Gentleman’s Agreement

As a man who has spent a lifetime being followed, cornered, propositioned and even groped against his will in restrooms, I can assure you that the predators are never trans*women, trans*men and not even usually self identified gay men. The culprits I’ve encountered are overwhelmingly cisgender “straight” men who feel like they have nowhere else to express these desires but in the “safety” of restrooms and locker rooms. These are the men who take advantage of the unspoken silent pacts and curious rituals of Westernized hetero-normative male bonding and are historically the ones who pose the greatest threat (think Dennis Hastert). The fear that is being projected by the men behind the current rash of anti-trans* “bathroom bills” is a product of their own twisted concept of what sex is, what a bathroom can be used for and frankly, I think they are only trying to protect their own fragile gender identities…not to mention their “right” to sneak a peek or hookup on the DL.

Yes, methinks the gentlemen doth protest too much…

Anointing North Carolina

After casting your vote,
you stand to anoint the glistening white head
with the Christening of manhood.
The ritual is rich with meaning
unconscious self conscious
as you tug at your history in the hierarchy
that flows with innocence
sometimes rises to embarrassment
and always sits on display with its simple visible purpose.

But it is not the final flick of moisture
At this font that holds the deepest meaning.
It is the furtive flash of an eye
that tells the true story
behind your belief that a public space for relief
is also the private space for release.
Your desire to shame those who only want wholeness
is meant to deflect attention
from the glances you give innocent disciples
whose untrained unrestrained excitement
at being thus blessed
is your cue to initiate them to the secret society
and teach its lessons and denial and lies.
Or maybe the restrictions you look to impose
are meant to press against how
you yourself were first evangelized
then baptized.

The frustrated communion of male bonding…
Eat for this is my body…
drink for this is my blood…
where taboo broken and DNA spilled
defines an age old covenant of hidden masculinities.
This is sacred space for you,
sanctified by anatomy anonymity
where glory is holed up in the tomb of a stranger’s pants,
and the promise that someday he will return.

You must pray,
for grace means never being asked where you’ve been…
or whether you even bothered to wash your hands.

 

Adam Lawrence Dyer is the author of Love Beyond God, the latest InSpirit Meditation Manual from the Unitarian Universalist Association: 

Love Beyond God Thumb

 

 

 

http://www.uuabookstore.org/Love-Beyond-God-P17877.aspx

Living in the 90’s?

SandersClintonOn the eve of Super Tuesday, I should be finishing a paper that is due tomorrow, but I’m preoccupied.  I can’t get past the image from last week of UNCC activist Ashley Williams confronting Hillary Clinton[1] in the middle of a private event reminding the candidate about her 1996 statement about “super predators”.  I applaud Williams for her highly effective act of awareness-raising.  This statement from Clinton was ugly and non-productive language that perpetuated the image of the criminal inner city black person.  Granted, it was 20 years ago in a speech that also makes reference to the importance of community policing[2]…but I digress.  Overall, I am grateful for this particular action because it highlighted exactly how important it is for Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton to substantially address racial violence and inequity in our country with a much more aggressive and public stance.  She needs to do this, fearlessly, with a much clearer understanding of the impact that the 1990’s Clinton administration had on today’s racially biased system of justice.  But she is in the unique position of having to manage her direct association with a previous administration in which she had no official political role.  This is unknown territory; we’ve never done this as a nation before.  We’ve never had to psychologically separate a potential president from their role as First Lady and it is an insult to Hillary Clinton to reduce her candidacy to her marriage.  But this is made more complex because Clinton actively took on the job of re-claiming the role “First Lady of the United States” as someone who wasn’t just arm candy to the president (sorry Jackie).  She fashioned a new presence for the First Lady much on the lines of her hero Eleanor Roosevelt*.  But Hillary is no Eleanor yet. Acknowledgement and accountability for her active support and presence in the previous Clinton administration plus thoughtful public consideration of how she was complicit would go a long way with voters this cycle.

But what has me preoccupied is historical context. I would like to respectfully point out that unlike the 23 year old Williams, Clinton lived through the 90’s as an adult.  And unlike both of them, I lived through the 1990s as a black man in his mid/late 20 in New York City.  I remember very, very clearly that despite graduating from an elite university, in order to get jobs or housing, I had to distance myself from any kind of image or association with anything even vaguely “urban” (code for black/African-American). It was still the “Huxtable” era and public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, Eddie Murphy and Whitney Houston were redefining what black success, marketability, upward mobility and general social acceptability were all about.  And we all bought into it. The “Buppy” (Black Urban Professional) was an image that was in stark contrast with that of blacks who were stuck in poverty, struggling with drugs and battling crime first hand.

Shamefully, the dominant solution wasn’t focused in significant ways on restoration or reform.  We all spent too little time solving the real reasons why we faced drug problems in black neighborhoods and those of us who could were more focused on achieving financial mobility with the Clinton economic wave.  Socially, we were still trying to get past the senseless Reagan era labels like “welfare queens” and the completely out of touch “Just Say No” bullshit to have a baseline of legitimacy in the public discourse on prosperity.  From someone who was a 20 something voter at the time, we young blacks of the 1990’s were deeply invested in redefining our mainstream racial identity and we were pretty desperate to see the end of drugs and crimes that were devastating our communities and (in 1990’s language) “keeping us down”.  All of which brings me to my historical obsession.  In today’s heated and necessary battles over race, we forget that our black congressional leaders were also among the supporters of the “war on drugs”. The legislation that most people are pointing to during this election cycle is the draconian Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994[3]. It was handed to President Clinton with approval largely along party lines (Democrats in favor Republicans against.)  It also had the “yea” votes of 23 of the 34 black members of the House of Representatives[4] plus Senator Carol Mosely-Braun[5].  I do find it prophetic, however, that key black leaders, Charles Rangel (NY), Maxine Waters (CA), Cleo Fields (LA), and John Lewis (GA) opposed the bill.

Hillary Clinton, as First Lady had no vote.

My goal here is not in any way at all to defend the results of this law, or to say that the “war on drugs” was/is a good or correct thing or to blame our black leaders. I am only trying to point out that we are all getting lost in historical amnesia.  I am tired of hearing the national discourse obsess over the political records of both Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders like it is the exact guidebook for how they will govern as President.  Barack Obama was not elected based on his political record.  He was elected based on his political potential and his plans, which he has lived up to in both good and disappointing ways. What I believe we should be trying to determine this election cycle is who will actually be able to make targeted and lasting changes in our system of government so that the legislators (who are the ones who actually make law based on their constituents) have the negotiating room and tools to make better laws and repeal the ones that hurt us all.  Our priority needs to be electing a president who will focus on getting Congress unstuck.  If we look only at history, Sanders has never represented black people in any significant number[6] and Clinton was First Lady to the administration that sealed the fate on today’s mass incarceration.  On the other hand, Sanders has never wavered from support for LGBTQ issues and Clinton has more national and international experience than any other politician in the history of our country.  But, the real question is who are they now and what are their actual plans to be the leader we need today and moving forward. Which one will convince Senate Republicans to stop acting like petulant 6 year olds and actually follow the law of the land?  Who has a plan to codify the changes that will end the racial profiling and mass incarceration of black and brown people and what does that plan look like?  Who will not tolerate another year without equal pay for equal work?

I have yet to hear a Republican candidate other than John Kasich, speak about race.  What is more, most of them have not said a word about women in politics that hasn’t been either demeaning or downright offensive including their terrifying remarks against a woman’s right to choose.  If the Democratic party loses this election, it will not be the fault of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  The responsibility will sit squarely on the shoulders of the voting public that got caught up fighting with themselves over who remembers history better.  Meanwhile, the folks on the other side of the aisle who could care less about women or people of color (unless it means votes) will waltz into the Oval Office. The Republican candidates represent a political system that is not yet prepared to see equity in government or in public life.  They are determined to normalize hate speech and xenophobia and they falsely claim God as their witness to do so[7].  The entire voting public, regardless of party, has a responsibility to elect a president who will actually govern the entire US population and not just the people who have, as former KKK leader David Duke said endorsing the Trump campaign “the same kind of mindset you have.”[8] Both Clinton and Sanders believe in governing all of the United States, now and in the future. So let’s press them on the details of their policies.  I have no interest in electing either 1990’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.  And really, were any of us all that great in the 1990’s…except for maybe Oprah or Whoopi Goldberg?

150805-eleanor-roosevelt-jsw-109p_94af2607b8c2d02f356e6ae6dd1152a1.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

Not Hillary (or Oprah or Whoopi)

*Eleanor Roosevelt had her own “super predator” moment when she originally supported President Roosevelt’s internment of the Japanese.  But she pivoted from this stance.  Below is a link to the text of a speech she delivered as part of that evolution.  Many would consider her break, though mild, treasonous during a time of war. http://www.nps.gov/articles/erooseveltinternment.htm

 

[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/02/25/clinton-heckled-by-black-lives-matter-activist/

[2]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0uCrA7ePno

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violent_Crime_Control_and_Law_Enforcement_Act#Legacy

[4] http://clerk.house.gov/evs/1994/roll416.xml

[5] http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=103&session=2&vote=00295

[6] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/50000.html

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/its-embarrassing-to-be-an_b_9326650.html

[8] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2016/02/25/david-duke-trump/80953384/

Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016) – RIP

ScaliaI’m a gay man and I’m saying don’t spit or dance on Antonin Scalia’s grave. I believe in prison abolition and radical police and justice reform including being staunchly against the death penalty and I say don’t curse his name. I am black and very aware that affirmative action is still very much necessary and I say do not remember him only as an ignorant or backward bigot. I believe in every woman’s right to choose what is best for her body (as men choose every day…often against women’s will) without coercion or politicians and with the full support of a sane civil society with universal health care and I say do not write Antonin Scalia off as a religiously motivated woman-hating zealot.

I say this because, if the current antics on the Presidential campaign trail are any indication, we are headed into an astoundingly complicated time in the history of this country. We face a field of candidates still dominated by whites and men while the five states with the largest numbers of voting delegates (California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois) are already or are nearly majority people of color.[1] The Democratic Party seems poised and eager to completely devour Hillary Clinton, a product of the party and arguably one of the most qualified women and one of the most experienced politicians* in the history of Presidential politics. Black Lives Matter protestors are interrupting infrastructure, Ta-Nehesi Coates has re-mounted the call for reparations, all the while the first black President, the son of an African migrant, is presiding over some of the broadest and most aggressive sweeps and deportations of undocumented people of color in the history of the nation. In short, we are in a time of confusing, stark, sometimes lethal and always uncomfortable contrasts.

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. – bell hooks (killing rage: Ending Racism – 1995)

These words are our challenge today. I hear the challenge in conversation about justice reform: How do we assure peace in our communities and hold the keepers of that peace accountable without inhibiting their effectiveness? How do we assure that thieves pay for their crimes when those same thieves are stealing so they don’t starve? How do we oppose the death penalty in the same breath that we claim deep religious values and insist on total retribution for the murder of children? How do we restore the victim of rape to wholeness and peace in themselves and justify restoring the rapist to community? These seem impossible to reconcile. But if we are to listen to bell hooks, the answer must exist somewhere in our ability to affirm our differences without obscuring one another. Now more than ever, we must acknowledge the basic equity of humanity at the foundation our existence. With this acknowledgement, we might actively increase our capacity to embrace and live with difference…and work with it. We might find a way to actually stand in the same room with our ideological enemies without shouting them down or simply walking away. This is new. This is uncharted. We do not have language for it yet. I, for one, certainly don’t know what it looks like. But recalling some of Scalia’s vitriol and then watching the President offer a tribute to him while reminding us that before politics, we must take time to comfort and to mourn, might be heading in the right direction. – RIP

Watch or Read: Obama On Scalia

[1] US Census – http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

*No other candidate for President of the United States has been a former US Senator, United States Secretary of State, First Lady of the United States, First Lady of a US State (Arkansas), and an attorney.

A Song for Brown Bodies

Each morning I wake
And see “me” as one of many

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

And my own skin and hair
Has the same shadows and light
As what I see online…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Lifeless and limp
Or trying but failing to flee
Battered and broken…never free

Could be me…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Scattered in streets
Grotesque golliwogs
Raggedy animated
By “white” imagination
Like puppets…playthings
For the progeny of hate.

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Used for a target, tune or fuck
Diversions of passion
Co-opted visions
The promise of “change”

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Living on the wrong side of “gentrified”
A fetish for the hipster “dark side”
Always “columbused” then ghettoized

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Sacrificed to places
Where water poisons
And viruses thrive…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Where language fails
And walls rise…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Where war rages
And rape cries…

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Where profit outpaces peace
And hope dies.

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies.

Yet, the blessed curse
Of genetic fecundity
Means no onslaught of nature
Or man-made conflict
Or in-bred hatred
Can delete the DNA
That comes back for more,
Millennium and again.
It is the human penchant
For pandemic procreativity
That means there will always be

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies…

 

Do not believe what we are taught to see.
Each morning we all must arise
To see ourselves among the many

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Embracing these colors of earth
Breathing the sigh of the sky
Quaking with the power of mountains alive
And feeling the spray of oceans
As we awake to celebrate

    Brown bodies
    Brown bodies

Where dance is blood
Where song is vision
Where touch is art
Where rhythm of heart
Pulses through words
And tumbles in rhyme,
Lovingly schooling the wicked
And scorning the vainly wise.

These are the real
       Brown bodies
       Brown bodies

Each one is precious
And holds the legacy
Of what it means to be wholly alive.

What Does It Mean to Be White?

This is anothe post from my Critical Whiteness Studies class.

the neoabolitionist

Is not this the record of present America? Is not this its headlong progress? Are we not coming more and more, day by day, to making the statement “I am white,” the one fundamental tenet of our practical morality? Only when this basic, iron rule is involved is our defense of right nation-wide and prompt. Murder may swagger, theft may rule and prostitution may flourish and the nation gives but spasmodic, intermittent and lukewarm attention. But let the murderer be black or the thief brown or the violator of womanhood have a drop of Negro blood, and the righteousness of the indignation sweeps the world. Nor would this fact make the indignation less justifiable did not we all know that it was blackness that was condemned and not crime. – W.E.B. DuBois – The Souls of White Folk (1920)

I’ve been accused at various points through my life of being…

View original post 961 more words

An Age of Enlightenment

image

Paris in Morning

Sleep now.
The city of lights has gone out.
The shining beacon
The guide through the night
Of our fantasies, gone.
The Tour looms
A sleeping dark giant
The only sound, the wind in its frame.
The Arc is heavy
And silent and grave
A tomb for the gaiety
Lost in one day.
The metro is still,
The Opéra is dim,
And Our Lady sleeps
And weeps in the stillness
As she wades through the Seine.

And so you too are gone,
My light, my love
My shining beacon
Who guided me through this night called life.
My city of lights has gone out
Forever.
Yet, once again it is dawn
And the morning has begun.

(For the people who lost loved ones in the recent Paris attack.)

Seeing the images from Paris makes me weep.  I’m brought back to that day when I was standing on a London street watching the twin towers collapse.  Or the summer in DC when I heard of the London bombings…or Madrid…or the Boston Marathon.  I find myself, as a spiritual leader and writer asking so many questions.  What are we fighting? Do we even know?  Why?

I am also a student of the Enlightenment.  As such, I have learned that during the 16th – 18th centuries, “identity” became fixed in the Western world as something that could not only be personally defended, but as something that could be collectively defended and celebrated as a “nation.” In an age where we saw the birth of “race,” “nationalism” and “political parties” these social constructs took on the functions that had previously been ascribed only to religion and family. This development of national “identities” created the foundation for the current state of war in which we exist.

The horror and grief over the Paris attacks is extremely accessible to us in the US.  Not only as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but as a Western nation who’s identity is in large part directly a result of the French identity, we feel this pain immediately. But ISIS is not playing the same game of “identities.” Theirs is not, as some would have us believe, a simple question of wanting to supplant the French or even Western identity. Theirs is a question of a total world view and I believe is rooted in the broader question of how they see existence. Most unfortunately, this idea about existence and the nature of human life on earth for them is rooted in their gross mis-interpretation of Islam.  We must be clear, the people behind this violence are not evil because of Islam. Rather, they are using Islam for evil purposes. To grasp this concept, you might consider turning the situation around and thinking of an organization or ideology like the Westboro Baptist Church or even the KKK.  Both are legal organizations in the United States, and both organizations would happily exterminate those who do not believe as they do (in the supremacy of white heteronormative Christianity.) A homegrown terrorist like Dylann Roof should be a reminder to us that there is little difference between ISIS and the Aryan Nation.

But, religion, specifically Islam, is not the problem here. The problem is fundamentalism that we have in part learned from religion.  Yet,  fundamentalism does not need a religion to hang itself from…although it has clearly been done in the past and will surley be done in the future. In our increasingly secular world, religion has frequently been supplanted by everything from capitalism to liberalism to atheism and even vegetarianism. The term “fundamentalism” must be viewed through a broader modern lens and as a result our current state of crisis must be as well. We are choosing the language and the tactics of “war” to counter a “nation” that is not fighting a “war” with us as much as it is reinforcing its view of existence. This is in no way an apology for ISIS/ISIL.  On the contrary, it is a call to action for us to be truly smart in how we prevent any further senseless loss of life.

The call to action will begin with the right conversation and the right questions.  Why are Western targets being attacked; why is this extremism attractive to young people, abroad and at home; why do the leaders feel like this kind of violence is productive to their ends; who are the targets…really? Part of the right conversation forces us to examine where we stand in terms of our own Western “fundamentalism” and what role we play in this conflict. No one is entirely free from accountability. We don’t want to see innocent people blown up and gunned down, but we tolerate regular mass shootings because gun companies want to make money.  We want to shelter refugees from “radical Islam” but we squabble over how to provide refugees from our own border the same protection.  We talk about police brutality and race and give little or no protection transgender people who are targeted simply for being alive.  We are horrified by the violence of people blowing up ancient shrines, yet we carved of Mt Rushmore into a sacred Native site and continue to desecrate native land for oil. We criticize somem cultures for oppressing women in the style of dress but we live in a nation that lets men legislate women’s bodies.  We cry “All Lives Matter” in a nation where blacks are 12 times as likely to be murdered than whites.

ISIS is completely and utterly wrong in what they have done. There is no excuse for the attacks in Paris or the other sickening global violence inspired and perpetuated by both ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram. They are not Islam.

But in our response as “Western nations” we must remember that the only true victims are the dead and those they loved.

Pray

I had the great opportunity to present this poem as part of the arts and culture initiative at the Equity Summit 2015 in Los Angeles this week.  What an amazing experience to be part of this gathering of people who are changing the world through policy and practice that promote equity!  This poem was the opening for a session titled Faith Leaders Delivering on the Promise of Equity.  My hope is that we are able to make a difference regardless of how we do or do not acknowledge the presence of faith in our lives.

http://www.policylink.org/

Pray

How will you pray for me?
Will you summon your God
Will you call on your symbols
Will you tell me your ritual
Is that all you can say?
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
When you see me in chains
Will you judge
Will you jury
Will you sentence my stay
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
When my head is covered and yours is bare
If my language is ancient
And yours barely there
If my day of rest
Is your hardest day of play
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
Will you see my skin
Will you feel my body
Will you know my mind
Will you understand my words
Or will you put them each
In a separate place
Or order or way…
How will you pray?

How will you pray for me?
If I don’t pray at all
If I am not called or calling
Deemed or damaged.
If I see myself not broken
But beautiful every day.
How will you pray?

And if you’ve never prayed
And if you don’t have the time
And if you see faith as sanctified crime
And too much of a price for your sense of self to pay
Can you still look in my eyes
Hold my joy or hear my cries.
Can you love me,
Love me,
Love me,
Love me just enough
In your own way
And pray?