Friday, February 20, 2015

Slinging Mud & Kicking in Teeth: MOPDtK & When Irony Becomes Racism

[UPDATE 2/22/15: The following piece was written two days ago, in response to the promotion of the band's performance in Philadelphia. After writing this, I got more context about & from the bandleader. One thing I learned in particular is the bandleader's sincere reverence for the music he parodies. But such sincerity neither appears in the way the band is promoted, nor the way the music is presented. Some of this is in the band's control, some of it perhaps less so. At any rate I have changed the title & some of the language of the original text to reflect the conversations I have had in the last few days. I still think the problem discussed herein exists. I hope that the conversation this has instigated encourages the band, & those who promote them, to demonstrate respect toward the culture to which they are indebted for the content of their music.]

I need to talk about a band from New York City that I am loathe to name because they don't deserve any more attention. Yet I know that it does no good to address racism without naming its perpetrators. This band is called "Mostly Other People Do The Killing." They credit themselves with making "terrorist be-bop" and their m.o. is churning out frenzied, ironic pap that mocks jazz idioms and jazz history. The bandleader, Moppa Elliott, is a conservatory-trained bassist and music educator. They are probably best known for their note-for-note rendition of the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, which created some controversy for a few people. They have been on the scene for more than a decade. None of the band members are African American.

A relevant excerpt from the promotional text for their concert in Philadelphia tonight:
"MOPDtK formed in 2003, although founding members Elliott and trumpeter Peter Evans began playing together in 1998 as students at Oberlin Conservatory. In the liner notes to the band’s 2004 self-titled debut, Elliott states the band’s philosophy: “I would rather make music that uses jazz’s identity crisis against it, piling as many nonsensical musical associations together as possible to create music that is aware of its own inconsistencies, ironies and contradictions and likes it that way”. Elliott makes it clear he is avoiding the idea of “jazz as repertory” - “I like my jazz with some dirt on it,” he says before adding, “Bring out the mud. Standing on the shoulders of giants makes it easier to kick them in the teeth.”

To which I want to respond: black lives matter. Black cultural legacies matter and jazz is a black cultural legacy. Here is a white musician making light of centuries of cultural appropriation and theft under the cover of "irony." Here he is claiming to stand on the shoulders of giants, the easier to "kick them in the teeth." Here he is slinging mud - mud, y'all - at black cultural history.

This is the language of racism. It doesn't matter if it's an ironic gesture, such language engenders real violence perpetrated by white supremacist culture against black people. To state it another way, real violence is founded on language that often seems (to white people) to be innocuous. I don't know this person. I don't know what he's like in other areas of his life. But in the text above his own appraisal of the band's work is in conflict with the notion that black lives matter. To kick black culture in the teeth is to say black culture doesn't matter. It is to say black people, thus, do not matter.

Who are these giants at whom he's slinging mud? They are Armstrong and Ellington, Mingus and Monk, Parker and Coltrane. They are the elders of the music, the grandfathers, the ancients. They are the inheritors and carriers of what W.E.B. Dubois called the Sorrow Songs, the music that gave a people - against whom an attempted genocide has been perpetrated for centuries - their life. Cultural forebears such as these are meaningful in ways that many white folks cannot understand. Yes, some of us lost our family trees escaping persecution in Europe, but we don't continue to face persecution walking to the store.

For a people whose family histories are twisted and lost amidst white violence - kidnapping, enslavement, enforced poverty, mass incarceration, cultural appropriation - playing ironically with their legacy is deeply offensive. It is menacing, threatening. It is unconscionable. It is also not new or novel, and black people in America have continually created globally significant cultural currents despite this legacy of white violence.

The giants whose shoulders Elliott claims to stand on are musicians who reinvented and advanced the music not by slandering and dishonoring their forebears, but rather by respecting and building on their heritage. Folks with a deeper knowledge of jazz and its repertoire will understand that Cecil Taylor's music is not a kick in Ellington's teeth; Albert Ayler's music was not a kick in Lester Young's teeth; William Parker's music is not a kick in Mingus' teeth; Matana Roberts' music is not a kick in Charlie Parker's teeth.

I recently read something that author Junot Diaz had to say about Toni Morrison, who just celebrated her 84th birthday. He said that the best writer in the world is of African descent. He said that despite the ills of the world, this fact allows him to sleep well at night. (Let's add: the world's finest living author is also a woman.) Now: imagine Diaz writing "standing on the shoulders of giants makes it easier to kick them in the teeth." You dig?

To my ears, Elliott's music does not have the stature or quality of Diaz's writing. But the point I want to make is a question of degree, of reach. If someone were to come into my home and talk about kicking black culture in the teeth, such racist speech wouldn't become excusable - or ironic - simply because it is said behind closed doors. Or simply because the speaker doesn't intend to act physically. I'd call the motherfucker out on it, and show him the door.

People of conscience, people who want to challenge the power dynamic that maintains white supremacy and all of the physical, cultural, and emotional violence it brings with it, have to prevent racism from reverberating throughout the culture. I note with continual disappointment the lack of commitment from my peers to challenging oppressive power structures. If the band and its members don't intend to maintain a stance of violence toward black culture and, thus, black people, the language that is used to speak about their work ought to reflect that. Otherwise, the language (and thus the notes) reverberate racism. And if that's the case, I propose to turn it off, shut it down, and call them out on it.

Philadephia 2/20/15

Monday, April 21, 2014

CEREMONIES OUT OF THE AIR


Ceremonies Out of the Air, a double album of saxophone improvisations recorded in August 2013, is released on New Atlantis Records on April 22. A tour begins in New Haven the same day. Current dates and locations are below, and updated at keirneuringer.com/live.

Ceremonies is available as two 12" vinyl LPs in a gatefold jacket, as a single, 79-minute CD, and as an MP3 download. All five tracks (and a few more, which are not being released at this time) were recorded in a single session at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. The audience was comprised of some of the folks who helped fund the making of the album through a crowdsource campaign. The album art was painted by Erin Rice. The recording was made by Eugene Lew, and mixed by Kato Hideki.

The project is a dedication to my mother, Esther Neuringer, an avid new music supporter who died of lung cancer in March of last year. There is a quotation that frames the work and lends it its title, from Cormac McCarthy's The Road: "Evoke the forms. Where you've nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them." The text of my eulogy is the liner note for the album.

The titles of the improvisations are:
1- okay we can go now
2- Japanese Maples
3- i dreamt there was nothing wrong with my chemistry
4- The Dogwood Circle (round and round, round and round)
5- we had mostly good times

Ceremonies can be purchased via New Atlantis Records, or in a special edition through keirneuringer.bandcamp.com, or from independent record stores and mail orders, or from online retailers like iTunes. For anyone interested in supporting this album beyond a purchase: ask your local independent record stores to carry it, and request it on your local radio stations.

CEREMONIES OUT OF THE AIR TOUR:
4/22 NEW HAVEN: Uncertainty Music Series at Never Ending Books + Cretella/Matlock
4/23 MONTREAL: La Vitrola + Clarinet Panic, Goddard X Pelchat
4/24 OTTAWA: Gallery 101 + Clarinet Panic, Solina String Ensemble
4/25 KINGSTON: The Artel + Clarinet Panic, Salle Sella
4/25 GUELPH: Silence + The Vertical Squirrels
4/27 TORONTO: Oz Studios + Clarinet Panic, CCMC
4/28 BUFFALO: Hallwalls + Kevin Cain
4/30 ITHACA: Angry Mom Records
5/01 ALBANY: Upstate Artists Guild
5/04 PHILADELPHIA: Archer Spade Series at Rotunda + Devin Hoff

5/15 DETROIT: Trinosophes
5/16 KALAMAZOO: Corner Record Shop tbc
5/17 DUBUQUE: Monk’s + Bucko/Berns
5/18 IOWA CITY: Public Space One + Oren/Hurlin
5/19 CHICAGO ?
5/20 COLUMBIA MO: houseshow
5/21 ST LOUIS: Cafe Ventana + N.N.N. Cook
5/22 LAFAYETTE IN: Black Sparrow tbc
5/23 BLOOMINGTON IN: houseshow
5/24 LOUISVILLE ?
5/25 CLEVELAND: Guide to Kulchur


Saturday, May 18, 2013

WITH BREATHING


I.

it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, but I didn’t know how it ends, I never knew how it ends until recently, everything is in the lungs, before I could breathe my mother breathed for me, she breathed and then I could breathe, and not long ago I watched and I listened and I held her hand as she breathed her last breath, so I know how it ends, it ends as it begins, with breathing

early on an August morning in 1947 my mother began to breathe, and early on a March morning in 2013 she stopped breathing, her life could be measured in breaths, in years (the years she breathed), in days, in the number of children she gave birth to, or the number she lost, or the things she made with her hands, or the dogs she kept as companions, or the places she lived, or the places she visited, or the songs she loved, or the cigarettes she smoked, the pain she endured, such could be the parameters of her life as a work

and is this a strange introduction to a performance of the work of her son? I don’t think it is, I want to situate my music in a context that is meaningful beyond the parameters of pitches and rhythms, for which, even as a musician of many years, I have limited understanding or objectivity, my work is not about sound phenomena, I have only a cursory interest in sound phenomena but a great interest in social phenomena, I have written it before, elsewhere: music is not (merely) about organizing notes, it is about organizing ourselves, and I ask myself as I perform or write or record, how do I organize myself amidst others, with others, what do we do when we listen, what do we do when we write, what do we do when we perform, what is the music that my particular body makes, a particular body my particular mother made (not to suggest there is anything special about either of us, or others, any more than any others, just that we are all particular and it follows that the music one makes will be particular too), I think about the social phenomenon of breathing in tandem with the breathing of others, it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, and it ends with breathing, I am certain of this, and why should it be anything else in between?

does this sound complicated? because I don’t want it to sound complicated, I want it to sound simple, it is simple, as simple as breathing, an act you do without thinking about it, or you do and you focus on it, or it is labored, difficult for you and so (simply, without complication, without obfuscation) it outweighs all other things you might do or think about doing, I watched and I listened and I held her hand as my mother breathed in her last hours, now faster, now slower, now louder, now softer, I watched and I listened and I held her hand and surely she did the same when I was born, so I think I understand something about breathing, but sound phenomena confuse me, and in a world of confusion why add more confusion?

this is not a manifesto, I am trying to situate my work in a context, and what I am thinking about as I write is what kind of music the sound of my first breaths must have been for my mother, because perhaps this is music that all children and all parents can understand, and we are all one if not the other, and I can approximate what my mother felt, if not in the details, then at least in the awe and the humility, by contrasting it with the kind of music my mother’s last breaths were for me, something I knew I would never hear again, but to ask what kind of music I am thinking of is to think about the parameters of this music, I don’t know, it is not delineated by temporal durations, or spatial dimensions, or structure, or word count, and there are no words to describe this gift my mother gave to me, to let me hold her hand and let me listen and let me watch as the work that was her life ended, as she died

but there is a metaphor: it was like breathing


II.

when I was very young I told my parents I wanted to be a fire engine -- not a fireman, but the actual vehicle, it was the sound of the thing, the spectacular sound of the siren that I wanted to be, and I imitated it often, but by the time I was four years old I had changed my mind and I told my parents that when I grew up I wanted to be “a mommy”, I had learned to appreciate a social phenomenon, perhaps sirens have a social function but they don’t have an inclination, but mothers do, at least my mother did, she wanted me to be good at what I do, and for others to care for it, and for me to be “happy” doing it, and she taught herself, late in life, to appreciate the odd sounds and odd social phenomena of whatever scenes my music found a home in, experimental or avant-garde or contemporary classical or free improvisation or noise or jazz or rock and roll or whatever you want to call these attitudes toward music making and the social behaviors that develop around them, she went to all the strange concerts and talked to all the musicians and bought their recordings and invited them to her home and fed them, and she asked me what I thought and she told me what she thought, and for someone who never played an instrument or wrote a song she breathed this music deeply, and maybe the dying process began earlier than we thought, maybe it was when she stopped being able to go to concerts and see her beloved musicians and speak with them and support their work, but I will tell you this last story it was perhaps ten days before she died and I was so busy taking care of her that I hadn’t played or practiced any music or slept in weeks but I put on a Bobby Darin LP and we never really listened to that record and it held no special meaning for us but fuck, music is music, so she in her wheelchair and me in my exhaustion and deep, deep sadness at the devastating loss I was about to endure we danced a little to that music and the joy in the room was intense and now I don’t want to speak of her in the past tense I want to breathe into my saxophone, this after all is the ability she gave to me, to breathe, this is where it began and this after all is where it will end, with breathing

[note: written for the program website of Kate Moore's 'Handmade Homegrown' concert series in The Hague, for which I gave a performance on May 16.]

Friday, March 22, 2013

ESTHER THE DREAMER


(eulogy for my mother 1947-2013)

When music played, she would look out a window, see tree branches swaying, or people walking, and note the choreography. I would send her recordings of my music, and she would listen to them, again and again and again, and she would treasure them as if they were her grandchildren, and play them with pride for friends, and memorize their every vibration, and know them as though she herself had written them - and hadn't she? with her own body and her own soul, thirty-six years ago - and tell me that she heard great choirs singing my work, she would orchestrate greater versions of it than I could imagine, in the time it took for a bar of a piece to play, she would orchestrate lavish versions of the music and the production and the publicity, she would describe the immense productions, already clear in her mind, the dancers, the elaborate set designs, the lighting plans, the colors swirling and telling stories within stories in their intermingling. And her orchestration would extend to the accolades and success it would bring to her son, because hard work and risk-taking will always bring great rewards, how it would permit me to travel and buy a home and raise a family, and how that family would thrive and honor the toiling and risks and sacrifices of her dear parents, parents whose adventures she memorialized with such reverence that their very kisses to each other became legends as sacred as any other to the ears of her children. She would hear a note and it would extend from a fine, small molecule of air that she would capture gently between her thumb and one of her long, brightly painted fingernails, out in a flourish full of grace, to the heavens, the stars, through whole solar systems, to the furthest reaches of being itself, and with a wave of her head and an "ah" or two clicks of her tongue, she would catch herself, remembering something, the corporeal, the belly, she would ask "is it lunchtime?" and always, always, always, before she would eat she would offer you up the world to fill your own belly, and if the world didn't satisfy you she would offer you another, or another, and if three whole worlds would not satisfy you she would find another again, anything, and what else, and you would have ice cream covered in hot fudge and whipped cream for dinner, or a spectacular meal of many courses made from scratch, or your choice, anything you wanted, of the town’s finest dining, there is no modesty in matters of the belly, but she would teach you how to grow in the garden, how to grow fruits and vegetables and herbs that nourished you, and how to grow flowers that delighted you, with strange names she would always know, as though these were names she herself had chosen for them, and she would always know their season, their particulars, like a mother knows what foods her babies like to eat, there were whole taxonomies of flowers and plants in her head, and everything was a sprawling taxonomy, mountains of beads and jewelry and ribbons and fabric and paint and glue pouring out from makeshift workspaces, arranged into families and groups as precariously and with as much poetry as any really living life, and the ups and downs of the stock market and the ins and outs of real estate were arrayed in her mind and upon the slightest slivers of paper, the backs of receipts and envelopes and matchbooks, mysterious ciphers in her careful, lovely scrawl, populating reams of scratch paper that curled around her house like vines, full of lives of their own, flowing from every surface, and each calculation coming with a mathematics and a lesson on self-sufficiency embedded in it, and recipes, oh recipes, as though recipes were a kingdom unto themselves, and tuna salad begat egg salad, and egg salad begat devilled eggs, the kitchen at once a sacred shrine and a restless artist’s tangled workplace, and back out in the garden she would teach you how to pull up the weeds, not just which ones to pull, but how to do it as a discipline, as an aesthetic, as the sun rose, when the rest of the world was asleep, with a good dog at her side, and a cup of too-sweet coffee in one hand, and the new day full of possibility, full of opportunity, the early bird does not catch worms, she opens up her own restaurant, she teaches you how to eat, how to cook, how to present food elegantly, because the table is a canvas, the good spirits of her many guests are canvases to paint upon, generosity is a thing to paint with, everything is adorned, everything is arrayed, every thing is part of a collection of things, and because her bright green eyes were prisms, and her long hands were factories, every thing can be made to be some other thing, turned around, painted, put in a new context, given to a school or a church for children to make new art with, or sell it and sell it and sell it until you can buy a house and sell a house and save enough to give away so her grandchildren will never be cold or hungry or sick and the things she labored greatest over, the pains she suffered most for, the love that just flowed and flowed and flowed out of her because she had no beginning and no end as long as she loved, and her love was out in the world, here we are, with names she gave us, doing her proud, seeing, hearing, feeling this immeasurable limitless potential of a world she dreamt up for us, to travel over, to sing to, to entertain, to build upon, to find love on, always to find love, to find someone to sing to, to travel with, to entertain, to build with, to dance with, to laugh with, to cry with, to cook with, to fill the belly and the heart with, to dream dreams with, to breathe with


and I was there with her as she breathed her last breath, her hand in mine, her no-longer seeing eyes looking through me to a new world, her sweet face young again, poised, mischievously to the end, in the vaguest suggestion of a smile, with the lines of life and care and her prodigious, idiosyncratic folk wisdom smoothed over in her departure from this place, that last breath pure and calm and full of peace, even in her last instant of life a lesson to hand down to me, her son, her friend, and a hope that this world, this world without her, would be like this world with her, a place where to wake up and breath is to dream without limitation

Thursday, January 10, 2013

ON IDENTITY

We?

We don't drop bombs on the brave, embattled people of Afghanistan. We don't drop them on Yemeni boys whose first beards only they and their mothers can see. We don’t drop them on weddings and funerals and search parties in Pakistan. We don't give them, as gifts, to the persecutors of Palestinians. We don’t commission, design, or make the bombs, and we don’t order others to drop them.

We don't manufacture the guns that cops use to kill one person of color in the United States every thirty-six hours. We don't sell the guns, we don’t profit from the gun sales, we don't fight for the right to own them with the same money we fight against the reproductive autonomy of women. We don't enshrine the legality of white folks killing black folks under "stand your ground" laws drawn up by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

We don't wear badges. We don't wear uniforms. We don't demand to see your license and registration, or your passport, or your visa, or your working papers, or your student ID, or your rental agreement. We don't set up checkpoints, we don't stop and frisk. We are not racial profilers. And we are not colorblind.

We make beautiful music together. We know how to dance. We know when to dance, when to party, when to run, and with whom. And we know when to stand up, backs straight, facing the State, meeting its hatred of itself with our love of each other.

We hold hands, we lock arms.

We feed each other, we clothe each other, we keep each other warm. We don't hoard food. We don't waste food. We don’t shame you if you’re hungry. We’re not embarrassed when our stomachs rumble. We don’t eat first.

We don't build walls, we smash them. We cut holes in wire fences. We tear down advertisements. We cover walls with art and messages.

We don't build jails. We don't kidnap people, we don’t kidnap animals. We don't pour chemicals into the eyes of rabbits and mice, we liberate them from the labs where they're held captive and tortured. We don't torture. We aren't torturers who say we don't torture.

We don't distinguish between human rights and civil rights and animal rights. Every species is endangered. The world is a wildlife preserve.

We don’t hold elections hostage. We don't hold elections. We don't represent anyone but ourselves. We don't pledge allegiance to flags. We don't wave them, we don't wrap ourselves in them. We don't salute them. We have no nation, and it is not great, and it never was. We don’t govern. We are not governable.

We are not constituents. We are not citizens. We are not consumers. We are not products. We don’t yammer on about renewable this and sustainable that. We are not a science experiment. We know that ethical shopping is still shopping.

We don't take instructions from strange old men in strange robes with monopolies on god's will. We don't pray at the altar of oil. Or gas. Or coal. Or uranium. Or money. Or technology.

We know that the bed and the bank of every river and stream is a sacred site.

We understand consent, we honor it and we insist on it. We don't rape. We don’t rape women, or men, or children. Or oceans. Or economies. We lash ourselves to trees and stand up to bulldozers and knock the teeth out of the mouths of racists. We bash back.

We respect autonomy, not authority. We offer solidarity, not charity.

We don’t do business. We don’t make deals. We are not our jobs. We are not our debts. We are not our illnesses. We are not our educations. We are not our parents, or their mistakes, or their failures, or their fears. We don’t owe them. We are not our children. We don’t own them.

We don't indoctrinate children. We don't fire their teachers, we don't close their schools. We don't lie to them about the world. We don't feed them poison, we don’t rob their bellies of food. We don't round up their fathers and then blame them for being fatherless. We don’t work their mothers to death and then blame them for being motherless. We don't teach them to love their country. We don't teach them to hate their bodies.

We feed each other, we clothe each other, we keep each other warm. We hold hands, we lock arms.

We know when to dance, when to party, when to stand up, backs straight, facing the State, meeting its hatred of itself with our love of each other. We know when to run, and with whom. We know how to dance. We make beautiful music together.

We don’t target whole cultures for eradication. We don’t target whole forests for eradication. We don’t build zoos, or museums, or glass and steel towers. We don’t close libraries, we don’t destroy them, we don’t burn books. We don’t fire plutonium-powered rockets through the stratosphere. We don’t insist on cooking the atmosphere. We don’t casually calculate the risk, we don’t prepare environmental impact assessments and then, fuck it, drill anyway.

We are not all of the above. We are not multiple-choice. We are not either/or. We are not census data. We are not statistics. We are not metrics. We are not the general populace, the American people, a concerned citizenry, a nation divided. We are not a movement. We are not united. We are not the People. We don’t petition the king, there is no king.

We hold hands, we lock arms.

We don’t reach across the aisle. We don’t lend bipartisan support. We don’t legislate. We don’t segregate our concern. We don’t say that progress is being made when you stick a knife in our backs nine inches and pull it out six inches. We never thank a politician, for anything, ever. We don’t ask what we can do for our country, because we don’t have one, we don’t want one, and we don’t want to know what it can do for us, either.

We don’t ask for handouts. We don’t ask for tears. We don’t want casual, drive-by, fashionable outrage at our situations. We do want the boots off our backs.

We are not slaves, because being held captive, for days or decades or centuries, does not make one a slave. We are not, nor have we ever been, nor will we ever be, wretched refuse. We are not a melting pot.

We are not overpopulation. We are not illegal. We are not here to breed. We are not addicts, even when we are addicted. We are not welfare mothers, even when we are mothers on welfare.

We are not what you say we are. Whatever you say we are, we are not that.

We know when to run, and with whom. We hold hands, we lock arms. We make beautiful music together. We know how to dance. We know when to dance, when to party, when to stand up, backs straight, facing the State, meeting its hatred of itself with our love of each other, meeting its hatred of itself with our love of each other, backs straight, facing the State, meeting its hatred of itself with our love of each other.

(Philadelphia, November 2012)

[Note: written for the first issue of Bread & Roses, a publication that works to cultivate an explicitly anti-oppression community at Cornell University & in the broader Ithaca, NY community, run by students / comrade activists at Cornell.]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

OBAMA ON PARSING RAPE

Four things US President Barack Obama did not say in response to Republican Congressman Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin yesterday:

"JUSTICE IS JUSTICE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of justice we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are white, making justice decisions on behalf of people of color."

"MURDER IS MURDER. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of murder we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are imperialists, making military decisions on behalf of innocents abroad."

"CLIMATE CHANGE IS CLIMATE CHANGE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of climate change we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are corporate stooges, making harmful resource extraction decisions on behalf of human and nonhuman cultures and ecosystems."

"HEALTHCARE IS HEALTHCARE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of healthcare we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are in bed with insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, making healthcare decisions on behalf of the poor and vulnerable."


Instead, the first US President to ever have a "kill list" and assume the authority to command that any person, anywhere, may be killed for any reason, at any time, said that rape is rape, and that we shouldn't parse it, and that "we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women."

And now I am angry and confused. The de facto dominant mass cultural message emanating from people repulsed by Akin's utterly repugnant ideas about rape, women's reproductive rights, and human biology, seems to be that since some or many US Republicans will support laws that negate women's rights, the coming federal elections are a referendum on these rights, and so Democrats must be supported in these elections.

But there is a fallacy here. Democrats, and Barack Obama chief among them, have a record of sustained campaigns of terror against women. Every time a bomb is dropped, a rocket is launched, or a bullet is fired by US military abroad, we must consider these to have targeted women. Every time a trained killer, who must obey orders and not his conscience, is stationed somewhere, he is a threat to women. Every time a vote is cast to increase the cash flow from struggling folks to the Pentagon, it is a vote against women. Women, specifically. Women suffer the most in war. They suffer the most from the belligerent occupying forces, the exploitative corporations, the local creeps taking advantage of the chaos.

And women suffer the most in wars that are undeclared, but are wars nonetheless. Obama has proven himself an enemy of the environment. His policies, from his embrace of nuclear power to his enthusiasm for hydrofracking to his duplicitous zeal for tar sands mining to his commitment to "offshore" oil drilling, are contributing to the horrendous condition of our air, water, soil, climate. The effects - fires, floods, food scarcity, toxics everywhere, and so forth - are felt hardest by the most vulnerable in all societies. These are never politicians, never (white) men, never the wealthy, anywhere on Earth.

What was Obama saying about rape last week? Where was his concern? Women were still being raped, were still being harassed for seeking healthcare, were still being denied their rights. Obama's most important piece of legislation has been his giant gift to health insurance companies.

The political expediency of his response to Akin reveals exactly who he is: not committed to social justice issues. Like all rat-bastard politicians, including his opponent Mitt Romney, he is committed to himself, and satisfying the whims of those who pull his strings. Now I'm thinking about how fast he suspended his political campaign and rushed to Aurora, Colorado, when James Holmes shot up a movie theater there. And now I'm thinking about how he did not do that when Wade Michael Page did the same to a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin a few weeks later.

I am witnessing not just politicians, but their supporters, segregate their moral concern. It is intellectually dishonest and it is ineffectual in bringing about real social change. Today I saw an inspiring statement: Rise Up or Shut Up. It is a reminder of what it means to be truly committed to social and political change. Someone who is genuinely committed to the rights of women does not wait until a "Legitimate Rape"-ist like Todd Akin speaks before advancing the notion that actually no, women should rule their own bodies. Someone who is genuinely committed to the rights of women does not bomb them, does not starve them, does not torture their brothers and sons, does not run toxic pipelines across their farmland, or their aquifers, or their sacred sites, does not accept political bribes from corporations that toss women and men out of their homes, or that draft legislation funneling them into lives lost in the for-profit prison-industrial complex.

Perhaps the argument I am trying to make is convoluted. I am writing while I am angry. I am angry because I don't distinguish between men who rape and men who legislate rape. And I don't distinguish between kinds of rape. And I don't segregate the victims of rape. It is a rapist mentality that keeps bombing people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen. It is a rapist mentality that drills into the seabed looking for oil. And I think we can struggle against the individual rapes and the collective rapes, the Republican rapes and the Democrat rapes, without feeling ourselves thrown into the clutches of a different rapist on election day. We will not stop this rapist culture with votes. Rise up or shut up!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

THE COP IN YOUR LIFE


I don't know any cops. I see them on the street but usually they don't see me, because I don't fit the profile of the people they target for harassment, kidnappings, and murder.

Maybe you know some cops? A few weeks ago I was discussing the New Jim Crow with two friends, women who also want to see a fast end to the institutional racism in the US that preys on people of color to fill its prisons, ghettos, and morgues. I made the totally uncontroversial statement that all cops are bastards, only to remember, as I spoke, that one of my friends is the daughter of a cop.

I did not take back my statement, or apologize, but I did listen as she described her cop father: a man, she said, whose inclinations were anti-racist, toward genuine public safety, toward justice, who complained (at home) about dirty deeds on the force.

A few days later, cops in Anaheim, California executed Manuel Diaz in the street. Diaz, a 25-year-old community member accused of no crime, was shot from behind, as he ran with two other men in the opposite direction of the armed men trained to kill who were chasing him. Diaz was unarmed. After hand-cuffing him, police shot him in the back of the head at close range.

Members of that same police force responded to the families, who assembled in the neighborhood to demand justice, just like a bunch of cowardly bastards, firing bean bags from shotguns, firing rubber bullets, and letting loose an attack dog. The small, unarmed crowd included infants.

These cops then offered cash in hand to people in the crowd for their cellphones, presumably to dispose of the evidence of their disgusting crimes, which anyway found its way to network news and the Internet. Within 24 hours, these same cops murdered another community member, Joel Acevedo.

"Known gang members" is the way the police force, and the compliant media, justified these murders. "Police involved shooting" is the way the press describes them, and the numerous other acts of lethal, extra-judicial aggression this particular police force has committed in 2012.

Here's a reminder: so far, this year, a person of color is murdered by the state or its vigilante proxies every 36 hours in the US. I don't have the exact numbers for when American cops initiate beatings, sexual harassment, sexual assault, public humiliations, violations of privacy, threats, thefts, kidnappings and so forth. You can look up the numbers on incarcerations for non-violent offenses, for the way folks are kidnapped from their communities and stripped - with classless, colorblind laws that target people of color and the poor - of their rights to work, receive public assistance, vote.

And since I began this piece, I read of Chavis Carter, a young man who was stopped by cops in Jonesboro, Arkansas, searched multiple times, handcuffed, and thrown in the back of a police car. At some point after this, a bullet entered his right temple and killed him, and the pigs say it was a suicide. These cops are bastards.

What does it take for a cop to not be a bastard? To denounce, loudly and clearly, this kind of behavior. To refuse to participate in it. To refuse to protect the State from the people it is entrusted to serve. To refuse to protect corporations from people protesting their misdeeds. To refuse to protect private power, period. To recognize the functional difference between municipal police and the military.

Want to be a hero to the community? Escort vulnerable folks, without a gun. Be helpful, without a badge. Be responsible, without a uniform. But if you wear a uniform, if you wear a badge, if you carry a gun, know that the State no longer sees you as an individual, but as a weapon yourself. That's how it uses you, that's how it dispatches and discharges you. Know that many of the rest of us see you that way too, and with good reason.

If you wear a uniform and a badge, if you carry a gun, go ahead and demand accountability from the force, see how far that gets you. Remember that you are supposed to serve the community, not the force. Remember that the mass incarcerations and killings by police are done in your name and that, wearing that uniform, we see you as duplicate expressions of the same idea. Are you a weapon against us? What are you a weapon for?

If the cop in your life is still a cop, it means that he (or she) has not threatened the good ol' boys club with demands for accountability, but really it means that he (or she) hasn't risked job and benefits in a society that criminalizes joblessness and health problems. It means that they collude (actively, or by their silence) with other members of the force to alter or hide evidence of police crimes. It means they go out on the street, trained to kill, with weapons loaded, knowing damned well that we live in a society that targets people of color, youth, and poor folks, and have the temerity to expect respect, even praise.

I am about done writing when I read another story about murderous cop bastards, this one out of New York City, where the mayor brags "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world." Two days ago a swarm of these forces loyal to arch-plutocrat Bloomberg confronted Darrius Kennedy in Times Square. I am going to go out on a limb and say that a reasonable response to being confronted by multiple armed killers is to protect yourself. Kennedy pulled a knife and started to back away. I suppose Kennedy had mental health issues, and if this society cared to address them, it wouldn't shoot him dead in broad daylight.

Ten shots, I think I read, to slow down this one agitated man, from a police force well practiced at containing thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists at a time for the past year. Brave? No. Accountable? No. Just? Not at all.

Again, what were these cops a weapon against? Who were they a weapon for? Here is an account from social justice activist Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, who writes that

Will we live in fear of the State's municipal police forces or will we demand accountability and exact justice from them? Are all cops bastards? Let the bravest ones lay their weapons down, step forward, and prove otherwise.