A Beautiful Synchronicity

Last night, a cab dropped me off at apartment in Paris around 9 PM. I get in, warm up dinner, relax. Two hours later, I’m on the phone with my girlfriend when suddenly — in the middle of our conversation — I realize that I can’t find my wallet.

I spend 10 minutes methodically searching the apartment. Nothing. Another ten minutes unpacking my bags. There is no wallet anywhere to be found. With growing disappointment, I see that I must have left it in the cab. I know that I must cancel my cards. I begin to wonder how I can possibly get new cards while abroad. I take a breath, tell myself to relax. I get the phone and start to look up numbers for my bank. A flood of self-judgment: How could I have left my wallet in a cab? Why didn’t I look down at the seat as I usually do before getting out? Is mercury in retrograde? In my mind, I tried to retrace my steps. Had I taken the wallet out to pay, and then put it down to find my keys?

At this point, something tells me to stop. Something tells me to go to the window. It’s not that I heard a voice or anything like that — it’s that I heard a thought. “Go to the window.” As I stood up and walked toward the window, I realized, inexplicably, that I was hoping the taxi would be there.

Now, understand that it did not make any sense whatsoever to hope or expect the taxi to be there. It had been two hours since I was dropped off.
I go to the window.

There’s a taxi.

I can’t believe it. I think: Well, someone else is being dropped off. But, as I go to close the curtain..

The taxi driver appears. My taxi driver. An Asian, middle-aged man. He’s waving at me. Breathless, I rush to put on my jacket and run outside.

“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“I just arrived — I was getting off of work.”
“How did you know which apartment was mine?”
“I didn’t ..”

I checked my wallet. Everything was inside. I still couldn’t believe it. I walked back into my apartment, in a daze.

* * *
I must have realized I lost my wallet around the same time he began driving to my apt. As he arrived, something within “happened” to tell me to get up and look out the window. I “happened” to listen to this crazy thought. The driver “happened” to actually be there —  and find my window right before I closed the curtain. All of this defies any rational explanation. I’d never taken this taxi before. Hadn’t written down his info. I had no way of contacting him. Two hours had passed since he dropped me off. I figured that if I left the wallet in the cab, another passenger might have swiped it. Even if someone turned it into the police, I could not imagine how they would find me. (Though I’m sure they “could” if they wanted to..) So I just wrote the situation off and figured I wouldn’t be seeing my wallet again.

Then the thought: Go to the window.

And he was there.

The driver said that if he couldn’t find me, he would have left a note with his information. But how amazing is it that he didn’t have to? What if I hadn’t listened to the inexplicable thought that said “go to the window”, hours after my taxi drove off? I listened.

He was there. 

For me, the gift was not merely getting my wallet back, though that was nice. But the truth is that I would have been fine without the wallet. The cards would have been cancelled, and arrangements made. The gift was being attuned to the synchronicity of the moment. The gift was hearing a message that didn’t make any kind of rational sense, but listening anyway. The gift was seeing that listening confirmed before my unbelieving eyes.

If anyone else told this story, I wouldn’t believe it. It happened to me and I barely believe it. But this kind of thing actually happens to me all the time. I call them “Matrix Moments” and over the years I’ve come to see them as signals to trust the Universe, to trust myself. I also experience these moments as reminders that there’s a side to life that defies conventional explanation, that is magical, mysterious. Moments when everything is so obviously, inexplicably aligned that I’m reminded that every other moment is also aligned. Because if even one moment is “on time”, then every other moment must be on time, too.. as all moments are interconnected and interdependent.

The beautiful alignments remind me to remain calm and grounded during moments that seem misaligned, uncomfortable, undesirable, painful. And what’s interesting is that after all this time, after all these reminders, I still need reminding, because of course, I am consciousness expressing Itself through a limited, human form — and these limitations necessitate faith in the Unlimited, in the Unseen.
* * *

Years ago, when I began intentionally “listening” to the Universe, I had a lot of doubt: How could I trust something that I could not explain? As I prioritized spirituality, Life began to speak to me in ways that seemed increasingly magical. But I had to stop trying to explain it. I’d have a dream that something happened, and would wake to see it actually happen. Or, discover that it happened while I was sleeping. An intuition would compel me in a certain way. I began to listen, without knowing why, but only knowing that it felt “right”.

As a fairly rational person, and an academic, I had to consciously overcome my fear of acknowledging this magical, inexplicable side of life. I had to let go of my fear of being seen (or seing myself) as crazy for embracing things that could not be explained, for having faith in the unseen, for trusting in processes and experiences that did not “make sense” in a conventional way.

But the synchronicities and messages were so direct and obvious that I could not deny them. Over time, my faith and trust began to grow. I began to trust my inner knowing, my intuition — even in moments when it seemed that my intuition was wrong, that I’d been mistaken — I began to see that even these “mistakes” were apart of a purposeful unfolding. The conventional, human part of my identity still doubts on a daily basis. Always stressing about something, fearful and striving. But over time, something more profound has grown within me that allows those human fears to be, but also eclipses them with an inner knowing.

On a conventional level, my ego worries and despairs about many things. But the greater part of me knows that everything is in alignment. Aligned for what? I don’t know. And I don’t need to know. Aligned by whom? Can’t say, exactly. But there’s something mysterious, benevolent and intelligent that I trust.

The idea that everything in life is unfolding as it “should” is not something I would impose on anyone else. It is a difficult notion, one that requires a nuanced understanding of different levels of analysis for taking stock of life in all of its complexities. Because the truth is that lots of awful things happen every moment of every day — across the conscious experience of every living being on the planet, unimaginable levels of suffering coexist with joy, love and feelings of peace. What one person experiences as a “blessing” is another person’s “curse”.

But it seems to me that if anything at all is as it should be, then everything is as as it should be — for everything that has ever been, everything that is now and everything that will be is inextricably interconnected. It may be a stretch for some to say that everything as it should be, given the realities of oppression and suffering, but there is part of me that holds space for this paradoxical truth. There is something in me that feels that it must work to change things about myself and about the world, even as there is something more profound that knows that nothing needs me to change anything at all — rather, there are simply changes taking place, changes that are changing me, changes that must take place, changes that are meant to be.

The human concept of a blessing is often very selfish, very confused, dualistic and dependent on a Santa-Claus-like image of “God”. And while it’s fine to feel blessed and acknowledge blessings, I personally feel that accepting all of life as a blessing, as one interconnected and mysterious unfolding is my spiritual work. I’m grateful to the taxi driver, for sure. But I’m even more grateful to the Universe for continuing to wink at me in such a delightful way.

20 Things You Need to Read Before You Talk to Me About Race

Inside of the classroom, my goal is to create a safe space for my students to learn about and explore the uncomfortable and challenging topics of inequality, race and racism. Outside of the classroom, my goal is mostly to maintain my sanity through practices of self-care and spirituality, nurture my creative expression, drink good wine and engage in compassionate action in my relationships and communities.

While my role as an educator and researcher involves teaching and writing on race and social theory, in my civilian life as a writer and regular gal, I have no obligation whatsoever to engage people on issues of race. To the contrary, I have the right to set my own rules of engagement, establish my boundaries and clarify what is and is not acceptable for me. This is especially so given that “talking about race” (and more specifically, anti-blackness and white supremacy) is not merely some sport or hobby for most people of color. It’s a painful topic that speaks to relations of power that all too often result in unarmed black men, women and children being killed by “officers of the peace”, the everyday reality of racial bias and discrimination and the fact that blacks only have access to a tiny fraction of the wealth possessed by our white neighbors, friends and co-workers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

read_a_book

New Blacks aside, I feel like the average person of color with any degree of awareness already has a PhD in race just from surviving in a racist society. But wide swaths of the population 1) do not experience racial oppression 2) have not reflected on the topic seriously and/or 3) routinely devalue the perspectives and knowledge of people of color. Continue reading

The Black Precedents of a Black President: White Supremacy and the Killing of Walter Scott

This morning, I woke up in Paris to the terrible news that yet another unarmed black man, Walter Scott, had been shot to death by a white police officer in the United States. While the killing happened over the weekend, it took several days for the story to traverse the Atlantic and reach my consciousness here in France, where I am currently completing a book on French racism and the legacies of slavery.

As I watched the traumatic video of officer Michael Slager shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott — a father and Coast Guard veteran — two questions immediately came to mind:

What kind of a person shoots an unarmed human being in the back, then handcuffs them as they lay dying?

Even more to the point:

What kind of society allows black people to be routinely violated and killed by the state?

While I don’t have an answer to the first question, the second query is more straightforward. Anti-racist scholars have demonstrated that we are still living in a white supremacist society. As historian George Lipsitz (2006: xviii) writes in his brilliant book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness “the power, property and politics of race in our society continue to contain unacknowledged and unacceptable allegiances to white supremacy”. Continue reading

What Does It Mean to “Love White People”? On Common and the Absurdity of #HandInLove

It’s sort of beneath my dignity to have to say that I love and have loved quite a few white people, but let’s just put it out there:

Yes, some of my very best friends are white folks.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in predominately white suburbs of predominately white nations, predominately white schools and predominately white organic grocery stores.

By virtue of my minority status and choices, my life involves a lot of working, talking and loving across different types of racial lines. I’m a East-coast raised, Southern-born, multi-generational, multi-racial black woman of U.S. slave ancestry. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumor has it that there’s Irish on both sides of my family tree. My family (biological and chosen) includes a diverse array of beautiful people: loved ones from a variety of diasporas, a Haitian godmother, Jews whose families immigrated from Europe.

I have a lot to learn and much room for growth, but I live a relatively cosmopolitan life. I like the fact that my hapa girlfriend grew up between California and Tokyo, spent years in Africa and speaks French with a Senegalese accent. I’ve visited a dozen countries and spent a significant portion of my twenties living in Paris. In my personal life, I have made it my business to consciously learn and explore what interracial, anti-racist love looks like. My spirituality is deeply influenced by Eastern traditions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Hinduism (Advaita-Vedanta). As an anti-racist educator and a panentheistic non-dualist, I know that who we are, on an existential level, has absolutely nothing to do with the social fiction of race.

And yet, I’m also intimately familiar with the social reality of our collective fictions. While I teach my students that our ideas about race are socially constructed, I also equip them to recognize and understand the very real consequences of past and present racism.

What I know for sure is that much of what people say about matters of race and love in public contributes to white supremacy.

I say all of this, in part, as a response to highly problematic comments made by the rapper Common, who recently appeared on the Daily Show and shared his stunningly ignorant take on race. In an apparent attempt to reflect on the power of reconciliation, Common told Jon Stewart:

If we’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down and we don’t want it anymore. We are not extending a fist and we are not saying, ‘You did us wrong.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, I’m extending my hand in love . . . ‘Let’s forget about the past as much as we can and let’s move from where we are now . . .  Me as a black man, I’m not sitting there like, ‘Hey, white people, y’all did us wrong.’ We know that existed . . . I don’t even have to keep bringing that up. It’s like being in a relationship and continuing to bring up the person’s issues. Now I’m saying, ‘Hey, I love you. Let’s move past this. Come on, baby, let’s get past this.’

There is so much wrong with this perspective that one hardly knows where to begin.

But let’s just start by acknowledging that what Common is advocating here has nothing at all to do with love.

What Common is suggesting, in fact, constitutes erasure and denial. He’s not only explicitly erasing the existence of present-day racism, he’s also implicitly denying that race relations today have anything at all to do with society and its institutional arrangements of power. In his view, “the race problem” is merely a lovers’ quarrel, a simple misunderstanding that happened a really long time ago and should be forgotten.

It didn’t take long for Black Twitter to wig-snatch the absurdity of Common’s proposed solution to healing the racial divide. You can find a deluge of damning criticism on social media neatly packaged under the hashtag #HandInLove.

Common appears to be suffering from the profoundly offensive misconception that racism:

1) is merely an interpersonal misunderstanding (and not a systematic and social reality)

2) only existed in the past (and is not an on-going feature of our society)

3) can be solved by people of color loving white folks better

As you may know, Common recently won an Oscar for co-writing the original song Glory, a paean to the Civil Rights Movement. And though he appeared in Ava Duvernay’s Selma, one wonders if he actually saw the film at all. Because I’m pretty sure that Martin Luther King extended a #HandInLove, and I’m also pretty sure that he’s dead.

Continue reading

A Black Bisexual Manifesto

Hey y’all! Check out my latest piece, “A Black Bisexual Manifesto” on The Huffington Post (Black Voices). It’s part of #ThisIsLuv, an exciting and inspiring multimedia campaign launched by creative visionaries Darnell Moore and Wade Davis to shine light on LGBTQ-inclusive families in the black community. I was honored to take part in a segment about the campaign on HuffPostLive today along with Darnell, Tiq Milan and the brilliant Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

I want to also take this opportunity to recognize and express gratitude to my mother, Barbara, for encouraging me to take part in the campaign. As I explain in the post, she’s come an incredibly long way toward being a supportive ally as I’ve stepped out in my truth. But, it’s a path that hasn’t been easy. I was unsure about keepin’ it real regarding the difficulties involved in navigating homophobia and biphobia in our family, so having her support in telling my story means a lot to me. Our mother/daughter relationship continues to play an important role in teaching us both about love, and for that, I’m deeply grateful.

Blackwashing History: Slavery, Lynching & White Erasure

This morning, I came across a newly published article in the New York Times on the history of lynching in the U.S. south. Curiously, I noted that the author racialized the lynching victims – they were repeatedly referred to as black – but the race of those who did the lynching was left unmarked. In the article, blacks were lynched by “a group of men”, a “mob”, or simply by no one at all (using the passive voice). Not once in this article about a horrific chapter of the racial past was it ever explicitly acknowledged that whites did the lynching. Even more disturbing to me, when the author characterized lynching as “racial terror”, he used quotation marks. As if the phrase was in question.

Reading this piece of journalism, early in the morning before I’d even had my coffee, felt like a slap in the face. I wondered about the depth of denial required to not only write, but approve, an entire article about racial lynching—during Black History Month, no less!—that implicitly masks the role of white people in the bloody affair. But this pattern of denial was as unsurprising as it was upsetting. Not only is the erasure of whiteness and white responsibility a general feature of white supremacy, it is also one of my main findings about the representation of racial history on the other side of the Atlantic, in France. This latter topic is the subject of Resurrecting Slavery, the book I’m currently completing during my leave.

The lynching article illustrates similar patterns of asymmetric racialization and white erasure at work in the way slavery and colonialism are depicted in French society today. In official representations, I found that the enslaved were very often racialized as black – yes in “colorblind” France – but whites were rarely acknowledged. But this is far from the entire story. Outside of official speeches and texts that promoted white erasure, whiteness was at times recognized and deconstructed in commemorative events on the ground, especially in arenas where people of color had the opportunity to engage each other and openly discuss the history and legacies of slavery. These spaces of discussion and contention among ordinary people are important sites of knowledge production where minorities and anti-racist whites can produce alternative understandings of race, challenging the post-racialism and denial of the French state.

In Resurrecting Slavery, I argue that it’s a mistake—in France and elsewhere—to think that “breaking the silence” about racism or racial history is itself anti-racist. Racial history is all too often represented in ways that perpetuate the invisibility of white people’s role in (re)producing racism. This is particularly the case when authors, politicians, commemorative officials or academics join in masking, denying or justifying white people’s agency and responsibility for racism in the past and/or present. Take, for example, the 2001 “Taubira Law” that made France the first (and to this day, the only) country in the world to recognize slavery as a “crime against humanity”. On its face, this legislative development might seem like a significant step in the fight against racism. After all, no other Western nation has explicitly enshrined in law any recognition for the criminality of transatlantic slavery—a practice that was routinely legitimated and justified with racist ideology by European practitioners throughout its history. Yet, a closer look at the text of the law reveals certain peculiarities. The three main articles of the legislation read as follows:

Article 1

The French Republic recognizes that the transatlantic negro slave trade as well as the trade in the Indian ocean on the one hand, and slavery on the other, perpetrated from the 15th century in the Americas and in the Caribbean, in the Indian Ocean and Europe against African, American-Indian, Malagasy and Indian populations constitutes a crime against humanity.

Article 2

The academic curriculum and programs of research in history and the human sciences will accord to the negro trade and slavery the consequential place they deserve. Cooperation which permits and places in articulation written archives available in Europe with oral sources and archeological knowledge accumulated in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and in all other territories having known slavery will be encouraged and promoted.

Article 3

A request for recognition of the transatlantic negro trade as well as the trade in the Indian ocean and slavery as a crime against humanity will be introduced before the European Council, international organizations and the United Nations. This request will equally target the selection of a common date on an international scale for commemorating abolition of the negro trade and slavery, without preference for the commemorative dates of each overseas department.

The text of the law makes it clear that the French state now acknowledges that transatlantic slavery was criminal and calls for educational and commemorative efforts to resurrect this aspect of the past. But, as other scholars have pointed out, the legislation decries a crime without a culprit. The wording also singles out specific groups that were targeted and exploited: African, American-Indian, Malagasy and Indian populations. Further, the law implicitly reifies a racial category—in this case, blackness— with four references to the “negro trade” (traite negrière). But how are those who carried out enslavement characterized? The first article declares that slavery was “perpetrated”, yet no perpetrator (individual or collective) is mentioned. More to the point: not only are the perpetrators of slavery not named, they are not racialized. The slavery past is represented in terms that resurrect certain aspects of race, but only the race of the victims.

Many sociologists have argued that race is socially constructed. Resurrecting Slavery draws attention to an aspect of racial construction that is rarely addressed by social scientists: the way our understandings of race are intertwined with ideas about time. Colorblind discourse (which is hegemonic in France) not only denies the existence of racial groups (especially whites) generally, it also asserts a specific temporal representation of race. As critical race theorists have shown, colorblindness is, first and foremost, an attempt to erase race from representations of society and often entails a denial of various aspects of race in the past and present. At times, people are able to challenge this erasure by constructing what I call racial temporality—making connections between racial categories, relations and processes across time. Such temporal labor is, I argue, both a key component of racial cognition and an important tool of anti-racism.

25 Things That Co-Exist with White Supremacy

For the uninitiated, I’ve assembled a non-exhaustive list of things that co-exist with [socially defined] whites’ collective political, social and/or economic dominance in countries with histories of white supremacy, anti-blackness and racialized terror against people socially defined as non-white:

1. The fact that many whites are wonderful and kind people.

2. The fact that some white people do nice things for some people of color.

3. The fact that white poverty exists [and enriches the white 1%].

4. The fact that some white people are allies.

5. The fact that some white people have sex with people of color.

6. The fact that some (evidently smaller number than those referenced in #5) white people build loving, romantic relationships and families with some people of color.

7. The fact that whites personally and individually experience struggle or disadvantage.

8. The fact that many, many, many whites treat other whites poorly.

9. The fact that after voting for 43 white presidents in a row, some whites voted for and elected a half-white President.

10. The fact that there are people of color who are in denial about the existence and illegitimacy of white supremacy due to internalized oppression.

11. The fact that there are white people who are in denial about the existence and/or illegitimacy of white supremacy due to the psychic and material rewards of white supremacy.

12. The fact that “not all whites” [insert oppressive verb here].

13. The fact that a white police officer hugged a crying black child.

14. The fact that Oprah exists.

15. The fact that people are seduced by narratives of hope and progress even in the midst of on-going oppression.

16. The fact that certain elite social spaces that were previously 100% white are now “only” (!!!) 99% 95% or 90% of 85% or 75% white.

17. The fact that whiteness, specifically, and race generally are social constructs and therefore neither primordial nor essential.

18. The Emancipation Proclamation.

19. Affirmative Action.

20. Black millionaires and billionaires.

21. Beer summits.

22. White House meetings with Ferguson protesters.

23. Cameras on cops.

24. OWN.

25. Eric Holder.

It should really go without saying, but none of the aforementioned is capable of negating white supremacy.. in the same way that the existence of really awesome heterosexual people does not negate the social and historical reality of heterosexism, in the same way that Ellen’s individual success does not negate the on-going realities of homophobia, in the same way that the existence of women CEOs does not negate the social reality of unequal pay, in the same way the existence of generous, compassionate and kind-hearted men does not negate the social and historical reality of patriarchy, in the same way that the existence of loving and compassionate cis people does not negate the social and historical reality of cis-sexism and transphobia, in the same way that the existence of inter-ethnic friendships and relationships does not wash away the legacies of ethnocentrism and privilege on the part of the dominant group(s), in the same way that the “philanthropy” of the 1% does not erase the horrid realities of capitalist exploitation..

And so on, and so forth.