On Suicide // On Care: because life is hard, part 2.

The opposite of suicide is care. If suicide is defined by the act of intentionally killing oneself, then care is the act of intentionally preventing one from killing oneself. But, as I have mentioned in other essays, death is never singular nor is care. When one commits suicide one does not simply kill oneself, one kills parts of oneself that were in relation to others. My suicide attempt would not have simply suicided me. It would have suicided the mother-son relationship my mother has with me; it would have suicided the girlfriend-boyfriend relationship my partner has with me; it would have suicided the brother-brother relationship my brother has with me. This makes suicide a multiplicity. My suicide suicides others. Additionally, however, my suicide is always something that occurs not as a response to, but in a relationship to others/an Other.

It is for this reason that “13 Reasons Why” makes absolute sense. What “13 Reasons Why” does is it makes clear the relationships that fostered (not forced, but fostered) the cause of death, whereas prototypical suicide leaves the material world with questions. It is not that “13 Reasons Why” is an over-exaggeration. It is that “13 Reasons Why” is an exemplification, a drawing out of the lines that assisted in facilitating the suicide. Whereas the world is typically left to theoretically construct the social and relational causes of death, “13 Reasons Why” portrays a suicide that leaves no one in the dark. For example, Kalief Browder could have very easily made more than 13 reasons why he committed suicide in relationship to the social context that he was forced to endure. But, the fact that he did not does not mean that what he was suffering from was something internal. What he was suffering from destroys the external/internal binary. Suicide/Suicidal ideation/suicide attempts are both internal, as a procession of thoughts, thinking and behaving that is dealt with inside of oneself, and external, as a procession of behaviors, relationships, structural and institutional networks that operate outside of oneself. Suicide occurs in a context of sociality.

The same can be said of care. When one commits oneself to care, one commits oneself invariably to us-care. For example, for most of her life, my mother has worked as a support counselor for the mentally disabled. She has wielded her body, utilized her muscles, bones, energy and brains in dedication to the care of the mentally disabled. But even outside the kinds of care that have allowed my mother to support herself financially, my mother has taken seriously us-care as a way of living in all aspects of her life. Caring for my cousins as if they were immediate family – offering housing, tutelage, and wisdom. Caring for my friends as if they were her children – offering advice, guidance, and food. Caring for the homeless and the formerly imprisoned through opening our home to them and inviting them in to our place to stay. My mother is the embodiment of the practice of us-care. My mother is committed to a politics of care that recognizes the link between care and livability. The possibility of many to make it to the end of the day has relied on the emotional, physical and intellectual care of my mother. And then, when those around us are cared for, when their body-mind-and-spirit is attended to and well, it makes us feel more at ease. It creates cycles of care that reproduce the prospect of life. One does not have to worry about the specter of suicide. The caretaker themselves feel cared for and then, those who have benefitted from access to the caretaker can learn from the pedagogy that accompanies their care and recycle the techniques. One day every caretaker needs to be taken care of, and those who have received the care of the caretaker must appropriate the methods of the caretaker in order to recreate the cycle. Caretaking isn’t trickle-down; caretaking is spread-across.

One commits suicide when one feels devoid of care, when one feels care is absent and cannot be retrieved, when one feels the weight of a careless world. One commits to care when one attempts to alleviate the tremors and troubles of suicide, when one attempts to destroy the affective apparatus that attempts to concretize the absence of care, when one attempts to invade the careless world with weapons of reconstruction. We have taken suicide to be an act of killing oneself without an investigation to the relational aspects of the act of suicide. We only see the relational aspects of suicide in two brief moments: 1) At the funeral of the suicided person, or 2) At the hospital when the attempted suicide fails. For example, in the aftermath of attempting suicide, I had received tons of notifications from people whose relationality was importance in fostering my suicide attempt, friends I hadn’t spoken to in years,  and persons I barely knew informing me how much they loved me and cared for me and hoped that I stuck around and survived. My attempted suicide revealed the relational aspects of the act of killing myself. But, it also energized people to participate in a practice/politics of care. By not looking at suicide, we fail to see the necessary relationality that has to structure of practice of care.

We have overlooked and underestimated the importance of care because we have not looked closer at suicide and have often taken the words of the suicidal to be misrepresentations of the world rather than reinterpretations of the world. Here is a wonderful example of the latter statement. When I was in the hospital and I was talking to the psychiatrist, I told her that I did not see suicide as a sign of weakness. I told her that for me suicide was harder than living and if I had more courage I would have finished the job. This, for the psychiatrist, was a clear sign of mania. For the non-suicidal, life is the hardest thing to do and suicide is easy. Suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” For the suicidal, life is like breathing. It is done without thought. It is done compulsively. It is done “just because.” No one thinks to live. They just do it until they don’t. But if life is like breathing, suicidal people are people who like to count their breaths, who like to think about breathing every step of the way, who like to notice that breathing is more complicated than it has to be, and that stopping one’s breath is an end to all complications – temporary or infinite, past, present or future. A suicide attempt is an attempt to hold your breath until you pass out from it. For the suicidal, people who continue to choose life even though it’s hard to breathe are people too afraid to hold their breath until they no longer breathe. Holding your breath when the impulse and instinct is to breath requires strength. Choosing the permanent solution to the never-ending problem of depression, ideation, and absent care and relationality does not take weakness; it’s takes commitment.

When Ohio activist MarShawn McCarrel committed suicide, black activist, organizer and academic communities wrote about the importance of self-care as if what MarShawn needed was time and space to simply deal with his demons alone. However, if his “demons won” and they are multiple, why are the forces fighting those demons individual? MarShawn, like all of us, needed to hear, feel, and obtain us-care in a world that sees little value in it. What one hears in the words, “My demons won today” is an internal/external battle that breaks the dichotomy that exist between the two. Suicide is both an internal and external struggle that requires a continual interrogation of the internal since what is internal is always externalized in some form of another. Us-care is an internal and external methodology that requires the continual interrogation of the micro/macropolitical division since what is micro is always made macro when care is done correctly. Each and every form of suicide is a result of absent care. Each and every socio-political enigma is a question of: should we care or should we not care? For this reason, I’ll conclude with the words of the most radical caretaker I know, the woman who has dedicated her life to facilitating the politics of care, my mother, who has always told me, showed me, and taught me the radical importance of open, vulnerable, affective and effective care. In her rather simple words, “All we can do is care for each other.”

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Reassessing Philosophical Borders and The History of (My)Self

Every now and again I look underneath my bookshelf-slash-work-desk where an old beat up MaxiPad box full of ragged journals and loose leaf pages that I’ve had since the fifth grade sits, and I read through the aphorisms, poems, songs, and essays that I’ve written and I study (from-a-distance) the history of myself. What has come to amaze me is how little I’ve changed, how inquisitive I’ve been my entire life, and how the same issues and concerns have followed me all the way until now philosophically. From my early theories of love at the age of sixteen (when I wrote, “Love and its pain is the world’s biggest enigma,”) to my preconscious acknowledgement at thirteen of what I later will discover to be crucial to the theoretical apparatus of afropessmism (when I wrote “I’ve been known as an abomination put through discrimination I’ve been emancipated but I still feel locked in cages,”) to even the theodicy-laced inquiry of my eleven year old lyric (when I wrote, “Dear God, How am I to make through life with everyone doing wrong it’s hard to do right?”) these questions of affect theory, blackness, and theodicies have always seemed to follow me. The fact that this is true, that these concerns have followed me all the way until now, that the rhythmic hip hop lyrics that used to accompany my inquisitions had simply been replaced by the technical terminology of academic scholarship, that the emphasis on cultural artifacts and “dope” similes had been replaced by the emphasis of memorization of persons and the concepts that these persons created (or the name that the person gave to that concept) had led me to begin to question briefly metaphilosophically, meaning, it made me wonder: What is philosophy? Now I most certainly can’t answer such a huge question in one blog post, and I’m not sure if I necessarily want to. But what I’m more interested in is sharing how or why this genealogical exploration of myself brought me to this question in the first place.

Recently one of my most pressing issues I have had with myself has been my past. The buildup of an existential angst derived from the fact that I had “not engaged in philosophy earlier.” The self-consciousness recycled itself with new names each time. I’d say to myself, “I wish I would have studied: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Hegel, Nietzsche, etc . . . sooner!” My robust for affinity for black studies (which I usually just consider black philosophy) would make me aware of my double consciousness,  and I’d add, “I wish I would have studied: Equiano, Douglass, Jacobs, Truth, Du Bois, Washington, Wells, etc . . . sooner!” My philosophical project rested on, not only knowing these people, but reading and being able to quote extensively their work when I needed to and when I wanted to. Because that’s what philosophy is right? Philosophy is the study of other people’s concepts, other people’s thoughts, other people’s contribution in order to take a little from one person’s thought and a little from another person’s thought in hopes of forging your own identity within the philosophical “mainstream” (which is indubitably connected to institutions of power). Knowing in philosophy meant knowing the philosophers. Nevertheless, being a finite being the task of writing, reading, and memorizing all the above person’s concepts and all the above person’s thoughts had brought about a grave anxiety. I had become a philosophical failure prior to even engaging on the philosophical path. I had spent to long with hip hop, poetry, images and stories to even begin to place my name in the upper echelons of philosophical “greatness” (whatever that even is).

Nonetheless, my adolescent journals made me recognize the foolishness of this thought. Not only had I understood a lot of these thinkers, but why did understanding the writing of most of these thinkers qualify one as a “philosopher?” Why was it necessary to know about Leibniz’s monadology? Or Du Bois’ double consciousness, if you were capable of coming up what they did on your own? What made philosophy so crucially tied to technicality that the only way to be a philosopher was to read all the philosophers who came before you? What made philosophy more about the study of the old than the creation of the new? I think this tendency reflects more than just a “joy of knowing what others before you have said,” but a technicalization of philosophy itself.  I am not saying we shouldn’t read these thinkers, but what I did end up asking is: Why is whatever philosophy is or whatever a philosopher does inextricably tied to the study of past philosopher’s concepts? And who decides the canonical philosophers and their concepts? And [why] is there a sort-of “normal philosophy” that takes place in philosophy (in Kuhnian sense) where philosopher’s generally sit back and study other philosopher’s versus a striving for in an incessant “revolutionary philosophy?” If a fifth grader is capable of describing in song what is a considerably major philosophical concept without citing any other philosopher other than his own thoughts, are they or are they not a philosopher? Why might someone who studies philosophers of the past be more a “philosopher” than the kid who is asking his own questions and finding his own answers through his own introspection? What makes someone “a great philosopher?”

Demarcating what is and what is not philosophy, or what is “proper” and what is “improper” philosophy is one of the various things that constitutes the professionalization of philosophy.  This brings me to my conclusion, but I would like to urge philosophy (and this may be one of my major projects in the fallout of this investigation) to begin a much needed sociology of philosophy which would investigate the society of philosophers, the oppression within that society, the institutions that contribute to the maintenance of these oppressive structures (i.e. the silencing of other voices, the exclusion of black thinkers, the emphasis on academic style writing over more other styles, etc.), and the creators of what constitutes what is/what is not philosophy. Because currently there are boundaries everywhere, and as I said at sixteen, “Boundaries are created by power.”

The American God and His Disciples: Reflections on a Theological Americanism

One of the final moments of the 2016 Republican debates that sent twitter into a frenzy was Megyn Kelly’s “dramatic,” cliff-hanging, pre-commercial statement saying, “We have to stand you by, because after the break, we’re going to let the candidates make their closing statements, their final thoughts, and . . . God.” This caused in an outraged as people poured out their 140 character hearts about the GOP’s public conversation about their private, “Christian” faith in a country that claims to have a separation of church and state. When Fox returned from the commercial break the question surfaced to the candidates [paraphrased], “Have any of you received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first when elected in office?” To the “secular progressives,” that Hillary Clinton apparently epitomizes, to the people of a different religious/spiritual persuasion than Christianity and liberal, progressive Christians alike, this question seemed irrelevant or nonsensical in any serious political setting, especially after the conversation on the #BlackLivesMatter movement was cut ridiculously short. However, this final question is enormously significant, to the nation and to this forthcoming progressive movements emerging within it, and cannot simply be pronounced as irrelevant, because it speaks so much to America’s understanding of itself.

This question shines a light on the American civil religion. Talking about the American civil religion, Robert Bellah writes:

“Though much is selectively derived from Christianity, this religion is clearly not itself Christianity . . . The God of the civil religion is not only rather, ‘unitarian,’ he is also on the austere side, much more related to order, law, and right than to salvation and love. Even though he is somewhat deist in cast, he is by no means simply a watchmaker God. He is actively interested and involved in history, with a special concern for America.” [1]

This austere, law-minded Unitarian God of the American civil religion has more than just a special concern for America. He ordained and prophesied America’s divine mission for the rest of the world. He sees America as more than just a nation of liberty and justice for all, but additionally, a nation of promise – a holy land. Therefore, “The will of the people is not itself the criterion of right and wrong. There is a higher criterion in terms of which this will can be judged; it is possible that the people may be wrong. The president’s obligation extends to the higher criterion.” [1] It’s seemingly a democratic theocracy wherein the people may elect, but only God justifies. Therefore, being the leader of America goes far beyond being commander and chief, it’s essentially being a prophet of a divine Americanism. This prophetic responsibility is no minor ordeal to a society totally devoted to this American God. The enormity of the ordeal lies in the Supreme Being who without him, “there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life,” for, “Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God’s help, it will continue to be.”[2] For, “God has led his people to establish a new sort of social order that shall be a light unto all the nations.” [1] Sounds biblical right? Bellah thinks the God of the American civil religion only has, “selectively derived from Christianity,” but it isn’t necessarily Christianity. But I’d disagree.

The Unitarian focus of the American God is a poor attempt at inclusiveness, and without a doubt, most Americans understand the evoked God as the Judeo-Christian God (hence, the twitter outrage).  Politicians openly identify as Christians, and mention the name of God, making it safe to imply that they’re talking about the God of the Judeo-Christian sort. Robert’s tone, which insinuates a minuscule amount of Christian influence (selectively derived vs clearly), most certainly doesn’t align with Ted Cruz’s response to the debate question when he remarks, “I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the bible.” This response, coupled by an applause, solidifies the American God in the Judeo-Christian faith. Bellah mentions the influence himself when he says, “The equation of America with Israel is not infrequent . . . [Hence, the American unquestionable alliance with Israel].” Bellah’s insistence that there is a clear distinct division between the civil religion and the Judeo-Christian God is an insistence that there must be state established religion in order for the civil religion to be Christian.  However, this thinking undermines the importance of ideology and culture in the formation of a country. The American God is not a substitute for Christianity, but instead it is acculturated Christianity whose Unitarianism is only adopted for the sake of a patriotic, unified American front. This God, Christian in its foundation, is tied distinctly to a theological Americanism. Christianity is the religion; American Christianity its theology. This theology mimics the distinction between religion and theology made by Pan-African Christian theologians like Edward Blyde and Josiah Young. Christianity is the inculturated religion; Americanism is the acculturated theology. Lewis Gordon writes of the Pan-African theologians distinction when he says, “The task of a good theology, Young argues, is acculturation—to draw upon, that is, the cultural formation that is already present.”[3] If this is true, then what social order is it that God has called America to shine upon all nations? What does this theology teach? What are characteristics of this American God? And what are its potential biblical foundations? And what about Him makes Him so appealing to right-wingers?

The American God is the God of American Exceptionalism. This God blesses America disproportionately to the blessings of other countries. For this nation, even in its disregard for the least of these in terms of healthcare, education, and incarceration rates, still remains the good and perfect gift from above mentioned in James 1:17. This God has placed divine providence on America to take on the white man’s burden, and this burden of capital imperialism, is assuredly similar to that burden which led Paul to be beaten, pelted, and shipwrecked. For when the Wall-Street elites and their political apologist boast of their capital gains and personal wealth increases, they boast in harmony with the boasting of Paul in suffering. This God has supported the increase in military war-hawking. For this nation’s destiny lies in fulfilling its prophetic role of guardian of the globe. This God does not consider the deceptive language that justifies every war under the guise of, “liberty and democracy,” to be deceptive. For the demagoguery is nothing more than the following of the sacred prophesy bestowed upon it from He who watches from above. This God has declared America to be a nation of moral righteousness. Its slavery redeemed; its dehumanization of its poor and working class persons excusable; its murder of black persons acceptable; its hatred of people of color justifiable; its voice an echo of the divine. This God has maintained, “Whosoever challenges the greatness of this nation faces damned excommunication! And they shall find themselves one among the ranks of demons with titles such as: communist, nigger, terrorist, savage, thug, or Muslim.” His cross is a sacred Star – Spangled Banner. His holy land is these United States and his brother-nation is Israel. His Pharisees are those begging for him to follow the remarks given by that love struck, homeless, Palestinian Jews that called for his people to stop their murdering, settle matters quickly before the law must be involved, turn the other cheek in the face of violence, love your enemies, give to the needy, and never store your treasures. And His salvation is given to anyone who believes in him, puts in the work, follows the law, and is afforded the proper institutional privileges and biases to successfully accrue wealth, prestige, and status.

The fact that this God “exist” and this God is the God of this nation – anything that goes against this establishment, anything that questions the holiness of the dominant narrative of this establishment, anything that reminds America that it is not exceptional, goes against this God. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is fighting against this God and his militarized holy “guardsmen of grace.” The feminist movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ attempts to disregard the importance of affordable healthcare options for women, demean the lived experience of rape survivors, and belittle women’s request for equal pay across the country. The LGBTQ+ movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ commandments that they harbor hatred and phobia of these persons. The labor movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ sanctified positioning of capitalist elites as beacons of American individualism. The anti-neoliberal globalization movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ permissibility of the exploitation of the poor persons of the world.  America is a country wholeheartedly devoted to the concept that their mission is a transcendent one, greater than themselves. A mission that goes beyond constitutional, democratic elements and enters into the divine. Any wrongdoing is not a wrongdoing. Everything American is righteous. This question asked on the GOP debate stage is important for today’s activist because it’s not just an irrelevant utterance of religion maneuvering its way into the political sphere. It’s an indication that we are not up only up against the white supremacist, homophobic, anti-black, capitalist, patriarchy power structure so duly noted in our leftist progressive conversations. We are up against the acculturated American God himself.

[1] Bellah, Robert. Civil Religion in America. Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, from the issue entitled, “Religion in America,” Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1-21. http://www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm

[2] Einsehower, Dwight. Remarks Recorded for the “Back-to-God”Program of the American Legion.

http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov

[3] Gordon, Lewis. Africana Existentia: Understanding Existential Thought.

#MuslimLivesMatter

R.I.P. to Deah Shaddy Barakat

R.I.P. to Yusor Abu-Salha,

R.I.P to Razan Abu-Salha

Now we wait patiently for a news article to emerge from the right entitled, “What You Didn’t Know About the 3 Muslims Who Were Killed” in which the writer will attempt to stigmatize and degrade the importance that lies in the simple fact that three innocent people were killed. I am going to say that this man, Hicks, will probably file as “insane”, but I will also like to note that this kind of thing is simply a lawyer’s ploy to try to allow a person to receive less time for any crime that their client committed. They usually try to find evidence to support their insanity claim (which is easier) rather than trying to find evidence to support a far-out and improbable innocence claim (especially since he turned himself in). So, white or not, the presumed assumption that an insanity claim will happen is likely for that reason. It is the media’s will to accept the notion that is race tinged, race biased. The left will deny it; the right more willing to accept it.

What is more important to me, if we want to speak about the man’s race and the religions of the people murdered, is the fact that this isn’t considered a terrorist attack. I’m sure many people of the Islamic community are in fear and I’m sure Hick’s political agenda was silencing the free expression of their (Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha) religious beliefs. If you don’t believe the community is full of fear, check out the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. It is streaming with fear, bulging with concern. Now Christian friends, before you go off and defend this radical in whatever way you find necessary, he is not a Christian. He is an atheist according to his social media. However, there is a racially tinge selective use of the word “terrorist” (which I believe is a word that is overused, an overemphasized word in our spectator culture). When the act of terror does not refer to the actions done to white people or the act of terror is done by white people, and the results are stimulated fear within a sub-community of mainstream (white) society, the phrase “terrorist act” is rarely used. This is because power and privilege.

There is power in the ability to discern when something is a terrorist act and when something is not. It is a power in the hands of the white community and the mainstream white-controlled media. There is a power in being able to write your own speculated “truth” on the series of events occurring today and have it accepted by the world. It is a privilege to be able to have your fears confirmed by wider society instead of taken for granted. It is a privilege to have the support of the world.  It is a privilege to have the world view events and severity through your own lens and perspective. As Dr. Yasir Qadhi (@YasirQadhir) tweeted, “I wonder when all the world leaders will come and hold hands and march on the streets of Chapel Hill to condemn Islamophobia.” Islamophobia and the actions that result from it is not taking seriously by wider society because it is not an issue for the persons whose perspective the world is viewed. Therefore, the fear that the people of the Islamic faith have, due to crises like this, is dismissed and belittled as a minor moment spurred from an individual radical. And perhaps he is an individual radical, but does that make him less of a terrorist under the broad definition of, “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”? I am forced to say, “No,” and confirm his act as terrorism under this broad definition of a term handed out so selectively.

Now atheist friends, I am sorry, but in a world that generalizes and stigmatizes, this man will probably become the face behind some radical religious (both Islamic and Christian) justification of the “irrationality and bizareness of Atheism” as if it is some secular religion, high on science and testosterone, bent on overthrowing religious traditions all over the universe. As if you can run up to a group of atheist and easily discern the why behind their disbelief in a deity; as if you can run up to group of atheist and easily discern the ethics that guide their ideology; as if all atheist are “disciples” of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins; as if that is always a bad thing; as if one person’s actions is another person’s actions, simply because one aspect of one’s beliefs coincides with an aspect of the other’s. Do not let this action generate hatred toward atheist. Hicks is the terrorist, not atheism. The structure of power given to a white community unaffected by these murders is the reason the story was not attended to and the reason the word “terrorist” was not used.

Articles on the Event: http://www.wral.com/chapel-hill-police-parking-dispute-may-have-led-to-triple-shooting/14438074/

                                  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/02/11/reports-3-young-muslims-slain-in-chapel-hill-shooting-n-c-man-charged/

                                  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11405005/Chapel-Hill-shooting-Three-American-Muslims-killed.html