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Posts Tagged ‘internalized oppression’

The Trayvon Trial and the Need for Righteous Rage

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on July 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin
 (March 21st, 2012)

Hard to believe it was over a year ago. I’m proud of the fact that I was present here, although shamefully sans hoodie.

As the jury deliberates its verdict for George Zimmerman, the man charged with the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I feel some uncomfortable fusion of listless resignation and indescribable fury. White supremacy has never left us, and Jim Crow has only morphed into stealthier, more subversive villain. The long list of issues makes it clear how badly racial justice has regressed in this country, for in the last few weeks we have seen:

  •          A curtailment of voting rights in the South
  •          The evisceration of affirmative action
  •          The proposed militarization of the country’s borders
  •          Several state-by-state threats to a woman’s right to abortion
    (affecting particularly women of color)
  •           Direct assaults on indigenous sovereignty
  •           An ongoing criminalization of young men of color that targets “cultural”
    behaviors over economic disenfranchisement (e.g. the school-to-prison
    pipeline, or (quite unbelievably) the various “saggy pants” legislation
    throughout the country

And yes, surprising as it may be to some, this has all happened under a black president, a Democrat, and a man who was supposed to represent “hope” in the aftermath of global financial disaster and eight difficult years under President Bush.

As far as the Trayvon Martin case is concerned, I am feeling quite cynical of the possibility of true “justice” being served. Although I hope some modicum of justice transpires, such that Zimmerman is found guilty of unreasonable and bigoted manslaughter, I am completely aware that sending one man to prison isn’t enough. (This, even as last year’s cathartic chants of “Prosecute Zimmerman” and “Execute Zimmerman” still ring clearly in my ears.)

And I agree with the recently published statement by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, where the group states:

We have no plans to celebrate any conviction, since all possible “legal” outcomes point squarely toward a re-imagined Jim Crow justice….

Zimmerman may be acquitted, and while this would be a slap in the face, the entire trial has been a slap in the face, the media campaign to demonize this young man is a slap in the face, and the entire system of racial profiling, mass incarceration, capitalist exploitation, and police terror is a slap in the face and a punch in the gut.”

And this demonization of Trayvon Martin, an innocent 17-year-old who was targeted for wearing a gray hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, is not novel. Not in the least.

Trayvon_Martin_Justice

The Trayvon murder ignited a national conversation about something that is all too common. Yes, we’ve chanted, we’ve rallied, we’ve marched. But when do we know we’ve found justice?


Decolonizing Jim Crow

As a person of color, as a still-young man who has worked with various youth populations, I understand how the white mainstream can—and will—vilify us to exonerate their culpability in heinous inequalities. It is evident in the spatial injustice that constitutes marginalized ghetto communities and poorly funded neighborhood resources. It is evident in the scarce funding for public schools, and the inversely proportional funding for our expanding prisons. And it is evident in the fact that more than half of young black men without a high school diploma are unemployed (much more than comparable demographics).

Indeed, I have experienced just how injustice is propagated even in the most “liberal” of amerikkkan cities—New York. I have experienced, and witnessed, “proper” white adults from more affluent neighborhoods patronizing us for the ways we dress or speak (not daring to investigate the roots of resistive language against oppressive white hegemony). I have experienced, and witnessed, white people showing authentic surprise when we showcase “mature” or “intelligent” qualities (read: able to adapt to and integrate white cultural norms). Even worse: I have experienced, and witnessed, the very nuanced and subtle ways in which white supremacy infects us to the point of creating an epidemic of internalized bigotries, becoming a source of rage that rips apart families.

None of this is meant to so much as scratch the surface of a long history of white supremacist violence against men of color. It also does not touch the equally, if not more devastating, topic of violence against trans* people of color and women of color. But seeing the highlights of a trial that has showcased the worst stereotypes of racism in the neoliberal age of colorblindness, I am reminded of the perverse and irrational abuses that murder innocent young men like Trayvon, Ramarley Graham, and Bo Morrison. While we may be indoctrinated to view these cases as isolated incidents of “bad cops,” people fighting for true justice must resist this ideological wrench.  We must make it clear to the public that an amerikkkanist culture of white supremacy—a “re-imagined Jim Crow”—still persists in everyday life.

subway racism

In New York City, the subway facilitates a convergence of different types of people. As such, racism proliferates in subtle ways (sitting or moving elsewhere) and not-so-subtle ways (the relatively rare screaming or pushing).

Despite my deeply-entrenched indignation, I still bear optimism for the possibility of change. But as corresponds with my skepticism of reformist politics in challenging state-orchestrated violence, I imagine that a substantive overthrow of this new Jim Crow will require an extirpation of imperial legacies more than 500 years old. A true uprooting of racism—to the extent that such an ahistorical process would ever be possible—would necessitate a potent counter-resistance that can match the powers that link liberalized capital and the modern colonial-settler state. In other words, it would require a decolonization of the mind, body, and soul of a people conditioned into an acceptance of racial hierarchy and violence.

Indeed, from my vantage point, our country’s regrettable actions against youth of color—as seen in the ways we deprive them of opportunities given unquestionably to whites, as well as in the ways we criminalize and vilify them in the mainstream media—are simply demanding civil unrest. Whether this manifests as a veritable uprising that takes cue from the militancy of ‘60s Black Power, or from the cyber-fluidity of contemporary, regime-changing revolutions, remains to be seen. But given the direction of racial politics in this most imperialist of nations, more civil unrest is a virtual guarantee.

And as with every such unrest, it’s hard to forecast where the fire will finally ignite.

trayvonmartincase

Zimmerman’s defense attorney apparently acquired a graphic design person to manufacture this indelible image: it is an animation “proving” how Trayvon attacked his murderer.

 

“I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN”

A young white woman acknowledges that, if anything else, whites should really be saying “I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.” I find her points potentially instructive for a mainstream white audience in the united states.

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When Things Flare Up Again

In Crip Politics / Disability Politics, Identity Politics, Life with Chronic Illness, Multiple Sclerosis on June 8, 2013 at 10:07 PM

As can happen with individuals with chronic pain, I withdrew from much of the world in the past month.

The combination of sun, psychic stress, and bodily weakness kept me home, trapped in a state of hopelessness and confusion.

In anguish, I wondered, What was happening to me? The enigma of my condition was accentuated by the fact that I’ve recently quit my job and therefore had no work-related stress. In fact, I had saved up enough money precisely because I didn’t want to have financial worries. And the spring weather should have been an incentive, not a deterrent, in me spending time outdoors.

It turns out that my MS, always unpredictable, resurfaced in a striking way. I was having another flare-up in spite of all my best efforts to take care of myself.

What shocked me was not the fact that I was having a flare-up (which I’ve learned to accept as inevitable and unpredictable), but the fact that my disciplined dieting, exercise, and meditation were not enough to reverse pernicious autoimmunity.

When I first felt the flow of another dreaded relapse, I began downing as many green shakes (i.e. juices made of leafy green vegetables and fruits high in antioxidants) as possible.

I continued, and accelerated, my daily consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and herbs (e.g. fatty fish, nuts, flax seeds, turmeric, and garlic). I exercised as best as I could in the face of chronic pain. And I read up on, and watched countless films on, food justice and the evils of modern agribusiness and factory farming.

I thought I was doing all the “right” things.

Then things started to quickly deteriorate some more. I found myself getting incredibly weak and easily fatigued, to the point of needing support from my family in such basic things as cooking and doing laundry.

Tingling sensations and vibrations spread throughout my entire body. And on days it rained—which were many, since it was a particularly rainy May in New York City—I was particularly incapable of usual functioning.

So for many days I was sofa-bound, sprawled on beige leather as I shamelessly watched hour after hour of television programming on Netflix. Whenever possible, I watched documentaries as these at least felt like a “productive” use of TV-watching hours that resulted in learning (note the internalized capitalist rhetoric implicit in this thinking). I was even able to read books about yoga and chronic pain while sitting back on a recliner.

Yes, all of these things made me feel like I could be moving in the right direction. When the green ‘juicing’ didn’t work, I decided to try harder.

I tried juice fasting. I eliminated all meats from my diet, and substituted vigorous, moderate-intensity exercise with light yogic asanas and stretching. People can judge me for many things, but no one could deny that I was really trying.

Feet Neuropathy

A pharmaceutical ad for a drug meant to treat chronic neuropathy, or pain resulting from nerve damage.

But even the best attempts to assert control can be met with demise, as if the Universe were scornfully laughing at my mortal hubris for thinking otherwise. It was a Sunday in late May. It began, as usual, with a slow start because the painkilling medications I need to in order to fall asleep also have a tendency to keep me sedated.

And things seemed like they would go their usual “calmly perturbing” route until it started to thunder in the afternoon, at which point I could feel the world distancing itself from me. Every movement started to feel like a Sisyphean feat. The kitchen, and food, may as well have been an ocean away. I couldn’t believe it. I was drowning.

When I started to feel the uncomfortable, paresthetic vibrations along my torso, with accompanying burning pains in my feet, I realized that this wasn’t going to go away through my efforts alone. I asked my father to drive me to the hospital (one that isn’t the closer, shittier hospital by my house).

I already knew what to do. I spent more time educating the nurses and residents than I was accustomed to, but it was all alright as long as they did what I needed them to do.

I got my infusion of Solu-Medrol (an anti-inflammatory steroid that is a typical treatment for an MS flare-up) around midnight, which meant that I would not be sleeping any time soon. But at least the worst was over. Within a few hours I felt as good as new.

One of my realizations these past few weeks has been the reality that we don’t have as much control over our lives as we think we do. Yes, it’s one of those aphorisms you might read in a self-help book somewhere in Barnes & Noble, but it’s undeniable.

We just have an illusion of control mediated by economic stability, reasonably good health, and interconnected systems of social organization (modes of transportation, electricity, commercial venues, etc.). When one of these components fails, however, everything can fall apart like a cascade of tumbling dominoes.

We sometimes acknowledge this in moments of crisis, or in thinking about what would happen if that next paycheck didn’t come through. And sometimes things can rebound (like after a recession, or a new job), or they can be irreversibly changed (like in traumatic injury or death). It’s the latter that we try to ignore, always hoping for a rebound or a glimmer of former regularity.

I also realized that I was beholden to a logic that many with disabling conditions are often swayed by, which is that this all happened because I did something wrong.

Whether it was that I wasn’t eating enough green leafy vegetable, or spending too much time in contaminated environments, or simply “allowing” myself to get so stressed out, the locus of blame was largely (if not explicitly) on myself.

Yes, call it some form of internalized ableism. The fact is, many people (including those well-versed in identity politics and systems of oppression) harbor attitudes that correlate “good” circumstances with “good” behavior, and “bad” circumstances with “bad” behavior. Such correlation is, in many ways, at the root of the meritocratic myth in competitive capitalism, or the age-old dogmas of organized religions.

It is so pervasive in our thinking that the matter-of-factness of it all leads many to think it is simply a matter of causality, not realizing that the qualifications of “good” and “bad” are dictated by societal norms.

 

I didn’t realize the extent of this judgment until I started to examine my thinking. After all, I came to the conclusion that eating “green” was worth my time for a reason.

And though I’ve long believed that structural forces account for a sizeable portion of what accounts for life circumstances, I found myself really wondering why I opted to change my behavior following my last set of relapses (whatever their cause), instead of merely accepting the fact that shit has happened that I could do little about.

And this is not anything unique. Even the educated among us opt for crisis-prevention strategies like buying life insurance, avoiding toxic environments, exercising, and eating organic foods in the belief that these activities will accomplish something that is ultimately beneficial. That they are “good.” If nothing else, in the absence of prophetic information, they all provide a peace of mind.

Their goodness, however, implies that other things are “bad”—an implication that rises to explicit awareness when shit hits the fan in a situation like mine. There is nothing like illness to make you see what is really there.

Of course, my efforts through behavioral modification came about from a desire to regain a control I felt betrayed when my “alien” body was having symptoms. None of this is to say that efforts at self-care are worthless, but to understand the underlying reasoning for them.

In my case, I had hoped that things could improve through careful eating. I still do. But hope does not translate into knowledge, and with MS, it’s hard to foretell much of anything.

Even grappling with the question of whether or not to apply to grad school this year, I’ve learned just how completely at a loss I am when it comes to making a decision that could affect me five to eight years down the line.

I honestly don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll be physically and mentally able to do. Not a day goes by where I don’t wonder about how I’ll survive the pain, not to mention getting through several years.

This jarring instability has humbled me, but it has also awoken me to my attachments to material objects and life circumstances.

The flare-up didn’t make me realize all this. Meditation did. And what I’ve come to appreciate is just how attached I’ve been to certain ideas of who I am in the world.

Hopes and dreams still dot the landscape of my mind, as they should, but I choose to be as aware of the processes that give rise to them as possible.

Such is the mindful awareness that I strive for.

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