musings of a lover… of … yes… that, too…

Archive for January, 2014

A STOMACH FULL OF PRIVATE PULL-OVERS

CONFESSION:

I am triggered by the Macklemore/Lamar situation at the Grammys, but not for the reasons others seem to be.

I’ve had a stomach full of private pull-overs by “colleagues,” staff, board members, and students, all acknowledging “privately” that I had been “robbed,” “lied to,” “abused,” “put in an untenable position” (cold comfort). That’s the PRIVATE story.

Publicly, they’ve lauded their goodness (“we’re the best thing”) and cast conspiratorial whispers on whether I  ever was “the right one” or whether I had lost my mind (“I’m really worried about Dr. Valerie,” complete with “the look”). They’ve chided me if I even LOOKED as if I was going to acknowledge my own pain from trying to survive in a system that was killing me. “You’re trying to destroy us!” I was told. “You HAVE to bless us as you leave!” I was told. No, really.

Never mind that I was LITERALLY dying. Bleeding out of every orifice (I mean every: eyes, nose, ears, vagina, rectum and open sores) while laying in my vomit from violent convulsions because I had a migraine that was trying to take me out. I knew, one day, it was going to kill me. I was going to die. Someone would find my dog sitting near me, whimpering in the shadow of my cold corpse. It would take a couple of days because–for all the talk of community–I wouldn’t have been missed until the second or third class and then it would be to reprimand me, not to check on me. Laying on the floor in my basement, I knew that I wasn’t even a cog in the machine: I was the nuisance everyone wanted to just disappear. Or as one person said: “If you’re so miserable, why don’t you just leave?” [unspoken parenthetical: and while you’re at it, you’d better not tell people we worked at making you miserable and stood back sympathizing with students while they accused you of things later proven a lie. You’d better not tell people we started blaming you for the abuse you were taking].

I left, not because I didn’t feel “called” to that place. I left because I was going to die. And cold comfort that after all the attacks, the lies, the abuse, the neglect, the reneges on promises, the silencing that two board members should pull me aside, or in the case of a local pastor, take me to lunch to say: “you’re right. We didn’t honor our contract with you. We did make you promises that we didn’t keep. We did demand you do things that your contract expressly said we wouldn’t. We didn’t befriend you. We left you to fend for yourself. We didn’t embrace you.” These words are sharp arrows in my memory tonight and a different kind of bleeding is happening. My one gift is: I’m not bleeding out and this time, I’m not going to die. At least not tonight.

For the most part, like Kendrick Lamar, I (and others like me) have just taken it and  moved on. I mean, what can you do when people know something is evil and blame you and shun you for saying it out loud? Or, what do you do when someone refuses to pass the peace to you in worship because you decided to tell the truth about you: “No, I didn’t get kicked out of my house; no, I didn’t get fired; no, I’m not crazy. And yes, if you have issues with something here you should say so. ‘Your silence won’t protect you.'” What do you say when people insist that you didn’t give the institution a “chance,” even though you gave it four years while you were bleeding to death?

And it’s harder still when colleagues from other institutions who’ve been abused or maligned as much or more than you decide to join the chorus because they’re afraid of being kicked off their particular plantation, afraid that my ‘insolence’ will rub off on them. What do you do when they start writing a narrative about your life that is so far from your reality as to be laughable?

Yes, I walked away. A black woman tenured in America and I walked away to save my life. And for that salvific act, it is possible I may never teach again in a religious institution because truth-telling when you’re bleeding out is anathema.

My friend and I have been processing some of my experiences again for the first time in a long time today. I’m raw. So Macklemore’s private tweet to Lamar hit that exposed nerve like the sharpest knives. This time I decided to say, “OUCH!!!!

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Thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a special affinity to Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom I share a birth day–he was born 30 years prior. I grew up admiring and loving him and wanting to be like him. I grew up hearing, “two great people were born on January 15.” And I felt the pressure of the notion that I should be “great” like King. History will judge me as it is judging and will judge him. But I will NEVER lead a movement in the way he did.

Today, I am aware of how irritating King Day celebrations are to me. I’ve been trying to figure out why. Here are my initial thoughts.

I resist the notion of the “exceptional negro” and the “lone wolf” as the way we speak about King and the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and beyond. It’s easy to tame a movement if one can tame the one man that people consider the “legitimate” leader of the movement. There were many leaders and even more activists in the movement. People took on the beast of brutal white supremacy and racism and lost their lives. Those people were young, old, black, white, Hispanic/Latina/o, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheists, non-religious, formally educated, not formally educated, poorly educated, wealthy, very poor, middle class, sexist, feminist/womanist, military, anti-military and on and on. I wish on King Day we owned the fact that he was an imperfect leader inspiring a mass movement that inspired other mass movements. I wish we didn’t need to deify our leader in order to respect him. I wish we didn’t have to act as if critiquing his foibles was an act of disloyalty and/or treason.

During the Civil Rights Movement, many people were jailed, beaten, shot in cold blood or hanged from trees. Students left school as they embraced the spirit of the times. Parents tried to stop them. Religious leaders used religion to try to temper the movement. The government used sanctions, death, surveillance and threats to try to stop them. And they kept coming. King got his courage from God, first, yes. But he also got it from those other young people (he was young, too, you remember?).

On MLKJr Day and beyond, I hope we will not merely reflect on his life, but also on the lives of people who helped to make him the Voice of the movement, especially the prophetic women who kept pushing the movement to righteousness. I say his name, yes. But I also say: Coretta Scott King, Viola Liuzzo, Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall, Mother Dorothy Height, Mother Ella Baker, Rosa Parks, Songbird of the movement Bernice Johnson Reagon, and many more. I think of all the high school and college students, black and white and otherwise (there were many Mexican Americans in midwest and western states, for example) who put their lives on the line for the Movement.

And beyond remembrance, I am challenged to take on the anti-militarism, anti-racism, and anti-poverty work that King embraced. As a womanist, I want also to challenge this legacy of blatant sexism, of his dismissing women or using them as props (or taking their work and calling it his own). Mumia Abu-Jamal’s reflection on King’s call reflects particularly on my concern. I want also to challenge the way he and other black leaders/preachers to treat with disdain the man who was the architect of the March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, a gay black Quaker who helped put the theory of nonviolence into practice. Rustin mentored King in an existing tradition of nonviolence resistance.

I’m old(er) now. I had someone I admire tell me that I was important “to the movement” and someone else who strengthens me called me “brave.” I am important and brave, if I am, because I am a member of a movement for equity and justice, for righteousness and for peace. I will always withstand powers and principalities that destroy dignity and try to erase personhood. I will always oppose racism, militarism, making people poor, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, trans-antagonism, and any other death-dealing power that intends to shame, limit, or kill people. I am for loving the whole folk. And when I am called to lead, I hope I do it with some real recognition that I lead in a movement, among leaders. When I am called to follow, I hope I do it with some acknowledgement that we must support leaders who need the energy of the many to speak on our behalf. I wrestle my own elitism to submit to causes. I struggle with my own sense of inadequacies to take up mantles. I like to think King did too. And despite any propensity for egoistic grandiosity (demons that plague all leaders), I like to think he’d be irritated at the way we’ve deified him to the point of impotence.

(Edited version on a January 20 post on my Facebook page)