Reflecting on the year of flames, or Change is possible

As someone who is almost never without words, increasingly I come to this space unsure of what to say and how to say it. So today, I go back to my roots and I write the words to which I simply need to give life to—and hope that they will resonate with others.

This past week marked one year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Like many, a year ago I felt a sense of paralysis when he won. And yet, I can’t say that I was surprised that he won. As someone whose work explores race and its various intersections, I always knew on a gut level that his winning was not so terribly far-fetched as many believed it to be. A large part of that is due to the conversations I often find myself engaged in with people where, in the quiet moments, I heard the angst that many felt and their desire for radical change.  Unfortunately for us, Trump was not the change you could believe in and instead, over the course of this year, we have all borne witness to the dumpster fire that is now our nation.

Yet on a certain level, this country has always been a dumpster fire due to our inability to address how this nation came to be. We are a nation built on treacherous ground. Always the hope has held that something good could grow from the blood-soaked soil, but in metaphorical harvest after metaphorical harvest, while there have been many a fine-looking crop, the product always has a rot at its core. And the harvests are increasingly blighted now.

The reality that many don’t want to face is that we truly never escape our past. We can run but it always catches up with us or we reach a point where we have no choice but to turn our heads and look backward so that we can better gauge our path forward. We are in a moment like that right now.

As we face the almost daily assaults on our sensibilities and watch in horror as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle everything that made any semblance of sense, there is the realization for many that radical change (the kind that might lead to something better rather than the senseless disruption and destruction Trump represents) is actually within our grasp if we find the strength to stay the course and ride out the discomfort.

Over the past year, many whose privilege shielded them from the cold truth of America have been forced to see what previously they could easily hide from. When you have a leader who gives space to racists and other types of domestic terrorists, you see the underbelly and you are forced to rise in that moment lest you be pulled into the undertow of vileness.

Instead, millions who previously have never fancied themselves as activists have started the work of change and conversations that previously were not the norm have gone mainstream. For a time there recently, the makers of posterboards and markers were doing a brisk business and that’s likely to continue. Many more people now have their lawmakers’ phone numbers and emails saved onto their devices and are constantly in contact with their offices. This off-season election nationwide yielded a more diverse group of changemakers than ever before. People in communities across the nation are tackling the once taboo discussions in their own communities.

Radical change rarely happens all at once though; instead, it is a slow and steady process (and often a messy one) and while the din of media would have us to believe that all is lost, I don’t believe that to be true at all. I do believe, however, that we are standing on the crossroad of change and that it is important to choose the right road. Even in the midst of the widening string of sexual assault and harassment stories that are almost a daily occurrence, we are starting to move the discussion beyond the individuals and instead shift it toward the toxic masculinity that is rooted in our patriarchal system—a tradition that creates people with penises who feel entitled to women’s bodies. A system that for too long has destroyed far too many lives and left a legacy of trauma. But we have a better chance than ever now for a future soon where our boys and men won’t be initiated into that system—if we keep the conversation and work moving.

While a controlled burn is always preferable, the flames of change can be uncomfortable and they can at times get out of control. Through the flames  we have the potential to see something better. And, as easy as it would be for me (or you) to sink into a private pit of despair, I believe that this moment in time can eventually lead us to a better place—a place where we can say that all lives matter and truly mean it. We aren’t there yet, though. And the truth is, many (perhaps all) of us alive today may never see that moment. That doesn’t make the necessity for action and commitment any less. If we care about the collective good, we will tend to the smoldering and ashy ground and plant the seeds now that can bloom for later generations.

How are you doing this year? How has the Trump administration motivated you to work for change? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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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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I am tired, or The trauma of white supremacy

I don’t know about you but I am tired. Like deep in my bones, weary and wondering when will it end? The past few years have brought us a nonstop flow of Black pain and suffering as we have seen Black kids, teens and adults whose lives have been taken too soon by a system that refuses to see the humanity of Black people.

We have seen a new generation of activists and thinkers rise up and demand full inclusion to to the table of humanity and we have also seen the old guard of white supremacy fight tooth and nail against recognizing or even acknowledging that Black lives have value. Yet more white people are starting to understand that racism is not a matter of choice but rather that it is a system that was created and that continues to be maintained…and that the greatest gift one can give to this oppressive system is white silence. White silence is almost as good as saying kill niggers and anyone else deemed not worthy.

However, white supremacy has caught its second wind and I fear that frankly, it might just win and if it doesn’t win, it will be as destructive as a Category 5 hurricane by the time it’s done with us all. Hurricane Donald Trump is hellbent on reclaiming whiteness as the law of the land. Hurricane Donald and his minions have made it clear where they stand and whether it’s giving tacit approval to white nationalists who proudly wear their hate out front unlike the hate mongers of yesterday or deciding that 800,000 young people, the majority of whom are people of color, no longer are safe in their homes, in their country. It is clear that Donald Trump is not playing with us.

I am tired. I am tired of Trump and more importantly, I am tired of white people who are so overwhelmed with all of this that in the end, they fall victim to the seduction of whiteness and embrace her familiar warmth because no one told them that it is not enough to simply become educated on the issue. Once educated, one must spring to action, otherwise the line between an active white supremacist and a silent but frozen white accomplice is a very thin line.  White silence is violent and it is being complicit in the systems that were designed to lift you higher while lessening the rest of us.

Frankly, I am tired of talking and wondering how to nudge people to the ultimate goal of destroying white supremacy and feeling like all my work has been for naught. Perhaps I am indeed spitting in the wind. I am tired.

But I don’t have the luxury of giving up the fight, because it is my freedom and safety on the line; my children and grandchild’s well-being and very lives as stake.

I need to see more white people actively in the fight. It’s the kind of thing that might lessen my weariness. Something that might give me and other people of color real hope. Don’t stand by the sidelines while those of us who are the system’s greatest victims are ground down by it.


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