When I wasn’t asleep at midnight, I started reading twitter (don’t @ me). The comedian Bill Burr’s opening on SNL was getting a lot of commentary. A lot. So when I still wasn’t asleep an hour later, I came down and watched it.
Source of controversy: his criticisms of white women.
The failure to acknowledge how we benefit from white supremacy. The way we take over social justice movements and want credit for being “woke” when we are anything but. (Even using the word “woke” for ourselves being, of course, an offense.) Our Gucci boots (huh?)
One prominent Black woman I follow declared it hilarious (Roxane Gay @rgay). Another noted that you could practically recite his reading list based on it. Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out his Black wife.
White women in the comments were attacked for taking offense and further, the offense was offered up as proof of the validity of Burr’s critique. And of course, to complain about this would be centering the conversation on white women’s feelings. Instead of, I don’t know, having an opinion?
Here’s the thing. I don’t take issue with his observations about white women. At all. Our history speaks for itself, particularly our relationships to and within political circles. Pretty bad.
We were all reminded of this recently during the look backs at Suffrage — an ignominious chapter of activism when white women excluded Black women from leadership roles and from the very goal of achieving the vote. The decision to segregate a Suffrage parade in DC was particularly cringe-worthy.
Wells-Barnett had no intention of abiding by the rules segregating the parade. She stood on the sidelines until the marchers from Chicago passed, then fearlessly, she stepped to the front of the procession.
“She observes that caste ‘is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence — who is accorded these and who is not.‘”
“A caste system, she writes, is ‘an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.‘”
In an interview with Teri Gross, Wilkerson called caste the bones and race the skin. Class is the clothing and accessories.
Racism cannot completely capture all that is wrong in our society, she says.
She uses Nazism and the caste system in India to explore the American version.
In the interview, I learned how much the Aryans relied onearlyAmerican studies in eugenics to develop their theories on race. Here in the States, the “one drop rule” was adopted in order to keep mixed race offspring enslaved. Interestingly, such a construct was deemed too extreme by the Germans.
The book doesn’tcover South Africa but in the interview Wilkerson briefly discusses how the fact that Blacks were in the majority in South Africa led to the creation of a third category of “coloreds.” This was designed to keep Black Africans out of power. I wondered about that when reading Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood, which is by the way, a compelling and intimate look at the last days of apartheid.
I am still reading three important books on race, butCaste will be up next. I ordered it from an independent bookseller in the Bronx: The Lit. Bar. If you can afford the postage, I recommend that you do too. They raise money for other independent book stores.
Part of why Ihaven’t finished the non-fiction books on my night stand is because of my preference for fiction.
This novel looks at the issue of colorism through the lens of identical twins who are light enough to pass for white.One makes the decision to do so and vanishes from her twin’s life while the other makes an opposite decision by having a child with a very dark Black man. The idea of erasure and transformation is further explored through a transgender character.
Desiree and Stella Vignes were once inseparable, fleeing their small southern town to build a life together in New Orleans. But when Stella makes the decision to pass as white—disappearing from her sister’s life in order to pursue the “American Dream” of whiteness—the twins’ paths diverge, determining not just their own futures, but the futures of their daughters and their relationship to Black womanhood. As the sisters mature into mothers and their daughters into adulthood, each woman must confront her own relationship to her past, to family duty, and to her own autonomy.
Lest you findme too serious, let me admit in closing that my new guilty pleasure is a reality show called, Blown Away.It’s a glass blowing competition that fills the void left by The Great British Baking Show.
A spoken work with references to the nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie, and to ideas put forth by Resmaa Menakem in a recent interview with Krista Tippet, On Being. See references, below.
Ring around the plaza
an eye socket full of gas
the corner goes up in flames.
Ashes, ashes, we all
Ring around the Big House
pocketful of protests.
The fence becomes a meme
Ashes ashes, we all
fall down and weep.
Ring around the house of worship
pockets emptied of protection.
The Reverend’s voice rings to
the rafters of the nation:
“Because you held a
knee to our neck.”
Ring around the Rosie
a reference to a rash
pockets full of posies
those nosegays believed to
protect against the plague.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
as cases spike, the bodies
that cannot breathe, numerous.
Ring around the wrist or the waist
We wear our slogans proudly
as if our purchasing history
might changed the damage done
Free Shipping! Black Lives Matter!
Ring up the purchases, fast and
furious, for its not all
pat and full of pride. The
esteemed list of best sellers
goes nearly fully to educating
white people about the ills of
our body, our white body,
holding down the Black body
for 14 generations.
‘Performative’ sneers a neighbor
‘a buzzword,’ she demeans,
then puts “micro-aggression”
in quotes, nearly begging
to be challenged in a post
decrying white women
challenging each other.
We could argue. I could be
right and she wrong, or
I could be obnoxious and she right
and none of it would matter since
it all happens from the
neck up and slightly to the left.*
What if justice with a
capital ‘J” arises from a
place located just below
What if it’s a problem
niceness can’t nice us
out of? And policy can’t
strategize us out of?*
I’m reminded of the brief
time in one of my toddler’s
lives, when he went
around disagreeing with
everyone. “You are
UNcorrect,” he’d scold.
Neighbor, fellow white
progressive, you are
UNcorrect. Hook up the
laugh track or better yet join hands and
spin and spin and spin until
the world blurs into horizontal
stripes and when we all fall
down, the world tilts and
makes us woozy — a
full body sense of disorientation,
a visceral impression
of losing hold of our
ingrained reliable perspectives —
even gravity unfamiliar.
A falling down
that might unhinge us
enough to fully rise up.
No nosegays for protection,
no signs of disease
breaking out, but an
a skeletal curiosity
a human openness lacking
historic reference to white
supremacy except as
a check and a check again —
a hand out held for a
less insular dance
maybe even a fever pitch
where race matters as
culture but not as an
up or down measure.
Ring around the Rosie,
a Juneteenth dance,
a July 4th dance.
Post pandemic, Post
Tulsa, Watts, Rodney King,
post slavery, reconstruction, Jim
Crow, red lining, post foul brew
of leadership that slinks
from low point to low point.
Some of this will be over
We’ve burned it all down
before — ashes, ashes —
but could this be
the real time, the call
forward, even if the dance goes to
our death — yes — since all
dances go there — but
with real hand holding
in a dance of falling down? Alive.
The wind blows today.
Maybe it brings hope.
* * *
*in his now famous TED talk about education, Sir Kenneth Robinson talks about how most of academia is aimed to an area “above the neck and slightly to the left,” and that this is one of its greatest weaknesses.
* Resmaa Menakem studies how trauma is stored in the body.
In his recent interview with Krista Tippet (On Being podcast), he criticizes white anti-racism efforts for relying on strategy and policies, instead of on culture. He also says that ‘white niceness is inadequate to deal with the level of brutality inflicted on black bodies.’ He asserts that the ‘real battlefield is inside our bodies and therefore the conflicts need to be resolved there.’
PS This post took almost two hours. ARRRRRRRRRRG! WP would not upload a 5M video from my iPad. I kept trying. Then, it also wouldn’t upload a draft to my phone (I usually bounce back and forth). So then I said, screw it, I’ll just publish and keep revising. So then I made a voice memo, forgetting how I uploaded it last time, then researching and remembering — requires emailing it to myself and then downloading to PC and inserting as media on blog. But then (Then!), I could not access WP Admin on PC, at which point I moved from a barely contained fury to whimpering. I had to google how to access admin, which took a bunch of tries, and then, when I tried to sign in, I apparently had the wrong PW, no re-assign PW link showed up in my email and then (Then!) they told me my account was closed and if I thought it in error to tap link where they wanted three pieces of info — none of which I had. I backed out and started again and just for fun input what I THOUGHT my PW was, just to see what the fuckers would say, and sure enough: “PW was used ‘too recently.'” YOU MEAN IT WAS MY PASSWORD? So now I have a PW that starts ‘youfuckingpieceofshit’. But I got my poem up!
It got crowded. What was six feet became four and then two. It was hot. I started thinking about myself in ways I don’t normally, as old, as immune compromised. So just before it was time to kneel for nine minutes in silence, I left. I said metta all the way home.
May George Floyd be peaceful. May he be free of inner and outer harm. May he be cared for gently as he makes his passage home. May he know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May the young woman who filmed Floyd’s murder be peaceful. May she be free of inner and outer harm. May she be healed of recent and transgenerational trauma. May she be cared for gently as she walks upon this earth. May she know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May George Floyd’s family be peaceful. May they be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May the people of Minneapolis be peaceful. May they be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May the people of Houston be peaceful. May they be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May all protesters be peaceful. May all protesters be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May all members of law enforcement be peaceful. May all police be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they minister to the public gently and for the greater good. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May all Americans be peaceful. May we be free of inner and outer harm. May we be cared for gently as we walk upon this earth. May we know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May all sentient beings be peaceful. May all sentient beings be free of inner and outer harm. May they be cared for gently as they walk upon this earth. May they know joy, wisdom, and compassion.
May the earth be peaceful. May the earth be free of harm. May the earth be cared for gently as it spins through space. May the earth know joy, wisdom, and compassion.