“Oh, no, not that old ugly boy again!”

Lookie what we have here – a bonus post! Part of my new healthier approach to life is choosing to write my feelings instead of eat them.

The above quote is courtesy of my youngest sister, who spoke those words when one of my high school boyfriends came to pick me up from the house. She was only four, but I was still mortified; at sixteen, you don’t always have the zen to laugh off the outrageous outbursts of young children.

I have more presence of mind now when it comes to kids, but not yet when it comes to men. Early on, I began substituting sex for love and hoping that it might magically yield love as a side effect; and despite that never working even once, I clung to that pattern until it went from being second nature to first nature. Lately, I’ve doubled down on the disappointment and started choosing as my romantic attachments men who aren’t even interested in the sex part. Maybe my real turn-on is emotional masochism.

Long ago, I chose a boy who set my loins on fire over a boy who loved me. I’ve never stopped regretting that decision: how I hurt that nice, sweet boy, and the good relationship I gave up in exchange for a really crappy one. My therapist says I keep re-enacting that choice, trying to make it work out so that being with someone who’s bad for me will end up bringing me the love I truly wanted. My relationship history is the living definition of insanity … ergo, all the therapy. (And seriously, even therapy discussions that aren’t about my love life end up coming back to my love life. It’s pathological.)

The last year has been a lot about trying to separate myself from these destructive attachments. I’ve slowly gotten better at stepping back before I fling myself over the cliff – but only just. And even as I learn how to stop attaching myself to bad relationships, I despair of ever finding one again that’s good. It feels like the best I can ask for is that I stop wanting romantic companionship at all.

That’s so depressing. I’m 40; I’m not dead. I have a treasure trove of love and passion inside me, and no small reserve of skill. I’d really like to share them with someone who will appreciate their full value. Why is that so darn hard?

***

(Sidebar: how is it that I’ve never created the category Love Life for this blog until right now? That makes no sense to me.)

What we see

My sister and brother in law have a Subaru Outback. I wasn’t particularly familiar with that make and model of car when they got it. In fact, it kind of surprised me, because the advent of minivans and SUVs had led me to believe that the station wagon – along with my childhood – had largely disappeared sometime in the mid-90s. But there it was, a very handy vehicle; and when my mother’s car was totaled in a horrifying multi-car accident, I found myself driving the Subaru quite a bit.

That’s when a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, I kept seeing other Outbacks on the road. They were everywhere, in every kind of color. I started recognizing different styles, and I started to be able to distinguish between older and newer models. Apparently, these cars had been all around me the whole time; I’d just never noticed them.

Continue reading “What we see”

Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.

We can be #strongertogether – but we’re not yet

​My thoughts as I watched the election results roll in…

We need to own that, on the Democrat/left/progressive side, the closeness of this presidential election is the consequence of our collective failure to center #NeverTrump as our shared interest and organize effectively around that. None of us – including Clinton supporters – made that a priority, and so if Trump is defeated tonight, it will be in spite of us doing a shitty job of building a coalition powerful enough to defeat him.
I’ll be completely honest: defeating Trump was never my first priority as a voter. I live in a safely “blue” state where my vote for Jill Stein wasn’t going to have any meaningful impact on the Electoral College outcome. But I also was, and frankly still am, of the opinion that a Trump presidency wouldn’t significantly change the trajectory or nature of the work I do around dismantling structural oppression – and that the shock among both progressives and anti-Trump conservatives at such a result would actually make certain aspects of my work easier. You can disagree with my analysis of the landscape, but a) you’re not viewing it from where I’m standing, and b) whether or not you see what I see doesn’t actually matter. You just need to know how I am seeing this election, and know that the end result was that not only did I not change my vote, I also didn’t devote any real energy to developing a coalition of voters from multiple perspectives who could effectively work together to defeat Trump because I wasn’t sufficiently invested in that outcome.

And this is where we come to what I do have in common with #voteblue advocates: with a VERY limited number of exceptions (which I’m assuming exist simply because there are exceptions to every rule, not because I actually encountered any of these exceptions during my experience of this election cycle), Clinton supporters also didn’t devote any real energy to developing that coalition. Like me, they were primarily concerned with how the world looked from their viewpoint, and they primarily focused on trying to get others to agree that the world was as they saw it. But arguing isn’t organizing, and no matter who wins the presidential election it will represent a massive progressive organizing failure. We didn’t respect or work from a recognition of each other’s self-interest, so we didn’t build the power we needed to avoid this mess.

We are witnessing the entirely predictable result of focusing on positions instead of interests; of not being serious enough about defeating Trump to dedicate ourselves to building the power that would lead us to achieving that end. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it is highly tempting to reject that analysis in favor of believing that it’s somebody else’s fault this is happening. But an organizing training I attended last month has caused me to take a much more focused approach to building power – and a much closer and harder look at the ways that our attitudes and actions in progressive organizing fall into predictable patterns the dominant system trains us in from birth in order to keep us from being able to work together toward our liberation.

The paragraphs below are excerpted from a comment I made earlier today in response to a friend’s post. The context is a rebuttal to the idea that a #NeverTrump outcome could be achieved by anything other than a #voteblue strategy, so the excerpt includes my particular feelings about that as a third-party voter. But in addition to reflecting on how one segment of voters may have responded to Democratic persuasion tactics during this election, I invite folks to focus on the segments concerning self-interest and organizing for power.

I’ve been saying this all year: the only successful way to build a coalition guaranteed to defeat Trump was to engage the interests of those you needed to persuade – not what you think their interests SHOULD be, or what YOU think their interests are, but what THEY say they want and are concerned about. Dismissing someone’s concerns as short-sighted, self-serving, egotistical Hillary hating may be gratifying to your ego, but it is IN NO WAY persuasive for your target audience. It is not only completely disrespectful, but also INCREDIBLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. You might want to believe that people choosing to vote for Clinton despite serious misgivings are being beatifically altruistic; they are not. They found a way to connect a Clinton vote to the things that were most persuasive for them as a voter. But that rationale is not going to be the same for every voter, so you can’t just make the same case to everyone and call anyone for whom that doesn’t resonate an immoral whiny baby who doesn’t deserve to be listened to – at least, not if the priority is organizing for a desired outcome rather than resting in one’s own sense of righteousness.

People organize themselves and their resources in their self-interest: that is, in the ways they see that they can meet both their needs and those of the others they are working with. And contrary to popular belief, being self-interested is a good thing; it means that you can clearly identify the reasons for you to continue working toward your shared goal even when your coalition faces obstacles and conflicts. Our self-interest is our stake in seeing the outcome through. Without it, when things get too difficult or frustrating, people bail, and your coalition loses power. With it, people can focus on the shared goal and find ways to overcome obstacles together.

Basically, Clinton supporters have been telling a lot of progressive voters that the things those voters care about don’t matter, or don’t matter enough to be addressed in any way, and that they should band together with a group of people who look down on them and call them names. That’s insanity; only highly-traumatized people respond to that tactic, and EVEN THEN it’s still because the person has redefined abusive behavior to represent a twisted, demoralized definition of meeting their needs. Thankfully, most of us are not residing in that psychological place (except with respect to capitalism, but that’s another diatribe), so we dissociate from people who treat us that way and go find folks who will treat us with some dignity. But again, that dissociation means you lose potential members of your coalition.

Don’t want to organize with third-party progressives because you really do think they’re whiny babies not worth your time? That’s cool; you don’t organize with everyone. There are people and organizations I definitely write off when I think about food justice organizing, because I don’t respect them and I think the gulf between our interests is way too far. But if I’m going to do that, I damn sure better make sure I have organized enough other people and resources to make up for what I lose by writing those folks off; otherwise I will fail at achieving what is important to me because I failed to do what was needed to build sufficient power. We’ll find out later today whether the Clinton electoral coalition built enough power to emerge from this nightmare with the presidency.

I have nothing to lose but my chains.

This post is the verbatim content of my reply to another Facebook user’s comment on a friend’s post about Bernie Sanders and his response to #BlackLivesMatter protests at recent events. I share it because I have reached the point where there are no longer excuses for accepting any lesser outcome than the full liberation of people of color from the systems of racial oppression upon which this country has been founded, upon which it has built its wealth and power, and upon which it continues to build its political, economic and social systems. If you are a person in my life, you need to know where I stand; and then you can choose whether or not to stand with me.

Continue reading “I have nothing to lose but my chains.”

DWBF

Dating While Black and Female. It’s a real thing, people.

(Of all the things going on in the world,  who would have predicted that this is what I’d finally get agitated enough to post about? I’m not sure what that says about me; I don’t think it’s something good.)

We’ve been steeped in contrasting pairs of hashtags lately: #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen, #LivingWhileBlack, #CrimingWhileWhite. The #CrimingWhileWhite was a supportive contrasting tag to highlight racial disparities and injustices; but in the other pairs, #AllLivesMatter and #NotAllMen have been attempts to diminish or negate real concerns about the difficulties and differing realities experienced by women and black people in our society. Now, my dating struggles do not rise to the level of a societal injustice. 🙂 Nonetheless, I experience echoes of similar frustration when I get #DatingWhileHuman’d after I try to explain why dating while me is unusually difficult and frustrating.

The fullness of my unique personality is tolerable only for a select subset of the population; likewise, no one is attractive to everyone (Idris Elba being the obvious exception). So, having realized and moved away from the bizarro pathologies of my previous attitudes toward sex and relationships, I don’t expect all – or even the vast majority – of men I meet in person or online to find me viable as a dating partner. On the other hand, I also did not expect the number of people (random men on the street excluded) interested in actually going on a date with me to be exactly two since 2009. So what’s the deal?

It’s possible I’m just a horrible person to date, and my exes are vigorously spreading the word. Assuming, however that a) I am not exceptionally more terrible than most other humans in the dating pool and b) my exes aren’t villains intent on ruining my social life, it seems there must be a more plausible explanation. Despite the fact that I frequently voice frustration with the whole dating enterprise, I have regularly attempted the modern version of hanging out my dating shingle: online dating sites. I’ve actually been using dating sites since well before it was something you’d openly admit, so I’ve got a good 15 years of working in the medium. And up until six years ago, I’d been at least passably successful in finding both dates and relationships.

But online dating has changed, and I have changed. My favorite, dearly departed site was Yahoo! Personals, back before it became a pay site. The freewheeling, people-secretly-trying-to-find-love-on-here atmosphere came with its full share of creepies and crazies; I went on a date with at least one. But it also tended to come with less pre-judging: there were no compatibility profiles, no match questions, and just some basic demographic facts. Race was one of those facts, absolutely; but back in the age where no one felt entitled to their “perfect” match, people were a little more willing to chance meeting a new person who might be outside of their preconceived notions of a mate.

Even back in the day, sites like Match.com, with their more “sophisticated” matching systems, yielded me worse experiences; I rarely got initial contacts or responses, and those that I did get never translated into dates. So by the time I was back on the dating market after 3 years, online dating had become a much less appealing prospect, as the advent of Match and eHarmony made folks a lot more picky – and not in the good way. And suddenly, I began to experience the true aggravation of DWBF online, as few contacts shifted to almost no contacts in short order.

My last successful foray into online was born of a period of spiritual as well as sexual frustration, where I finally said, “Screw it” – literally. Very few people who’ve ever been on AdultFriendFinder will admit to such, but you probably know someone who has. (And now you definitely do.) My thinking was pretty simple: perhaps if I start with people who are already willing to have sex with me, I’ll be able to find someone who is both willing to have sex with me and a nice person I want to spend time with out of bed.

AFF wasn’t my proudest dating moment for a number of reasons. (Sidebar: nonetheless, I’m quite thankful that the Lord, despite my active rebellion, led me on the site to the best dating relationship I’ve had, and eventually through that process back into my relationship with Him. God is good, all the time!) But beyond the moral rebellion, it also was the result of a growing frustration: the sense that, no matter what the site, no matter how I tried to present myself in my profile, being a black woman always meant my chances of even getting a first date were slim to none. (Let’s not even talk about being a black woman who’s not a virgin on a Christian site … that deserves its own rant.) And the fact that it worked – that I had to start with the sex to find someone who was willing to get to know me as a person – I don’t even know how to describe that BS.

In the times that I’ve been back online since that last relationship, my experience hasn’t gotten better. I’m still black; and neither aging nor becoming heavier over the years have improved my prospects. While I go back each time hopeful and fully engaged, the silence from the void of whatever site I happened to be on tends to swallow that hope fairly quickly. Contacts are still rare, and it takes an enormous amount of effort for me to generate one or two reasonable responses. Dates are none.

And that’s the thing that distinguishes my online experience from that of my other single friends, all of whom are white or lighter-skinned than I am, regardless of their age or weight: it would be one thing if I just wasn’t finding “THE one.” It’s another thing not to be able to find “ANY one interested in talking for a half hour to see if we might be interested in each other.” Dating can be crappy all around; feeling like you couldn’t date if you tried is a different level. And so, as much as it’s depressing to see it confirmed, this assessment from OK Cupid of the response rates for their users by race was also validating: finally, something that let me know that I haven’t just been making this stuff up for years and years; it’s not “just in my head.”

It’s worth noting at this point in my rant that I operate in a mostly white world, both online and offline. I grew up and went to school in predominantly white suburbs in Massachusetts and Virginia; I studied at predominantly white schools and went to work in the dismally white architecture and design field. It wasn’t until I went to grad school for public administration that I was in classes where I couldn’t count the number of black people in class on one hand (a welcome surprise!). When I went back to work in nonprofits, I enjoyed seeing more people of color in my workplaces – but they were almost all women. And I lived almost all my adult life in the white areas of the strongly racially segregated Boston metro region. Most of my friends come from work, school and volunteering in my community – which meant being the “only one in the room” more often than not; and even when I wasn’t, rarely being in the room with an available man of color.

And yes, that matters. I’m not friends with people who are overtly racist, because I don’t need that in my life. But that doesn’t mean that social and cultural manifestations of white supremacy and anti-blackness don’t shape how we view each other and what we’re attracted to. I haven’t seriously dated someone I met socially since the ’90s; a major motivator in going online in the first place was my recognition that I was not considered dateable in my social circle. No, no one came out and said to me at that time, “You can’t date any of these folks because you’re black” (although, yes, for the record, I’ve had the joy of having a white friend tell me it “just wouldn’t look right” if I dated a white boy we both knew). But you begin to notice who is tagged as a desirable dating partner within a community, and you sure as heck notice when it isn’t anyone like you. Your social circle is the #1 way to find a dating partner, and online dating has now become #2. For me, it turns out both are a bust.

This is where my frustration comes in. More than one person reading this is going to think, “She keeps saying that the problem is race, but maybe it’s just her, y’know? She’s kind of bitter and more than a little desperate and just might not be that attractive.” Even some of you who know me are probably thinking some portion of that. And it makes me want to scream, having people try to comfort me or advise me or admonish me by saying that this thing I’ve been dealing with in one form or another my whole life isn’t real and isn’t really affecting me. So I have to try and dig up some professionals who’ve written an article or done a study to prove that I’m not talking out of my ass, and that maybe dating really is different for black people in general and black women in particular.

No matter what, though, some people will think it’s just me and my attitude, and if I were only happier and more content and stopped “playing the race card” and also stopped caring about finding a partner the right person would magically appear. Even the main “expert” quoted in that article suggests at the end that black millenials should stay positive and “reject the heightened sense of racial sensitivity” that they may be experiencing. My response to that tends to be something unprintable. Racialized preferences in dating are not anywhere near the level of issues like police brutality, mass incarceration, or economic injustice in terms of their effect on black communities and the urgency of addressing them. But that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that my dating world is colorblind or that the effects of our society’s dating culture aren’t real and painful for me and others like me.

BTW, those two guys who’ve sought to date me since 2009? Both of them were black, and I didn’t meet either of them online. One I went on a date with, the other I didn’t; in neither case did I feel attracted to them. (If people want to argue that I’m then being too picky, I’d ask them to reconsider the underlying assumption that I’d better enter into a relationship with anyone who offers, because I’m a beggar and I can’t be a chooser. That’s also BS.) I’m hoping that living in an area with more black professional men will make it more possible for me to find dating partners, whether in person or online. That said, the apparent reality that I need to restrict myself to solely dating “within my race” – or offer sex up front to overcome racial preferences – remains one of those nagging personal reminders that “post-racial” and “colorblind” are figments of our societal imagination.

Follow-up: On Membership and Privilege

[I’ve been trying – very unsuccessfully – to stop paying attention to the Rachel Dolezal story. It has been very difficult, because it keeps popping up in my Facebook news feed, and then I see comments on my posts or other friend’s posts about the story that I feel compelled to respond to. I’ve heard critiques from friends aout how we shouldn’t be spending time talking about this stiry when there are other leaders of integrity whose stories could be getting told and other pressing issues to address; I can understand and respect that critique. At the same time, rather than trying to make myself feel bad about how I’m processing this, I’m going to go with my own flow, and explore the questions about it that I need to explore. This post is an exploration of one of those questions.]

I’ve seen a number of articles and posts about the question of whether race is/should be fluid, whether the idea of someone identifying as a different race should be equivalent to their identifying as a different gender, etc. Jelani Cobb’s article in the New Yorker is by far one of the most sophisticated and nuanced commentaries on the question that I’ve read, walking a pretty decent line in addressing both the problems with Dolezal’s racial identification and the problems of racial identification, period. Even so, I feel like he doesn’t quite touch on one aspect of this “fluidity of race” question that bothers me every time someone brings it up.

As I mentioned in my last post, race is very specifically a tool for the definition and maintenance of white privilege. This means that, as history has shown, race is indeed fluid – but only in that people who are white get the privilege of determining who else they let into their club, as well as how they label and treat everyone who isn’t a member. It’s not fluid in that I don’t get to pick and choose how I want to identify if I’m not a member of the club. And it’s important to note that Rachel Dolezal does have the privilege of white membership, which is why she gets to choose. (I’m not going to get into it in depth here, but yes, people with non-European ethnic heritage who are able to “pass” as white are also benefitting from white membership, which they obtain as a result of skin color privilege.)

As a result, Dolezal’s story ends up highlighting a fascinating double function of the “one-drop” rule: it can simultaneously be used to exclude anyone defined or perceived as non-white from white spaces, while also giving white people a way to crash non-white spaces whenever they decide they want to. [Update: I just read a fantastic article going into this point in more depth.] This is a critical dimension of racial oppression: never allowing people of color to have safe spaces. And it’s a demonstration of the power that comes along with privilege: white people can and vigorously do police their spaces to deny access to people of color, but the right of people of color to do the same is challenged and/or denied outright.

It’s not just around race that you see this. It happens when men cry “reverse sexism” at the existence of women’s college or gyms. It happens when the cultural artifacts of groups that have been marginalized get appropriated by dominant groups; whether it’s the vigorous defence of the right of the Washington football team to continue using its current name and logo despite how offensive it is to many Native Americans, or this example that I recently read about the appropriation of vogue culture from queer spaces. And you can find so many examples around race, from the modern “reverse racism” cry around wanting to pick leaders of color for orgnizations serving people of color to the violent destruction in the 19th and 20th centuries of black towns and black farm cooperatives in the South whenever they managed to create some semblance of residential or economic security. Whenever a group experiencing oppression seeks to create a space for its own self-preservation, healing and power building, the dominant group will use a variety of tools from infiltration to extermination to bust up those spaces.

While the right of resorting to violence to undermine spaces for people experiencing oppression is always retained, today’s most prominent tools tend to be more subtle: the language of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and cultural sharing. This article does a great job of explaining how that language gets used to reinforce oppression rather than dismantling it; I quote it at length here, but you should read the whole piece:

“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded. This is why you might see a group proudly promote itself as being more “open” and “inclusive” than a group which is intentionally exclusive to create a safer space for a specific marginalized group. This is because de jure segregation is so strongly associated with racism. Still, segregation is not racist in and of itself. It is racist depending on a history of white supremacy, depending on who is enforcing segregation, and depending on the material impact of said segregation.

While after a history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, fighting for desegregation was obviously necessary, but that progress is not inherent to diversity and inclusion. They are only valuable insofar as they reduce a white stronghold on power … [For organizations providing space for and run by marginalized people], diversity and inclusion whitewash and undermine the very basis of their value for racial justice and feminism: providing access to resources, representation, and power to identity groups that lack them. Not only is “inclusivity” politically meaningless, but to frame the benefits of stronger representation of marginalized races, genders, etc. within “diversity” gravely strips the progress it provides of its power and political significance. There is then danger in uncritically advocating for—or even just discussing power dynamics in terms of—diversity or inclusivity.

Closed spaces for marginalized identities are essential … Any group, whether organized around a shared marginalized identity or not, will by-default be centered around the most powerful within that group. For example, cisgender white women will dominate women’s groups that aren’t run by or consciously centering trans women and women of color. A requirement for all groups to be fully open and inclusive invites the derailment and silencing of marginalized voices already pervasive in public spaces, preventing alternative spaces of relative safety from that to form.

And perhaps it is that distraction from discussing issues of power and privilege that is one of the things that bothers me most about the Dolezal story. I can already see how people are using it to bring up the “colorblind,” “we’re all one race” arguments that try to undercut focus on race-based inequities and injustices. We already have enough issues discussing power and privilege, or the need for reparations to address historical injustices, or the ongoing ways that organizations purporting to “serve” people of color replicate oppression through paternalism and suppression of the leadership of people of color. We already have too many white people and white-led organizations inflitrating or taking over safe spaces for people of color, in order to advance their own psychological and material benefit.

I believe that Rachel Dolezal – like so many white people and white-led organizations – was sincere in wanting to help communities of color, and I also believe that she did some good things while she was in her positions in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. At the same time, how one does these things matters, and oppression can’t be fought by sweeping issues of power and privilege under the rug. In an unusually breathtaking way, Dolezal was unwilling to confront and deal with the reality of her white privilege, and she carried and used that privilege in all the spaces she occupied while trying to serve. Her privilege helped her to dominate and become the center of those spaces. And that pattern, no matter how well-intentioned, must be named and disrupted.