Notes on the Baltimore Situation

I was strolling through my newsfeed and ran across this shouting, hooting, and hollering that is happening in Oakland. I had previously refrained from commenting on the Baltimore situation because I have been trying to focus my energy on academic work and I believe this issue needs a lot of attention. However, after seeing so many posts about Baltimore, and now these Oakland rants, I could not resist.

Black Lives Matter!!! …it is a slogan shouted out in anger, with aggression and very much in your face. I once walked the streets of Boulder shouting these very words. During my walk I noticed the divisive nature of the movement. I will not walk again with people shouting in the streets for justice and recognition of the value of black lives. Once was enough to understand the dynamic. It is not that I cannot understand the frustration or that I feel as if the lives of black people are unimportant, rather, because I know the importance of life I must refrain from acting out in such destructive ways. The violence of destruction whether directed at an inanimate target or a living being operates much like karma. For every action there is a reaction. The kickback is not the police retaliation or the destruction of physical property but the destruction of the person who aligns him or her-self with the force of violence.

When I was a child I heard the phrase, two wrongs don’t make a right. Today, I think of this phrase. In an effort to understand the dynamics of what is happening in Baltimore I had to sit for a moment, refrain from responding, contemplate the movement, withdraw, consider both sides, and join my emotional with my rational center. I am a darkie. I am a nigger; a colored, a blackamoor, I possess a black life and it possesses me. I have black children, a black father, a black mother, black sisters, black brothers, black nephews, black nieces, black grandparents and the list continues on. I am connected to black men; I love them and everyday I contemplate their position in society. With all of this love and connection to black lives I know that if I were in Baltimore and any of my guys were contemplating joining the movement, I would lecture them, I would plead with them, I would fight with them, and I would drive them out of town. This is not because I imagine there is nothing worth fighting for or even dying for, rather, it is because I have felt the energy of this movement and it is toxic. I see how enticing, and exciting it is. I see how much it inspires. Watching the people demonstrate madness can be seductive and this is seductive. They are moving like a storm and like a storm consumes, this movement consumes. It does not only consume its target; no, storms do not discriminate in that way. Neither is this movement discriminatory. While the energy is just that, energy, the place where this movement has channeled this energy is in a destructive, rather than constructive, way. And this, this is what divides us.

While I am considered black, my skin is dark and my hair is fuzzy, I also hold within my veins, the blood white ancestors. My ancestors were instrumental in constructing this country. Its construction is not merely the energy of my white ancestors and their drive to build a nation but it includes my black ancestors as well. It includes their blood, sweat and tears, their love and wisdom as well as their ability to consider the ‘other’ despite personal discomfort. As I sit with this, between these worlds, I cannot help but contemplate oppression.

The black people are tired, they are fed up; they have carried long enough… I have heard these words many times in social justice circles. Unfortunately, these circles are inadvertently encouraging their demise. When there is an opportunity for me to teach another, I often think of the blessings granted in that moment. It is an opportunity to share a moment of vulnerability and connection. It is an opportunity to love and extend beyond the self. To serve, the ‘other’, is a truly amazing time for transformation. Unfortunately we, as a culture, fail to consider this aspect of the relationship. We look at the master and we consider his material possessions. We call him evil and we are encouraged to fight for a position at “his” table. The slaves are often offered as examples of victims. From our current lens we can see the destruction of this position of the master and yet we continuously reach for he possesses. When we fail to see the wisdom of the slave, when we imagine that the ‘great white father’ was so clever that he fooled the naïve blacks into caring for him and his children while the blacks suffered without any choice, not only do we overlook the wisdom of those willing to carry but we also discount the antidote for our current system of mass destruction.

There are many things gained by caring for another, despite apparent return. One can gain an ability to care, empathize, carry and love, as well as strength, wisdom, obedience and patience. I am in no way suggesting that we move back into a system of pre-civil war society but I am suggesting that the relationship between our ancestors, both the masters and the slaves, is not being fully considered. By speaking of the slave as a victim, without deconstructing the entire system and from a different lens, not only do we disempower the slaves and their descendants but also we make villains of the masters and their apparent descendants and we create a division impossible to cross.

I offer this because it is essential to what is happening in our nation now. While there are many people wound up about the black people and what is happening to “them” these methods of “support” are destroying us. There are black people and white alike commenting on how fed up the blacks are, they are pumping them up to bring our system to its knees. But the system is not shifting because we are not shifting. This kind of support is dividing and destroying us. This kind of support is destroying all of us. Our towns are burning, businesses are being destroyed and more black boys are going to jail. The lines of division are being solidified and the tension behind these actions is so great that our current system of working with racism cannot heal our wounds. We must discover new ways to think, talk, and act around this issue of race. Our collective ideology, which has been embedded into the psyche of this culture, must change.

In order for this change to happen we must first dissect our understanding of power. There is a widespread belief that the power is of the state, which consists of a select few, and that these few are separate from the mass population. When I consider the state, however, I am reminded of its power but I am also reminded of the power of the individual and the masses. What I have understood is that they are one. We are one with the State and the state is one with the people. There is no state without participants. There is no power without compliance and there is no change without understanding. As we continue to divide ourselves by political affiliation, race, class, ideological position, and by ‘oppressed’, ‘allies’ and ‘oppressor’, we divide ourselves, we divide the state and we divide our nation.

The relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed is illusory. We have scapegoated a group and named it oppressor, but the group we have named is no freer than the one it is understood to be oppressing. The power we have granted this entity is a power that we, as individuals and agents of the state, have offered. If this system is a system corrupt we have corrupted ourselves in our complicity. And, there will be no underlying change until we begin to take responsibility for our part in maintaining this dynamic.

Our black boys are dying and losing their freedoms yet we fail to see our own contributions to this. The moment I look at the master and his descendants and envy their position, I wish for their station and fight to grab ahold of what it is that they appear to have, and I name that position power, is the moment at which I begin to contribute to this national and global imbalance. By doing this I am promoting the worship of apparent power thereby reinforcing it. I cannot help but consider my contribution to the desperate need to consume and serve my-self without consideration for the lives that will feel the reaction of my karmic action. I cannot help but understand that what it is that I seek is the very thing I report as problematic. And I cannot help but understand that the beast I feed is none other than myself.

There is a great need for change here and we will not achieve it by indulging in white guilt, victimhood, or blame. It will not come by shirking our responsibility for self, state or other. Rather, it must come form true understanding of oppression, the other, care, love, destruction, anger, disagreement, disappointment and fear. We must begin to shift our relationship to these things and we must begin showing-up fully vulnerable and ready to carry. The change will come only after we begin to serve. We must dismantle and reconsider our belief systems, as they currently hold us bound to a mass illusion, they are dividing us and we are conquering, us.