Good news! My new book HOW TO BE LESS STUPID ABOUT RACE: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide will be published by Beacon Press on September 18th! You can pre-order it now via Beacon, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound and it will be available wherever books are sold this fall!
You can learn more about the work and see some of the advanced praise here.
I’m immensely proud to share that the editorial team for the book was comprised entirely of women of color — and I had the amazing opportunity of working with Gayatri Patnaik, the brilliant editorial director at Beacon Press.
Deep gratitude to the many friends and colleagues who have been supportive as I embarked on publishing my first trade book and engaging in rigorous public sociology. This has been an exciting, whirlwind of an experience and I could not have done it without the encouragement of my community.
Beacon is my dream press for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is their spiritually informed mission and long history of publishing amazing writers and change agents like Thich Nhat Hanh, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Cornel West and many, many others. Their vision statement says it all:
The mission of Beacon Press is to affirm and promote these principles: the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web of all existence; and the importance of literature and the arts in democratic life.
My kickass agent, Michael Bourret, found the perfect home for this book! So… pre-order your copy today and let me know what you think when it comes out in September!
Years ago, I spent a lot of time writing about spirituality and building with like-minded souls through the blog. Then, at a certain point — not long after meeting Mooji, I suppose — I just…stopped. I still write about spirituality sporadically on Twitter, but I stopped feeling the need to write in great about my spiritual path. I think, for most mystics, there comes a point when you stop seeking and focus on living your truth.
Meditation and contemplative practice remain the cornerstones of my life. I’m still deeply engaged in daily spiritual work, learning from my teachers and listening to my inner guidance. But I don’t really talk about the details publicly anymore. Spirituality has become very sacred and private for me. There are only three living people with whom I feel comfortable discussing the details of my spiritual path: my partner, my mother and Mooji. I still haven’t gotten around to writing “Part II” chronicling my trip to Portugal, and perhaps I never will. But I can say that my time in Monte Sahaja was deeply beautiful, life changing and easily one of the most memorable and magical experiences of my life. I will never be able to capture it in words. Maybe that’s why I stopped trying.
In any case, I no longer feel compelled to blog in great detail about spirituality, but that might change at some point. For now, I’m perfectly content to keep this part of my life private and sacred as I continue to rise in consciousness.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I took our semi-regular road trip to visit an acupuncturist whose office is, as the young people say, in the cut–and worth the drive. Because all road trips need a good podcast, I scrolled through the recent episodes of our favorite shows. The Moth? This American Life? Nah, not today. I wasn’t really in the mood for Ira Glass or coffee-shop story-telling. Racism was, as it usually is, heavy on my mind. We were living through the white supremacist uproar surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protest against systemic racism and police violence targeting communities of color. And instead of attending to the unfolding disaster in Puerto Rico, the president was being the racist asshat that he is. In the midst of this bullshit, I naturally thought of Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton’s hilarious, thought-provoking and all around brilliant podcast Another Round. I found a recent episode featuring Senator Cory Booker, linked the Bluetooth and happily reclined my passenger seat.
The interview was certainly engrossing. Heben and Tracy peppered their back and forth with the relevant pop culture references, incisive questions and unmistakable shade that keep fans like me coming back for more. But as I listened to Booker, I alternated between curiosity, side-eye, sympathy and revulsion. The Senator is a masterful politician and accomplished manipulator, for sure. Despite my knowledge of his shady record, various corruption scandals and contentious relationship with progressives, I was nonetheless interested in hearing how Booker would interact with Heben and Tracey and what, if anything, he might say about racism.
Politicians are never more dangerous and toxic than when they mix just enough truth with their lies to sound authentic. Even with all of my critique and side-eye, Booker’s emotion-laden talk about his “hope for America” brought tears to my eyes. But even as I teared up, I realized the horror of what Booker had done. Weaving together what seemed to be compelling stories of black pain, Booker was able to emotionally manipulate me (and others) as he weaponized black suffering to portray himself as “woke”.
What unfolded over the course of the episode was a brilliantly jarring tight-rope performance. With aplomb, passion and humor, Senator Booker was able to both acknowledge what he called the “horrible system” upon which the US is based–and also minimize its crimes. Walking that white supremacist tight-rope, he granted just enough acknowledgement of the United States’ ongoing history of racial and class oppression to sound socially conscious to gullible ears while, in the same breath, insisting the US is still a “great country” despite the crimes it perpetuates against its own citizens. Not to mention — and indeed, Booker did not mention — the crimes perpetuated by the US against millions of human beings abroad.
After expressing his grave concern for mass incarceration, Booker unironically (!!!!) quoted Bill Clinton:
There’s nothing bad about America that can’t be solved by what’s good about America.
I get it. Cory Booker is a politician and politicians lie. They especially lie in ways that flatter themselves and keep them in office. But the lie at the heart of Booker’s formulation is that a fundamentally broken and oppressive system can always be redeemed, no matter how many centuries of crimes against humanity it commits. The fact that Booker borrowed a quote from one of the architects of mass incarceration–a policy which helps maintain white supremacy–after claiming to care about systemic racism tells you all you have to know about the convoluted lengths to which some politicians will go to distort social reality, cater to powerful white elites and simultaneously line their pockets.
And this is why that buttery falsetto came to mind: Never too much, never too much, never too much . . .
No matter how horrific the systemic crimes..
No matter how many millions slaughtered, discriminated, left without water..
No matter how many innocent people incarcerated by the state..
No matter how many colored and colonized people abandoned..
No matter how many children killed by police..
No matter how many miscarriages of justice..
No matter how many under-resourced schools..
No matter how many generations of environmental racism..
No matter how many capitalist-produced humanitarian crises..
The suffering is never, never too much.
In effect, the function of a politician like Cory Booker is to swoop in, invoke Bill Clinton, and reassure the citizenry that we are a “great country”. The “original sin” is damnable, but never quite damning enough to curtail the possibility of absolution. The body count can never be too high, the death toll never too devastating. The evils of the “horrible system” can be washed away, again and again, with the redemptive baptism of Cory Booker’s Wall-Street-and-Big-Pharma-funded discourse.
The sad reality is that our politics are dominated by two contemptible forces: those who completely deny that the US commits any crimes at all and those who admit some of the crimes but perpetually excuse and minimize them with the language of “forgiveness”, “hope” and “love of country”. Both of these forces are two sides of the same coin: the propaganda needed to justify and prolong US exceptionalism and dominance.
I’m sorry to say that for these forces, there is no bottom. There is only a bottomless pit into which marginalized people can be shoveled, shuttered and shrugged off. Whole populations can be slaughtered, left to die or slowly disintegrate, without resources, without power, without fresh water, without adequate schools, deprived of basic dignity and human rights . . . and the patriotic propaganda continues, unperturbed.
No atrocity left behind.
All the moral and structural wrongs can be “solved” and “fixed” by what’s “good about us”. It’s the neoliberal mantra. The death march song.
There is something very telling and horrific about the political discourse coming even from those brave souls who, following the lead of Colin Kaepernick, decide to take a knee. You will notice how in almost every case, citizens feel compelled to justify their protest in patriotic terms. This is, of course, the compulsory performance of patriotic devotion (“No disrespect to the flag!” “I love this great country!”).
This past week I’ve been trying to understand the political construction of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work in relation to neoliberalism and state violence. Coates is in the news as he makes the rounds to launch his new book We Were Eight Years In Power, a retrospective on the Obama era and the rise of Trump. While I congratulate the widely acclaimed author on the publication of his latest tome, I cannot personally recommend his fundamentally flawed and largely superficial thinking “about race”, for reasons I have outlined elsewhere.
For now, I want to focus on what’s been keeping me up at night for the last several years: the complicity of the Democratic Party (and Obama’s coterie of willfully ignorant fans) in the maintenance of multiple forms of state violence. Because Coates writes so much about Obama–and because of his positioning as one of the most widely read black social critics at the apex of the corporate media and publishing worlds–any consideration of Obama’s presidency must take into account the portrait produced in Coates’ writing. His romantic portrayals of the first black president (and his descriptions of race and politics) play an influential role in shaping (and setting the boundaries of) the convoluted and largely useless national conversation “about race” . In trying to understand Coates’ structural position and appeal to powerful white liberals, it’s become increasingly clear to me that his views (at least, the views he has publicly expressed) are obviously related to the political agenda of at least one of his employers, namely The Atlantic.
It should come as no surprise that Goldberg is a big fan of Barack Obama and has played a leading role in producing a relatively rosy portrait of the 44th president. Goldberg and some of his colleagues at The Atlantic promote what they view as a “liberal” vision of “democracy” that somehow happily coexists with settler colonialism, massive state violence, white supremacy, systemic racism, poverty, hypercapitalist exploitation and the indiscriminate killing of innocent people, including women and children, who stand in the way of the ruling elites’ determination to acquire absolute hegemony and strategically secure material resources no matter the cost. Of course, even publications that whitewash war crimes, like The Atlantic, have to at least gesture toward a functioning moral compass. And so we see articles like this one covering Obama’s drone strikes (and the lies he’s told about them) alongside popular puff pieces written by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates. In fact, such “gotta see both sides” coverage functions to bolster The Atlantic’s false appearance of objectivity and fair-mindedness.
Alright. I know I’ve been absent from this space for a really long time. I’ve been playing in other sandboxes and writing many other things, but I do think I’m finally in a space where I’m ready and willing to come back to this blog and share some of my musings at the intersection of politics and spirituality. For those who are still reading, feel free to check out my recently updated professional website with news and information about my book projects, upcoming talks and so on. In the meantime, stay tuned.. I’ve got more words for you.
Okay.. it’s been .. a really, really long time since I updated the blog. There are two main reasons for this neglect. First, most of my public writing these days now takes place on Twitter. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, my professional writing absorbed most of my brain power for the past few years. The good news? My first book – a significant revision of my dissertation – has finally been published! Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France is now available from Temple University Press and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
Resurrecting Slavery uses critical race theory to significantly advance scholarship on racism in France and Europe. Drawing on ethnographic observation, archival research and in-depth interviews with activists and descendants of slaves in Paris, I examine how commemorations of enslavement and abolition both challenge and reproduce the racial order.
This project has been a long time coming (to say the least) and it’s wonderful to be able to finally say it’s DONE! Aside from the satisfaction of revising the doctoral thesis and completing a major requirement for tenure, the book also represents the fulfillment of a childhood dream. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember. Although it’s an academic book, I wrote Resurrecting Slavery with a broad audience in mind and hope that it will be of interest to people who would like to know more about the legacies of slavery as well as the global dynamics of racism, white supremacy and anti-blackness.
I will post more about the book and upcoming events soon, but for now, I’d just like to express gratitude to my longtime readers on the blog. While there haven’t been many recent posts, I still receive positive feedback from people who followed my early chronicles on the tenure track. Stay tuned..
For those who have followed this blog from the start, then you probably know that I am drawn to Mooji’s teachings. You might also know that a while back — two years ago — I felt the need to “forget about” Mooji, forget about every spiritual teacher, all the books, all the retreats, all the effort. I felt the need to stop trying to do anything particular in my “spiritual life” — to “call off the search”.
What I realized, afterwards, was the importance of this forgetting. This was the period when I began to transcend the part of my identity that felt like it had to do something to “attain realization”. It wasn’t that I needed to forget about “Mooji” — I had to forget about me. I had to move beyond the feeling that “I” was directing my spiritual path, in order to open up greater space for surrendering to Life. In letting go of this spiritual identity, I also came to see more clearly that there is no difference between “Mooji” and me — or me and anyone else.
After a while, I began to sense that when I felt compelled to pick up a book, or sit with a meditation group, or watch a satsang video — it was not because “I” was doing it. It was simply because the Self — Consciousness — was unfolding in this way. These are things I don’t have many words for, but those who have experienced it will understand.
At some point, I found myself thinking that it would be nice to visit Mooji’s sangha. I didn’t have any particular question — at least not one I could articulate. I just felt that I should explore the possibility of being in Mooji’s presence. I had some concerns, though. I’d never met anyone who visited Monte Sahaja. Although I’d done one day retreats (for example, with Thich Nhat Hanh at Blue Cliff Monastery), I had never stayed overnight at an ashram. What if these people were weird? What if Mooji, the man, was vastly different from the Mooji I’d met in my heart? Would this community be a safe place for me, as a bisexual woman? I noticed that Mooji almost never acknowledged queer people in the stories and anecdotes he shared during satsang — and I couldn’t remember hearing anyone get up and ask a question related to being bi, lesbian, gay or trans. Troubled, I wrote him to ask why this was the case. I wasn’t sure if I would receive a response, but to my pleasant surprise, Mooji answered my inquiry, explaining that the sangha welcomes people regardless of sexual orientation. Shortly after this exchange — perhaps a week or so later — I watched a live satsang broadcast and saw, for the first time in all the videos I’d seen, a woman get ask Mooji to address the particular suffering of queer people who deal with homophobia. I experienced this synchronicity as a reassuring wink from the universe.
When I found out that I’d received a grant to spend two months working on my book in France, I knew that this would be my opportunity. I hadn’t been to Europe in 4 years and this was as close to Portugal as I would get for the foreseeable future. I wrote Mooji and the sangha to find out if I could come during this time. It took a bit of persistence, as I did not hear back right away. But eventually I did receive a gracious response. I would be welcomed at Monte Sahaja for a few days during my stay in Europe.
Mooji’s ashram is located in a remote part of Portugal, several hours from Lisbon. I’d never been to Portugal before and I don’t speak Portugese. There are certain things visitors are instructed to bring along, among them: bug spray, sun screen, a hat and a flashlight for getting around at night. I knew that the weather would be very, very hot – in the high 90s during the day – so I packed a small bag with light, comfortable clothes. I was mindful of the ego’s tendency to create projections about people — especially, perhaps “spiritual” people that we admire or learn from. I did not know how I would personally feel at Monte Sahaja. I remained open to the possibility that I would not “enjoy” my time there. But mostly, I just felt excited and in disbelief that I would finally be meeting someone who helped guide me to a clearer understanding of my true nature from thousands of miles away.
What was most helpful for me was resting in the knowledge that I was not going to meet Mooji as a “person” — that is, I was not interested in a personal meeting. And so I came to Monte Sahaja with this inner knowing — that I was not going to meet someone on the physical plane. I was interested in a meeting of the heart. And I felt incredible gratitude to have this opportunity.
My trip from Paris to Lisbon was long and stressful. My flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 11 hours later. I’d have to spend the entire day at Orly airport. I was sleep deprived and felt as though I’d pass out from exhaustion. At one point, when I was already frustrated and weary, there was bomb scare right behind my queue — a small black valise had been abandoned right where I was waiting to receive my new ticket. Eventually, French soldiers with machine guns evacuated the terminal. I followed along, resigned to a difficult day. I was both terrified and amused, knowing that in so many ways, I was already in satsang. Eventually the crisis passed, the luggage removed and disaster apparently averted.
Thankfully, I had resources to pass the time comfortably enough. I ate a pain au chocolat from Paul for breakfast, French onion soup at an airport bistrot for lunch and something overpriced from La Durée for dinner. I skyped with my girlfriend. I watched Mooji videos on my iPad while sipping kir royal. I chuckled at the ridiculousness of practicing inquiry while drinking champagne. I meditated while observing planes taking off, one after the other. I looked down to see that my phone was ringing — an unknown number. I answered. It was a woman with a warm, kind voice — someone from the sangha calling to see how I was doing. I’d emailed to let them know that my travel plans had changed. They wanted to make sure that I was okay and that I had a place to sleep in Lisbon that evening, as it would be too late for me to get to Monte Sahaja. I was surprised by the kindness and generosity of this woman, reaching out to me — a stranger — to check on my well-being. Later, I would see that this gesture was in alignment with other acts of kindness I experienced at the sangha.
When the plane finally sped down the runway, leaping into the air, I breathed a sigh of relief — until the electricity and engines seemed to power off. A murmur passed up and down the aisles. I gasped and laughed, simultaneously – my life flashing before my eyes. A moment later, the power flickered back on and the journey continued.
I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.
As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had been lecturing on youth and delinquency. I asked, in my broken French, if the dynamics he described had any relation to racial or ethnic belonging. “We don’t have that kind of problem here,” he said, adding: “This isn’t the United States.” Embarrassed and flustered, I nodded and continued taking notes. After class, one of the only other black students pulled me aside: “We do have those kinds of problems here. Hang out with me and I’ll tell you about it.”
My new friend was from Cameroon and had moved to France along with her sister and brother several years prior. Over the course of the semester, her family basically adopted me, inviting me to dinners, showing me the area and telling me about their lives. I learned that despite the fact that each of them had white French partners and white close friends, they nonetheless experienced racism. But, as I learned in that sociology class that day, many French people denied that racism was actually a problem in their supposedly colorblind society.