The same key to solve mass violence and systemic racism

In these moments, words are meaningless. Here we stand at the moral crossroad as a nation, deeply fractured and in tatters. We are a nation under siege but the enemy is not from outside; it is the enemy within. This enemy has always been with us but until this moment, the vast majority of Americans have been woefully ignorant of its existence and nature. Now, however, this foe’s presence has become so obvious and is so glaringly in our faces that we can no longer ignore it without simply being willfully and deliberately ignorant. I fear, though, that it might be too late for us as a people and as a nation.

As I write this, we are standing in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. A 64-year-old white man, Stephen Paddock, from his 32nd-floor hotel room in Las Vegas, took the lives of 50-plus people and wounded around 500 others. Authorities are flummoxed, as nothing in Paddock’s background can explain his actions. No mental illness, no radical background. By all accounts he lived a charmed life.

Given the arsenal of weapons that Paddock had in his possession, we could lay the blame at the feet of the gun lobby and our country’s incessant need to cling to the Second Amendment in a way that any thinking person would say the framers of the Constitution did not intend. No private citizen needs access to the type of guns that Paddock had in his possession.

Mass shootings have become as American as apple pie and baseball. However, the unspoken truth is that we are a violent nation and we have always been a violent nation. This country was birthed and raised and nurtured in violence. It’s just that the violence only affected a certain segment of our populace. Now the violence is all around us, from small town America to the glitzy strip of Las Vegas and everywhere in between. No one is immune from this very American affliction. In the five years since an armed man shot up a classroom filled with children, nothing has changed. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was our moral test and we failed miserably.

Most of us are asking for common-sense gun laws and while we definitely need to get our lawmakers off the gun lobby’s payroll and out of the NRA’s pocket, I am sorry to say that focusing solely on the gun lobby and gun legislation is not the cure all to our issues. It will be a significant bandage, however, on a gaping wound; it might buy us some time.

No, we need to go deeper. We need to address the culture of toxic white masculinity that is also very much a part of the fabric of this nation. See, one only has to look at how we deal with mass shootings and really any aberrations that don’t fit our comfortable narrative to see certain patterns. If a Black or brown person commits a heinous crime, it is an indictment on an entire community. If you think I am kidding go ask a Muslim friend or Black friend. Yet the rugged individuality of the white male American experience does not allow for pathologizing an entire group of people if that group consists solely or predominantly of white people. To quote Chauncey Devega: There will be no ‘national conversation’ about the connection between toxic (white) masculinity and American gun culture. In the mainstream news media and broader public discourse there certainly will be no discussion of the fact that white men are 31 percent of the population but commit 63 percent of mass shootings. Such a fact is forbidden or explosive, because it connects race, gender, guns and death.”

If similar stats around guns applied to any non-white group, we would be enacting bans (like Trump keeps trying with Muslims) on those groups and would have all manner of task forces at the ready to investigate them. Instead, due to our racial ignorance and the normalization of whiteness, we ignore the elephant in the room.

Yet we are a nation now governed by the poster boy for toxic white masculinity. As anyone who chooses to pay attention can tell you, it’s hard to ignore that our commander and chief has a problem with anyone unless they are white, preferably male and definitely cisgendered and heterosexual. Trump’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has even those with only a basic understanding of dog-whistle politics shaking their heads at his blatant racism.

We are in a state of crisis. In order to move forward, we must find the courage to have the uncomfortable conversations. To understand that the systemic racism and violence go together like a hand in a glove. That the same culture that allows mass shootings to happen regularly also allows systemic racism to thrive and that the same key is required to solve these issues. We must start unpacking whiteness and its destructive properties alongside with unpacking the culture of toxic white masculinity. The question is, are you ready to create change or are you looking for another quick fix?
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Radical tenderness

Today’s post is from contributor Veronica A. Perez (b. 1983). She is an artist and educator who works mostly in the mediums of sculpture and photography. Usually utilizing construction and kitschy materials in her pieces, Perez creates intense personal moments by means of hybridization, ideals of beauty, nostalgia, while fragility echoes sentiments of a lost self, and at the same time paralleling contemporary feminist tensions.
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In America we are currently standing on a precipice: the Flint Water Crisis (still), the shooting death of Tamir Rice and ultimate dismissal of his murderers, the death of Heather Heyer, the daily empowerment of the alt-right, and Trump’s most recent inflammatory comments (none of which I’ll quote because it changes daily). All of these instances, and more, have been adding to the movement of America and what the future holds for all of us.

There are people who will be so frightened and scared about change and growth that they will stunt it any way possible. With their voices, flags and/or guns raised high, they will deny any otherness in this country. To me, it seems like this that is something to worry about: the ones clinging onto the past and making sure that their way of life isn’t disrupted. The ones who refuse to acknowledge others and cannot see past their own noses.

But I feel that there are individuals that are looking for a break in this society. This is a very melancholic way of thinking; however, I believe that it is important morally to look at and talk about the abject side of life to find reason to change the evil in this world. To look at those hard-to-watch scenarios: a Syrian child washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean, KKK members marching in Charlottesville, Alex Wubbels being arrested.

In short, I feel that these problems stem from an unwillingness to have conversations about difficult things because it’s too embarrassing or hard to talk about. Without trudging through the muck and the mire, we can’t have movement and growth. I know it’s not as simple as I’ve implied, but when we can’t even take the time dissect what happens, it gets lost in the endless news cycle and replaced by another headline.

I was recently faced with a dilemma. I was in a meeting when someone started to speak about a group of immigrants from Africa. This person wasn’t sure about the race or ethnicity of this specific group, but was doing their best to be respectful about how they were speaking about this group of individuals. We were on the topic of marriage and they were talking about the immigrants’ cultures and traditions and how they differed from their view. This person came to a realization that there were people different than them in the world and it opened their purview.

The dilemma came in when someone spoke up and grilled said individual on where these immigrants were from. This person didn’t know, but the other didn’t give up and continued to rudely interrogate this person on this fact. It would have been nice to know where this group was from, but the point of the story was that this person overcame a hurdle of not understanding to reflecting on themselves and seeing it from the immigrants’ point of view.

There wasn’t any room for any dialogue because the focus wasn’t on letting the person talk; instead, it was spent harping on incidentals and was making this person feel bad that they might have been saying something wrong (they weren’t). This stunts dialogue and growth. We need to wade through the difficult and speak before we are allowed to grow. We have to have these moments when we’re in flux and moving to get to the next plateau and begin healing and change. We have to be allowed to say difficult and sometimes the wrong thing to learn the right. Reacting with tenderness is better than reacting with hostility.

Bringing people in and, as I said, allowing for this open and honest conversation brings not only understanding but harmony. The term I used for the title of this piece, “radical Tenderness,” is a term created by performance artists Daniel B. Chávez and Dani D’emilia. Their manifesto of the same name creates a space to engage in these sort of provocations in a mindful and thoughtful way. The first two lines state:

‘radical tenderness is to be critical and loving, at the same time

radical tenderness is to understand how to use strength as a caress’

We need to focus on the hard questions in society that others would rather not take on. This disrupts society’s way of thinking on certain things, such as race and sexuality–both of which are still (surprisingly) a taboo subject today. I don’t really think that this can possibly solve all of the world’s problems, but it’s a start. These signals of now–violence, hatred, power, greed, death–are the disruptions. Disruptions in time, space, and thought; begin to focus and dissect these difficult scenarios. These villainous things affect us more than we know.

All of this disruption is trying to speak to us.  We need to begin to hold a mirror to ourselves in an attempt to figure out how to alleviate the pain that has plagued our country for some time now.

It’s hard. We as a country are in changing, in flux, moving. All of this happening for a reason. It is moving to make change. In the mire, were caught in between right now, but if we can dedicate a dialogue and eradicate this country and world might become a more harmonious place to live.

About the title and concept: Radical Tenderness (or Ternura Radical) is a living manifesto written in collaboration by Daniel B. Chávez and Dani D’emilia. More on this term can be found here: https://danidemilia.com/radical-tenderness/
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We are not the problem

Today’s post is written by Samara Doyon. Samara has been a Black girl living in Maine for the past 30+ years (read: her entire life). She is a writer, educator, wife, and mother. Despite the roots of her family tree, half of which reach generations deep inside the cool soil of the Pine Tree State, she recognizes that she will most likely remain an outsider for life, as the definition of “Mainer” upheld by the governor and half the state does not include people who look like her.

Experience has taught me that humans notice my brown skin before all else, and see all else through the lenses of what my brown skin means to them. For instance, while walking through a department store with my two young children, one of whom is continuously running circles around our cart and every object within a three-yard radius, the other one banging on his seat and alternately singing and screeching at the top of his lungs, myself at my wits end, trying to grab everything on our list and get out of the building alive, I have received warm smiles of empathetic understanding from those who have been there before me. And I have received scoffs of disgust and proclamations of, “There goes another breeder!”

In other words, as a brown woman living among white folks, I am frequently read as “the problem” in our society. To translate what the middle-aged white lady said about me in the previous paragraph: Since I am a mother of two young children, I must be a welfare queen, breeding for the purpose of mooching off hard-working white people. My husband and I are assumed not to be in a committed relationship, as I am reminded when a camp site receptionist refers to him as my boyfriend, or when a vocal Trump supporter glances pointedly at our family in a restaurant while loudly griping about their own warped, unfounded reality, in which immigrants ruin American values by moving here and having children without getting married.

But weighing more heavily on my shoulders than the constant barrage of casually violent assumptions about my existence being a burden and blight on our society is this: the blame POC constantly carry for our own oppression. At this point in American history, it would take an extraordinary level of intentional ignorance to not acknowledge race as a serious point of contention in our country. People everywhere are being forced to wake up to this centuries-old reality, even if they didn’t want to see it before. But we have a president and a large portion of the population focusing on the complaints of those suffering injustice, reacting to our complaints as if we are the cause of all that is currently wrong.

NFL players like Collin Kaepernick were called “sons of bitches” recently, by the Bigot-in-Chief himself, for daring to protest police brutality and the systematic white supremacy ruling our land. All over Facebook and in everyday interactions, I hear people expressing rage at Black Lives Matter protesters for blocking roads and showing any amount of anger, calling for us to be run over or shot down like animals. Even when white supremacists rise up, threatening our very existence with deadly displays of force, as witnessed in Charlottesville, people of color must share the blame. Can you wrap your head around this abominable distortion of the concept of fairness? There is a side of this “racial conflict” which wants to wipe non-white, non-Christian, non-straight/cis/patriarchy-worshipers off the face of the planet, and there is side standing up and refusing to let that happen. And both sides are seen as equally at fault for any violence that this “conflict” creates–the conflict over whether or not I have the right to exist. The length to which this white supremacist society will go in order to absolve itself of any responsibility for the destruction it creates defies the limits of logic and human decency.

The absurdity even bleeds into progressive circles, where POC are asked to defend our motivation in standing against those who want us dead. We are told that if we hate the people who want nothing more than to our children off the face of the planet simply because our children dare to exist, we are just as bad as those terrorists and just as much to blame for the struggle we are simply trying to survive.

We are always the problem. We are always to blame.

This is a theme tackled perfectly by June Jordan in her devastatingly poignant piece entitled, “Poem about My Rights.” In it, she describes many ways in which rape occurs. On international, intranational, community-wide, and intimate, personal levels, people are constantly oppressed and violated, simply because of our existence, non-compliant as it is with social standards of normalcy–white, straight, westernized, carefully dressed. Jordan righteously rages over the blame leveled on the disenfranchised for our own exploitation, saying:*

I have been raped

be-

cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age

the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the

wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic

the wrong sartorial I

I have been the meaning of rape

I have been the problem everyone seeks to

eliminate by forced

penetration

In other words, I know this play like the back of my hand. First, you violate my right to be. Nation-states, government agencies, social majorities, men who are physically stronger than me–you overpower me and take away my right to say, “No!” Then, you tell me it was my own fault for dressing or being a certain way that you just don’t like. You make me the problem to justify your own crimes against me and absolve yourself from the guilt. Jordan brings her indictment against continuous human predation to a magnificent crescendo, asserting, “I am not Wrong; Wrong is not my name.” In other words, “Yes. Something is most certainly fucked up, here. But the fucked up thing is not my existence, and I will not let your misplaced blame shackle me any longer.”

I have been thinking about this poem a lot lately. It seems to settle more deeply into my bones with each passing day, with each new wave of blame crashing over Black and brown communities, poised to finally drown marginalized groups everywhere. I was thinking about it the other day in the pediatrician’s office when I was given a form to fill out about our family dynamics, and I had to come up with a response for how often I’ve been feeling hopeless or depressed. I didn’t have room to write “Of course I fight hopelessness and depression every damn day. I’m a Black woman living in a white supremacist nation-state. The logical, human response to the constant psychological violence we face is hopelessness and depression. And, guess what? My response to rampant social cannibalism, to this accepted and applauded destruction and demonizing of the disenfranchised, is not the thing that’s wrong here. My hopelessness is not the problem that desperately needs to be addressed.”

Instead, I circled an option to indicate slight to moderate hopelessness and added, “Since the election.” That part was bullshit. White supremacy has ruled this land since long before Donald Trump took his first breath. But the election briefly sums up for me everything that is wrong and has been wrong with this nation since its inception: Namely, the systematic dehumanization and exploitation of non-white, non-normative human beings for the benefit of the socially privileged, and the blame placed on us for our own oppression, and all the evils that flow from it.

The checkup happened, my kids got their flu shots, and when screams of outrage from my smallest ensued, I was assured they would be given stickers at the front of the office. They were not. Instead, as I nailed down the next appointment, making a casual remark about how quickly the year has flown by, I received a monologue from the receptionist about how she has no choice but to work, her pay rate won’t keep up with the cost of living, and that it’s just the world we’re living in today. I hustled our crew out to the minivan, sifting through the woman’s response, trying to decode it. Perhaps she is a progressive working woman, discouraged that the minimum wage is lagging behind inflation rates. Or maybe she sees me dressed in leggings and a stained tunic, not wearing a wedding ring, struggling to get through the door with my two young children, both of whom are insured through the state, three minutes late for our appointment, complaining about the election results, and she thinks, “Here comes another breeder!”

I wanted to tell her that my wedding ring hasn’t fit since my second pregnancy, and I just haven’t found the time to have it resized. I wanted to tell her that I work my ass off as a mother of two, and that, while we can’t afford childcare, I do babysit and write to help our family make ends meet; it’s just not always consistent and not enough income to insure my children. I wanted to show her degrees and certificates and make her see how, although I am most definitely a mess who struggles to keep herself dressed and get to my children’s appointments on time, I have worked hard for the recognition I rarely get, and I make contributions to my community. I wanted to defend my right to exist.

But I why should I have to? My existence is not the thing that’s wrong, here. We are not the problem.

*Lines cited are 92-101 and 109, Jodan, Poem about My Rights. You can read the poem in its entirety at this link https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48762/poem-about-my-rights, from the Poetry Foundation website. And you should.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.