The Pressure to Make Political Art

One of the most compelling things about art is the way it reflects and/or comments on society. Art often illuminates and confronts the shadow sides–the injustice and inhumanity that make everyday life difficult, dangerous, or painful for certain people in certain bodies.

There is another compelling aspect of art: the disclcosure of one’s interior landscape. Art is often a deeply personal (even if veiled) revelation of thoughts, feelings, experiences, dreams, and questions. It is an offering of self.

As a queerblackleftistwoman, I feel a lot of pressure to make art that is intentionally and explicitly political. Where does this pressure come from? After all, no one is in my Lab (also known as my home office) telling me what kind of poems I should write, what kinds paintings I should paint. However, I think that when you inhabit multiple identities that are so politically valenced, there is a sort of tacit expectation that you will speak from and to that experience, if you choose to make art. Any other type of art is frivolous, given the sociopolitical conditions of these times.

Am I projecting? Possibly. Maybe, deep down, I am judging myself for giving time and energy to things that don’t advance the struggle.

Several months ago, I was at a gathering where everyone shares creative works. I shared some poems. They fell flat. The response was tepid. There was very little feedback or engagement (atypical for this gathering). It could have been because the poems weren’t that good (I do indeed write a lot of poems that aren’t that good), but I don’t think that was the case. Other folks followed with their contributions, which were no more (or less) interesting, lovely, or thought-provoking, yet those contributions generated a lot of lively conversation. I think it was because of the political overtones of what they shared.

I typically write poems that are delicate, observant, contemplative, and whimsical. Not the kind of poetry that will get snaps and a “Yasssss!”  It’s just not that. And somewhow I feel like readers/listeners are surprised and disappointed by that.

Maybe there is something subversive about the kind of art I make, to the extent that it departs from what is expected of me, given my social location. But, mostly, I think it’s just unfortunate that art about my interiority, art about my everyday life and the regular shit around me will not be as enthusiastically received as the political art I could  make.

Many days I have to persuade myself to keep making, even if other people don’t get it, don’t love it, or don’t get excited about it. Make what I want to make. Ironically, that kind of self-possession is quite political.


Is Taoism Incompatible with Revolutionary Politics?

I have had two major personal developments in recent years.

Politically, I shifted from the progressive left to the radical left.
Spiritually, I have pursued Taoist philosophy to guide my life.

Both  of these developments have been really important to me. That political move is sharpening my analysis of the conditions we live in, clarifying my vision of what kind of world I wish to live in, and identifying some of the strategies I think necessary to get there. The spiritual move is increasing my self-awareness, creating inner peace, and equipping me to understand and face life’s challenges.

Yet, the more these paths unfold, the more they seem to diverge. And I am beginning to wrestle with the (in)compatibility of my spiritual and political convictions.

The thing about a radical political position is that it calls for revolutionary change of fundamental social systems. The way to deal with the root cause is to uproot the social structure.

The thing about Taoism is that you move with the current. You bend. You flex. You lean into what is. You accept reality as it is and cultivate moderation in all things.

My politics demand radical change. My spirituality demands radical acceptance. This is my dilemma.

I recognize that I am oversimplifying. All of this is more complex. But I do feel a very real tension inside of me concerning how I orient myself to the world. I suspect that as I continue to develop, the  resolution of that tension will make itself known to me. But for now, I’m just sort of wondering how to fully be both of these things.





Rapture and Rupture: What the Evangelical Right and the Revolutionary Left Have in Common

When you think about the political spectrum, who could be more opposite from one another than far right, evangelical reactionaries and far left , revolutionary anarchists?


But my experience with both worlds has led me to believe that they actually are more alike than they seem.

First, let me offer some definitions for the words mentioned above.
Political: Not just about, or even primarily about, parties in the government. “Political” is about how we understand power as it relates to public affairs and societal relations.
Evangelical: a subset of Protestant Christians characterized by a belief that all people need to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved from their sins and by an imperative to proselytize in anticipation of the literal return of Jesus Christ to earth.
Reactionaries: people whose political stance is one of “returning to” some former state of affairs which upholds the status quo. In other words, opposed to progressive social change and seeking to reverse it.
Revolutionary: people who seek the total upheaval and replacement of existing social and political structures
Anarchists: those who seek to abolish state power and advocate for self-governance and collective control of society, resources, and establishments

We could debate these definitions, but I offer them as a way to ground my next thoughts.

Secondly, what’s my experience with these groups? Well, I grew up in evangelical churches and communities. Not all of them were politically conservative in the caricatured way that we see now in our current political climate, but they certainly had elements of that to varying degrees. These communities placed emphasis on individual responsibility, personal “salvation” by holding certain beliefs about Jesus, pro-life pro-birth politics, heterosexual monogamous marriage, rigid gender roles, mission work and proselytizing, etc. Were they bad people? Many were kind, generous, caring people. Many were self-righteous, oppressive, problematic people.

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As for the anarchists, I probably had my first brush with them while I was an undergraduate. I don’t think my political thought was sufficiently developed at the time to fully comprehend their positions and proposals, but as I look back, I am aware that some of my classmates certainly held anarchist positions.  In graduate school, I briefly explored some aspects of anarchism while studying the rhetoric of social protest movements. In recent years, I’ve orbited around anarchist circles via my involvement in various political projects. Were they bad people? Many were kind, deeply concerned with the well-being of others, and dedicated, hard-working people. Many were self-righteous, arrogant, and narrow-minded. So, while I am no expert in either of these groups, I think I’ve had enough interpersonal and philosophical contact with both groups to consider them from a bird’s eye view. From, my perspective, these diametrically opposed groups have one very interesting thing in common.

What do they have in common?
Far right evangelicals believe that the world will not change for the better until Jesus Christ returns. At that point, there will be an apocalyptic event of some sort that leads to a new world–one that is devoid of sin and injustice. All the folks who did not “accept Christ as their lord and savior” will not make it through this apocalyptic event commonly called the rapture.
Far left revolutionaries believe that the world will not change for the better until there is a revolution. At this breaking point, there will be an upheaval of apocalyptic proportions that leads to a new world–new social and political systems that are devoid of oppression and injustice. All the folks who cling to status quo power structures will be wiped out or forced to concede to this new reality by way of revolution.

Both groups of people live with deep-seated conviction and anticipation of these future seismic upheavals. I find it fascinating and peculiar that the motivating narrative at both ends of the spectrum is essentially the same, though the locus of control differs. On the far right, I think this narrative leads to a sort of escapism that divests from here and now (because the world is irreversibly going to shit but Jesus will fix it when he returns). On the far left, I think this narrative leads to an invalidating of social change strategies that are anything short of a revolution. And in both cases, there is a tethering to a future event that may or may not ever happen.

Now…before anyone on the internet the two people who read this blog come for me, let me acknowledge that I am absolutely aware that I am generalizing. But I think something can still have value even if it is only generally true and not absolutely or always true. I also want to acknowledge that I personally know people on both ends of the spectrum that ardently work to make the world a better place for those who are suffering in the world as it is. I deeply respect their efforts. And to be clear, I am not advocating solidarity between the far left and the far right. That’s silly. Buuuuut…I think it’s worth examining what they have in common, why, and what the political implications of that might be.


Does it Matter Where You Shop? Ethical Consumption, Boycotts, and Change

Nike. Denny’s. Tommy Hilfiger. Walmart. Chick-Fil-A. Uber. United Airlines. These are a few companies that come to mind when I think about calls to boycott in my recent memory.

In all of these cases, public pushback was certainly warranted. We do not want to support racist, homophobic, misogynistic, exploitative business owners, executives, or companies. And yet, I can’t seem to shake questions I have about the effectiveness of deleting Uber from one’s phone or going to Big Lots instead of Walmart.

I’m not 100% sure what I think about these things. (I’m going to think out loud/through my fingers here on this blog.)  But I think I have a few starting points I want to articulate.

  1. I won’t take issue with where people spend their money based on their own personal convictions. If you have a deeply-held belief that Starbucks is horrible, and you don’t want to support them, I’m fine with that. I will not try to convince you otherwise. Your personal, ethical convictions are just that, and I don’t think persuading you to do something different is the best use of my persuasive or political energy. The reverse is also true; if you don’t see any problem with Walmart, then shame on you  that is for you to understand and decide for yourself…unless, of course, you ask for my opinion. I do think it’s important to act in accordance with your convictions; that’s integrity. And yet, I recognize that the choice to buy Adidas instead of Nike is–in the grand scheme of our fucked up world–rather negligible. Which brings me to my second point…
  2. Our biggest and most pressing problems are systemic in nature. What I mean is that so many of the problems we encounter are deeply rooted in longstanding structures that inevitably produce inequality, domination, and degradation. This is important because systemic problems require systemic solutions. In other words, our individual purchasing choices–even when undertaken by a mass of people– on a Saturday afternoon are not sufficient to effect long-term, substantive change. That’s just not the nature of the beast.
  3. It is helpful to support fair-trade, environmentally-friendly, democratic, and otherwise ethical companies and products. There are people, groups, and companies that are working hard to do business in just and sustainable ways. And the truth is that in order for them to keep doing what they’re doing, they need to prosper. They will prosper if they are supported. So, I think it is helpful to support businesses who business practices are in-line with progressive values.

So, does it it matter where you shop? I think it matters in 2 ways. Firstly, I think it matters because it is one of the ways you express your values and train yourself to be ever mindful of workers, wealth, the environment, etc. Secondly, it matters because money talks, and it is possible to send a clear message to companies by hitting them in the pockets.

But it also doesn’t matter in 2 ways. Firstly, it doesn’t matter because we are all inextricably caught up in an imperialist, capitalist system. We all have blood on our hands. You would be hard-pressed to make it through one day without using some product or service that would not be implicated. Secondly, it doesn’t matter because it’s not actually the answer to our larger systemic problems. Ultimately, structures have to change in order for the decisions available to us and the subsequent outcomes to change.

A final word about ethical consumption…It’s really important to consider how these choices are a function of access. When you have access to disposable income, you can make the more expensive choice for fair-trade coffee. When you have geographical access to multiple options, you can choose where you shop based on some other criterion besides proximity. And when you have access to extra time, your choices open up, as well.

Whether people decide to spend their money here or there, boycott or not, the critical question is: How are we joining forces to bring about deep solutions and lasting change beyond the trending protest of the week?


The Invention of Heterosexuality, Art for Black Women Suffering from America, and What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

The invention of ‘heterosexuality’

The first rebuttal to the claim that heterosexuality was invented usually involves an appeal to reproduction: it seems obvious that different-genital intercourse has existed for as long as humans have been around – indeed, we wouldn’t have survived this long without it. But this rebuttal assumes that heterosexuality is the same thing as reproductive intercourse. It isn’t. “Sex has no history,” writes queer theorist David Halperin at the University of Michigan, because it’s “grounded in the functioning of the body.” Sexuality, on the other hand, precisely because it’s a “cultural production,” does have a history. In other words, while sex is something that appears hardwired into most species, the naming and categorising of those acts, and those who practise those acts, is a historical phenomenon, and can and should be studied as such.


This Afro-Latina’s Art Is Therapy For Black Women Suffering From America

But the most standout work to come from the 34-year-old Bronx native, who now resides in Georgia, would be her art. Kelly’s illustrations, paintings and digital prints capture the patterns of objectification, ostracism and oppression that countless black women have experienced. From images that praise the art of twerking to women finding their self-worth in the wake of toxic romantic relationships, Kelly unapologetically places the glories, woes and ironies of black womanhood front and center in her work

What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And the risk is that when every policy adviser is an economist, every problem looks like inadequate per-capita gross domestic product.
Another academic discipline may not have the ear of presidents but may actually do a better job of explaining what has gone wrong in large swaths of the United States and other advanced nations in recent years.
Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.


Moonlight Was Robbed of Its Moment, The Rise and Fall of Gluten-Free Diets, and “Blue Lives Matter” Bills

Why It’s Important to Recognize That “Moonlight” Was Robbed Of Its Moment

This debacle brought into stark relief just exactly how messy it is and will continue to be to make traditionally white institutions more diverse and inclusive. In many cases, it will look like black people coming on stage to take away the very awards that white people presumed they would win and prepared themselves to receive. This is the scary part of what it means for white people to challenge white privilege: it means sometimes they will lose. More than that, it means they will have to endure the humiliation of losing when they were so entirely sure they had won.

Gluten-free diets: Where do we stand?

Nonetheless, “this is a medical intervention,” he said. “For those who just brush it off that this is a fad and a fashion lifestyle, be considerate of the people that survive on this diet. For people with celiac disease, the gluten-free diet is like insulin for diabetics.”
There is little research to support the idea that a gluten-free diet can help improve health problems aside from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
So how did gluten-free eating shift from a rare treatment approach to a trendy way of living? Here’s a look at the rise and fall of gluten and how the gluten-free diet has shaped public health over the years.

32 Blue Lives Matter Bills Have Been Introduced Across 14 States This Year

The wave of legislation exposes an appetite to provide political sanctuary to an already protected class. Including police officers in hate crime statutes is legally redundant, or even counterproductive, creating deeper divisions between police and the communities they serve. All 50 states, according to the Anti-Defamation League, have statutes that automatically increase the penalties for violent attacks on police.


Activism Sells, Christians Opposed to Trump, Photos in a Post-Truth Age, and Why You Shouldn’t Say “I Love You”

Here are my favorite links of the week:

Sex doesn’t sell any more, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it | Alex Holder

That’s the crux of successful marketing today: activism is in. “Our activism is currently mediated by brands,” says Will Fowler, creative director of Headspace. “Brands are allowing people to pat themselves on the back without them personally having to sacrifice anything.” It’s true. Popping into a warm, extremely convenient Starbucks for a sweet caffeine pick-up isn’t the same as driving to Calais on a Wednesday night with a boot full of baby carriers. I swapped one taxi app for another and felt incredibly smug. We’re all feeling the need to right the wrongs of today’s Brexit and Trump world – but few people are willing to actually sacrifice anything. If a brand can allow me to carry on living exactly as I was and fuel my social conscience then they can have all my pocket money.

These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences

Donald Trump has divided conservative Christian communities. Most white Christians support Trump, or at least voted for him. Some who have spoken out against his presidency or his policies, though, have encountered backlash. For a small group of people working in Christian ministry, music, and non-profit advocacy, the consequences have been tangible: They’ve faced pressure from their employers, seen funds withdrawn from their mission work, or lost performing gigs because of their political beliefs.

Want to resist the post-truth age? Learn to analyze photos like an expert would

Equally problematic is Trump’s strategic use of social media. Through this channel, the Trump administration can sell an image—and a subsequent interpretation—to the public without the mainstream news media acting as watchdogs. If the Trump administration continues to convince Americans to distrust the work of journalists, while simultaneously speaking directly to the public, they are one step closer to inoculating us against reality. So what can we do?

Why Zen and Taoist Masters Recommend Against Saying “I Love You” – The Power of Ideas

For this reason, to say “I love you” is to make fixed the current state of feelings, and bring forth attachment and expectation. Instead, what’s needed is greater equanimity, which is a feeling of constant calm. It involves finding the empty center of being, relying on that as the basis from which to greet each moment with love.


Favorite Links of the Week


Here are my favorite links this week:

Queer Muslim women from the south: ‘We exist and we’re fierce’

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year

Why Do We Take Pride in Working for a Paycheck?

‘We’re not hippies, we’re punks.’ School that has projects, not subjects, on the timetable


After the Protests: Practical Tactics for Long-Term Resistance and Rebuilding

Despite the dismal daily news, I am encouraged by the protests and demonstrations also regularly making the news. People are deeply frustrated and ready to take action. Some folks are cynical and judgmental about the effectiveness of these “flash in the pan” protests. And while I understand that critique, I think these protests serve an important function, and the key to sustained engagement will be establishing pipelines from these protests to people-power. What do we do after the protests? Luckily, there are some folks (with far more experience and insight than I have) who are sharing pragmatic strategies and initiatives to help us collectively oppose the current expression of political depravity and build a more just, equitable, and free society. Afer all, this is bigger and deeper than Trump. Before him, there was much work to do…and after him, there will be much more work to do. Where do we begin?

A 10-Point Plan to Stop Trump—And Make Gains in Justice and Equality

In short, there’s good reason to see the Trump era as an opportunity not only to stop him, but to make major gains in justice and equality. It will help to learn to turn our fear into power. We’ll also need strategy and the humility to learn from successes of other movements that have come out ahead during hard times. It is not rocket science. If we’re willing to shift personal habits and priorities, support each other through hardship, and come together on a plan, we can win. That is our opportunity.


Some folks affiliated with Black Lives Matter recently put out a Resistance Guide. The wiki style guide is chock-full of issue specific information and updates at the national and state levels. Bookmark this! It will come in handy.


For those more inclined to work through the established political channels, here is an interesting resource called the Indivisible Guide. Though I think we are in a moment that demands a break from decorum and less reliance on electoral politics, I don’t discount any avenue for putting pressure on those with power.



Resistance Is on the Agenda

The Women’s March earlier this month may be viewed by future historians as the inauguration of the popular resistance to Trump as well as the resurrection of feminism as a collective political project. The character of that resistance, and of this renewed feminist energy, will still have to be shaped in the months and years ahead. Will the broad forces who participated continue to espouse a liberal perspective, or will they adopt a sharper left-wing outlook and strategy? Will there be splits in the movement, or will the Left be able to shift the popular anti-Trump base away from the consensus of the neoliberal center? It’s difficult to answer these questions now, but it is urgent that the Left continue to reflect on the women’s march in order to build a roadmap of what comes next, both for resisting Trump and reviving the socialist-feminist project. Here, three Jacobin contributors offer analysis of the march and what left activists can do next.


If you have other resources or ideas to share, please post in the comments!


How White Fragility (Almost) Depoliticized Me

In recent years, some folks have boldly tackled the topic of white fragility. If you are at all concerned with racial justice and are not familiar with this term, start HERE.

In this post, I just want to talk about how white fragility affected my political consciousness. Although my personal experience may not be generalizable, I think it likely has implications that extend beyond me.

Over the past few years of my life, I have intentionally distanced myself from people who can’t engage conversations around race without a high emotional cost to me. I have distanced myself from people who lack a robust, historically-grounded, and systemic understanding of racism. I have distanced myself from people who lack the ability to hear my experience compassionately. As a result, my up-close-and-personal experiences with white fragility are increasingly rare.

But every now and then…someone slips through the cracks. A few months ago, I made a comment on Facebook about an incident of a police officer killing an unarmed citizen. My comment triggered a response from an acquaintance I have from college. It was an antagonistic comment, and my Facebook friends took him to task in an epic, social media fisticuffs. Meanwhile, in a private conversation with him, he got all in his feelings about the way people were talking to him. He avoided discussing the actual incident with me and instead focused on how he felt mistreated by the way my friends called him out, etc. It was fucking textbook white fragility (and probably also gaslighting). After attempting a constructive dialogue to no avail, I very candidly explained my disinterest in convincing him, bridging the gap with him, or remaining Facebook friends with him. And then we were done. Just like that.

There was a time in my life, though, when I would have expended much more energy on him. Why? Because I would have seen his white fragility as a personal indictment of my civility and diplomacy. I would have seen his white fragility as an impetus to disprove the “angry black woman” trope and an opportunity to display my humanity, humility, and care for others.  And I think one of the most dangerous things about this dynamic is the way that it quickly makes race issues interpersonal instead of structural and systemic. I have awakened to this danger, and it’s an ongoing process to abandon this pattern of behavior.

It’s true that we experience discrimination, prejudice, aggression, and micro-aggression at the interpersonal level, but that is not ultimately the level at which racism needs to be addressed. When white people make a societal conversation into interpersonal disagreement, I find myself having to defend my character and prove something to them. This is an insidious interaction wherein I am (yet again) subordinated. These interactions take the wind out of my political sails and re-route me into conversations that are not dealing with root causes. In other words, they are not radical in the truest sense of the word. And a diversion or preoccupation with something other than root causes would, over the long term, depoliticize me.

I no longer devote energy to dealing with white people’s discomfort or fragility concerning race. Doing so drains my limited internal resources and sterilizes my political vitality. I do think there are serious interpersonal issues that need addressing. However, if the interpersonal becomes the primary focus (largely in response to white fragility), then we are not having a radical conversation. And a conversation that’s not radical is a conversation that’s not dealing with power. And if we’re not dealing with power, then we’re not dealing with politics.