Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Kind of Blackness: Remarks at Tufts University's Black Solidarity Day

This keynote was given today at Tuft's Pan African Alliance's annual Black Solidarity Day Rally. I was honored to be invited to keynote this amazing event.
Let me begin by thanking Tabias Wilson, Jameelah Morris and the rest of the Pan African Alliance and the Tufts community for inviting me to spend some time with you today. It's an honor and a pleasure.

I've spent a long time thinking about blackness. About, roughly, all of my 35 years walking around this planet. I guess that makes me some sort of an expert, but mostly it makes me confused, angry, celebratory, conflicted, colonized, dehumanized, aggrandized, powerful, vulnerable, righteous, and a whole host of other adjectives, some of which are pejoratives, most of which reflect the complex relationship to blackness that comes with living in this particular historical moment, in this particular body, at this particular arc in our development as black folks and as community. Let me not mince words, though, it is a beautiful day to be a person of African descent in this world.

Despite the struggles, despite Jim Crow being alive and well and feeding on our people, despite the KKKoch brothers, despite still pretending that military service is job training and a pathway to anything but more colonization of people that look like us, despite having lost enough collective monetary worth during the Recession that we now are looking at a community with the equivalent resources of our folks BEFORE the Civil Rights movement, it's a good damn day to be black.

Let me tell you why. And it has nothing to do with Barack Obama, though let my one overt partisan moment be to say this:

If you have the right to vote for President, unlike our immigrant brothers and sisters, folks living in our colonies, and the millions of mostly men of color that have lost the right due to felony convictions (Jim Crow is alive and happy as Hell)...and you do not vote because "voting doesn't matter," or "you are protesting the system," please take your selfish self-centered behind up and out of these here United States. Most likely someone died for you to have that right especially if you are a woman, person of color, non land owner. ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE BLACK. Folks are still dying here and around the world because some folks decided to stay home in 2000 and 2004 and Bush got in the White House, lost his mind, and started two wars. Go vote. I hope you will vote for Obama, but not voting isn't a protest it is an abrogation of your most minimal democratic obligation.

I am proud of Barack Obama but that has nothing to do with why it is a good day to be black in America. It's a good day to be black in America because we are beautiful. Always have been. Always gonna be. But it's a good day to be black because we have a chance to grab ahold of our blackness and shake it out. It's time to pull it back out of the closet, air out the afro puffs and pin that blackness to a clothes line and take a good look at it.

You know it has some stains on it. You know there are some old patches and frayed edges. Well it's time to Shout it Out! The Tide I am here to talk about is a tidal wave of change that needs to start right here with each and every person of African descent, whether you were born in Africa and have decided to make the United States your home, a descendant of U.S. born slaves, a Black Latin@, or wherever that slave ship happened to land and drop off your ancestors. Bi-racial, or a racial smorgesbord that has the black experience in the mix. Blackness now, today, needs a radical redefinition.

Before I go into what needs to be done with that blackness on the clothesline, let me talk to the black men a little bit and about feminism. Feminism at its root means that both men and women get to express their full humanity without oppression, without prescribed ways of being that are rigidly policed and socially/politically/often physically punished when deviated from the norm, and allow both men and women the full range and expression of their vitality and spirit without taking away from the other. Indeed, feminism is, at its root, the negation of gender roles and the full expression of human experience as in a liberation get to be all of you, and I get to be all of me, and together we are committed to building each other to our full potential.

For black men this becomes about survival. Black men are taught from the gate to be tough, hard, in control, "macho", independent, players, victims, and that our potential is circumscribed by history, circumstance, and ability--not to be punks, to be virile, the mandigo syndrome...and these ideals images and thoughts are reinforced through our own communities, often, media--too often--, and what we consume from mainstream dominant ideology. We resemble what we are presented by others as ourselves. We become charicatures because so many of those that would be our own role models are dead, absent, or in prison. We are socialized internally and externally, and unless someone or something intervenes to break the cycle of history, legacy, and socialization we often become what we were never born to be. We become angry, and turn that anger inwards and towards our own community. And as a wise woman once told me, there is a place for angry black men: jail.

The truth or untruth of these socializations are related to our relative position to power, history, presentation, and ability to conform or not (willingly or not, consciously or not) to a paradigm that requires us to set our skin aside and adopt a way of being that imitates the master consciousness. This too is an ultimate expression of sexism and must be rejected through conscious practice. Further, I would argue it is sexism and a lack of feminist ideals and thoughts that are at the root of the pandemic of the single parent home, which, in and of itself, keeps the community widely struggling with poverty and in cycles of poverty.

Black men. Your liberation is inimically tied to women. It is not an option for you to be feminist if you want to be free. It is for all of our survival that black men must move towards an articulated black feminism, accountable to black women, and responsible for ourselves.

Let me let you in on a wee little bitty secret. Whether you were born in the Motherland and recently moved here or grew up here anyway, the blackness you experience is only partially your own. You may feel empowered and a fully realized person of African descent, but I am here to tell you right now today that your blackness has been shaped, influenced, and molded by oppressive institutions that have anything but your best interest in mind. The media, education, prison industrial complex, the nonprofit industiral complex, and all the other systems that were, listen closely here, created and built to maintain hegemonic white power.

And do you know how whiteness was legally defined in this country, beginning in the late 17th century and then systematically constructed through a series of colonial state and later federal laws? As the basic opposition of blackness. Or, to be more specific, who was white and who was black and what that meant, entailed, and carried was and has been a function of law in this nation for the better part of all of its existence as a free standing state and for a good 250 years before hand. From the first laws passed by the House of Burgesses in Virginia to establish race based slavery to anti-miscegenation and Jim Crow laws later, what it means to be black has been fundamentally been defined by the legal system for a good chunk of our history.

And the greatest victory of that legacy of racial legislation is that through the combination of the media, the police state, and our own complicitness, the legal apparatus of our blackness is largely no longer necessary. We no longer need laws to force us to segregate, we no longer need laws for us to adhere to an anti-intellecualism, we no longer need laws to tell us to stay in our place and keep our heads down or don't buck the system or divide ourselves from one another based on skin tone and class, we do all that by ourselves, most of the time without thinking about it. If a brother or sister's hair is natural or they spent a semester in Ghana or is taking West African dance or can whip up mean plate of collards and neckbones (which I greens will change your life), or can recite Tupac's biography, or has been to prison, or is hood, or is hard, or is straight, ..then that brother or sister is downer, blacker than say a light skinned lesbian that graduated summa cum laude from Tufts.

Pardon me but I call bullshit. Don't get me wrong, we need to embrace with a fierceness our historical roots whether that be our immigrant selves from Nigeria or our slave ancestors from a mill in West Virginia, but the downer than thou, black than you mentality has done nothing but foment separation, pain, and kept our ability for revolution and liberation in shackles and chains. It's time to set our liberation free y'all and it starts with building with one another.

I am standing in front of you a black, white, Ojibwe, Afro-Boricua, HIV positive, queer man. And I am just as black as any of you. You are my community, you are my salvation. I am in community with my queer and trans black family and being queer or trans doesn't make you less black than anyone else. It's time for us to realize that HIV stopped being a white gay disease a long time ago, it's now a black and Latina straight women's disease (as the fastest growing populations of HIV infection) and it's time to hold up our positive brothers and sisters as our own. No more high yellow and midnight blue conversations when talking about skin unless its to talk about how that high yellow or midnight blue person rocked your socks last night after that party and you are about to take his or her last name. I could give a damn about the style you wearyour hair, fried died and laid to the side or afro-tastic, I am with Miss India.Arie, I am NOT my hair!

I have a great-uncle that some of you may have heard about. His name is Carter G. Woodson. He wrote a book called the Miseducation of the Negro. It is time that we stop miseducating ourselves. Hear me now, and hear me clear, that blackness on the clothes line needs to be washed clean of the things that we have let divide ourselves from ourselves. It needs to be ironed and beaded and treated with loving care and expanded to include all shades of blaqness and all the power that holds while letting go of the powerlessness. Ain't nobody in this world going to give us our liberation. We need to break those chains ourselves, and we have to start by holding each other close in a way that says clearly that I am you. You are me. And I will do the work to undo the legacy of oppression, racism, sexism, heterosexism, abelism, classism, immigration status, and skin privilege that keeps me from you and you from me and us from the mountaintop because I am climbing y'all, and I mean to take every one of you with me, if you'll just hold my hand. I need you, and we need each other.

Thank you all for having me here today with you to talk just a little bit. Be blessed.

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