Friday, June 22, 2012

Hi! My name is...

I've been thinking about labels a lot lately. What we name ourselves, what others name us that we believe is true. I'm about to move into a new opportunity where labels are really important.
I'll say more about this soon.
But today I'm busy celebrating turning 32. Which I realize, sounds like I'm saying I'm busy celebrating having my teeth cleaned.
Eventually I'll grow out of thinking birthdays are a big deal. But today I have cupcakes to frost.

This Pomegranate Vanilla Oolong Latte brought to me by my family, who emailed me a coupon for a free drink this morning. Thanks, cousin!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Abuse of Power: The Family, the Church and the Cycle of Violence

Twitter feed from kicking my ass this morning. First, a survey about Bloomberg and the stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD. (Sidebar: really, Mr. Mayor? Not racial profiling? NY Times article says 87% of those arrested were black and Latino. Gun violence remains a barrier to racial equality he says--I can't help but think wryly of Trayvon Martin at that remark. Was someone like George Zimmerman ever going to be stopped and frisked? Is it just me, or are the lines between public policy and fascism growing blurrier? It could just be me; I may have a critical misunderstsanding of fascism.) Then a link to about what it means to be black, not African American. But the ass kicker was about Creflo Dollar, domestic violence and black women in the black church.
I took this in Baltimore in '07. No idea what church, but I loved the look of the city.
So Creflo Dollar is this black megachurch pastor who was arrested for assaulting his 15-year-old daughter. I remember watching Creflo Dollar on television, or rather, watching my mother watch him. When I heard this news I was saddened but utterly unsurprised. The church seems so full of hatred, fear and vitriol wrapped in theology, that generally people are doomed to fall short of the exacting standards to which they hold themselves: adultery, pedophilia, closeted gay lifestyle, violence and abuse are just as common within the church as without. On top of which, the black church, while a sometimes pleasant, sometimes enigmatic memory in my upbringing, is generally a place I don't like to spend (mental or physical) time anymore--again, full of rhetoric (silent women, children without rights or needs, evil white folks and gays who burn in hell, etc.) that I find offensive, irrelevant or spiritually unsound. I was so nonplussed, I was content to pay the story no attention.
But then I read this story. title got me, When the Black Church Fails Women. The writer talks about the moment she knew she had to leave her church--for the day at least; maybe in search of a new worship home--was when she heard her pastor express his overwhelming support for Dollar. She catalogued every kind of defense you hear in these situations, about expressing forgiveness and not judging because "we weren't there" and whatnot. She's expressed herself really well here, and while I want to respond, I don't want to repeat her. It was so good, it forced me to pay attention.

Take a look at this police report. What set Dollar off was that after he denied his daughter what she wanted, he asked why are you crying and she said, "I don't want to talk right now." She said no. She said stop. She said leave me alone. She drew a boundary. And he lost his shit.
So have we talked about Alice Miller in this space? The Drama of the Gifted Child or For Your Own Good? I read this and I think about the injury this man must be walking around with if his teenage daughter draws a boundary by saying "not right now" to him, and it provokes him to choke his daughter, knock her to the ground, punch her and beat her with a shoe.

Adults who think it is in any way reasonable, respectful or appropriate to beat children are simply and desperately trying to rationalize the abuse that they suffered as children. Period.

Don't skip that part where his elder daughter wrote two reports, one that matched her father's testimony, and then recanted when the officer asked her about the discrepancy. Adults will always try to maintain the lie that allows them to live with themselves, rather than confronting the truth. They will control whoever they can to help them maintain that lie.
So to connect child abuse with theology: the writer asks,

Why I wonder are Black women so willing, so ready to co-sign theologies that literally support us getting our asses kicked in our own homes?
Why have we bought into the primary premise of white supremacy, that the most effective way to establish authority is through violence? Surely, this situation teaches us that the only thing that kind of parenting does is breed the kind of resentment and contempt that will have your children calling the cops on you at 1 in the morning.
Why is it so hard for us to take a stand against Black men and tell them that there is never a reason to put their hands on us in a violent fashion? Not when homicide is the top killer (after accidental death) of Black women and girls ages 15-24.*

So why do black women seem so content to bear up under abuse, abuse of our own bodies, of our children, in the church--the one place where we ought to be safe from it? Is it because we're "so sad and single" that we think we have to let ourselves be knocked around, that relationships where physical abuse are a matter of course are the best we can do? Is it because we refuse to look outside our own community, to date non-black men, because of some internal or external judgment we fear? Or is it because we've been spoon fed bad theology by men who feel the need to protect their power by preaching abuse as discipline?

Can I just come out in favor of forgiveness? Really. I believe that people should forgive each other for when and how we hurt each other. I am working REALLY hard at forgiving some key people in my life for when and how they've hurt me, and I am working hard at asking for forgiveness when I think I've erred. But a key component in this transaction (because no matter what people try to tell you, it moves several directions, not just one) is a mutual acknowledgment of pain.

I knew someone who said that forgiveness was like getting ready for bed: you brushed your teeth with forgiveness and you put on your forgiveness pjs and you did all the things you did to get ready for forgiveness assuming that when you were done you'd be ready to forgive. I know now she was wrong--not just because she couldn't do it. Forgiveness is hard. You can't just position yourself in the right spot with the right ritual and hope that it descends on you like the sandman. You have to live with the pain of being hurt, of having hurt. You have to want to forgive, and you have to want to be changed by the process of forgiving. That change is certainly going to hurt, and if you aren't game, then you're not talking about forgiveness, you're talking about something else.
So here's what I'm saying: I could judge Dollar up one side and down the other. I could call him a fucked-up, hierarchical, manipulative, moronic asshole without the ability to handle or express his feelings without resorting to violence. I could call him a misunderstood man of God. I might be telling the truth in both cases. But what he really is, is profoundly damaged, and in need of identifying that damage within himself. He is hurting so badly that he can't contain it, that he's raining his injury down on his children, to make his own experience easier to live with. He will never grow, he will never know better, he will never be better, until he can look--without flinching or lying or hedging or excusing-- at his own abusive nature and its roots.

Having said all of that, you can take that "we weren't there, we don't know what happened in that house" line, and shove it. There is nothing that excuses adults subjugating children by beating them. Nothing. When Dollar is able to own his damage and his behavior he can begin to talk about restoration; but we don't get to make excuses that validate this behavior. Because there are none. To use scripture, dogma or theology to defend or excuse beating or brutalizing others, especially those weaker than you, is: SPIRITUAL ABUSE. (For the record, this term needs to be a part of this conversation. This shit is real, and we have to name it so we can understand and dismantle it.)
His daughter has a different journey to make. If it was me, I would make it far, far away from him.

I like that this writer wants to tell the truth and shame the silent acquiescence in the black church, the insidious collusion of partner and family abuse that has become so prevalent in our community. I like that she wants to hold women responsible for what we will tolerate from our fathers, husbands and brothers in the name of God. I like, albeit with less hope, that she seems to want to change the church with her presence--but that's about me; right now I want to change the church, if at all, from the outside. I also like that she talks about all of us believing black girls when they say they've been the victims of violence and she connects it to the strength of our faith in the miracles of Christianity, the divine incarnation of Christ, the virgin birth, etc. "Jesus prioritized listening to women, even when his disciples said they were being a nuisance," she writes. I read this and I wonder, what is this war on women? Our bodies, our birth control: people of power are profoundly threatened that they would do us this way. Why? If Jesus really is our model, why are we making such a cock-up of it?

I believe men like Dollar need help, and it saddens me to say that the church does not help them, especially when it rallies around them blindly, making excuses about sparing rods and imperfection. To require a man not abuse his family is not to require perfection. I hope that he gets help, not (just) in group therapy in a church basement with punch and cookies, but the kind of help that forces him to look plainly, under a naked bulb in front of an unforgiving mirror, at the man he has become, and how he got that way. I hope his daughter gets justice; I don't know, but I think if Dollar winds up doing time for his crime, that this might be vengeance, not justice. Justice is if other women in the black church rally around her, help her to heal her wounds, and require of their black men a better standard for couples and families. I hope a church like that exists for her today, not someday, so that she knows she is not alone, so that she can seek and attain healing, cultivate compassion, and eventually be strong enough to forgive.

*I didn't know this. Damn.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Body Artistic and Politic: or, Badu, Flaming Lips and the Artist's Responsibility

The first time I ever saw someone naked in an artistic forum, it was in a performance studies class with Mary Zimmerman. Performance Art, or it might have been Presentational Aesthetics; either way it was one of those classes that was full of college students who'd heard about Metamorphoses and wanted to take a class with the woman, the myth, the legend, Mary Zimmerman. My own knowledge of her work was smaller; Mary was faculty in my department, and I needed some 300-level classes to graduate. Anyway, the first person I ever saw bare all onstage was a good friend of mine. She adapted "Little Red Riding Hood" into a performance, and it lasted maybe a minute and a half. It was more like the Angela Carter "Company of Wolves", ripping-hymen, loss of innocence kind of thing. I remember her body, slender, small, brown, whirling around the room, attached at the hands or wrists to a swath of red fabric. She was startling and demanding in her nakedness. I wanted to play it cool, but it was a big deal. It highlighted my own immaturity; it forced me to think about nakedness not just as something prosaic, necessary for bathing, or inherently sexual, but political, affecting.

I wanted to play it cool because two performances later in class, I took my clothes off, too. Another student and I had been solicited to play seal-women in an adaptation of a bittersweet Icelandic folk tale. I thought I was doing something brave, and all I had to do was sit in a chair and be naked. I was barely on display. Plus, I--the uptight, overly-religious, Midwesterner with absolutely no cool to speak of--was going to disrobe for the sake of art. It's hard to take myself completely seriously now, but back then I was really proud of myself. The story was lovely, the director's request was reasonable, and making myself vulnerable helped me grow.
Since then I have a willingness, to give permission to others to get naked if that's what they think they need to do to make art. But I'm also in touch with the reality that it isn't just a matter of taking your clothes off. There's all this bioenergetic feedback, all this information that our bodies are holding. It isn't easy and it isn't noble.

This week I started following a bit of the Erykah Badu/Flaming Lips kerfuffle: a Lips music video featuring Badu "leaked" last week and has gotten some attention. However it got out there, it features Badu, naked, in a water-filled bathtub singing a reverb-laden cover of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". (Notice the absence of link.) The first image in the video is a close up of her eye: brown, gazing upward, laced by strands of her hair, under which there is eye makeup that looks for all the world like a purple bruise. The video is full of slo-mo closeups, of Badu's face, sometimes twitching sometimes snarling, of her lips, of bass strings being plucked and vibrating menacingly, of the faces of white men--the Flaming Lips--their eyes rolling back in rock ecstasy, banging or plucking instruments, whipping a silver swath of cloth around, looking edgy and unshaven in their sunglasses and flaming cigarette, and trasported by the music.

Then there's the body of another woman. It took me a long time to learn who it was, because in many ways it looks like Badu, and for a while I thought it was. She stands up in the tub, also naked, but this tub is full of, and she is covered with, gold glitter. She slapps her ass, her shaved vagina, she showers her cheeks with the stuff. She plays in it, revels in it. As the video continues, Badu continues to sing in the tub, mostly curled up, showing nakedness without revealing herself, and this other black woman revels again, this time in tubs of thick dark red liquid (read: "blood") and thick white liquid (read: "semen").
(Sidebar: I love that in the coverage of this video and the ensuing feud between Badu and Flaming Lips band mate Wayne Coyne, that reporters are calling this stuff "red cornstarch" or "cream colored liquid" as if it doesn't read like blood and come. Gimme a break.)

So come to find out the naked black woman scummy with all these various substances is Badu's sister, Nayrok. She's an artist. To hear the pop-culture blogs tell it, she's got no problem with the video, or her role in it. Not so for Badu; she seemed furious. In a true 21st century version of conflict (ir)resolution, she's taken her beef to Twitter, where she unloaded on Coyne, writing things like
"Our art is a reflection of who we are. I have no connection to those images shot in their raw version. I was interested in seeing an amazing edit that would perhaps change or alter my thoughts. Never happened," she says. "You also did the same thing with the song itself which displays crappy 'rough' vocals by me. I let it go, perhaps I was missing something, I thought."
She used words like "uninspired" and "violated" to describe how she felt about this video. I'm one of those women who always takes a woman seriously when they say they feel violated. Violated is a heavy word, not to fuck around with, like embezzlement or rape or pedophile. I feel like it's a word with teeth. You don't just level it at people; you use it because it has a real, significant meaning and when you use it, it has consequences.

The Flaming Lips issued an apology that says things like, " “The video link that was erroneously posted on Pitchfork by the Flaming Lips of the Music Video 'The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face', which features Erykah Badu, is unedited and unapproved. Sorry!!"

Note: any time you see an apology with multiple exclamation marks, assume it's false.

To hear Clash Music tell it, Coyne isn't really taking Badu's comments seriously. After the "apology", he just goaded her on Twitter, saying what seems to me some really insincere and offensive shit, which is, as he probably wants, generating more attention to this video and his music.

So I don't know anything about the Flaming Lips. I feel like they fall into that category of music made by white people that white people listen to, and I'm probably not interested. Not willfully, just ignorantly. A glance at their Wikipedia page looks like I might like it; I go in for that weird, giant spectacle, and I like good music.

But I don't like the way Wayne Coyne is carrying himself with Badu.

Erykak Badu was a hugely formative part of my young black woman identity. I needed her when I was 14, 16 growing up in the white suburbs of Southern Ohio. I needed her when I was 19, 21, one of too few black students at a private university in the Midwest. I needed her desperately when I was living in Southwest Florida and trying to survive the barrage of narrow minds and conservative views pinging through the swamp-thick air. There is some part of my energetic body that vibrates like a tuning fork when I hear her music. Yep. I have to say hippy, flaky stuff like that. The music was and is that important to me. She says things that I have never been able to say but have often thought. She's provocative and honest and soft in some spaces too. As cruel as celebrity is to people, I think it (like much of the world) is more cruel to women of color, and I think she's managed to navigate that cruelty with honesty and an unflinching integrity to her art.

As you can see, she's no stranger to taking her clothes off to make work, too. So what's different about this time? Do I feel like Badu is a kind of sister to me, and I feel a fierce, if irrational, need to protect her from the Internet trolls and the Coyne's of the music industry? Is this just my conservative upbringing rearing its head? Have I never really gotten over taking your clothes off to make art? Or is it the fact that everyone in the video who's not a naked black woman (everyone else) is a white man, fully dressed?

Yes, maybe, probably and yes.

As saturated as we are with the female body, it has power--POWER--in image, in media. The black female body has been a loaded subject/object/identity in this country for hundreds of years. Our ancestors were enslaved, dehumanized, raped and (here comes) violated as a matter of course. We can see the consequence of this behavior in the lifestyles of how we treat each other today. To quote Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God, "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see." Whether it's Condoleeza Rice or Oprah, Janet Jackson or Michelle Obama, we all seem to have opinions about what black women are wearing, what we're gaining or losing, what we're straightening or letting go natural. Let's not forget about this, either.
Look how happy Swedish culture minister is in this pic, feeding cake to the body of a genital mutilated african cake-woman. Boy, she and all the cohorts around her laughing and snapping pics really look like they're deeply concerned about female circumcision and the toll it takes on women and families around the world.
(Sidebar: I don't know how I feel about it. I believe artists can and should provoke. But to provoke without consideration for what tto do next is just irresponsible: spectacle and emotional vitriol without direction. It does no one good to whip an audience into a tizzy, especially over an issue, if you can't direct them toward a place to get educated and use that tizzy for or against something.)

As immature as I felt in college about nudity in art, I believe in it. I want to make space for it. It can communicate vulnerability, a primal nature, simplicity, purity, bareness, not just shock and sex appeal. So it isn't the nudity in this video that is the hurdle; the hurdle is the disparity, the lack of care, and the power dynamic. Every time a black woman's body occupies the public sphere, it means something, it comments or suggests something. Wish we could be free in our own flesh, but we can't, not yet. So what is Badu suggesting by putting her body in that Flaming Lips video? She's not a victim; she may have been manipulated, or may be disappointed in the final result of the video, and the process might have been crappy, as she says somewhere, but she didn't walk off the set. Is it a commentary on childbirth, as argued in this Washington Post blog? Is it a fetish of the Flaming Lips man-boys, who've only gleefully antagonized Badu since she expressed her (understatement) dissatisfaction with the video? Is it a brilliantly orchestrated puppet show created to generate more buzz for both artists?

It hurt me when I watched it. I thought briefly about Badu and her safety and vulnerability; but I frankly felt my own flesh in a powerful and unpleasant way, more than I was worried about Badu or her sister. I don't know what good the world is done by a video like this. I don't know what is communicated--no, wait, what's communicated is a kind of pornographic fantasy of why black women are/have been fetishised and objectified by men, a kind of bukaki rape fantasy (is this history repeating itself, anybody? any contemporary similarity here to the historical practice of slaves raped by their white masters? anybody?); but what I DON'T know is how the world is improved by this video.

It's likely that I'm naive in believing that the world can and should be improved by the art we put into it. Provocation is great, effective, but not without growth. Otherwise it's just antagonism, and I don't have time for you to act out your fantasies and injuries with me; I'm trying to take care of my own shit. But this may not be the way. Maybe there is so much noise in the world that change doesn't happen in art without shouting louder than anyone else. Maybe to be noticed or respected as an artist you have to get in people's faces, to hurt or disgust them.

But if there was some message that the Flaming Lips, or even Badu, was trying to hand me, I completely missed it. I was too busy feeling hurt and disgusted.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sigh. I've been doing a lot of rewriting these days. Which is to say, I start a paragraph, post or essay, then scrap it and start it again because I know I'm not getting it right. I've been rewriting this post for the last week or so, and it still feels undone.

For the first time in a Very Long Time, I recently felt remorseful about not being in church.

Years ago, I worshipped at a church in Humboldt Park. It was a multiethnic, non-denominational worship body full of good looking 30-somethings who claimed devotion to reconciliation--racial as well as religious. The thrust of the church was something called incarnational ministry-- because I've talked a little about it here, I'll try to stay brief. As a congregation, I really enjoyed it. It was the first church I chose to belong to, and wasn't dragged to, like the churches of my youth: black churches, either enormous or tiny, full of fire and brimstone, Southern gospel and conservative world views. When I found myself a few blocks from my apartment, in the Congress Theatre on a Sunday morning, listening to an olive-skinned white guy from the South Side talking about faith as a radical act, talking about Christianity as a kind of rabid love that changes you from the inside, with the transformative power to change lives, I got excited. It became my home, a kind of family to me. It was great for a long time. It wasn't without its troubles, though, and some of that trouble took out friends of mine. It was my first lesson in what so many people say, about houses of God being full of humans. Even so, when I left the church, because of life circumstances, not based on what was going on, I left with largely positive perceptions.

This isn't the church: it's one of the churches created on the California coast by the Jesuits? Or the Franciscans probably? It's in Carmel.

(God, this is a lot of exposition, isn't it? Do you know this story already? Let's see if I can do this better:)

Jump cut to open room in store front church: electric keyboard, projection screen, a handful of (mostly) white people seated in concentric semicircles of folding chairs. About half are tattooed, the other half look like they read/write science fiction. Worship music I don't know the words to, because it's all original composition, services painfully small for someone (me) trying to hide, the pastor: a bespectacled white woman who says pithy, intelligent things about grace and worship from an interreligious context. Pan to me, sitting in the "back" with my then-fiance-now-husband, and one row up my "friend": a dark-haired, fair-skinned white woman with piercing blue eyes and thin, wide fingernails, in an ironic t-shirt, faded loose jeans and worn Converse lookalikes. I was there based on her recommendation. She said it was a great place to be in an interracial relationship--which I was and am--and also in an interreligious one.

Montage of my "friend" and me arguing with each other: each of us sitting on our couches writing vitriolic emails to each other, talking with our respective men about the other with tear stained, wrinkled faces, shouting spit-laced hurtful things at one another, even in the presence of a mediator. Ends with me, at the table of reconciliation, alone.
Diane Arbus.
This makes it seem like spiritual conflict happens all the time, and it does. What hurt me particularly about this is that the dissolution of this relationship is what drove my husband and me out of a church. I asked this bespectacled pastor to help me come to some kind of resolution with my "friend" so that we could keep worshipping together, even if we couldn't stay friends, which neither of us wanted to do. My "friend" refused. The bespectacled pastor shrugged her shoulders and went back to tending her flock. Me and mine were abandoned. By believers. By Children of God.

Excommunication sounds like too strong a word, you know something for the Catholics. Frozen out. We were frozen out of a church. I thought stuff like that happened to people based on secret abortions and affairs with married people or pedophilia. Not about two women who couldn't be friends anymore because of their own petty bullshit.

I'm telling this story badly. My husband tells it better, he really does. Keep reading, but Listen here.

I believed that Christians were supposed to be and do better than this. I'd been taught this, this rhetoric of we forgive because Christ forgave us, turn the other cheek, seventy times seven. I was steeped in dogma, dogma that was now completely failing to be true. We (Christians) spend all this air and energy talking about the grace of God and how powerful it is, about love and forgiveness, and we drive people out of the church because we don't like them, because they won't behave the way we want them to. It made it really hard to go to church.
So hard that I've been in a church exactly once since my wedding day--which wasn't in a church, but was in a furniture warehouse/event space on the Near West Side.
Zenshui / Sigrid Olsson / Getty
King Pigoen--aka Eka Pada Raja Kapotanasana.
Say it softly, and it sounds like prayer.
Around the time I moved out of Humboldt Park, before all of the freezing out, I started practicing yoga pretty regularly at a studio in Edgewater. I would wander in on Sunday nights with my yoga mat for a community class that featured the first half of the primary series of Ashtanga. It was challenging and largely wordless, taught by a small bendy woman with long hair named Patricia. There were other classes I took there, too, but this one was my favorite. It appealed to me, a kind of physical practice of devotion. It was quiet, no hip-hop, or even kirtan, just breathing and whatever was pinging around in my skull when I'd come to the mat. Simple. Pure. Not perfect--my body rebels against all kinds of poses, and as often as not, I'd wind up thinking about what I was writing, what I was doing for dinner, what had happened before or what was coming next. But the practice itself was beautiful.
So like I said, I haven't been back to church. I feel unwelcome in church spaces now. Between that and the religious rhetoric of my past, church leaves me cold, as far from connecting to the Divine as it gets. There's some Alice Walker quote that my mother used to paraphrase about giving people more power over you than they need or should have or something. It's that voice I hear, some cross between Alice Walker and my mother (there's some irony in that, given my (lack of) relationship with my mother and Walker's with her daughter), when I consider that this skirmish has kept me out of church for years now. That voice says, "if you're giving some white girl that much power over where you worship, then you deserve that pain; if you just muscle up and walk back into that church then there's nothing she or that worship group can do to you."

But I don't think life works that way. I think that people feel pain, and that whole don't give people power thing is a kind of defense mechanism. I mean, yes, if you can genuinely not feel badly about someones mistreatment of you, then great. Lucky you. Teach me. But if you have to force yourself not to feel bad and paint a fake smile on your face--I have LOTS of practice recognizing those--then you're just fooling yourself.

So a week ago, my friend, and the pastor of my old church, recently invited me to a service there. Evidently there was this incredible speaker who lectures on the First Nations community and the role of a wider lens when it comes to reconciliation. I was stumped. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity. I believe in reconciliation, despite the fact that I feel surrounded by the shreds of all these dysfunctional relationships. There's a real part of me that wanted to go, that wanted to listen to what this man said and consider it in my own life. But I didn't go. I couldn't. The church spaces still just feel too... bad.

My yoga mat still feels like a very devotional space, perhaps the only one I have right now. I may not be able to bust out the king pigeon, but with all the chanting and the forward bending and the kneeling that's become a part of my practice, it's hard for it not to feel all old-world holy. I keep trying to describe it here, but it's really hard to put into words. Maybe I should respect that. Something is going on in me, in a spiritual space; it still hasn't sent me back into the flock, as it were. While my faith in the Divine has righted itself, my faith in the Lord's people remains somewhat more bleak. But my waters are being stirred. There was the humpback whale, and the bevy of butterflies, and some strange dreams that seem to keep telling the future or coming true... something is happening.

I'm not worried. Despite not being healed from my religious wounds yet, I see metaphor for reconciliation everywhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Guest Post: May 35th

This past Monday was June 4: also known  to those of you up on your history of human oppression of peaceful citizens as May 35th. I recently read this article, which I think handled it pretty well. I have to stay humble about this, because I got schooled. I remember snatches of footage, especially this one.

But I was one of those folks blithely content to let others' misfortune not affect me. It can't anymore. I feel profoundly the need to keep telling the same story over and over, so we don't forget, so we can work against the monolithic force to erase history. It's my job as a writer to tell the story of those who are silenced, so we know, remember, the world we live in, and not change it by forgetting, but by growing. When people tell me--as they did this week--that they don't know what the Tienanmen Square massacre was, my heart breaks, and I have to tell my face not to freak out. I have to remind myself not to judge them, but to tell the story. Their ignorance just means the history erasing machine is winning. Sigh. But I don't speak about it well. Somehow it gets all wrapped up in my deep emotions and I can't make the words come out.

He tells it better. He hits it home in a real way. CP Chang, take it away.

Imagine that 23 years ago, a hundred thousand protesters showed up in, say, Times Square, to protest government unfairness, economic inequality, and the stranglehold on power by select insiders.

Imagine that these original Occupiers were rousted by the government, but with local police wavering on whose side they are on, the government brings in the military.

Imagine tanks rolling down, say, Broadway, and the Square filled with tear gas and shots fired, and several hundred, maybe over a thousand, maybe the population of both World Trade Centers on 9/11 being massacred that day.

Imagine that no one actually knows how many people died that day, because the government clamped down on the press, allowing only the stories they wrote to be published, and arrested anyone who dared to speak their stories publicly for "violating national security".

Imagine that 23 years later, children who grew up after the massacre would know nothing about it, the truth being erased from history books, and that internet censors would block out any mention of the event, or even of that date in history, but even the censors work was becoming easier, because the world stopped caring.

You'd have to imagine, because really, how could such a thing happen?

Friday, June 1, 2012


I'm working my way up to a post about my current religious journey, which feels just about as vulnerable right now as taking out my own appendix. In the meantime, check out this NY Times op-doc (what a great word) about what happens when black women embrace their natural hair texture--something of which I am super fond. Hooray for transitioning.