Remebering the love …

I’m so glad you reminded me of “Yellow Raft on Blue Water.” I read that book in my early twenties and loved it, and was in complete awe of the fact that a white man could convey the complex character that was a Native American/African American teenage girl. I think about it now and wonder if my lack of racial analysis and understanding in my early twenties allowed for my reaction to the book or if it was just the book itself and what it was able to do. If the former, I have to ask the question now in my early forties if it’s a too sharp and uncompromising analysis of race and white supremacy, along with twenty additional years of lived experience, that won’t allow for the kind of reaction my younger self had – the kind that comes from the heart and less from the brain. I hope not, but I don’t rightly know. I think I’d have to read “Yellow Raft on Blue Water” again.

I’ve just finished reading a few essays in a book called “The Love that does Justice,” about the integration of spirituality, love, and activism. http://www.unlimitedloveinstitute.org/publications/The_Love_That_Does_Justice.pdf

One thing that stays with me from the essays is the importance and power of love and compassion in any struggle against injustice. The key to social transformation can be found in marrying a rich inner life dedicated to the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion with the practice of new forms of politics, economics, and public policy.” And “…love is radical equality consciousness, a force that breaks down all distance and hierarchy. This is a love that respects the necessary self-empowerment of others, eschewing paternalism and romanticism for relationships of truth and authenticity, even when they move through phases of conflict and disagreement, as all do. This is a love that encourages us to live up to our social obligations as well our individual moral values, connect our interior life worlds to public spaces, encourage collective judgments, and create open networks of self-reflective and critical communication. This love is active, not passive, explicitly considering the effects of oppression.”

These are not new messages, but as I fume about how white privilege and the arrogance that can flow from it impact my life day after day, they can be a hard to remember, not to mention practice.

I really appreciate the questions you propose that artists ask as they create work: What motivates the creation and how does the artist weave the creation into their own world of assumptions? Does the character have integrity or is s/he a projection? These kinds of questions push artists (academics, activists, citizens … whoever!) to approach and/or be with their work consciously and in a *real* way. As you say, these are questions any writer (artist, academic) has to ask if s/he is going to give birth to an autonomous work. In addition, the questions challenge us to go beyond ourselves in creating the work rather than continuously (and simply) projecting ourselves onto it. It’s important for everyone for different reasons, and particularly with issues related to race, gender, and sexuality because we all breathe this polluted air of white supremacy and male dominance.

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~ by evansmousike on August 15, 2008.

3 Responses to “Remebering the love …”

  1. OK, here’s my first ever attempt to respond to a blog. The first thing I notice is that the typing is delayed. Is this normal? Yikes.

    I wonder too about the whole love and compassion thing in terms of what is either required or possible given our relative position and power. I’m trying to write about this for my dissertation. When I was presenting my ideas about teaching white supremacy culture and what approaches make it possible to do that successfully, one of my African-American colleagues pointed out that the wisdom I felt I had to offer on the topic was not necessarily transferable. She was talking about the different challenges she faces as an African-American teacher of mostly white students from the ones I face as a white teacher of mostly white students.
    She was right, of course, and this was just another reminder of how everything is relative to the larger context and how white people/institutions/culture are the ones to set the context, teaching us all to understand the context as neutral, immutable, real, the one.
    It’s related to the problem I have when I read Buddhist texts, which I love. But I’ve yet to understand how to hold what seems to be an incredible tension when I am presented with the challenge to see my suffering as a construction of my own mind. I do think this is true, particularly in contrast to the suffering of someone who is hungry, or experiencing abuse, or on the receiving end of genocide. I keep trying to imagine how these Buddhist teachings would fly if I was a mother of a starving child or a refugee without shelter or food or . . .
    So what does it mean to have compassion from a position of privilege in contrast to having compassion from a position of less power. Does compassion bring with it power? Certainly some of the most powerful role models are people who have the capacity to show/hold compassion in situations of extreme hardship. Nelson Mandela comes to mind. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, talks about how some of the prisoners were more free than the guards, because they exercised their freedom to respond to their circumstances with more thoughtfulness and awareness.
    I keep coming up against my desire for the world to be fair. Ha! says the world.

  2. Okay, I’m writing this off the cuff because it seems like it requires more of a heart response than an intellectual one. I don’t really know how to respond with love to people I don’t know well in situations that feel unkind or hateful to me. I can do it with my partner – I don’t always do it, but I know with him I have the ability to reach out, stay connected, and at the same time call the bullshit. But I’m not sure I know how to do that with others, particularly those in whom I have not investment. So often my response is silence and anger, which I then try to mask with kindness because I don’t want them to think I’m an angry black woman. Isn’t that ridiculous – I should care what they think?

    Actually, let me step back. Before the silence and anger, there is this strange desperate feeling in my body that is reminiscent of the feeling I have when my blood sugar is low and I need to get something in my body immediately. It’s a rush of energy that makes my body tingly and leaves me in something of a cold sweat. Somehow this reaction seems important – it’s my body knowing that something is off before my intellect has really sorted it out. And then as my intellect starts to figure out that we’re back in the same old racist, sexist territory, the anger and silence kick in. At that point what’s happening bodily is that my heart quickens, my hands shake, and my voice quivers.

    I’m not sure why all of that is important, but it seems like it is. Maybe just the fact that there are so many things going on inside my body when I’m dealing with these kinds of situations that it’s hard to imagine responding in the moment with love. The best I can do is to remember, after the fact, the possibility of responding with love. All is not lost, however, because that recognition after the fact helps me to stop the dialogue and drama that has been going in my head nonstop since the interaction. Maybe, for me, right now, remembering the possibility of a love response is about allowing myself to let the situation to loosen its grip on me. In doing so, I can move from what feels like frenzied anger to a more centered space … sometimes still angry, but at least more grounded.

    I have no idea if that makes any sense … I guess my main point is that I’m not really in a space where I respond to hateful situations with love, but somehow in the aftermath remembering that love is an option helps me, for me. And seems, in some small way, to speak to this point about compassion and power.

  3. What you write here makes me think of Audré Lorde’s essay about the uses of the erotic (in Sister Outsider) that I read just this morning for a discussion group I’m attending tonight. She talks about the power of knowing and trusting our own bodies, how oppression is essentially about making sure that we don’t tap this power.

    I also think about how one way to respond to a hateful situation is with love for yourself, for your embodied response to that hate. I feel more and more clear that we cannot give to others that which we don’t have for ourselves; my guess is that part of the skill of loving others is deeply connected to our skill in loving ourselves too.

    Finally, I think about some of the media discussion around Michelle Obama and attempts to characterize her as “an angry black woman,” which is the useful racist stereotype. I think about how in my own family we were all uncomfortable with any passionate emotion and since I was the one who expressed those the most, I was the one who held our family’s unspoken feelings, which is why I ended up in the mental hospital (my theory). I think this is what Lorde is talking about when she writes about the culture’s fear of women knowing our own feelings and being in erotic relationship with them.

    That’s what I have for now!

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