Letters to Jonas: The Matrix of Man

Dear Jonas,

I should start by apologizing for taking so long to reply to your letter. The World seems to be spinning faster than ever lately, and finding time to write for writing’s sake has become particularly difficult as of late. Since your last letter, we have elected a white supremacist president, I have led a rally against the white supremacist president, I have assisted latinx students in resisting the white supremacist president, and I have talked and engaged critically at Freedom School with young black peers about how we could resist and survive a white supremacist presidency. With all this being said then, it is safe to safe to say – though the World may appear to be spinning faster – the World continues to spin the same. White Supremacy rules today as it ruled yesterday. Donald Trump doesn’t change that; he only accelerates it. A discussion on this acceleration may be justified, perhaps, at another time.

Aside from an introduction into the general times that we are in, this relates to some of the comments that you made in your letter. What particularly stood out to me is this:

You asked how I could consider myself Christian still. I still ask myself that. Of course, on one hand, the easiest answer is we’re all Christian inasmuch as we’re Western. And, while I think that to be at least generally true, I think it’s an exercise in avoiding the question.

First to answer in this way is not to avoid the question, it is indeed an answer to the question. But it is an answer that is simply incorrect. We are not all Western. I believe that this gets at the root of the structure of the West and why anti-blackness and white supremacy structures the foundational aspects of thought, and the Modern world. If Trump’s wall, if the rise of Eurofascism, if the perfection of slavery with the project of mass incarceration, if the election of Trump itself, provides proof for anything, it provides proof to the fact that we are not all Western. To be Western is to be Human, to have your humanity affirmed, your existence recognized. To live outside of the West, to experience life outside of the West, is to have your existence perpetually questioned or denied to you. Black bodies are those bodies that gave birth to the West through an accumulation of its death. Black bodies are womb-and-tombs, not Western. So the question is still returned to you, in a double, in fact, triple question: 1) Are you Western, like are you truly Western? 2) How can Blackness ever be incorporated into the ontics of a Western “all”? 3) How can you accept that Christianity is Western and that to be Western is to be Human and still accept Christianity? I, of course, am not trying to convert you (divert you, perhaps, is better wording); I am more interested in understanding how this notion that “we are all Western” is justified.

Additionally, I think that your disagreement about my conception of God is, in fact, an agreement. God is like Race. This means that God does have a referent to which it signifies, or to which the name of God is applied. There is no distinction to be made between the socio-institution and the facticity. God is discursively-instituted and factually real. God has Being, God is socio-linguistically-derived, God is objectively real, and God is paradigmatically constructed. However, that signification is not an unification. God is not One. God signifies something different for different people and different bodies and different ideologies, and all of these are real insofar as they create/enforce an action into the immanent World. For different bodies have different conceptions of Being, of Language, of Facticity, and of Historicity.

Lastly, on the difference between intersectionality and the Matrix of Man. I have thought extensively about what constitutes the difference between intersectionality and my concept of the “Matrix of Man.” And I have come to a bit of a conclusion. Intersectionality implies that who I am when I say, “I am a cisgendered, heterosexual black man who grew up in working-class black family in white rural America” is an identitarian claim. Intersectionality teaches that these are identitarian claims that are denied to me through the White Male construction of the Law. However, I wish to cast off the shackles of identity, but not in the sense that the Alt-Left, or better yet, White Marxist would like me to; or in the way that liberal Black folks wishing to frame the “Negro Problem” in terms of a struggle for Civil Rights do either. I want to contextualize my blackness, my cisness, my heterosexuality, my ableness, my working class background, my rural geo-location as positions within the Matrix of Man. I am in all these positions, these locations, across a spectrum of subjection, power and privilege. What separates this from identity is that identity implies a simplistic space-time frame in the position of a subject in relationship to World. Identity says: I am here, as one subject with multiple identities. But, no, in the Matrix of Man, I am in multiple positions in relationship to access and denied access to power and privilege. The Matrix of Man says: We are here at the same time (inside the same paradigm) phenomenologically experiencing that time differently because of our positions, and we are occupying multiple spaces – positions – within that paradigm. Blackness is the position of absolute dereliction. It is the position that gave birth to the universal, globalized “transatlantic” comprehension of the Matrix. It is what orients, structures, stabilizes, and gives vital energy to the Matrix. It is the Matrix’s condition of possibility.

Sincerely from a Friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

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Letters to Jonas: On God and Theology

Dear Jonas,

I wanted to write you concerning God. I remember writing to you in an emotional wreck one night while I was working at Sandy Cove. I remember telling you that I couldn’t continue to work there and lie incessantly about my relationship to Christianity. I remember telling you that I didn’t believe in God, and I could no longer hide behind a façade as if I did. I also remember asking you how you could continue to believe in God, or continue to consider yourself a Christian with all that Christians and Christian discourse has imposed on bodies, like ours, that “exist outside the frame of Man.”

It is this “existence outside the frame of Man” that stirred my initial incredulity towards Christianity and Gods in general. Anti-Black children who were anti-Black because “this is how they were raised” caused me to question how I was raised. These lies-told-as-truths about my black body made me question the lies that could have been told-as-truths to me by my own parents. I often framed my questions in a theodicean manner wondering, “How can God be real and racism exist?” I went through many phases of my life attempting to find the answer to this question. I felt an incessant need to not only place a label on my theological convictions (calling myself at one point a Christian Deist, at another point an Agnostic, at another point an Atheist, and at one point via your influence, a Christian Atheist), but also to epitomize a redefined form of blackness as if there was a way I could individually transcend anti-Blackness through better manners, linguistic mastery, and educating people. I often say that this “existence outside the frame of Man” is exactly what encouraged me to pursue philosophy at all. I needed to know the lies, and be able to differentiate who was lying to me and who was telling the truth. I need to be able “know God” beyond the rather frivolous, tranquil relationship that was being encouraged at Churches. I also needed to know why my body always felt outside of my own conception of it, why I always felt like an “object among other objects” and why my black body always fell victim to the crushing objecthood of consistent “look-a-nigger” moments. The former fueled my interest in theology and science, the latter fueled my interest in black studies.

The irony currently, however, is that the very thing that caused me to reject God at first (my blackness) is the very thing that is causing me to believe in God currently. I recently wrote: Everything that’s worth studying philosophically is theological. I say this sincerely, but primarily as a personal tautology. It is the framework I have come to accept for approaching the World. And whereas it might be seen as a statement of irony, especially since we live in a secularized and secularizing World, for me, it is almost certainly the case. I understand theology quite plainly to be the study of God and religious beliefs. I understand God in the same way as St. Anselm with some important caveats. God is “that which there can be no greater than” however, “that which there can be no greater than” is discursively-historically- constituted. In the words of Feuerbach, “theology is anthropology.” In this sense, I believe God is real in the same way as race is real.

When I first came to this conclusion, I thought that this meant that God was “not really real” but God was “real.”  But, I do not believe that to be the case for race. Race is real – plain and simple. There are no lines to be drawn between discourse and the materiality when it comes to being a body marked for death.  Race is not a construct that was made in flippancy and it is not a construct that can be evaporated with flippancy. Race is a socio-politically-instituted concept that symbolically marks differentiated bodies for death. God is a socio-instituted concept that symbolically marks what we socially designate as “that which there can be no greater than.” For this reason, God is real, but God did not have to be and does not have to be. We do not need a “that which there can be no greater than.” Currently Man posits himself as “that which there can be no greater than” and Man posits his Logos (Science) as “that which there can be no greater than.” The religious beliefs of Man are anti-Blackness, settler-colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, cis-supremacy, heteronormativity, transphobia, and ableism, something I’ve learned to call the “Matrix of Man.”

With this being said, I’ve come to believe in God, but I am a “Fanonian death of God theologian.” Whereas Nietzsche told folks to “break the tablets” I want to tell folks in a Fanonian register to “end the World” of Man. I do not know if God, if “that which there can be no greater than,” is ever good as a universal, perhaps as a particular universal, but as a universal I cannot say for sure. I do know that the God of the Enslaved, the “that which there can be no greater than” of James Cone, the Christian God of black liberation theologians, is a God that I would be willing to worship wholeheartedly. I do not believe that everyone worships Man, but I do believe that everyone is forced to come in contact with the concept of Man-as-God, or the beliefs of the “Matrix of Man” due to Man’s paradigmatic imposition upon the World. Escaping Man-as-God is impossible, in the same way that my black body escaping its being as a being-marked-for-death is impossible. I must live with blackness like we must live with the God-of-Man, Man-as-God.

Sincerely from a friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

Museum

On Fucking (and Loving).

I want to apologize before I begin if what follows does not make much sense, if what follows is not clear, or if what follows is absolutely incorrect, generalizing, or simply false in its attempt to explain what has escaped explanation since time immemorial. I want to plead with you, whoever you may be, wherever you may be, to follow what follows to its end because what is written is in need of the same kind of consolation as the one, the writer, who writes it. The same love as the one who writes it, with love. What follows is a meditation, a musing, on fucking, and the relationship between fucking and loving. I should be clear that the love that I’m primarily discussing is of a romantic sort, a relationship between two/more partners. My question being: Why must I fuck you in order for me to prove I love you?

To ask this question is not to attempt to return to a Puritanic discourse on fucking where “real” love is ONLY that love which can exist in excess of fucking, but instead it’s to ask for a kind of romantic asexuality that locates itself at the point of the “occasional” or at a “from-time-to-time” where sexuality may go dormant, or where one may decide to scream-shout-yell-sing “I Love Yous” without this fleshly encounter. But it’s also an attempt to push against the former sentences’ attempt at defining “I love you, but I don’t want to fuck you” as an asexual remark. It’s an attempt to redefine the relationship between fucking and loving as something so consensual that it’s not implied that they who love will fuck, as it is not implied that they who fuck will love. I am trying to expand the understanding of love in order to open up the possibility that I may love you, but may not want to fuck you, and may not want to be just your friend. I may want to hold you; I may want to help you; I may want to never go days without you; I may never want to see you suffer, struggle, hurt. But fucking, no, fucking I can’t do. Fucking you will mean nothing, and I may want everything we do to be in a vortex of something; or vice-versa, fucking may mean something horrid, something miserable, and I may want everything we do to be within the context of a perfect nothingness.

Now against what I have written, whoever you are, wherever you are, you will say, “What distinguishes what you have described from being asexual?” And here is where may I lose you, here is where you may begin to think that the secrets, the darkness, or the plague of this piece begins to come to light. But remember, you have promised to hear what I have to say to its end, to its conclusion. You are here now, whoever you are, wherever you are, stay here and hear. What if I love you, and we love each other, and I don’t wish to fuck you, but I wish to fuck other persons that I love? Assuming, as I believe to be true, that our love is capable of loving more than one; and in fact, that our love, and our world would perhaps be better if we all, men, women, and non-binary folks, accepted and transitioned to a polyamorous worldview. Additionally, assuming, staying stuck in this world we are in, that my love for you and my love for this other person is both transparent and consented to by all parties involved.

Is there reason to believe that I love that other person who I most certainly can/do love, more than I love you whom I most certainly can/do love, but don’t fuck? Is there any reason to believe that there is a POSITIVE relationship between loving and fucking?  I know scientist will speak of the adrenaline, the sharing of fluids, and of the mind and bodies in synchronization, and the religious will speak of the consummation of love. But I, the philosopher, will speak of fucking. I will speak of fucking because there is a tendency to conflate “sex” when that sex is with one who one loves as equal with love. That somehow love erases fucking, somehow love has some auto-transformative quality that makes all fucking with the one who one loves “love-making” or “sex.” This auto-transformative quality in “love” makes the word “fucking” or the act of “fucking” not just undesirable, but impossible when the body in contact with fucking is one whom one loves. But, I am skeptical of this separation. In fact, I believe this is an attempt to make all sex with a lover a “sexuality from the heights,” or, “a sexuality that recreates the moral ideals of the oedipal family, or the subjectified couple, founded on promises, principles, and mutual expectations” as Phillip Goodchild put it. Versus a “sexuality from the depths,” or a sexuality based on “sordid carnal pleasures,” as Jared Sexton put it. But following this thinking we would be right back at where we trying to avoid – a kind of Puritanism that occludes “fucking” to the depths and love somewhere far away from it close to some transcendental morality.

But I have the tendency to believe that each sexual encounter is always fucking, by which I mean, is always a “sexuality of the depths.” The question is more about whether or not that fucking includes love or excludes love. But to fuck is always carnal, it is always desire, it is always what we have psychosocially come to see as improper, wrong, or “immoral.” Love does not occlude that, no matter how much we’d wish to act as if it does. Love does not negate “fucking.” Love, and love-making, includes fucking. If one wished to debate the question, allow two lovers to fuck in public and see if their “love” is enough for us to psychosocially see it as “decent” behavior. We have been tutored, trained, forced into a kind of “anti”-fuck that I believe has ultimately hurt the very thing we wished to save it for, namely, love.

Somewhere against/with this background where we’ve learned to name love, we’ve learned to place it within this field of desire. We’ve learned to unconsciously mathematicise love with an equation that reads: (Love + Fucking = Love-Making). Thus, making [(Love – Fucking = Love) < (Love + Fucking = Love-Making)]. “Real” love has, with an almost inverted Puritan logic, become for us the place where fucking and love meet, disguised and distorted as the location where “love-making” and love meet. However, I would like to believe that love could supersede fucking or that love can supersede the love one has with a different lover that they fuck. Not because there is something wrong with fucking, but because there can be a love stronger than a love-that-fucks. There can be a love-that-holds, a love-that-helps, a love-that-cares, a love-that-struggles-with, a love-that-grows-beside, a love that is absent of fucking, but in excess of any kind of love-that-fucks. A love, whatever “love” may mean, beyond fucking.

I think here I shall conclude. I do not know if what I have mentioned here makes complete sense. What is written is a part of a stream of conscious writing, beginning at 3 am, attempting towards some kind of logic that may have only obscured something that is already obscure. I hope there was something here that you have understood, whoever you are, wherever you are, and I hope that you don’t see me as crazy, but as someone attempting to save love and to make love in a million ways, sometimes through fucking, sometimes through struggling, and sometimes, as in right now, through thinking and writing.

ABC

After #Afromation: Notes on Black Courage

It must take more than courage. For if courage was all that it took to be free, then freedom would have been reached decades, perhaps centuries ago. This must be said, and it must be said a million more times. There is a way in which courage is mythologized as the necessary and sufficient condition for black liberation as if courage has not been embedded in our blood, as if courage had not been a requirement for the sake of maintaining any fragment of black life since being brutalized into the transatlantic slave ship and onto stolen land.

Courage is the way black people survive in the status quo. There is no way for black people to march to/for courage. Courage is our entire existence. It is the way we learn to smile and encourage ourselves, against all evidence to the contrary, that “we gon’ be alright.” It is the way we learn to utilize our rage in both cathartic and political ways when all the evidence proves that the voice of reason in our rage is not wanted here, and the release of pain that our rage attempts to alleviate is incomprehensible to a world founded on black death. Courage is the way we learn to love when love for another seems to be love with a body eternally stalked and shadowed by the possibility of death.

The question of liberation must transcend courage. We have always – by necessity – have had to have courage, and re-positioning this question doesn’t necessarily mean that we must look for a void. We are not searching for something that black people have dropped along the long road of “history.” Black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and chains; black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and brands on our arms and backs; black people came into “history” with courage, love, hope, desire and a will to live and grow against the weight of a (White) world. The only lack in blackness is that which has been negated by whiteness, but whiteness has always required of black bodies to have courage in order to make it through the day.

There is often this  false causation that we are given. We are told that liberation has not been reached due to a “lack” of something we possess. We are told that it is because black people have not done something correct that black people have not become free.  We are told that our continual struggle against the course of “history” is due to something we are “lacking.” But black people have never lacked any of the spiritual requirements for liberation, and the material/metaphysical requirements (political, economic, ontological) are the very reasons why the battle we fight continues to be fought in the first place.

What we need is already set in place and has always been set in place from the birth of blackness. What we need is the same courage, remythologized, not in the form of absence-returned, but in the form of presence-surpassed. It is not that we are looking for something we lost in order to overturn a system that has required our death to fuel itself. We are creating surpluses of something that has always been there. The same courage, love, hope, desire that has allowed us to continue to exist at all. This does not mean that we must situate ourselves in optimism, or that optimist is the “myth-leading-to-liberation” (the myth that constitutes what emancipation is). It is very possible that it is the courage, the love, the hope, the desire of the pessimist that leads to liberation. It is very possible that our best hope is hopelessness. But having this be the case it does not mean that we must lose nor gain something.

We – black people – are always everything and nothing at all. In the maroon society of black bodies, where we learn to thrive, resist, and exist, we become all that we ever were, and all that we ever could be, and this is the force of uncontainable possibility. In the world, created by us, yet never for us; in the world, a world that hopes to cyclically destroy our bodies in hopes to destroy our will to destroy it, we find ourselves existing as a standing negation: to the white world, we are nothing-at-all. But we must remember how true this is, and yet still how untrue it is. It is here where Du Bois consciousness returns. We must be conscious that to whiteness (the system of whiteness as the system that constitutes the ideological backdrop for every institution of power and knowledge) we may be nothing, and it is this self that we wage war against, and we must also be conscious that to blackness – that modern positionality of negation – we are everything. We are the hands that laid the foundation for a world. We are the backs that carried it into civilization. We are the legs that globalize its notion of linear progression.

The fight for liberation is a fight towards the fantasy of a world unthinkable to the world we currently live in. Our current world is a product of a combination of white colonial violence and white supremacist mythologies. A new world – a world of black liberation – is a fight towards a world free of white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and capitalist exploitation. The fight for liberation requires a courage that has always been there, and it requires a will that has never vanished, but has always been here.

The Public Intellectual

The Public Intellectual: The Series

The purpose of the public intellectual series is to shine light on the unspoken intellectuals of the academy and the unspoken intellectuals outside the academy whose ideas contribute to the intelligentsia and whose presence make them direct public servants to the world. This series has personal resonance with me as a student and advocate of, and for, public education at the University level. The Public Intellectual series will focus on academics who work in the state-University public school systems or on the ground in grassroots activism. The Public Intellectual is: 1) An intellectual whose work and presence affects people from poorer backgrounds directly, on the daily and not the families of elites. 2) An intellectual who writes, speaks, or teaches in order to say something about the world and contribute to a conversation about the world at large. 3) They are in the Humanities, Arts, or Media Studies, primarily, and only occasionally outside of these, if and only if, their ideas, research and/or outside work contributes to attempting to change something about Humans and/or Non-Humans. The idea for this series arose after contemplation on three rather inconsistent ideas and encounters, all of which solidified my idea of what a public intellectual is not, and what a public intellectual is.

The first contradicting encounter was the realization that a majority of people considered, “public intellectuals,” work at private schools that have a historic and contemporaneous interest in exclusivity and an oppressive interest in raising profits for administrators, donors, and stock-holders under the “non-profit” label. This contradicted the notion of the public intellectual since the public intellectual was so far removed from the public. They were more affiliated with institutions that tended to serve only the wealthy, elite and “promising.” For me, the public intellectual works in the public institutions or in public life. They are public servants of the people. They teach three-to-four courses a semester to students who come from poor backgrounds, students who are the first to attend college, students who were told they wouldn’t ever be able to attend college for either mental ineptitude or financial instability. They educate as much as they publish and they deserve to be admonished for their uncanny ability to juggle both sides of what it really means to be a public intellectual.

The second contradicting idea was the fact that a majority of people working in the public institutions are considered to be “lesser-than-intellectuals,” whose research interest is deemed meaningless, and this kind of ideology makes its way into their students making their students feel like, “lesser than students.” It goes without saying that students who attend public schools and Universities are consistently reminded that they “only go to a public school,” or that, “they aren’t at Harvard.” However, occasionally it takes a true public intellectual to step in and assure their students that they “can receive an Ivy-School Level education right here,” that I was motivated to pursue this series further. A Public Intellectual is an intellectual regardless of their institution. A Public Intellectual incessantly reminds their students, and the public that the intellectual strives to give intellect and ideas to the world beyond the confines of elitist institutions with histories’ born out of exclusion and oppression.

The third contradicting idea was the idea that the liberal arts and humanities did not and could do add anything to the world. A Public Intellectual gives language to a world that has lost it. The Public Intellectuals works to share ideas in a world that has commercialized the intellectual and scientized the academy. They are anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, philosophers, cultural historians and studiers, and occasionally, they are scientist who have something to say about the implications of their science and of science for the world. The Public Intellectuals I am after are intellectuals who have dedicated themselves to the people and to the world and to changing it every day. They are not elitist educators (and I struggle to give even that word to them) who care more about writing essays for academic journals for only academics to decipher and comprehend, traveling the world with world leaders and famous persons, and ascending to the upper-echelons of the Academic world only to serve the children of the wealthy. They are Public Intellectuals because they don’t only speak of the people, they speak to the people, teach the people, and work with the people.

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#WeAreMizzou: Reimagining Radical Black Politics at the Public PWI University

The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a “circle of certainty” within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them.

  • Paolo Freire

This is the only possible relationship to the American university today. This may be true of universities everywhere. It may have to be true of the university in general. But certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of – this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

  • Fred Moten

#WeAreMizzou created a ripple effect in Universities across the nation. A sleeping giant rose, a spark was lit, a new age of student activist was born, and predominately white institutions shuttered in the aftermath. However, what became noticeably clear after the direct action protest was that every predominately white institution didn’t function the same, and this became evermore clear in regards to whether or not the institution was private or public. For example, Johns Hopkins University black student activist were able to rapidly receive the Diverse Faculty Initiative which promised to invest $25 million dollars over the next five years in order to better recruit and retain minority faculty. Additionally, Yale University student activist were able to receive $50 million dollars for practically the same thing. These big dollar initiatives are rarely capable of being granted to public universities, even if they are flagship Universities. For example, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill received a sum total of $1 million dollars in order to “diversify students pursuing doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts,” a total that can easily be seen as a “small grant” in relation to the two former mentioned Universities.

The purpose of bringing this up is to illustrate that the beast of white supremacy and institutional racism manifest itself in a multiplicity of ways, maintains itself in a multiplicity of ways, and reforms, rectifies, and adjust itself in a multiplicity of ways. With that being said, it’s not necessarily true that Johns Hopkins and Yale students have been able to achieve more than the students at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, but that the reforms and adjustments created by white supremacist private institutions, the amount of capital these institutions are willing to give up while still maintaining their place as institutions of white supremacy differ depending upon the socioeconomic and political power of the individual institutions. I will not speak much more about private institutions and the future of black student activism at these institutions, but I will urge these students to think of these initiatives like small reparations, and take seriously Frank Wilderson’s critique of the American reparations movement when he says:

The reparations people present the issue to blacks as though slavery is an essentially historical phenomenon that ended, but the effects of which put blacks at what they call an “unfair disadvantage” to those in other positions who are also chasing the American dream. Through such a move the reparations folks waste a political weapon, they dull the knife, they keep the tiger in the cage, because here is a weapon which could spew forth in untold directions: I’m thinking here of Nat Turner’s greatest night.

In other words, do not waste that political weapon, do not dull the knife – release the tiger, and capture your entire institution sparring no hall, cafeteria, and/or department.

As for black student activist at most public universities the economic realities of low funds from racist donors, or funds primarily from the state and/or federal governments, and the political reality of dense anti-black bureaucratic processes makes achieving even a feat like that of University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill extremely difficult. This fact requires an alternative politic. One that rearranges the notion of the radical, one that understands that radicalism is not speaking truth to white institutions of power, but that radicalism is gaining, building, and sustaining black power and not allowing the institution to assuage the student activist with “fine-dining and meetings” that create the façade of progress at the expense of what is needed, namely, a cultural-social-political-educational revolution. What does this look like? I do not intend to provide the dogma of black activism for I am as new to this as any other, but I only intend to provide an option, a possibility of a future – a future of a radical black politics at the public PWI University.

First, in the words of Sey Elemo, Bilphena Yahwon, and Korey Johnson, three remarkable black feminist/womanist undergraduates at Towson University, “The revolution must always be ratchet.” This remark reflects the alterity of the black student/black student activist at the PWI. To be ratchet is to be Other. The black student is de facto Other at any University, and even more so at the PWI because through the gaze of white supremacy and in the words of Kanye West, “Y’all know that niggas can’t read.” This idea is reflected both by the #StayMadAbby phenomena and Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s remarks on affirmative action, and black student admission into prestigious universities. For the revolution to always be ratchet is for the revolution to always maintain its otherness, to always maintain its unwillingness to be coopted, to always be principally pro-black, unabashedly attached to black culture, black thought, black students, and black people. This concretely means three things: first, that culture is to be taken seriously – hip hop (conscious or trap) is not a black student’s plaything, it is a part of the black student’s social and psychological livelihood. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are as instrumental to that psychical survival as Migos and Young Thug. Second, that black parties are not spaces where blacks simply go to have fun, black parties are revolutionary spaces of the subaltern where black people go to, in the words of Alice Walker, “possess the secrets of joy.” When those spaces are heavily policed and militarized they mirror the policing practices of the rest of black America and remind black students that their University is nothing more than a microcosm of the macro-manifestation of anti-black structures that plague the rest of America. Third, black sexuality and conversations on black sexuality regardless if the conversation is being had with smiles and giggles, or sincerity and seriousness is a sexuality and a conversation not to be disavowed. Embracing and radicalizing intersectional sexual orientations, practices, and methods of discussions are a part of the ratchet revolution that must take place at the PWI University.

Second, in the words of Baby Joker in a screenplay written by record producer, actor, filmmaker, and rapper, Ice Cube, No more locked doors!” What this mean is that there needs to be a deconstruction of white bureaucratic ideals of privacy, logistics, and fictitious appearances of progressivism for the sake of public relations. In a world of what Bonilla-Silva calls, “Racism without racist” the task of black student activist is to publicize and criticize every event, every act of racism, every meeting with institutional power-holders, and to open the space up to accountability. Accountability both politically and psycho-politically, a remark I will come back to later. Nevertheless, the purpose of this principle is to radicalize the process of change. Change does not occur over coffee, tea, and shirts and ties; change comes through revolutionizing even the process of bringing about that change. It comes from creating alternatives to the current, and breaking down contemporary conceptions of the possible. This means taking seriously the idea that “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” The master’s process of change is not ours. Thus we must open the doors.

Third, the radical politic must be driven by radical love. Black radical love is the relationship between two persons, one of whom is black, who embark on the ontological quest to be radically political, radically anti-racist, and radically anti-oppressive to one another; all the while additionally, being radically subversive to any one or any institution that dehumanizes. The position of radical love is pluralistic in that it denies the unified whole in favor of loving the multiple layers of personhood that make up the black identity. These layers include race (in this specific case, black) class, gender, and sexual orientation, etc. Emphasizing this love makes this love more than a social love or a kind of simple social bonding. Black radical love is a black radical political theory. For a black person to love themselves is a radical step forward, not only individually, but socially and politically. The same logic must be applied to black radical love for each other. Therefore, we have to assess blackness through the lens of black particularity, black feminism, black anti-capitalist exploitation, black sexual politics, black anti-elitism, and black anti-hierarchicalism. This provides a complete denunciation and critical analyzes of white supremacy: how it functions, what caused it, and how we cannot only destroy it, but more importantly transcend it. Solidarity, for black persons, must be a pluralist solidarity.

Fourth, transforming what is typically known as radical activism to what we call, “Radical Therapy.” This means shedding the idea of an activist since the activist is primarily focused on transformation of the political. The radical therapist is primarily focused on the psycho-political. Second-wave feminist constructed the feminist mantra that, “the personal is political.” The radical therapist’s mantra is that, “the political is psychological.” In Robin Kelly’s excellent article “Black Study, Black Struggle” he quotes Naomi Wallace in order to critique this idea. She says:

Mainstream America is less threatened by the ‘trauma’ theory because it doesn’t place economic justice at its core and takes the focus out of the realm of justice and into psychology; out of the streets, communities, into the singular experience (even if experienced in common) of the individual.

However, I tend to disagree with the supposed separation of the psychological and its potential for an economic-political-racial critique of institutions. Psychological trauma invoked by oppression, repression, and subjugation can result in a psycho-political analysis, like that of the work of Frantz Fanon, where structures of domination are psycho-politically analyzed and deconstructed for the sake of structural political, economic, and racial transformation. This means the black radical therapist is dedicated to black mental health and devoted to transforming the psychological effects of the structural political situation that is damaging to the totality of black personhood, which includes psychological health. The radicalism is sparked by the openness of the process, the virtue of community building of the process, and the trust and faith in the rest of the persons who become radical therapist in the process. In Robin Kelly’s own words:

[R]esistance is our healing. Through collective struggle, we alter our circumstances; contain, escape, or possibly eviscerate the source of trauma; recover our bodies; reclaim and redeem our dead; and make ourselves whole.

Radical therapy is group therapy, radical therapy is community-creating therapy; radical therapy is family-making process; radical therapy is subversive, political, and transformative.

Five, we must be practitioners of a world that doesn’t exist. This means creating the world we want now. Being the black professors we want now, being the black administrators we want now, being the black counselors we want now, being the black occupiers we want now. We have to teach each other by creating our own Black Studies syllabus; we have to create policies with each other that continue to create and recreate the demands of black students across all intersections of gender, sexualities, and religions; we have to be dedicated to creating self-care and counseling spaces with each other that are radical destroyers of depression and radical annihilators of suicidal thoughts that emerge from white supremacy; we have to begin to occupy and create the University we want now or the destroy the University we are in now by being living, breathing examples of what is means to be unapologetically black at all times. This means in the words of Fred Moten, we have to “steal the University,” now, and bring it back to our people. We have to “steal the University” and bring it back to the people who attend this University, people who attend other-local, regional, national Universities, people in high-school, people in middle-school, people in the suburbs, people in rural localities, and people in the hood. We have to create the world of the demands within ourselves and build the power within ourselves until the University does not only concede to those demands, but concretely devotes itself to creating and being a radical space against economic, political, and racial exploitation.

So in conclusion, I suggest we operate on five principles.

  • Sustain a ratchet revolution.
  • Deconstruct bureaucratic ideals
  • Operate on the principle of radical love
  • Become radical therapist before radical activist
  • Imagine and Build the World We Want Now

College is not about becoming what you want to be in the aftermath of graduation, it’s about being what you will be today and destroying every oppressive structure that stands in our way.

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Occupying Towson: We Will Not Go Gently

Recently, I posted a statement on Facebook on my concern about Towson University’s Student Government Association’s failure to bring the demands of the black students who participated in #OccupyTowson to Annapolis during what is considered “Tiger Pride Day.” The purpose of Tiger Pride Day for the Student Government Association, according to the Towerlight, is “to meet with key lawmaking committees from the Senate and House to make their concerns known on a state level.” I considered the silence of the Student Government Association to be a silence that reified the physical, psychological, and educational violence that stifles the development of Towson University’s black student population. I considered the silence of the Student Government Association to be a silence that proved that the concerns of the black students at Towson University is seen as marginal and peripheral to the overarching vision of Towson University. In other words, at Towson University, black lives don’t matter – at least not enough to be brought to the lawmaking committees from the Senate and the House.

            My critique was met with a responses by the Director of Legislative Affairs, Pierce Jaffri and President Kurt Anderson, two response that were essentially a circumvention of the major concern in order to evade the specificity inherent to black plight, two responses that went on to promote what basically amounted to an “All-Lives-Matter” Legislative agenda. Pierce Jaffri ran down the list of agenda points and then, went on to try to argue that this “All-Lives-Matter” agenda into something that, “directly affects black students”:

  1. Keeping college tuition affordable

 Black students will benefit from this initiative because many black students struggle with paying college tuition and are burdened with loan repayment after graduation.

  1. Promoting and sustaining a University System of Maryland graduate workforce.

This specifically asks the state legislature to create incentives for businesses to hire students who graduate from University System of Maryland schools, such as Towson. You and I both know that black people need more job opportunities in this country, and this initiative directly helps (in a way) black students find jobs more accessibly in Maryland.

  1. The advancement of transgender rights.

Transgender students in Maryland will benefit from this initiative. In fact, a black student whom I will not name for privacy reasons, met with my assistant director and help us compose this initiative.

  1. Securing the operating budget.

This initiative ensures that we as an institution are able to secure operating funds from the state government that will help our university operate. This students of color just like you John, because this allows the university YOU attend to operate to its fullest capacity possible.

  1. Capital Improvement Projects

This initiative allows for students, regardless of color, the ability to have a greater experience if they are to select a major program in either the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics or the College of Health Professions. This will allow those students to get a top-of-the-line education in these fields and will make them more well-educated and better prepared for the workforce upon graduation.

 

Not only does his comment unconvincingly explain how these agenda points DIRECTLY affect black students in regards to the specificity of their plight (For example, Jaffri fails to recognize that black students struggle with college affordability, job availability, transphobia, entrance into Towson University, and success in the Sciences, Mathematics, and Health Profession programs in drastically different ways than white students), but it fails to address the true issue I had with SGA’s Legislative Agenda.

I had to reiterate to Jaffri that the agenda itself wasn’t problematic. It was, in Derridean fashion, what the agenda decided to leave out. I am well aware of the importance of college affordability for all students. I am well aware of how important promoting and sustaining a University System of Maryland graduate workforce is. I am well aware, and extremely in favor of the importance of promoting transgender rights. I am well aware of the importance of securing the operating budget and I am well aware of the significance of the Capital Improvement Project for the Sciences and Health Professions in our evermore scientific and technological nation. However, I say that Jaffri failed as a Director of Legislative Affairs not for what he wrote, but for what he forgot to write, namely, anything in relation to protecting and representing the specific concerns that plague black students at this University. President Kurt Anderson’s response was simply a technical evasion of the issue which went on to state all the other things that the Student Government Association is doing on behalf of black demands and #OccupyTowson. If what he says the Student Government Association is doing for black students is true, then the works they are putting in in the aftermath of the #OccupyTowson has been fine work. However, the work that has been done outside of Tiger Pride Day was not my concern.

My concern was about Tiger Pride Day and why the Student Government Association, on a day supposedly dedicated to making University concerns known on a State level, did not consider the concerns of black students to be significant enough to be taken to the House and Senate. Director of Legislation, Pierce Jaffri said this was because, “The SGA Legislative Agenda, under my directorship, cannot include an initiative that is exclusive to a racial group on campus.” However, this problem appears to be either a non-problem (meaning an exclusive legislative point is actually something he is capable of doing, but didn’t want to) or there must exist a racially exclusive logistical measure that permits gender exclusivity while not permitting racial exclusivity. Why? Because the third agenda point precludes any statement that attempts to say the specificity is not possible unless there is a mandate or statute that specifically states that Jaffri is not allowed to be specific to race, but is allowed to be specific for gender identification.

Ultimately, the situation amounts to a disregard to the demands of the black students of #OccupyTowson and then, a disavow on behalf of the Student Government Association when asked to be held accountable and transparent about the reasoning behind their decision making. Nevertheless, this just means that we all need to be reminded that even in inaction there is an action, typically of indifference. This is a reminder that we must not #OccupyTowson, we must be #OccupyingTowson. This is a reminder that we will not and cannot go gently into that good night until every last demand is met.

The Towson University Demands

What is #OccupyTowson?