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 play pure emotion..In music, the only thang that matters is whether you feel it or not..Chords are just the name for sounds, which really need no names at all, as names are sometimes confusing..Blow what you feel – anything. Play the thought, the idea in your mind – Break away from the convention and stagnation – escape! [Musicians] have more room to express themselves with me…They should be free to play things as they feel it, the way it’s comfortable for them to play it. You can use any note and rhythm pattern that makes good sense for you. You just hear it – like beautiful thoughts – you don’t listen to people telling you how to play…My music doesn’t have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It’s more like breathing – a natural, freer time. People have forgotten how beautiful it is to be natural. Even in love…’
-ornette coleman, from The Harmolodic Manifesto [a musical application of socialism]
Even in love…the words settle softly but firmly within my mental. Of course the people are disconnected from any real feelings of what love in its natural state could look like. Feel like. We live within capitalism, which birthed racism and exploits patriarchy. It structures everything and socializes us in a culture that supports such structures; none of which are founded on love. In the states we are taught false bourgeois understandings of it. We are conditioned through bourgeois holidays to celebrate love and togetherness a few days out of the year, where we are assaulted with advertising pressure to consume and show love through our wallets and things. Things replace love and feelings. Natural does not occur, because we do not live within the settings of anything natural. We are so far removed from our own wants and desires; alienated from our bodies and spirits and each other. Alienated from the earth. The type of freedom ornette coleman speaks to in his manifesto above transcends the makings of music. For me, it means the necessity of revolution. Music, like all culture, is regulated through society. Music therefore represents the same rigidity and oppressive ideas that rule all realms of society, incarcerating us in a patriarchal/capitalist mental and physical slavery. Musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane chose to break jazz free from the western linear structure. They wanted collective/individual free expression; the connection of feelings and body with music; with sound. This type of connection is real freedom, but freedom does not exist under capitalism. Therefore our art is not completely free either. But we can use it to express these critical ideas. We can use it to express alternative visions in practice. John Coltrane expresses this idea musically here,
“I think the majority of musicians are interested in truth, you know—they’ve got to be because a musical thing is a truth. If you play and make a statement, a musical statement, and it’s a valid statement, that’s a truth right there in itself, you know. If you play something phony you know that’s phony. All musicians are striving to get as near perfection as they can get. That’s truth there, you know. So in order to play those kind of things, to play truth, you’ve got to live with as much truth as you possibly can, you know.”
I believe that revolutionaries feel very similarly. There is an understanding that our struggle is grounded in a righteous truth, liberation. All of our actions are being guided by that truth; the righteous revolutionary strives to embody truth as much as possible, despite the challenges of capitalism. This is what we must do if we stand a chance of moving towards a new age of freedom. This type of revolutionary thinking can be applied to the music and thought of musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltran. Coleman tried to develop his ideas around free jazz into a loose document called The Harmolodics Manifesto. It is underdeveloped theoretically, and some may argue that it is a joke that Coleman created to amuse himself. Either way, I see the potential in the ideas presented; there is a conscious analysis of music that can be applied to the overall structures of society and revolution. Coleman’s music and ideas are revolutionary, because they are dialectical. Dialectics is the understanding that society is developed and propelled forward through the relationship of contradictions, leading to ruptures and transformation. This was a fundamental change in western methods of consciousness, which relied on formal logic. Formal logic did not account for the real movement that makes up society, because it did not understand contradictions. Karl marx grounded dialectics within class struggle asserting that the fundamental contradiction of society is between the oppressed and the oppressors. It is the results of these struggles, which has catapulted us into new historical epochs, capitalism being our current one. Dialectics therefore is inherently revolutionary, because it is the conscious actions of people provide the basis for destroying and rebuilding society. The makings of history.
Ornette Coleman and John Coltranes development of free jazz is a musical application of dialectics in many ways. They used jazz to challenge the limitations of jazz giving birth to a new sound, and therefore a new idea. This is music, but it is all very social. That is why Coleman and Coltrane speak to the human feeling involved. They’re making musical emotion; providing sounds to the thoughts and feelings. They do not see a disconnection between them. This is a new concept that challenge’s the limitations imposed upon our collective consciousness through living in this capitalist system and learning exploitation on the job, within classrooms, and our communities. We have to consciously break free from this conditioning and strive for the truth behind the socialization. This is don through living, studying, creating and struggling. It is what has helped me stay awake in this system with hope and inspiration for my people. But the truth is we aren’t socialized to feel; to express our feelings naturally. We do not live naturally. We have no idea what that really means even. We buy meat in plastic and styrafoam, and frozen vegetables shipped from across the world. We live in little boxes removed from one other, laid down on pavement, which has been laid down on the beautiful earth. This keeps us spiritually weak so that we are more equipped to accept the misery of this absurd and abusive system. A people who are awake and in touch with their beautiful hearts and desires together is a powerful force; it stands oppose to the makings of the system. If we all begin to understand this truth and come together on the basis of this truth, then we can rebel against the system with the goal of taking it back and running it for ourselves. Then we will have revolution unfolding around us; materially and culturally, uplifting our spirits because of the strength of our spirits. Therefore, the most important revolutionary work we must be doing during and in between struggles is stimulating the conscious/spirits of the people. Inspiring them and supporting what they already know; what we all know birthed within us.
And art, like struggle, is, and has always been, an important vehicle for inspiring and transforming the people’s consciousness. Arts revolutionary effect on the people is twofold: it is both the production of revolutionary art, as well as consumption of it, which inspires and effects the people. Revolutionary art can deliver messages that inspire the people and make them move. It is also the act of making art and participating with others in the production of art, which can transform someone’s consciousness. There will be many a revolutionary who will diss art and its importance. Part of that is coming from a righteous feeling of seeing art fetishized in liberal ways that lose sight of the importance of revolution and taking power back. That said, art will save you. Capitalism is designed for so many to fail and suffer. It can be hard to find reasons for living, but art offers connection. Connection to ourselves and each other. Often people find art before they have been exposed to the idea of revolution. As a kid It was through art that I found emotional strength to survive my family trauma, and my ancestral trauma, the system being the ultimate source of it all. The more we value art in the revolutionary left the more we can guide people to a total understanding of the world. Our art can cast visions for action and that is what it must do.
The system has been in our wombs since the beginning of European colonization of the world and the development of capitalism, where the rape and the breeding of African womyn was a dominant feature of the political economy of the United States. And continues to be. The recent fascist patriarchal perspectives on womyns bodies and abortion expressed by Mitt Romney and the Neo conservatives have sparked more discussion within the bourgeois press as well as the left, invoking the ongoing prolife/prochoice debate. Prolife/prochoice movement has often been grounded in reforming the system, and advocating for roe v wade. This is largely due to bourgeois ‘feminists’, such as Feminist Majority and NOW, and nonprofits, such as Planned Parenthood, having the privilege to define the movement. This is not helpful for working class womyn and revolutionary feminist, who understand that real body liberation comes from the collective liberation of all people from patriarchy and capitalism. Womyn must understand that Romney and Obama are not going to do anything for the general wellness of womyn, because they represent a system that has raped, harmed, exploited and murdered womyn for centuries. That is not going to change. Therefore, as long as Patriarchal capitalism exists womyn will never have freedom over their bodies and the support they need to make the choices that are right for them. What is more useful to me is for the people to understand the totality of the system, and the ways that the regulation of gender and sexuality are necessary for its survival, and continual colonization over our lives and bodies. Understanding these truths will hopefully lead the people to do something about it, and hopefully that something is bolder than voting.
On the eve of this election, where people will be going to the voting booths tomorrow with the intention that they have freedom and power in the system, I want to share some thoughts about what this system and democracy is all about. I do not put energy towards electoral politics anymore, and I think there are good arguments by other revolutionaries who are down with electoralism. I, of course, see the benefit in engaging in electoral politics as a way of meeting people where they are at, and beginning conversations around the contradictions of the system and what real democracy (AKA revolution) might look like. That said, I have also seen the limitations of those politics in practice by other leftists, who are too afraid to push struggle out of reformism. Reforms are important, but it is also important to see the potential in struggle and sharpening things in revolutionary directions. Elections and voting are distractions to the people and help maintain the system. For those reasons I stay away preferring to speak the truth about why smashing, as opposed to maintaining, capitalism is a better strategy, as well as to share some revolutionary feminist analysis about all this womyn rights talk that has been activated throughout the election and debates.
For centuries, prior to capitalism and ‘democracy’, Indigenous womyn all around the world understood the power of their bodies and its connection to all living things. They understood how to use the earth to heal and to give back. Abortions were not evasive procedures, like they are now, womyn would use herbs, roots, stones, the moon and magic to decide if they wanted to conceive or not. Queer relationships existed too with acceptance, and not harm and regulation. However, these things are threatening to the inner workings of capitalism, which conditions and regulates our social relations. Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism presents it as an intricate system of relations. The below quote, taken from in Capital, expresses this idea well,
“We thus see that the social relations within which individuals produce, the social relations of production, are altered, transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, of the forces of production. The relations of production in their totality constitute what is called the social relations, society, and moreover society at a definite stage of historic development, a society with peculiar, distinctive characteristics…Capital also is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois relation of production, a relation of production of bourgeois society.”
Capitalism is a system that exploits and conquers through force [colonization]. Necessary ingredients: land, people, animals. Capitalist forcefully remove people from their land in order to take it for their own profit making, forcing the people who once lived on that land to work for it or move to other places to work on more stolen land for the profit of the ruling capitalists. This ‘democracy’ is and has always been a puppet government to convince people that they are free, when really everyone is submitting to the dictatorship of the financial markets and profit. Therefore, at its root capital is a system that must control the land and the populations of people on it. The reproduction of the working class generation after generation is necessary for this system to operate. Exploiting workers labor is how profit is extracted. But how do they ensure that there is a consistent generation of workers to exploit year after year? Through the regulation of people’s relationships, bodies, and sexuality.
With the arrival of capitalism historically came the arrival of ‘race’ ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ as social categories to be conditioned through the system. There was a need to condition people in heteronormative social relations, that were also racialized here in the United States. A womyn is defined very differently if she is White, as opposed to Black, for instance. This helps materially and culturally support a racialized and gendered division of labor, which now structures society. These material class divisions combined with harmful social conditioning keep the people in a state of disconnection from ourselves and each other, which helps protect the profit that the ruling class extracts through our exploitation as workers. But the accumulation of capital does not solely rely on the employed worker, it also relies on the unemployed workforce, which make up the surplus populations of people all around the world. A surplus population is a product of capitalism, and is useful to individual capitalists as a mechanism to super exploit their workers. Workers submit, because they know they can be disposed of and replaced by one of the many people, who make up the reserve army of labor (unemployed). Everyone’s lives are precarious. This has always been a part of the structures of capitalism. In chapter 25 of Capital, ‘The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,’ Marx speaks to this relationship between the employed and the unemployed and the social wealth of society,
“The greater the social wealth, the functioning of capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and therefore also the greater the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productivity of its labor, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, also develop the labor-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army thus increases with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to the amount of torture it has to undergo in the form of labor. The more extensive, finally, the pauperized sections of the working class and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.”
Therefore, poverty provides the foundation for this capitalist system of profit accumulation. It is a joke when politicians, such as Obama and Romney, talk about fixing unemployment and creating more jobs, because unemployment is a direct result of capitalism, the system they represent. The real solution to the high unemployment rates is the overthrow of capitalism.
What is left out of Marx’s analysis is the regulation of gender and sexuality as a necessary function within the accumulation of capital. The ruling class has been oppressing womyn and queers for centuries so that we may be completely alienated from our bodies and desires and therefore dependent upon the system for everything. Capitalism is a system of dependency designed so that we must rely on it to live, yet it is slowly or directly killing us everyday. These centuries of trauma and oppression have resulted in people’s ignorance of their own culture and bodies. Our spirits and bodies are disconnected. We are conditioned to have heterosexual relationships, where sex is solely employed for the purpose of procreation. This ensures a steady supply of fresh human labor to fill up the employed and unemployed sectors of society. This is also why homosexuality and abortions are threatening to capitalism. Not because they are immoral. That is how these issues are presented in bourgeois and some left politics, but moralistic arguments are incorrect, and do not offer clarity about the system. Abortions, queers, sex, and birth control reflect people’s free choices, which directly contradict the systems desire to control us, and therefore are threatening.
It is important to have this total understanding of capitalism and its needs to exploit and oppress people, working class womyn and queers of color in particular, and that no president or politician will fix that. I think as revolutionaries it is important that we express these truths; I’ve seen a lot of fear around speaking the truth to the people. There are moments when I have felt it myself, and I understand it is because we are oppressed and repressed. That is real. But what is also real is that we will never stand a chance at truly winning against the system until we completely break from it through struggle. The people in struggle taking back the land and society for themselves is real democracy and freedom, and it will not be waged in voting booths; it will be waged in the streets, in schools, in prisons and detention centers, in workplaces, all over the world. When we release fear and voice these visions we can inspire and find unity with each other in practice.
The people must be free/the people will be free
All power to the people!
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!