If I’ve gathered any wisdom in my young 27, nearly 28, years of life it is that happiness is cultivated through taking responsibility for my needs, desires and movements and being brave enough to communicate and share that with others, as well as hold my people’s feelings and dreams in return. That is accountability; something that is hard to obtain in a world that lacks it. How can we be accountable to our needs? How can we be compassionate when we are robbed by and through the system everyday with no outlet, or time even, to express our outrage. How do we have time for anything when we are busy surviving. We are colonized and taught to process that trauma through dominating one another. Gender and race play out strongly within this oppressive and exploitative reality. People of color must live within a system that devalues us as workers. We are forced to take the worst jobs and receive the lowest pay within society, due to centuries of european colonization and white supremacy that places the white working-class on top of the division of labor. We must also become educated and socialized in a culture that teaches us that we are inferior through its racism and neglect of historical truths. This spiritually breaks us and supports the material fact that the vast majority of us are born broke and will die broke. Gender further divides us. Just as race and ethnicity became social categories informed and regulated through the system, so has gender. With european conquest of the world and the development of capitalism globally the significance of gender took on new exploitative forms of power within society. Man and womyn have become social categories that divide us as brothers and sisters and have crippled us as a human race. Before colonization indigenous societies around the earth have understood the masculine and feminine as different energies working together to develop wholeness as a species. That type of harmonious fluidity is threatening to the inner workings of a system that needs a class of broken, alienated and divided people, who have no choice but to submit to it. The results of such harmful gender divisions have created a world of gender violence, where womyn are taught they are inferior and weak, and men are robbed of their own emotional strength and truth, because they must be the stronger half. And most importantly patriarchy continues to harm our revolutionary movements, which has historical significance.
The system does not teach us these historical truths; the ways we have been bamboozled and pitted against one another. we are taught that we are solely responsible for our successes and failures in our life. If you are struggling spiritually and materially society points its greedy fat finger at you, and ask what did you do to get there? You must deserve it. But what we deserve we don’t got, because we have been deprived of love and living through these war games of the rich. We have been deprived, blamed and shamed, and then expected to coexist with others in a healthy way, but the world we live in is unhealthy. These are the contradictions that lay the material and cultural foundation for the world we live within. The feminist dialectics that move within me guide me to understand these contradictions. The ways this system of stratification has transcended the workplace and provided the very substance of our relationships and intimacy. When you have no choice over your material placement in society then you have no choice over the social and cultural power that comes with that position and how it engages with others. Our lives are simultaneously shaped by patriarchy and capitalism before we leave the womb even. It is the environment our mothers are living in while we are living within them; the sounds they hear; the air they breathe; the food they eat and have access too; the interactions they have with others; the care they receive and have access too.
The quality of our life is so dependent upon the system and that is such a demoralizing truth. That said, how do we achieve accountability. How do we get happy. I believe that accountability to ourselves is revolution. This is the dialectic. We must understand the objective reality of the world we live in; the patriarchy and the capitalism, which controls all power and resources within our society and therefore effects our relationships. We then must see the solution subjectively: the people must change these relationships through fundamental change within society. Revolutionary and philosopher Georg Lukacs referred to this as being both the object and subject of history. Dialectics are revolutionary. When the people see themselves as both the object and subject of history then consciousness is being unleashed in practice. This is the path to material and spiritual liberation. I say feminist dialectics deliberately, because feminism strengthens the ways we understand social relations through its analysis of patriarchy and gender conditioning. I see feminism as a politic, but also as a method to employ ideas in practice in your own life and within the struggle. The power of feminism lies within the relationship between the two. I also see the ways feminism is lacking theoretically and therefore in practice. Too much academia, which is abstract, eurocentric and usually not revolutionary. That said, we need new ideas, not just within feminism, we need new revolutionary analysis and strategy, which feminism helps inform. In order to collectively destroy and rebuild we need to overcome these racial/gender divisions to achieve real unity. Ive seen this best captured within struggle, within the streets, where people feel their power against the common enemy of capital, not each other. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious healing work to be done to maintain that unity with each other, ourselves and the struggle. This is the necessity of self-determination and its significance is two-fold:
(1) self-determination on a global scale means the liberation of all people from the chains of capitalism and patriarchy through the revolutionary overthrow of the old society and a rebuilding of something new and free. This liberation will only happen through the conscious collective actions of the people, not the government, which must be overthrown on a global scale.
(2) In order for the people to get anywhere close to such unified self-determination we must learn accountability for ourselves and community, which means unlearning a lot of harmful socialization and healing from trauma (current and ancestral).
These two definitions of self-determination must constantly be relating and engaging with one another. Revolution is neither deterministic nor mechanical. It must be dynamic, because people and life are dynamic, and these are the necessary ingredients. We must constantly be striving to get better for ourselves so that we can be better for each other. Does that mean that once we understand this it will be easy and we will stop harming each other? No. But it does help guide us and make us self-aware. We are not the pigs and as revolutionaries and people we have to be better than this worthless, abusive system If we are going to get free. The future is waiting to be written and I’m ready for some sunshine and happiness.
I have never known the experience of having a grandfather in your life to learn from and spend time with. My father did not know his father and my mother was estranged from hers. However, my father’s grandfather, my great grandfather, has always carried such importance in my life. His name is Herman Walder, but we call him Daddy Herman. I never knew him but I know many things about him. He was a well-known and talented jazz musician in Kansas City, a family man, and a sharp dresser. His daughter, my grandmother, says that he used to say ‘sharp like a Harlem sissy’ in regards to his fashion. A lover of womyn and an ally to the queers. The truth is my grandfather was always down for a good time, and during the prohibition days good times were to be had at the underground jazz clubs, where musicians, queers, prostitutes, jazz lovers, and anyone looking for a party could be found. He was a charismatic person and an artist. Even though I never knew him I have been connected to him all my life. I guess it’s just something in the intuition; I feel his spirit in my own.
He has been gone for 28 years now. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today and it has felt good to meditate on his spirit, as well as my own. Been feeling preoccupied all weekend with thoughts…thoughts for my brothers who are so alienated in this world. Dehumanized as ‘criminals’. Disconnected from feelings. The legacy of our continual slavery. I think about the challenges I have experienced with trying to love my brothers. The disappointment and violence that sometimes greets this love. I think about humanizing them as I humanize myself, so that we can really embrace each other in our many selves. In honor of those feelings and my grandfather I wanted to include a poem by the fierce and important poet Wanda Coleman. Also known as the ‘LA blues woman’. Her words always radiate with truth and power.
Much love for the ancestors.
Holding the Sidewalk Down by wanda coleman
it is an american universal peculiar to certain black men
who hang out on street corners no matter where
making signals to one another
some mysterious juju/communication
worshipping the passing of a life
that excludes them
There are moments when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
and you are hit with the sudden realization
that things aren’t always as sweet as they seem
and those late night giggles that lead to late morning kisses
are replaced with long silences
and awkward goodbyes
There are times when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
that release you from old habits
daydreams where security is found
and pedestals that don’t really exist
and the hard feelings of disappointment
are gently unpacked from the truth gained from the release
and truth is sweet
as love first felt
it is the first hour
of my fathers birthday
and familiar feelings of disappointment
clutch at my heart.
attempts to burden me with smallness
that is so gendered in nature.
the body and spirit weighed down
by another man
filling up too much space.
i release such doings
fighting off the triggers
of what once was.
feelings i have outgrown.
and i thank myself for this movement closer
we must remind ourselves that we are more than enough
Interviewer: what does freedom mean to you?
Nina: Its just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. Its like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love. How are you gonna tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love. You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. Ive had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else!
Ill tell you what freedom is to me NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear.
If I could have that, half of my life – no fear – lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, REALLY FEEL! Like a new way of seeing! LIKE A NEW WAY OF SEEING SOMETHING.
When you live chained to a life not of your own making, when you are born into it from a system that permeates even your mothers womb, freedom is a new way of seeing. And one of the most disturbing things is that we have been so inoculated by our oppressors that we have come to accept these chains as freedom, some kind of gift of modernity. Many people, especially here within the United States, have been robbed of an understanding of what has come before and what stands in front of us. The potential of real liberation if we dare to trust ourselves and each other to really live and fight for each other. One of my favorite quotes from Assata Shakur’s biography Assata speaks to the power of consciousness and liberation,
‘the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free you have to be accutely aware of being a slave.”
And to understand what it means to be a slave in this system you have to be shaken up and opened up as Nina describes in this interview featured below. This is the role of the revolutionary, the dreamer and artist. To open people up from this mental/physical slavery so that they may feel something. It is the feelings that humanize us. Humanizing ourselves is a revolutionary act, which reaches its highest potential when the people are in motion doing this work together through real struggle that can take down capitalism and patriarchy. But before we can reach such critical moments in history, the people need to understand this task and it has always been the militants and creators through out time and space that have inspired the people to do so. Have planted seeds in ones consciousness, emboldening them to act. To conquer fear and self doubt, which stifle our movement. To be free. Womyn like Assata Shakur and Nina Simone are two very important womyn who have done that; and they dedicated their lives to doing that, because they feel. They loved their people enough to want them to wake up. To fight for something greater. I will forever feel close to these womyn, because that is what they did for me.
I’ve been intending to blog about Nina for quite some time. It is her song ‘in the dark’ off of her 1967 album Nine Simone Sings the Blues, which provided the inspiration for the title of this very blog. I was introduced to Nina Simone at the tender age of 15 by my super cool older sister Elicia, who sent me a care package full of cd’s that she thought I might like: An eclectic bundle of Nina, Louis Armstrong, Bjork and Alice in Chains. Elicia is 11 years older than me and a brilliant and creative person. I did not spend a lot of my adolescence living with her, but I always had interesting books and music and intentional gifts to look forward too via mail. Alice in Chains doesn’t make it into the rotation anymore, but I took to Nina quite instantly. Her music was like nothing I had heard before; it’s blending of gospel, soul, classical, and the blues. I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the dynamic complexities of her music over the years, but even at 15 when I didn’t always get it, I drew strength from the fact that Nina always did her own thang, despite being a black womyn from North Carolina.
I love the slowness of ‘In the dark’. I love the ways the harmonica fills the spaces between Nina’s vocals, which capture a moment and feeling that pulls you in. Nina wants you to feel the music; there are no formulas or stale emotions expressed through lyrical cliches. Her music is very intentional; cultivated by her spirit with the purpose of touching others. It is a total experience. That is where the power of art lies in the ability to move you; compel you to connect with yourself in ways denied by the system. Any artist must reckon with themselves if they are striving to move people. It is this honesty that appeals to people. Nina understands she is a force and she wants you to reckon with it. This is reflected in the opening track ‘Do I move you?’, written by Nina and sets the tone for whats to come. The back up band brought together many great blues musicians, but the music is pretty tame in comparison to the passion and life that Nina’s performance brings to the songs. Some of the tracks have very stripped down instrumentation to expose the raw emotion of the tracks and the stories they weave. I am a romantic daydreamer type so I gravitate towards art that reflects some of those feelings, which is why the romance of ‘In the dark’ touched me. The whole album is quite good though, and a necessary addition to your music library if you don’t already have it.
Along with the song i have also included this short excerpt from an interview, which was recently shared with me by my dear and talented friend Justin. I have had it on repeat for the past 24 hours. I simply can’t get enough of it: her words, the feelings, the expressions, and the intent. This video feels like medicine to my tired spirit. What I really love about this interview is the poetically direct way she captures the feeling of alienation in our society, and the work she does to transcend it and how it relates to our overall liberation. Beautifully spoken here,
‘Everybody is half dead. Everybody avoids everybody all over the place in most situations, most all the time. I know. I’m one of those everybody’s, and to me its terrible. So all I am trying to do all the time is just open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That is it.’
This work is so humanizing and therefore so radical. Many of us carry our wounds daily from the trauma of living within this system, and it prevents us from opening up and connecting with each other or doing right by each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ways we are harmed by the system and the retaliation we direct at each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the levels of sectarianism that permeate the left; the gossip; the cliquishness; the competitiveness. I wonder about the future and I fear the doubts that creep into my thoughts. But then I watch this video and I feel Nina’s energy and I am reminded of the path I have set for myself and the path that has been set for me before I existed. When I was just an idea. And I find comfort and inspiration in that. I only hope you can too and that we can together. Enjoy.
It is a strange feeling to look into the eyes of someone you love as you break their heart.
’I love you but I cannot be with you the way you want right now. Probably never. I love womyn. This is who I am. I don’t want to complicate your life or my own.’
I see his eyes sink back into his skull like two glass beads swirling in ambers and gray. Gazing into them is like looking into the moon; that emotional center. I am drawn to it but sometimes its light hangs uncomfortably on my vulnerable skin. We sometimes shrink from ourselves when fear gets in the way. I look into his moon eyes and feel the depth of souls he’s held within himself; residue of their own deep fears and emotion. To look into them is to plunge into landscapes vast as the universe. Yet there is something hollow there and the alienation of this living settles in. the world is populated with millions of people yet loneliness seems to be a permanent condition.
He tells me everything will be okay. That he knew already because I told him through the spirit. I nod, because I did, but the emotion was still draining for both of us. I felt the weight of the energy filling the small room. I could barely stand. He sensed my fatigue and wrapped his arms around me for support. We embraced and I felt my limbs crumple in surrender against his trembling body.
‘It’s ok,’ he whispers over and over as if he was convincing himself more than I.
I breathe into his open heart space and felt my own emotions peeling off of my chest. He takes in everything so that I may be free.
So many spirits
And I am overwhelmed by the blessing of this release.
‘Queer struggle is class struggle!’
I like this phrase, because it evokes revolutionary politics.
Politics informed by queers and our struggles
placed outside the system through the system
violence coloring the entire process.
What i fear is it becoming just that
reminiscent of days gone by and struggles that rallied
‘black white unite and fight’
with no real understanding of what ‘black’ and ‘white’ means
in terms of class and therefore struggle.
Capital is too complex for shallow understandings of our oppression
and i, for one, am tired of being erased.
the heaviness sometimes
your ever evolving
offers much inspiration
for what could be