Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When consciousness makes us each other's enemy.

If you've ever walked into a student activist space, an organizing meeting, or a conversation about fast food on Facebook, you've probably heard a few key words sprinkling every other sentence. Words like "privilege," "colonial," "elitist," and "ageist" (to list a few). These words, as with all words, hold meaning. They tell the room or the Facebook thread that you are politically conscious, that you've read Marx and Anzaldúa, or at least enough excerpts to quote them at will.

We use words to identify and articulate oppressions, and occasionally to imagine a world where we are no longer oppressed. We describe the wound ad nauseum, and sometimes, just when it's about to start healing (another key word), we gouge it. Perhaps because we haven't fully imagined what our bodies look like without gaping wounds. Perhaps because we're still figuring out what the wounds are and what medicine is necessary. Or, perhaps we fear the loss of credibility, or worse, our identity, when all we have left are the scars to remind us of our suffering.

But words aren't used to describe oppressions or issues alone, they are also used to point to or, in activist speak "call out" who we, through our lackluster and outward assessment, deem oppressors. Yet, in this pursuit to rabidly articulate and describe everything and everyone around us, we fail to articulate what we carry inside and what it has done to our capacity for kindness.

The project of colonization is profound. Standing naked before a mirror, I can trace acts of violence against my ancient and contemporary ancestors. My tongue has only known European languages, my legs move at glacial speeds compared to my running kin, my chest exposes the presence of another continent. I am the manifestation of an occupied land, an occupied people. But recognizing the virus that flows through my veins, the pollution that runs through these rivers, is not enough. The pain has done something to me, to us. Something we still struggle or refuse to articulate.

So that when we speak using key words from our activist dictionaries, and have not done the work of sitting with the pain that is inside, we lash out against each other. Others become our wealthy elite. Others become our straight person. Others become our white man. Others become our wealthy straight white man who has and continues to bring a great and profitable grief against us and our own. Others become our enemy.

In our pursuit of radical credentials, we assume things about each other, rarely pausing long enough to develop the sufficient curiosity to ask, Tell me more or Help me understand you. Instead, we take what we believe we see before us, load that image with our own projections, layer with our radical lenses and theories, and speak as though we know the person's story, the path that brought them here, the path they are on. And because we are radical surrounded by other radicals, our accusations begin to write our target's story in the minds and hearts of others.

We call someone elitist and privileged loud enough and enough spaces, people begin to believe our story. With no room for self-reflection, we begin to strip someone of their own story, draft our own based on our own assumptions and pain, then walk away leaving them to fend for themselves. This is how we treat our kin? This is the path toward liberation?

There is no question in my mind that language is important and useful in identifying, articulating, and addressing. Privilege is real, but it is also complex. Privilege shifts in every context we walk in. Skin color, language(s), income, immigration status, age, size, gender, etc. We are privileged and less privileged depending on where we stand in relationship to any of these and many, many other markers. But our privilege is also based on where we stand in relationship to each other.

Yet, when a person is accused (I say accused because it has been years since I've heard someone speak of privilege with kindness and for the purpose of developing awareness in the "privileged" one), the narrative seeps as though assuming privilege is static, fixed, and without context. Perhaps if, before accusing people, we reminded ourselves, and believed, that privilege is something we all benefit from depending on our context and our relationship to each other, we might begin to speak to each other with kindness, with an invitation for self-reflection and the development of consciousness.

I am not advocating for a silencing of analysis. Nor am I advocating for us to sit silently as people move unconsciously or consciously with their privileges at the expense of others. What I ask is that we hold the complexity that is the concept of privilege, that we hold each other with kindness, that we hold our breath long enough to remember that we are not each other's enemies.

If I've learned one thing over my bumpy path, it's that the world we believe possible tomorrow, must be the world we begin to create today. The road for liberation must be one where we treat each other with kindness, not as our enemies.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pride, Joy, and Mourning


Another Pride has come and gone. As with every year, the youth are getting younger and I am getting older. For this, I am both grateful and full of mourning.

I am grateful to see young people coming into their own bodies, desires, and expressions in a world that is a bit more welcoming (and for some, affirming) than the world I came of age in. I am grateful. I am grateful to be alive to see them come of age, to watch them mad-dash into their queerness when I was barely taking baby steps at their stage. I am grateful to see them embrace the rainbow, critique the rainbow, add colors to the rainbow. I am grateful to witness the growing alphabet of our identities, and with them, the possibilities.. and even some limitations.

I am grateful to sit in poetry readings and watch them get on stage and wax poetic about their bus ride into town, their latest rendezvous, their first love, their 50th love. I am grateful for the Facebook status updates that inspire and frighten me. I am grateful for the Instagram photos that arouse me and make me blush. I am grateful for the fashion statements that make me smile and those that make me cringe (skinny jeans!). I am grateful for the reminders that I am getting older. That I am still alive.

Roy Lozano, Jr. 
one of my ancestors
And I am full of mourning. I mourn that the generation that preceded my own was largely not there to witness my coming of age. That while I was rambling through what I thought was poetry, they were not there to giggle and roll their eyes. I mourn. I mourn that they were not there to hear me pontificate about the meaning of love, that they were not there to teach me about love. I mourn that they were not there to sit me down when my self-important and self-righteous ego would not shut up. I mourn that they were not there to hear me call them ageist and bitter for trying to pass on knowledge. I mourn that my crushes and fantasies about them were mostly limited to photographs on altars. I mourn that I kissed so few of them; that so few were there to kiss me.

And yet I am grateful. I am grateful for the legacies they left behind. I am grateful that they made my world a bit more welcoming than their world was to them. I am grateful for the foundations they built, for the writings they left behind, for the organizations they built, for the battles they fought. I am grateful. I am grateful for those who did not die. Those who took me in when all they wanted was silence. Those whose burden it was to mentor me, even as they continued to pick themselves up. Those who loved me, even as they struggled to learn how to thrive in the aftermath of their lovers' / brothers' deaths.

I am grateful for the mujeres, the women, who cared for them. The women who loved them, buried them, mourn them. The women who were loved by them, those who carry the stories. Those who shared stories with me. Those who keep the memory alive.

I am grateful to be 34 years old. And I mourn that I am 34 years old. I am grateful for each gray hair, every ache. I am grateful to stand naked in front of a mirror and notice how my body has changed, and foresee the changes to come in the bodies of older lovers. I am grateful to still be alive, when the odds and history predicted I would be gone long ago. Gone, not only because I am gay or brown or opinionated or conscious. Gone because that which makes me whole, all of who I am, is not welcome in this world.

I am now older than many of the men in photographs who were the object of my crushes and fantasies. I am grateful, and I am full of mourning.

So I sit here, at my computer, no longer using a dial-up modem or America Online chatrooms. I sit here and read the post-Pride Facebook status updates of a younger generation. I am smiling, I am blushing, I am giggling, I am rolling my eyes, I am clutching my proverbial pearls. I am happy that they exist in all their complex splendor, and that I am here to bear witness to their lives, the way I wish more of mine were there to witness my life.

Happy Pride, beautiful ones.