“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”
The most revolutionary thing Black folks and other marginalized people can do to honor the work and spirit of Dr. King on his holiday is to rest and engage in self-care activities. Capitalism and its associated manifestations of state violence make living — for everybody who is not rich, cisgender, heterosexual, “well-educated” or white — nearly impossible. It is this common reality that unites us othered, deviant, non-normative folks across struggles and pushes us to engage in resistance work that forces us into the very face of trauma and collective oppression; work we engage with that builds on the legacy of the generations before us, and may in fact spark widespread social change.
This undying hope that so many people have creates space for social justice work across various forms of activism, advocacy and organizing to be romanticized absent of the reality of the pain, exhaustion, financial strain, character defamation and burn-out we actually experience in doing the work.
This same romanticism is applied time and time again, year after year to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy of Dr. King is one that is indeed unmatched in terms of his impact, organizing tactics, religious spirituality and preaching, non-violent teachings and as most recently acknowledged, his anti-capitalist, socialist thought.
“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”
While he, like other activists and changemakers, is tied to a legacy that is steeped in revolutionary thought and practice, we miss the opportunity to use Dr. King’s teachings to unpack the importance of rest and self-care as vital parts of maintaining healthy, sustainable movements.
“There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.”
Self-Care: A Revolutionary Act of Non-Violent Direct Action Protest
Since 2014, an overwhelming chunk of my life has been devoted to community organizing and activism work in Atlanta, Georgia — the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. My time in the work has been marked by a few good wins, a LOT of ugly losses, invaluable knowledge about the history of injustice and the inner-workings of this here city, and an undying desire to learn and develop more ways to end harmful urban regimes in favor of a beloved community for all humans.
Organizing, especially direct action protest and community education + advocacy, has also given me a truly magical Black, Queer movement family made up of some of the most extraordinary individuals who all live lives devoted to liberation work and Black joy anchored by a strong repertoire of daily active resistance.
As I reflect back on my time in the work and think about the ways in which we’ve grown together despite the storms we’ve weathered, the significance of our past MLK Day actions vividly stand out to me.
I have attended the Atlanta MLK Day parade faithfully since January 2015. Ironically, my first year participating in the parade was with my college roommates, who, at the time, were graduate students at Clark Atlanta University. They dragged me, an undergraduate student at Georgia State University, along with them because it was too important for me to miss. I protested, given that at the time, taking a nap sounded like a much better idea than what to me at the time felt like a performative “day of action” to celebrate an Atlanta native son that to me if he were still alive would frown upon the city’s current landscape of social justice and inequality; nonetheless, I went anyway and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Looking back on that day, it stands out in two ways: first, it was the first (and last) time I would attend the MLK Day Parade as another young Black Atlanta student. For us, it meant enjoying a day free of classes, celebrating with everybody Black — no agenda, no cause to stand for, and no organization represented. In the years that followed, my MLK Day Parades and following “days of action” involved making statements against racialized human rights issues in Atlanta such as the lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, the unjust actions of my own university and the lack of concern for the well-being of the city’s large homeless population. Second, this was indeed the first time I actively chose to skip out on a rejuvenating self-care day (even if all I had planned was a run and a nap) over participating in the work of an activist space.
The legacy of Dr. King is heavily represented by his unwavering commitment to the thought and practice of nonviolent direct action protest and the changemaking that resulted from the actions he lead. He once said, “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” I, like many other activists, outpour my whole being into the (well)being of my community, organizing spaces and comrades, yet fail to keep this same energy when it is time to pour into myself.
Though many argue that the current state of King’s legacy of nonviolent action paints him as a pacifist and that over-focusing on this lane of his work alone limits the scope of his dream, I argue otherwise. Dr. King’s message of nonviolence peace work and use of direct action protest
offers current activists the space to expand on the meaning of direct action resistance as a means of fighting for peace to justify the place of practicing self-care in the work.
One of the most beautiful takeaways from growing up in the movement with a tight-knit circle of organizing fam and a more extensive circle of allies has been watching us learn the beauty and necessity of self-care practices as, among many things, a direct form of resistance to capitalist oppression rooted in stress, hyperproductivity, heteronormativity, state violence and the unyielding social construct of “time.”
The Atlanta Black Movement community engages in work across the lanes of food and environmental justice, housing rights, anti-gentrification, prison abolition, fair wages and economic opportunity, anti-recidivism, youth empowerment, LGBTQ rights, safe biking and transit access and the elimination of those equity barriers that keep the city’s most vulnerable Black folks at an extreme disadvantage when compared to the lives of their more affluent and white counterparts. And this work is exhausting. As time has gone on, however, the work of healing, of practicing veganism, feeling free on a bike and finding slices of nature in the concrete jungle, planting gardens, having parties, communal napping and time banking has allowed us to engage in a revolutionary form of direct action protest via self-care that affords us the opportunity to engage in meaningful work without burning out.
Dr. King spoke on the power of direct action work in numerous speeches, lectures and sermons. However, his exploration of the method in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” piece is one particular iteration of the practice that can be applied to reframing engaging in self-care activities and healing work as forms direct action protest in direct resistance to the demands and strain of capitalism.
In “Letter,” Dr. King pens an open letter after being arrested at a 1963 action in Birmingham, Alabama for disobeying what he vehemently deems in the letter as an “unjust” anti-protest law passed to impede the growing desegregation movement in the city. He breaks down the importance of nonviolent direct action protest early in his letter by saying:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
The idea of self-care in any form, as it is tied to notions of joy and pleasure, has been denied to Black people since slavery; a denial that has been continuously reinforced by capitalism and thus minimized in our forced culture of struggle and survival. It is most often articulated as something that is simply out of reach or not meant for us. Because of the nature of its denial, Black people choosing to find ways to care for ourselves, our families, communities and environments is indeed an act of powerful direct action resistance to the violence of capitalism and racial oppression. King continues writing in his letter the fundamental tenets of direct action protest and why it is the chosen course of action for desegregation work in the South:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action….. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.
Given the fundamentals of engaging in nonviolent resistance campaigns articulated by King, self-care as resistance can be justified based on Black people’s deep understanding of the nature of our oppression, as we have collected the facts of our disenfranchisement since the earliest slave narratives and abolitionist thought papers were published. It is because of this overwhelming evidence that Black organizers have fought for generations for seats at the negotiating table of our oppressors to demand our liberation and have subsequently engaged in acts of performative respectability and decorum to prove our worthiness of such treatment. We have attached ourselves to this seemingly never-ending hamster wheel of changemaking work only to have yet to see actual change happen at a large enough scale to consider ourselves “free” and thus we are exhausted. We have the right to be exhausted. We must therefore be mindful that, unfortunately, change does not come from a persistent exhaustion and subsequent collective burnout.
So what are we left to do? Step four: we engage in direct action protest through taking a step back and taking care of ourselves. MLK Day is one of contradiction as it gives many of us the day off to celebrate the life of Dr. King, yet because his legacy is so heavily steeped in a narrow view of “action” many people, organizers and non-organizers alike, choose to spend the day volunteering for and learning about various causes, marching in the streets and “giving back” in some way, while not acknowledging that taking the day off for what it is — a day removed from the work and engaging in rest and leisure — is actually an acceptable form of action.
I do not mean to drag anybody for their tradition of service on King Day; do you. But I would, however, like to offer those folks who understand exhaustion and burnout from this work an alternative way of thinking through service and action that restores, not depletes us. We as Black activists must understand that we cannot afford the ambulances we chase if we burnout and actually are in need of the ride. We therefore must take any opportunity we can to figuratively sit our asses down, re-center, give our brains and bodies a break and rest. I have a very real, attainable dream that self-care, healing and sustainable well-being can and will be a reality for us. After all, according to Dr. King, we engage in nonviolent protest to resist war and to struggle for peace.
As he notes in “Letter,” collective rest and self-care indeed creates a crisis of disruption unimaginable to the dominant power structure. Rest and self-care regiments in a world that seeks to work us weary enough to not protest is active protest. So for those of us who choose to nap, read, share the company of other carefree Black folks, to binge watch trash tv, indulge in good food or take a yoga class on MLK Day and not volunteer, march or fill our calendars with movement meetings, we should be affirmed in knowing that we too are revolutionary and resisting.
Jay-Z, Colin Kaepernick, and Toxic Black Capitalism
Jay-Z’s recent decision to align himself with the NFL has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. And for good reason. Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed by the league for 897 days. With no sign of him returning, despite maintaining a rigorous fitness regime, many are wondering why Jay-Z did not consult Kaepernick before signing on.
Five am workouts five days a week for three long years. Colin Kaepernick has been waiting in the wings since the NFL colluded to bar him from playing amidst player protests. Eric Reid, who stood beside Kaep in solidarity, has been subjected to excessive random drug tests for just as long. As season after season dredges on, Eric says he has no desire to refrain from protesting and has pledged to kneel during the national anthem this year as well. With NFL viewership in steady decline due to boycotts within the Black community, the league has reached out to an unlikely partner to repair their image and boost their ratings, Jay-Z.
A one-time supporter of the national anthem protests that brought awareness to blatant police brutality, Jay-Z has decided that there’s no time like the present to profit from his brother’s struggle. Billionaire rapper Jay-Z has brokered a deal with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Roc Nation mogul is now positioned to serve as a gatekeeper, deciding who’s worthy to take the stage as a Super Bowl halftime act. As the internet reflects on Jay’s very vocal criticism of the NFL and recent Super Bowl Halftime Show performers, the irony and hypocrisy of this situation is lost on no one.
“Don’t Do This”
When news of Travis Scott’s participation in the 2019 Halftime Show reached Jay-Z’s ears, he was quick to ask the “Sicko Mode” rapper not to perform. Citing the poor treatment of Colin Kaepernick as the league turned a blind eye to police brutality, Jay-Z urged Travis to change his stance. But now, the “4:44” rapper is the one that’s turned the other cheek. Stating, “we’re past the point of kneeling”, Jay has all but embraced the ideals of his peers. Considering this partnership an opportunity to change the beast from the inside, Jay said in a recent interview that “this is the next phase.”
“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase. There [are] two parts of protesting. You go outside and you protest, and then the company or the individual says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?”
Ever the capitalist, Jay-Z has turned the ostracism of Kaepernick and scrutiny of Reid into a means of personal profit. While preaching Black solidarity, he cradles the all-mighty dollar. To onlookers, this poses a moral dilemma, but we forget billionaires often lack morals and have questionable ethics. While it is unlikely that Kaepernick will respond with his thoughts on the matter, his longtime girlfriend, Nessa, and Eric Reid have made their thoughts known.
You can’t trust a man who cheated on Beyoncé to make good life choices
Eric Reid took to Twitter yesterday afternoon to chastise Jay-Z for his decision. Stating, “Jay-Z knowingly made a money move with the very people who’ve committed an injustice against Colin and is using social justice to smooth it over with the black community,” Reid says the fight is on. He believes that it is “unjust” that the NFL is now “championing” social justice to cover their own systemic oppression in blackballing his former teammate. What Nessa has to say was much more scathing.
Sharing a video on Instagram of her boyfriend, Colin Kaepernick, training with his ally, former 49er Eric Reid, Nessa included a lengthy statement regarding Jay-Z’s decision.
Knowing that Jay-Z is helping the NFL rebrand itself is disheartening but predictable. After all, he is a prominent figure in the Black community. It was inevitable that the league would reach out to a “respected” rapper to leverage his image to increase viewership. In fact, it’s the same strategy they used when they reached out to Travis Scott. The only difference here is that Jay-Z is well within the ranks of the wealthy, privy to those dubious politics, and versed in the manipulation of exploiting his own community for financial gain.
Do you believe that Jay-Z’s efforts will lead to further dissension in the NFL? Or will his position as a gatekeeper lead to a fitting resolution? Do you think his relationship with Robert Kraft influenced his decision?
Merited Whiteness: Why Chris Cuomo Responded Violently to “Fredo”
Instead of talking about the obvious wrong of comparing “Fredo” to the n-word, let’s discuss merited Whiteness and Cuomo’s response.
While out with his family, Chris Cuomo was accosted by a man who compared him to the Judas Iscariot of the Corleone family, Fredo Corleone. It’s easy to see why Chris would have perceived the sudden hurling of “Fredo” as an insult, who wouldn’t. Fredo was a man out of his depth. He was intelligent, sure. But he lacked the cunning necessary to navigate life in the mafia. Fredo was a soft-hearted, loveable idiot who said more than he should have to the wrong people. His unintentional slight got him in trouble with a community that felt entitled to his allegiance. This is the very same entitlement that possessed a stranger to believe he held the authority to pull Chris Cuomo’s merited whiteness card.
Fredo’s offense in many ways is seen as something lateral to Chris Cuomo’s presence as a journalist at CNN. The child of the 52nd Governor of New York and brother of the current Governor, who is a staunch critic of Republican politicians and their constituents, Chris stands on the wrong side, to some, in a fight for “American Values.” He is outspoken and detached from his beginnings as a political analyst on Fox News. Being the descendant of a family that is only two generations removed from their Tramonti, Campania Italian origins, The Cuomo’s represent a side of American history that is not often discussed, the assimilation of European immigrants to American whiteness.
When Italians began immigrating to the US, they were not looked upon favorably. But like the Irish and members of other European communities, they united in their “othered” state to gain acceptance, overcome their backgrounds, and race toward the American Dream. But the American Dream isn’t a big house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog, it’s whiteness. To be White is to be distinctly American, devoid of cultural attachments and devoted to racial supremacy. But like the Borg, whiteness requires assimilation and shared consciousness. Like their hive-minded chant, Magats would also believe “Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”
For families like the Cuomo’s, who were privileged enough to own a business and accumulate wealth shortly after their arrival, the trajectory to acceptance was higher than most. As Henry Pratt Fairchild said when discussing the bestowed privileges of whiteness to immigrants, “If he proves himself a man, and rises above his station, and acquires wealth, and cleans himself up — very well, we receive him after a generation or two. But at present, he is far beneath us, and the burden of proof rests with him.” So how, after a single generation, did the Cuomo’s ascend their station? By becoming fast friends with the Trump family.
After Mario Cuomo represented Fred Trump in an undisclosed legal matter, their families maintained contact. Golfing trips in Florida and New York, letters filled with flattery, and partnerships that benefitted the Trumps as developers and the Cuomos political ambitions. Beyond the business relationships of the two families, you have to wonder what values they grew to share. Judging by a 2008 remark regarding Barack Obama where Andrew spouted “You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference.” and Chris’ false equivalence of Fredo and the n-word, they share quite a few. Still, you must wonder why “Fredo” would elicit such a response from Chris. Is it because he feels his status demands subordination? Is it because he felt his whiteness was challenged?
Perceiving the use of “Fredo” as an anti-Italian slur, Chris Cuomo found himself feeling as immigrants did upon their arrival to the “land of dreams.” As explored by Maria Elisa Altese, there is a perception that Italian-Americans have forgotten what it is like to be targeted. Chris Cuomo has lived comfortably in the US as a white man, never before having his status challenged. As written by Robert F. Forester, in a country where the distinction between white man and black is intended as a distinction of value… it is no compliment to the Italian to deny him his whiteness, but that actually happens with considerable frequency.” So in his rage, Chris expressed how entitled he felt to the benefits of whiteness, it’s inclusivity, and how no one like him wants to be Black.
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