of gentrification for KONO business association and the local government, which functions to protect capital and business interests. New regulations have been enacted to limit people’s free movement of the streets through new permit regulations and rules, as well as taking away 23rd street as an area for artists to table and perform for free. The state has also increased its presence at the Murmur making sure to harass and police the people, who are out trying to have a good time. This past murmur on August 3rd had dozens of pigs and private security piglets roaming the streets hassling the people. The energy was uneasy at times. Our collective, like most of the vendors, set up without permits. These are public streets and people should be able to sit on them and sell their art, especially during an art walk event. But as the purpose of the art murmur shifts to be more and more about the development of a thriving business district, rather than community, working-class artists are forced to either pay up or be forcefully pushed off of the streets by the pigs. This all relates back to the function of capital and property. The local bourgeoisie has the material power to own space and therefore control the movement on that space. They want the Art Murmur to be a bourgeois art event for the new, largely white, money pouring into Oakland so they create new laws and rules that will support those efforts.
That does not mean that we are at their whim. We can also step back and analyze the situation and our power to respond and change the situation. We could organize as Oakland artist and refuse to pay the fees and refuse to leave the space. We could organize parades and marches of resistance. We are visionaries that must use our skills to conjure new visions of the world and living. The gentrification of Oakand and the Art Murmur represents a potential opening in struggle for revolutionary artists; a way for us to practically use our art to resist the political economic oppression within our community. The Corner Collective is interested in doing such work. We must take back our streets and our communities and we believe that art must play a role in that. If you live in Oakland and are interested in connecting with us around these issues send an email here: firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our blog here: anationofrighteousminds.wordpress.com Also, peep some of my new creations below. If you are interested or inspired by any and would like me to create something beautiful for you send me an email. I sell $5-20 sliding scale.
Peace and love yall!
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’.
Kreayshawn is the white woman rapper from Oakland, whose talentless performance of ‘urban’ ‘black’ culture, is gaining momentum in the corporate music world. Is it offensive? Yes! Does it make people angry at her appropriation of ‘blackness’ through stereotypes. Yes! Is it modern day blackface? To me it is. Is it anything new in this patriarchal white supremacist capitalist system? Unfortunately, no. Under capitalism everything has the potential to be transformed into a commodity, including racial identities, if it will accumulate profit. Kreayshawn is the most recent performer in a long line of white performers appropriating and commodifying racist stereotypes for entertainment and profit beginning in the 1830′s with the rise of minstrel shows.
The origins of racism lie within American Slavery and the development of Capitalism in the United States. US and British capitalists worked with the ruling class of African countries to develop this system and steal my ancestors, and exploit their labor to build the wealth of this country. Constructing racial identities to support white supremacy allowed working-class whites to internalize their ‘superiority’ while Africans internalized their ‘inferiority’, which resulted in the ideological training of people to accept their different positions and roles within the racist and sexist division of labor. This was necessary in order to prevent multi-racial class struggle, which had already started to take place between Africans, European indentured servants, and the indigenous people. Working-class whites did the plantation owners dirty work of disciplining rebelling slaves rather than joining the resistance to a system that was exploiting them too. In her groundbreaking marxist feminist pamphlet, Sex, Race & Class, Selma James speaks to the power of these false divisions becoming naturalized in our consciousness affecting the way we socially interact, and the type of revolutionary struggle we build. She writes,
“The social power relations of the sexes, races, nations and generations are precisely, then, particularized forms of class relations. These power relations within the working class weaken us in the power struggle between the classes. They are the particularized forms of indirect rule, one section of the class colonizing another and through this capital imposing its own will on us all. “
Consciousness is so powerful. The racist and sexist ideology that is built into the division of labor influences the way we relate to each other. We spend more time fearing and struggling with each other rather than against the system, and all this does is strengthen its control over us all. The ruling class knows this, which is why they feed us their lies in our public schools from Kindergarten through high school and college too. They inoculate us in bourgeois culture and their version of history and ‘freedom’ to pacify and confuse us. Fanon speaks to this in his brilliant piece of anti-colonial theory Wretched of the Earth, where he goes into detail in the first chapter “On Violence” on the various methods used by the colonizers to weaken the oppressed. He highlights education early on as a particular useful way of repressing the colonized. He writes,
“In capitalist societies, education, whether secular or religious, the teaching of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary integrity of workers decorated after fifty years of loyal and faithful service, the fostering of love for harmony and wisdom, those aesthetic forms of respect for the status quo, instill in the exploited a mood of submission and inhibition which considerably eases the task of the agents of the law and order.”
These ‘agents of law and order’ are the pigs, and they use their guns less when we passively accept our oppressive place within the system. This passivity is nurtured by our bourgeois education system and other organizations that work within the confines of the State. But the material evidence of our exploitation and oppression go beyond the point of production and our position within the division of labor. It is also wrapped up in the popular culture of our society, and reflected in the mainstream art that the masses our exposed too. Women’s body parts are commodified to sell anything from pizza to cars; black women are portrayed as ‘hoes’ in the videos and mammies in movies (still); black and brown men continue to be portrayed as thugs; and queers of all colors and gender expressions are nowhere to be found in the sea of homo-normative white gay males. None of these representations reflect the realities of my communities, but they do reflect the reality of the system and they way they choose to represent us and place us within this world.
Black people have always been a source of exploitation for the racist entertainment industry in this country beginning with the incredibly popular minstrel shows that started occurring in the 1800′s, where working-class whites would paint their faces black with charcoal or burnt cork and imitate their racist conceptions of black slaves. There was the Jim Crow character, who was a plantation slave that did little jigs for the white man. There was the Coon character, which was a stereotype of the free slave trying to be dignified (white). Then we have our dear asexual Mammy, who is sassy, independent and often a sense of comfort to white families. You can still find her image on pancake mix and syrup bottles. And our youth are portrayed as Pickaninnies, who usually look unkempt; think of buckwheat from the little rascals. Many famous white performers, including Shirley Temple (featured below in Mammy attire), have donned blackface to help their career.
The first feature length film was D.W. Griffith’s racist homage to the KKK in Birth of a Nation, where white actors blackened up to portray black men as savage rapists. Meanwhile white men, the actual rapist, continue to assault black women and nothing is done about it, because black women are viewed as unrapeable. The first talking film was The Jazz Singer, where a young jewish man defies his family’s wishes by leaving home to become a star performer. How does he make it? Blackening up. What is especially sad is that black performers also blackened up in order to get gigs in the industry. With racist white capitalists running the industry and owning all of the stages and equipment, black artists had to play by their rules in order to survive. Whites did not want to see blacks representing themselves as artists and human beings with emotions and different perspectives of the world. They wanted to be entertained by stereotypes that supported their own power and privilege in society. This was and is more than just offensive entertainment; these performances are and continue to be a reflection of the system’s belief that black people are inferior and deserving of their position within society. Many different ethnic groups have been stereotyped within the entertainment industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, but the longevity of blackface performances that still exist today when we have white women from the suburbs performing their idea of blackness is especially alarming to me. The burnt cork may be gone, but the blackface is still here.
It is important that we examine our feelings of anger when we see garbage like Kreayshawn going viral, and understand that she is not the sole problem. It is her position within the system, as a privileged white woman, that allows her to be commodified off of performing stereotypes. We cannot attack her coonery without understanding its origins within the system, and the power that supports it. Critiquing it for what it is is important, but simply banning it won’t do away with the fact that the vast majority of blacks in this country are poor and harassed and killed by the cops, who continue to view us all as thugs or hoes, as depicted in Kreayshawns ‘gucci gucci’ music video. And speaking of killer cops Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale bart station in Oakland January 1st 2009, will be released this sunday after only serving a petty few months. A protest will be happening around 3pm in downtown Oakland. No justice from and unjust system!
Until we rid the world of capitalism, private property, and the systems of domination that support it, such as patriarchy, racism and homophobia, there will continue to be Kreayshawns exploiting the systems stereotypes, and there will be a system that continues to exploit us all in the process. When we restructure our societies into a truly communist system that operates on collective ownership and survival with principles of love and real equality, our culture and social relations will begin to shift and this will be reflected in the art that is produced. This has already happened in the revolutionary struggles and movements all around the world, where we see the art reflecting this shift in consciousness. The feminist and black power movements had a vibrant cultural component that reflected their revolutionary politics. It is not an easy task of course to simply overthrow capitalism, and overthrowing capitalism doesn’t mean these systems of domination will just melt away. We must be very intentional about rooting out patriarchy, homophobia, and racism within our communities; learning from our feminist values; and valuing everyone over the individual. This will raise the standard of our lives, change our social relations, and therefore change the culture that is produced. And hopefully, minstrelsy will be something that can finally settle in to the archives of our history as we move forward truly free.
Sexism, homophobia and racism and its material basis within the capitalist division of labor has always been what has interested me theoretically. Researching these systems of domination and how they relate to each other and effect our lives and positions in society is what I am interested in politically. Recently, I have been trying to understand political economy more from a marxist framework through my studies of capital. Marx really captured the complexities of capital and the social aspects of it; he put human beings and our exploitation at the center of it to expose the commodity fetish that seeks to hide this exploitation as well as inspire us to struggle against it. His arguments on the role alienated labor and alienation plays within the system made me think about it in terms of myself as a woman of color, who has a particular experience within this system and experience with alienation that is not the same as Marx describes, but still useful for me to examine my own oppression. Below is my first draft of a piece that I hope to finalize at some point on gender and alienation followed by some further research questions. I am interested in feedback and discussion so don’t hesitate to speak your mind!
The Loss of the Body: A Marxist Feminist Response to Estranged Labor
“Thus economic categories express different production relations among people and the social functions which correspond to them, or the social economic form of things. These functions or forms have a social character because they are inherent, not in things as such, but in things which are parts of a definite social environment, namely things through which people enter into certain production relations with each other.” (I.I. Rubin, Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value)
“Black procreation helped to sustain slavery, giving slave masters an economic incentive to govern Black women’s reproductive lives. Slave women’s childbearing replenished the enslaved labor force: Black women bore children who belonged to the slaveowner from the moment of their conception. This feature of slavery made control of reproduction a central aspect of White’s subjugation of African people in America. It marked Black women from the beginning as objects whose decisions about reproduction should be subject to social regulation rather than to their own will.” (Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body, 23)
“Consider, on one hand, not only the many societies in which marriage is (or was) a relationship imposed on one or both of the partners, but also the forms of training (not to say ‘breaking in’ and use of force) around sexuality; and, on the other, the huge variation that exists in the regulation of relations between men and women in marriage (including, among other things, the presence or absence of rules requiring the execution of ‘conjugal duty’), and hence women’s different margins of autonomy to manage their body, sexuality, and reproduction (the management of sexual relations, contraceptive practices, abortions, ect,.). (Paola Tabet, Natural Fertility, Forced Reproduction)
“And even if she is relatively well placed in the hierarchy of labour powers (rare enough!), she remains defined as a sexual object of men. Why? Because as long as most women are housewives part of whose function in reproducing labour power is to be the sexual object of men, no woman can escape that identity.” (Selma James, Sex Race & Class)
In the ‘Estranged Labor’ section of Marx’s 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts he describes the exploitative system of private property, and its use of alienated labor to support it. The worker is alienated from the product she produces, which contains her objectified human labor, yet she does not own it. Therefore the products of her labor stand as an alien force opposed to her. She is also alienated from the work process itself, which, like her products, she does not control or own. She works to survive and reproduce herself so she can go out and work again. This is estranged labor. It degrades human life into a depressing, animal-like, existence where you are working just to survive, while producing wealth and pleasure for someone else. Your life and existence is crushed into this abstract, congealed human labor; you are a machine whose sole purpose within a society based on commodity production is to produce value. Your individuality, abilities, skills and creative development does not matter. Although human beings have consciousness that allows us, as a species, to be creative and engage in work that is external to us and not solely based on our survival and reproduction, we are deprived of these activities as alienated workers. We are alienated from our work, ourselves, and ultimately our collectivity as a species. Marx argues that the only way to crush such an oppressive system of private property and emancipate society, is through a class struggle that will emancipate the workers, because within the emancipation of the workers is the universal emancipation of humanity. He emphasizes the workers, not because it is their emancipation alone that is on the line, but it is the social relation and role of the worker that everyone is forced into while living under such a system. He writes, “because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all relations of servitude are but modifications and consequences of this relation.” Marx is right in his analysis of the oppressive social character of the system, and his solution to overthrow it. However, he did not apply his concepts of estranged labor to gender, race, sexuality, and reproduction to reveal all the oppressive social relations that help keep the system of private property intact. The alienation of women’s bodies, and subsequent loss of autonomy over our bodies through the regulation of our sexuality, regulation of our reproduction (forced or limited), and systemic and intra-class violence (rape, domestic, ect.) is a part of the capitalist social organization of society. The family, and relegation of women to the unpaid role of housewife as well as waged worker, has been a mechanism to support this oppression and regulation of women’s bodies and sexuality. Selma James speaks to this objectification in her pamphlet Sex Race & Class, “Because as long as most women are housewives part of whose function in reproducing labour power is to be the sexual object of men, no woman can escape that identity.” Even if you are queer or not a married housewife, all women are subjected to this role within patriarchal capitalism. Our bodies are objectified and not under our control much in the same way that a worker does not control her work conditions or products of her labor; therefore, our bodies stand as an alien force opposed to us.
This type of gendered alienation is not a result or side effect of the division of labor, but is a part of the division of labor that relies on exploitation, including the sexual exploitation of women’s bodies. This was evident during American slavery, where the rape and breeding of Black women was very much a part of the origins of American Capitalism; or today where sex work is a global market. If we don’t understand the particular role that gender plays within the division of labor, then we don’t completely understand the division of labor that structures our society, and if we don’t understand the structures of our society in their totality then our revolution will be incomplete. Marxist revolutionaries must seek to understand reality through analyzing the system and crafting revolutionary theory that we can apply in practice to change that reality and smash systems of domination and exploitation. This will not happen unless we have a material understanding of gender oppression historically and its role within capital. Gender and sexuality are not natural phenomenons. There is a slight biological basis for gender roles historically. But largely gender and sexual categories, like race, have been constructed to help support the division of labor. Everyone has a position within this exploitative division. Systems of oppression, such as racism, sexuality and homophobia, intersect with this capitalist system of exploitation and alienation to support the particularities of this division of labor. I wish to draw on Marx’s concepts of alienation and apply them to reproduction and the gendered body ideas of alienated work, exploitation, and appropriation and expropriation of the product to better understand political economy and gender/race oppression.
We have consciousness, like Marx argues, which allows us to be creative, produce all sorts of commodities, and express desire that isn’t confined to biology and reproduction. We could build a society that is based on real freedom and creative development of the people that also doesn’t regulate sexuality; that supports a free, non-constraining sexuality and reproduction. But, under alienated labor we are not free as workers, and as women, we are not free to own our bodies or our own sexuality. Our bodies our objectified, and like a workers product, are used for the pleasure of someone else, this someone else being a man and the ruling class. The same oppressive social relations that are built into the division of labor, exists with the power relations between the sexes, where women are devalued to support male power within society and the patriarchal Bourgeois State. Therefore, the division of labor that structures our society is also gendered and sexist and racist. Like workers, who are coerced to work, women are also coerced into these subservient roles. As women, we bear the legacy of the madonna/whore dichotomy, where our sexuality is regulated to be the subservient housewife (Madonna), pumping out babies, disciplining them, taking care of them and the husband. Or we are seen as whores, whose bodies are commodified and objectified for the pleasure of men. Whether we are reproducing labor power or pleasuring men, our bodies are not for our own pleasure and our own control. I don’t wish to paint a victimizing picture of women though; this plays into patriarchal gender roles of ‘women’ being passive and weak. There are numerous accounts and movements of women owning their sexuality and expressing fierce and independent desire. I am inspired by the contemporary queer women of color feminist movements from the 70′s and 80′s, where queer revolutionary women of color begin to name the sexism and homophobia that existed within their social movements in order to build a more holistic revolutionary struggle. For now I want to address the particular way the system exploits and oppresses us, and I will incorporate more detailed examples of resistance to it in the next draft.
Although I state that all women share this oppression and alienation, we do not all experience it the same way based off of differences within race and class. Women are all sexualized, but in different ways depending on what ethnic/racial group you belong to and what class you are a part of. For an example, Black women are portrayed as hyper-sexual and animalistic, while Asian, more specifically South East or East Asian, women are portrayed as docile or submissive. Despite the racialized or ethnic differences in our alienation, we all share a type of objectification of our bodies that has given us a sense of disempowerment, and has made us feel alienated from them. Marx says above that the realization of this objectification for the worker is the loss of the object, which results in feelings of alienation. Most women experience a similar feeling of loss, a loss of the body, when we are confronted with sexualized violence or sexist advertising that commodifies our body parts. I remember feeling this loss of the body by puberty when the boys began to take notice and molest me; I felt it when I was raped at the age of 22; and I felt it when I learned the history of my ancestry and slavery, which relied on the rape of African women’s bodies. I realized that women’s bodies are never fully in our control; our sexuality is not a choice that we are free to make without interventions by the state and the class.
This is very disempowering, because it is a loss of yourself in a particular and literal way. Looking at the roots of US capitalism and the slave system is useful for understanding alienated labor in terms of race and gender. Slave women were exploited as workers in the slave economy, but they also played a particular role within that economy as breeders and reproducers of the slave population. Their bodies were a part of the means of production of the slave owning capitalists, and, like the cotton gin, they did not own them. They did not get to decide if they wanted to reproduce, who they would reproduce with, and like the product of their labor, they did not get ownership over it when their children were sold away for profit. Slave women were forced to reproduce with other slaves in breeding houses, and were often vulnerable to rape by their masters. Slave children were a commodity for the capitalist representing the human labor of the slave woman. Although the children followed the mother’s side, due to the slave master not wanting to take responsibility over the children who were a product of his rape, the mother did not own them and had to bear the pain of being ripped away from her children at slave auctions. In this sense their product, children, represents their labor embodied in material form making it objectified. This objectification process results in the realization by the mother of this object and the subsequent loss of realization when her product is sold away from her. Therefore the sexual economy of slave reproduction represented this powerful product that was both a part of her, but independent of her resulting in her alienation from her children and herself. The realization and thus loss of realization for the slave mother fueled her resistance to such an objectification process; she would often kill her children or help them escape in order to not have them experience a life of slavery that, according to Marx, ‘deprives [her] of the means of life.”
Racist and sexist ideology has always been used to justify the particular treatment of black women, and women of color in general. From the very beginnings of colonization and ‘scientific’ racism these false identity categories have been constructed to support the economic system that was expanding around the world, and the specific sexist nature of it. Black women were stolen from Africa and travelled around the world like ZOO animals. Europeans were obsessed with their anatomical features; Black women’s sexuality has always been constructed and policed by the oppressors. Back then they said that African/black women were overly sexual and loose. This justified the massive amounts of rape and economic system of breeding that was forced upon them. Post slavery when blacks were ‘freed’ there was a movement by Black men to dominate Black women in the same way that black women were dominated by their masters and White women dominated by their husbands. Black men were trying to rescue their own masculinity from the process of emasculation that was a part of the gendered social relations built into the division of labor on the plantation. These sexualized stereotypes of “jezebels”, ‘hoes’, and ‘hoodrats’ were something reproduced by the oppressors and reproduced within our own communities and class. This is our legacy today. Why is it that black women are portrayed as overly sexual past and present and white women aren’t to the same degree? This has to do with the origins of the racialized and gendered division of labor that were developed during US slavery, where Black and White women played specific roles. The Black woman was a worker in the slave economy in the fields and in the bedroom, and was devalued as a woman and a black slave woman. The white woman was devalued as well in order to keep the white slave masters power maintained in the house, but she was a delicate, asexual, house wife; not a slave. Black and white women’s positioning in the division of labor had material as well as ideological consequences that are important today when we think about our relationships to our bodies, and the different identity categories that divide us and oppress us still. Women of color are still seen as un-rapeable, and overly-sexualized. This is reflected in the massive amounts of violence that women of color sex workers are subjected to where cops assert that ‘they aren’t raped they’re just not paid;’ Or when a Black stripper is gang raped by White men on the Duke University rugby team, and nothing is done about it. Or when queer women of color in New Jersey are sexually propositioned by a man and then defend themselves against his physical attacks, and are locked up for two years for defending themselves.
Today we still struggle for control over our bodies. In a time of economic crisis where the working class, especially working-class women of color, must face massive amounts of cuts to services, jobs, and wages thus lowering the living standard of our lives. Women must struggle for healthcare, reproductive and family planning services, and abortions. And we must struggle just to survive and defend ourselves in a violent world, where reported rapes happen so much (every minute in the US) that we must accept rape as our lived condition as women. We live in a society where, in the US, three women are killed every day by domestic partners. And we live in a world where a dominated type of sexuality is forced upon us with power relations built into it supporting patriarchy and the objectification of women’s bodies. All of these examples, historical and present, demonstrate that Marx’s concepts of commodity fetish and alienated labor must be applied to gender, sexuality, and the body, and the use of the family to exploit women and maintain these gendered social relations to complete his analysis of the social character of the system.
Guiding Research Questions
1. The political economy of a society has different production relations among people, which have different social functions that make up the social organization of society and its division of labor, which unites everyone within the system. People’s individual labor comes into contact with the labor of the entire society through the process of exchange. How do marriage and the family fit into organization of society? What does it reveal about gender and sexuality?
2. How does the manipulation and control over women’s bodies and reproduction function within the economic system? What does it illuminate for us about gender/sex oppression and its importance to the function and reproduction of capital?
3. If the body is alien to women, then who does it belong to?
4. I stated earlier that the way to resist alienated labor is to withhold it or take it back through the means of class struggle. How do women resist in such ways? How do we re-appropriate our bodies? How do we achieve autonomy?
5. When applying alienation of the body to sex work I see sex workers as having a dual realization of their alienation as estranged workers and as women whose bodies are sexualized. They use their alienation as a way to survive then. As a means of living, which all workers do, but the fact that women use their body as a means to survive demonstrates some sort of realization of the way that we are alienated as workers, and as women through sexual and physical violence. Could sex work be seen as a re-appropriation of their bodies to work and survive?
Building a radical community grounded in class struggle and feminist and anti-racist principles that puts the collective survival of the people first over individual gain is a way to protect our histories, culture, sanity and everything else that has been stolen from us by the oppressive sexist, racist, homophobic capitalist system we live in. I don’t mean this in a non-profit or utopian sense, where our solution to resist such a system is to build an exclusive community removed from the rest of society; that is not going to bring about the revolutionary change I believe in. However, while we are living in and fighting against this oppressive system we need to build radical communities to sustain and support each other as well as pass on our revolutionary principles, ideas, and cultures. I am reminded of this when I think of the indigenous people of this earth, who have survived centuries of genocide, but still work hard to preserve traditions and culture and history. I am reminded of this when I look at the genocide of African people, and how it effectively worked to disconnect what would later become ‘African Americans’ from any sense of African culture and tradition. And most recently I am reminded of this last night when I shared food, art and love with some friends and watched the Smithsonian censored experimental film by queer artist and activist David Wojnarowicz called A Fire in My Belly.
The film is an expression of Worjnarowicz’s grief over the death of his partner Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS in 1987, and his overall rage at a homophobic system that censors, represses, oppresses, and stands by and does nothing while 1000′s of people fall ill to HIV. A system that continually does nothing about the HIV/AIDS crisis that effects millions of people around the world, heterosexual Black women being the largest group effected. Worjnarowicz’s film was a part of a queer exhibit at The National Portrait Gallery called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” that explores same sex themes in American Portraiture. The film was removed due to the uproar caused by William Donahue and the Catholic church, who were upset by the images of a crucifix with ants crawling all over it. As a response to the homophobia and censorship of art a friend of mine hosted a dinner for folks to come together and watch the film as well as share other art, and celebrate Worjnarowicz, art, and resistance. Another very close friend of mine shared a poem from Palestinian woman poet Fadwa Tuqan, whose strong and beautiful words gave us a glimpse into colonization and the experiences of the Palestinian people; a side of the story that we don’t get living in a country that relies on imperialism and supporting Israels zionist government and occupation of Palestinian land. The poem came out of a poetry anthology called Against Forgetting: A twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, which is about experiences with war, militarism, exile, imprisonment and censorship. It was a perfect piece and book for the theme of the evening.
We cannot forget the experiences and atrocities of the ruling class and our cultures and histories of resistance it has sought to annihilate. That is all we have as radicals and revolutionaries and oppressed people is our memory and our consciousness and our ability to pass things on for resistance. What distinguishes humans from animals is that we have consciousness. We can produce culture and societies in a way that go beyond basic animal functions of eating, sleeping, fucking and survivng. Capitalism seeks to break down our consciousness, de-humanize us, and reduce us to animal-like beings that just work and then eat and sleep to reproduce ourselves and work some more. Therefore we must actively fight against that by organizing ourselves and producing political and cultural ideas that counter-act the oppressive bourgeois ideas of the ruling class. Our consciousness is all we own that the oppressors can’t take away. It is our ability to spread the truth to others, and to start to build collective resistance. We must learn the truth and not forget it even if our schools teach us lies, even if musuem’s censor our peoples art, and even if people are killed, because of their ideas we must continue to pass them on, because it is more than just us and it is more than just our communities that we are building in different spaces. We are a part of a larger historical network doing similar work to change the society we live in and its social relations.
It makes me think of Harriet Tubman and this network she created amongst slaves, white people, free people to liberate slaves in the 1800s. I think of Cecelia Bobrovskaya’s memoirs Twenty Years in Underground Russia: Memoirs of A Rank-and-file Bolshevik, which describes her experiences as a Bolshevik working to prepare for revolution. I remember what stood out to me in the book was the importance of revolutionary literature and how threatening it was to the ruling class. She desrcribes the process of setting up illegal printing presses then smuggling illegal literature into cities. That work was dangerous to the oppressors, because it was sharing revolutionary ideas that could influence people. I think of Domitila B. De Chungara a brave bolivian woman and wife of a miner, who organized other bolivian women in the housewives committee, who was tortured in jail and suffered a miscarriage, who was exiled, and who continually risked her life in her struggle against her own capitalist government and foreign imperialism. Her autobiography Let Me Speak is an important piece of history. I think of Leila khaled, who was a heroic palestinian militant who was a part of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine, who successfully and non-violently hijacked a plane and who had plastic surgery done to herself multiple times to conceal her identity as a revolutionary and to hijak a plane again. What a badass. And i think of today when I am able to smuggle an Advance the Struggle Oscar Grant pamphlet,
into jail and read it with other political detainees, who were also illegally arrested for exercising our first amendment rights (for what they are worth) and protesting police murders. And I think of beautiful dinners, like the one I experienced last night, where people are able to come together and share food, art and ideas. What do all these people and events have in common despite the different countries, time periods, historical events that our happening? What they all have in common is that they are all examples of freedom fighters, who were/are committed to changing the objective conditions that we live in and making history. This is what me must continue to do. And we must also find ways to break bread, share art, and build healthy, loving communities and spaces to sustain ourselves in these struggles.
Every woman should have her own stash
of that sticky icky magical green.
Roll it up, twist it up, let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman
in a world of constant
‘hey baby can I walk with you for a minute?’
‘whats your name? Can I get your number?’
Every woman should have her own baggy
of that chronic, herb, in the words of Rick James
Pack it up, burn it up, let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman in a world
of clocking in
Damn that’s all I made this month?
Every woman should have her own supply
of those purple trees
burn it up let the smoke fill you up until you get lifted up.
Because you know its hard being a woman in a world
where everyday is a battlefield with scars that run deep.
Scars that you swallow up and push deep inside you till you
want to scream.
Because its hard being a woman in these streets, running from the police
pushed to the point when all you want is to go home
and be like pass the piece.