angel Kyodo williams

Posts Tagged ‘america’

real and not real: on border and divisions

In culture, politics, relationship on May 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm

i have to make a confession…

i’ve been holding up the publication of this month’s journal version of transform. for almost two weeks now. and it’s because i’ve had a block.

not an ordinary writers’ block—which, while annoying, unproductive and sometimes even painful, is generally unwanted—as that would be preferable to the block i’ve been having.

i’ve been having a heart-mind block.

i have found the thinking, choices, behavior and resulting consequences of our people so incomprehensible at a heart level, that my mind has refused to put words to a phenomena that seems beyond them.

when i say our people, i mean OUR people. all of them. the ones that every single human that ever lays eyes on this—from now until the end of time—have a relationship to:

– the people in the Tea Party
– the people never invited to the Party
– the people in Arizona (made up of lines)
– the people of Arizona (made up of lineage)
– the people (and wildlife) within the Gulf Coast
– the people (and profiteers) far away from the Gulf Coast
– the people in the White House
– the people thrown out of their house
– the people of God
– the people that own God
– the people in Israel (that won’t let up)
– the people in Gaza (that can’t get out)

with each upside-down turn of events, my heart has broken further and has threatened to take my mind with it because my mind wants to make sense of something that my heart knows full well it cannot.

and should not.

what i can do instead is try to sort out what is real and what is not. that’s an illusion of sorts too, i know, but this is what i came up with:

Nine Things Real and Not Real

  1. we, the People, are divided by fear, lack of vision and imagination is real.
  2. the so-called border that divides this land from the people we took it from by force is not real
  3. the horrific show of how deep this country’s racism runs, masking itself as it’s very own Party of hatred, is real.
  4. the idea that a President of any race, color, gender or creed can rise above and act beyond a corrupted system that put them there to begin with is not real.
  5. the toxic waste hemorrhaging onto the land from 5000 feel under the sea—laying waste to the life in its path—is real.
  6. the will to stop feeding off of “ancient hours of sunlight” and converting fossils into a fuel that drives death and destruction worldwide is not real.
  7. the cordoning off of nearly 1.5 million people like so much cattle that amounts to a New Millenium Apartheid is real.
  8. the resolve of America and the world to stop financing state-sanctioned war crimes and now international law breaches is not real.
  9. the deep divisions of our society, people and planet, based on the peculiar illusory constructs of race, class, privilege, supremacy and superiority is real. and for this, we will all pay.

genocide is real.
greed is real.
destruction is real.

“illegals” aren’t real.
Mexicans aren’t real.
Americans aren’t real.
Muslims aren’t real.
Jews aren’t real.
fairness is real.
justice is real.
love is real.

People are real.
—yours in truth, aKw

dedicated to all the people that show up for real.

© MMX. angel Kyodo williams
changeangel: all things change.(sm)

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher,
author, social visionary and founder of
Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on “all things change.”
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste &
repeat with copyright and contact info intact.

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beyond the boycott

In culture, money, politics on September 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm


telling whole foods you don’t buy it

a time for action: sometimes, no matter how many ways you try to describe a thing, you have to experience it to know what it really is. i’ve been talking about transformative change: what it is and isn’t. what it could look like and what it can make possible in the world. “beyond the boycott” is the birthplace of an experience of transformative change rooted in nonviolent action. rather than a campaign against Whole Foods, it’s a committment to real healthcare & wellness for all. it’s a campaign for a more “whole truth.” if you’re interested, join in the experience, and together, we’ll transform the world. -aKw

Two weeks ago, like now tens of thousands of others on Facebook, I ran across a post on Why You Should Boycott Whole Foods. If you’re like me, you may have experienced a deeply conflicted moment of some combination of shock, disgust, rage and, um…fear. Fear that you will now have to figure out where to get those admittedly pricey but picturesquely beautiful organic foods you’ve come to know and love and, for some of us, give your whole paycheck for.

I’m a stalwart soldier that can take a strong stand for what I believe in. The truth is though, I live in Berkeley, CA, the uber-progressive Republic rivaled only by my hometown of New York City for access to “whole foods” from places other than Whole Foods. As annoying as it might be, it won’t exactly be a hardship for me to go spend my dollars at Berkeley Bowl, Trader Joe’s and the stunning array of year-round weekly farmer’s markets.

But how true is that for thousands of us? Especially when Whole Foods is the only game in town—exactly what has made it such a national success—and exactly what I believe John Mackey was counting on when he wrote his now-infamous op-ed The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare.

Here’s another truth, sheepish as it may be: I Like Whole Foods. After kavetching like many about the high pricetag on everything from Abalone to Zinneas, and derisively calling it by its’ Whole Paycheck moniker every chance I could get, I surrendered to its wide open aisles, carefully stacked vine-ripened tomatoes and apparently happy-to-be-working-there-employees’ smiles. I do spend my whole paycheck, though not being able to afford health insurance frees up a little cash.

And since we’re on a truth roll: I like most of the eight points Mackey made in his piece. I certainly think they’re worth looking into. So I don’t think he’s evil and I definitely don’t think he’s stupid. In fact, I think he smartly calculated the risk of framing his plan as he did. I think John Mackey, like any businessman capable of building a $8B business did some accounting. He accounted for the risk of pissing off a central base. He accounted for sparking a firestorm at a critical point in the healthcare discourse, and I even think he accounted for some boycotts here and there. But he calculated that he would win. Why? Because:

  • Most Americans (myself included) have dwindled down to the attention span of a 140-character tweet.
  • Boycotts take time, patience and commitment to work. Understandably, we’re sorely lacking on most of that these days, and most impactfully:
  • Whole Foods IS the only game in town in too many places for a sustained boycott over an indefinite period of time.

So what to do? Something John Mackey hasn’t accounted for—take the Whole Foods Boycott to another level—tell Whole Foods “I Don’t Buy It.”

If given an invitation, they don’t respond meaningfully to the concerns of their offended core base and those impacted by his statements, we should all get together and go beyond the boycott. Sending peopleTO Whole Foods to SHOP, but DON’T BUY is an action that will get their attention. It’s time to increase the pressure and urgency on Whole Foods, leaving no doubt that we will not only withhold our dollars from them, but will take positive action to drain them of resources. But it’s also time for those of us pushing for change to do so in a way that actually seeks resolution, transforming the issue into an opportunity for real change: change that matters. Thus, any action taken should be thoughtful, respectful, measured and leveraged only if it is needed: if understanding where this is headed, Whole Foods won’t come to the table. Ignoring it away is not an option.

Just like it sounds, in a SHOP. DON’T BUY action, people would:

SHOP for groceries, then “pay” with a symbolic 60-Person bill and tell the cashier that their CEO, in effect, said this is acceptable:

  • that it’s OK that 60 people die every day without access to healthcare
  • that it’s OK that uninsured adults are 25% more likely to die prematurely
  • that it’s OK the lack of health insurance is the third leading cause of death for the near-elderly

Naturally they won’t accept the 60P so shoppers get to tell Whole Foods “I DON’T BUY It.”

  • DON’T BUY their food.
  • DON’T BUY their excuse for John Mackey’s irresponsible statements.
  • DON’T BUY any position that allows corporations to avoids responsibility for their leadership when offering a personal view under the banner of their brand.

Leave the store without the groceries.

This simple but powerful action can give us voice to acknowledge that, contrary to what Mackey suggests, healthcare IS a right. It is buying from Whole Foods that is a privilege.

Going beyond the boycott—which is hard to measure the impact of, potentially loses steam and often devolves into angry protest because people want to DO something—each of us can say “Whole Foods, I’m commited to take action because…

I don’t buy it that Mackey benignly used scare tactic phrases “socialism” and “government takeover.”

I don’t buy it that healthcare is something that every American shouldn’t have access to because “a careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right…”

I don’t buy it “that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health” even though a flawed system has sold access to healthcare from under the feet of 47 million people.

I don’t buy it “voluntary, tax-deductible donation” is sufficient to address that lack of access, and

I don’t buy it that even if “many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted” for the many reasons–systemic, market-driven, lack of information–that may be true, 60 people should die everyday.

And I don’t buy it for Whole Foods to explain this away as “personal opinions” because Mackey used his access and status as CEO to make his surprisingly irresponsible and self-serving statements, branding it “The Whole Foods Alternative…”

We can leverage our commitment to action for a more satisfying resolution to the betrayal of our trust in shared values. Now that their CEO has publicly stood against so many, what will Whole Foods stand for? In the absence of a meaningful response to their leader’s maybe personal, likely uninformed, but still irresponsible statements, love Whole Foods as we may—-in fact because we love them—-we need to hold them accountable. An organized, nonviolent Shop, Don’t Buy action can do that.

Finally, Mr. Mackey, I acknowledge that your “eight reforms” might work. But this is no longer only about lowering costs, it’s about life and our inalienable Rights—as a careful reading of the Declaration of Independence does reveal—to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. None of those are possible without our health. You’ve got good ideas but you didn’t have to slap us with them. Relationship repair starts with conversations. Can we talk?

Some powers that be, naysayers, talking heads and even John Mackey may believe Whole Foods can just wait out a boycott and continue business as usual without significant impact on their bottom line.

I don’t buy it. And you shouldn’t either.

Get details on Shop. Don’t Buy:

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change. she posts, tweets &
blogs on all things change. permission granted to retweet, repost,
repaste & repeat with contact information intact.

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Note: The above essay was modified from the original written 8/25/09 —aKw

a more perfect union

In culture, leadership, politics, relationship, spirit on June 9, 2009 at 2:21 pm

using our wholebody

Days after California’s Prop 8 was propped up by its Supreme Court, former vice president Dick Cheney unapologetically (of course) and righteously affirmed the novel idea that “freedom means freedom for everyone…people ought to be able to enter into any kind of union they wish.”

Many of us pulled the lever to cast our vote for an oddly hopeful promise of “a more perfect union” of our Divided States. We watch with our breath held, our hearts in our throats, ready to put our bodies on the line as our One Government lets individual Republics of imaginary divides decide one-by-one, state-by-state, who freedom means freedom for: our embodiment of a more perfect union catastrophically undone by an unwillingness to recognize our most precious union: the one of the heart.

In an historic constitutional referendum in Bolivia, the voters expressed their more perfect union through the powerful symbolic act of embracing a second official flag: the formerly illegal flag of the indigenous people and of the social movement that brought down the previous corrupt governments.

The seven-color Wiphala flag is arranged as 7×7 colors in a square:

Historically, it is the flag of the Incan territory that spanned Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.
Culturally, it is the flag of the Aymara-Quechua Andean and Amerindian people.
Politically, it is pan-indigenous, multi-ethnic, cross-class and trans-issue. With it’s similarity to the Gay rainbow flag and use for urban social movements, it is becoming an international symbol for diversity and solidarity, equality and equity, dignity and reciprocity…all coming together.

A celebration of the order of cosmos, symbol of life and fertility, it’s rainbow covers the spectrum of colors and represents the honoring of all that should matter to a society:

  • RED for man and the earth
  • ORANGE for society and its expression through culture and education
  • YELLOW for energy and strength through collectivity
  • WHITE for time and community transformation
  • GREEN for natural resouces and the land
  • BLUE for the heavens and natural phenomena
  • Last, most powerfully and sanely, VIOLET for harmonious governance and self-determination of the people.

Taken as a whole and liberated from the neo-colonial closet, it represents that more perfect union that we should all strive for in our quest for a fair and equitable society.

Some worry that Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous President, may be inadvertently diminishing the symbol, as savvy politicians have been wont to do, putting a cursory end to movements of the people by absorbing their symbols and slogans into government. Our own Civil Rights Movement came to an abrupt, stunted and co-opted halt on Lyndon B. Johnson’s appropriative declaration that “we shall overcome.”

But as powerful as symbols, phrases and slogans are, they only derive their energy from the wellspring of the people they represent. People that don’t just stand in the truth, but express it through the way they live. And just as “words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights” the more perfect union we seek for this country will not arise from a speech, a bailout, or even a healthcare plan.

What it will arise from is the embodiment of that more perfect union by folks that know and act on what’s right: like the whites and blacks that fraternized in backwoods jook joints, using rhythm to find harmony. From learning how to dance together, they eventually found the ability to pray, sit and stand together “always at great risk.”

It will arise from the embodiment of principles in and by the people that show up every day to “narrow the gap” between the hope for our society and “the reality of (our) time.” It will arise through the embodiment of actions that manifest the longing held in our hearts, the vision that we cannot yet see, but can feel the truth of in our very core. Thus with great faith, we reach inward, act outward, and move toward it. Our more perfect union will arise from within the people.

Some think this union will come as the result of the broad view of Analysis: political, social, grounded. Others believe we’ll be brought together by the deep current of Spirit: fundamental, ethical, rooted.

In the end, it will express itself as nothing that we currently know of, but rather as a constellation, integration and distillation of all. It will be individually-particularized, collectively-driven and universally-appealing. It will be a social movement because we are social creatures that can form the shape that expresses what we wish to become. It will be a cultural movement because together we create the conditions in which new ways can thrive. It will be self-determined and other-honoring. It will be systemic, endemic and talismanic. More than anything, it will, because it must, be transformative. Our more perfect union will be neither this nor that. Leaving nothing and none of us behind, it will be WholeBody: a Third Way that embraces and embodies being fully Human: ever-evolutionary, ever-revolutionary, ever-dynamic and always Divine.

From there, state-by-state and heart-by-heart, in our more perfect union, we can get Dick Cheney’s wish granted.

Jai Bhim! We shall overcome…Si, se puede. A Better World is Possible. Venceremos…Yes, we can. By any means necessary: Power to the People. Power by the People. Power FROM the People.

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary and
founder of the Center for Transformative Change.
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste & repeat with contact information intact.

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seven deadly sins of change

In culture, leadership, relationship, spirit on April 9, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Super Om, Courtesy of Students for A Free Tibet:

a superhero’s funding and field guide to transformation

While then-candidate Obama wooed the electorate into an oddly fleeting historic moment with his steady call for us to all be Agents of Change, those of us that have been stealthily exchanging our glasses for capes with only tepid results to show for it know that we need more than ordinary change to get us out of the one-step left, two-steps right shuffle our social justice agenda has been stymied by for the past 50 years. We need the kind of change that leads to deep-rooted, broad-based, sustainable lasting change that can’t be rolled back with the swirl of a pen or crushed under a wave of conservative backlash. We need Transformative Change.

We’ve been secretly biding our time in serene anticipation of the Fall of American Consumptive Ways. With a complex mix of dismay and satisfaction, we hold appropriate, compassionate empathy for the folks that are the least buffered from even subtle turnabouts in the economic winds, much less the comparative financial tsunami of the past seven months. This is expressed with The Deeply Furrowed Brow of Concern. But understanding that our collective faces hitting the floor may be our only Wakeup Call, that concern co-mingles with The Subtle-But-Knowing Smile of Approval.

Yoda would be proud.

Even Time Magazine’s cover pronounces “The End of Excess” with a picture of a great big reset button along with the rhetorical inquiry: “Is This Crisis Good for America?” Well, of course it is. When you view your life and the world through the lens of transformation, you recognize that any upset or tragedy is really an opportunity for another level of growth and deeper understanding. You run with it rather than away from it. The caveat is that because the Grand Designer made a package deal of Free Will and the Breath of Life, it’s entirely up to us to either seize the opportunity to find a new Way to become that which we all inexorably endeavor to become: a Whole Human. If not, we’ll return to our previous incomplete state: driven by fear and panic, desperately and pathetically groping for what is familiar but no longer viable, if it ever was. When that window of opportunity passes, the Universe has to conjure up another greater tragedy for us to get the message. Time’s rallying cry calls for us to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and be entirely ready to remove our defects of character.”

The Watchmen for Change are made up of Freedom Fighters, Organizers, Agitators and Activists paired with the folks that, like it or not, foot the bills. In a perfected partnership, they are our Supporters, Advocates, Advisors and Allies. Some of us pay with the currency of creativity, vitality, energy and soulforce. Others pay with hopefulness, steadfastness, wild cheering and dollar bills, y’all.

Together we are the Jedis of Justice. We are The Ones that We have Been Waiting for to illuminate the Matrix and reveal the passage out of Babylon. We are the Agents of Transformative Social Change. X-Agents for short. (Yea, I know, but X-Men was already taken and it’s chauvinist anyway…)

So what are our collective defects of character, the Kryptonite that saps our power, woos us to the Dark Side and is an impenetrable barrier to a movement of truly Transformative Social Change that we both envision and are beckoned by?

Here are Seven Deadly Sins of Change and their respective Virtuous behavioral antidotes:

1. Release Lust: Bigger is not better. Hasn’t the economic bubble splat taught us that? The organizations that have become the biggest are not necessarily the best. The day of the 900-lb Gorilla eating up all the resources because they can should be over. It leaves the rest of the creatures of the forest to fight amongst themselves for scraps. Real innovation gets crowded out by behemoths. We all lose.

Practice Chastity: Consume only what you need to sustain real, viable work, not just what will get you funding because its the buzz. Pass on the rest and pass the plate.

2. Release Gluttony: On the other hand, there’s just too many of us. We’ve got an organization for every issue, identity and incident, each scavenging for five crumbs. As a result, we’re disorganized, disconnected and still disenfranchised. We resist the natural cycle of organizational death because we’ve tied our livelihoods up with our causes. We start organizations to avoid corporate life but end up being slaves to those institutions, too. Creativity is curtailed and resources are spread too thin. Death, no matter how painful, gives way to fresh, viable life.

Practice Temperance: Is your organization serving you or are you serving your organization? Is your work changing THE World, not just your world? If not, Merge. Fold. Find your new path. Be Reborn in the next life. We’ll all benefit from a nimbler, better-resourced movement.

3. Release Greed: Grantmakers have lost almost one-third of their assets. Never mind that foundations are only required to give 5 percent of those endowments, most of which were ill-gained to begin with. I always say “when it’s your house that’s burning down, you don’t use 5% of the water you have to save the rest for the fire that might come in the future. You use the whole damn bucket…”

Practice Charity: Charity of common sense, that is. Raise giving to a mere 15% of that monopoly money. Even with 30% losses, you’ll be giving more than double what you gave when you were flush and we’ll all be twice as far along.

4. Release Sloth: When it comes to the task of being the change we wish to see, we’re pretty damn lazy. Our movements are constipated, our coalitions siloed, our collaborations fractured, our organizations top-down, and our personal practice is toenail-deep. We’re tall on rhetoric, short on application. We want sustainability while we work ourselves to exhaustion. We insist on Universal Healthcare and Ubiquitous McDonald’s. We want green job access and plastic bag convenience. We strive for environmental justice and allow “feed-animal” damnation.

Practice Diligence: We have to PRACTICE what we’re preaching for. It’s all connected and it starts with you: Eat healthy, Pray frequently, Love deeply. And to keep it all in perspective, Dance wildly.

5. Release Wrath: The lifeforce of our work is still choked by useless “us vs. them” ego-tripping and bad attitudes. These issues need to be addressed at the roots. We’ll never make peace with others until we make peace within ourselves. Transformative Change is only possible when the people doing the change are changing themselves.

Practice Patience: Heal and Love Thyself. Start working out your issues at your Inner Gym. Watch your mind and notice how it wreaks havoc on reality. Find ways to lower the volume on the internal noise that makes you a walking time bomb of contraction and imbalance. Do Yoga. Meditation. Centering Prayer. Better yet, let them do you. Save your heart, save the world.

6. Release Envy: Funders, you matter. So stop inserting yourselves to assert your Selves. While many of you live vicariously and combat boredom by dreaming up new projects, frontliners are busting their tails out there and still they’re relegated to using up to 40% of their energy to raise money for their work. Change will only take place through real leadership, partnerships and collaboration. Every good partnership is borne of knowing your role and contribution and honoring that of your partners. Stop hating on changemakers because you envy their courage while fearing the direct experience it arises from. Funders should fund and let the people that work the frontlines work…not scurry, scrape and suck up for funds.

Practice Kindness: With yourselves, first and foremost. Tend to the wounds that excessive privilege imprisons and burdens you with. Letting your money or control of it front as self-worth leads to narcissism, self-centeredness and a profound emptiness that compels you to a never-ending search for fulfillment. Give your burden away…even some of the sacred principal. You’ll be free to be you and not your money. I repeat: Save your heart, save the world.

7. Release Pride: The failure point of Pride, when it leaves good and turns sour, is “failing to acknowledge the good work of others.” If you really want change, enable people to do the work of change for real. If this is a platform for your personal whims, but you actually fear what real change looks like–yes, you’ll have to give things up: money, land, status, control, privilege, power, privilege–stay home, watch reruns of ER and stop wasting your own and our time.

Practice Humility: Fund what works broadly and deeply. But more importantly at this moment, fund risk. Fund bold efforts that are unknown, untested, untried. Fund creative solutions to intractable problems and expect no guarantees in return. If it makes you nervous, fund it.

Together, we, the Practitioners and Funders, Agents, Activists and Allies of Change need to be the “Real American Idols”(trademark pending), the New Super Heroes and Sheroes that take up our part day-to-day to do the ordinary work of changing the world while doing the extraordinary work of changing ourselves.

I know we’re up to the task of seizing the real opportunity that is at hand–to live, love and lead from heart–one by one kick-ass X-Agent at a time.

copyright MMIX. angel Kyodo williams.

angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary and
founder of the Center for Transformative Change.
permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste & repeat with contact information intact.
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can you see me now?

In identity, relationship on March 2, 2009 at 11:52 pm
facebook friends faces

who are your friends?

Just three days after the New York Post’s brazenly racist cartoon managed to slip past all editorial checkpoints to subtly (or grossly) depict the nation’s first Black president as a rabid chimp gunned down by NY’s finest, the online Opinion section of NYTimes ran an article on race. Columnist Charles Blow doesn’t mention the Post snafu, likely because his piece was already written just as the shit was hitting the proverbial NY fan. Publisher Rupert Murdoch hadn’t even taken out his shovel by the time Blow was taking exception to newly-appointed Attorney General Eric Holder’s scathing comment about America being “a nation of cowards” when it comes to race.

Rather than naked racism, Blow draws our attention to the implicit bias that undergirds our national conversation on all things black and white. There’s nothing new about how lopsided the pages Blacks and Whites are on when it comes to perceptions of racial equality. It is disturbing to see in hard figures the six years and hundreds of thousands of peoples worth of data that reveal Asians and Latinas run almost neck-and-neck with Whites when it comes to having an implicit pro-white bias. Fear of A Black Planet is alive and well. Thanks to slippery ol’ internalized racism, a good chunk of Blacks are pro-white too, though they were also the most likely to be neutral.

Well, Black folks kinda knew this through direct experience all along, but how did science get to the bottom of what most of us won’t or can’t reveal about ourselves? A simple 10 minute, 2-fingered test that anyone that cares about social justice should take. Now. Don’t Pass Go. I’ll be here when you get back…
As self-declared activists, allies and agents of social change, many of us will feel sheepish taking the test, even behind the privacy of our computer screens and (mostly) anonymous browsers. With our cool collaborations and coalitions, we’ve taken a certain amount of comfort in being able to self-righteously stake a claim to our good standing on the racial bias spectrum.

We’re mostly beyond the once-too-familiar wannabe-progressive White folks declarative “I don’t see color” claim. (In case you were wondering, this is not a good thing. Since we are, in fact, “of color,” not seeing color means not seeing me. What I hear you saying is you’re trying to see me just like you see white people. Um, no, thank you. On the other hand, the only thing worse than being seen as something you’re not, is being transparent, as in not being seen at all.)

Speaking of “of color,” now that we of the many ethnicities and hues–East and Southeast Asians, Latinas, Middle Easterners, Natives and Blacks, not to mention mixed race, mestizos, and mulattoes–have successfully lumped ourselves together into the One Big Category of People of Color for political purposes, our other-than-Black brothers and sisters often receive a pass to bypass their anti-Black bias by vague reductionist association. That escape hatch leads to a dangerous rabbit hole of weirdness, guilt and confusion for all.

Even Black folks can no longer hide behind the mere fact of birth to escape the taint of racial bias that, while not exclusively American, we’re the best at marketing worldwide.

The repercussions of this are hard to discount. Obviously this is a social change issue at its core because the work for a truly just society for all requires trusting alliances. But it’s even more of an inner change issue because we know that no matter how many campaigns we win or laws we pass, real justice begins right here, in our own hearts and (unconscious) minds.

Look to Cuba where institutional racism was systematically written out of the laws within months of the ’59 Revolution, yet they must acknowledge the naiveté of believing discrimination could be legislated away:

“…we believed at the beginning that when we established the fullest equality before the law and complete intolerance for any demonstration of sexual discrimination in the case of women, or racial discrimination in the case of ethnic minorities, these phenomena would vanish from our society. It was some time before we discovered that marginality and racial discrimination with it are not something that one gets rid of with a law or even with ten laws, and we have not managed to eliminate them completely in 40 years…”
—Fidel Castro

Science’s answer to ameliorating implicit bias? Distinguish. When people are taught to distinguish individual faces of people of races other than their own, the inclination to make cross-the-board associations–negative or positive–is diminished. People are thus returned to their rightful place as unique, individual beings that have to be taken for who they actually are rather than who they generally are or might be.

I went to junior high with an 84% Asian population in the heart of New York’s Chinatown. As a bonafide minority, I couldn’t get away with blending the Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, Han Chinese and various Pacific Islanders with a cavalier “they all look alike to me.” I had to see each of them. One by individual, unique one.  Being in real relationship with “the other” closed the bias gap.

But to even get there, we have to look at ourselves first. We have to stop letting ourselves off the race hook and commit to actively resisting the biased waters we swim in by raising our unconscious, implicit fears to the level of conscious, explicitly articulated ones. That’s painful, exhausting, heart-breaking work, but it’s the real work that needs to be done. No less important than your next action, petition, campaign or board meeting. (Those explicit biases could use a good eyeballing here, too.) Plainly speaking, if you’re doing work for change in what’s “affectionately” referred to as AmeriKKKa without a practice of examining race, you’re pretty much adding to the problem.

We can and should do the good, hard work of rooting out systemic oppression and racism at all levels of  society. But not unless and until we address the ultimate system–the inner thoughts, feelings and beliefs that give rise to our implicit perceptions–will we have a chance at the deep change that can–and will–elude all of our political maneuvering.

Take a good look at you so you can take a look at me.

Can you see me now? Good.

finally American

In culture, identity, politics on January 15, 2009 at 9:11 pm

american flag at Jacksonville, FL aiport
This year, work that I began five years ago as a sweet, kinda Zen, kinda Buddhist, kinda Oakland-based meditation center with an emphasis on both the spiritual needs of western/convert folks of color and relating spiritual practice to social justice, has come to it’s natural end. What arose organically from peering through these dual lenses was recognition of the need for something even deeper, more expansive and more unified. As a result, we stepped back and have re-emerged as an institutional home for what we now call “transformative social change.”

finally American

In the first newsletter of the new Center for Transformative Change, a strange thing happened: a great big American flag ended up looming over our welcome section. It was a picture I took in the airport at Jacksonville, FL after a 2004 Election Protection campaign. You remember, don’t you? The last presidential election was all about Florida because that was the scene of the year 2000 crime that gave America a president that many of us couldn’t or wouldn’t call our own.

Looking back, it seems strange that I even took a photo of a US flag. After all, I’ve identified less and less with the flag, being American, and even America itself, since my 4th grade protest of the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Like a good social justice practitioner, I recognize the privilege foisted upon me because I was born a US citizen whenever I leave the country. Even if my rights aren’t well-regarded when I’m here at home, I do (still) get special treatment elsewhere in the world. Personally, though, I was one of those heathen “unpatriotic” Americans that, far from feeling a swell of pride whenever “Oh, say can you see…” was belted out by the latest pop star on a football field, felt a burdensome combination of shame and irritation. Shame because from sea to shining sea, America stood for something far from liberty and justice for all. Irritation because apparently a bunch of folks still think if we don’t wave the flag until our arms fall off and stick little pins on our lapels, we’re Enemy Combatant #1 and should get ready for an all-expense paid trip to Gauntanamo for a little waterboarding excursion.

So you can imagine how strange it seems to now reacquaint myself with what it means to be American.

But here I am…here WE are. A scant 8 years after “we wuz robbed” of what should have been the first Green President, we’ve got the first Black President. Having in Al Gore a President that would have acknowledged our path of environmental destruction Katrina could have restored faith for some us, but having a post-9/11 President with an Arabic name meaning “blessed” is too much for even the most hopeful of us to have ever anticipated. Does anyone think that whoever is pulling the switches behind the curtain of the Universe doesn’t have a sense of humor?

After Obama’s election I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone in my arms-distance relationship to being American. Over and over again I heard people–conscious, justice-seeking people: black people, white people, poor and privileged, from behind the scenes and on the frontlines–each on an outbreath of relief say: “I can finally be proud to be American.”

On the one hand, 2009 brings with it the incredible challenges of the freefall of an economic house of cards built with smoke, mirrors and lots of dishonest spit, an unjust war built on outright lies, and a devastating attack on a people that the world can no longer deny is on the short end of a harsh stick, built on a 60 year theft. On the other hand, we are embarking upon a new year, a new era, and a strange, new hopefulness that real people, tired of being polarized by fear, hate and separation, can organize for hope, progress and change. And together, our collective will can make a difference.

I debated taking that flag image out many, many times. But it stayed. And for now, anyway, I stay. I stay here to reimagine and fully claim being American because I can finally exchange some of my stalwart commitment to see change happen for an actual experience of change being possible.

And it’s change I can believe in…imagine that?