Do You Want “Change” or a Revolution?

With the turning of the seasons come shifts in attitudes and perspectives. A new year tends to bring new resolve towards achieving goals, and manifesting our deepest desires. The prospect of a new and different type of president has filled our common talk-space with various chirps of rage, dread, cautious hope, and giddy elation.

The common idea underlying all of the above is a longing for “change.” The New Year brings with it hopes for change. Many presidents have won elections promising change. Somehow, though, nothing, or little, ever changes. Why is that? Do we really want change? If so, is “change” enough? Or is revolution what we really need?

Revolution, based on the word revolve, means to turn things around. A revolutionary acts fearlessly (which doesn’t mean not feeling fear, but acting boldly in the face of fear). A revolutionary challenges existing practices, institutions, and people in power, questioning their very validity. They are willing to upset the status quo in order to achieve their goals, whatever that means (Vocabulary.com). There are very few genuine revolutionaries.

Artists of all kinds – fine artists, poets, musicians, performers – tend to have revolutionary temperaments. It just seems to come with the package. We spend a lot of time looking and observing; feeling everything deeply, too deeply; analyzing and questioning; making connections between disparate things, connections other people don’t seem to see; trying and failing to communicate what we see to the larger world.

"After the Tears Dry" 16" X 12", Acrylic on canvas
“After the Tears Dry” 16″ X 12″, Acrylic on canvas

This is the real reason, in my opinion, for the starving artist stereotype. It’s not that people don’t care about art or that art is not valuable, it’s that the temperament to make art and the temperament to make money are not often found in the same person. These two things require different skills, different mindsets, different priorities. It’s hard to be a wealthy revolutionary. Society rewards conformity and predictability, not radical change.

And this is what hinders many people, artists and non-artists alike, from truly behaving in revolutionary ways. Society and its denizens will punish you if you do. You might want to revolutionize relationships, or workplaces, or politics, or the financial system. But when you attempt these things, you will be punished. Not jailed, necessarily. But criticized, threatened, ostracized, ridiculed, abandoned. You will lose relationships. And money. And status.  Many people talk a good game. But when it really comes down to it, most shrink back and do as they’re told, or continue to do as they’ve always done. This isn’t a criticism. Pressure is pressure; it’s hard to bear. But it’s better to live in such a way that your words and your actions are a match.

Therefore, many people who truly live revolutionarily, in whatever sense, do so quietly. This is the best way. People who talk a lot and make a big outward show out of going against the grain usually turn out to be all talk; their lives are often quite conventional. The few people I’ve met who are truly living counter-culturally, are quiet but insistent about it. They tend to hurt people’s feelings without trying. They withstand the rejection of family, friends, and society at large in order to be true to their beliefs. They give up certain privileges and comforts if it contradicts their sense of what is right. For all the people who prattle on about “change,” few are willing to pay the price of the revolutionary.

Although I’ve never thought about this before today, I find myself naturally attracted to the revolutionaries. The small price I’ve paid is loneliness and sometimes isolation and/or being misunderstood. I can tolerate this. I would rather pay the price than be a hypocrite. I’d rather be isolated and uncomfortable for being who I am than have stability and comfort at the cost of my integrity.

So, to be more specific, here are some examples. I believe that monogamy is optional, not mandatory. Non-monogamy is a healthy and more realistic alternative and something I believe in. All of the institutions and ingrained beliefs that support and mandate marriage and monogamy are based on sexism and the transfer of property. I actively question all of these beliefs. Religion is a way of coping with life but it does not matter in any kind of life or death sense. All decisions based on fear are wrong. I believe in choosing what works for me. Through my eclectic spiritual practice, I have become a more loving, wise, balanced, and resilient person.

The current political structure is bankrupt. Community organizing is the pathway to lasting change. The current law enforcement system is also hopelessly corrupt. I believe it should be dismantled altogether and a new system based on community empowerment and community responsiveness should be in place. In other words, having police prowling around looking for people to “get” should be done away with. Rather, they should respond to empowered community law enforcement task forces who should be voted into their positions by their communities.

These are just a sample of some of my unpopular beliefs. I usually keep them to myself. I provided them here only as an example. I believe the next (successful) revolutionary movement will be stealthy, quiet, thoroughly tested and integrated into many facets of life. As a take on that famous Gandhi quote: “Be the revolution you wish to see in the world.” I would add: be consistent, and be quiet about it.

Peace and blessings,

Raven

The Crucial Nature of Self-Respect for Marginalized Groups

I had the pleasure of watching this archival footage this morning after a weekend of (coincidentally, if you believe in such things) meditating on the supreme importance of self-respect in my own life.

Self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence are inextricably linked. They are also persuasive. Our president-elect has little to recommend himself besides a fat wallet and a baffling overabundance of self-confidence. Yet, the power of self-confidence (I’m choosing to use the terms self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence more or less interchangeably) was influential enough to earn him the highest honor in the world – the United States presidency.

For those of us with slimmer wallets and rockier childhoods, self-respect is often harder to come by. Members of marginalized groups – women, homosexuals, people of color, those with physical and/or mental challenges, religious minorities, etc. – can have a hard time galvanizing the protective strength of self-confidence in the face of blatant disrespect, discrimination, and mistreatment. It’s great when “allies” come alongside and allow us to borrow their confidence. But that is not a lasting solution. Self-respect is self-generated – even if you didn’t get it from your parents, even if you won’t get it from society. Everything worth having is generated from within.

But how? How can we generate self-respect when everything around us – from society’s structures, to advertising, to friends and family, – seems to be telling us that we really don’t deserve it? How can we learn self-respect, and demand it from others, no apologies, no excuses? I don’t have all the answers, but, as a member of several marginalized groups, here’s what’s working for me:

  1. Remind yourself that you were socialized not to value yourself. Really think about how true that is.
  2. Remind yourself that the dominant culture was socialized not to value you.
  3. Set the intention to forgive yourself – and them – for your collective ignorance. But don’t prematurely force forgiveness. You have to feel the rage first. The forgiveness comes later, if you let it.
  4. Close your eyes and look deeply at who you are. See yourself as a new mother staring at her freshly bathed, button-nosed, newborn child. Smile and cherish everything about yourself. You are both the mother and the child.
  5. Review your mistakes, honestly but without judgment. They were born out of ignorance. Recognize those mistakes as part of that precious newborn. Make amends as necessary.
  6. Visualize who you want to be. Don’t focus only on superficial or cosmetic aspects of yourself. What kind of person do you want to be? See that person in as much detail as possible. In your mind, watch that person move and be in the world. Watch them as they talk to and interact with others. Admire that person’s confidence and poise. Think how proud you are of who that newborn has become!
  7. Spend some time alone in spiritual practice. For me, that’s meditation and walking. For you, it could be prayer, or sewing, or washing the car, or mountain-climbing, or working a puzzle. Be brave and do it alone. Don’t let anyone distract you. This is to allow your new way of thinking to seep into your sub-conscious. Changing mental habits takes a lot of practice.
  8. Commit to yourself. Make a promise to yourself that you will not allow anyone  to violate your feelings of self-respect. You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control how much access they get to you. You can control your response. Their need to disrespect you shows how fragile their own self-esteem is. Do not internalize their disrespect. Remember, you are that precious newborn and the mother. Protect that baby!
  9. Find someone who gets it and talk to them. This can be hard. Not everyone can be trusted with our hearts. And no one is perfect. But when you find someone who can listen to you, and who supports your journey towards self-respect, let them help you. Allow them to give you what you need.
  10. Once you’ve been practicing the above for a while, it gets easier. Go back to each step as needed. Now you’re ready to help someone else. You can now be a listening ear to someone else who needs self-respect. You have every right to be proud of yourself. You have earned your own respect.

I hope these tips were helpful. The next post will be a poem about the beauty of self-respect.

The Post 11/9 Blues: My New Reality

Notice: This post is a rant, and its target audience is disillusioned black people who socialize with whites.

I feel as if I’ve awakened to a new reality. The new reality I woke up to on 11/9 took an entire day of anger, bitterness, and frustration to work through. Prior to the election results, my world view was that while racism was not dead, it was dying. I thought most Americans had a visceral disdain for bigotry. While I was familiar with white privilege, I felt that it was passively inherited by most whites, not aggressively sought after and defended. I used to see a big difference between the rabid racism of southern whites and the condescending clueless racism of (well-meaning) white liberals.

I no longer believe any of this. While I still believe that deep down most people want to do the right thing, the persistent reality is that fear, greed, and selfishness distort our perceptions of what the “right thing” really is. Fear and greed cause humans to clamp down and react protectively, selfishly, hatefully, even murderously, in order to protect what they think they are in danger of losing.

Yesterday “we” chose a leader who unabashedly embraces principles, ideas, mindsets, and behaviors that I thought “we” rejected: overt racism and physical violence against black people; sexual assault and misogyny; the mocking of the physically challenged; religious bigotry; the destruction of families through deportation; financial unaccountability and fraud; willful ignorance; and blatant disrespect. President-elect Donald Trump is a man who unapologetically embodies the credo “might makes right.” I knew he would appeal to a lot of Americans because America houses an enormous number of bigots. But I had hoped that the equally unapologetic goodness and idealism of a Bernie Sanders would capture the American imagination and tap into their latent ambition to do well AND do good.

However, through various shenanigans, we ended up Clinton and Trump – two formidable members of the white power structure, willing and able to throw anyone under the bus in order to obtain the raw power each so lustfully craves. One represented old school phony-baloney, patronizing-lip-service-to-minorities, sleeping-with-Deep-Pockets while wearing-a-lovely-pantsuit interests. The other one represented old school Southern-Strategy, n-word-dropping-while-not-actually-saying-it, frat-boy, greedy-soulless-capitalist white male interests. The battle between these two was not a battle the American people – least of all its most vulnerable citizens – could ever win. Trump is not a fresh new voice. There is nothing new about his message. What’s new is that he said it on TV and was handsomely rewarded for it with non-stop media coverage/free advertising. The Southern Strategy is no longer southern but it still works. Having to accept this sad fact is what awakened me to my new reality.

My new reality is that white liberals and white conservatives have more in common than I was formerly willing to admit. (As it is always necessary to give this tired disclaimer when trying to discuss racism: I am not saying that all whites are racist). The word “racist” itself is played out and almost meaningless. No, white people are not all racists. But all white people benefit from white supremacy, which is the tacit acceptance and belief in white superiority. White supremacy is not the KKK. White supremacy is the assumption that everything white is normal, correct, and just, while everything non-white suffers from various levels of abnormality and inferiority. It is not necessary to believe this in order to be affected by, or to benefit from, white supremacy.

White people are not the only ones affected by white supremacy. There are a disturbing number of black white supremacists. In fact, anyone with a pulse and some degree of cognition has been affected by the tenets of white supremacy. It is hard to convince people of this because it is like the air we breathe. Watch a movie; turn on the television; read a history book; study the impact of various laws, penal codes, and institutions; or try to get a job, and you will be confronted with white supremacy. It is invisible, like oxygen, but it is there.

Because it is invisible, many white liberals explain away Trump’s presidency by talking about emails and the DNC, but refuse to acknowledge the persistent seduction of white supremacy. They will flat-out deny race is an issue and condescendingly explain to you what the REAL issues are. Emails, of course. And the DNC.

So, I’ve decided to give up. I can’t explain white supremacy or racism to any more white people. It is a drain on my physical health, my emotional well-being, and my spirit. Incidentally, this applies not only to race. Whenever you are dealing with a terrible reality that other people refuse to acknowledge, you must withdraw from those people. Find your “species”. Embrace like-minded people and make strategic plans for genuine change. Get the support you need, but don’t wallow in bemoaning reality or trying to convince others of it. Actions speak louder than words.

No one who benefits from a system will be motivated to change it – until that system also becomes painful for them. There are a growing number of white people who are finding white supremacy painful. Kudos to them! We who acknowledge and despise racism must figure out ways to make racism painful for the people who perpetuate and/or benefit from it.

I don’t believe this requires complete withdrawal from white society, as some advocate. Befriend all people, but keep in the back of your mind where their loyalties lie. Become articulate about the issues so that, while avoiding explaining racism to them – which doesn’t work – you can take advantage of teachable moments as they come up. Speak your piece while holding your ground. Recommend books and documentaries that explain the issues better than you can. Then leave them alone to believe whatever they want to believe.

What I believe in, is Black Self-Determinism. We have earned a right to have peace and justice in this country. We deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just like any other group. We must be free to make individual choices, but should keep the good of the whole in mind. We deserve a level playing field, which is far from present-day reality. As a group, we have been tampered with, damaged, and hemmed in. And, while we must fight for full legal and social equality – such as the complete dismantling and refashioning of the police force and the end of mass-incarceration – we are the only ones we can count on. We must find ways to prosper that don’t involve begging the power structures for what they stole from us in the first place. We have to do our best to help ourselves while demanding the fair and just application of the lofty ideals this country purportedly stands for.

Again, racism will not be eradicated by those who benefit from it. They can help, but they cannot and will not end it. Racism can only fade gracefully into the background as self-determining black people demand and command society’s respect through organized resistance and the building up of our own communities. Conscious white allies can support those efforts if their conscience so moves them. But the impetus for change must come from within.

The good news is that the lines are very clearly drawn. Anyone who is paying attention can now see what we’re up against as a society. Now that we know the truth, some of us are willing to drop former illusions and deal with it. “Change” is a limp, impotent word that has little meaning. The new reality calls for a revolution. The revolution starts with one’s own consciousness and, from there, reveals itself in well-thought-out, strategic action.

Good luck to all of you who care about these issues as you find suitable places to work and serve.

Peace and blessings,

Raven