Loss, suffering, and gratitude

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Recently, someone I knew took her own life.

She was a talented artiste who endured much trauma and pain throughout her life with great courage. She now rests in peace. Despite not being a close friend or family member, her death hit me at a very core level. I think the reason it shook me as much as it did is because loss and suffering, both personal and vicarious, are constant reminders that our bodily lives are ephemeral.

Unsurprisingly it’s particularly painful to think of loss or suffering in the context of our loved ones.

The tragic death of a beloved family member over a decade ago, alongside some past experiences with political violence, has me constantly fearing for the safety of my immediate loved ones. This fear is a permanent source of anxiety for me. Like an ever-present hum of white noise in the background, it’s always there no matter how hard I try to ignore it or rationalize it away. It can be quite crippling at times and also places a major roadblock to life fulfillment. It can take on all kinds of crazy shapes and forms. For instance, I get morbidly afraid of potential societal violence and collapse, despite the fact that I live in friggin’ Minneapolis, probably one of the safest cities in the world today. I get worried when Sus and Daya come home late from an outing, or if Sus has to go anywhere at evening or night alone. It’s an irrational fear, stemming from very real experiences of loss and suffering.

In other words, it’s a giant pain in the ass.

Now whenever this happens, I remind myself that we are all connected through spirit, and that the love we share will last forever, even beyond the inevitability of death. It’s a metaphysical philosophical framework that works for me.

All well and good…

But along with that spiritual grounding (or hokey mumbo jumbo, depending on your sensibilities), I feel I need a life practice that roots it in the here and now.

Which is why I’ve taken to practicing gratitude on a daily basis via simple journaling. Whenever I’ve done this in the past in some way or the other, it has really helped. This time around, I’d like to keep it going as a regular life habit to help ward off stress and anxiety.

On some days my gratitude journal might have no more than a sentence, even a very snarky one, but nonetheless a sentence describing something I truly am grateful for. On other days there might be a bit more. Regardless, they will always be a reminder that as I journey through life with my beloveds, our feline bffs, and our larger transnational community of loved ones, I have a veritable fuck ton of stuff to be grateful for.

I cannot control all the good or bad things that might happen to me and my family, nor am I ever going to completely heal from the painful anxiety I have over their wellbeing.

But I can certainly be grateful that I have an amazing family to worry about.

The end of privileged white society (and how an amateur blogger beat the pundits and pollsters)

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Back in May 2016, over 5 months and what seems like a lifetime ago, I published a blog post entitled “9 scary reasons Donald Trump can become president in November

In case you’re wondering how to access it, a shameless, self-aggrandizing link is provided below:

https://loveliberationstruggle.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/9-scary-reasons-donald-trump-can-become-president-in-november/)

I started that post with the following preamble:

Ok, I’m going to come right out and stake my claim on this prediction – it’s one with a very small chance of actually coming true (but I think that “small chance” is getting bigger by the day):

Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States.

Please note that it is Friday, May 27, 2016 – over five months away from us actually finding out whether or not this prediction comes true.

I’m not saying that this is a good thing, if it comes true that is. Not by any stretch of imagination. I’m just saying that it’s going to happen. And I’ve been feeling like this for quite a few months now. (Bless the intrepid soul of my long-suffering soulmate and life partner who has to hear my incessant geopolitical monologues.)

Following that introduction, I listed 9 scary and very true reasons for making such a prediction. You can check out the link for more details.

Now I won’t lie, I do feel a little vindicated. But I am anything but happy. Indeed, the day after that most catastrophic of nightmares panned out in surreal fashion before our eyes, I had a near mental and emotional breakdown and had to take a sick day off.

And yet, despite the return of past traumas and pain, I still feel the power of vindication.

An angry, rage-filled, and thoroughly depressing vindication.

Finally!

Finally, all the privileged, white shits of America can see what those of us who are racialized and come from colonized backgrounds have been seeing for fucking centuries.

Finally all the privileged, male shits of America can see what women and trans people across the globe have been seeing for fucking millennia.

Finally, the brutally patriarchal, white supremacist core of America is there for everyone to see.

For this is white misogyny’s last hurrah – and it was easy to spot. Hence the brazen prediction made about America electing Trump as president.

Now, let’s face it. That prediction was just pure dumb luck. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t use any scientific or statistical analysis, nor did I think it actually had much of a chance of coming true. It was nothing more than a gut feeling based on having lived in the settler-colonial societies of America and Canada for the vast majority of my adult life. Indeed, I even shamelessly back pedaled on that prediction a bit in a more recent essay I wrote about rape culture in our societies.

The reason I hark back to that time (apart from flagrant self-promotion) is because exactly a year prior, in May 2015, I wrote a much lengthier piece entitled “The end of privileged white society” – a tirade calling itself an essay and proud to be doing so.

I didn’t publish it. I merely wrote it, edited it, saved it, and told myself that I would publish it on my blog when the time felt right.

I believe that time is now, a year and a half later, because the dawn of this white-supremacist, misogynistic neo-fascism in the US signals the beginning of the end for privileged white society.

As promised to myself, the essay is published below.

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The end of privileged white society

May 2015, Toronto, Canada

Recently I had a particularly liberatory spiritual experience, a stream of slightly higher-than-normal consciousness.

I have tentatively entitled it: The end of privileged white society.

Mostly it has to do with my own liberation as a colonized person of color, which is at the heart of the story. White folk who fail to truly understand their privilege are and always have been a side story. I’ll explain in due course.

Now, when I say the end of privileged white society in this quasi-threatening tone, please note that I disdain masculine, misogynistic violence, or really violence of any kind barring that which is used in choiceless self defense. What I’m really envisioning with the end of privileged white society is equality, and the liberation of all. I’m just doing so a tad angrily, but that’s ok, I’m in control of my feelings. I know how scary an angry person of color is to privileged whiteness (you can see it in the eyes of the particularly insecure among them).

I really do envision the end of privileged white society. The end of white settler-colonial society in that imperialist, genocidal overlord known as the United States of America, in its parasitic client states in Canada and Israel or, hell, maybe even in that drunken joke known as Australia. The end of white Eurocentric society, in that sociopathic dump of a nation-state known as the UK with a vampirish monarchy for an overlord, or that sanctimonious pile of loser puss known as France, or even that technocratic, soulless beast known as Germany, and their various client states in Europe. I see the end of the kind of nightmarish and violent white nationalism in Eastern Europe, which seems to worryingly resort to it for any and all traumas that it might go through. Indeed, I see the end of privileged white society to such an extent that I truly do foresee it soon being referred to in generations to come as the primary source of oppression for the overwhelming majority of humanity for over six centuries.

As a colonized person of color, it’s an extraordinary feeling of liberation to have coursing through my veins.

And course through it does.

I can taste that feeling of liberation. I can smell it. I can sense it in my mind, my heart, indeed, in my soul. The earthen-skinned goddess of liberation is trembling with ferocious indignation.

(And she’s a little scary, let me tell you.)

For I do believe we are on the cusp of a glorious evolution towards a new epoch where we are closer to equality, real equality, towards the true liberation of all, where we share and share alike, where we all live in communion with each other and our non-human family.

Now, I desperately hope this evolution will be non-violent.

The problem is that there is one inviolable truth to this evolution in humanity happening.

White privilege must end.

Just as patriarchy and misogyny must end. Just as capitalism and imperialism must end. Just as religious fundamentalism and nationalism must end.

Privileged white society has to come crumbling down.

I know all the defensive tropes that can and will be raised to counter the sentiments and sensibilities of this piece. I actually couldn’t care less about them because of one undeniable fact:

One section of humanity cannot consume many times more than the overwhelming majority of the rest, having actively brutalized and exploited from the rest of the world without also realizing that for true equality, for the real liberation of all of humanity, that very same society that consumes so much at the expense of so many must end. The consumption must end. The privilege must end.

The party is over people.

Yes, even for white liberals and lefties who voted for Obama but still wallow in white privilege like its divine right.

The resources need to be shared and shared alike – with the rest of the fucking world, with all of humanity in harmony with the earth.

This is not a wish.

It is a natural fact.

Make no mistake, there are going to be sections of that privileged white society who, deep down will admit, are not going to want to share and share alike. Large sections. The Fox News crowd is large, and they will soon be joined by the CNN crowd, eventually maybe even the MSNBC crowd and the indy media crowd. The right wing, the liberals, the slightly whinier liberals, even those who call themselves leftists – how many, white or otherwise, across the Western world will actually give up their privilege to share and share alike with the rest of the world?

The answer could be quite sobering.

Because the vast majority, a right royal hefty chunk of privileged white society will organize themselves into protecting their privilege. They will likely do this by reverting back to the insecure rationalizations of their power, by further upholding their unholy belief in oppressive nation-states and corporations, and by retreating into sterile comfort zones of privileged fear (picture hordes of insecure, ageing hipsters huddled behind suburban walls, festooned with the flags and bouquets of vapid white pop culture, while being guarded by brutal state mercenaries itching to kill brown people – with everyone involved knowing that there are only so many you can kill before the natural harmony of equality and liberation is restored.)

If they slip back to that soulless garbage, that’s going to be a problem. Because eventually privileged white folk will have to realize (as must we all, cis men, the elites of the colonized lands and more – we must all realize…) that there’s a choice in life:

Choice # 1: liberate ourselves together, share and share alike, and understand that our liberation is inconceivable without the liberation of all.

Or

Choice # 2: fall into insularity, oppression, bigotry, whining insecurity, and vain attempts at hoarding one’s privilege when we all know that, sooner or later, nature takes its course.

Nature is all about true freedom, true liberation, and true equality.

Indeed, nature is all about true balance.

And humanity is a force of nature too.

You see, there is a fear within privileged white society that has been fostered by racism and exploitation over many centuries. It is a fear that was ingrained, nay, interred into privileged white society from the day it was born. It is a fear in them that makes me think that a large section of privileged white society will end up inciting even greater violence around the world than it already has, along with its running dogs of religious fundamentalism and patriarchy.

For there is one thing that all those who benefit from privileged white society, whether they’re white or not, fear about the world that makes me realize that white privilege, imperialism, settler-colonialism, Eurocentrism, and racism will either crumble (or be smashed) into the ground.

There are more of the colonized than there are of the colonizer.

Way more.

Way, way more.

By the very definition that privileged white society consumes so much more than the rest of the world combined, over many centuries of colonialism and imperialism, has resulted in one inviolable fact.

Those who consume little be many. The overwhelming majority of those folk are colonized people of color.

Those who consume lots be few. The overwhelming majority of those folk are privileged white people.

Check the numbers if you don’t believe me. Check how much the West consumes compared to the rest of the world, even when the rest of the world includes big, brutal, sub-imperialist powers like China and India. Put it in actual per-capita numbers (you know, if you believe that all human lives are of equal worth and all.)

Indeed, that duality can be rephrased:

Those who need privileged white society to end be many.

Those who need privileged white society to continue be few.

I don’t say this in a threatening way. This evolution in humanity is going to have moments of violence and trauma that we must always do our best to avoid. This is not, nor can it ever be, about violence or retribution.

It’s just fact.

There are always going to be more of the colonized than there are of the colonizer.

And the barriers, the borders, the nationalism, the military might, the state mercenaries, the criminalization, the prison systems, the imperialist wars, the comprador scum, all the privilege that is derived from consuming ten times more than the rest of the world, all of that cannot hold back the long march of time.

And time is on the side of the colonized.

The oil will end. Economies will crash. Ever-increasing numbers of clownish demagogues will come to the fore. You cannot keep consuming and not expect something to come back to bite you in the ass.

And while I don’t believe that white privilege, racism, colonialism, or Eurocentrism will end in my lifetime in terms of a major shift towards greater equality and liberation for all of humanity; I do know it will happen. Indeed, I don’t have to see this liberation in my lifetime, or in this material world, for me to believe in it and be happy about it.

Because I see its beginning.

And I go to bed at night thanking all the goddesses of the universe for not being born white.

The patriarchy that is bred in silence – and a bro way to fight it.

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We all are, or at least ought to be, aware of the more brutal manifestations of patriarchy – a social, political, cultural, and economic existence for humanity that privileges men over women and gender non-conforming folk.

(Apologies in advance for any mansplaining transgressions in this essay btw.)

Physical and sexual violence often come to mind right away when thinking about the most commonly cruel fall outs from this system of male power and control.

But I know there is more than just those egregious forms of patriarchy. Many people, myself included, have viewed or continue to view those types of gender-based violence solely in a vacuum, separate from the rotten and fetid foundation that the violence stems from. For if it wasn’t apparent to me before, it certainly is now, that the foundation of this global system of oppression is ultimately kept in place  via silence – a willfully tight lipped ignorance.

Most men, across the globe, close ranks when it comes to discussing patriarchy and sexism. Even the self-identifying “decent” ones, like many of the men I used to have in my life, tend to not be very open or concerned about gender injustice because it ultimately means looking into the unearned privileges they have accrued at the cost of the women around them. Now make no mistake, these are men who would condemn gender-based violence, maybe even with a lot of emotion, but cannot bring themselves to understand and engage with their own internalized sexism and male privilege.

The preservation of unjust privileges can often be a far stronger unifying force for those who benefit from them than the dismantling of those privileges can be for those who are oppressed by them.

(Fuck me, there I go mansplaining again – and with such long, boring-ass sentences too.)

But men closing ranks around the preservation of patriarchy is a real pain in the butt – especially if you’re trying to play even the tiniest of roles in effecting some social justice and real liberation (not to mention deal with your own internalized crap). Cos this shit happens across the board – cops, military soldiers, nationalists, religious crazies, cultural figures – all and more close ranks when the injustice of their existence is questioned. It’s men being men.

Petulant, cowardly men.

So when I find myself mired in rather depressing questions.

Ones like:

Why is silence so effective in maintaining this oppressive system?

Why are so many men so very scared of talking about these very real problems afflicting our communities and our homes?

What is it that prevents so many men from embracing true love and liberation and equality? And the enriching, but often difficult, struggles that are needed to keep regenerating those beautiful life forces?

When I get bogged down by such painful ruminations – I also remember to hold onto hope.

For I now have a beautiful new realm of bromance-building to find good men in my life.

It is the gift and all important responsibility of fatherhood.

(Which also often happens to be buckets of awesome, if occasionally irritating, fun in and of itself.)

Because a friendship cultivated with a man out of a mutual treasuring of that most liberating of life endeavors – that of parenting a child – is likely a friendship with a man who is caring, nurturing, and honorable.

And that’s a bro I can hang with.

“The Greatest City in America”

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Not many people other than folks who have lived in Baltimore would know this, but this is a frequent sighting on many a public bench in the city, as part of a public project following the city adopting it as it’s new motto in 2001, reading:

“Baltimore | The Greatest City in America”

When I started grad school there in the fall of 2003, I thought it rather nice to be living in a city that fancied itself thus.

I kid you not. Those engraved benches actually made me kinda proud to be living in Baltimore – even if it was barely 10 months.

I was there for the time it took to complete a Masters degree and find a job, any job, that was relatively close to my field of study in public health and environmental studies. But I was determined to find out as much as possible about the city that was going to be my home for that brief period of my life.

With the many places that I had lived in, I only realized the beauty inherent in those places upon leaving and looking back at the time I spent there. In writing this essay, as I revisited my memories of Baltimore I realized that it gave me a glimpse of urban America that was to stick for the rest of my life (and I use the term “urban” the way I grew up using the term, i.e. to indicate a city, rather than as an often offensive euphemism for black people).

The university I was studying in did give me a partial glimpse, inasmuch as the homes of settlers can give a partial glimpse into the lands and lives of the colonized.

Hopkins was not Baltimore and Baltimore was not Hopkins. Never the twain met while I was there. Yet, so too did the internecine spaces overlap just enough.

I had to necessarily leave one in order to truly see the other. But I had to be intentional about it since I was studying or working all the time and realized that I wasn’t actually seeing the city if I was cooped up in my department all day.

So I decided to chart out a few walking paths, each several miles long, using the Homewood campus as the radial center, in order to explore a little bit of Baltimore. It was a city that was so much and more. Looking back, I realize Baltimore was more honest than many other parts of America I had seen, prior to and following that time. It didn’t hide from the truth, didn’t try to shove it under the rug. It was simultaneously beautiful and painful in its uninhibited ways.

(I feel compelled to add that I had this assessment of Baltimore many, many years before finally coming round to watching The Wire. I continue to have it now after watching that brutally well-made show.)

I think it helped for me to come from India to try and make sense of whatever parts of Baltimore I was able to witness. The only assessment of Baltimore from folks talking about the city, especially those in Hopkins and folks from outside the city, seemed to be poverty and crime.

India too has crime, not to mention a lot of poverty. It has a lot of everything and poverty is surely one of them. Thus, the poverty I saw in Baltimore wasn’t anywhere near the same level of material harshness as that of the poorer neighborhoods and slums I observed during my childhood from within the car my family drove in and out of our middle-class neighborhoods in Bangalore.

But the poverty felt the same in both places.

And that is why I felt it helped for me to witness it as an immigrant from India. What I saw in Baltimore would be not unlike much of the rest of America I would witness. Like in India, the poverty in America felt structurally and historically induced. Like in India, it was deeply segregated along race, class, and caste lines. Like in India, and I suppose anywhere else, it reeked of injustice.

The houses and neighborhoods I was seeing were socially as far away from Hopkins as Bangalore was from Hopkins. The difference was stark. Houses were boarded up or crumbling. Roads were filled with potholes, as if the city had forgotten that this part of Baltimore, the much larger part, did in fact exist. Garbage left unpicked and overflowing in giant bins on sidewalks with large cracks in them. Panhandlers dotted every street corner, while numerous small businesses, legal and extra-legal, attempted to valiantly eke out a living. Not everywhere in Baltimore of course, but in enough neighborhoods with majority black communities to make one feel like something was off in a big way.

Ultimately though it was Hopkins itself that reminded me of the difference between Baltimore and Hopkins.

A brief sociological observation I conducted, out of sheer boredom, of privileged white grad students and their Indian hangers-on exemplified this.

My cousin had invited me for an evening of beer and burgers with some of his acquaintances. He was studying at a different campus, and asked if I wanted to join his colleagues and him for an outing. I agreed but soon regretted my decision as it turned out to be rather trite and deeply offensive to the soul.

When I was a lonelier, more wretched person – i.e. a fair chunk of the time prior to meeting my divine partner and soulmate, Sus – I generally went on outings with irritating, often bigoted and/or sexist men and their equally irritating/bigoted/sexist friends. In grad school, this meant that I tended to go bar-hopping with assholish, privileged, male grad students (I should know, I was likely one of them for many an outing).

This was one of those times.

The conversation was banal and superficial. It didn’t help that the entire evening took place in a loud sports bar patronized primarily by jocks and frat boys. The beer was insipid and the burgers were mediocre. My cousin, as was his wont when interacting with white folk, turned into a bit of a pandering clown.

As more beers got downed, one of the guys in the crowd, heartily egged on by my cousin, cracked a joke about black panhandlers in the city. I don’t quite remember the joke. It was told without the usage of the n-word or any other racial slur, which irritated me even more because that somehow gave it a pass with everyone at the table (though anything that gets a pass from that sorry crowd should always be viewed with suspicion).

The joke did however include the white-as -freshly-driven-snow joke teller’s attempt at pronouncing the word “fifty cents” a la the famous rapper, you know, without pronouncing the “f” and all – because, and this was supposed to be the funny part, that’s how black panhandlers pronounced it.

(Snobbish, racist assholes are one of the few subgroups of humanity who seem to derive great glee from being snobbish, racist assholes.)

I really didn’t understand the joke. It was’t particularly funny. It was extremely offensive, yet all of them guffawed loudly.

I didn’t say anything to counter it or challenge it. I just smiled my plastic smile, stress-ate my greasy burger, and got back to wishing for the evening to end quickly so I could go back to the solitude of my basement room.

There was something revolting about the entire optics of the episode. All the folks who laughed at the joke were studying at a rich private university. It was an all-white crowd, barring my cousin and myself, two middle-class Indian internationals who were temporarily let into the club for one evening. Some might say that shouldn’t matter, but at the time I felt like it did and still do. The chap cracking the joke wouldn’t have done so if there was a black person in the group. The farcical norms of political correctness would have held sway (although evidently they could be bent a little to accommodate a couple of wannabe coconuts).

It did not sit well. Something was deeply unsettling about it, and it made my stomach turn. To say that it was a manifestation of deep racism, socially instilled and structurally induced, is of course true, but still doesn’t capture the visceral revulsion I felt at that time.

I was equally repulsed by my cowardice because I failed quite breathtakingly. I failed my black brothers and sisters. I didn’t do right by them and I didn’t do right by me. I went with the flow, satisfied with the discovery, but not particularly interested in making any intervention.

The joke those guys were laughing at was about people and neighborhoods they had probably never visited despite literally being around the corner from where they worked and studied.

I realized then that if I were a black person, I would be more than a little angry. I would have been angry because of the way my history was airbrushed out of significance and the struggles my community faced were nonchalantly dismissed as pettiness. I would have been angry because of the way my community was being painted with such a broad brush by institutions that had a significant and sinister role to play in the subjugation of my people.

But I would have also felt angry because the handlers of that brush were so fucking blind to beauty.

On one of my walking trips, I chanced upon a small watering hole that I ventured into. Raw music emanated from the dimly lit stage, the sharp lilt of the guitar accompanied by the deep, raspy voice of an old black man in a suit, accompanied by two other, equally weathered musicians, a drummer and a harmonica player who also provided backing vocals. The audience consisted of couples and small groupings of friends, mostly middle-aged black folk, with beers and shots, either chatting with one another or mesmerized by the music. A few of them stared at me, at first with a little suspicion but then with an indifferent acceptance the moment I smiled at them. Smoke covered the room.

I sat by the bar, ordered a Colt 45 since it looked like the cheapest drink on offer, and listened.

I don’t know how long I sat there. I lost track of time because the music didn’t seem to be playing by the same rules as pop or rock concerts played by. More mellowed out and organically attuned to the crowd, not dominating the scene, but rather just providing mild dopamine-inducing comfort.

“Little taste?” the bartender asked me.

“Um…I’m sorry?” I said.

He smiled.

“Can I get you another drink son?” he asked, this time pronouncing the words more carefully, still smiling.

“Oh, yeah…sure…I’ll have the same please” I replied, awkwardly returning the smile.

“You’re not from around here, are you brother?” he asked me warmly, handing me the can.

“No…I’m not.” I replied. “I’m uh…I’m from India.”

“India! Damn…with elephants and shit…you a long way from home. What brings you here?”

“Um…I’m doing my Masters at uh…at Hopkins.” I said, a little hesitatingly.

“That’s great! Education’s so important…and you guys really study a lot, don’t ya?” he said, chuckling a bit.

“Well…” I replied, relaxing a little bit but not knowing what to say. His warmth was difficult to be nervous around.

“I got a nephew in college.” he said, without missing a beat. “Out here studying criminal justice.”

“Oh yeah? Where?” I asked

“University of Maryland, Baltimore Couny.”

“Where’s that?” I probed further.

“Not too far from here my man! The place where some of us black folk have a chance to get into college.” he said.

I smiled a little wryly. I was a little ashamed of where I was studying. I had been able to leverage my privilege from thousands of miles away to a university that most folks living in the same city as that institution couldn’t even dream of going to.

He was gracious about it though. Didn’t show me anything but warmth and a good-natured spirit.

“We gotta try though, you know what I mean?” he continued. “Can’t let the white man keep us down.”

I nodded.

He kept going, happy at the affirmation I was giving him.

“Yep…he sure do like his money. Man, I got no beef against white folk – water under the bridge – but, damn, why they gotta love that green so much man? Why they got to love them dead presidents so much? Sheesh…”

I was beginning to really, really like this wise handler of spirits and alcoholic beverages.

His short rant over, he tried lightening up the conversation.

“So…you a blues man huh?” he asked me, giving a quick wipe down to the weathered bar.

“Oh, yes…love the blues…and jazz too. Really great forms of music. This is the first live band I’ve ever been to though.” I replied.

“You shittin’ me! Man…this is one of the best live bars in the country. People say you gotta go to Chicago or down to New Orleans, but we got some of the best music in the country right here in Baltimore son! Tell you what my young Indian brother…you come here any time you want, and I’ll be sure that you won’t ever have to pay the cover, a’right? This drink’s on me.”

And so saying, he refused payment for the drink I ordered. The musicians got back on stage for another session, and everyone settled back down in their seats.

I smiled, grateful for the experience.

I think it was about then that I realized that Baltimore far richer than a place like Johns Hopkins University could ever fit within its sterile framework.

I don’t have the time or patience for men who fear love, liberation, and struggle

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This is among the longer titles I have for an essay. But I’ve had a three week break from this blog, so I wonder if I’m maybe trying to make up for the break by just throwing it all out there in the title. (Did you also notice the shameful nod to the name of the blog itself.)

Long titles are actually one of those cardinal sins I commit far too frequently as a blogger.

But then again, these long titles are useful for me because they kind of summarize what I’m trying to say. People will also be better informed to see if this essay might be worth the time it would take to read it. And it’s a more democratic and egalitarian way of presenting an essay – catering even to the reader with the patience levels of a fussy infant who has just gained enough sentience to realize how glorious she is and how much she needs to constantly and very loudly exclaim that fact to her parents.

(I love my awesome daughter so damn much now, that she does occasionally frustrate me with how incessantly illustrative she is of my own incompetence as a bumbling father.)

I wrote quite a while back about men who fear love – and today I want to add that I also don’t have the time or patience for them. I just don’t want to put in the energy into maintaining relationships with these men, because they always also fear equality and joy and real happiness and true gender liberation. The pyrrhic benefits of patriarchy and sexism are just too much to let go off because of that fear.

To be sure, I’m not suggesting that these benefits magically disappear when you start fighting for real love and happiness from the standpoint of equality, social justice, and liberation. Men across the world, regardless of the “isms” they identify with, are swaddled in patriarchal privilege, even if some benefits for some men are tempered by colonialism or racism or poverty. Those benefits nevertheless remain in various forms and will remain until we realize the folly of the last few thousand years and return to living in truly gender-liberated matriarchal societies, led and guided by women and gender non-conforming people, especially women and trans people of color.

Now, that will take a while because patriarchy is kinda stubborn and stupid and assholish (not to mention mind-numbingly evil), but letting go of that fear of love and happiness grounded in equality and liberation will reveal the soullessness and diseased nature of those patriarchal benefits to us men.

At least I’m betting it will.

But then again, what the fuck do I know?

So, let me bring in the power of someone who is a far superior soul and human being than I am.

Nowadays,  as is quite apparent from my recent writings, I can’t stop from bringing my little warrior goddess of a daughter into my essays, occasionally using appalling attempts at subtlety. But Daya invokes so much awe in me that I must bow before her strength and wisdom every day (apparently utilizing the power of a blog that gets a dozen views or more on a good day).

Because she teaches me so much about myself, about the people around me, about the world in general. Equally importantly, she helps me unlearn and relearn. She and Sus give me so much happiness, love, and outright freedom of the spirit – that it becomes easy to do that difficult unlearning and relearning. One feels strong enough to deal with any consequences, such as sadness and hurt. What’s a little sadness or hurt (not to mention anger and depression) when you have two powerful goddesses in your family?

Now, I have had to unlearn and relearn a lot about myself and the world, and equally so about my family, friends, and community – both in South Asia and North America. This most recent family visit to Bangalore I made alongside the afore mentioned two greatest human beings on earth – so that one of them could meet her grandparents and family in India – was yet another chapter of unlearning and relearning for me.

For starters, I think I need to finally come out as a survivor of many years of sibling abuse that I faced at the hands of my older brother during my childhood – physical violence in the form of punches, shoves and slaps, in addition to regular emotional abuse and verbal humiliation.

I realize that, while I forgive him because he didn’t know better (he seems to be a loyal, caring husband and a good, hard-working father), I would like to simultaneously formalize my non-relationship with him and declare that there never was and never will be any brotherly love between us.

(To be honest, I’m kinda happy that I don’t have to continue the facade of a relationship with bullshit politeness and banal conversations.)

It also just confirms to me how little actual blood or bloodlines matter when it comes to real, caring, and nurturing love for a fellow soul.

I also know that his abusive behavior towards me (which was usually followed by an apology of sorts, in keeping with the cyclical nature of abuse in most family or interpersonal relationships) was pretty much a direct result of being the firstborn in a shitty, socially conservative, and patriarchal marriage between my parents, which was arranged by their own patriarchal, socially conservative parents. The marriage itself had a shitty, socially conservative, and patriarchal relationship with my father’s side of the family, which made things way, way worse.

My parents seem to be doing much better now. As is the wont of the patriarchy from some generations, marriages are for freaking life no matter what, so eventually some of these couples realize that there’s nowhere to go but up, and thus might as well try to get a better marriage since they’re fucking stuck in it anyway, with only their own shittily-married parents as the norm to break free from (it’s no wonder that the bar for loving, long term relationships is set so low across the world).

 

I truly do believe that a major part of it is also fear in men – fear of perhaps losing those pyrrhic benefits and power that comes from patriarchal social norms, fear of the work and self-reflection needed for true equality and liberation that has to be the foundation for love and happiness, and indeed, fear of that love and liberation itself. Some might call it cowardice, others might say that men around the world are in reality, adult children, immature little bratty boys – infantile humans who have been handed a variety of powers and privileges due to thousands of years of patriarchy that molly-coddle the ever-loving crap out of them.

But what do I know…

And that is why, I’m going to stick to the personal (while surreptitiously getting onto a mighty giant pile of soap boxes) and in a nod to both my past and my future relationships with men, however they may or may not end up, indeed to the men in my life across time and space – I make this declaration:

I have no time or patience for men who fear true love, happiness, and liberation as well as the hard work, the struggles, the learning, unlearning and relearning that it takes to build a foundation of real equality, justice and liberation.

If I see this fear in any man in my life – and I now really seek it out because it irritates me no end – I might need to cool off from the relationship, or just not have one, you know, might not really want to be around the guy and talk or be all chill and polite. I might tell the guy, I might not, based on what I need for my own emotional and mental health. Because I need to dedicate my time and energy to people who truly don’t fear love or happiness or liberation – and the necessary struggles against patriarchy and self-reflection around oppression it takes to keep nurturing those life forces.

I have enough awesome love in my life, human and non-human, so I can afford to make this choice.

(NB: I have never paid adequate credit to my awesome, glorious partner, Sus, for all the critique, support and editing help she provides for every essay I produce. I hope to change that from this post onwards and show how truly grateful I am for it.)

Fathers who don’t fear love – The Aka community of central Africa (and other hunter-gatherers)

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As is likely the case for any new parent, I think about parenting a lot. Even, or possibly especially, during times when I am not at my best.

Now, even though I consider mothers and motherhood to be the greatest and most liberating of human pursuits, I nevertheless find myself equally drawn to stories of loving and nurturing fatherhood.

Unfortunately in settler colonial cultures, both pop and otherwise, as well as parasitic colonial cultures, again both pop and otherwise, the bar for fathers is set so very low that I often have to seek inspiration elsewhere.

Thus, I try to seek out stories and narratives of honorable, caring father figures in my own indigenous roots and other indigenous communities  – especially among matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies  that have existed across the earth.

Like the Aka community of central Africa.

These amazing fathers hold or are within arms reach of their children, from birth till young adulthood, a whopping 47% of their time. This means that barring hunting, gathering, housework, and sleep – Aka fathers are either carrying their children or actively engaged with their children, and always within arms reach. No other society in any part of the world comes anywhere close to the kind of nurturing and caring parenting that Aka men undertake as part of their role in Aka families. They often do this in community with other Aka fathers and mothers, and gender roles are rather seamlessly interchangeable, with a democratic, flexible, and fundamentally egalitarian division of labor.

Joanna Moorhead, in speaking to anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, writes thus:

Another lesson the Aka have for us – and this is for all of us, mothers as well as fathers – is about how precious children are, and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. If it sounds a bit schmaltzy well, that’s exactly why we need to hear it: the fact is, says Hewlett, that we’ve strayed into believing that our kids are a burden rather than a blessing and that’s something the Aka never do. “To the Aka, your children are the very value of your life. The idea of a child as a burden would be incomprehensible there … children are the energy, the life force of the community.” A saying from another tribe he’s studied, the Fulani, sums the sentiment up: they say that you’re lucky if you’ve got someone who will shit on you.

The Aka community (and apparently many other egalitarian indigenous societies) consider children a blessing rather than a burden or an unproductive member of society. The happiness, care, and nurturing of children remains the most life-affirming endeavor for the Aka community. This then results in egalitarian and fairly unstructured free play as the baseline for learning and education. Thus, caring for children doesn’t just foster love in the family and community, but also joy, laughter, music, fun games, generational knowledge, and labor-turned-into-play.

(No wonder then that Marshall Sahlins postulated hunter-gatherer societies as the “original affluent society” – not because they had accumulated material things, but because they had mastered the art of great happiness from desiring and needing very little for their sustenance while basing their lives on community, love, and living in harmony with the earth.)

For me there is another major takeaway lesson from the Aka and other matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies.

These are fathers who don’t fear love.

They don’t fear the great (and glorious) task that is love.

And care.

And nurturing.

They don’t shirk from the very organic and beautiful process of fatherhood, and just as organically link it to gender egalitarianism and tight knit communities.

And they do so for a very simple reason.

It makes sense.

Because really when you think about it – it makes sense to lead a life where you prioritize love and care and nurturing and egalitarianism and joy and laughter and play and simple living and community and solidarity.

There’s not much to argue about there.

I imagine they themselves would be quite amused that I am speaking about them with such reverence and awe.

(On the other hand, they might be wondering why the men in our society look so much more miserable than the men in theirs.)

References:

Hewlett, Barry (2009). “The Cultural Nexus of Aka Father-Infant Bonding” in C. B. Brettell and C. F. Sargent (Eds.),  Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective (39-50). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Moorhead, Joanna (2005). “Are the men of the African Aka tribe the best fathers in the world” in The Guardian. June 15, 2005. (Link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships)

Sahlins, Marshall (2005). “The Original Affluent Society” in M. Sahlins, Stone Age Economics.

Sahlins, Marshall (2009). “Hunter-gatherers: insights from a golden affluent age” in Pacific Ecologist. 18: 3-8.

A brief thought on Dravidian matriarchal spirituality

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A recent article I read on institutionalized transphobia in India sparked a little thought journey for me around gender identity and indigenous spiritualities.

Specifically it led me to realize how little we know of the inherent gender egalitarianism and fluidity in Dravidian and other indigenous spiritualities of the subcontinent (and by “we” I mean those of us utilizing neocolonial, Eurocentric, patriarchal norms of understanding sexuality and gender).

Probably this is because these matriarchal spiritualities only exist in corrupted forms in India and South Asia now (albeit having sizeable influence still) – having been brutalized by many centuries of Aryan patriarchy, caste-based Manuwadi Hinduism, and misogynistic Abrahamic religious dogma. This has resulted in a multi-generational, multi-millennia erasure and subversion of these indigenous, Dravidian, feminist spiritual practices and norms…norms rooted in Dravidian matriarchy and liberated, fiery goddesses (who would normally kick the ever loving shit out of any fair skinned male god, bearded or otherwise).

In India and South Asia as a whole (not to mention parts of East Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Mediterranean while we’re at it), I do believe if we go back far enough we will realize a time when we all were part of matriarchal societies that worshiped various versions of the divine feminine as well as the earth and non-human souls – and those times could well give us templates to engage with in order to reject current patriarchal religions (all of the major ones today across earth) and the oppressive social, political, and economic ways of thinking and living that these religions spawn.

Currently I’m particularly interested in South Asian Dravidian matriarchal spirituality because it’s personally very dear to me. And it’s not as much of a stretch as one might imagine to reach back in time to understanding these matriarchal spiritual roots. A brief exploration of Giti Thadani’s Moebius Trip reveals a stunningly beautiful glimpse into past societies in the South Asian lands, mostly Dravidian-rooted societies, even going as far back as the Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization (which many now consider to be a proto-Dravidian civilization) where the divine feminine, as well as matriarchal and/or matrifocal or at the very least gender-egalitarian and/or gender just norms prevailed.

Of course, ever since the invasion of Aryan patriarchy – the foundation for the current misogynistic, Manuwadi caste-based Hinduism – and the strong global influence of the major Abrahamic patriarchal religions, the older matriarchal forms of spirituality have been marginalized, subsumed, and heavily corrupted by the major patriarchal and misogynistic spiritual forces of today.

But the great spiritual matriarchs still live on – in the subcontinent and across the earth. Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are still prominent goddesses across India and especially in the South and East but with major influence in the North as well. In many regional societies and cultures, again especially in the South and East as far as I can tell, goddesses like Mariamman, Yellamma, Periyachee and many others provide spiritual foundations for countless people.

No doubt, many of these practices are steeped in regressive traditions, but I’m sure that as we slowly move towards genuine matriarchal societies, the more oppressive practices will be whittled away – and these goddesses can help subvert the multi-generational patriarchal narratives from within the heart and soul.

For I do strongly believe that it’s not much of a stretch of imagination to refashion our matriarchal roots for the modern era, an era where we dismantle (occasionally with fire) the dominant patriarchal social, economic, political, cultural and – perhaps most crucially – spiritual frameworks of today.

Referenced texts (and recommended readings):

Thadani, G. (2007[2003]). Moebius Trip: Digressions from India’s Highways. Spinefex Press.

Harris, R. (2007). “Aryan Patriarchy and Dravidian Matriarchy” in Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything. Link (accessed on June 5, 2016): http://www.integralworld.net/harris32.html