Tag Archives: Race

Michael Brown Cannot Be Defined by the Politics of Respectability or the Politics of Backlash


I am continuing to do magic for the people of Ferguson.

Magic comes in many forms. I find magic in the words of Michael Twitty, a historian who studies, enacts, and writes about the foods of the African American South. If you haven’t yet read Mr. Twitty’s amazing post on Ferguson, you owe it to yourself to do so. I read it not only as a human being who loves social justice, but also as an American who has African American family members and friends and as the mother of a son and the Nonna of a grandson.

May America find healing for its deeply racists wounds.

Mr. Twitty writes, inter alia, that:

I received a nasty tweet last night; a tweet with a food theme in fact.  Michael Brown’s bleeding corpse with pictures of food transposed around it—fried chicken, bananas, watermelon, with Kool-Aid to wash it down.  My chest hurt and then I stared into space and before I knew it, I vomited.  It was not nausea—it was anger mixed with revulsion and memories from lives only my cells know.
I want you to understand something—I’ve been on multiple plantations and urban sites dealing with slavery. I’ve felt the Ancestors in the fields. I’ve seen the auction block and the whipping post and the hanging tree.  I embrace it, I own it, and I live it through food so I can say “Never Again,” with confidence.  I do the work that I do to educate people about the genesis of America’s original sin—I consider myself steeled. This however, was different—this was personal; that body could have been me.
Swirling around us are accusations, whispers and rumors about a “gentle giant,” named Michael Brown.  Michael Brown cannot be defined by the politics of respectability or the politics of backlash.

Later, he explains:

I am trying to be hopeful. I see Americans of all colors putting their hands up saying “Don’t shoot.”  Solidarity is spreading from rally to rally; there are new kids on the block—and they don’t want the bitter fruit of the past. The old canards that this is a race war a la Mo Brooks have no truth here—we are embracing anyone who will embrace us, loving anyone who will love us, respecting anyone who will respect us, and we want desperately to believe that we—in our protest, in our pursuit of justice through the courts of law, in our demands for information—are the epitome of what it means to be American.
To my foodie friends: throw your hands up!  Listen, we do ourselves no favors when we pretend that food is a respite from the matters of the day.  Where do we go when we want to feel better and hash out our grievances and vent?  We go to the table.  Given that I am often the only Black guy, or one of five Black people period at many food events, I want you to know what this harassment means when you see me/us encounter it.  I want you to step out of the fantasy that food is freedom from socio-cultural politics and just remember to be aware of the cues and clues that injustice and inequality are ever close and we must all be vigilant.
But I ask, as James Baldwin once asked, “How much time do you want, for your progress?”
Please don’t shoot!

Please go read the entire post. I’d love to read your reactions.

May Columbia guard us and enlighten us. May we learn to live together in justice and in peace. This is my will. So mote it be.

Picture found here.

Dog Days of Summer PotPourri

Aphrodite Hosta

Aphrodite Hosta

* Over at Myth & Moor, they’re quoting Jane Yolan:

In fantasy stories we learn to understand the differences of others, we learn compassion for those things we cannot fathom, we learn the importance of keeping our sense of wonder. The strange worlds that exist in the pages of fantastic literature teach us a tolerance of other people and places and engender an openness toward new experience. Fantasy puts the world into perspective in a way that ‘realistic’ literature rarely does. It is not so much an escape from the here-and-now as an expansion of each reader’s horizons.”

“A child who can love the oddities of a fantasy book cannot possibly be xenophobic as an adult. What is a different color, a different culture, a different tongue for a child who has already mastered Elvish, respected Puddleglums, or fallen under the spell of dark-skinned Ged?”
. . .

“Why do so many fantasies shy away from Tough Magic? Why do they offer sweet fairy dances in the moonlight without the fear of the cold dawn that comes after? Because writing about Tough Magic takes courage on the author’s part as well. To bring up all the dark, unknown, frightening images that live within each of us and try to make some sense of them on the page is a task that takes courage indeed. It is not an impersonal courage. Only by taking great risks can the tale succeed. Ursula Le Guin has written: ‘The artist who goes into himself most deeply — and it is a painful journey — is the artist who touches us most closely, speaks to us most clearly.’ “

You should read the whole thing and enjoy the wonderful pictures, too.

These times, IMHO, especially cry out for Tough Magic, both in our practice and in our books. I love Le Guin’s quote about the need for artists to delve deeply. I’ve been thinking especially about the odd shift that some authors make when they go from writing non-fiction to writing fiction. One of the few I know who has done so really, really successfully is Derrick Jensen. If you haven’t read Lives Less Valuable, Songs of the Dead, and The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad, you should add them to your list. They’re gripping stories and the “Magic” in them is definitely “Tough.” But they’re especially interesting for the way that they show a writer whose normal metier is non-fiction. Having spent most of my life doing academic and then legal writing, I’m in awe of those who write great fiction.

* Labrys has been doing priestess work for years, remembering the dead from America’s recent wars. Now she’s asking for assistance that seems especially appropriate as we ride the Wheel of the Year down towards Samhein:

I feel I should do something to note a decade of walks and songs for the dead, but my imagination somewhat fails me. In the early years, as on the opening night in the photograph to the right, I used to light the labyrinth with luminarias or electric light, one for each dead troop, US or Coalition. But there almost EIGHT THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED now, and I can’t light that many lights. . . .

. . .

So, here is the thing. Empty booze bottles are called “dead soldiers”, are they not? Of course, even on that Labyrinth that fills one side of my back yard, I could not make 8,200 big bottles fit . . . not even beer bottles. But, the tiny aircraft size? I think I could do that, so here is my appeal and I ask that you pass the word EVERYwhere: PLEASE DRINK A COUPLE OR SIX OF THOSE SMALL BOTTLES OF THE TIPPLE OF YOUR CHOICE TO THE FALLEN AND MAIL THE EMPTIES TO ME. On the anniversary, November 8th, I will display and photograph the bottles on the Walk and afterwards recycle all the bottles. And also, since it is the 10th Anniversary, I will read all the names aloud.(I last read the complete list in the fall of 2009.)
. . .

Send the empty bottles (please small only) to:

Walk of the Fallen Labyrinth
c/o C. L. Moore
P.O. Box 4386
Spanaway, WA 98387

Enough said.

/hat tip to Peter of Lone Tree

* In comments to my post about the Anacostia, Jan says:

Many groups (of all sorts, kinds and varieties) across the country have organized clean-up rallies at all kinds of local sites — perhaps this kind of action should/could be encouraged at small and larger Pagan groups and gatherings? Just a thought!

I think the idea of organizing volunteer efforts — whether to clean up rivers or whatever — for Pagan gatherings is a great idea. Last year’s Pantheacon had a blood drive, which is a wonderful and powerful idea, but the focus in a blood drive is more directed towards each individual than towards a group effort.

In addition to blood drives, I’d love to see Pagan conferences and festivals adopt an idea that I first heard of from a friend of mine who does some deep thinking about volunteering. She attends each year a large annual conference of association executives and those conferences always include a half-day-or-so volunteer session. Because the conferences are held in different cities each year, the volunteer opportunities tend to vary. One year she helped clean up an animal shelter and one year she worked with a group laying mulch on public trails. Not only do these sessions do some good for the community where the conference takes place, they provide a great opportunity to network in a low-pressure environment. People who HATE walking up to strangers at the networking cocktail parties can show up in jeans, focus on the task at hand — which provides an instant topic of conversation — and come away with new connections and friendships.

And Pagans could do it with magical intent, focused on renewing the local river, healing the children at the local hospital who will walk in the healing garden, nourishing the people who will be fed at the soup kitchen.

Like anything else, it takes someone to organize it.

* Speaking of Pagan conferences, the Sacred Space conference, scheduled in Maryland for March 13-16 in 2014, has listed its presenters and . . . wow. Just a few names: Selena Fox, Byron Ballard, Literata, Orion Foxwood, Diotima Mantineia, Macha Nightmare, and Jason Pitzl-Waters. The conference is always very well-run and early registrants can get in now for only $150.

*Speaking of other things I’d love to see at Pagan events, Rima (in addition to a fascinating peek into her creative process and some fantasy art that does NOT shy from Tough Magic) is writing about Mearcstapa:

boundary-walking characters of Mearcstapa – a troupe of folk involved in the festival last year, of which we were members – who had been given a fool’s license to creep around the edges of proceedings, unsettling and enchanting by turns. We all chose our own character, with a loose collective idea to portray spirits of the land, characters of myth and folklore who had perhaps just stepped out from under the hill.

. . .

On the Saturday night, all the Mearcstapa edge-walkers converged on the fire circle where Wod were playing up a mesmeric Brythonic storm with their wonderful and truly en-trance-ing music, and I sat there, inside the hag, on a log, watching the circle dancing, faces firelit and lost to the dance, the occasional silhouetted pair of antlers passing by in the throng, simultaneously glad and baffled at the kinds of things I end up doing, but mostly very awed by the real magic that can be made with the tools of masquerade and certain kinds of un-selfconscious folk-ritual.

Rima’s description of the festivals (of which, sadly, this year’s will be the last) as:

a space for the stories we tell about our lives to be re-shaped, picked apart and passed on; a space to bring our despair at the Earth’s destruction and all kinds of responses to it – creative, emotional, rational, irrational, beautiful, ugly, honest; a space to meet others of like minds or wildly disparate views who nevertheless share a desire to find common byways branching off the roads of the Endtimes, beside which might be found composting skeletons of civilisation, medicinal weeds, rabbit-holes to the otherworld, or weather-beaten travellers with craneskin bags of the real stories we need now.

makes me realize that we NEED our own Mearcstapa. We need them now.

* I love my job, but it does interfere with following every single flare up on the internet. And I haven’t spent the hours it would take to read up on the two issues that I’m about to discuss, so you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, if you like.

But I take one important message from #solidarityisforwhitewomen: the colonizer doesn’t get to tell the colonized when it’s ok to be upset, angry, hurt. Those with privilege don’t get to tell those who aren’t privileged when to shut up or how to react.

Like many people in this culture, I’ve lived a mixture of privilege and colonization. I’m a white, straight, educated person in a well-paying profession. I’m also an old woman in a man’s field, keeping my minority religion in the closet, and I have been a very poor woman. What I take from that experience is that when I’m the one in the privileged position, what I need to do is to practice what my ConLaw professor called Rule No. 2 of the legal profession: Sit down, shut up, and listen. I’m learning a lot from #solidarityisforwhitewomen and I hope to keep on doing so.

The second flare up from this week involves a YouTube video that attempted to make fun of Harriet Tubman’s sexual “relationship” with her owner. I didn’t see the video, but I saw some of the reactions. Discussions about race in America are too often, you should pardon the expression, black and white. No room for nuance; we all feel too emotional about the subject. Except for Michael Twitty who seems to be able to write such good sense. Twitty says:

I’m going to take an opposites approach. I can harangue people with waaaaaay bigger platforms than I have about how offensive this concept was (since I haven’t seen the video I can’t judge it on any of its own merits) or I can get to the “white meat,” so to speak. The problem is perhaps not this asinine and historically ignorant portrayal of a supposedly humorous scenario; it’s that we don’t talk about “interracial” mixing and forced breeding during American slavery enough to make this type of free speech more morally appalling and culturally unnecessary.

I see a lot of people responding to this video by talking about rape and abuse during slavery. While the pronouns are inclusive, “we” and “our,” I’d like to bring it down to an even baser level. “My.” “Mine.”

Since I found Oak Forest plantation [where Twitty’s ancestor was a slave owner] at four o’clock in the morning last night, I have been confronted by a harmattan of emotions. I walked through the halls of the North Carolina Museum of History looking for myself in the exhibit. Instead of calling on the African American portions for some sort of clue as to who I am and what they were, I found myself taking snapshots of information on wealthy English planters and their descendants. I will confess I do not have a drop of pride in this particular heritage. It was rape, sexual abuse, and coercion by force of will not a romance or equal status under the law or a harmonious union of cultures that brought me into existence.

. . .

As I study my family history in relationship to food history and notions of food and power I’ve decided to embrace that rootstock as a means of taking a bit of power back. One of the hallmarks of racism in the West is the ability of the West to largely deny that Western genes and African genes have long since mixed wherever the Peculiar institution thrived.

. . .

It’s this ugly part of American slavery that everybody feels they can joke about without being held to account for it.

. . .

All of this brings me to this simple ass video that somebody thought was cleaver or that you Mr. Simmons personally promoted as the “funniest thing I’ve ever seen.” So the “outlandish and irreverent” skit uses the modern theme of recorded sexual blackmail to suggest Harriet Tubman blackmailed her way into running the Underground Railroad. I’m still struggling to even smirk and admit any of that was clever.

. . .

However the poking fun at sexual coercion, rape and abuse during slavery is not [funny]. That’s not a good enough reason not to do this kind of skit again however.

. . .

It scares me and makes me angry because I can feel the trauma left behind when our wives, mothers and daughters were violated before our very eyes because they were such a “troublesome species of property.” A lot of us wish we could do time travel and give the women that we came from back their dignity and respect—but something tells me I can’t give them what they obviously already had. My mom likes to say, “I know the women I came from had to be strong—they survived all of that—so I could be here—and you could too.” Harriet Tubman was one of those women, and as much as I respect your right to free speech—hands off. Thank you for your wider contribution to African American story and for the apology but, if you want to do “living history” again—leave that to me—when I dress “like a slave,” it’s meant to educate, not denigrate.

As always, you should go read his entire essay. I’m practicing Rule No. 2, except to say that Harriet Tubman has inspired me since I was a little girl.

* On a lighter note, here’s a wonderful example of how to teach your children to love poetry.


* We have, indeed, moved into the dog days of Summer. The Aphrodite hosta flowers (also known as August lily) at the top of the page are in full bloom in my garden and, like many white flowers, they release their loveliest scent at night. All the pollinators love them, especially the hummingbirds, which find these flowers even though they generally prefer bright colored ones. My sunflowers are almost finished and the goldfinches are already busy removing the seeds. The obedient plant is getting ready to bloom, as are my toad lilies. After that, my Autumn camellia will flower and then it will be a long stretch until the crocus show up in late February or early March. What’s blooming in your garden?

Photo of the blogger’s garden by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.