Sociopolitical Musings

But Have You Compromised Your Inner Landscape?

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Image on the left: Sketch of  a brain with two thought bubbles. One thought bubble is labeled “Water” and includes ideas we should grow, including equity, education as the practice of freedom, critically interrogating your conditioning, resistance to systems of domination, inner reflection, imagination, decolonizing education, collectivity, radical love, courage, revolution, growth, and interconnectedness. The other thought bubble is labeled “Weed Out” and includes ways of thinking that should be weeded out of our minds, including violence, deference to authority, domination, white supremacy, sexism and patriarchy, anti-blackness, myth of meritocracy, abuse is normal, unquestioned allegiance to religion, rugged individualism, oversimplification, money over everything, and hollow love. Image on the right: A direct quote from the writing, “From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor…there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move.” 

The partners we choose and the people we opt out of choosing as partners reflect the recesses of our inner world.

These words evaded my lips when I heard a friend of over ten years utter that she’s failed in romantic relationships. There was something about this language that struck me immediately. To say “I’ve failed in romantic relationships” is to flatten our field of sight. It’s to negate that whom we date is a direct manifestation of what we believe to be true about ourselves. Simplifying patterns of unhealthy coupling as “failed” makes it easier to maintain unhealthy bonds because severing that relationship inevitably signals personal lack, failure. When, truthfully, understanding when it may be necessary to sever, to cut off, to restrict from penetrating only becomes optional through an ongoing commitment to honor our most authentic selves in thought and action. This inner digging, unearthing, confronting, and ultimately transforming what we’ve dug up into maneuvering differently prepares us for what Sunni Patterson refers to as “extended sight.”

Sunni describes extended sight as the ability to expand our vision “so that you see more than what you are going through.” She probes: “What seeds have we allowed to be planted that we can weed out? What can we get out of here, (pointing to her head) that really is not serving us?” This line of inquiry becomes possible when we realize we are living out implanted ideas in everything we do. From dating to art to our sense of justice to how we conceptualize labor to family to community, to loving, there is a set of beliefs, of irrigated ideas, that govern our every move. Some of these ideas embedded in the recesses of our mind must be pulled out in order to see anew. Sunni continues:

“We [have] to constantly ask…who am I? Who am I? Who am I? See when you’re grounded in this who am I, you’re moving from a different kind of space…We are bombarded and hit with trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma every day, but one thing for certain—I know who I am. So see when I know who I am, I’m in a less-compromising position. There are things that I will not compromise when I know who I am. It’s only when I don’t know who I am when I don’t have faith in who I am…when I deem myself unworthy that I will gravel.”

If we are operating out of self-belief that some aspect of our being has failed, we are choosing a language of lack. Deeming ourselves failed—that is, damaged—simultaneously makes it harder to imagine ourselves whole and prevents us from asking the type of questions that may actually lead to inner and outer disruptions: What aspects of myself do I compromise, do I negotiate in order to stay in relationships and situations that I admit are unfulfilling? Am I worthy of a partnership, of conscious coupling, that is fundamentally rooted in respect, compassion, kindness, and trust? Do I make exceptions for what respect, compassion, kindness, and trust look like based on ways of understanding I witnessed in childhood but haven’t divested from as an adult? How did I come to understand love? How has what I was taught about love served me and worked against me in adulthood? What concessions have I made that were detrimental to my personal wellbeing? What bruised parts of my inner world allowed me to make those concessions? What messages am I subconsciously sending myself about what I deserve when I accept anything that is thrown my way? What language do I use to speak to myself? What allowances have I made that are misaligned with the values I claim to hold? What am I willing to abandon to open myself up to the type of world I’ve never even imagined? This type of critical interrogation is key if we wish to unlock and overcome our complicity in toxic relationships.

In our society, toxic relationships are romanticized. If you’re in a romantic relationship and your partner attempts to control your movements, they are often described or interpreted as expressing their love for you. And of course, this way of thinking seems legitimate because, well, we learned this in childhood. Many of us were raised in environments where we couldn’t even control what time we went to sleep or how short our hair could be. If you were raised in a strict household where everything you did was heavily monitored and you rarely, if ever, had opportunities to make informed decisions for yourself, you were socialized to normalize symptoms of domination. So moving from a controlling household to a controlling partner doesn’t seem that abnormal. Reflecting on the sometimes tumultuous and remarkably painful moments in childhood can lead to new routes that circumvent the allure of toxic relationships. Without deep and honest reflection, however, we are prone to overlook childhood connections that may have trapped us in a cycle of psychological servitude.

While the glorification of toxic relationships are rampant onscreen, in families, and friendships, there is also an overarching sense of urgency fueling unconscious coupling. And the pressure to partner up regardless of signs of toxicity can be debilitating. To measure what is deemed valuable in any society, you can begin by dissecting frequently asked questions. As a woman, I am often asked the same two questions. Whether it’s from a family member or a stranger, I can be sure to hear: Have you found someone yet? When are you having a baby? These questions, while well meaning at best and presumptuous at worst, reveal a larger phenomenon. Both questions indicate assumed interest. According to these two questions, I should be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship and motherhood. It presupposes that my number one priority is in finding someone, and if my response is that I am not in a romantic relationship, I receive reactions of pity: “Oh you’ll find him soon. I know he’s out there.” Which illuminates other presuppositions because I’m sexually fluid and I am highly attracted to one’s personality regardless of genitalia and gender identity. More fitting questions we might consider exploring frequently include: How is your inner landscape? What’s the energy of your inner circle like these days? By ritualizing questions and thought processes that provide space to contemplate and assess our individual selves, we reprioritize self-reflection.

Too many of us are seeking peace and comfort in dysfunctional romantic relationships at the expense of our inner landscape. When I speak of inner landscape, I am speaking of the interconnected aspects of our psychosocial, sociopolitical, emotional, intellectual, relational, collective, imaginative selves. Who are we when we are sitting alone with our individual vulnerabilities? Who are we when we are in the company of selected comrades? What are we craving when we select our comrades and lovers? Who are we in relation to the broader communities in which we belong? How do we grapple with the larger context of our peculiar social conditions? How do we extend our sight and imagine that which seems improbable? To determine if you are compromising your inner landscape to date, I implore you to wrestle with these questions in the most radically honest way.

So to my dear friend of over ten years, I’d like to say explicitly that you have not failed at relationships. You have, however, compromised your inner landscape to date, and I can only hope that one day you ask the type of questions and move in such a way that announces instantly to any prospective partner, “I am worthy of and will accept nothing less than radical love!”

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Disillusioned by the Ballot: I Did Not Storm the Polls

 

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Over the past few weeks, I have heard ongoing rants suggesting abstainers and independent voters bear primary responsibility for the results of the 2016 election. It’s as if the masses are unwilling to critique how choosing the “lesser of two evils” supports the maintenance of our flawed two-party system. It ensures our uninterrupted participation in binary thinking and limits our ability to imagine radical alternatives for the people. I am not interested in limiting my thinking. I believe we can think up new possibilities when we aren’t forced to choose between two problematic options.

In school, I was taught to trust in the greatness of America. I was taught to believe I lived in a democracy, that the option to vote granted me access to a democratic society. For years, I questioned the legitimacy of this widely accepted fallacy. I never heard a president espouse viewpoints that, at the very least, offered long-term solutions to reconcile the vast needs of America’s most vulnerable citizenry (here citizenry refers to any and everyone that lives in the U.S.). I never saw a president that looked like me. I was led to believe my apprehensions were naïve, a consequence of my youthfulness. I would come to learn that this was a common excuse offered by adults unwilling to explore historical realities.

But I was still hopeful. And in 2008, I took my hope to the voting booth.

The first time I voted, I was filled with inherited pride. Finally, I had the opportunity to contribute to the political landscape in the nation of my birth, and I was thrilled. I was in my senior year of college and was engaging in discussions daily that challenged me to decode and deconstruct messages in televised news, newspapers, radio, and classrooms. As I prepared to cast my first vote ever in the 2008 presidential election, I felt the faint footsteps of my ancestors beating within me. This was an obligation, I thought. My ancestors have stained the streets, trees, and fields with the blood of their bodies for my right to vote. So I must cast it intentionally. I must not let their collective struggle be in vain.

At the same time, through my coursework, I was beginning to learn about the striking similarities between both the Democratic and Republican Parties, and what I learned was alarming. Both parties have been responsible for: restricting educational funding; defunding welfare initiatives; pushing standardized assessments; high rates of deportation; mass incarceration of Black and Brown peoples; supporting zero tolerance policies that disproportionately suspend and expel youth of color; aggressively increasing defense spending; remaining in a perpetual state of war and unrest; backing the militarization of law enforcement agencies; overlooking the importance of free universal healthcare; monitoring Americans’ private lives; and refusing to redress historical and ongoing injustices systems of oppression have imposed on Black people and other people of color in the United States. When examining our so-called democratic, two-party system from this lens the parties don’t seem so distinct.

Unable to stomach the political implications of abstaining, I continued to associate the voting process with ancestral responsibility. Images of slavery, auction blocks, beatings, lynchings, uprisings, Jim Crow, marches, burning buildings, arrests, water hoses, and sit-ins swarmed my mind. Voting had been impressed upon my consciousness as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society. And I shared this sentiment with any friend that voiced their reluctance to continue participating in electoral politics.

In 2016 an inner shift occurred.

This year, I did not go to the poll booth, and I didn’t fill in my absentee ballot. I exercised my right not to vote. I wrestled with my decision for months following Bernie Sanders’ failed democratic nomination. To choose not to vote felt like historical dismissal. I wanted to support a presidential candidate that had a history of prioritizing progressive social justice initiatives and inspired me to vote with a clear conscience. I discovered Dr. Jill Stein. I introduced her name to friends who were oblivious of her political platform and resisted reductive reasoning that declared a vote in her support as a vote for the Republican Party.

If we truly live in a democratic society, how could that be? How could voting for someone you believe best represents the issues that impact your day-to-day life, and the lives of millions more, be the equivalent of a wasted vote? It seems obvious that the likelihood of electing a presidential candidate outside of our current two-party system would significantly increase if more people would abandon two-party politics that more closely resembles a single-party agenda. With deficit-based thinking—the nation’s prevailing ideological framework—shaping the bulk of our public imagination, I wondered how a Stein administration would convince a largely homogenous Congress to grapple with police brutality, anti-Black racism and other forms of structural oppression, economic disparities, environmental degradation, restorative justice, education as the practice of freedom, etc. Ultimately, I was dissuaded by historical evidence.

Voting has not shielded us from death. It has not protected us from political loopholes that attempt to stomp the life out of us long before we die physically. Even with anti-discrimination laws in place, we haven’t been able to sidestep disparate treatment. We’ve placed too much weight in the vote. We’ve accepted that voting is the primary means to amplify our voices, to stimulate change. But what exactly are we voting for? Both the Democratic and Republican Parties offer limited, if any, solutions to the type of challenges that impact my everyday life, and the everyday lives of many people of color from working class and lower income households. And as Tricia Rose correctly observes in Longing to Tell, “The kinds of [narratives] that have worked to marginalize, pathologize, and condense the lives of [B]lack women, [and Black people as a whole] cannot simply be legislated out of circulation.” Often, the only suggested recourse presented to Black folks is the ballot.

But is the ballot enough? What can we be doing on the periphery of election years? What can we do in our respective workplaces and industries on a regular basis to disrupt systems of domination? What can we do to address the particular needs of our communities? What can we be doing to interrupt dominator discourse in our homes, in our relationships, in every facet of our lives? What can we do across socioeconomic backgrounds to lift each other up and lean on one another throughout the year? What else can we be doing to think more imaginatively? These are the questions we have to contend with as we commit ourselves to grassroots activism.

And to some extent, I understand the emphasis on electoral politics and legislation. If elected officials are going through such lengths to institutionalize voter suppression laws, there must be some power in our vote. This observation cannot be understated. My choice not to vote does not justify external efforts to strip me, and historically disenfranchised people, of that right. As a sexually fluid Black woman, I also have the right to marry, but ultimately I decide whether marriage is the right path for me. It isn’t. Until there is more promise in electoral politics shifting the United States’ foundational practices of domination, exploitation, and profit-generation, I will disengage from this charade and redirect my energies elsewhere.

While the implications of voting are far-reaching, we can’t expect the same system that was erected to negate and exclude us to turn on itself and topple. We have to think differently. We have to organize differently. We have to open ourselves up to new forms of resistance.

We need to change shit substantially before we continue to stress voting as the most instrumental civic engagement tool in a free society, especially when that so-called free society in which we live is entrenched in imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.