Real Talk: Cultivating Kindness

Surely by now we all are friends. At least the distant digital kind that give a listening ear and kindness when we need it. Right now I need a real talk moment. Parenting has been quite a struggle for me recently. I find myself so easily agitated at my children, even the littlest one, barking orders at them, wishing the day away until it’s time for bed. It’s such a shame because I see how it affects their tempers and attitudes. How they’re treated is often reflected in how they treat others. These days it’s mostly with annoyance and anger. Sigh.

What’s the most difficult is that my two boys are absolute turds. I say that in the most loving, motherly way, but holy shit, they are so loud and fight so much. And you know, Jason and I try to teach them kindness and gentleness, but out come the punches and cries that someone took something that they were looking for and will neeeeever give it baaaaack, despite all of our modest attempts at guiding them to loving others. That’s about when I drop my head and wait desperately for 8pm reading, toothbrush, pj, and bed time. Okay, honestly, they could go to bed in jeans and cavities at that point. Just please, for the love of god, close the door and fall asleep. And there you have it. A vicious cycle of anger begetting anger, and more anger, and a heaping tablespoon of annoyance. No wonder my kids are just so lovely to be around.

I think that it was, oh, everyday this week that the boys were squabbling when I pulled them aside to talk to them about kindness, about honoring others with our words and our actions, loving others, treating them how they would like to be treated. They both darted their eyes around the room, squirming to get away from their nagging mom, and told each other sorry, now give me back boy toy, you thief! 

You know, cultivating kindness really is difficult. Everything in our flesh rejects it. It is a discipline to think of others and not yourself. To forgive when you have been wronged. To love when others hate. Selfishness and pride rule our bodies and minds. Well, at least in our family. And that’s really what I have been struggling with. My own selfishness and time. I want to do what I want, when I want it. So, naturally, that causes conflict between me and my toddler when she’s hungry right when I want to, oh, go to the bathroom or check my email. It also causes conflict when I don’t want to read or play games with my son after he’s been asking for an hour. And I get annoyed. Then he hits his brother. Like I said, it’s a vicious cycle.

But you know, I could go off and read a list on how other families have worked to cultivate kindness – writing encouraging letters to each other, baking each other cookies, shooting rainbows from their… I’ll stop – but those lists always leave me feeling like a pretty big failure. My kids don’t donate their allowance money to starving kids in Haiti. Hell, I can’t even get them to loan me $5 for a coffee at Target. They have Minecraft paraphernalia to buy! But what we can do is cultivate forgiveness. When they do wrong they can confess, ask forgiveness, and be forgiven. Maybe that will cultivate more kindness in the long term. To know that you’re forgiven and loved would motivate anyone to be kind to others. Even me.

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Colin Kaepernick takes his place in a long line of oppressed American patriots

Okay, class! I think it’s time for a history lesson. With our country having emerged upon a very important and timely intersection of blackness, Americanness, and football, I think that it’s high time for us to uncover some of the truths and unfortunate historical contexts that have brought us to this very poignant moment. I’m taking my cue from the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who has been silently kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem at his games in protest for the unjust treatment and oppression of black people at the hands of police officers. He has recently inspired many athletes across our country, professional and amateur, all the way to elementary students during the morning pledge of allegiance, to kneel in silent protest. A noble cause.

What we cannot ignore but rather must confront is our country’s history of racism, misogyny, and oppression. It has infected every area of our nation, from the first boots of colonialism that stepped onto marshy banks to knees that are bent on football fields. To ignore and to insist that this history has either been left behind or that this history is over exaggerated is to see history from a blind and ignorant lens of privilege. But the reality is that you don’t have to look far to find it.

Let’s go to 1781 when Thomas Jefferson, one of our country’s most honored founding fathers, wrote Notes on the State of Virginia only five years after he wrote the declaration of independence. In this text, Jefferson gives breath taking overtures on the separation of church and state, individual liberty, the richness of America’s natural resources, and the inferiority of “the blacks.” After describing black people as having no mind to write or learn, having a foul smell, being designed as an animal for hard labor and little sleep, being incapable of loving their women and only desiring their bodies, he concludes “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” It should be no surprise then that when we look at the the creation of the constitution in 1787, our other founding fathers decided that black slaves were considered to be only 3/5ths of a whole person. Property to be haggled over for taxes and representation, more seats in congress.

Though we are two centuries away from these inaugural decisions at the birth of our nation and many if not most of the institutionalized systems of racism have been dismantled, the remnants of these systems ring in our ears and in the lives of black people if you choose listen and look around. From the war on drugs, to the repeal of the voting rights act, the mass incarceration of black youth, the labeling of “super predators,” the new Jim Crow, antagonism against the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and on and on, this system of racism was bred and incubated in our country’s revered historical documents and founding fathers. This festering racism that is found in most of our founding documents has interwoven into the American consciousness. And how couldn’t it? The same documents and historical figures who we revere as the ancestors of our freedoms and patriotism are the very inscribers of racism and misogyny into our systems of governance, legislation and culture.

Recently, Boami Jones wrote an article in the Undefeated titled “Kaepernick is asking for justice not peace,” where he poignantly suggests that “While the major party candidates for president spent the week pointing at each other with charges of who is or isn’t the real racist, Kaepernick pointed at the flag and, by extension, every person who takes pride in the American flag.” This suggestion naturally ruffled quite a few feathers. But if we consider for a moment that you lived in a country where your founding fathers considered you to be 3/5ths of a person, a smelly, unintelligent, lustful person, property, that perhaps you would have a difficult time revering it as much as your white countrymen.  Especially when you witness firsthand the racist imagination that your fellow countrymen have inherited from our founders. It may often be much subtler and undetectable to some, but it is also very obvious when videos of murdered black citizens scroll across our screens every day.

To deny the very obvious historical racism that Kaepernick is protesting is not just ignorant, it is wrong. The work that he is doing is only un-patriotic to those who hold our country up to an infallible esteem and who ignore the very problematic and hurtful history of racism that many of our brothers and sisters in America experience daily. There is nothing noble about forgetting and ignoring that history and present reality.

That is why critiquing our country is important. It’s what moves our country forward and away from its dark beginnings of slavery and genocide, and towards a hope of more equality, freedom, and liberty. This is a freedom that has not solely been fought for by soldiers. It has been fought for by generations of oppressed people. People whose backs were striped with whips and held by chains. Necks that have hung from trees. Women who sat on bus seats. Children who first integrated into schools. Indigenous people who stand at Standing Rock. Football players kneeling on the side lines. Those are the patriots who demand that their country respect them and move us towards a greater freedom. A greater equality. A greater happiness. Kaepernick is actively participating in the National Anthem not by standing, but by kneeling in remembrance, reverence and in protest against the legacy of racism that has and continues to affect him and his ancestors. God bless America and the patriots who demand better.

Accepting the Risk of a Trump Presidency

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society– Angela Davis

I’ve been spending my time these few weeks immersed in reading; poetry, essays, books, articles, mostly written by black women. This is the process of liberating my mind. Expanding my borders. Everywhere we look our world is on fire and I don’t want my mind to go up in a blaze with it. So I read. And I read what isn’t instant. Online writing has become largely a space of immediate gratification and self aggrandizement, not often a space for contemplation or intellectual exercise. And I do realize that my writing on this blog places itself in that discourse. Though, I hope in some small way that it contributes to deeper thought and contemplations. To read words that have been carefully crafted, thought over, and critically created in the context of other similarly thoughtful writing is the work of actively liberating your mind. The distress that I see over the Presidential election has naturally captured my attention and I can’t help but wonder if we are enslaving ourselves with continual, non-stop streams of immediate information. In the furor of news articles, cable news programs, live streams, blog entries, memes, and tweets filling our consciousnesses, the discipline of being still and contemplating our own thoughts, reactions, and understandings become chained to what flashes in front of us. We then begin filtering buzz words through value systems that aren’t actually our own, but rather through what is new and current. Voices get lost. And they are usually the ones that have sat and read and thought critically, having not yet moved on to the most current news cycle. I’m also considering how I contribute to and participate in this cycle of enslavement on social media and on this blog. How do I latch onto what is inflammatory and immediate? Or how do I reinforce binaries of liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, racist/anti-racist, christian/non-christian,  American/non-American? That’s what I find that online writing and information sharing typically works to do and how it enslaves: it works to reinforce binaries. Having spent some time reading Angela Davis, I am considering her philosophy of not endorsing politicians, but rather engaging in independent politics that places pressure on candidates by engaging them in difficult conversations, pressing them on their weaknesses, flaws, voting records, and platforms, and is not interested in electing specific parties. I want to be much more intentional and conscious of how I help to dismantle a political system of binaries instead of reinforcing it. And I am aware of how this sentiment is scoffed at. The current political system that we have constructed and reinforce is a binary that I am constantly uncomfortable with. As Davis suggests, there is no party that is rooted in labor or has the vocabulary or the desire to effectively address sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism. The current system works by pandering to those issues in return for votes; eventually progressive work does slowly get done, but only as a result of political pandering, not active resistance. What I find most disturbing in this election cycle is the broad dismissal of cries for a third party candidate (who are not the ineffective Green Party or Libertarian party), specifically the dismissal of women and people of color who are not satisfied with the current parties or candidates. We must remember that this current binary political system works to organize people into systems of oppression. Nowhere in this system is there an adequate place for issues that concern the labor class, people of color, women, queer, trans, or the disabled and dismissing those who are dissatisfied with the current system and how it oppresses is not only harmful but an oppressive act itself. I find that the same people who get uncomfortable when black feminists begin to organize and suggest that white feminism has worked to oppress them for decades, are the same people who get uncomfortable when liberals and democrats are also criticized for oppressing women and people of color.  When a black woman expresses her concern for both a Trump and a Clinton presidency, we cannot dismiss that concern. Her mind and body has been oppressed by both political parties and it is not a simple matter of choosing the worse of two candidates. Arguing that she choose between two candidates in a system that has actively worked against her for generations is itself an oppressive act. We must realize that the experiences and voices of those who have suffered most need to be considered and we must work to create a political system, from the local to the national, that rejects binaries and encourages independent politics. Because what I have seen a lot of on the internet, that immediate and quick information stream, are white, middle class people who are scared of a Trump presidency deriding women and people of color for not accepting Hillary Clinton. These people who are not willing to support Clinton are then assigned the responsibility of avoiding a Trump presidency. That is not anti-oppression. That is not liberation. That is not anti-sexism or anti-racism. That is oppressive and enslaved politics. We must recognize how our democracy and two party system is oppressive in that way and reject it. Even at the risk of a Trump presidency. What is most striking is that for the first time in a long time, we see white people scared of an oppressive power from above. We are scared of how a Trump presidency will not only hurt minorities, but us as well. We then turn to those who have been systematically oppressed by our government for generations and tell them to choose someone else who they are equally afraid of and tell them that it’s the lesser oppressor. That’s privilege and arrogance if I ever saw it. And it’s what I’m concerned that I’ve engaged in and am reinforcing. That’s what I’m trying to liberate myself from and research how to support and implement governing systems that reject systems of oppression. However, that’s a slow process and it is a process that may risk a Trump presidency and that scares the crap out of liberal white people. Including me.

The Silent Mile: The Privilege Of Choosing To Be Silent

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Am I too cynical? Disillusioned? Unbelieving? Hopeless?  That when I march with a crowd of hundreds for the shared belief and desire for peace I can’t but not roll my eyes? What is wrong with me?

I’m wondering if this is a safe space for me to process an event that I participated in yesterday in my city. How can I explore my own beliefs and experiences in a way that is both honest, healing, and works to dismantle the minds and beliefs of those like me who also marched?  Because the work that I am MOST interested in doing is confronting and dismantling systematic oppression, misogyny, and white privilege. And I’ll tell ya, that pisses a lot of people off. It means that those of us in positions of power and privilege have to take a good, long, difficult look at ourselves and our work and confront how we support and benefit from these systems. Even when we march. No, especially when we march. Solidarity, unity, allyship is more than a held sign, a shared Facebook post, an identity. It is a process of rejecting our privilege and giving it away without receiving approval, praise or acknowledgement for our work. It is the work of humility and confession, putting others before ourselves. We become lower so that others can become higher. Isn’t unity and equality supposed to put us all on the same level? I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you: No. No it’s not. We should be putting those who have been made less than in our system on top at the expense to ourselves. So, yeah. It pisses people off.

What I am going to do here is explore and examine my own experience at The Silent Mile NFK march that I participated in yesterday afternoon. These are my thoughts, my observations, my experiences, my confessions and they do not represent anyone else who attended. I don’t want to take away from the good work that was done yesterday and I do not want to disparage anyone that attended. But instead, what I do want to do is point out that the racially and class privileged people at the event were not confronted with their complicity in systematic racism and oppression; a message that is vital to dismantling it.


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I stood on the Hague walking bridge yesterday with hundreds of people waiting to walk single file down Brambleton Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Norfolk, during rush hour and block it for about 20 minutes while we crossed. Most of the people who stood around me appeared to be from Ghent and ODU; they’re not very difficult to recognize. I didn’t feel in the least out of place. I felt like I belonged, though slightly less tattooed than most. I felt safe, comfortable, almost good about myself for being there. Before we marched, each of us were given the name of a black person who has been fatally shot by police in the last year and we were instructed to Google them before the walk began. This is when I first started to feel uncomfortable. Let me digitally introduce you to Kevin Hicks, the man that was put on my shirt and who I was walking in silence for. I don’t know any more about him than what that link produces. What I do know is that he was shot and killed by a police officer after he assaulted his wife in their car while their kid was in the back seat. While he was assaulting her, she called 911 and approached police at a gas station for help. Video surveillance shows him assaulting the officer who initially attempted to use a taser to subdue him, but it escalated to the use of deadly force after the officer’s hand was broken and bitten by Kevin Hicks. I was marching in a funeral procession for him. I will have to be honest with you and say that it took everything inside of me to keep his name on my shirt. I wanted to throw it off. He was a misogynist. A wife beater. He physically assaulted and harmed the officer who was trying to protect his wife and child. I felt ill just looking at his name, let alone wear it. My experience at the event never recovered from that moment.

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In that moment I was immediately confronted with the complex layers and intersections of this very important issue and I was uncomfortable with continuing. As I was internally grappling with Kevin Hicks we began filing in and silently marching. I held up a sign that was provided to me by organizers that said “Break The Silence. #BlackLivesMatter,” as I walked past dozens and dozens of police officers that stood by and blocked off streets for us, directed traffic, and boiled in the sun. I couldn’t help but to feel deeply ashamed of myself, ashamed of Kevin Hicks, ashamed of this broken system, and ashamed for feeling ashamed. But still I marched. Each step troubled me and I longed to reach the end where organizers were waiting for us with a planned demonstration. I hoped for some consolation at the end, something, anything, to assuage my grief. But it never came. We packed and filed into rows on the empty lawn while organizers called out the 144 names of black people who have been fatally shot by police officers this year. There were some people who placed the piece of tape with their person’s name on it over their mouths. Silence. Reverence. A life lost. My piece of tape seared through my shirt, into my skin and boiled me into shame.
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There I was. Standing with a large group of people, most of whom were very similar to myself in both class, race, and privilege, and I was alone. When I look at racialized and classist police brutality from the outside I can’t understand it. I’ve never experienced it. I don’t fear it. I struggle to believe that it exists. If there weren’t videos of it and if my black friends didn’t keep reminding me of it’s pervasive existence and affect on their own psyches I would go about my days unaware and unchanged. Hell, I see and hear it in the news and online and I’m still barely changed. I’m still grappling with what it means to support someone who has made criminal decision, like Kevin Hicks, and then ended up dead at the hands of the police. These aren’t isolated incidents in people’s lives. These aren’t isolated “racist” cops gunning down minorities.This is a system of oppression. One in which we’re are all interwoven and complicit in. And this wasn’t addressed at the demonstration. The group of people who marched and demonstrated were not confronted with our place in this system of oppression, racism, misogyny, and police brutality. The organizers of the silent mile said that one of the things they want is accountability of police officers. Do you know what I want? I want accountability from our community and the people that marched yesterday. We all identify as allies. The good guys. The anti-racist people against other bigoted, racist people. And that is a false dichotomy. We all make choices in this system that benefit ourselves and harm others. We choose where to hang out, live, get coffee, send our children to school, who we vote for, if/when/where to volunteer, to be silent or to speak, and to protest or not, in a system that works for some and against others. And if we don’t locate ourselves on the spectrum of that system, if we don’t confront the choices that we make and the privileges that we have, then we are not allies. Because the truth is that we had a choice to be silent. If we don’t recognize that there are others who do not have that choice, that there are others who are silenced, then we are going nowhere. The Black Lives Matter activists are often silenced. The Silent Mile activists chose to be silent. There is a difference. A very important difference that needed to be recognized and confronted.

Only 4,000 feet away from where the march ended yesterday is a public housing community, Young Terrace, where crime, violence, poverty, and fear exists in an incubator. Those of us on that were on that lawn barely know that it exists and are complicit in the system that put the people in that community and works to keep them there. It’s the work of our local laws, regulations, policies, policing systems, social systems, education systems, voting systems, business systems, on and on and on, that work to benefit a few and oppress others. The ones reaping from and collecting those benefits stood in solidarity on the lawn, a stones throw from the people to whom we stood in solidarity with.

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I will end with reinforcing that this was a very good and needed protest. It drew attention to a very important and deadly issue. I’m thankful to those who organized it and showed up. But there is so much more to do. We need to collectively confront our privilege and the systems to which we benefit from and work to shift the power. That means marching with and lifting up Black Lives Matter activists. It means demanding that our local officials and representatives focus their time, money, and resources on our most desperate neighbors and neighborhoods and not just the light rail lines, shopping malls, trendy grocery stores, art districts, coffee shops, and schools for our most privileged students. It means putting our time, energy, and money where our mouth is. You want to end systematic oppression and racism? Then we need to own our place in the system of racism and privilege and displace it. Spend time in these neighborhoods. Spend your money at black owned businesses. Demand that grocery stores are put in our food deserts. Grow a community garden in a dangerous community and then DON’T COMPLAIN when the people in that neighborhood reject you and trample on your plants. Keep working. Keep loving. Keep dismantling. Form relationships. And keep marching.

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