Monday, August 31, 2015

Interrupting Bernie From the Presumed Center of the Universe: Confessions of a Renegade Christo-Buddhist Black Man Who Refuses to Play By "The Rules"

When I left Oakland, California and moved to Bremerton, Washington a little more than six months ago, I was a significantly broken, hurt, and extremely beaten down man. Very few people in my life were aware of this with any real and deeply penetrating depths of awareness. 

I felt severely let down and believed I had been ill-treated by a small though apparently powerful, somewhat insensitive, and rather persuasive cabal of women of color from within a community I had once felt very strongly connected to. It was a heartbreaking experience that unfortunately came at a very inopportune time and that will likely take me a little more time to completely get over and heal from. In addition, going through this experience with this community and with this group of women specifically, had unearthed some very old emotional injuries and wounds I believed I had sufficiently tended to and had beautifully and completely healed from more than a decade earlier. However, these very old emotional injuries and wounds now unceremoniously and dramatically reasserted themselves into my life, with the force and power of a neutron bomb that I believed I was not particularly prepared for emotionally though at the same time had no choice in addressing, along with all the other hurdles I was simultaneously trying to clear at the time as well. 

 I was also experiencing various emotional upheavals as a result of everything I’ve already mentioned and as a result of many other challenges I had in the year or so leading up to my departure from Oakland. Thankfully I had enough wherewithal to recognize I was essentially grieving all kinds and types of losses. If I hadn’t recognized this, I might have thought I was going completely mad. However, I wasn’t going completely mad. I knew this quite decisively. Thank you, God. Ultimately, I knew I was being given an opportunity to grow and exponentially so through the well-known “trial by fire” school of hard knocks technical school training so many of us go through in our lives and hopefully successfully graduate from. I understood this very deeply and accepted it even if begrudgingly so.

Some of the losses I experienced were through the physical deaths of several people who were close and important to me.

One friend—a short time prior to my departure from Oakland—who had also been a former co-worker and mentor, whom I had known for over twenty years, was murdered.

Three members of her immediate family had also been killed, including her husband and two of their teenage children. The teenage son had killed his parents and his younger sister. He then himself was killed a few days later, in another state, during a shootout with local law enforcement. This was all incomprehensibly tragic. It was also an extremely shocking and surreal event for all of us who had known the mother and/or her family. I was haunted by nightmares for several weeks, inspired by my imagining how these events may have unfolded since no one really knew for certain. All the people who could have lent some insight into it all were now dead. 

Another friend I had known for a relatively short period of time had recently chosen to take his own life, also, right before I left Oakland. I had seen and spoken with him just two days before he died. I was completely unaware of what was occurring within him that was experienced as too much to bear less than forty-eight hours later. Clearly, he had already made his decision when I saw him. He had been in unusually calm and collected spirits.

On the other side of the coin, I knew there was a kind, sensitive, and experienced Zen teacher and a hopefully supportive community attached to this teacher awaiting me in Washington State—the destination of my flight from Oakland. And I knew I had to take flight away from Oakland. I had developed quite an allergy to Oakland in my last year or so there. I didn’t have an allergy to the city of Oakland itself though I did find I had grown quite weary of it. I was even wearier of certain lingering mostly recent memories with various people who either lived in Oakland or whom I associated with Oakland. 

All of this placed me in the rather interesting position of both feverishly running toward something I suspected might eventually be very healing and transformational for me and also feverishly running away from something I knew I no longer wanted to be around at that moment. I also knew that experiencing both what I was approaching and what I was leaving would eventually provide the foundations for a healing process most likely unlike any I had ever experienced before.

So let the sideshow begin, as the soulful 1970s rhythm and blues song by Blue Magic says.

Many of my thoughts, ideas, values, and life philosophies were also in extreme transition during the time before, during, and after my move to Washington State. Almost everything I had imagined my life would be grounded in was up for grabs. It was both a very confusing and a very exciting time all wrapped up in a box of divergent, strong, and opposing emotions.

Fast forward to the present.

Over the past several months while moving through various healing processes, I have also taken some note of various headline news reports that had come into my conscious awareness. Many were met with mostly a passing indifference. However, my ears and eyes did tend to prick up around the various reports that were connected, in any way, to the racially driven upheavals, shifts, and movements that have been occurring in America since a small city in the Saint Louis metropolitan area of Missouri named Ferguson, burned its way onto most American’s radar.

There was a time not too very long ago indeed, when many of these very same types of news reports would have started a very significant fire under me causing my passions to become truly ignited. I realized that the lack of this experience now was likely due to my simply dealing with all the adjustment and settling in connected to my move from Oakland to Bremerton. Yet, I also knew this was not the whole of it. Something else was responsible for the lack of passion and lack of fire I experienced in myself when reading or hearing of these very specific types of happenings in the world all around me.

I was born a black male into a white supremacist world with all the attendant inequities, struggles, and challenges that came with that in just my lifetime alone, not to mention all the generational horrors and suffering that occurred to black folks before I was even born though which I was intimately aware of and that still impacted me. All of this pretty much cemented the probability that I would become a progressive social justice activist. This is especially true when other personality traits I have are also taken into consideration. Then, once I realized I was a same gender loving (gay) black male too, and began dealing with all the personal inequities and struggles I experienced there, and again, not to mention the historic ones, there as well, the cement, if it was not already hardened before, was certainly hardened now.

I unofficially became an activist when, as a young boy, I strongly disagreed with my maternal grandfather whom I worshiped, adored, deeply respected, and loved like no other man before nor since. This occurred one evening at the family dinner table. We disagreed over the topic of capital punishment. My grandfather absolutely supported it. I adamantly repudiated it and still do. I am extremely proud of the fact that my very first and strong social justice stance was being unequivocally against the death penalty without exception and that I took that stance as a relatively young boy.

Several years later I officially became an activist, in my way of defining this word, in 1976, at the still relatively tender age of sixteen, when I became a registered conscientious objector, buoyed largely by my observation and analysis of almost everything I saw as a part of America’s involvement in what we Americans called, The Vietnam War. This was doubly reinforced by my complete disgust with and anger at being forced to sign up for conscription later roughly two years later.

In the interim, between then and now, I have often had a great deal of personal difficulty and disagreements with progressive and liberal minded activists of almost every stripe imaginable. This has been the case even though I currently and have always, at least since age sixteen, identified as being a deeply committed progressively minded activist myself. What this means at its core is that I have always found myself to be at odds with a community of people I saw myself as having a great deal in common with. For a long time this was quite perplexing to me. I attributed it to things I quickly came to understand were not the source of my difficulties with progressive activists at all. So for some time the mystery remained.

These difficulties first started to arise when I began to recognize, in my late teens and early twenties, what I experienced as a very clear, very strong disconnect, as well as a palpable cognitive dissonance between the values I saw many progressive activists passionately and publicly espousing and giving strong voice to and how I saw many of these same activists treating, very differently, the people they said were the most important to them in their interpersonal lives. These seeming hypocrisies and inconsistencies only grew in intensity, in my observation, over the years.

At this point, in my life today, a good portion of the activists I know are also Buddhist practitioners. The form my criticism often takes today then is a reflection of this fact. I often observe social justice activists who are also Buddhist practitioners behaving exactly like all other activists whose activism is not at all grounded in some kind of spiritual or mindfulness practice. This is sometimes confusing and disheartening to me because it is sometimes difficult for me to see and comprehend how these people’s practice is positively influencing their activism. I see what to me looks like so much vitriol, aggression, lack of compassion, sarcasm, mean spiritedness and passive aggression infused into their social activism and social justice work—even their Buddhist based activism work. Rarely, until very recently, did I voice my critical thoughts. Instead, I mostly decided to work on my own desired deeper living of The Eightfold Path in my own life while trying to not be too distracted by the actions of others. Yet, I couldn’t help still being very much aware of what I frequently observed and experienced.

Then on August 8, 2015 Marisa Johnson and Mara Willaford interrupted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a campaign stop in nearby Seattle. They grabbed his microphone and forced the crowd gathered to listen to what they had to say instead of what they had come to hear. At first this story, like so many before it, did not really register on my radar. I had become aware of the whole brouhaha several days after the incident had occurred. This is due primarily to the fact that the only way I receive news these days is through the internet and I am on the internet very infrequently. So slowly, at first, and then very rapidly, I began to realize that many people I was connected to on social media were strongly engaged with this story and had very strong thoughts and opinions about it. I am connected to folks who represented various sides of opinion about this. This is not unusual for me to experience because I have friends on every single side of the political divide imaginable. However, the more I read my friends comments and expressed opinions, the more I began to be drawn in. This surprised me. Nothing had really drawn me in similarly for many months. At first I was very unsure why this particular story was increasingly drawing my attention. What was it about this story that had triggered me, or had ignited something in me, or had stirred some sleeping beast within me? It was all a mystery to me at first.

I decided to find and watch a video of what had happened before I formed any strong opinions about the whole thing. Thankfully, the video I found was one that contained audio from the very first minutes of the incident. I also tend to walk around most times with all kinds of music playing in my head. Often when I see something, a particular track is accessed and I often cannot get that song out of my head for the next several hours. When I first saw the video from the event, the song "Where is the Love" by The Black Eyed Peas immediately popped into my head. The line, "People livin' like they ain't got no mamas" is the one that specifically queued up. The next thought that came to my mind was the thought that these two women sounded like straight up bullies to me. I was bullied growing up—a lot. So I know what bullying sounds like, thank you very much. It’s hard to clean that shit up once one gets into that zone. Bullying has probably been around since the beginning of human existence on the planet. And it always sounds the same. I thought, Hmmm, to my ears, "If you do not listen to her, your event will be shut down right now” sounded an awful lot like, “If you don’t give me your lunch money right now bitch, I’m gonna kick your azz.”

Go tell it on the mountain, children!


I examined and reviewed all the arguments put forth by those who strongly defended the actions of the two woman. Among these arguments was a strong assertion that what these women were essentially bringing attention to the historic and generational disregard, slaughter, pain, and suffering of black people and of our black communities being under constant siege both currently and for hundreds of years under the system of white supremacy and two of its strongest subsidiaries, white privilege and racism. I had no problem with that. There was also a belief put forth that in America right now, these were far more important issues for us all to be addressing as American’s than anything else any presidential candidate could possibly speak of. No real problem with that either.

There were others whose strongest concern was that taking a stance against the two woman simply had to be motivated by some sense of a need for some form of wretched assimilation. There were the related and more pointed assertions that if one was black and opposed these women’s actions, surely such a person was giving in to some expressed or unexpressed sense of black respectability, which in fact and in truth is just another expression of wretched assimilation. Uh oh, I see a slippery slope coming up ahead. These particular defenders often made wild and sweeping generalizations about whole categories of black folks they didn’t even know yet somehow magically believed they possessed the heretofore unknown to me, at least, mind reading ability to incontrovertibly know such people had fallen victim of such things as assimilation consciousness and/or black respectability consciousness. BAM! We’re on that slippery slope now. Even with that mind reading foolishness, everything is mostly cool with me even here. BTW, I am a strong opponent of black respectability consciousness and find it an insult to my intelligence when black folks who either do or especially if they don’t know me, accuse me of pandering to it in any way.

There were also those who defended the woman’s actions under the rubric that the liberation of black people in this country was not to be directed by some fallacious and made up timeline that conveniently fit into the comfort zones of those who were not the ones who were to be liberated but rather, needed to fit solely into whatever schedule those who were the ones to be liberated saw fit. If that time ended up occurring during a scheduled speech of a white, male, democratic presidential candidate, then so be it. Good, we’ve cleared the slippery slope and are back on secure ground now.

Others still, resorted to the argument that since black women as a whole in this country were often not given full agency in the world, and that because of this fact, these two black women, by necessary and required unquestioned decree, should be given agency to do whatever they wanted with absolutely nothing else needing to be taken into consideration. Uh oh, I see us approaching another slippery slope up ahead there folks. Fasten your seat belts, babies.

I understood all of these arguments and defenses intimately and very well. Each of them were par for the course type arguments and defenses that deeply represented the progressive social justice activists hive mind—a hive mind I had become very familiar with and had indeed been an active participant of for decades. Personally, I found most of these arguments to be reasonable enough. I saw all of them as being grounded in varying levels and degrees of provable truth. I did not find any of these arguments and defenses neither absurd nor completely indefensible. There were some slippery slopes. I had however, navigated far more slippery slopes in the past. None of these arguments however, persuaded me to support the actions of the two women. Not in the slightest.

On the other side of the spectrum were mostly arguments putting forth the idea that these two women had simply chosen the wrong presidential candidate to “bully.” Many of these people seemed to have a personal investment in Bernie Sanders himself and cited his time of marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights era, as proof of this. Many of these folks also presumably would have seen the two women’s actions as being far less problematic if not wholly forgivable if they had taken place, oh let's say at a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz rally. Lovely. As if it was totally OK to bully someone simply because you didn't like him. Good grief. Anyway. I understood these people’s positions. I however, was not really that sympathetic toward them. Their concerns in no way represented the reasons why I did not support the actions of the two women. For that, all I needed to mostly do was examine my own decade’s long experience with progressive social justice activists as a whole. 

For years there often seemed to be this secret understanding and unacknowledged agreement that the more apparently self-indulgent, self- righteous, self-absorbed, mean spirited, bitter, and with the least amount of humility displayed—the far better progressive activist one was universally assessed and hailed as being. I felt like there was this memo that was periodically being sent out to progressive activists asserting precisely these sentiments yet somehow I consistently failed to receive that memo. And also at the most basic plain ole human level, I realized I now had an aging body that was disabled and always experiencing chronic pain. I also recognized I, like everyone else who was roughly my age, had spent much of my life dealing with my own and other people’s drama and bullshit and the emotional toll it had all taken on me was beginning to show—especially the toll from my own drama and bullshit, mind you. Still, it simply began to wear me out always feeling like I had to make excuses for the seemingly perpetually angry, negative, narcissistic, self-indulgent behavior of those in this tribe I sort of reluctantly belonged to called progressive social justice activists. 

The problem however, was not so much one of myself no longer being in alignment with the underlying ideas, philosophies, constructs, thinking and understandings of what I viewed as the overarching progressive social justice activist community and creed. That wasn’t it. The issue was a little more nuanced than that. It was more an issue of approach, I suppose, than anything else.

I now, at this stage of my life, want a kinder, gentler approach to my activism work than what I consistently seemed to experience with most other progressive social justice activists. I want an approach that doesn't seem to be so heavily influenced by unresolved and unaddressed personal pain, trauma, and suffering. I want an activist ethos less seemingly fixated on negativity, pessimism, and despair. I want an approach that's not so reflexively defensive and so threatened by opposing ideas within its own ranks. I want a social justice activism that isn't so seemingly self-righteous, so seemingly self-absorbed, so seemingly believing that all of us progressive activists consistently live at the absolute center of the known universe, so seemingly fueled by righteous indignation directed at those who are assessed as not living at the absolute center of the known universe with us or passive aggressively assumed by us as somehow always being smarter than such people as well.

I want an approach that is less snarky, less sarcastic, less mean, less self-indulgent, less thought policing of those with different takes on things and I want an approach that is more obviously humble. I want something that is more compassionate, more empathetic, more infused with loving kindness, and one that is more joyful and more loving—though definitely not in a spiritually bypassing kind of way. I suppose when it is all said and done I basically want an approach to progressive social justice activism that is more in alignment with how certain people both living and no longer living—heroes and sheroes of mine, seemed to approach social justice activism in their own lives—people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, Jr, Peace Pilgrim, The Dalai Lama, and Thích Nhất Hạnh. It is a social justice activism underscored with a spiritual acumen and consciousness that I can identify with and understand.

Then one day, about a week or so ago, for no particular reason that I could identify, I received a very strong impulse to go retrieve my copy of Andrew Harvey’s book, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. I knew it was somewhere in a closet in the house we are renting that hadn’t been gone through since the move to Bremerton. For some unknown reason I knew I was being instinctively drawn to this book and more importantly, being drawn to two very specific chapters contained within it. It took me almost an hour of diligent and near exasperated searching to find the book in question. However, I did finally find it. I quickly flipped to the first chapter I had been inspired to revisit. This was a chapter entitled, “Two Stories of Sacred Activism.” As soon as I flipped to the beginning of the chapter, I knew why I had been drawn to it. This chapter contained a story I had read numerous times before. It was a story that had moved me deeply every single time I read it. I had recounted and included the story in several Dharma talks as a lay Dharma teacher. I had posted it on my blog several years ago. I had bought multiple copies of the book when it first came out and gave many copies to friends and colleagues largely because of this story. I had somehow forgotten just how important this story was for me. It is my understanding that this story was first brought to popular awareness in a sermon given by Rev. Maake Masango. After that, it has appeared in various essays and books written by numerous writers, spiritual teachers, and educators. Here is that story:
 After the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to bring the violence of apartheid to light and to give both victims and perpetrators a chance to be heard.
The Commission brought an old black woman into the same room with the white man, who had confessed to the murders of both the old black woman’s only son and of her husband as well. She had not witnessed the murder of her son. However, as part of the sheer brutality of the deed, she had been forced to witness the death of her husband. Because of this, she was able to hear his last words before he died. Those last words had been, “Father, forgive them.”
Now the old black woman found herself standing in an emotionally charged courtroom, listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid. Among these was the confession of the man who had murdered her son and husband. The man who confessed to the murders was a one Mr. Van de Broek. 

Officer Van de Broek first acknowledged his responsibility in the death of her son. Along with others, he had shot her 18-year-old son at point-blank range. He and the others had then partied while they burned his body, turning it over and over on the fire until it was reduced to ashes. 
Later, he similarly confessed of the murder of the old woman’s husband. Eight years later, Van de Broek and others arrived to take her husband. A few hours later, shortly after midnight, Van de Broek then came to fetch the old woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound. She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed it. Now, Van de Broek stood before her awaiting judgment. An assistant of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked her what she wanted, what she thought should happen to this man who had so brutally murdered the only family she had on this earth.
The old woman replied: 
"I want three things," she said calmly. "I want Mr. Van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband's body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial." "Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him." "Third, I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would kindly ask someone to lead me to where he is seated, so I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven."
The assistants came to help the old black woman across the courtroom toward the man she had just requested to embrace in her arms. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. As he did, those in the courtroom—friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—began to sing "Amazing Grace." Gradually everyone joined in.
The second chapter I had been drawn to was entitled, “The Voice of the Fire.” In the first passage I am recording here, Andrew Harvey is recounting a dream he had. Here is the first of the passages I was intuitively drawn to in this chapter. He states: “One night I dreamed I saw two rivers of flame meet in a sea of boiling fire and hear these words: “When the two fires meet, a third fire is created, more powerful than either.” “When I awoke and meditated on my dream, I understood that these two fires were the fire of the mystic’s passion for God and the fire of the activist’s passion for justice, and that in the fire I had experienced in Coimbatore, these two fires were fused. In the greatest of human beings—Jesus, Rumi, Buddha—and in beings of our own time such as Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King, Jr., these two fires were fused in a “third fire”—the fire of wisdom and love in action.” 

Further, in the second passage, here are Andrew Harvey’s words about the fire he describes himself as experiencing in Coimbatore, India—the fire he references in that preceding quote. I believe this additional information is helpful in order to receive the full power of the above referenced quote as well as to more fully understand what I was now beginning to understand as the unraveling of my own sacred activist calling. These words are Andrew Harvey’s from just a few pages earlier in the same chapter in, Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism: “I realized increasingly that what I had been put in contact with in Coimbatore was the primordial fire-force of Divine Love known in all authentic mystical traditions: known as Ishq (or divine passion) in Sufism, as Shakti in the Hindu vision, as the Shekinah in Jewish mysticism, as the absolute Bodhichitta in Mahayana Buddhism. The great universal mystic Ramakrishna called this force “Mother’s fiery love,” and I came to understand that it was this divine fire of compassion that was now going to be embodied in as many human beings as possible in order to transform the world.”

And here, in all these words, in the remembered dream sequences, and in the recounted South African story presented by Andrew Harvey, lay my deepest understanding, my salvation, and my future. Like him, I had come to realize I am a man of the third fire. I always have been. I simply had no concrete coherent knowledge of it, no conscious awareness of there even being such a thing. I had even begun to refer to myself as a sacred activist when I first read, Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. I simply had somehow allowed myself to move away from this out of thoughtlessness and lack of attention. I had also allowed myself to get pulled off course, allowed myself to be a follower in a crowd that was not mine to follow instead of allowing myself to be the natural born leader that I am.

I now also fully understood why I had always experienced such a disconnect between myself and other progressive activists, a disconnect that also seemed to be there even between myself and various other Buddhist activists and other activists who stated and perhaps even truthfully believed their activism was rooted in some other spiritual or wisdom tradition as well. These other folks I now understood were of the activist’s river of fire, of the activist’s fire of the passion for justice. I however, was from the third river of fire that was a merging of this river of fire and the river of fire that was the mystic’s fire of the passion for God. This explained everything. The veil had been lifted from my eyes and now I could see. This accounted for everything. This was the explanation for years of frustration, for decades of feelings of alienation, for why I inevitably found Oakland to be such a difficult activism inspired city to live in and for whose activist’s energy it was so difficult for me to try to repeatedly and unsuccessfully absorb into my own consciousness. I understood this to not be a question of one fire being better or worse than the other. Rather, it was principally a situation where people found themselves more called by the heat of one or the other closely fires. I simply now knew which fire’s heat was calling me and my heart more authentically. I was deeply relieved. I was very excited and overjoyed about my potential future, living and being authentically guided by the third fire. Hallelujah!

I found myself asking myself the question, what if Marisa Johnson and Mara Willaford had also been motivated by the third fire on some grand or even a minute level on that eighth day of August in Seattle. What if they had each been motivated even just a little bit by the love and forgiveness of the old black woman who had found herself before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Just how might their actions have been different in such cases?

I have no doubt there are those among us who imagine themselves as being so unfathomably hurt, tortured, and traumatized by life that they experience the actions of the old black woman in that South African story as being only slightly less horrifying to them as those of Mr. Van de Broek. I probably have such people in my own life. I sincerely pray for all people who hold that story in this way. That is the best I can offer to you at this moment.

There are perhaps others who will assert that the old black woman in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission story reached her perhaps extreme level of love and forgiveness precisely through the many years of experience that comes with getting to the place of being able to be called an “old black woman.” I have many words to adequately address this, I believe. However, for now I’ll only use two of them—Malala Yousafzai.
What most struck me about that story about the old black woman is how, through her actions, she, who had her entire family slaughtered by the man who is now before her, not only demonstrated profound compassion, love, and forgiveness toward him but how by doing so and through the heart-filled manner in which she did it, invited him, a fellow human being, back into the human family, back into the human communion. With that invitation she extended to Mr. Van de Broek to come back into full communion with the human family, the old woman had embraced someone who very conceivably could have been lost to active and full participation in the human family forever. Yes, he would have still been walking around in his human shell of a body and form and through visual and other perceptual prisms would have appeared to have still been a fully active part of the human family. I however, am here to testify to the fact that appearances can be and are very deceiving in such matters. I have met members of the walking dead. Indeed, I have been among them for short periods of time more than once in my own life. There are various types and sets of people in the world whom, for all kinds of reasons, feel we have been actively or passively uninvited from full participation in the human communion. Some of us are men and women who have committed acts, sometimes criminal or criminalized acts that the culture we live in considers to be unspeakable acts. Some of us are consigned to less than full participation in the human communion simply by certain aspects of our humanness that come with us at the time of our birth.
And, of course, Marisa Johnson and Mara Willaford are also part of the human communion and absolutely, unquestionably need to be seen as such. I understood that as well.
The world stage is vast, weirdly construed, and constantly shifting. By far the largest percentage of people on the planet stand very little to no chance of ever standing on that stage for even a few fleeting moments. A very small percentage of people find themselves on that stage for all or the greater parts of their natural lives. There then is the relatively small percentage of us who, because of statistically unpredictable circumstances and events, luck, providence, coincidence, or being at the exact right place at the precise right moment, are thrust onto the world stage for an extended moment for all to see, hear, and observe. 
Because of the nature of the world stage in those extended moments, our name may not even be recorded for posterity during those moments we find ourselves on that stage. This is the case with the central figure in that story from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We only know her as “the old black woman.” Yet, of course, her namelessness does not in any way reduce the significance and power of her contribution to the world for those few moments when she inadvertently found herself thrust upon its stage.

Once we appear on the world stage no matter how fleeting our appearance, we will also find ourselves before the extremely subjective and sometimes ruthless court of public opinion. Sometimes this court is uncharacteristically loving and warm towards us. Often it is viciously harsh. The court of public opinion, for the most part, doesn’t care who you are. One can be a well-respected world leader or other public figure with tens of millions of adoring facebook fans and one may still find that for some portion of your time on the world stage, you are completely vilified for something you did or didn’t do while on that stage. The same is true for those who were completely unknown before their, most likely quickly evaporating moments on the world stage, right before they retreat back into relative obscurity, unlikely to ever return to the world stage ever again. 
Even though the court of public opinion is highly subjective it is not entirely so.
You, as the one on the stage, do bear some responsibility for what you did while there even though there may understandably be endless interpretations and projections around what you did and why you did it.
And what exactly did you do or what did some photographer or videographer record you doing during your time on that stage? Were you a nameless person caught throwing a Molotov cocktail into a crowd during a hoped for bloodless coup? Were you a concealed Black bloc member during the Occupy protests caught on film busting the windows out of buildings in downtown Oakland? Were you captured compassionately rescuing an entangled and obviously greatly distressed whale or dolphin from the perils of a fishing net that was not intended for it though nevertheless is now ensnared in it? 
Or were you involved in something, for whatever reason, was considered so newsworthy that it became imperative that you in fact not remain nameless? Were you a—for the moment—nameless American police officer caught viciously beating down a young black man or woman or person of color? Were you captured literally taking the clothes off of your own back and graciously and humbly handing them to a presumed homeless person whose eyes spoke volumes about the endless gratitude contained within them? Or were you recorded jumping up on a stage in Seattle, Washington aggressively grabbing the microphone from a national presidential candidate during one of the candidate’s requisite campaign stops and forcing the audience gathered to listen to what you had to say? 
You know, it seems to me, in that last example there, at the very end of the previous paragraph, that one has to believe, at least a teeny tiny bit, that he or she resides at the precise center of the universe in order to do something like that—that his or her own wishes and concerns take precedence over everything else at that very moment and place, no matter whatever else he or she may also believe. The court of public opinion will ultimately decide like it always does. It may not be fair. That however, is how the world stage works. If you don’t like the rules of the game, don’t play it or create your own game with its own rules distinctly removed from all other existing games and their rules. Otherwise it will simply look like you’re trying to use a clandestine and sly back door approach to the existing game in which case you’ll still be subjected to the rules of the world stage and the court of public opinion whether you like it or not and whether you or your supporters think that’s fair or not.
Additionally, one of the things I learned from over two and a half decades of working as a helping professional is that many people are having an extremely bad day many days of the year even though their countenance may not betray this in any way, shape, or form especially if the person happens to be male. Many males have been culturally conditioned not to show our pain, our emotional distress, our suffering. We’re supposed to hold our heads high, swallow it, and pretend everything is A-OK. Let’s just imagine for a moment, if you will, that Bernie Sanders was having a really bad day that day when Marisa Johnson and Mara Willaford decided to abruptly interrupt him. What if someone he had loved had fallen ill earlier that day? What if he had found out just a few hours prior that someone he loved had been diagnosed with terminal and inoperable or untreatable cancer? What if he had found out that someone he loved had died that day? These, of course, are all hypothetical questions. Still, being a helping professional for as long as I was I can remember numerous accounts of anonymous people treating one of my clients badly or without respect, or in a thoughtless or insensitive manner not at all knowing these actions were directed toward someone in a serious and lifelong battle with depression or in some other emotional crises deep and that these thoughtless actions whimsically engaged in brought their unsuspecting, unwilling victim literally to the brink of suicide. Ask me how I know.

Thinking about this, I suspect, is one of the differences between the activist’s river of fire, of the activist’s fire of the passion for justice and the third river of fire that is a merging of this river of fire and the river of fire that is the mystic’s fire of the passion for God, that Andrew Harvey speaks of because one of the first thoughts I had when I heard of the actions of Ms. Johnson and Ms. Willaford, at Bernie Sanders campaign stop was, “I wonder what kind of day this man was having before this happened." There are however, those I suspect are of the activist’s river of fire, of the activist’s fire of the passion for justice who have absolutely shown a high capability for this type of insight. The two rivers may not at all be as distinct as we might initially believe.

With all of this I also suspect a line has been crossed by me—meaning that some enduring changes, shifts, and affiliations are probably forthcoming if they have not already arrived. My experience of both significant segments of the black community as well as large segments of the progressive social justice activist community has been that both have relatively little tolerance for those within their ranks who do not tow some theoretical though still intensely adhered to party lines and positions. No one is immune, it seems. When the esteemed History Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., former chair of The African American Studies department at Harvard University dared to write about black Africans role in the transatlantic slave trade, that there were black Africans who sold other black Africans to Europeans for profit, he was quickly vilified by many who, before this, saw him as a black God who could essentially do no wrong and who ruled supreme among the relatively small circle of greatly respected contemporary black American intelligentsia.

When Julia “Butterfly” Hill eventually grew into sounding and writing more like an awakened and emerging spiritual master than a radical, slightly angry progressive activist, her following began to shift dramatically and I’m sure the audiences at her speaking engagements did as well.

So many of us simply cannot deal with nor accept someone within our ranks being an individual and not being slavishly beholden to the dizzyingly enforced monolithic groupthink. Membership certainly has its rewards. However, you better toe the line baby, or you will be hung out to dry faster than you can say Salem witch trials.

It’s all grist for the mill, I suppose. With this piece I am taking a long overdue and decisive step away from the enslavement of groupthink mentality. It’s likely just the first step in something much more pervasive and meaningful yet to come. Throw another timber on the death pyre with my name on it and be done with it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Supporting Sage's Continued Zen Study

Words by Jeannie McGillivray one of the supporters of this campaign...

A message from the heart to absolutely all of my Facebook friends, I would like to ask if you might consider helping someone.

A person that I feel deeply blessed to have come to know on Facebook called Sage Mahosadha is about to move to the Seattle area of the U.S (within the month) to study directly with his Zen Master.

This is the latest aspect of a 38 year process that began when he was sixteen years old, when he had a profound awakening experience that in his words he "interpreted as a call to the Roman Catholic priesthood because I had no other prism through which to understand it at the time." So, at 18 years of age he began to study for the priesthood, and eventually entered the Benedictine monastery. In 2015, having been a lay Dharma leader/teacher since 2000, Sage will complete the next stage of his formal Zen training and will have the opportunity to be ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in his lineage.

Now, having never met Sage in person I don't know him intimately, but I do know a little of the challenges he has faced in the last year (financially as well as with his health and living circumstances) and I have watched as he has open-heartedly shared more than a little of his interior world - his vulnerability and strengths, his insights, thoughts and feelings - whilst at the same time honouring these most challenging aspects of his life, viewing them as essential learning experiences... and my goodness he has become a noble, loving, courageous, and profoundly connected man - one that I feel so very honoured to have touched my life through his writings on Facebook.

About the challenges that he has faced in his life Sage says "One purpose is that they have clarified for me how my life must be one of deep service to others. The way I plan to approach Zen priesthood will very deeply be from a place of engaged service to others in the spirit of the Bodhisattva Ideal."

There will be some costs associated with the tuition for the various Zen retreats (sesshins) and classes required as part of his formal Zen training and instruction in 2015. Some friends of his have started a crowdsourcing campaign to help with these costs. I have made a donation to help with this and I am asking if you might consider doing the same.

This is no ordinary person, and no ordinary endeavour, I do hope that you might join me by clicking onto the link below and supporting this fine man in on his journey in service to those who are blessed to have crossed his path.

Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"The rain is falling down
Like all the souls you sent here
Coming to this earth
To find healing

Mother earth takes in the rain
Like your heart takes my voice
Let us free each other
With our prayers, with our voice

And I'm coming home

And I'm coming home

And I'm coming home

And I'm coming home..."

Friday, August 2, 2013

And Still I Rise...

I have decided to continue keeping this blog LIVE. It will not be going into dormancy. And it will not disappear for now. I hope to start posting very regularly to it once again in the very near future. The content may change some. I'm not completely sure of that. One thing I know is that I will continue to be very true to myself here in this forum as I am in every forum I express myself in. Working once again full-time as spiritual teacher will not change that. It can't. I don't know how to live my life in a false nor pretentious way anymore.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Share your comments about this photo if you have any and would like to do so. (NOTE: I do not have any identifying nor archival information on this photograph)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Diary of a Wage Slave


I worked for a non-profit a number of years ago. I've worked for several non-profits. I could say quite a bit about that alone. Perhaps I will at some point. Today however, is not that day. So, this particular day at this particular non-profit was "BENEFITS DAY." This was the one day of the year when that specific and many non-profits decide to let their wage slaves know there are some real benefits that come with working as a wage slave. There were many segments to benefits day and many different presenters. The segment I want to focus on was presented by the financial services corporation that managed things like our retirement (YAY! to retirement from life as a wage slave!!!) packages, retirement package, mutual funds and such. At this point, I had worked at this particular non-profit for a number of years. So I had heard this spiel before. It was always given by the president of the local chapter of the multinational financial services corporation that handled all the employees financial "stuff." I remember always thinking that this guy always seemed like he would be much more at home as a used car salesman than as a financial services president. But then again, both jobs pretty much utilize the same skill set I suppose. Anyway Bob---we'll call him Bob---was talking about how we could take a portion of our biweekly paychecks and invest that in various ways, when his usually quite droll presentation suddenly became exponentially more interesting. For it was this year that Bob decided to use an example culled directly from our staff directory for this part of his talk. He had never done that before. His example went something like this: "You know there's even one woman who works here who contributes her ENTIRE paycheck every two weeks/all year long to her investment portfolio..." Many ears perked up at that and for various different  reasons. Mine had perked up because I was intrigued by the thought that there was someone who worked at this non-profit who was wealthy enough that she could contribute her entire salary to investment opportunities. Who knew?

After the presentation, several us went out to lunch together. We immediately began our repast by trying to figure out who this mystery "rich woman" could be. About 30 seconds into this all of us had independently arrived at the same conclusion. It had to be "Brenda" (not her real name) who headed up the Development Department. We all knew she had come from a very wealthy family. We all knew that was the main reason she had also been made the head of Development; because of her money laden connections. But we were all still amazed by the thought that not even one penny of her six figure salary went to pay for a pair of patent leather work stilettos or not even one tank of unleaded for her Mercedes E Class. Now we all knew what we had always suspected---Brenda was one of the very few at the non-profit who was not a "real" wage slave. This to us, of course, had to mean that she instead, was a very highly paid spy....

Sunday, September 2, 2012


As Human Beings, I believe, we are inseparably interconnected. 

And when one has achieved a certain degree of awareness, one begins to understand that many of the experiences we have as humans that appear to be bad or negative or otherwise unpleasant or non-beneficial, are in reality, inspired by one of the incredible aspects of the lived experience of being a Sacred Human.

So, in the case of 

projection, projecting onto others, in which, BTW, there has admittedly been much injury inflicted and received, for time immemorial, because of, I am however, able to understand the root cause that is at work here. The root cause is our interconnectedness.


When we project onto another Human Being what is really occurring is that the divine emotionality in another has simply triggered a very specific and similarly patterned divine emotionality in us. In other words, from an emotional standpoint, we have truly SEEN ourselves THROUGH another. This is a very human and a very sacred occurrence. However, the unhealed, wounded, injured, immature and/or non-self aware parts of us experience this as an external threat (when a "negative" emotion has been triggered) or as an external wash of goodness (when a "positive" emotion has been triggered).

Given this understanding, the more appropriate response to that which normally triggers projection in us would be a response of acknowledgement of some sort and then a response of GRATITUDE, I believe. Pure and simple gratitude that is then pretty quickly let go of so that we have the emotional space to experience the next emotional exchange which is surely already heading down the pike.

May All Beings Be Free.

Soul Contracts Part 1

What I am about to say here may be difficult for some to read (hear). I understand that. I also understand what is behind that difficulty for most. For many what will make  this difficult to hear or read will be an awareness about what may be known or experienced as "abusive" or other types of relationships that are viewed or experienced as negative or non-productive in some way. I acknowledge the difficulty in hearing what I have to say here for those who have that awareness.  So, with that awareness and with sensitivity, I will continue.

Here we go...

When we look at relationships of any kind that others are engaged in and we are consumed with a thought like--- "How in the name of all that is holy and sacred, can it be that THOSE two people can possibly 

be friends/lovers/significant others/life partners/business partners" etc. Well, here is the answer: You (or me), as the likely judging, external observer with severely limited awareness and deep insight into the matter, most likely cannot even begin to be aware of the specific elements of the "soul contract" that exists between these two or more people. It really is as simple as that. There is likely a soul contact present between the people that you (or me), quite appropriately, in all cases, have not been made privy to. If it were important for you (or me) to have been made privy to it, we would have been.

Additionally, an ancient Chinese proverb says, "an invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, despite the time, the place, and despite the circumstances.the thread can be tightened or tangle but will never be broken."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Diary of a Wage Slave


Like most American teenagers, I officially became a wage slave at age 16 when my guardians no longer desired to fund all my various male, teenager escapades and fashionable footwear and bell bottoms. And they were blessed in that they had the law, the American culture, and apparently God to back them up. That is because at age 16 I could legally acquire my first wage slave job. 

Unlike most Americans however, my initial wage slave tour of duty was very short lived indeed. That is because at age 18 I entered the Roman Catholic seminary studying for the priesthood. As such, I was not allowed to have a wage slave "job" for the entire duration of the time I was studying to become a catholic priest. For me that meant I entered the wage slave market at age 16, left at age 18, and did not return again until age 26. That puts me in a very small and rarefied group of Americans, I am imagining. These are the ages in which most young people in America are learning many of the skills of the trade of wage slavery. This is when the indoctrination usually wholeheartedly begins. Additionally, I have had the great fortune of having numerous respites from wage slavery throughout my life. These respites, among many other highly valued treasures presented by those respites, afforded me a great deal of time to do deep inner inquiry and investigation and extremely valuable psychological and emotional deepening minus the constant distraction of the deafening background noise of wage slavery.

My last wage slave respite began on November 14, 2008 when I was laid off from my wage slave job at The San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Although there were some clearly shady and funky aspects to this lay off and the challenge to keep myself above water financially were daily and arduous, at best. Still, when this respite came to an official end on July 1, 2012, I was a changed man. I no longer had any illusions nor justifications about nor feelings of endearment whatsoever, for my own wage slavery. Interestingly, I now find myself once again in the role of a wage slave. I am relatively certain that this however, will be my last stint as such.

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Very Own Personal Juneteenth Liberation

In 2008 I was laid off from my job as a program manager for a large non-profit in San Francisco. The non-profit primarily served and continues to serve people living with HIV/AIDS. 

When I was laid off, my salary was approx. $85,000 annually. This figure also included a small remuneration I received for counseling work that was done on the side. Between two and six weeks after this lay off, I was offered a total of 4 different professional jobs. Each job offer came in an unsolicited manner. The job offers were made by friends and associates I had met through over 10 years of professional relationship building and networking. I turned down each of these jobs. The job offer with the highest salary/compensation would have paid me approximately $110,000 annually. Since that time I have been offered three additional professional jobs, all of which were in the same approximate salary range. I have turned these down as well. 

Why did I turn down all these jobs and in "this economy?" 

As soon as I was laid off in 2008, I realized something quite profound and equally frightening. I, with this lay off, realized I was being given what at the time, appeared to me to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. That opportunity was one where it seemed I would finally get a chance to go after my dream of making a major impact on the world, in the very specific ways I then envisioned. 

Although the type of work I had done for over 20 years placed me in a position where I literally had saved dozens of people lives during those years, I knew it was time to move on. It was not debatable that I had made a difference in many people's lives through that work; I helped people in very direct and evidenced based, observed and provable ways. I had not spent all those years working in greed based, avarice laced, self absorbed professional career pursuits that essentially served myself and few others. That was not at all my professional M.O. I lessened people's pain. I directed programs that were designed to make people's lives easier in concrete, tangible, and very real ways. There are many, many people---social workers, case managers, program directors, psychotherapists, drug and addiction counselors, nurses, nurses aids, all kinds of good people working in the "helping professions" who are still making a huge and positive impact in the lives of countless community members through their work. I honor them. I salute them. I know all the stress, long hours, lack of appreciation, corporate inspired bullshit they must endure. I see them. I know who they are. I was one of them for over two decades. However, after my lay off in 2008, I realized my calling in this life was different. In truth, I had been aware of this truth for many years. I had simply become too comfortable and too complacent to take the needed risks necessary, to truly go after what I wanted; my dreams, my deepest desires, to follow my bliss. The lay off gave me the incentive and opportunity to do all of that. And I took it. I may not have initially run with it. Now however, I am in full sprint.

And there are consequences in this out of balance world for making decisions that go directly against the status quo, that are about personal dreams, actions that awaken one from a near universal zombie sleep.

As a result of following my bliss, my annual income in 2008 went from roughly $85,000 a year to less than $22,000 a year in 2010 when I was still receiving unemployment compensation and to less than $3,500 a year (in 2011) when I was no longer eligible for unemployment compensation. 

I have lost the relative assurance that comes with having a home I know I can return to, as my partner and I have moved more than 25 times in the last 2.5 years because of financial constraints and other negative factors. 

I lost my very good, job based medical and health insurance. And as a result, my health has significantly deteriorated. 

The list could become endless if I wanted it to be. I don't. 

And...I am happier, in many ways, than I've been in perhaps my entire life. 

With all these challenges has come the opportunity to direct my life in the ways I desire. I am shaping the life I want. And what much of that looks like is that I am beginning my emergence in the realms of spiritual leadership, community involvement, environmental and housing sustainability work, volunteering for local and state politicians from third party's who are authentically devoted to changing the world in a positive way and doing things on my own terms, initiating the development of my own programs, actions and not abdicating to the terms that some job dictates.

I have found that people take certain elements of all those experiences I've recounted here and focus on them, funnel them through their own limited and other hued filters. Which, of course, is the only funnel most of us have conscious access to. 

People who desire to avoid the painful aspects of life and/or still steadfastly wear their designer prescription rose colored glasses, will focus on the fact that I have survived it all, in tact and with my beautiful spirit continuing to flourish. They don't want to look at the trials, tribulations and intense challenges. They mostly won't acknowledge those aspects. Their glasses would be offended by that.

Others desire to focus on the fact that I have given up what they perceive to be prime opportunities by turning down so many well paying jobs during a time when people with PhDs are working as shift managers at McDonalds in large urban centers. Their emotional inner response is often a down low type of criticism and judgment that silently revels in the belief that I have suffered in ways that I duly deserved. 

Activists will often focus on the trials and tribulations, ignore everything else and simply use my story as another front from which they can fight their numerous anti-establishment battles. Raven/Sage the person gets lost in those battles. I become merely a statistic that serves as another temporary balm for their wounded and agitated souls. I become a projectile in the deepest meaning of that word.

No judgment there, just awareness.

And still I rise.

The very first really tangible action I took in 2010 on my 50th birthday, that indicated my personal liberation, was to claim ownership of the wisdom, pain, lessons, knowledge, mistakes and perseverance I have participated in and earned as a vibrant, incredible, black, same gender loving, spiritually conscious and awake, yes by God, awake, I'm claiming it,  man that I am. I did this in a very specific way. However, a little more needs to be said before I get to that.

I am a black, same gender loving man who has seen huge numbers of my peers and brothers and contemporaries die of AIDS, die of addiction to crack cocaine and other drugs both "illicit" and "legal," become a solid part of the industrial prison complex, succumb to a life of depression and anxiety, participating in a zombie like grasping for a long bygone youth in any way possible, still believing that sex, drugs and rock and roll is the appropriate top and main agenda for men in their 50s and beyond. There is no blame nor judgment in any of that. I am simply stating socially observable truth. I claimed my power and wisdom on my 50th birthday as both a response to and reaction to all of that. 

On my 50th birthday, in 2010, I took on the name Sage as a chosen name. I've earned it. Yes. And I'm still earning it. Raven, the trickster, is still around and present. I'm not concerned with what you call me. 

I know who I AM.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And The Church Said YES!

Tony Bradford receives his masters in Consciousness Studies on Saturday June, 9, 2012 and also in preparation to formally becoming a Religious Science Minister. With Rev. Elouise Oliver (R) Senior minister at East Bay Church of Religious Science and Rev. Dr. John B. Waterhouse (L). 

This past Saturday, June 9, 2012, I attended my friend Tony Bradford's ministerial school graduation. Additionally, it was also a little bit more than just a symbolic precursor to his formal ordination into the Religious Science ministry. I, in this essay, am going to focus on the ministry/ordination part even though the ceremony this past Saturday was not the formal ordination.

Tony and I had already known each other when his calling began to be consciously birthed and recognized by him. So I am fortunate to have witnessed the entire evolution and process of awareness that occurred in him that led him to the auspicious event that occurred in the afternoon of June 9, 2012 in Oakland, California at Heart and Soul Center of Light. I have witnessed his entire process. And this witness is what I have been both thinking intensely about for the pat several days and it is also what I desire to focus on here in this writing.

I have been to more ordinations than most people, I am imagining. I myself studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood for many years. I attended the ordinations of many seminarians who were one or more years ahead of me in our collective study for Catholic ministry. I have attended many other ordinations of many others; men and women, who have been ordained in various other denominations, other religions, other spiritual traditions, other wisdom traditions, including American Indian, pagan and Maori ceremonies.

It is always the same. The ordination, the ceremony, at root is always an occasion, where the one who is being ordained is publicly acknowledging his or her commitment, in front of the members of the community, specifically and with deliberate intention, in front of the members of the community, to being of service to the entire community, to the best of their ability. Those from the community, in turn, who actually physically witness the ordination/ceremony in person are the representatives of the entire community, who usually cannot all attend, to bare witness to the fact that this person has indeed showed up and has essentially said, "Yes, I am here for you---each and every one of you. My life is now officially no longer my own. It belongs to each and every one of you, both those of you who are in this very room as well as those who for whatever reasons, could not be present here today." This is the core essence of an ordination service.

That is extraordinarily powerful. It is one of the handful of activities that we know literally occurs in every single culture on the planet; among every single tribe of people in the world. It is universal and so it is also extremely tied to who we are as a people.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The people who planned this particular graduation ceremony were absolutely and completely and totally aware and marvelously conscious of everything I have said here up to this point. They understood what was symbolically happening as well--a preparation for formal introduction into the ministry. And they proved with unabashed splendor their awareness of all of this by including in the service a musical selection entitled deceptively simply---"Yes." And it was performed, by Queen Michelle Jordan, of The East Bay Church of Religious Science in Oakland, California, in a way that left no doubt whatsoever, why we had each both individually and collectively been gathered in that space. We were there to witness Tony and his co-graduates, Willa Barber Johnson, Molly Cate, Toni Lynn Cormier and Elizabeth Rowley, symbolically say YES!


Life, I believe, does not get more meaningful than this. And So It Is...

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Critical Analysis of Mia McKenzie's Essay, "Desirability: Or, Why That White Ally Who Dates All the Brown Queers Needs To Stop It"

I enjoy reading essays, articles and anything really, that attempts to view the world, to some degree or another, through the prism of critical race theory and also attempts to apply it to our everyday lives in a way that appears to be worthy of intelligent consideration.

I had anticipation then when a friend brought a recent essay by Mia McKenzie to my attention. The essay he recommended I read was a recent one by the author entitled, Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It.

My friend had a positive reaction to the piece. So once again  my anticipation was raised. And at the same time a certain amount of trepidation accompanied my anticipation. This was not only because of that title, which I found to be somewhat ominous and foreboding. It was that. And it was also because I had read other pieces by Ms. McKenzie. I had found those previous essays to be problematic in the same ways I find the writings of many people to be problematic. All of these problematic writings betray a certain type of woundedness in the author that is apparent to me. That perception I have tends to bring to my mind those two great, classic Taoist questions: Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?And Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?

And so, these two questions came to my consciousness once again while reading, Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It. They are the questions I am symbolically asking Mia McKenzie, even as I compose this response to the words she chose to include in it.

Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?

Over the decades of my life, I have discovered there are generally two principal ways those questions tend to be worked out by people who also have been wounded by life while also having some writing, singing or oratory skills. On the one hand there are those whose wounds are burnished in the fires of  pain, loss, and redemption. Their raw emotions become the clouds that lift them to the heights of wisdom and spiritual awakening. These are people like Toni Morrison, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Nina Simone and Gil Scott-Heron, to name only a few. On the other hand there are those whose wounds reflect a different aspect of the clouds. Their thinking becomes clouded by bitterness, anger and injury, which too can ultimately all be great transformative coals in the fire. While their skills and talents may be equal to some of the giants I just listed by name, the burnishing of these latter individuals wounds however, often remain too incomplete or too superficial to truly inspire profound transformation in those who are also struggling to find their voice in the fire as well.

Ms. McKenzie is still a relatively young woman. Presumably she has time for further burnishing. In the meantime she is still writing and making her opinions known and presumably also trying to figure it all out in an authentic and beneficial way for herself. People however, are reading what she writes. She is having some degree of impact. Therefore, some critical analysis of her work and words is appropriate.

Here is the opening paragraph in Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It.

I have been thinking and talking a lot lately about the politics of desirability. In particular, the way that some white queer allies move through QPOC spaces, dating every brown queer they can get their hands on, almost always going unchecked, and never really understanding or acknowledging why this behavior might be problematic.

This, I believe, accurately sets the tone for the rest of the essay. It does not however, for me, set the appropriate tone for an essay that is honestly looking at "The politics of desirability"

Both the title of the essay and the opening paragraph present the reader with a fair amount of evidence that Ms. McKenzie is going to lead us on a journey into the admittedly treacherous and sometimes shark infested waters of the politics of desirability. I don't however, believe that is what happens here. I have no doubt that McKenzie believes she has written an essay about desirability. The key foundational ingredient, I believe however, in writing an honest essay about the politics of desirability within the context of dating between people of color and whites is to look at this from both perspectives, with an analysis of how, more or less, both groups of people participate in the phenomenon and with some effort being put forth to come to some enlightened potential solutions, preferably, under the rubric of intersectionality. Here is how McKenzie addresses these important elements:

None of this is to suggest that the brown queers who date these allies aren’t making those choices themselves. It’s not as if these white queers are forcing them into romance. But I have dated white allies without even knowing that they only dated POC. When I became aware of it, I definitely felt some type of way. (And, of course, some POC date white queers knowing that said white queers tend to date only POC, and they don’t have a problem with it—that’s a whole other blog post.) The point is, the politics of desirability are at play in these situations.

No, it is not a "whole other blog post" if one desires the current blog post/essay to have any real legitimacy. In order to add that legitimacy to the blog post at hand, some exploration of that very issue needs to be delved into further. Every LGBT person of color I know is very aware there are many LGBT people of color who exclusively date white folks; they exclusively desire white folks. It would not even be too extreme to say that such people are legion. There are many diverse reasons for that. The politics of desirability being one big reason along with its first cousins white privilege and white supremacy. There are others though that do not reflect so well on LGBT people of color ourselves such as internalized racism and self hatred. Dating can be an extremely complex and complicated bag of worms. And desirability itself is never a one way street. All of these aspects needed to be at least touched upon in a more in-depth way in order to add legitimacy and an appropriate balance to this essay.

In that quoted paragraph above, which is paragraph #12 in a 13 paragraph essay, McKenzie, for me, confirms that the framing for her essay as being one about the politics of desirability is more or less a ruse. It may have been an unconscious or unplanned ruse. However, for me, it is a ruse nonetheless. It is apparent to me she is not wanting to have an honest, open, and transparent discussion about the politics of desirability. So that of course begs these questions: What is this essay really about? What is it really trying to accomplish? What is its true objective? I believe McKenzie answers those questions rather eloquently if unintentionally or unknowingly, when she asserts this.

 If you’re a white person, especially an ally, whose last five dates were brown people, maybe consider this: if you know yet another brown queer you think you might want to date, introduce them to one of your sweet brown friends instead! There’s a great way to be an ally.

That is the concluding paragraph of the essay. And that is fitting. Because in that last paragraph, just like any other evangelist, McKenzie leaves her flock with her central commandment, as it were, before them. And what is that central commandment?  It appears to be a commandment for white gay and lesbian people, who truly view themselves as allies to people of color, to opt out of continued dating of people of color and in doing so maybe also help facilitate the potential coupling of someone the white ally him or herself may even be strongly attracted to, to another person of color, instead. And all that appears to be in the name of supposed allyship and the greater good of us all. Of course McKenzie would likely balk at the suggestion that this is a commandment. She would most likely prefer we all see it as merely something to think about and consider. That to me is a version of smoke and mirrors that is well used by those who throw rocks into a crowd at night and then hide their hands behind their backs while copping a facial expression that bemoans, "What!?!" However, there is usually someone, somewhere, guided by some remnant of light, that enables him/her to observe it all; one who is willing to tell the truth about what they've witnessed in the shadows. In this critique, I have cast myself in that role. And I'll take the good and the bad that may come with the assuming of that role. Remember, I am being guided by the light.

And with that commandment (or something to think about or something to consider), Ms McKenzie is also giving all the power in this dynamic over to the white folks whom she also lets us know she has some "funky" feelings about.

Not once in the essay does McKenzie suggest anything for people of color ourselves to think about or consider. That presumably may (or may not) come at some later date in some other essay/blog post. However, for the essay at hand, empowerment is not given to us. The impression one gets is that it is only white allies who are the power brokers here. That's ironic. In the meantime, responsibility translates into acknowledged power here for some and completely unacknowledged power for others. It is white allies this essay is directed at (and not too far behind them it is also obviously being directed at whatever amen chorus Ms. McKenzie may have to her credit). And it is white allies who are being called into action, albeit an action that may be completely against their own interests and desires. Still, I suspect McKenzie might be more than a little horrified to realize that by directing her attention exclusively at white allies here, she has also given over all the decision making power in the exercise to those same allies whether they choose to accept and embrace her considerations or not.

And who, in the broad and current discourses around topics like freedom to marry whomever we want and choose to and equality for all, does Ms. McKenzie appear to be more in alignment with? Millions of people across America and across the globe are working for these rights to be extended to all members of the LGBT communities. In the exact same week that Mia McKenzie's essay made its debut on the internet, Richard Noble completed his historic walk across America from southern California to Florida for LGBT Rights. Do McKenzie's words seem to be in alignment with and to support him and his very ambitious and auspicious and laudable achievement in defense of LGBT Rights and freedom of choice? Or do her words find a more comfortable cohabitation with the pastors and politicians who use their bigoted pulpits and legislative authority to implore their congregants and constituents to support ever more oppressive, restrictive, and hate inspired limitations on LGBT couplings? These, I believe, are important questions and appropriate contexts in which to evaluate this essay Ms McKenzie has birthed into the world and put out there for this same world to digest.

Finally, what about intersectionality? If we are to take the words of Audre Lorde to heart, in her work, There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions and to also take those words of hers to the next level, we are then provided with a beautiful template and important further instructions for an even more critical analysis of the words of Ms. McKenzie in her essay, Desirability: Or, Why That White Ally Who Dates All the Brown Queers Needs To Stop It" The two essays begin, for me at least, to stand at stark odds with one another. We see with intense clarity the true designs and intentions of them both. We see what stage of the sacred burnished fire each one resides in; and we see whether or not that fire is a relatively new one with much more to consume through its burning. Or if it is a very old fire, well prepared to teach and inspire through the many experiences that have been consumed and transformed by its flames, and its years of wisdom and learning.

Mia McKenzie's essay in its entirety may be found HERE
BTW, this above link to the original essay is now correct. Since I initially published this piece, Ms. McKenzie has changed and revamped her blog complete with a new URL and for a time the link I provided was a bad link.