I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.
Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of…
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Here’s a excerpt from an Absolutely Excellent, rad post, called (and I quote) “How to F**k Up”, by Teh Portly Dyke:
That’s what this post is about. “How to F**k Up” — and how to clean up when you fuck up.
I have a little tool that I call “The Four A’s” (I learned it from an absolutely fantastic teacher) and it has helped me through numerous f**k-ups in my life.
When you “F**k Up” (whether the f**k-up is minor or major) practice the “Four A’s”.
#1) Acknowledgment — is really important, IMO [in my opinion], because if you don’t realize what you actually did, and how it was “f**ked up”, there’s a high probability that you are going to do it again — a very high probability.
#2) Apology — is also really important — but it has to be genuine (which requires #1…
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I’ve always been a big fan of your website and I generally look at a couple of comics, articles, or videos per day. I know that that doesn’t make me your *biggest* fan, as I’m sure there are those who visit your pages with far more frequency, but know that I’m no stranger to your content or the types of audiences you reach/with whom your content most resonates (at least, judging by the likes, shares, and comments via social media).
We all know that the best way to preserve one’s sanity and maintain faith in humanity is to never read internet comments. However virulent and depressing they can be, though, there is also the chance of learning something new or getting a laugh from someone’s joke. It’s with the latter goal in mind that I occasionally scan through comments, and I found some interesting yet true commentary about your site.
In the past few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of visitors commenting on the demographic make up of, or topic involving, the people in your content (when they feature non-pre-established people, that is), usually complaining about how “Dorkly is shoving social justice down our throats” or “Dorkly is being unrealistic in the name of diversity” or “Welcome to Dorkly, where they hammer social justice into you with situations that would never actually happen/it isn’t actually a problem.” These are not exact quotes, of course, as I’m not here to expose folks or give anyone any troll fodder. However, that is the general gist of what others are saying. I myself have noticed a marked increase in representations and discussions of gender, cultural, racial/ethnic, sexual, and even class identities (among others). Not only is this present in your content, but the way it is addressed sometimes run counter to what many typically experience in their day-to-day lives.
It’s true that sometimes the content appears forced.
It’s true that sometimes things seem out of touch with reality.
It’s true that it seems like it’s happening a lot.
And so, with the utmost respect and adoration, I must humbly make a request of you, Dorkly:
Whether by serendipity or conscious choice, what you are doing, and what you are supporting, is something that many media and entertainment outlets seem to not understand, or about which they do not seem to care. It’s true that there are some dissenters, there are also the commenters who publicly support what you’re doing, even if they seem farther and fewer between. And then there are all of those who remain silent who really, truly appreciate your efforts. To borrow a quote from the fantastic Janet Mock (who was referencing the new, additional gender identities available on Facebook):
“There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world.”
While it clearly means *something* to the people commenting disparagingly about it, the positive impact it has on others far outweighs the negative, which generally amounts to annoyance (though at times, full on rage).
You see, when your content reads as being heavy-handed, or forced, it is because we, your readers, are literally forced to recognize that these images and stories are not the norm. Hopefully this will encourage some people to think about *why* these representations are not more frequently seen or socially normalized, and to explore how people who finally see a part of themselves or their lives reflected in your content must feel since they otherwise almost *never* see themselves, their lives, or their struggles represented.
When your content feels outside of reality, it is because we, your readers, don’t always recognize that the experiences we are viewing can even *be* a part of reality, let alone that it should be. Maybe this will help some other folks to consider how limited and limiting the ways they’ve seen other people have been, and how it affects they way they think about other people, their lives, and ideas, including how *normal* we think those ways are. And maybe all of that, finally, can show how it all leads to negative social, political, and economic outcomes in people’s day to day lives.
When your content is accused of being too frequent (which is strange to me since your content is largely based on established characters and franchises…) it is because we, your readers, are starting to have to make a choice—do we return for the fun and jokes, or do we leave because we don’t like who and what we see represented? Perhaps, though, this will begin to help someone think more about how what they find funny (or not) reflects how they view, and what they think about, other people and their experiences.
There will be some for whom none of the above happens at all. We will still see people leave comments on your site about needing to be post-racial, post-gender, post-everything, despite plenty of personal experiences that directly counter such mythical ideologies and wishful thinking. For others still, they might consider all of the above and more. But whatever ends up happening, Dorkly, I sincerely hope that you continue on your chosen path, constantly striving to do better and do more. It doesn’t have to be every post every day—it’s not now, and it never needs to be—but forget the naysayers and keep pushing forward.
Yes, there will be bumps in the road, times you mess up and have to apologize, and probably times when you’ll want to stop it all or tone it down. Whatever you do, don’t give in. Stay strong in your commitment to provide us with both good fun and good thoughts.
More of us are behind you than you know.
A Hopeful Fan
There are three aspects of my identity that really can’t be untangled from each other:
I am a queer woman.
I am a feminist.
And I believe that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger.
Yeah, it’s the third one that usually gets the record-scratch reaction.
I was raised Muslim, but in my teens, I became severely disillusioned with the faith. Having finished reading the Qur’an in English for the first time, I started to fully appreciate just how easy it was for people to twist and re-interpret the book to serve their own needs. I realised my father had been doing that to me for years, with his rules that he swore came “from God” and his restrictions on my behaviour that were all part of me being a good Muslim girl. Cover yourself so men don’t…
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Last Friday, the 28th of February, a wealthier primary school in the suburbs of Kampala had a special occasion during their Friday Assembly (in which students hold performances): the P2 class reenacted the signing of the anti-homosexuality bill by President Museveni. One kid was dressed as President Museveni, wearing his distinctive hat, and a smart jacket – he was surrounded by his classmates who were acting as MP’s, and one dressed as a military. After signing the bill, ‘Museveni Junior’ told the other kids “Fellow Ugandans, this is our country. We should not accept cultures and values imposed on us. Am, therefore, signing this bill into law to stop all immorality.”
In doing so, it shows a dominant explanation of Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill: provoked by Western insistence on the issue, Museveni had no choice but to sign the bill. In other words, there is a…
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Note: This post is partially in response to a question posed to the author of our most recent post about why they discussed Junot Díaz.
I haven’t read any of Junot Díaz’s fiction. I plan to get there eventually, but when I critique Díaz, it’s for his politics.
Decolonial theory is associated with names like Walter D. Mignolo; if you want a solid critique from someone much more qualified than me of Mignolo specifically and his decolonial bugbears, then the first thirteen pages of this monograph do exactly that: http://materializmidialektik.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Zizek_Politics.pdf
Díaz, though, is specifically more well-known for talking about “decolonial LOVE,” and that’s why I bother to mention him by name in my above-linked Valentine’s essay. First, let’s step through where Díaz and I are in full agreement on race and love:
1. Racism exists in a violently unbalanced asymmetry, which is why the SJ movement consistently refers to it as “white supremacy” (often citing bell hooks’ own revelation and stance on this change of phrasing). Whatever moments of POC violence exist, they are dwarfed by the centuries of white violence, white police, white lynchings, white anti-immigration acts; and even when POC violence is explicitly given as anti-white retribution, again, this is not only dwarfed by anti-POC violence, but is clearly and obviously symptomatic of a universe in which racism is posited by white bodies who claim for themselves the top tier of value, meaningfulness, and right-to-life. An oft-used analogy is the distinction between Israeli and Palestinian violence.
White supremacy is the thesis, and all other races are the antithesis it generates.
2. Díaz writes, “we are never going to get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble, more or less, the economy of attraction of white supremacy.” (http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/12/watch_junot_diaz_keynote_speech_from_facing_race_2012_video.html) This is where we break, because while I would say the exact same thing, Díaz and I mean violently irreconcilable things by it.
Díaz’s politics are what Nietzsche excoriated in his Genealogy of Morals as “priestly morality,” or “ressentiment;” mine are what Nietzsche called “transvaluation”—in Christian terms, metanoia (which word, ironically, Díaz himself uses in the Salon article linked below)—or what Hegel called sublation, Aufhebung.
Díaz’s only possible politic is to invert the terms (and this is what Mignolo does more explicitly): where we were Eurocentric, we now must IGNORE questions deemed “European,” since they “do not matter” for the subaltern of the third world (Gayatri Spivak, who coined the term subaltern, makes exactly this claim in one of her critiques of Jacques Derrida). Where we were once white supremacists, we must value and celebrate the history of the indigenous, the black African, the Maori (not that Diaz has the first clue about Pacific Islanders who would never identify with the U.S. centric “AAPI” grouping, which happens to be most of them)—well-known things like the slogan “black is beautiful” or poetry and novels written in various creoles or patois.
As Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks unforgivingly put it, “Race, if it is working at all, is about the sense of one’s exclusiveness, exceptionality and uniqueness. Put very simply, it is an identity that, if it is working at all, can only be about pride, being better, being the best.” Díaz and the rest of the decolonial critics’ politics is to do exactly that: engage in the liberal fantasy where we are ALL the best, we are EQUALLY unique and special and valuable, in some impossible future harmony of racial balance and equality.
(Note: Intra-POC violence—like black-on-Asian violence after Rodney King—fits this same pattern, as documented by Anne Anlin Cheng: black supremacy is a movement of ressentiment which, in the specific case of the King beating, turned into an assault on Korean locals in a display of race supremacy, attempting only to re-order the relative privileges of race.)
3. Aufhebung—sublation—transvaluation—metanoia—whatever you want to call it, has no time for that. Besides having to give up on the illusion of a future (we must live rightly NOW, damn the rotten corpses we’ll be and whatever future society rises), it *DESTROYS THE THESIS*. Sublation is not about a “synthesis” in which thesis or antithesis are reconciled in unious harmony; sublation eliminates the thesis and the antithesis along with it: to lose white supremacy is to lose all sense of a shared black identity, of being Asian-American, of indigenous history; all of these were retroactively posited by white supremacy to explain its own existence (“We came to the land of noble savages with human chattel and are now fighting against the unwanted racial others trying to share in our prosperity”—all ideological hallucinations with real, material consequences: the genocide of Natives, the enslavement of black Africans, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the present hysteria about Latin@, esp. Mexican, immigrants).
As Zizek puts it later in that same essay I linked you, when it comes to class oppression, “the goal of the revolutionary activity is [not that everyone becomes like workers but], on the contrary, to change the entire social situation so that workers themselves will no longer be ‘workers.’” Racially, this is what revolutionary achievement aims for as well: Not that we all become more white (the neoliberal goal) or that we all convert to the side of the oppressed (what the frequently-cited Paolo Freire openly advocates in his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” another favorite of the SJ clique), but that THE VERY DIFFERENCE IS DESTROYED. We are made free because these coordinates cease to control us—ANY of us.
“None of us are free until all of us are free,” as the now-unpopular slogan goes, since that involves grace for the devil, who must also be released from hell, even though he is the king of it. And we don’t want that. We want retribution.
3. And this, finally, is why the politicians of ressentiment cry “foul” and accuse the political radical of being a political conservative: they cannot tell the difference between the two positions, the neoliberal “post-racial” fantasy (which is a simple regression to the point where white supremacy is hidden and invisible again) and the actual elimination of white supremacy *and all it generates* as a result.
In the first case, as Díaz himself knows, white supremacy masquerades as non-existent, as the unmarked position, as common-sense knowledge, not some biased “ideology.” (http://www.salon.com/2012/07/02/the_search_for_decolonial_love/) Furthermore, we are all implicated in this; but for Díaz, that means betraying those we should be in solidarity with for some minuscule privileges, learning a little humility, whereas for me that means “we are all enabled to fight and destroy white supremacy, no exceptions.” (None of this imbecility about “well clearly revolution must come the working class women of color as they are best positioned to see white supremacy ‘as it really is’—the horseshit theory of false consciousness). The ressentiment politician has learned that white supremacy’s invisibility is a lie, but is convinced that the impossible is, well, impossible: not only is there no future in which a non-raced subject can exist, they sure as shit can’t exist NOW…
And that is where Díaz ultimately reveals himself to be on the side of ressentiment. While we both want to go full Bane in the Gotham Stock Exchange when it comes to “the economy of attraction of white supremacy”—catastrophically destroy it—Díaz wants the colonized to engage in some kind of “return” to a proud past, to achieve a love AGAINST the neocolonial subjectivity they’ve been raised into.
So it’s no surprise that many people like Díaz prefer to cite the passages of White Skin, Black Masks that Fanon immediately disavows at the end of that chapter (like the passages praising black beauty). As you’ll see Zizek himself cite Fanon, “I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world. I am not responsible solely for the slave revolt in Santo Domingo. Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past.” This runs loudly counter to the “historically-aware, systemic collective action” of most SJ thinkers—they reach for Gramsci and Spivak, I reach for Marx and Hegel—and the usual objection is that all of this is just an indiviudal fantasy (always the consequence of my or someone’s else’s “unchecked privilege”), insufficiently “structural” and unable to come to terms with “collective action.” What does Fanon’s privilege in being able to say this have to do with the 14 yeard old black boy on the Boston T who’s felt worthless his entire life, and then, as Cherrie Moraga knew, gets shot in the head by a cop (see the preface to “This Bridge Called My Back”)?
Such a response is also why I detest privilege: as bell hooks naively, even cluelessly, put it in her “post-modern blackness,” “it’s easy to give up identity, when you got one.” That is not a thing anyone who has ever tried to give up privilege can respond to except with abrasive, mocking laughter. hooks was specifically trying to defend identity politics as valuable; but what hooks cannot theorize is that privilege is not simply concrete, material goods like access to food, employment, housing, safety, etc.
Privilege is a bribe, and when you have privilege, you have been BOUGHT. To fight against it will go for you about as well as anyone who’s ever seen a cop movie knows—the corrupt system will either ignore you (because it can), discipline you (beat you, humiliate you, alienate you, rescind your privileges), or when you cease to be an acceptable level of threat, destroy you.
White racial identity is one such privilege.
To learn to desire outside the white economy is to no longer consider yourself worth saving, to be willing to die for the sake of love. And wasn’t it Christ, that “Man without Qualities,” the hole I was writing about, the one who Bonhoeffer who called “the man for others,” that said: “No greater love has anyone than this, but that they give their life for those they love?”
Díaz can’t seem to imagine me with friends of color, lovers of color, colleagues of color, enemies of color, indifferent strangers of color, and the need to relate to them. Fanon can—“I find myself in the world and I recognize that I have one right alone: That of demanding human behavior from the other”—but Díaz can’t. As Audrey Thompson put it in her popular but again, to my eyes, ultimately useless and misguided essay “Tiffany, friend of people of color,” they have no patience for the kind of love-object I was going on about in my Valentine’s essay: “This is a different question from whether a white person can be the friend of a person of color. Here, I am focusing specifically on the universal “friend,” as in “good guy” or ‘ally.’ Even intimate friendship, though, is not safe from racism. As Lerone Bennett, Jr., suggests, such a relationship may ‘transcend’ racism without destroying it.” That is an incredibly stupid statement—how can any relationship transcend racism without being a threat to it? and if it can, why the fuck are we calling that “transcendence”?—and repeats the standard SJ disavowal: you are an individualist, but I see things as they really are, on the level of systems and the universal; your pretty personal problem is never going to change anything.
Any Buddhist knows this is nonsense. To do some quick word-substitution on the one of Zen’s most famous sayings, on how mountains and rivers are perceived during the steps of enlightenment:
“First, I saw people as people. Then, I saw that people (including myself) were all raced. Then, when I had actually achieved enlightenment, I saw people as people.”
The third stage is that of the bodhisattva, the practitioner enabled to cut through delusions and assist others on their quest to their own (unique, singular) enlightenment. But for Díaz and his type, stage three is exactly the same as stage one; they cannot understand the difference between invisible white supremacy and the end of the white supremacy.
They are cynics, and as Lacan warned us about cynics, they’re all dupes. “I know how things really are; so I persist in my racial fantasies and fictions of solidarity…”
So. That’s why I can’t stand Díaz. He is irrelevant to me; his decolonial love has no way of redeeming the devil. As the Propagandhi song I linked to sings,
“i’ve been subject to the same de-structure of desire and i’ve felt the same effects; i’m a hetero-sexist tragedy[…] i had different desires prior to my role-remodelling. and at six years of age you don’t challenge their claims. you become the same. (or withdraw from the game and hang your head in shame)[…]sex has been distorted and vilified. i’m scared of my attraction to body types. if everything desired is objectified then eroticism needs to be redefined. and i refuse to be a ‘man’. dead men don’t rape. a gender war in your fucking face. a battle hymn to celebrate the fact that we don’t have to become or remain what we’ve come to hate.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXFkYyhoHiI)
That’s god-damn anti-patriarchal hymn, and has nothing to do with the ressentiment fantasies of the separatists who think only women can be feminists, the Good Social Justice Men who “know” that women need to lead the movement, the intersectional feminists who know we have to account for all identities…
Propagandhi takes responsible for the demonization (lit. “being made into a demon”) that was not his fault and the consequences he will get for throwing it down.
THAT’S “checking your privilege.” But it’s a conception I have never, not once, found articulated by any self-identified member of the “social justice” movement; and it sure as hell has nothing to do with Díaz and his ilk’s decolonial fantasies.
So I don’t bother with them so much. Down with decolonial love.
Because it means we are free.
In Syrian Orthodoxy, the celibate monk is identified with Christ: both are called “îḥîdāyê.” (The language is Syriac, a later stage of Aramaic, the language Mel Gibson had everyone speak in The Passion of the Christ.) Our word, monk, comes from the Greek monakhos, “single, solitary.” Solitary—as in celibate—is *one* of îḥîdāyê’s meanings; but Syriac’s word also means only-begotten and single-minded.
The îḥîdāyê are like angels—considered genderless, neither and both androgynous—and they are each perfectly unique—only-begotten as Christ is God’s only-begotten son—and they are each single-minded in purpose—they have learned to desire differently, without distractions from the single object of their love, the cause of all their desire.
The îḥîdāyê, these Syriac monks, emphatically, unambiguously, BECOME another Christ, both according to themselves and those who wrote about them. Their goal is to imitate Christ, to be the same as him. But what is Christ for the îḥîdāyê?
Christ is a hole, a void, an empty space, the template of all people in all times and all places, abandoned of God as we are abandoned of God, fully God and fully man as we are fully men and fully God. Christ is—not emptiness, we have to be careful here—Christ is EMPTYING. (The technical Greek term is identical, piece-for-piece, with the English: “kenosis.” Kenein: to empty; -sis: the -ing makes-a-verb-a-noun suffix of English.)
The easy misconception here, and the one that descendants of Western churches (Catholic, Protestant) know well, is that of a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Jesus as husband, church as wife, the believer as Jesus’ beloved, the soul mate theory of love. None of that has a place in the îḥîdāyê’s philosophy of sex. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a National Socialist prison:
“One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.”
We need to say here: whether it be a good lover, sexually pure, a virgin, a great lay, in a relationship, alone to work on ourselves before a relationship, a spouse, a divorcee, a single parent, a twink, a switch, proud, ashamed, penitent, or frustrated. But if one no longer tries to become anything, what does it mean to “become” Christ?
Since Christ here is an empty space, the îḥîdāyê do not want to “become” anything in our usual sense of the word. They recognize in themselves their “fundamental Christ nature,” their constitutive gap, and this recognition—that they have no sexual identity to lose, that they have no sexual identity to gain—sets them absolutely free.
But why is this “celibacy”?
Since celibacy usually refers to an elective refusal of sex, it comes closest to an accurate name for the gap, as it appears in the sexual subject, whether heterosexual or homoromantic or polyamorous or virgin. That is how to understand Lacan’s “there is no sexual relation”: there is no fill for the void, there is no completion of sex, there are no other halves, there is no joining of the voids into some bigger void, there isn’t even “good” sex or “bad” sex. “There is no sexual relation” means we are confronted with the gap, and can either deny it—retreat back to the comfortable, the easily-thought sexual identities—or we can AFFIRM that gap, CHOOSE it, because it is there that we find sexual freedom. (Celibacy as a choice, and celibacy as an absence of sexual relation, is why I favor calling this “emptying of sexual identity” celibacy.) There are no sexual relations on Valentine’s Day, or any other day. The delusion of sexual fulfillment, of an actually-owned sexual identity, is revealed as a lie by îḥîdāyê: at bottom, there are no constraints, and there is no fulfillment. (If there are words, then, for every other identitarian fiction—race, class, gender, all of them—then they share this gap between the actually-existing person and the type they are supposed to conform too, “recognizably” black or gay or straight or white; but it would be strange to call that “celibacy.” These gaps would have their own names.)
I very carefully say sexual FREEDOM and not “sexual liberation” because that is another very stupid idea, buying back into the “repressive hypothesis” Foucault so beautifully excoriated forty years ago: if only we can get rid of this last obstacle, if we can end patriarchy, eliminate homoantagonism, then sex will be “good”—but not just “good,” it will be “good” “AGAIN!” When “liberation” falls into this Return to Eden delusion, it’s not worth being polite to. The “decolonial love” of thinkers like Junot Diaz, for example, is exactly this kind of stupid shtick: before racism, love was possible, we must de-colonize ourselves, get it back… and if Diaz and his ilk believed, finally, in the necessity of desiring other than what we desire, he would already have found Paul’s answer: as with any love object, “I consider all a loss, now that I have Christ!” We do not need to change society to become celibate; that is another delusion. Now—in this shattered, violent, horrible world, with its racist standards of beauty, its heteronormative aims—we affirm our sexual freedom. There is no future we can do it in instead. We are already, at the level of our being, celibate, and our freedom comes from this.
What if this is wrong? What if this bizarre theological speculation is only bizarre theological speculation? Then sex returns to the circuit of goods, and whoever has the most is best. Put another way: there will be a definite answer to the question of “what is the best sexual identity?” Perhaps the pansexual is uniquely privileged in being able to love? Might certain anarchist circles be right that all monogamy is necessarily patriarchal? Can only the colonized achieve true love (since only they can “decolonize” themselves—the colonizer has no pre-colonial past to return to)? Are only the radical queers able to be non-heteronormative? Are only the celibate able to resist their animal urges and live true, unfettered, good lives? Is the asexual a superior breed? Is only the person who is the best lover, the most concerned with their partners’ pleasure, the one who has never received anything but enthusiastic consent, the fully-realized person? And of course, we must remember: the unfuckable, the ugly, those who are “bad at sex,” the virgin, the slut, whoever is poor or miserly or a bad investor in the sexual economy—whoever has nothing to sell or has bad taste or just can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps or spends irresponsibly—is accordingly cheap, worthless, tacky, not WORTH someone else’s love or pleasure. We would have a moral OBLIGATION to disdain the ugly, judge the divorcee, hate on those who do not enjoy sex enough or are not good enough at it; we would need essays on how to be a virgin, books on how to be an ethical slut, encyclopedias of sex positions and the histories of various sexual identities *in order to have value as sexual beings*.
Celibacy—which again and emphatically has nothing to do with getting ourselves off with or without anyone else—is a matter of sexual being: of our being unable of ever being completed by anyone else, not because we are already filled, but because this emptiness is the source of our liberty. It is a statement on our morality and on our value, as “absolutely singular and infinitely valuable[…] celibacy [in this sense] establishes that each individual is fully human, in and of themselves; a value so great that nothing can be added to it and nothing can subtract from it.” A value that is, to be clear, completely worthless within the system of sexual identities and naïve sex-positivity: “Whether one is married, dating, polyamorous/nonmonogamous, or celibate, our sexuality is best understood as a creative and fun act between whole persons [“hole persons”?] rather than desperate attempts to find completion.”
Take your pick.
So I say, we are ALL îḥîdāyê, in the same way that we are ALL already in possession of the buddha-nature, we are ALL already freed from the slavery to the fear of death in Christ’s sacrifice, we are ALL already Allah as the Sufis screamed. But we do not live it, we do not approach sex as if this were actually true, and that is the difference.
Celibacy, therefore, is what “emptying” looks like when applied to the identitarian/identity-politics/intersectional imbecilities of “sexual identity,” which is no more stupid or less stupid than those who, for example, stupidly assert they “have no sexual identity” because—for example—their “only identity is Jesus…” Such a person, besides engaging in street-level blasphemy, has absolutely nothing in common with the îḥîdāyê: they mistake Jesus for being the thing that sutures their gap, instead of identifying with him BECAUSE of that gap, instead of realizing this hole is what makes them JUST LIKE him.
When we become celibate, in this sense which has nothing to do with the regressive medieval celibacy vows of certain massively rich and powerful Western churches, for whom celibacy became just another identity among identities instead of the name for the free-space hole of ALL sexual identities—when we become celibate, we are recognizing what was already true. Nothing changes. In *exactly the same way* as the Buddhist monk’s enlightenment is a recognition of her fundamental Buddha-nature—nothingness—she also recognizes that it is not some eternal void there: “Void itself is voided,” they chant, sexual identity is fundamentally a nothing-ing, a making-nothing, an emptying of illusions and desperate attempts to plug what does not need filling. We are enabled to see things as they are, as they have always been, and to make our steps accordingly.
Valentine’s Day—Singles’ Appreciation Day—in a theological context, means something simple: Fuck whoever. Fuck no one. Be with, date, see, fantasize about, anyone or no one. Doesn’t matter.
There’s nothing that was ever “supposed” to be there, for you or anyone else. You have nothing to fill, no match to meet, no one to save yourself for, no one to break up with, no need to find “time alone” to “work on yourself” and no right answer.
Other things that make the same point:
Shel Silverstein, “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”: http://www.ktor.me/bigo/index.php
The New Gay, “Reflections on a Queer Christ”: http://thenewgay.net/2011/03/reflections-on-a-queer-christ.html
Dresden Codak, “For reasons unexplained, every person in the world is born with a large gaping hole in the center of their chest”: http://www.dresdencodak.com/images/stall10.jpg
Sydney H. Griffith, “Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism”: http://books.google.com/books?id=EIqym5Pw_O8C&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=ihidaya+asceticism&source=bl&ots=QBTGBSvqMS&sig=6ykbMHaWu9xxcRChidp9nzvQCys&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8U78UqOgOcT40gGV8YDgCQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=syrian&f=false
Chelsea Fagan, “Not Everyone is Beautiful, And That’s Okay”:http://thoughtcatalog.com/chelsea-fagan/2012/09/not-everyone-is-beautiful-and-thats-okay/
I was inspired to write this post by three things:
2.) A friend’s recent Facebook status (re-printed with permission) with which I strongly agree:
“I mean this with all due respect to the very brilliant people I know making astute and important cultural critiques, but given that we’re growing up and our generation is probably in charge of dealing with very real inequity nightmares left for us by our parents, do you think we can maybe start picking bigger battles than Beyoncé and Wacklemore?”
3.) Season 3, Episode 20 of The Big Bang Theory (I’ve seen random episodes before, but never watched it from the beginning, so that’s my current TV project).
Super quick recap of BBT (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet): In the recent aftermath of Leonard and Penny’s breakup, Sheldon’s increasing (though still lacking by “social standards”) capacity to perceive, feel, and respond to the emotions of himself and others causes him to do everything he can to maintain friendships with both Leonard and Penny without upsetting either of them (especially Leonard).
Now, as lots of people can attest, social media has created a fairly repetitive cycle of “Let’s all be upset and xyz important issue!” that inevitably leads to “Let’s all say why we should/shouldn’t be upset about xyz important issue!” responses. Read some of the links above if you aren’t sure what I mean.
It’s not that the issues aren’t important (they often are actually extremely important) or that the protests and responses aren’t thoughtful with useful insights. To me, part of the problem is that it’s like we’re constantly in break-up mode with the most recent celebrity mishap, news reporter/channel no-no, or political blunder. We scream, and shout, and let it all out, rallying our allies to accumulate likes and shares (and their Twitter, Tumblr, blog, etc. counterparts) while often not positively engaging those who dare to disagree.
To be perfectly fair, I happen to know several people who are more than willing to engage when they have the time and energy. But still, we are overwhelmingly inundated with some people calling out others for their mishaps while insulting the intelligence of those whose opinions differ. This is especially true during pop culture critiques (e.g. Sherman, Macklemore, the Grammys, Melissa Harris-Perry, etc.) and, with the power of the internet at our fingertips, more voices can be heard in rapidly increasing numbers, regardless of the authority of the author to speak on the subject.
I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who wants to talk about issues of race, gender, the economy, psychosocial trends, vaccine efficacy, etc. needs a Ph.D in the subject to do so; however, an awareness of, and experience reading, the research being done by those who have dedicated their lives to such fields would certainly help to clear the clutter across the board. The internet is rife with comments such as “you need to educate yourself” as a result of the exhaustion and exasperation that so many feel engaging other on these issues, though they rarely do more than elicit responses such as “that’s elitist” or “I know what I’m talking about, because xyz”.
Near the end of the BBT episode, as Leonard and Penny are entering a mini-argument, we see a distressed Sheldon (physically and socially stuck in the middle of them) leave to go to his room by saying “Ok! Just don’t fight…” Far too often, this is the feeling by the audience when one person launches a critique at another and the cycle starts anew: “please let there be no more fighting”. And while critiquing things that happen in popular culture is a great way to introduce these topics to people who otherwise might not be interested or know they exist, it often devolves more into “polite” fighting. The conversation rests on either “calling out” the person or group or idea or defending the target, and it becomes that much more alienating.
And, most troubling of all, is the seeming lack of consideration in providing criticism that is not only enlightening, but educative. I can’t think of a time when I saw someone, in their critique of Macklemore, provide a list of works for him (or others) to read by Judith Butler, Annamarie Jagose, or the late Jose Esteban Munoz when describing his impact and representation of people who identify as LGBTQI+. I don’t remember anyone suggesting to Beyonce or her fans to explore Bell Hooks, Frances Beal, or Patricia Hill Collins when deciding her role as a feminist. Nor can I recall a response to Katy Perry, Julianne Houghs, Miley Cyrus, or Justin Timberlake that provided resources as to what, exactly, cultural appropriation is, its history, and its continued role in the oppression of many demographic groups around the world.
In other words, most critiques are focused solely on their criticism rather than trying to get us all one step closer to solving the problem. While it may be a stretch, but what if we encouraged artists to engage in conversations with some of the brilliant minds who do work on the issues about which they wish to speak? What if we asked them to use their privileges as national figures to encourage their fans to learn more about the issues they care about? What if we demanded more not just of them, but of ourselves as well? Rather than all bowing down in blind reverence to Queen/King Bey or clucking our tongues in disappointment and vowing never to listen to THAT artist again, we, as their fans and audience, approached them with the kind of respect and honesty we wish for ourselves? In no way do I think that this will suddenly be the magical cure for all social ills and create the radical, revolutionary change that is so desperately needed to fight the ever-present inequity that exists in our society, but it could certainly be a start.
And then, just like Penny said to Leonard post-fight in the last scene of the episode, no matter what we’ve all been through, whatever criticisms we’ve hurled, whatever shame or embarrassment we’ve endured, we can end by saying “I think we can be friends.” Because in the end, we’re much more likely to listen to one another, do our best to help one another, and learn from each other if we’re friends, right?
TRIGGER WARNING: Triggering racial epithets used in this article, mention of sexual assault.
“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia.”—José Ortega y Gasset
Being abroad as a US citizen of color has allowed me to have various and inaccurate identities attributed to me. Generally, I do my best to patiently explain that yes, I am a Black/African-American US citizen—the last part frequently causes surprise—and move on with my life.
This confusion of identity has given me an interesting vantage point to both see from afar and experience first-hand the ways in which different racial, ethnic, linguistic, social, etc. identities are culturally absorbed and broadly understood. The most recent bout has been in Santiago, Chile. I absolutely love it here and have had a generally positive experience, so much so that I extended my planned stay by an additional 10 months. That said, a number of recent instances have been building up that have reached a tipping point with the hooplah that arrives with the October holiday season across much of Europe and the Americas—from jubilant candy-seeking to deeply spiritual—that pushed my feels into needing to write, write, write it out because hey, what better time to deal with issues of oppression and appropriation than Halloween, amirite?
Over the past few weeks, I’d already been thinking about the conversation around appropriation and how even in the not-so-mainstream media, the focus was on the (very real and very important) personal offense these acts cause, and less so on other factors Several of the aforementioned interactions I’ve had throughout the past month that led me to this point are include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A 6-year-old student walked into English class and the first question innocently asked was “Profe, que significa ‘nigga’?”
- At the end of a texting conversation with a Chilean friend (young adult), the parting message I received was “Yah, buenas noches, mi lindo nigga!”
- I had an 11-year-old student excitedly start singing Gansta Rap’s “Nigga Nigga Nigga” in class when I asked students to tell me about one of their favorite songs in English.
- I went to a set of hip-hop dance classes where the instructor chose to use Tyga’s “Hit Em Up”, where the main word being sung along to/used to help count and said quite loudly and forcefully was “nigga”; after class, the refrain was quietly sung by the students (ages 18-30+) as they left.
- I had a 9-year-old student enthusiastically and cluelessly greet me with “Hey, Profe, my nigga!”
- I was told by a business professional in the same breath that they were “proud of their beautiful fair skin” but that Chile doesn’t have a race problem.
- A post in a Facebook group wrote that they were seeking “Russian/Northern European/North American looking” people for a photoshoot, which led to interesting responses when I stated “If you want white people, just say so.”
- The brief but noticeable flicker of surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I’m from the United States and not Brazil or Colombia or Africa.
I don’t think anyone in the above examples are terrible people, and I haven’t experienced anyone using the n-word to my face as a pejorative the way I have countless times in the US. I don’t believe they are capital “r” Racist, the 21st century ultimate insult (for some people, at least). But I had to stop and think for a moment about how to explain why, in a non-US/ post-colonial, situation, I still strongly felt that something just wasn’t right. And then it hit me.
Context is everything.
But what is context? Context doesn’t just involve the past—it involves our present and our future as well. It extends to the here and now, making and keeping us aware of how these images and words still float around our conscious and subconscious levels of thinking. Understanding context helps us to understand how these images and words have already led—and continue to lead—us to form beliefs and opinions about others that affect the ways in which we conduct business as usual every single day (of which we often aren’t even close to being consciously aware), beliefs that aren’t going to go away without some serious work and are more likely to be reinforced each and every time you encounter something that so much as passively affirms it.
So, in the case of the n-word, the context is more than just the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It’s more than just the historical pejorative given to anyone who was unwanted in someone’s (historically anglophone) country. It’s more than just a word that gets tossed around haphazardly in the entertainment industry.
In the case of Halloween costumes, the context is more than just the fact that many of the parts of the costumes that people wear (if not the entire things) are eyebrow-raising at best and horribly offensive and psychologically triggering at worst, though most probably fall into the “bad taste, stereotype perpetuating” category. It’s more than just the history behind many of those costumes, which are based on caricatures and beliefs about real peoples’ bodies that were used to justify all kinds of violence against them.
In the case of both the costumes and the use of the n-word, it’s about more than “political correctness” because anyone who is serious about real social or systemic change (and we all should be, for all our sakes) shouldn’t care much about “political correctness” because it really gets us nowhere.
So what does this all mean? It means that embracing context can show us the patterns and logic these words and images create that affected and shaped—and continue to affect and shape—the lives of countless numbers ofpeople around the world in horribly oppressive ways.
Context is remembering that across the globe and for various historical reasons, light-skin is prized and associated with intelligence, beauty, innocence, and other positive traits (remember: subconscious processes!) while darker skin is often associated with stupidity, violence, and laziness,
Context is recognizing that as the process of “Americanization” (or “Westernization” or “Globalization”, pick your favorite) continues, the usage and definition of things like English and hip-hop “culture” are no longer limited to the lands in which they were initially created. As my friend and co-blogger stated,“They are in the process of passing outside America’s meaning-making jurisdiction, if they haven’t done so already.”.)
Put more concretely, the past part of context—what aids in shifting the focus beyond the interpersonal realm of “offensive” acts of racism, sexism, etc.—helps us understand that the reason I continued to hear variations of “there is no racism in Chile”. After the end of the military-controlled government, the rather rapid influx of predominantly US products, businesses, and media in the past 20ish years to Chile also brought with it the dominant (and misguided) US definition of “racism”, where racism stems from being consciously mean and/or prejudiced against people of other racial or ethnic groups; in the US, historically these groups are specifically Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, allows for “reverse racism”, and tends to ignore First Nation/Indigenous populations . This definition was brought into the sociopolitical fabric of Chile whose only other major socially distinguishable/recognized “ethnic” or “racial” population is the less than 5% Mapuche.
We know that every society has a complex social web that manipulates people into acting and thinking in certain ways—or at least getting them to pretend to. But when ideas are brought in and embraced from the outside, the people around whom those ideas are built are also affected, which is magnified as those ideas adapts themselves to beliefs that already exist.
The idea that Blacks and other dark-skinned people are more violent or threatening? Yep, they’ve got it.
Are Black/dark-skinned males hyper-sexual and wielding enormous penises? Duh.
Are Blacks/dark-skinned people inherently more athletic and physically stronger? You betcha.
Are they poor and lazy? Of course they are!
And the list goes on.
These are the types of images running beneath the surface when we hear certain words or see certain styles of dress, and they are familiar images that can be found around the world. Context is what allows us to step out of what appears to be on the surface and dive into the myriad of ways that it affects every facet of our lives, from interpersonal interactions to seemingly impersonal decisions. Everything we digest from the media, from our educations , from our political and social and religious leaders, and from the barrage of marketing and advertisements we encounter daily plays off of and employs these images and words, which once again affects our interactions and decisions.
So why is the n-word here not so out-of-context in Chile as one might think, and why do Halloween costumes continue to warrant a serious discussion beyond “it’s bad taste”? Because images and words have the ability to trigger the aforementioned cognitive processes based on directly associated ingrained thoughts and beliefs. And real people suffer as a result.
Of course, context is not a one-way street, and when words and images travel, the impact of the old context may not fully come with it, because it can’t. For Chile and the prevalence of the n-word, the full history of its use and meaning—which evolved over time— simply isn’t here. So it makes sense that use of the word doesn’t come with that consciousness. Meanwhile, the exposure they have doesn’t make it any easier. A line from the Tyga song I mentioned earlier states “I said fuck them other niggas, cause I’m down for my niggas” which is bound to confuse anyone about what the word means, how it’s used, and who can/can’t use it, including and especially in the US (because we have this debate all the time). The challenge in Chile is that the word has been absorbed largely though hip-hop/rap music and through movies with Black characters exchanging the word—thus, without the past or present parts of context that created the word in the first place—which conjures up very particular images and beliefs about Black people in general, specifically (as my trusty co-blogger once again nails it) “from the hypermasculine heterofantasy of mainstream hip-hop”. And, as previously stated, these images definitely exist here.
Like I mentioned before, I’ve never had the word hurled at me pejoratively here in Chile(nor have I heard of that happening to anyone) and I don’t think that those who use it—remember, usually in the “between friends” way—are mean, scum-of-the-earth people. But the use of the word and the way that it is being used comes from a particular context, and we cannot subtract it from that context when it clearly is working to re-construct similar beliefs/ideologies that led to its original creation in its new home. The word evolved to have that meaning because of and in spite of its history. Simultaneously, the sociopolitical context of its modern usage from which it is being borrowed—primarily it’s cultural use within Black communities as both an act of positive reclamation among Blacks and as an insult towards other Blacks—is built upon that same violent history. Simply put, contemporary usage of the word—wherever it is being used—cannot be separated from its painful and violent history and continuing legacy. So, while it definitely isn’t a carbon copy of what we have in the US, it is still problematic in it’s new form.
To draw this to a close, I definitely acknowledge that there are terrible people out there who are fully aware of themselves when they do and say terrible things. But the discussion simply cannot end there. I offer you this parallel: immoderate consumption of alcohol lowers our level of cognition and makes it more likely that we will injure someone else. But we also know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes one more likely to suffer from heart disease, kidney or liver failure, brain damage, infertility, and to commit sexual assault. Singly, any one of them is a sufficient reason to moderate your drinking, but taken together, they paint a much fuller picture that brings us much closer to necessitating it. Halloween is now behind us, with Thanksgiving looming ahead of us, where another round of heated debate is sure to spring up. As we consider what these holidays and associated images mean, I ask is that we ensure that we paint the full picture when it comes to use of language,sociocultural appropriation, and historical meaning-making, and make decisions on what to say and how to (inter)act accordingly.