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The Birth

September 22, 2009 1 comment

Note: This is the second installment of an ongoing series of pieces. If you haven’t already, please begin with Part I – The Climb.


Part II – The Birth

TheBirthI begin to think of the incredible sequence of events that brought me to this very precarious point in time and space. I remember getting off the phone with Kate, a tall and freckled beauty with closely shaven copper-red hair and a long, slender, graceful body that belied her clumsy mannerisms. A newly un-closeted (and highly enthusiastic) lesbian, she was one of my very closest friends, and I had the terrible misfortune of being completely and hopelessly in love with her.

Exhilarated by our decision to abandon all we had known and move somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere we had never been. When I got off the phone with Kate, I was anxious to immediately call someone else and share my excitement.  So I called my roommate Allison, a bulimic chef who I happened to be living with at the time in Boston—which itself was ridiculous, since she lived in the room directly next to mine and I could have just walked over or yelled through the wall if I wanted. But I called her anyway, and I told her everything. I told her how we made a drastic life decision to leave school, to do something new. We didn’t know what, and we didn’t know where—but it would really be something, and we were going to do it together! I told her all this, and she expressed her happiness, how wonderful this would be for us, how much we will grow because of this, how….

She suddenly interrupted herself.

“Oh my God! Corey! Come over here, right now!!!”

I had no idea what was going on. I put down the phone and walked to her room. She had this enormously goofy grin, pointing into her closet. “Look!” I peered my head in, and watched to my absolute astonishment as Brandy, the house cat, was giving birth to a litter of kittens.

I felt as though lightning bolts were surging through my fingertips, as though every atom, every molecule, every cell, every bone, organ, and tissue were singing in unison—the music of my organism melting into the music of the universe.

I freaked out; I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to boil water or something? And what the hell would I do with it anyway?! I was clearly out of my element. I ran back into my room to call my mother to ask her what I should do. Before I did, I called Kate.

“Hello?”

“Um, hi Kate. I know that we just talked but there’s something I really think you should know…”

“Huh? What’s going on?”

“Well, you know how like just a couple minutes ago we made this huge life decision to pick up and leave?”

“Um, well, yeah of course.”

“To go someplace new….”

“Yeah…?”

“To start fresh….”

“Corey what’s going on?”

“Well, um, I went to tell Allison, and, uh, my cat is giving birth right now.”

Ten endless seconds of silence.

“Oh my fucking God,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“New life!”

“Yeah. Well, you can interpret this however you want, I just thought you should know…”

In the end, Kate did not end up coming with me. She broke my heart. But Aphex, one of the kittens born that precise moment, did.

Categories: Personal Tags:

The Climb

September 22, 2009 1 comment

Note: This piece was originally written almost ten years ago.  Though my voice, my style, and my realization were still fairly immature (compared with the ever-so slightly less immature voice, style, and realization i now possess), this piece is a celebration of one of the most sacred experiences of my life, and wanted to share with you all.

The full piece is rather long, so i have decided to serialize it into six consecutive installments, which will be published here throughout the week.


Part I – The Climb

“One day I will leave this world and dream myself to Reality…” Crazy Horse, 1874

We are surrounded.  On all sides, a horde of mechanical dinosaurs roar their thunderous roars, ricocheting chaotically off the rubble. The stone wall of the mountain reflects the noise in all directions, flooding our ears with liquid concrete, entombing us in sonic opacity. It is a symphony of white noise that shifts and undulates with each movement of the head. There is no way of telling where the industrial growl is coming from; it sounds like they are everywhere. As our paranoia approaches a boil, so does the intensity of our aspiration—we had come this far; there is no turning back now.

Where am I? I am somewhere in between dreams, surfing the turning page in between chapters. What am I doing? I am fleeing a former me, reaching for a deeper I, struggling to create myself anew, molding my self into something meaningful, something real. In a flash I had seen my own Face, and I yearned to chisel out some vague likeness within myself.

We can’t tell how many of them there are. We can’t tell where they are. We know there is one on the far right base of the mountain, behind a small crop of trees about a thousand feet away, its eyes shifting back and forth against the black of night. So far we’ve climbed on the far side of the rubble heap, safely hidden from view of the mechanical monster on the other side.

I am equal parts exhausted and exhilarated, my breath struggling to keep pace with my heart.  The climb is pretty intense at first, the lower rubble composed mostly of tremendous boulders, some the size of Volkswagen busses, from the earlier and more dramatic days of blasting. These we climb with our entire bodies, searching strategically for stable routes up and through the massive monoliths. The debris becomes finer as we ascended, since the later blasts were much more calculated and refined than the earlier ones. Eventually we reach such an incline that our steps are triggering avalanches of detritus beneath our soles. We are getting pretty high, having climbed the nearly two hundred foot tall pile of rubble that encircles the base of the mountain. But it is as far as we can go. We have been able to conceal ourselves so far, but now we need to scale the far right side of the monument. We have come to the point where the rubble reaches its highest slope and begins to curve around the mountain, leaving us exposed to the only metal beast we know for sure was there, awash in its guttural growl. We have no choice but run, and pray we can somehow traverse the mountain without being detected.

I slowly peer over the ridge of stone and dirt, observing with cautious eyes the movement of the massive Caterpillar. Its path seems predictable, moving back and forth like a video game sentry, taking about forty-five seconds for each trip. We study the situation for about five minutes, assuring the regularity of its motion, and quickly determine our strategy. We would watch it come toward us until it was just about to turn around, and then we would just run for it, as fast as our legs would take us.

This is absurd. None of us know if we will be able to make it before the beast turns back around again. Absurd, yes, but it is about all we can do. So we go with it.

The time had come. The machine makes its turn and is now coming toward us. We brace ourselves, watching the white lights approach behind the trees, until it is about to make another turn.

“Okay,” I say over the ubiquitous rumble of industrial machinery. “This is it—get ready! Five, four, three, two…”

At some decimal point between 2 and 1, the world stops. The air, indescribably thick and heavy with the invisible mass of the bulldozer’s sonic aura, suddenly vanishes. There is now only a sudden stillness, an impossibly massive silence laced with sounds of wind ripping across the mountain face. The engine had suddenly cut off, leaving only the howling emptiness of the South Dakota night. We are paralyzed, petrified with anticipation.

We don’t know what is happening. We don’t know whether the guy had seen us and is coming after us, or if he’s just taking a break to piss. We have no clue whatsoever what’s going on. There is only stillness, paranoia, and panic. In my head I run through a multitude of scenarios, realizing the three of us may have to split up and run off in different directions if indeed they are on their way up to get us.

The air is crisp and clean, once opaque with a barrage of white noise, now massively vacant. The wind carries the subtlest of sounds—we can hear the leaves swaying hundreds of yards away, the footsteps of the bulldozer operator as he dismounts his machine, the pounding of our own hearts. We know that if we can hear him he can certainly hear us, and so we remain as still as we can. My leg begins to fall asleep, but I am far too scared of being heard to shift it. The slightest twitch would send a stone tumbling down the slope, knocking five more loose as it went. I wonder how I would be able to run on a dead leg if we hear someone climbing the rubble trying to come after us. All we can do is wait patiently in these extremely awkward positions, biting through the burning discomfort of our limbs; just waiting to see what happens.

Continue to Part II: The Birth

Categories: Personal Tags:

Race, Privilege, and Color-Blindness: A White Boy's Perspective

August 8, 2009 18 comments

Responding to a previous post titled “Deconstructing Niggy: A Brief Exploration of Race and Hip Hop,” a friend asked me: “Why do you like to discuss race?  I’m curious about that more so than the race issues themselves—what’s your own background anyway?”

Here is my response.  Before you read it, you should know that i hereby acknowledge that a) i am white, b) i have been white my entire life, and c) i still carry a LOT of naivete around the subject of racism and oppression. That said, i think there are obviously a tremendous amount of cultural taboos that continue to cloud this subject, and i have always been a fan of trying to look at those spaces between us where most spend a lavish amount of time and energy trying not to see. I have largely grown up in the cultural vacuum of identity politics, in which you are not allowed to say anything about anyone else’s experience, culturally or personally, other than your own—and so i feel like i am sitting on the end of a particularly wobbly branch, completely unsure if the winds will knock me off.  But i guess this is an effort to cut through my own fear of personal expression, and probe a bit deeper into the sensitive wounds that continue to exist beneath our cultural scabs.

Why do i like to discuss race—that is a really difficult question to answer!  A quick response might be to say that i think part of it has to do with my relationship with music and trying to take a “trans-genre” approach to djing.  Music has long been a sort of window into other cultures, perspectives, and ways of being for me.  And as i see it, the “conscious dj” has an enormous amount of responsibility when it comes to not just playing music that sounds good and has a catchy beat, but having a very real, in-depth understanding of the artists and cultures s/he is representing.

Being a good dj is sort of like being a cultural archivist (for good examples, check out Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, among many others). DJ’s are usually looked to for their cultural expertise, as they are typically the ones who are most passionate about music and music culture, and therefore the most knowledgeable. They tend to represent some form of “lower-left quadrant” mastery, and are looked to for this expertise, in much the same way that listeners form kinships with certain music reviewers who are trusted for their meta-perspectives on cultural trends and innovations. In this sense, dj’s are rather like the “Mavens” described in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, acting as trusted cultural experts to help expose people to artists they would never have been exposed to by the mainstream industry-controlled channels—and in order to live up to that responsibility, he or she needs to be exposed to as many different subcultures as possible.  And once you start stepping into subcultures other than your own, you inevitably bump into the often tricky business of race and racism.

For example, i find it fascinating that, in hip hop culture, just about any race can find acceptance as a dj, but it is very very difficult to gain the same level of recognition and acceptance as an mc if you are not black. I think much of this has to do with economic advantage—turntables, mixers, and crates of records are expensive, and it’s no secret that black communities have historically remained on the shit end of the socio-economic stick.  (In fact, hip hop as an artform exploded throughout New York City following a massive two-day blackout in 1977, during which the looting of music stores by impoverished blacks brought new technology to poor neighborhoods and ghettos for the first time ever.)  Because technology is so expensive, yet everyone is born with a voice, it is much easier for the art of rapping to remain anchored in ethnocentric thinking—making it more difficult for non-black mc’s to be accepted by the hip hop community.

So there’s one example of my interest in race and racism, from an artistic perspective.

On a personal level, i guess it comes down to becoming increasingly aware of my own “white privilege”—which is why i find the question fascinating: “Have you had any experiences which forced you to deeply acknowledge, confront, or even simply feel your skin color?”  My guess is that, for most white Americans (at least those who have not traveled beyond the borders of the U.S.) the honest answer would be “never.”  Which is a bit of a luxury, you know what i mean?  Most minorities are made to feel the color of their skin on a daily basis, from subtle cultural biases to flagrant racial profiling.

This is why when people ask me why i moved from Boulder to Denver, i often half-jokingly respond “too many white people.”  Or, if i’m feeling a little more socially lubricated, “too many self-assured white people who think they are above racism, without ever having to interact with people who don’t look like them.” I can be an elitist asshole when i am socially lubricated.

I remember the first time i ever felt the color of my skin.  I was in 9th grade, and though i came from a pretty racist family, my mother and stepfather were very careful to keep me away from such toxic values.  As a result, i was raised to be “color-blind” to questions of race.  It was all very naive, as i was largely unconscious of the struggles minorites were experiencing every day.  I think there is a sort of expectancy for post-amber whites to become “color-blind” to racial differences—especially in the zeitgeist of postmodernism.  But i think that such “color-blindness” is a sort of covert racism—after all, the only people who can afford to be “color-blind” are the ones who never have to even think about the color of their skin.  The ones who aren’t forced to confront their own identity on a daily basis in the same way that minorities are.  “Color-blindness” is just another perk of white privilege, along with mortgages, small classroom sizes, and free access to the country club pool.

Then, the Rodney King trial went down.  Four white cops beat a black man within an inch of his life, with no reasonable threat made to them.  Although a bystander recorded the entire incident, the four white cops were found innocent, the entire city of Los Angeles exploded in mass riots, while many other parts of the country trembled in the aftermath. It was as though decades of repressed anger and rage had exploded through the whole nation, and people were finally given license to say something about it.

A few days after the riots began i was sent to the vice-principal’s office.  I was late to school that day. Clumsy and awkward, i walked across a row of seated students and accidentally stepped on some black kid’s foot. (Again, my identity politics made me hesitate to say “on some black kid’s foot,” because the phrase “some black kid” may sound condescending or lead the reader to believe that skin color is my primary way of relating to him as a human being, and that all my culturally-inherited fears and half-truths around the word “black” color my perception of “black people” in general—thereby making me only able to see their blackness, instead of their full humanness.  But as it turns out, his skin color is about the only thing i knew about him as a human being, other than the fact that he definitely had a foot, and that i had indeed stepped upon that foot. But i couldn’t very well describe him as “some footed kid’s foot;” that’s just redundant.)

Anyway, i accidentally stepped on his foot, and was promptly reminded that i was, in fact, a stupid motherfucker. As if i didn’t already know. I stammered a nervous apology and took my seat at the end of the row.

After detention at the end of the school day, i was walking alone down the sunlit hallway connecting the cafeteria to the classrooms when i saw the kid whose shoe i had earlier accidentally stepped on.  He was with about a half dozen of his friends, all human beings who happened to be black.  He pointed me out, and they all ran at me.

There was a very funny episode of the animated series Boondocks in which one of the characters said: “I’ve said it before, expensive sneakers are like $150 land mines. Step on one and BOOM! A perfectly rational black man can explode.” This whole thing kind of reminds me of that.  (I should mention that i edited out of the quote the part that referred to these shoe-related explosions as an example of “nigger moments,” because that is an identity politic i am particularly sensitive about as a white person, and personally think that is a cultural taboo that whites should continue to respect.  But i included it in this parenthetical because i am edgy like that.)

Next thing i knew, the dude i stepped on punched me in the jaw, and i dropped to the floor like a sack of meat, whereupon they all proceeded to kick the living shit out of me—in the ribs, in the back, and in the head.  Fortunately, just a minute or two into my beating, Taharka—another melanin-abundant guy and the only name i remember from the entire incident—pulled them all off me, and brought me to the nurse’s office.

It was horrifying.  I was just a bit bruised up, no real damage at all, but i was so shocked and confused—i was fourteen years old, i had never hurt anyone, i was just a shy and socially awkward white kid trying to keep his head down and avoid being noticed by anyone.  But on that day, i stood out—i was the enemy, and for a moment was offered a circus-mirror glimpse of how minorities must feel almost every day: singled out for no other reason than the color of my skin.

I cried when my dad came to the school to pick me up.  It was one of the most important days of my life.

***

I believe that the civil rights movement is not over, but is a struggle that must be fought every single day.  By everyone.  It’s not enough for blacks, or asians, or latinos, or any ethnic group to fight the battle alone, which i think has largely been the case since the late sixties/early seventies.  Meanwhile many young whites take the revolutions of the sixties for granted, as if it were our parent’s struggle, and not our own.  As a result, much of the progress from that era is taken completely for granted—and i have the sense that many whites believe that the major victories have already been won, and silently wonder why non-whites aren’t somehow “over it” by now, especially in Obama’s America.

But the civil rights movement is barely half a century old—a tiny sliver of human history—and though the seeds have already been planted and are even now taking root deep in our collective psyche, the fruit of a genuinely post-racial America will only be tasted by unborn generations.

Whites can no longer lean upon the accomplishments of our parents and grandparents as justification for no longer thinking critically about the subject.  In much the same way that a healthy feminism can only flourish alongside a healthy masculism, i believe that questions of race and racism must be as much of a struggle for whites as it is for anyone else.  If civil rights are to continue to flourish in the future, whites need to be just as invested in the discussion as anyone else.  And i just don’t see that happening within mainstream white culture.

And since the Integral movement is currently composed mostly of male white perspectives, it is very important to me personally to emphasize these sorts of civil responsibilities to everyone in the community—especially since Integral consciousness is vastly more capable of understanding and addressing the roots of racial injustice.

Many of us have learned to be accountable to our upper quadrants in relation to race and racism—cultivating certain sense of “Right Thoughts” and “Right Behaviors,” to use Buddhist terms.  But the lower-quadrants—the invisible bedrock of racial biases, socio-economic imbalances, and historical circumstance—has remained fairly untouched in recent decades, especially in white cultures.  Much of this, i believe, stems from the vigorously-enforced identity politics found in academia, which ironically prevents any real perspective-taking from occurring.  I could feel this sort of unseen tension as i was writing this piece—as i pointed out, even using the words “black man” feels like i am betraying the politically-correct superego i was indoctrinated with, as though it were inappropriate to ever use one’s racial heritage as a descriptive qualifier.  But it is exactly this sort of sterilized relationship with language that prevents any genuine conversations around race to move forward in a constructive and meaningful way.

That said, i do think identity politics has it’s place.  As i said, i think it is extremely inappropriate for whites to use the “n-word.”  It will likely take many generations before that radioactive word is able to cool down enough for whites to be able to use it casually and in good taste.  If black communities wish to transmute for themselves the tremendous pain and gravity that word continues to carry (as Saul Williams attempts to do with The Rise and Inevitable Liberation of Niggy Tardust) that is obviously acceptable and their own right to do so.  We can clearly argue that slavery in general is NOT a white vs. black issue, but a developmental issue of both values and technological capacity—but until some of the cultural scars around that word have begun to heal, it should be voluntarily relinquished from the vocabularies of those directly descending from people who have used it as a euphemism for the enslavement and dehumanization of an entire people.

That said, any of you can totally feel free to call me a cracka.  It’s open season for crackas everywhere.  Cracka with an “a” that is—don’t you dare try calling me a “cracker.”  That one is ours.

Related:

Deconstructing Niggy: A Brief Exploration of Race and Hip Hop
Race, Stereotyping, and Socially-Constructed Knowledge by Sean Yang (KenWilber.com)
Beyond Race and Racism with Mark Palmer and Ken Wilber (Integral Naked)

Categories: Personal, Social Justice Tags:

Race, Privilege, and Color-Blindness: A White Boy’s Perspective

August 8, 2009 18 comments

Responding to a previous post titled “Deconstructing Niggy: A Brief Exploration of Race and Hip Hop,” a friend asked me: “Why do you like to discuss race?  I’m curious about that more so than the race issues themselves—what’s your own background anyway?”

Here is my response.  Before you read it, you should know that i hereby acknowledge that a) i am white, b) i have been white my entire life, and c) i still carry a LOT of naivete around the subject of racism and oppression. That said, i think there are obviously a tremendous amount of cultural taboos that continue to cloud this subject, and i have always been a fan of trying to look at those spaces between us where most spend a lavish amount of time and energy trying not to see. I have largely grown up in the cultural vacuum of identity politics, in which you are not allowed to say anything about anyone else’s experience, culturally or personally, other than your own—and so i feel like i am sitting on the end of a particularly wobbly branch, completely unsure if the winds will knock me off.  But i guess this is an effort to cut through my own fear of personal expression, and probe a bit deeper into the sensitive wounds that continue to exist beneath our cultural scabs.

Why do i like to discuss race—that is a really difficult question to answer!  A quick response might be to say that i think part of it has to do with my relationship with music and trying to take a “trans-genre” approach to djing.  Music has long been a sort of window into other cultures, perspectives, and ways of being for me.  And as i see it, the “conscious dj” has an enormous amount of responsibility when it comes to not just playing music that sounds good and has a catchy beat, but having a very real, in-depth understanding of the artists and cultures s/he is representing.

Being a good dj is sort of like being a cultural archivist (for good examples, check out Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, among many others). DJ’s are usually looked to for their cultural expertise, as they are typically the ones who are most passionate about music and music culture, and therefore the most knowledgeable. They tend to represent some form of “lower-left quadrant” mastery, and are looked to for this expertise, in much the same way that listeners form kinships with certain music reviewers who are trusted for their meta-perspectives on cultural trends and innovations. In this sense, dj’s are rather like the “Mavens” described in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, acting as trusted cultural experts to help expose people to artists they would never have been exposed to by the mainstream industry-controlled channels—and in order to live up to that responsibility, he or she needs to be exposed to as many different subcultures as possible.  And once you start stepping into subcultures other than your own, you inevitably bump into the often tricky business of race and racism.

For example, i find it fascinating that, in hip hop culture, just about any race can find acceptance as a dj, but it is very very difficult to gain the same level of recognition and acceptance as an mc if you are not black. I think much of this has to do with economic advantage—turntables, mixers, and crates of records are expensive, and it’s no secret that black communities have historically remained on the shit end of the socio-economic stick.  (In fact, hip hop as an artform exploded throughout New York City following a massive two-day blackout in 1977, during which the looting of music stores by impoverished blacks brought new technology to poor neighborhoods and ghettos for the first time ever.)  Because technology is so expensive, yet everyone is born with a voice, it is much easier for the art of rapping to remain anchored in ethnocentric thinking—making it more difficult for non-black mc’s to be accepted by the hip hop community.

So there’s one example of my interest in race and racism, from an artistic perspective.

On a personal level, i guess it comes down to becoming increasingly aware of my own “white privilege”—which is why i find the question fascinating: “Have you had any experiences which forced you to deeply acknowledge, confront, or even simply feel your skin color?”  My guess is that, for most white Americans (at least those who have not traveled beyond the borders of the U.S.) the honest answer would be “never.”  Which is a bit of a luxury, you know what i mean?  Most minorities are made to feel the color of their skin on a daily basis, from subtle cultural biases to flagrant racial profiling.

This is why when people ask me why i moved from Boulder to Denver, i often half-jokingly respond “too many white people.”  Or, if i’m feeling a little more socially lubricated, “too many self-assured white people who think they are above racism, without ever having to interact with people who don’t look like them.” I can be an elitist asshole when i am socially lubricated.

I remember the first time i ever felt the color of my skin.  I was in 9th grade, and though i came from a pretty racist family, my mother and stepfather were very careful to keep me away from such toxic values.  As a result, i was raised to be “color-blind” to questions of race.  It was all very naive, as i was largely unconscious of the struggles minorites were experiencing every day.  I think there is a sort of expectancy for post-amber whites to become “color-blind” to racial differences—especially in the zeitgeist of postmodernism.  But i think that such “color-blindness” is a sort of covert racism—after all, the only people who can afford to be “color-blind” are the ones who never have to even think about the color of their skin.  The ones who aren’t forced to confront their own identity on a daily basis in the same way that minorities are.  “Color-blindness” is just another perk of white privilege, along with mortgages, small classroom sizes, and free access to the country club pool.

Then, the Rodney King trial went down.  Four white cops beat a black man within an inch of his life, with no reasonable threat made to them.  Although a bystander recorded the entire incident, the four white cops were found innocent, the entire city of Los Angeles exploded in mass riots, while many other parts of the country trembled in the aftermath. It was as though decades of repressed anger and rage had exploded through the whole nation, and people were finally given license to say something about it.

A few days after the riots began i was sent to the vice-principal’s office.  I was late to school that day. Clumsy and awkward, i walked across a row of seated students and accidentally stepped on some black kid’s foot. (Again, my identity politics made me hesitate to say “on some black kid’s foot,” because the phrase “some black kid” may sound condescending or lead the reader to believe that skin color is my primary way of relating to him as a human being, and that all my culturally-inherited fears and half-truths around the word “black” color my perception of “black people” in general—thereby making me only able to see their blackness, instead of their full humanness.  But as it turns out, his skin color is about the only thing i knew about him as a human being, other than the fact that he definitely had a foot, and that i had indeed stepped upon that foot. But i couldn’t very well describe him as “some footed kid’s foot;” that’s just redundant.)

Anyway, i accidentally stepped on his foot, and was promptly reminded that i was, in fact, a stupid motherfucker. As if i didn’t already know. I stammered a nervous apology and took my seat at the end of the row.

After detention at the end of the school day, i was walking alone down the sunlit hallway connecting the cafeteria to the classrooms when i saw the kid whose shoe i had earlier accidentally stepped on.  He was with about a half dozen of his friends, all human beings who happened to be black.  He pointed me out, and they all ran at me.

There was a very funny episode of the animated series Boondocks in which one of the characters said: “I’ve said it before, expensive sneakers are like $150 land mines. Step on one and BOOM! A perfectly rational black man can explode.” This whole thing kind of reminds me of that.  (I should mention that i edited out of the quote the part that referred to these shoe-related explosions as an example of “nigger moments,” because that is an identity politic i am particularly sensitive about as a white person, and personally think that is a cultural taboo that whites should continue to respect.  But i included it in this parenthetical because i am edgy like that.)

Next thing i knew, the dude i stepped on punched me in the jaw, and i dropped to the floor like a sack of meat, whereupon they all proceeded to kick the living shit out of me—in the ribs, in the back, and in the head.  Fortunately, just a minute or two into my beating, Taharka—another melanin-abundant guy and the only name i remember from the entire incident—pulled them all off me, and brought me to the nurse’s office.

It was horrifying.  I was just a bit bruised up, no real damage at all, but i was so shocked and confused—i was fourteen years old, i had never hurt anyone, i was just a shy and socially awkward white kid trying to keep his head down and avoid being noticed by anyone.  But on that day, i stood out—i was the enemy, and for a moment was offered a circus-mirror glimpse of how minorities must feel almost every day: singled out for no other reason than the color of my skin.

I cried when my dad came to the school to pick me up.  It was one of the most important days of my life.

***

I believe that the civil rights movement is not over, but is a struggle that must be fought every single day.  By everyone.  It’s not enough for blacks, or asians, or latinos, or any ethnic group to fight the battle alone, which i think has largely been the case since the late sixties/early seventies.  Meanwhile many young whites take the revolutions of the sixties for granted, as if it were our parent’s struggle, and not our own.  As a result, much of the progress from that era is taken completely for granted—and i have the sense that many whites believe that the major victories have already been won, and silently wonder why non-whites aren’t somehow “over it” by now, especially in Obama’s America.

But the civil rights movement is barely half a century old—a tiny sliver of human history—and though the seeds have already been planted and are even now taking root deep in our collective psyche, the fruit of a genuinely post-racial America will only be tasted by unborn generations.

Whites can no longer lean upon the accomplishments of our parents and grandparents as justification for no longer thinking critically about the subject.  In much the same way that a healthy feminism can only flourish alongside a healthy masculism, i believe that questions of race and racism must be as much of a struggle for whites as it is for anyone else.  If civil rights are to continue to flourish in the future, whites need to be just as invested in the discussion as anyone else.  And i just don’t see that happening within mainstream white culture.

And since the Integral movement is currently composed mostly of male white perspectives, it is very important to me personally to emphasize these sorts of civil responsibilities to everyone in the community—especially since Integral consciousness is vastly more capable of understanding and addressing the roots of racial injustice.

Many of us have learned to be accountable to our upper quadrants in relation to race and racism—cultivating certain sense of “Right Thoughts” and “Right Behaviors,” to use Buddhist terms.  But the lower-quadrants—the invisible bedrock of racial biases, socio-economic imbalances, and historical circumstance—has remained fairly untouched in recent decades, especially in white cultures.  Much of this, i believe, stems from the vigorously-enforced identity politics found in academia, which ironically prevents any real perspective-taking from occurring.  I could feel this sort of unseen tension as i was writing this piece—as i pointed out, even using the words “black man” feels like i am betraying the politically-correct superego i was indoctrinated with, as though it were inappropriate to ever use one’s racial heritage as a descriptive qualifier.  But it is exactly this sort of sterilized relationship with language that prevents any genuine conversations around race to move forward in a constructive and meaningful way.

That said, i do think identity politics has it’s place.  As i said, i think it is extremely inappropriate for whites to use the “n-word.”  It will likely take many generations before that radioactive word is able to cool down enough for whites to be able to use it casually and in good taste.  If black communities wish to transmute for themselves the tremendous pain and gravity that word continues to carry (as Saul Williams attempts to do with The Rise and Inevitable Liberation of Niggy Tardust) that is obviously acceptable and their own right to do so.  We can clearly argue that slavery in general is NOT a white vs. black issue, but a developmental issue of both values and technological capacity—but until some of the cultural scars around that word have begun to heal, it should be voluntarily relinquished from the vocabularies of those directly descending from people who have used it as a euphemism for the enslavement and dehumanization of an entire people.

That said, any of you can totally feel free to call me a cracka.  It’s open season for crackas everywhere.  Cracka with an “a” that is—don’t you dare try calling me a “cracker.”  That one is ours.

Related:

Deconstructing Niggy: A Brief Exploration of Race and Hip Hop
Race, Stereotyping, and Socially-Constructed Knowledge by Sean Yang (KenWilber.com)
Beyond Race and Racism with Mark Palmer and Ken Wilber (Integral Naked)

Categories: Personal, Social Justice Tags:

Spiritual Scam, or Spiritual Span? A Personal Reaction to Brad Warner

July 24, 2009 15 comments

Yesterday Brad Warner posted a fairly scathing critique of Integral Life on his blog, Hardcore Zen, in which he lampoons some of the marketing copy we currently have on http://www.myilp.com, which is an advertisement for the still-thriving Integral Life Practice Kit. The title of his blog was The Funniest “Spiritual” Scam on the Internet, and what follows here is my own personal reaction to his comments. It should be noted that i am in no way looking for a debate, i am simply using my blog as a platform to express my own personal reaction, speaking as someone on “the inside” of Integral Life.

Okay: first let me get this out of the way.  Myilp.com is definitely not the funniest spiritual scam on the internet. This is: Help me help you help me ^_^

Now that i’ve made that clear, let me begin by pointing out where i actually agree with Brad’s critique, setting aside his snarky/smarmy tone and petty name-calling. I actually agree that the language on myilp.com is not the best overall representation for the ILP kit, which truly is an extraordinary long-term transformation technology when properly applied.  But we aren’t really talking about the integrity of the kit, we are talking about the integrity of the marketing pitch wrapped around it. And truth be told, i honestly don’t like marketing tactics like this representing our more significant products and services.

I think that our public-facing marketing should appeal to our “core audience,” using language that is more appealing to self-identifying “integralites.” We might call this a “2:2 marketing strategy” (second-tier to second-tier, to use familiar terminology that i’ve never really been a fan of in the first place.)  The language we see on myilp.com, meanwhile, is more an example of a “2:1 marketing strategy” (second-tier to first-tier) that tries to expose new markets to new ideas—opening the Integral vision and methodology to people who have never heard of Ken Wilber, or who may only have a cursory understanding of someone like Tolle’s work, or who might even know Tolle’s work inside and out but are looking for something a little deeper and more intellectually engaging.

Language like this absolutely has its place—specifically, it generates higher open and click-through rates in mailers, especially when targeted to specific demographics, just as it has for us in the past. And anyone who has ever worked for any sort of online company knows how important that is. Copy like this isn’t as good, as beautiful, or as true as we might like to idealize. Shit, some of us find it altogether distasteful. Others think it smells like a meth-addled prostitute in a moldy Motel 6. But the simple empirical fact remains—it works.

This is an important point—it works, and it works both ways. Not only does it bring in more revenue, and therefore more oxygen for Integral Life and the Integral movement at large, but it actually brings the dharma to more people, exposing new ideas and new practices and new ways of realizing the “Power of Now” to groups of people who would likely never respond to more high-minded “Naropa-friendly” language. Language like what is currently on myilp.com might not appeal to some (it doesn’t appeal to me) but i can assure you, it does appeal to countless others who read the email and find themselves interested enough to purchase the kit—and i would like to think that their lives are now just a little bit freer and fuller than they were before.  Tactics like these can often have the fascinating side effect of bringing more depth to more span, which as far as i understand it, is one of our core principles at Integral Life.

This is the idea of “values-based marketing”—wrapping your products and services in several different layers of language, each intended for a particular way of seeing and relating to the world. While i agree that we are currently seeing just a single layer represented on myilp.com and not the whole onion as we might like, i also insist that this layer is an extremely important one—perhaps even the most important one in terms of the long-term health of Integral Life.*

Yeah, we’re selling water by the river. But it is being carefully purified and filtered, so that you don’t get sick. And as you probably already know, most people walk by the river every single day without ever noticing the water—until one hot summer day when someone offers them a bottle for a couple bucks.

* Indulge me while i kick a straw man around for a minute. I get really frustrated when people complain about us (or anyone) having to charge money to sell membership, products, events, etc. It is as if many do not bother to consider such pragmatic realities as how many resources it takes to create and maintain something like the ILP Kit, or any like these. Or fact that it’s often vital for companies (especially small start-up companies like us) to offer some sort of high-end product to offset the small profits on the low end. It reminds me of those who believe that all information (and even access to it) should be completely free—or that all spirituality (and access to it) should be completely free—while forgetting how expensive the infrastructure that brings it to you actually is. If we are truly looking to create a platform for spirituality in the 21st century, it is absolutely crucial that we properly integrate the techno-economic realities of our time.

On a personal level, i am essentially dedicating my career to serving people who are way more intelligent and realized than myself, and carrying their visions to as many people as possible (hopefully making my own unique contributions along the way)—and i would really like to think i can find some sort of “right livelihood” doing so. And while i might not be particularly fond of the sort of advertising tactics found on myilp.com (you may have noticed me satirizing it in my previous blog post), i must say that i am grateful beyond words for its existence and its effectiveness, for it has gone a long way to help me carve out a living (meager as it may be) in what remains a very small (but slowly expanding) niche market.

My personal level appears to be cluttered with parentheses today.

Categories: Personal Tags: ,