7 06 2010

Zen and el Arte de Nepantlarissmo:

La Metodología Espiritual de Gloria Anzaldúa

The wind befriended you yesterday, when it stopped you in the street and asked if you knew its true name. “Wind,” you whispered, like you had never uttered the word before, more an expression of awe than a response. In that instant Wind consumed you, moved through you, danced around you, and all awareness rested in Wind.

There is something fundamental to you that exists before (and after) mind, before the thinking of identity-story spins itself into being and takes occupation of your body. You have sensed it on the periphery of experience for a long time; sensed it in the moments in between, that ever-present allowing more intimate than any thing, the space where joy and sorrow come and dance and leave again. Este Conocimiento. “Beneath your desire for knowledge writhes the hunger to understand and love yourself.”

You attend with fierce resolve to this hunger, at times hurling the conditioned mind into the ether with reckless abandon, come what may. (Was it really you who dislodged the mind or Grace, you wonder?) In these moments where the ground of familiarity breaks beneath you and the terror of unbecoming swallows you whole you find yourself suddenly alive, awake on the other side, a free agent. As you learn to traverse the bridge between this world and the other, you find a new movement dancing inside you- not new, perhaps, so much as seen for the first time. The bounds between chooser and choice bypass the discursive mind, blend together, and you are on this side and the other all at once. A familiar impulse arises and the thought comes, “I should document this.” You watch it float by like a distant cloud in the sky of being. Then it disappears and you find yourself once again in nepantla, the in-between space of no becoming, of not yet becoming.

A sense of power, finally divested of the personal, radiates with aliveness- it saturates your bones and muscles. It isn’t the familiar stolen power you looked at from the precipice of no-power, fury coursing through you fire pouring from you mouth, from your fingers, heart erupting in pain and outrage. No- this is a power before all that, yours from the very beginning, which you could only know by surrendering all you know. The sense that the world is available to you, uncreated, and infinitely vast hums around you like an old forgotten song drifting into you from every direction. Suddenly you notice- movement; the unmanifest substance of nepantla twirls you headlong into the world: a phone call from a former lover; the distance that seems to separate; an ache, like sickness digging into your chest faster than you can track. Fear and longing lace your words without your control and you watch with a detached distance at the horrifying unskillfulness of your words-is this really happening?- your heart screaming to be known. You lament the tenuousness of that peace and awareness you knew yourself to be in nepantla. In your periphery, you catch sight of the tiny you trying to control it all, small and blind, limbs and beliefs flailing around in an effort to create a safe story for itself. You see it in its totality and see how central it has been to your interactions with the world; with your lover. Compassion arises mysteriously, slowly making its way back into your body. The line on the other end is silent for a moment and you take the opportunity to jump back into nepantla, defocalizing your mind’s rule. Anything is better than this, you think. With fresh eyes, you see the tumult and the chaos as part of it, part of the whole. It’s present after all, and the mechanism of that familiar you with all of its fear, all of its insufficiencies, mistakes, and personal admonishments, reveals itself to be a fiction. You see it. You returned to nepantla- the place of not knowing- not so much for solace, but for truth. This consideration loosens your grip and you feel the muscles in your stomach unclench, the place where you held back the terror slowly surrenders itself. You let go into the tumult of the unknown and find yourself surprised when peace presents itself there.

You see the great responsibility before you in nepantla, not a personal mandate you possess, but a burgeoning awakeness to the mighty fullness of life. There is nothing you can turn away from here. It does not make you safe from death or pain, but more sensitive, more vulnerable, more open to anything and everything that might arise. Your life no longer belongs to the destiny you had in store for it. You are no longer special or unique or entitled or exempt. You are unmistakably, undeniably, irrevocably present and the magnitude of this presence recognizes you with a sight as terrible and welcoming as only the Divine could be. A shiver of fear sneaks into your subconscious: who am I without my story self? The thought passes with the Wind of nepantla and you sink deeper in, every piece of viscera alive to the movement of the unknown. You make a prayer- you’ve never prayed before- without any words. You offer it, you offer the rest of yourself, whatever it is, to the wisdom of nepantla. You get a response almost immediately: this is just the beginning.

Introducing: “Decolonizing the Mind”

28 05 2010

Decolonizing the Mind is a new undertaking, in part inspired by my study with Cherríe Moraga and my senior thesis “Whiteness: The Body and Pathology of American Loss,” which looks at the construction of whiteness as a racialized American identity as a method of ensuring the continuation of dominant culture by subjugating humanity within the white body.

The new site is under construction at but a dedicated url is forthcoming. As of now, the plan is to compile a body of work for publish in 2010. Please visit the new page, share it with friends, and consider submitting some of your work for publication.

Most of my writings will now appear on that site and the Crunk Bunny will continued to be used for whatever’s left over.

Feel free to shoot your thoughts my way after perusing the page.

This Land…

11 05 2010

[As a precursor to my forthcoming thesis on Whiteness, this is a blog post I never published from last summer. I was preparing the material for my thesis and working on Stanford Summer Theater when these conversations came up. Enjoy!]

God blessed me with an adversary recently, a friend really, who I work with and whose company I’ve enjoyed very much over the last six months. He’s a nice enough guy, self-identified liberal, frat boy, from a privileged white background in Seattle, though he went to an urban public high school in the area, which he says was predominantly people of color. Certainly there are other identifiers of interest, but I choose these because I think they are significant in forming his view of the world.

A series of disdainful sighs and shaking of head at culturally insensitive jokes or references, and I was labeled hypersensitive of all things P.C. This is not an uncommon occurrence with my white friends. I think my argument for why white people are ill-disposed to make snide cultural references or joke about stereotypes should be self evident by now. Regardless, I acknowledge that many from my background find it perfectly acceptable to make “edgy” statements or push the envelope of the politically correct in order to demonstrate how educated and progressive they think they are. That being said, as unpopular as my voice may be in such cases, it has become an almost knee jerk reaction for me to question the effects of the privileged class making such culturally stereotyped comments, humorous or otherwise, however progressively informed or ironic they may seem. I say this very conscious of my own position in the matter.

So, my foil and I have spent the better part of a week hotly debating such issues as cultural and racial sovereignty, nation-state legitimacy, and white privilege, particularly as they manifest themselves at Stanford. Suffice to say, I find his views in all three areas problematically apologetic, the challenges of which are paralleled only by his adamance that my views are unrealistically radical (my wording, not his. He said “illogical,” but i take the liberty of interpretation). For example, in a discussion pertaining to the legitimacy or efficacy of Stanford’s Ethnic Theme Dorms (itself a problematic premise for a discussion), he argued that the self-secluded nature of Stanford’s communities of color precluded sufficient racial integration of the campus, such that it allowed those communities to persist in a fashion that did not reflect the realities outside of Stanford, namely an integrated society (…right). Furthermore, rebuttals including the right for sovereignty over non-normative (read: non-white) histories collected in a community outside the colonial elements of mainstream culture were attacked as segregationist (!). “Like, they should have a separate, but equal, culture?” he said, arms crossed, eyes wide with a satisfying feigned surprise. “I just think it’s ridiculous. I had so many black friends in high school, and when we got to Stanford, I almost invariably lost touch with them because they were suddenly sucked into this black-centrist community that I couldn’t be a part of. Plus, if you’re a white kid put in Uj, it’s totally unlikely you’ll be accepted unless you go way out of your way,” he continued. When I questioned the possible experience of a person of color being forced into an otherwise white dominated culture or community, I was told, “but that’s different. Mainstream isn’t necessarily white. It’s just American.” Indeed the argument continues that constant comment (like mine) on issues of so-called political correctness fuels and reinforces racial tensions rather than disassembles them. I, as you may guess, respectfully disagree and you see where it goes from there.

It’s clearly not for me to represent the views of any community, on campus or otherwise, and I don’t intend to. I can only speak to my own experience, having been recently exposed to many of the histories that the American experiment has attempted to bury over the last 500 years. These histories are not held by text books or the academy, but by the decedents who have survived and opposed the (spoken and) unspoken policies of American enculturation and its associated mechanisms.  Indeed, the communities of color at Stanford play a vital role in preserving and continuing non-normative/non-white histories that might otherwise fade into the amnesic abyss of American cultural memory. As playwright and poet Cherríe Moraga wrote in her 2005 essay, Indígena as Scribe, “I believe the United States intends to disappear its colored inhabitants and our non-western ways of knowing,” a process that is most efficaciously carried out by destroying histories and identities. Bonfil Batalla’s seminal work, México Profundo, strikingly recounts the national project of literally fabricating a Mexican identity in place of the numerous indigenous identities present in that part of Mesoamerica for centuries and the relative minority of Spanish blooded decedents, while the latter maintained almost complete cultural dominance.

I am dubious to even say the words slavery, Jim Crow, la frontera, conquest, internment camps, boarding schools, deportation, or any of the other inadequate devices we use to describe the ways in which we have threatened and betrayed this nation’s people of color with death or ejection. Most insidious perhaps in this (ongoing) process of attempted extermination is its conspicuous absence from the consciousness of White America. Most of us will concede some portion of the social inequality dialectic citing race as a persistent factor of America’s power and resource strata, but few of us can fathom that our country really has it out for its people of color – “But I don’t want America’s people of color to disappear,” the cry of defense usually goes, “I have black friends!”

I was challenged by my friend/adversary to give an example of a nation that has offered just rule better than the United States (this was in response to my comment about the illegitimacy of the modern nation state). He pressed me, as any good liberal would, to acknowledge, at least, the freedoms and democracy afforded us by espousing an umbrella allegiance to an American Identity. At least, he might say, this isn’t genocidal Rwanda or Nazi Germany or fascist North Korea. My only response is that an absence of perfectly functional or just governance from any nation cannot be an excuse for its status quo, nor is it a defacto justification for its existance. America is a nation built on stolen land by slave labor but, as my friend suggested, the statute of limitations for returning the land has expired. Send the white people back to Europe? The black people back to Africa? The sheer ridiculousness of the proposal sends most of us into a frenzy wherein the only possible solution we can see is to saddle down and look to the future. “It wasn’t me, after all, who stole the land, right?” that apologist story goes.

This collapse in the consciousness of White America, the sudden inability to hold difficult and, at times, conflicting realities is perhaps the single largest exacerbator in the ongoing narrative of American racism. Political Correctness (which, according to my friend, is my actual course of study) is now relegated to the land of pastiche, so absurd in its minutiae that we are safer in its transgression than in its dialogue. Those who consider thoughtfulness in their speech, mindfulness in the context of their conversations are, at best, the squares of the day; at worst, communists out to dismantle our God-given freedom of speech. Besides, political correctness, obviously comes down to opinion, so why defend it?

Cultural Loss: White People at Powwow

11 05 2010

In the process of retracing one’s history, the intimately personal as well as the broad cultural history of one’s own people, we move through many stages of experience; from awe and phenomenal grief, to acceptance and gratitude, to fear and simmering rage, everything in between, sometimes many at once, sometimes all of them in a day. Anzaldúa speaks potently of these movements, sometimes related to loss of cultural self, sometimes to the little deaths of the personal self that knock at our door each day and invite a deeper knowing.

In this moment, though I’m just tired. Not in the exasperated, “I don’t want to deal with it anymore” sense we mean when we say, “I’m just tired,” since that wouldn’t account for my fierce desire to know what’s real. I mean tired in the way where your body aches a little though not anywhere in specific and a damp sadness seems to saturate your skin, though you haven’t been out in the rain. It pervades your being. I guess you could call it existential, but even that seems too rational a description of the subtle fatigue that creeps. I also just came back from a three days of a truly awesome powwow, spent with some of my best friends who I haven’t seen in quite some time, so the prospect of sitting down to write about loss feels like a buzz kill.

And yet, maybe the heels of powwow is the perfect time to talk about loss. Inevitably, Stanford Powwow (in particular, since it’s in the middle of Palo Alto) attracts a wide audience of natives and non-natives. Some are at the beginning of their seasonal powwow trail that will last for months into the summer, an annual ritual of dancing, singing, and contesting at each venue before heading out to the next venue with your family. For others, this is their very first powwow, having come at the invitation of a friend or seen a bumper sticker on their drive down el camino, intrigued by the word and its many “Ws.”

I spent most of the weekend walking around with Marlon whose astute sense of “between the lines” people-watching makes for great conversation. Early on Saturday, he commented on a white lady’s outfit- a sarape and blue skirt with suspicious leather sandals- and asked “do you think coming to a powwow makes people conform their dress to what they think looks native?” (Marlon was wearing slacks, a nice grey (designer) sweater, a matching Coach scarf, brown designer shoes, and black Prada sunglasses; most of the host-drum singers sit in hoodies or powwow tee shirts with back-turned caps on). We looked around us and quickly took note of the (presumably, because you can’t really tell for sure) non-native people and sure enough, there was a decidedly composed indigenous feel to most of their dress. We spent the remaining two days counting examples: “one, sarape,” “seventeen, Uggs and beaded earrings,” “forty-five, walking stick wrapped in tan leather-lace,” “sixty-six, eagle feather he probably shouldn’t have and a stuffed bobcat slung across his back” and so on. The white people are always indicative of the general quality of white peoples’ relationship to natives in the United States, like little thermometers that tell you the many temperatures of how dominant culture relates to Indian country. Sitting with Steph Tsosie at powwow two years ago, I remember a white guy coming up to us and asking if there was a list of all the tribes at powwow. All of them? Like, in their totality? Another white guy came up to the front tent and said, “I heard there were a bunch of important chiefs here. Do you know where I can find them? I saw one guy wearing some feathers on his head- I think he’s one of them- but I wondered if you knew where the rest were.” Sorry, buddy. They just valiantly rode off into the horizon and you missed them. Better luck next year. Early Saturday morning, five white girls from Paly High across the street came dressed in war paint, mini skirts, and moccasins, like they were attending a Pocahontas convention.

The assumptions of spectacle that white people bring to “cultural” events like powwow is, to choose a diplomatic word, instructive. On the one hand (the most important hand), powwow isn’t in the least concerned with white people and what they think. On the one hand, powwow is useful to highlight the vibrancy of Native Americans culture(s), their persistence even in the face of a mainstream society that sees them as (dead and) historical. On the (other) other hand, the incredible sense of voyeurism and consumption that white people bring to powwow is mind blowing. After the jingle dress special today, I was standing next to my friend Lauren (who was still wearing her dress), chatting about the contest, and over the course of ten minutes or so several (white) people stood off about ten feet, pointing and focusing their cameras, taking pictures, moving around her to try and get a better angle. Some had the courtesy to ask, but most didn’t. Some carefully placed their child in the frame- still avoiding actual contact with the Indian object (Lauren)- and told them to smile. Lauren and I stared at the ground as we continued our conversation and tried to position our bodies away from the camera.

You can tell it’s important to these people that they get the right photo, to document that they saw a real Indian before they fade back into the obscurity of their Media-mediated imaginations, or actually die off altogether, like a Lion they see on Safari whose tenuous existence is only protected by the institution that “compassionately” houses them.

More than a little uncomfortable, she turned to me and asked, “Do your people think this is a zoo?”

I wrote earlier that voyeurism is the ignorance of colonial consciousness writ large. It denies what’s true- that we are present- but you can tell in most white people’s composure that they see themselves and function as distant observers, not participants. They show up, get the experience, catalogue it, chronicle it, then slide back into the comfortable soma haze of their lives until the urge for commodified sustenance takes hold of them again. I use the word “commodified,” because the way they relate to the world- and especially identifiably “cultural” experiences- suggests they see a petite package of experience they can ingest in order to make them more…“something.” The something is undefined, but the frenzy of it all, the excitement of witnessing the ethnic other in their native habitat, is so indicative of their relationship to reality: they see themselves as outside of it, separate from it. Powwow isn’t the only place this happens, obviously, but it’s one of the most blatant and egregious.

Lauren asks me why. Why do white people do this? The only thing Indians show up to powwow to consume is fry bread and coffee, she says. Consumption as a task is marginal to the primary task of singing and dancing and sharing a good time with your family, maybe you place in a contest if you dance/sing well. But white people show up because they think they’re going to get something, something authentic (whatever that is), something genuinely cultural, since their own sense of culture is so irreparably depleted and they desperately long to fill the void. “We don’t have a culture, so we’ll just come and watch yours and we’ll feel culturally sophisticated while we maybe buy some bead work, then we’ll go back to our culture-free world where we live and…well, God knows where you’ll go. Do they even have reservations anymore?” seems to be the underlying narrative. You can see it in their innocent quixotic eyes.

This is such an old, old story.

And it makes me tired. Today, I gave myself the privileged indulgence of just wanting to hang out with my friends without the constant violations of white peoples’ eyes and cameras and thoughts. I didn’t even care that I was white and hanging out with my native crew as I might have years ago; just so long as these white people weren’t so violently entitled in their voyeurism and exotification. It was a moment of weakness on my part, but I was tired. Mar could tell so he joked and told me to keep my relatives in line.

You can get to a place in your vision of the world where everything white people do (almost everything) is an attempt to recover their lost cultural selves. I don’t sense the pull in my own heart as much as I used to; that pull to belong because you know where you came from that white people lack. The truth is I don’t belong and now that I know why, I don’t have to try any more. It’s not a resignation so much as a realization. In a way, this gives way to a deeper sense of belonging, one not rooted in the endless search for contrived validations that never fully satisfy. The (invisible) culture white people have set up for themselves is premised on the notion of who does and does not belong. I partly wonder if it isn’t an unconscious response to that suppressed experience of invaders; we know we don’t belong so we’ll make it seem like you don’t belong in order to make ourselves more comfortable in our continued violations. Then, in your marginalization and distance from us, we’ll observe you to remind ourselves of what we’ve given up while we pretend that we have it all and that you’re worse off. This is the irony of their own incidental self-othering, and the violence of it in all directions.

And it’s tiring sometimes. I don’t mean that in a quaint way. It’s not quaint. But from this place, it’s rare you meet a white person who isn’t saddled with the unconscious grief of loss, and it’s tiring to bear witness to it constantly, now that I know what I’m actually seeing. I used to think I was just seeing patriarchical assholes whenever a rich white guy condescendingly flaunted his affluence or paternalized his wife in plain view, but now I know I’m seeing unfathomable loss and its pathology beneath the facade. It may not be apparent at first, but it never takes long to reveal itself in their speech, in their posture, in their gaze. Now it’s a sense that just registers in my body before thought. Marlon calls it “picking up faxes.”

Sometimes it’s easy to have compassion for the white experience of loss, usually when it’s acute and you see them searching for an answer they’ve hidden away from themselves- it was my experience for so long (and still is sometimes)- but in those moments when the mechanism of the colonial mind is running the show, the mind that sees everything as available for consumption, sympathy is more difficult to muster. Not when my loved ones become the object of the white void’s hunger. Not when instead of seeing a whole and complete human being, they see an image in their mind of the docile domestic native performing a nostalgic ritual dance that they can capture on digital film. At the very least, it hurts my friends’ feelings (and mine). And it utterly fails to acknowledge the fact that she just danced her ass off for 30 minutes and looked damn good. It fails to acknowledge all the hours of work that went into making her dress, all the hands and hearts that were involved, all the hours practicing her side step, all her life.

A (white) woman walks up and asks, “Is your tribe here?” Lauren just furrows her face in confusion. Like, all of them? What kind of person would ask such a ridiculous question? Someone unbelievably lost.

Today I wanted to enjoy powwow with my friends; friends who are dear to me. And I did. Tanaya came in from Boulder, Mar came down from the city and stayed the whole weekend, and Lauren was there to dance and help her dad out with security. We laughed all day, Mar gossiped enough for all of us, and the weather was almost perfect. I spent more time watching the contesting than in previous years, because the dancers were so exceptional, especially the jingle dress dancers and the fancy shall dancers. All the singers were on point too, especially the host northern drum, Swift Cloud. So, I let myself play for once in a long time, in this little time out of “real” life when powwow is all that exists and my best friends are all with me and it’s really beautiful. And there’s a lot of love. And there’s a lot of loss too. I’m sure more could be said, more eloquently, but there it is.

Going Chella

15 04 2010

Headin down to Coachella with Willi, Madds, Lauri, and their Aussie friend, Tristan. One van, five hooligans, many tents, and many plans. Oh yes.

Looking forward to a ridiculous weekend of Passion Pit, Tom Yorke, Tiësto, Dirty Projectors, Florence and the Machine, Little Dragon, Grizzly Bear, and Jay-Z!

Ready. Set. Go!

Journal- Wednesday, April 14th

9 04 2010

Wednesday, April 14th

I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before I leave for school, since I live off campus, so I often eat after my stats lecture. There’s a café near the Hewlitt building called Bites and they make pretty tasty breakfast burritos so I headed over after class this morning to get some food. My mom had sent me a text message earlier in the morning about an Angelique Kidjo concert she attended the previous night with her boyfriend and, sure enough, Angelique Kidjo was playing over the speakers in Bites when I walked in. I like synchronicities like that so I texted my mom to tell her. By the time I got to the register to order, Vusi Mahlasela was on and I commented to the cashier, a white lady, that I liked the music they were playing. She responded, “Yeah, I love African music.” I didn’t say anything in response- it’s not the worst thing someone could say, after all.

She continued to tell me that it was a Putumayo Acoustic Africa compilation- some of which I myself own- and I got to thinking about multiculturalism and panculturalism and how problematic it can be to present cultural aesthetic forms as representational of continents, countries, people, heritage etc. I think this is especially true in the late capital world where nearly everything is commodified and presented in the form of consumables. One purchases something like a Putumayo compilation and one is immediately granted (presumed) access to the culture from which it came. One of the problems is in marketed representation. Vusi Mahlasela is a celebrated artist in South Africa, sings mostly in his native language of Sotho, and was inspired primarily by resistance to the Apartheid system of South Africa, but ALL of that is potentially lost when he becomes an African musician. The West’s fetish-like fascination with the African subject is made clear here in the voyeurism of postmodernism. We like to observe “others” from a comfortable distance, especially in the comfortable artistic distance, because art, after all is just entertainment and therefore exempt from political location. Again, often these arguments are dismissed on the expectation that art either transcends race and imperialism or that artistic exchange is somehow productive to understanding. Of course “understanding” is totally subverted when the exchange is facilitated by capitalism, which has an agenda of its own having nothing to do with exchange or understanding. So one must develop a critical understanding of these so-called neutral exchanges of culture and commodity, because often our enjoyment and appreciation of the art form is accompanied by a latent imperial impulse that is left out of the equation.

Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity

9 04 2010

So, I’m totally that guy. The guy who left an introductory core course for his major till the spring quarter of his senior year. It may be that the gods will have mercy and I’ll be fast-tracked out, but until that time, I figure I would post the interesting part of the course- weekly journal entries about race- for your enjoyment. Since their brief and uncomplicated, I’m sure they’ll prompt all kinds of thoughtful discussion. Here goes:

Thursday, April 9th

I was sitting in my friend’s room last night when I noticed the recent issue of Stanford Magazine sitting on her floor next to her roommate’s bed. On the cover was a (n admittedly adorable) small Chinese child, beneath the heading “Our Greatest Export: Knowledge and How it can make a Difference.” I cringed, as I always do when imperialism is veiled by the rhetoric of humanitarianism. I glanced over the article and it was more of the same- presumptuous efforts of humanitarianism, valiantly conquering the desperation of the developing third world, clad in the white face of postmodern globalizing hypercapital. Now, did the article talk about any of these seemingly histrionic descriptors? Of course not- no one wants to read that (…). Instead, it lightly glided over the economic needs of rural China and how “advanced Western technologies” can help overcome poverty. The details were more elaborate, but the basic assumptions were the same- the west has all the answers to cure the ills of the foreign destitute.

So, what does this have to do with race? Well, in the world of race as performed action- or race as praxis rather than biology (a la Hazel Markus and Paula Moya)- whiteness loves to perform itself by not naming itself. The seeming absence of race in an article like this or, rather, the lopsided discussion of race, the (unnamed white) “us” and the (named Chinese) “other,” is itself a study in imperialism. As Richard Dyer so aptly pointed out, whiteness rarely speaks its own name and in so doing maintains its position as racially normative. By locating the identification of others as racialized without identifying one’s own racial (or political, or economic) position, the white western body is made and kept central, and by default all other bodies are made marginal. In the so-called “post-racial” social and political sphere of the Americas, the absolute seamlessness with which whiteness  is able to keep its silence should be an indicator that we live in no such era, especially when quality of life metrics (themselves problematically rooted in western notions of “quality”) are all disproportionately skewed based on race.

That’s the redux version of why humanitarianism is often an imperial project. Where we move from, our position and all of its accompanying paradigms, especially the unconscious ones, are vitally more important than how we rationalize our movements as good or bad or necessary. The fact that so many members of the first-world ruling class immediately reject this kind of an analysis based on the “urgent needs” that must be met is further evidence of the amazing attachment to racially informed paradigms of progress and development, and the inability to distance oneself from our sense of what’s “normal” or “just,” which are all socially and often racially conditioned. I argue that this is based on the precedent of white denial, the function that allows whiteness to access unheard of privilege without any real culpability or account for the structures that marginalize and oppress in order to maintain such privilege.

Dear History, part two

6 04 2010

This letter was drafted “length-wise” on the page.

Oct. 27, 2008

Dear History,
Maybe if I write you sideways I’ll get another perspective on you. I know you maybe insofar as I know anything. I’ve read books about you, watched movies about your stories, and learned of how you are held in peoples hearts in different ways. Most think you are dead, at least where I come from. They speak of you in the past tesne. And so many ritualize you every day, exalt you in their prayer rooms and anguish over you in their daily lamentations. Why, oh why, History! Why did you take such and such a loved one? Why not a brief moment more of that ambrosia liquid affection that sustains our stories of ourselves?

I think I know the reason why, History. I think it’s because you really live backwards, reversing through the eons as we plummet towards you. The Universe is a giant swing and you and I play at different ends of the axis, breathing in the spaces of zero gravity and weeping when our momenta meet. Time is a parabola and we collide at the nadir before screaming back again into the space, the mystery of living. And whenever we collide, humans call it a moment of import, of insight, a moment of realization. They also call it rock bottom, because that’s where we see you the clearest and from there can see everything you have seen.

From Muse, Music, and Musings

6 04 2010

I found these letters written during Saul Williams guest-teaching stint at Stanford last year. Feels appropriate that this signal my return to this forum. The prompt was to draft a letter to History. This is unedited.

October 27th, 2008

Dear History

I haven’t known what to say to you for a long time. You seem so large and so obscured. I think I’m afraid of you and the things you’ve seen. I wonder if you would have intervened if you could have. But I guess, since you’ve been around since the beginning, you were in on the  master plan or maybe you never drifted away from that permanent state of the primordial. I wonder what your eyes look like. Have they changed with the epochs? Do you ever weep? Do you already know how things will turn out? Does that soften the infinite wounds you will witness? If you haven’t seen the end, do you get scared of death like us or bored because you will never know that passage?

I still don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know if you are the vast unknowable collected moments of time or just me, myself moving through life without greater or lesser awareness of my surroundings. I guess it’s more frightening to speak to myself as history, knowing that somewhere in my body are the vestiges of age old holocausts, wars, romances, marriages, births, deaths, dying stars, nascent universes, colliding particles, all the creations and fabrications of physics, theory and philosophy, evolution, and all things that you and time have seen together. Everything must live in my body from relic or relative through the energy that no one created. Could it be that I am history?

Holy shit!

But perhaps there are nothing but stories, told over and over again, creating the moments of history and myself anew. Maybe there is only one moment in history, continually explaining itself, trying to make itself known without the extra opinions of all we pundits, historians, and housewives. Everyone keeps the story, like the sacred fire of ceremony. Everyone keeps the fire of history kindling, billowed by our lives and every breath we breathe or whisper, every song and every mourning wail. Everyone keeps the fire of history.

I’ve always thought that free will and fate were the same thing, like every duality. Maybe you know the answer. Maybe you have no opinion, having every opinion available to you at all times.

But what’s the use of asking questions when it’s raining sweet warmth on the trees and I’m still in my room.

Stanford Summer Theater

3 08 2009


Stanford Summer Theater presents Sophocles’ Electra. Examiner says, “The play has everything: anguish, laughter, deception, murder, vengeance, motion, lasciviousness, original music, big sound, selfishness and altruism,” and Mercury Daily news calls it “an exciting and thoughtful production.” SF Gate also has a bundle of lovely reviews, one saying, “Verve, vigor, vengeance, – all exhibited in spades in this remarkable production.”

For my part, I’m acting in the role of Orestes. It’s been an utter delight to work with this cast on this material, which has been incredibly challenging, but equally gratifying. I hope you’ll come see us!

We run for two more weeks on Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium stage. Tickets here.