A Benediction for the End of 2015

I was recently invited to read at the second Grief Rites reading, for the Holiday Edition. As you may know, my father died on Thanksgiving when I was eight years old; I had originally planned to write a new poem about him to read there. But, as happens sometimes, it really wasn’t coming together. Instead, I read a selection of poems written around the holidays last year, and two new pieces written this holiday season. (You can read two of them online, one here and the other here.)

All of the poems I read explicitly address how I feel as a Black person living in America, a country — as I say in my poem “Colonize(d)” — “that would rather see me / shot in the face.” Of the poems I read, one memorializes the 16th St Baptist Church bombing, one memorializes the murder of Michael Brown, and the remaining three deal with the stress of protesting and racial justice work, and the pain of justice denied. They are heavy pieces, and I hesitated to read them.

Some readings, I leave the most radical or race-specific poems out if I am unsure of the crowd, because I have anxiety and chronic pain; baring my soul is hard enough without someone trying to argue with me, a depressingly common occurrence. This time, I read without censoring myself.

During the break, a white woman I’d never met came up to me. She began by telling me what I read really resonated with her, BUT… As it turns out, she was raised in Alabama, and the Alabama of my poem doesn’t exist any more. She insisted that everyone knew better now, that when she was growing up, no one would have done something so awful. She told me that her parents taught her that skin color doesn’t matter, that so long as a person was willing to work hard they would succeed. I pointed out the high rates of police violence against Black people, and she talked around that, reiterating that Alabama wasn’t like that any more, and then tried to say that as women, she and I face the same barriers in corporate America. I cited the racialized gender wage gap, and she said “Not in Dallas.”

She left to visit the bathroom, and then returned to assert that we shouldn’t focus on race, and that we just need to work hard; if we just work hard, we can succeed. She commended me on being strong, utterly missing the point of my poem, “Too Strong,” which is that having to bear up under the pressure of violence and discrimination is exhausting and demoralizing. When she finally went back to the bar, I hid in the bathroom for 10 minutes trying not to have a panic attack, and missed two of the other readers.

While this woman was doing her utmost to convince me I was wrong about the existence of racism, a wonderful friend of mine tried repeatedly to interrupt her, to get her to consider that I might not be open to this conversation, or that it might be painful to me. By the end of the night, I was so tense and overstimulated that I suffered severe migraine symptoms and passed out for 15 hours. When I woke up, I discovered that my contributor copies of Minerva Rising‘s latest issue, Sparrow’s Trill: Writers respond to the Charleston Shooting had arrived in the mail. Two of my poems are included in this special edition: “Placeholder for Home” and “My Black.”

Holding a copy in my hands, I feel so many feelings. This is the first time my poetry has been published outside my own press in half a dozen years, and it makes me feel validated. It reminds me that rejections are a part of the process, that my work can find a home. It reminds me that others are feeling what I’m feeling, struggling as I am struggling. It reminds me that even those who are not feeling what I am can empathize. It reminds me why I struggle. It reminds me why I sometimes feel burnt out.

When I finished work on After Ferguson, In Solidarity, one of our contributors asked me if we would do another anthology for Charleston. I said no; it took 9 months to get AFIS out, and I honestly needed a bit of a break. I started my press in order to put out AFIS, but I hadn’t reckoned with how hard it would be: soliciting submissions from folks, picking which pieces to include, chasing contributors down to get contracts signed, creating a coherent flow, getting the cover art done, fundraising, and more. I learned a lot, most of it the hard way, and I don’t regret it, but I’m also glad I didn’t try to do it again right away. Since I didn’t, I’m glad that Minerva Rising created this special issue, and I’m proud to be included in it.

I want to thank everyone who expressed to me at the Grief Rites reading that they appreciated my work. I hold onto that when I feel the urge to silence my voice, to be jaded and avoidant. The fatigue and frustration can be overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean my voice must be silenced; I have a community to hold me. I don’t have to do all the work myself.

So, for us all, I wish healing and comfort in the new year. I wish peace and joy and strength. I wish us loving community and found family. I wish us support in creative endeavors, and success in our work. I wish us a better world.

Happy holidays, everyone — I’ll see you on the other side!

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Judaism and Zionism: Not Inseparable

Here’s the post I mentioned in my GHD Review Post for this month (August 2015). It’s a long one, about something very personal to me.

A few months ago, I came across this insightful post: A Letter to My Rabbi about Palestine. I left this comment:

Thank you for writing this much-needed letter! As a young(er) Jewish activist (I protested the Iraq Invasion by the US when I was in high school), I struggled with what to feel about Israel. I didn’t know as much about the history as I do now, and I only heard the Israel-supporting US news. I did not speak out, because I didn’t know what to say, or even that the situation was as bad as it was/is.

As I have grown older, learned more, and solidified my own politics and morals, I have moved to speaking out. As a Black-white biracial Jew, the idea of a homeland that is always open to me is such a tempting one, but I know that the modern Israeli state can never be that homeland to me. I have considered Birthright trips in the past, but I cannot–even tacitly–condone the Israeli state, nor support it with my money (beyond, unfortunately, the aid that my tax dollars go to).

This stance is not a popular one in Jewish communities. We have been taught to conflate our Judaism with Zionism, as you stated, and the anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence that is on the rise globally leaves us fearful of another Shoah. That violence is real, and the fear may be justified, but that is no excuse for abandoning our morals and our duty to humanity. A Palestinian life is precious, worth as much as any other life! (Destroy a life, and you destroy the world.)

Thank you for writing this letter, and sharing it. We must be willing to hold ourselves and each other to this high standard, to acknowledge the wrongs of Zionism, and move towards peace, and a better way.

My own journey on this topic has been a difficult one. As mentioned in another post on the same blog, Hebrew schools and Jewish youth programs foster pride for Israel in the children who attend them; I was not immune to this. But until very recently, all of the Jews I knew were liberal, middle class white people, and for all that we have religion in common, we come from very different places.

The promise of Israel meant a lot to me as a teen. I thought about going on a birthright trip, even looked into queer & trans specific ones, but I never really got things together to go — I struggled with juggling 1-2 jobs and a full-time course load right out of high school, then withdrew from school for a time to work. Scrambling to survive, the desire to stay housed and get enough food was my priority, and left little time for something like travel.

Then, I began to learn more about the history of Israel and the present state of occupation, and I struggled with myself. I explored the idea of a “two-state solution”, looked for any way to validate the Israeli state; very quickly it became obvious to me that there was no justification for the continued existence of such a wholly immoral nation. Through exploring the work of anti-Zionist Jews, I realized that this was a truth I needed to speak on. So I did.

On August 4th, my latest piece went up on Black Girl Dangerous. On the phone with my mother a few weeks ago, I sarcastically referred to this BGD piece as the one that would make me super popular in any Jewish community; I feared the opposite, of course. But for the first 48 hours or so, I received only positive feedback — a lot of folks have been contacting me to let me know that this piece resonated with them — and while that is nice to hear, I was waiting for the backlash. The longer it went without any negative comments, the more anxious I became.

And then Thursday, it hit. A progressive Jewish group shared my piece on their page Wednesday afternoon, and it was like a feeding frenzy. Abusive trolls showed up in their comments to accuse me of being a terrorist sympathizer, to ridicule my appearance, to question my identity as a Jew, to mock my intelligence. Eventually, they spilled over onto my Facebook page, commenting on the most recent posts and sending hateful messages to the inbox. Two separate commenters likened me to kapos. Overnight, a wave of hate flooded my page. I spent 3 hours banning and blocking, going from a single banned individual Wednesday night to 63 banned individuals by noon Thursday.

At first, each comment and message hurt. Though I knew that it might happen, I still wasn’t prepared for it. But as I read through roughly 140 comments, I stopped caring about the opinions of the commenters. Anyone whose only argument for my being incorrect was that I am ugly doesn’t mean anything to me. Still, the tension and anxiety started to activate my chronic pain, and after 3 hours, I was exhausted.

I’m pretty sure many of the critics never even read the piece, but merely reacted to the title: “I’m Jewish But I Don’t Support Israel — And Neither Should Any Jew Dedicated To Social Justice”. It’s not the title I submitted the piece under (I’m not very good at titles, in general), but I wrote it nonetheless; that’s most of the first line from the second paragraph. Much of that line is fact — I am Jewish, and I don’t support the Israeli state — but some of it is opinion, my opinion.

This opinion is so widely reviled by members of my own religion that I expected this to happen, tried to prepare for it. My previous pieces, despite the vitriol that some USians fling at Black Lives Matter, didn’t receive this much hate. In fact, I’m not sure I saw any. But I started the piece with this line for a reason: “If there’s a faster way to be reviled in the United States media than denouncing Israel, I’m not sure I know it.” Now, it’s mainly been visible to me on Facebook (and I admit I haven’t gone looking for it anywhere else), but even this reaction is vastly disproportionate.

In the piece, I make a distinction between Judaism — a curious mix of culture, religion, and ethnicity dating back millennia — and Zionism, which is a nationalistic movement to establish a Jewish homeland that began around 1897. I am Jewish, but I am not a Zionist. Yet, many of those spewing hate my way claim the two are inseparable. My anti-colonial values invalidate my Judaism to them.

I spent several days last week being afraid. I worried that I’d be doxed, that someone would vandalize my home (or worse). Anxiety is not rational, but I can’t actually assess the validity of that fear, because this kind of internet bullying does escalate to real life. I’m no Anita Sarkeesian, nor am I even Caroline Criado-Perez, but I’ve received violent threats and harassment before, and while this instance is smaller in scale than what Sarkeesian and Criado-Perez faced, it’s no less vile.

But in the end, despite my fear, I’m still here; being simultaneously Jewish and not a Zionist, because the two terms are not synonyms for each other. I’m here, and I’m not shutting up.

(Not even for the dude who messaged me only this: “Shut up tessara… Seriously. Thanks“)

Observations on the Holidays and Healing

Sunday was the solstice, and many of my friends celebrated Yule. Tonight is the last night of Chanukah. Thursday is Christmas. For many, this time of year is all about celebrations, about joy.

But I don’t know how to tap into that. For me, this season is mostly inconvenient.

Some years I’ve left the house to go run an errand or get work done, and realised at the bus stop that the buses were on reduced scheduling for Christmas, and everything is closed anyway. In high school, I lived with a friend’s family, and they had presents and a tree, and I did that with them 2 of the 3 years I lived there. On the other one, they were at Disneyland, and I had work.

One year, my mother and I went to watch Duck Soup and eat bagels with lox at the Multnomah Jewish Community Center. Another year, I hiked to my closest friends’ houses in thigh-high snow to leave presents in their mailboxes. Most years, I just sit at home, feeling vaguely bored and discontent.

Basically, I’m the Grinch.

I don’t hate holidays. Really, I just don’t see the point. Perhaps this is because I’ve lived away from much of my family for the past 12+ years. Perhaps this is the result of my father dying on a holiday. Whatever reason is behind it, I’m pretty much a grump from October to January. If nothing closed, I’d probably keep working and shopping and riding the bus and so on every day, including Christmas.

But this year, it seems even worse. I’ve been stuck in crisis mode for months, where every day feels like a wake. It seems there’s always some fresh new indignity, and pretending at happiness beyond what I feel, in a country that values the life of a dog more than a Black human being, is far more than I can muster.

On the day after the announcement that Mike Brown’s killer would not be indicted, I wore all black to work. I saw other Black people on my campus, and they knew what it was for, who it was for. I had already left the house when I learned of the announcement that Eric Garner’s killer would not be indicted; still, I wore black and maroon, appropriate mourning garb.

We are not so removed from those decisions. And we have since heard non-indictments for Darrien Hunt’s killer, and Dontre Hamilton’s; no doubt there will be more. It seems there always are.

There are people taking this time to be with family, to spend time with loved ones, to enjoy their normal holiday activities. I don’t begrudge them that. I don’t resent them for it. That joy is necessary, to prevent burnout, at the very least. But it’s not where I find healing.

I’m still recovering from my health problems of the last 3 months, and all of this has weighed heavily on me. It’s clear that I need to spend some of the next two weeks doing intense self-care. I need to find healing spaces to cry in, to let go of the grief, and carry the righteous passion for change forward into the new year.

I don’t yet know where that space will be for me. But I hope others find it in family and friends and holiday celebration.

Happy holidays, friends; take care.

Emptiness in the Aftermath

I didn’t get a lot done during the second half of last week. I didn’t send my regular Wednesday newsletter. I didn’t post my Thursday blog post. I didn’t do my homework, or make my office hours at work. Mostly, I cried.

Today marks four months since Michael Brown, Jr, was shot in the streets of Ferguson, MO, and left for 4.5 hours in the summer sun. Two weeks past from Monday, a grand jury did not indict the officer who shot Mike Brown. A week past from Wednesday, a grand jury did not indict the officer who choked Eric Garner to death. In these four months, the Black community has lost Rumain Brisbon, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Kajieme Powell, and — perhaps most tragically — Tamir Rice.

But we have also lost Deshawnda Sanchez and Tajshon Ashley Sherman and Aniya Parker and Gizzy Fowler. We’ve lost Mary Spears and Tjhisha Ball and Angelia Mangum. A second mistrial came in for the death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones. A police officer is going to trial in Oklahoma for the sexual assault of at least 8 Black women and girls.

The deaths of Black men and boys at the hands of police are getting more attention than they have in a long time, and that attention is necessary to create change. But we must also recognise that Black women are the victims of state violence as well. Black women disproportionately account for missing persons. Black women are assaulted and killed by police. Their murders are often ignored or covered up. And they are on the forefront of the movement for justice.

Women accounted for 60% of the Black Panther Party. They led many of the actions of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Today, they lead many of the actions on the ground in Ferguson, New York, LA… Black women are expected to never report violence perpetrated on them by Black men. They are expected to wait for their own justice, while fighting tooth and nail for the lives of Black men. It’s exhausting to fight for your own humanity, but even more so to fight for the humanity of a group who should have your back, but doesn’t.

I wrote a poem about this for my upcoming collection, Fallen/Forever Rising, and I’m sharing it here, because I feel like I have little else to give. I’ve felt so wrung out the last few weeks, a kind of exhausted apathy. I’m struggling to find time to take care of myself, and that leaves me feeling as though I’ve gotten nothing done. I need to rest, but I feel guilty when I do. I don’t know how much longer I can go on, and I don’t know what to do.

Empty

Women’s work
we pour from empty pitchers
every last wet drop for
someone not us

We care takers
care given always care giving
none taken no care not us
no one cares

We targets too
double jeopardy for double-dutch girls
endangered Black women dare
in danger we dare

Losing sons and
daughters fathers mothers sisters and
yes brothers each bone deep
pain pushed through

Street struggle
our streets aren’t safe from police
aren’t safe for our brothers
we aren’t safe from

Silent suffering
no don’t tell don’t call don’t no
sister knows no safety
but still she pours

I hate to ask for anything for myself, but if you have the funds to help me out, you can donate something to my Paypal, or buy a zine. I appreciate any help you can give.

Update: Writing from the Core, Ferguson…

As you may have noticed, I haven’t updated about Writing from the Core since Day 12. The last day I got serious writing done on it was Day 14, six days ago. This is because I had a paper due last Saturday and two more on Monday, and all of my spare thought and energy has been devoted to the ongoing struggle in Ferguson, MO.

I am talking with a local organiser who’s in touch with a national network of folks, and we’re in the process of organising a ride from Oregon to Ferguson with supplies and assistance for labour day weekend. I have started fundraising to that end, and have several donors on the line to donate supplies once we know exactly what folks on the ground need.

My intent is to bring needed supplies, and help out wherever possible. I’m honestly not sure how much writing I will be getting done between now and then, though I will keep writing for myself as much as I can.

I want to thank everyone for the support you offered on my Writing from the Core posts, and the personal support that has been given to me outside of this blog. If you are willing and able, please donate to our effort or your own community’s effort to support Ferguson. This situation has had far-reaching effects and implications, and we need to band together to get through.

Thank you.

Campaigns for #MikeBrown #Ferguson

Spaceship Dreaming

Here is a list of donations, protests, and petitions that you can do to help the people in #Ferguson and to assist #MikeBrown and #EzellFord all others who have been killed by the hands of the police. I will try to update as much as possible.
Donations for Mike Brown’s Family:
Michael Brown Memorial Fund:
These funds will assist his family with costs that they will acquire as they seek justice on Michael’s behalf. All funds will be given to the Michael Brown family.
College 4 MikeBrown’s Siblings:
This effort will help support Mike Brown’s siblings, 2 younger sisters and a younger brother go to college. It is run by Sara Goldrick-Rab, UW professor of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab ( http://www.wihopelab.com) and Michael Johnson of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (Madison, WI) can vouch that all funds will go directly to the family.
Other Donations

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