negrosunshine | 2014
i’ve been meditating on a question for the past few weeks. perhaps posting it here. now. in the public. two hours before the new year begins will force me to actually write the piece that’s been swirling around in my head.
how much of ourselves, our “conscious” “activist” “radical” self do we give up to exist in the real? which in this use of the word real, im speaking of a material security, or a sense of belonging in spaces or to people that could be deemed antithetical to the identity chosen for or claimed by us. conscious. radical. activist.
just a pondering. ill work it out in 2014.
Valerie June. Workin’ Woman Blues.
We really need to have a talk about how we love in the black community, and how we search for ‘the beloved community’—which is, how we search for a way to account for the living -and- the dead (Joy James, “Black Suffering in Search of ‘The Beloved Community’”)—in the black presence(s) we find…
Placing Black into any concept conjures peculiar histories and illuminates certain complexities that often remain unspoken, forgotten, or excised. Where a (re)thinking is often required, avoidance, hostility, or at best, lip service is rendered adequate, leaving Black and its joining topic unexamined for its contentious and at times oxymoronic relation. Black studies, Black music, Black feminisms, Black art, Black politics, Black queerness, etc., prove to be topics sustaining a certain amount of uncharted space and in need of critical attention. And I do not speak here simply of inquiry stemming from the field of African-American/Black studies; rather the way we think, write, remember, research, and interact with Black/Blackness is called into question—a critical strategy and discourse is necessary when attempting to make sense of the peculiar position of (the) Black in and out of our classrooms and discourse already deemed Black. What does it mean for me as a student of race, gender, and sexuality to sit in a Women’s studies class and think critically through notions of gender while Blackness operates at the fringes and when/if brought from the margins facilitates a particular crisis in the category of gender itself? How do I locate or account for queer when Blackness and its peculiar history displaces access to and possession of sexuality? Critical work is being done in this way of (re)thinking, which has pushed me into certain meditations on what is being avoided, what breeds hostility, or what is elided by lip service when Blackness takes place as the topic of conversation. Hortense Spillers rethinks gender in the face of the Black subject, forcing us to question what is lost or perhaps never had when bodies are bound at the bottom of ships moving through the Atlantic. Saidiya Hartman rethinks agency when tied to Blackness, asking us to consider the implications of Black “agency” being always already tied to criminality and white pleasure. Orlando Patterson rethinks slavery as not an event of hyper-exploitation, but a relation of power with the essential antagonism between the socially dead and living. The question remaining is: how does a student account for Blackness or this (re)thinking when traversing multiple discourses and classrooms?
Some of my initial thoughts on the matter came in the winter of 2010 when working with the concept of queer-history making. I was impressed with Anjali Arondekar’s work in her book For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (Duke University Press 2010). In this work, she shifts away from certain recuperative gestures in archival recovery toward an engagement with sexuality’s recursive traces against and through our very desire for access. Like Arondekar, I too propose a different relationship with the archive of queer-history, one in which the “narrative of retrieval is displaced with a radically different script of historical continuation.” (Arondekar, 1)But first, rather than taking Arondekar’s argument and theorizing wholesale and applying it to my own identity, history, and truth, I had to reckon with a difference of position and to account for Blackness. What would it mean to approach a considerably different archive and change the level of theory, or the narrative, from that of the subaltern to that of the slave? Which is to ask, how do we think through what we presume to know about gender and sexuality when peculiar histories and certain complexities haunt relationships between those categories and Blackness? I am one of a cadre of students with a host of ‘peculiar’ questions. Perhaps answers are not what we need, but an engagement, a location between, through, and in the discourse and classroom.
…………………………since leaving the university i’ve learned every gay black boy with a pen in his hand aspires to baldwin…………………. this gay black boy wanted balagoon…………………… and chicago winds will blow hats off my head that make me feel like hughes……………..
That hair is luxurious
#selfie in my imagination
we all get raised to be white.
at the conception of our reality genocide. violence. rape. death. are all intricately woven in what it means to live. to be in the real. and that is a simple truth of life. but who wants to talk about that? instead we get raised. taught to exist in excess of the conception. to be in the real.and now that i have completely crossed the line of opening something i write with a bunch of words that don’t really mean much (“Since the beginning of time,” “Love is…,” etc.) let me ground what i am thinking aloud in some experience for your reading pleasure (if not only my own pleasure).
i was raised. and then I got re-raised in an african-american studies ghetto. now im in chicago learning and experiencing. and if i follow the overused/abused proverb correctly “it takes a village to raise a child,” we are all always in a state of growth (or at least should be). always learning and/or teaching. and i’m always toying with the line between teaching and learning. for the most part just taking up some good listening skills and processing what is being said around and to me. ive found myself in less arguments than i was back in california while playing with the role of activist-scholar. i was community organizing or what few deemeddestroying. and now i circle back to some of those california themes and arguments here in chicago where i have largely kept my mouth shut and ears open. and i will admit. keeping my spoken thoughts to a minimum seems to keep the sex consistent and friends plentiful and at the end of the day. outside of being white. what more could i want? «< this is called a joke.
on the issue of being raised. being an activist. and engaging in some intellectual exchanges. there are two competing and complementary thesis at play for non-white liberal people. 1) its always good to be white 2) its okay to be something, just don’t be Black. the best of activist spaces and scholarship work to disrupt each thesis. however, while #1 is pretty easily accepted (to be worked against) #2 while always undergirding nearly all assumptions. is so rarely discussed. let alone fought against. and that is where my re-raising took place. and its quite funny how my development occurred. i would say my heaviest involvement in community organizing took place the previous two years. and in year one, i was working on #1, then i learned quickly, the radical potential is the work on #2. so in year two, that’s what i did, and for the most part exclusively with Black students (year one was on some multicultural bullshit, which is where i learned the plain truth of thesis #2). and i came to chicago with that mindset. the world desperately doesn’t want to be Black, so how can i dare to be Black? and to accept the insanity of making peace with/in Blackness? and to sit in the shame of being me. or my being? and i don’t write this as a resolute or definitive understanding of (my) existence. but rather to invite a conversation of sorts. or an ‘ensemble of questions’ that get at the complex process of being Black.
in year one of my deep engagement with community organizing, my comrades and i were bruised and injured. Blacks in a multicultural space of students and workers is a dangerous location. carrying the issues of the “coalition” while “Black issues” get misplaced. displaced. or deemed irrelevant. and our voices were always questioned or suggested as a threat. we worked for/with but always behind. the undocumented movement. workers rights. gender neutral bathrooms. etc. but prison abolition or PIC divestment was always viewed as too complex or unachievable (to name one issue of many we posed repeatedly to different coalitions). we found ourselves in the spotlight when some students decided to hang nooses at the UCSD campus. but that rush to our side was temporary and proved reliant on the spectacular nature of the spectacle, rather than the spectacular nature of Black every day life.
i say all this to explain why. while im relaxed. i would say im more focused than ever. while others would say that i’m ‘jaded’ or dare we say ‘pessimistic.’ relaxed. focused. jaded. pessimistic. perhaps the terms necessarily coexist within me.
year two of my deep engagement with community organizing. my comrades and i worked mainly with other Black students. political education was our main focus instead of the direct action engagement we had done the previous year. at the risk of being called nationalist (which some called us) or masculinist (which few charged) or anti-whatever identity was being focused on at the time, we troubled notions of identification in the face the Black subject, or attempted to explode certain categories by thinking them through Blackness. What does it mean to be Black and… queer, woman, man, artist, classed, etc? and consequently what does it mean for those categories in and of themselves with Blackness standing at the back door? what does it mean to think Black and further act through Blackness? that went over well in some instances and fell by the wayside in others. and of course i do not write on an assumption of definitive answers, rather as a starting point to the conversation i have daily with self and hope to expand to whoever wants to listen. speak. and exchange thoughts/tactics.
so i came to chicago with those experiences. some wounds others armor. and ive been listening. waiting for the right time to assert some of my thoughts but treading lightly so to not make the same california mistakes. trying to find or build that space (outside of the classroom) where thinking and possibly acting through Blackness is made possible. made okay. a place of shame? a place of insanity? a place of raising Black?
i keep telling myself Black love is revolutionary
while im fucking some reform on the side.
trapped in tides of political and spiritual
searching for meanings and truths beyond coventional
making senseless the sensible in others
bodies and objects of desire
visible to those who can’t see
understandable without a read
i keep telling myself Black love is revolutionary
while im fucking some reform on the side
passing time and space with filled flesh not felt
fantastical romances of spectacle
lectures and notes of unpraticals
lessons in suicidal actuals
spirits help me
i keep telling myself Black love is revolutionary
while im fucking some reform on the side
Black with the capital B
revolutionary stained in blood and tears
his/her name seared across my consciousness
waking up with reform
i keep telling myself Black love is revolutionary…
Black love is revolutionary
Black love is revolutionary.
Black love. revolutionary
i keep telling myself…
— Audre Lorde “Above the Wind” (via strugglingtobeheard)
— Steve Martinot & Jared Sexton, “The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy”
When the racism becomes so ordinary. And the response to the racism becomes mundane. The response to the response becomes expected, humorous, and enraging—a certain routine of course.
And we talk….And we cry…. Some laugh, while others reach for bricks, or sticks—certainly metaphorical here in this time and place. Oh, but what if just once it got all physical! A certain physicality to match the rhetorical, emotional, and always unrecognized (not to be mistaken with unrecognizable) violence found in the mundane (or to switch it up: routinized, to be interpreted as a routine, their routine, our routine, the routine). A video here…. Ignorance…. A cry there…. Protest…. A meeting then…. Strategy. Round about we go, where suffering is institutionalized, much like it is naturalized.
I remember sitting in a room at the University of California, Irvine with the Black Student Union executive board shortly after the chicken and waffle fiasco at Pippen commons. [Y’all remember that? The MLK Day special. UCI was always good to us Negroes.] I glanced around a silent room ailing from the pesky question, “what do we do?” A perplexing question on multiple fronts for the Black student activist: a forceful sincerity toward engaging the demand always met with constricting doubt. For how does one compete with the violence of the institution on an individual level? How does the Black student body (in all its definitions) enter a battle with a contract over its head [or tied around its neck as the campus of UCSD painfully reminded us in 2010], a contract of work in “exchange” for degreed success later in life? As a former Negro ‘occupying’ space on the campus I sit back and laugh (through tears, debt, and unfulfilled triumph) later in my life. Further, the frequency with which the question must be engaged is perplexing in and of itself. The routine of violence and response, aggression and reaction, day in and day out, or ‘sunup until sundown’ is enough to make any reasonably minded Black student walk away, or “shut down and turn off.”
But there we were, sitting in a room pondering which version of the routine we would carry out. I turned and looked at my closest comrades in the space, three Black queers actively working through an afro-pessimist framework (earnest theorist in the classroom, the four of us made for unruly and at times misguided student activists in community organizing spaces), and I put on the table, as a serious plan of action, a fleeting joke made between the four of us at an earlier time, “How ‘bout the Black student body start carrying around 2x4’s?” The majority of the board either laughed or looked on in fear while my comrades nodded their head in what was either sincere agreement or a courtesy nod for a faithful brother-in-battle.
I reasoned: in an environment where racist acts directed at Black bodies are as normal asracist acts directed at black bodies, and our forms of protest have a trajectory of solving nothing and repeating themselves, why not simply arm Black students and make the environment scared of Black bodies? Did I truly believe it would work? No. The Panthers were armed, the BLA went buck on the system, June Jordan waxed poetically about killing a cop for every Black boy killed, and Toni Morrison conjured a group/event called the Seven Days. And still, there we were plagued by the question. And did I actually plan on using a 2x4 on someone? Not really, I was still plagued by the desire of degreed success. But what if we were to enter the routine slightly altered: the visual stimuli of defense, perhaps a deterrent to open assaults steeped in a historical/utter fear of the Black body and a modern shallow fascination with Blackness? Is there a way to make people think twice (or at least once) before acting on/or against Blackness? Perhaps then the demand shifts from an awareness of Black suffering (which is a naturalized entity) toward an engagement with the daily violent/violently daily activities—the mundanely anti-Black repertoire of Human hobby.
That rage, worked out through a certain theoretical formulation searching for a proper course of praxis was quelled by “things just ain’t quite there yet.” My thoughts of shopping the wood section of Home Depot were dashed by reasoned practicality, were we as the Executive Board prepared to suffer the consequences of arming our constituents? Negroes warding off the racist front-lash of students and administrative policy sounds romantic, but the crushing blow of police and administrative backlash was perhaps a price too high to pay. A breach of contract for hopeful Negroes.
I recall sitting in that room, pondering the question, not as a clarion call for violence (at least not an outright one), but as I look from afar at the situation back at the University of California, Irvine, I can’t help but wonder, what would have been different if 2x4s were present on Ring Road from the first day of fall quarter. Or would my friend Kala, who I’ve watched step out of a quiet “first year bright-eye/skeptical” demeanor into the proud and (rightfully) raging Black activist, been the target of passing rhetorical violence had a 2x4 been sitting with her at the bus stop [or perhaps a brick for easier use against a car]? And I watch the protest, the rage, and the routine coming from UCI. And guilt consumes me as I realize the assault is painfully familiar and I wish I could have done something more, and further I wish my hands and rage extended from Chicago back to Orange County to help, console, and incite (further) the Black students at the University of California, Irvine. “But, further?” Many will ask. Where do we go from there/here? The language of the protest is skillfully sophisticated; the work at putting events and spectacles of racist violence into context of anti-Black institutions is nuanced and forceful. But the routine remains. So where does my meditation, this writing, go while anticipating that pesky question enfranchised in the reader and breathing through my last few sentences, “what do we do?” Are things there, yet?
I stand with the Black Student Union at the University of California, Irvine. I stand, sit, pace, shake my head, and write my words. I meditate on the Black Student Union at the University of California, Irvine. I fear for the Black “students.”
My post on Adrian Piper from the summer of 2011 seemed relevant today. Not sure why, but I offer it again.
negrosunshine still exist!