Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Value of the Gospel of Judas

The degree to which folks on the street, today, two thousand years later, state on TV that they know that the Gospel of Judas does not tell a story which is true. Hmmm.
The degree to which we decide we know the truth, and close our hearts to other light, well, what better allegory might there be, then Judas so loved Yeshua, that he did this terrible thing, at his behest, not for greed, and his name has been cursed ever since. A true account or not, it should bring a little humility to us in our judgements of each other.

The world is never, ever black and white. There are few hard lines and unbreakable barriers, if any at all exist. There is a wonderful, and meaningful poem on another blog this week.



Those Tears

of a white woman who came to the group for Women of Color
only
her grief cut us into guilt while we clutched the straw
of this tiny square inch we have which we need
so desperately when we need so much more
We talked her into leaving
which took 10 minutes of our precious 60
Those legion white Lesbians whose feelings are hurt
because we have a Lesbians of Color Potluck
once a month for 2 hours
without them
Those tears of the straight woman
because we kicked out her boyfriend at the Lesbians only
poetry reading where no microphone was provided
& the room was much too small for all of us
shouting that we were imperialists
though I had spent 8 minutes trying to explain
to her that an oppressed people
cannot oppress their oppressor
She ignored me
charged into the room weeping & storming
taking up 9 minutes of our precious tiny square inch
Ah those tears
which could be jails, graves, rapists, thieves, thugs
those tears which are so puffed up with inappropriate grief
Those women who are used to having their tears work
rage at us
when they don't
We are not real Feminists they say
We do not love women
I yell back with a wet face
_Where are our jobs? Our apartments?_
_Our voices in parliament or congress?_
_Where is our safety from beatings, from murder?_
_You cannot even respect us to allow us_
_60 uninterrupted minutes for ourselves_

Your tears are chains
Feminism is the right of each woman
to claim her own life her own time
her own interrupted 60 hours
60 days
60 years
No matter how sensitive you are
if you are white
you are
No matter how sensitive you are
if you are a man
you are
We who are not allowed to speak have the right
to define our terms our turf
These facts are not debatable
Give us our inch
& we'll hand you a hanky

Chrystos, 1994.

As I said, it is a wonderful meaningful poem. But it presumes race as a thing not a process. In so doing, it becomes so sure of the line between black and white, in all its applications, that it dates itself. Social science goes through fashion trends. Once, the NAACP was seen as a heroic undertaking, a partnership between Black activists and intellectuals, and a large number of White activists and intellectuals, many of them Jewish. Then, in the time when a politic of self determination came into being, as well it should, many young Black activists turned against the White membership in organizations like the NAACP, and did so with some degree of venom, while overlooking the fact that "Strange Fruit" was the expression of one such brave young men, a fellow named Abel Meeropole, who raised the orphans of the Rosenbergs.

As Cornel West reminds us, "Race Matters" even though it does not exist. There is a huge danger in ignoring that it exists, but an equal danger in giving it power by making race a category rather than a process. People are not a race, they are raced. There is not point at which a human is Black or White, more there is a movable convention depending on the reaction to complexion in the society one finds one in. A dear friend of mine, is part Spanish, part Native South American, and part Bohemian. In South American, she is seen as White. In the US, she is seen as completely Indian, and is on the Treaty Counsel.

It is not the simple hurt feelings of the White liberal that are at stake. Even gender turns out not to be an absolute. Where does the transgendered person fit in the poem above, is there a difference in acceptance before or after an operation to assign a more acceptable gender to an individual?

We also see the lines drawn around acceptable minorities. In point of fact, even the progressive community excludes and ignores, racializes. The Romany people are a people who today are the object of genocide, in many places and oppression in most. Those of us who advocate for them, represent a people for whom there is no tolerance of a civil rights movement. No tears are ever shed for them. Black men living in poverty, are excluded from many of the benefits of the rights struggle spearheaded by them and on their behalf. And yet, I would say that there were benefits to the broad nature of the support... it is just important, however to learn the lesson of inclusion.

The feminist movement in the US, was, almost completely sparked by women ( many of them Quaker ) in who had taken part in the abolitionist movement. Then, in a great irony, their movement for inclusion of women in an expectation of rights, in many ways, disempowered Black males, certainly not intentionally.

Derek Bell ( sorry to so paraphrase thee, Derek ) points out that before affirmative action, one's place in society was tied to one's background, the schools you went to and the family into which you were born. So, after the courts said, Black people in the US must be allowed into management, the first programmatic shop floor promotion programs were begun. So, let us say there are five management slots from the shop floor. Two will be affirmative action set asides, well, the first beneficiary is a White male, the three non-set asides. Then, the next, numerically to benefit were White woman, then among all the other descriptions of minorities, a few Black men find their way in, and yet, they become the face of affirmative action. Now, as the society is attempting to reclaim the right of an empowered class to pass opportunity to their own, exclusively, they attack affirmative action, putting the face of the Black man, the last beneficiary on the process of closing down of the road of opportunity.



So, White women, learned from their work for the end of slavery, that they had rights, they accessed rights in ways undreamed at the start of their movement ... and those Black men and women, are left, many far behind. So, is the answer to close off White and Black women as having no shared interests, or to find, together that there are benefits and debts to examine, from which to learn.

The poem ... well, the blame pattern in society is often, almost always pointed down at the other below thee on the ladder, this assumes a place on the ladder, which may or may not be true... I'm not sure it is even the best thing to point the blame pattern up, where it likely belongs, more we have to seek real answers, and I think the answer is seeking unity.

The stark Black and Whitness of the poem... well, the weeping White woman, I can easily see my wife in that. Genie was publicly attacked in a letter in an Irish American newspaper, for her support of Gay rights in the Irish American society. In point of fact, both Genie and I were often some of the few "straight" folks at meetings of ILGO and The Lavender and Green, where we were not judged by the color of our presumed sexuality, but on the history of our engagement in rights struggles.

Sometimes I find a sort of inescapable fate of Martin Niemoiller. When I was a child, and our public school was forcibly integrated I stood with Charles Brooks, a Black friend in the face of White bullies, though I was not Black. When the Feminist movement was still a long way from the beginnings of inclusion, I stood with my sisters in that movement, though I was not a woman, When I witnessed the blatant anti-Catholic policies and actions of Britain in Ireland, I stood with Catholics, though I was not Catholic, and when I learned about the crimes against Palestinian Arabs, I stood with them, though I was not Arab, and then when called to act in favor of the elderly, as a functionary in the NYS Division of Human Rights, I stood for the elderly, though I was not elderly, and then when Bangladeshi minority woman called me to witness that they are being publicly gang raped, I witness for them, though I was not Hindu, or Buddhist or Woman, I have been a voice in meetings for young adults Friends, though some remind me that I am not young, and when I asked Friends to stand with me, there were few who were so called. So, I wonder if Martin Niemoiller did speak out for the Jews etc., how much in the world of identity politics how might he be able to count on the voice of others for himself?

We are involved in many wars, wars with weapons and wars with ideas, and the real struggle to survive ... right this moment, is the struggle to survive a planet which is beginning to change, and become a place where humans may not be able to survive. The ice caps are melting. We struggle for power, to find the culprits among us, and we are not even building a raft together, let alone stopping the actions which are going to kill us all. What real advantage is there in defining our selves by categories of race and gender, when there is a chance of Condie Rice being the next president. Will that be a victory for Black Americans or Women, well, I am not sure it will be!

Like Judas, there is more to learn about each of us, than the package in which we come. Yes, race matters, yes we must reporate for the wrongs of the past, even Quakers have a dept to those we have racialized, but the politics of identity must be balanced with the need to grow towards unity.

Yes Feminism is the right to define thy time and space, but, it is also the need for equality, to be an equal actor. It is the need to find the strength not to pre-judge as well. So, I don't say this poem is wrong, it is part of the world, but the world is also not often as black and white. Well, here I am, a fellow, asking that we think about all this, and in the recent history of Quaker interaction on the Internet, I must say, I am uncomfortable in raising these concerns here, so I end with this is not an attack, a failure to understand, it is a conversation entered into by one who was an early feminist, who even as a child was part of the change away from American apartheid, and one who believes we need to talk to grow. We have to be humble about the things we think we know, such as the nature of Judas or the White man next to thee.

11 Comments:

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear friend Liz:
Whoops! When I recieved thy comment to the post about clearness, I thought thee was comenting about THIS! So, I wrote...
I am so glad that thee wrote to say thee is chewing on this. The poem is such a mouthful, I could write a book about it, or compare it to a thanksgiving meal.

Two things come to mind, I wanted to say, that thee and Pam, are ones who came, when I felt no one came forward in the paragraph about Martin Niemoiller. But, Niemoiller was writing about conformity, so he did not mention those who did speak for him and even died for people like him. It is not true that no one spoke for Niemoiller, there where those like Bonhoffer... and there is thee and Pam.

But, Niemoiller, and Hannah Arendt, were writing about conformity. In many ways, this is a poem with speaks to conformity, to the fitting in on the margins. Even in the politics of the oppressed there are the conformists, the insiders and the alpha males who lead and are supported by their lieutenants, and followers. There are very few non-conformists.
SDS, the Black Panthers, all had their alpha leaders who created a pattern of conformity. There is a wonderful film about SDS, where Laura Whitethorn and others talk about a sexist male dominated power center in SDS...

Arendt writes about the evil of conformity, and yet, conformity seems to be a fact of the human social wiring. To look at human society in terms of the troop of Chimpanzees, the only other hominids on earth ... Quakerism comes from the margins, a reaction to the alpha male King chimp and his church, his government of lieutenants chimps, and the ranks of followers... and we sought to create a society of unity without the alpha male dominant chimp, true non-conformists. But, the alpha male asserts himself, even when there are no males around.

If one removes the descriptions, the oppressed community replicates the community that oppresses, it is why every revolution winds up replicating the society it rebelled against. So, why does this poem both speak to me and repel me? Because the oppressed community seeks its own in and out crowd, as Emerson said, the louder it says us, the louder it says them. So, in the end, the Israeli government who rose from the ashes of our holocaust fires missiles into homes, killing innocents to kill those they have judged deserving of death... do see the film, Munich.

And we, who by our lack of success can prove that we are the real non-conformists... are we just the sick little chimps who have been beaten into mental illness? I don't know.

Oh, there is so much more to chew on, and so much that can be misunderstood as we try and find words...

 
At 2:00 AM, Blogger Laurel said...

is this the piece that got so many people pissed off? it's very interesting. there's a lot to absorb there. it's ALMOST as intellectually stimulating as my post about the boob chip. almost.

 
At 2:21 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Ah dear dear dear dearieme, friend!

:D

No... but, it well might be the next! I hope not. I have sat down to five in the morning to write more about defining Hicksites... and I see thy refference to the boob chip, and now I must go and seek...

Ah dear Friends be gentle with those thee thinks ye understands but with whom ye, are not in unity...

love

it is not a bad idea.
lor

 
At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Nat said...

And why is it so hard for you to give people an inch when they ask for it? just one inch of breathing room? It is not understanding, it is unkind to deny people space when they ask for it. thats rape, if you want to take on about it--forcing yourself into someones inch when they've asked you not to. you can suffocate a person that way. im disgusted you'd post this poem in return to pam and I saying that we thought rape was a way that women were specially vulnerable and it wasnt for a man to co-op that suffering to explain his hurt feelings. is that what yo u've done here? I dont know why I keep coming back ehre to read.

 
At 8:51 AM, Anonymous nat said...

Actually you know what never mind, plese delete that comment its pointless to get into it.

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

The poem here is complicated and perhaps the discussion and analysis and perspectives should be a post of its own!

According to one site for its author, "Chrystos describes herself as a Native American Lesbian poet and activist."

So the question is not about Black or White, and I also would say it is not about being White and non-White, or straight and non-straight.

To me, it is a poem about identity, and what we do to preserve and maintain it.

Lorcan, you write, "is the answer to close off White and Black women as having no shared interests, or to find, together that there are benefits and debts to examine, from which to learn."

And I would say, as a woman and as one who is "anything but straight," that the answer is that all groups will need SOME time to be with one another, away from all other groups, and all groups will need SOME time to be mixing with members of other groups.

For me, the poem is an example, based on direct experience, I should guess, since it correlates very closely with my own-- the poem is likely an example of people of privilege who still can and do inappropriately assert their "power" and think they are being sensitive.

Just as Friends have a "hedge" to separate themselves from the larger world, there are groups who, in my experience and in my conscience, have the right to create their own "hedge" in order to discover who they are, away from the larger world that often "means well"...

There is intention and there is impact. My intention and the impact of my actions on you are seldom the same.

And those who are of the oppressor group and who ARE sensitive can become allies to those who are seeking to protect their emotional or social space. That is, let's say I had enough trust and friendship with a group of male-to-female transgendered women, who arranged to have a private discussion for MtF trans women. And let's say that a "well-meaning, sensitive" non-trans woman insisted on being a part of the discussion.

I would hope that I would have the courage and kindness to pull that woman aside, allow the trans women to go on with their meeting, and explain to the non-trans woman what it means to be able to meet in a space away from the larger society; what personal identity means in a society that has certain standards and expectations about group identity. Then I hope I would have the patience to hear the non-trans woman out, to share my own pain with her, to ask her to imagine just how hard it might be for trans women to even RISK having a time to themselves for a few minutes...

It is not easy to explain. Identity, oppresssion, empowerment never is. I know you know something of this, Lorcan, but I am concerned that your inherent privilege as a man--a white straight man??? (my assumptions)--may be getting in the way of your ability to connect emotionally with the pain that is expressed in this poem...

I highly recommend this article about white privilege...

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Oh Liz, and Nat:

I said that there is a level at which I honnor this poem. However, the aspect of replication of the socity ye oppose is enescapeable. Nat, I would not remove thy comment, it is important to talk, I offered that thee might write to me off line, that I might be more candid about my own history...

Liz, I have watched the violent melt down of the IRA, SDS, so many movements, who for reasons it would take a book to explain, created power which was simply a mirror of the power they opposed. How to say that simply, is difficult. If thee had not witnessed ... some things... I will write to thee, if thee does not mind. maybe thee can help me say it better... maybe not, maybe I am not right at all in this, but I am not without some experiece here. I'm not the cadalac liberal, as thee knows... but... oh hell, I will write to thee, Nat, before thee judges too harshly, write... the water is safe for thee to do so... if thee prefers anger, that is thy right as well.
lor

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger earthfreak said...

Lor-

I appreciate much of what you say here, but some of it bristles too.

Primarily, you say: "so I end with this is not an attack, a failure to understand , it is a conversation entered into by one who was an early feminist"

The biggest problem I see in all these sorts of arguments is that it IS a failure to understand. If you are not open to the possibility that your opinion about how other people should conduct themselves might possibly be wrong due to your lack of understanding of a certain issue, you will never make peace.

Any white man saying that the disconnect between himself and any woman of color (and, in this case, native, not black, as I think was pointed out) is in no way due to his failure to understand, is suspect (or worse) in my opinion.

You, my dear friend, will never understand what it is to be female or indian. Just as I will never understand what it is to be male or indian (among other things) - that, in itself, is a lack of understanding, to deny that blindspot does nothing to erase it, it simply cuts off all paths to healing the rift between us.

White men just get to have their identity (still!) - I know that when someone mentions a generic "american" I certainly picture a white male (and one in about his 20s, and pretty "clean cut") - everyone else's is hard fought, and for a white man (or one who can generally easily "pass" at least) to say that they have any moral obligation to give it up in the name of "peace" or "equality" is rude, and more.


One of the best things an ally of any sort can do it remain open to the possiblity that if they don't understand the behavior of the oppressed groupd it IS actually due to their lack of understanding, rather than to some fault or irrational fear or exclusivism on the part of the oppressed (who are quite used to having their survival behavior dismissed as pathology, and probably will just write you off)

If you want to build bridges, BUILD them, don't berate people for their lack of openness, but ask how you can make it safer for them.

Certainly this is NOT about whining when they require "safe space" - yes, safe even from their well meaning allies.



As for transfolk at women-only events, it is an interesting question. In my community it has come up a lot, and now most formerly "women only" events are "anyone who's ever lived as a female" event. I mostly appreciate this, but I think something is lost as well.

Peace
Pam

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Hi Pam:

We agree on this more than we disagree... it is just the fact that when we boil things down to outward images, and in this poem, there are hard lines of demarcation - racialized images... it is, I think, important to remember that most civil rights leaders murdered, are killed at the point they make the point of commonality of purpose. I just don't see, either in natural science, or in Quakerism, hard edges to race, gender, or most other racialized images. Of course I can't know what it to be what I am not, the proof of this is found in the basic anti-Semitism of many Christians who can't see the harm in a philosophy which denies validity to the history of the people from whom they take their image of God. And in this, we find another group without a hard line boundary. It might be a good thing to set boundaries, but the human genome nor the history of human diversity has ever done so with any degree of success...
Thine
lor

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger earthfreak said...

Lor-

I think we agree on much, except a key element. Race is a social construct, it's somewhat random. There is no real mappable difference between "black" peopl and "white" people, etc. That's all good.

but "black" people have been treated like there is for a loooong time, and are still dealing with both direct attacks and with fallout from centuries of oppression.

To act like THEY have a problem if they can't "see past" your whiteness is to compltely miss the point. First, the distrust of whites has MASSIVE basis in history, second, any white person who doesnt' get that and completely respect someone's right to name their own identity, history, and current needs, is in the very act of re-earning that distrust.


I sat in a meeting this year, of quakers concerned about GLBTQI issues, and listened to a straight woman tell a trans-person over and over and over again taht ze was safe in our meeting and ze should just "get it" The woman was very sincere, and being as loving as she knew how to be. But her refusal to honor that this person did NOT feel safe was invisible-izing hir all over again.

What would have been better (or my best guess, as more of an ally than a member of the group would be to say something like "I hear that you dont' feel safe, and that makes me sad and scared because I want you to feel safe. I will do whatever I can to help you to create that world"

but we rarely find those words.







On another note: I think that you missed the point of the crying white woman outside the door. What Genie experienced sounds very different to me. it sounds like Genie was attacked by someone in power, for speaking for those with less power. This is admirable, and I appreciate her willingness to subject herself to that pain for teh likes of me, who doesn't have a choice.

What the poem speaks of is a white woman who is more concerned for her own exclusion from a group for women of color. A person in power with grievances against those who are simply trying to create safe space for themselves. It would be more as if Genie felt wounded by (and demanded attention from) precisely those of us who DON'T have a choice about being subject to that pain, and are simply trying to find a safe space to take a breather from the struggle.


A few months ago, on the FLGBTQC email list, a man asked something like "what can a man do to let women know he's a feminist?" and, after a bit of back and forth, I realized that my answer boils down to "concern himself more with fighting sexism, than with fighting feminists about what they should believe"

That is, actually, I think the message of the gospel of Judas. To be a true friend, focus on what is asked of you, how to be the truest friend, rather than how you "come across"

peace
Pam

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger earthfreak said...

Lor-

I think we agree on much, except a key element. Race is a social construct, it's somewhat random. There is no real mappable difference between "black" peopl and "white" people, etc. That's all good.

but "black" people have been treated like there is for a loooong time, and are still dealing with both direct attacks and with fallout from centuries of oppression.

To act like THEY have a problem if they can't "see past" your whiteness is to compltely miss the point. First, the distrust of whites has MASSIVE basis in history, second, any white person who doesnt' get that and completely respect someone's right to name their own identity, history, and current needs, is in the very act of re-earning that distrust.


I sat in a meeting this year, of quakers concerned about GLBTQI issues, and listened to a straight woman tell a trans-person over and over and over again taht ze was safe in our meeting and ze should just "get it" The woman was very sincere, and being as loving as she knew how to be. But her refusal to honor that this person did NOT feel safe was invisible-izing hir all over again.

What would have been better (or my best guess, as more of an ally than a member of the group would be to say something like "I hear that you dont' feel safe, and that makes me sad and scared because I want you to feel safe. I will do whatever I can to help you to create that world"

but we rarely find those words.







On another note: I think that you missed the point of the crying white woman outside the door. What Genie experienced sounds very different to me. it sounds like Genie was attacked by someone in power, for speaking for those with less power. This is admirable, and I appreciate her willingness to subject herself to that pain for teh likes of me, who doesn't have a choice.

What the poem speaks of is a white woman who is more concerned for her own exclusion from a group for women of color. A person in power with grievances against those who are simply trying to create safe space for themselves. It would be more as if Genie felt wounded by (and demanded attention from) precisely those of us who DON'T have a choice about being subject to that pain, and are simply trying to find a safe space to take a breather from the struggle.


A few months ago, on the FLGBTQC email list, a man asked something like "what can a man do to let women know he's a feminist?" and, after a bit of back and forth, I realized that my answer boils down to "concern himself more with fighting sexism, than with fighting feminists about what they should believe"

That is, actually, I think the message of the gospel of Judas. To be a true friend, focus on what is asked of you, how to be the truest friend, rather than how you "come across"

peace
Pam

 

Post a Comment

<< Home