Saturday, July 14, 2012

She Bleeds.

She bled. This does not come as much of a surprise because she is a woman. Bleeding is our thing after least for a few days out of each month of our childbearing years if everything works down there the way our 6th grade health books tells us it should.

Yes. She bled. As she always did. Yet...this time was different. This time she was prolific in her bleeding. Her blood flowed like the River Jordan: fast and furious. To the point where those units of blood and mucosal tissue that could not seem to keep up decided to bond together and make the very thing she heard her mama say that she hated most in the world: the clot.

Yep. The blood clot. Those monstrosities of matter that make a woman afraid to laugh, cough, walk or breathe. Because she knows that if she moves even a hair a crimson fashion malfunction can overcome her.

She was experiencing the worst of it all for the first time. It went on like this month after suffering month.

"This shit is the worst" she thought.

The worst part of being a woman. The part that made her understand why her mama and aunties let the doctors take their lady parts when it all got to be too much. Passing clots the size of grapefruits, while cramping like hell, working full-time, raising kids alone, and making pound cakes for the church...this rites of passage was for the birds.

And yet...she quickly accepted this draining annoyance as her new normal. She wanted to shut this portion of her womanhood off at times but not knowing how to do so she relented. She began to question whether motherhood was still a viable or even desirable option for her. She tried to imagine a new uterus-less future for herself.

"How the hell did I get here?"

But she didn't linger there.

"I guess this is the price we pay for our lusciousness...for whatever that's worth."

A uterus in question and new language acquired, words like: iron-deficiency, anemia, hemorrhage, fibroid, and myomectomy became part of her everyday. A new obsession with Google-enabled self diagnoses was born.

She really tried to make the best of it, but it still sucked...the life out of her every month. It does so today, in fact. The suckiest thing about it is that she feels all alone. The blogs and message boards tell her that Black girls suffer from this crap the most, but none of them tell her why. And she's too ashamed to ask her friends and peers if they too suffer from the uterine fibroid blues. Not knowing if it is only a trait her and her mama and her aunties and her girl cousins share, she shrugs and suffers in silence and says,

"I guess this is just how it be."

As she bleeds and bleeds and bleeds...

Friday, July 13, 2012

But People are Dying!

In polite conversation with good progressives one sometimes encounters the more emotionally difficult areas of international geopolitics - civil wars, famine, natural disasters, and rampant poverty.  Sitting in the local activist-approved Starbucks-alternative, the disparities between our mocha and our perception of human suffering lie gaping before us pulling on every sense of injustice we have. The void that opens before us cuts a hole through the earth into the upside-down image of whatever third world country we're discussing, let's call it Africa.  The point is, we're staring at the undersides of black feet at the bottom of our black mochas that eerily resemble the incomprehensible chasm between our comfort and their despair and the words that slip off our tongues are like salve for the wound: "but people are dying!"  The words roll off the tongue and over the gaping hole and suddenly the unbearable distance, the aching chasm before us, is less threatening.  It's going to be okay.  

Obviously people are dying.  People die everywhere on earth all the time.  We don't need a void in our mocha to tell us that.  A third party listening in might think that the point is that people die in radically unjust ways.  After all, poor people in developing countries are dying much younger and for all sorts of reasons that rich people don't generally die from.  But that third party would be mistaken.  If that were the statement's utterance, it would be said with a sign as one reflects on the void in one's mocha.  

"But people are dying!" is said with force.  It is a reaction to the despair that threatens to swallow one whole at the impossible treachery of it all.  "But people are dying!" is a statement not just that people are dying in unjust ways but that something needs to and can be done about it, not just in theory but by people like me.  I need to and can stop the dying.  That is why it feels so good, why suddenly everything is going to be ok, why the conversation can end and the void can close and we can finish our mochas and go on with our lives.

At its heart it is not an observation about them, those people who are dying, but an observation about me and my capacity as I gaze at my own pain.  And here is where it's tragic danger lies. It is rooted in a all too common unstated assumtion that we wouldn't need to stop the dying if they could stop it themselves.  Certain types of people (poor, of color, third world-women, third world-queer people) need help and certain types of people (white, rich, first world) are the ones who can help.

This has been a long held belief.  It has led to many attempts over centuries by very well intentioned people to stop unjust death.  It's much easier to assume bad intentions on all those who went to colonized lands in the past, that they were going exclusively personal benefit.  The more difficult truth is that, despite some selfish colonizers, most people had good intentions not just for themselves but for the people in the lands they were traveling to.  They wanted to save them, bring them modern comforts, or educate them - not in a superficial way but in a deep believing way.  They wanted to help colonized people live better lives.  It may seem obvious now that what they were doing was often very harmful and created the dynamics of death that we observe today but in the past many were motivated by the same observation - "but people are dying! (and I can save them!)" 

The person staring at their mocha and sighing probably knows that people aren't just dying of apolitical reasons beyond the control of just those who are dying (and the people around them who don't seem to be helping).  People are dying for reasons we are deeply connected to.  The dilemma lies in the desperate need for us white folks to divorce ourselves from the bad white folks of the past - we're different! we're better! we're anti-racist! we mean well!  we can really help!

But the fact that we think WE are the ones who can and have to help is a continuation of the same systems of thought that helped create such oppressive deadly dynamics in the first place.  What on earth makes us think that if the aggregated results of our past interventions are more death and suffering that we are therefore the best group of people to stop the death and suffering?  If a company destroyed one of our coasts, lets pick BP at random, we would not bring them back to develop a plan for cleaning all of our beaches and solving all the ills of coastal life.

Given the same (not all-together ill-founded) logic, if a group of people destroyed the systems of sustainable living of another group and replaced it with systems that left them structurally poor and more vulnerable to natural disaster and famine, would you really want them trying to solve all your problems?

We have to resist the urge to say, "but those people aren't me!"  We come from the same frame of thought that gives us the ridiculous entitlement to think it is our job to go save people and fix things.  You may mean well but so did a lot of people in the past and look where that got us.

My point however, is not that we white folks (and we first world folks) can't do anything.  It's that we have to be very critical of our urge to want to solve everything right away and that we ourselves know how.  This has been written about a million times already, but let me reiterate the point here briefly.  We cannot be the leaders (or the string pullers) of a movement for real change in communities that are not our own.  We come from a long line of well-intentioned, entitled people who really messed shit up and it would be arrogant of ourselves to think we're any different.  We do not know the pain or the joyful fullness of peoples' lives that are not our own.  We do not know their wants and needs.  We can help.  We have access to people and resources they may not have access to.  But we cannot frame the movement or determine its demands.  We need to step back and listen.  And we need to stop exclaiming that people are dying.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Private Property is Theft.

            The issues of stolen land and private property implicate us all. The history and laws surrounding land interweaves connections between us and it. Our personal and communal histories are etched onto the land. And it carries our spiritual scars while simultaneously healing and nurturing people, animals, and plants. Written into its text is a history of colonial ruin and agriculture, past hopes and dead bodies. The land carries all the secrets we give it, those ones we cannot tell another being. Land bears the injustice of being owned and turned into a commodity. The earth might be trying to accommodate a place for all of us, but on this land you must make an increasing amount of money to afford a home. Land connects us to one another and to our ancestors, while simultaneously telling stories about capitalism, environmentalism, and homelessness.
            Land is especially important to indigenous people, though this has been largely hidden behind other issues. That the United States is predicated on stolen land is a common refrain, though nothing has been done to rectify it. Instead, the focus is on alcoholism, environmentalism, well-being, poverty, or language loss. In other words, the issue is anything but land while it is issues of land that connect to many of the present issues indigenous people face.
            Native people are the inheritors of this land, we are the ones who come from it, who have undertaken the care for it. A give and take - the land cares for us and we care for the land. Indigenous care for the land is both spiritual and ecological, they're one and the same. The land gives us food, provides us with shelter. We gain spiritual, mental, and bodily sustenance from the land. Unfortunately, when indigenous people are not allowed sovereignty over lands we deem sacred, then we cannot care for the land nor can we (or anyone else) receive proper care from the land. We are dying and you are dying; because its not just indigenous people who gain sustenance from the land, its everyone and everything.

These three paragraphs are just the beginning of a longer piece. To be continued . . . .