Lovin' that Dixie Chicks song Gaslighter. Sorry, I mean, The Chicks. Does anything speak to the moment more than a song of defiance that sounds like it talks about Trump written by a rich white lady who used to have a Confederacy-glorifying name getting gaslit by a rich vain white guy who schtooped some younger lady on HER yacht? This shit is layered, y'all. And the Chicks are so serious when they sing! Remember "Not Ready To Make Nice?" That was about GEORGE W. BUSH. Where a big chunk of this current world moment starts. Where were you for the election of 2000, the closest in American history, where once again the will of the people was trashed? I really think that. Then 9/11, and Iraq. We invented a whole new agency (Homeland Security) that's come to bite us on the ass (like we knew it would), a real world Big Brother that gets plenty of support from the Google/Amazon/Apple/Facebook even BIGGER brothers. A new openness to intolerance, racism, otherness, vile hatred and bitterness. Fox News. Idealogy Bubbles. Conspiracy theories gone mainstream. Vaccines, truthers, Q-Anons (I wish this Q got a dollar every time someone spouts that garbage!) Income inequality. 9/11. Bush over Gore, Bush to Obama, Obama to Trump. Trump to...god help us.
But none of it is really new, of course, as the recent racial reckoning shows. 1963, 1968, the '80s, always with the guns and the evangelicals and Klan-esque figures and conspiracy after conspiracy theory. Nothing is new. Just recycled. The fascism, the populism, the capitalist cutthroats and socialist kvetching. The racism, the anti-anti-racism, the dumb rednecks, the anti-semitism (Soros? Really?). Plus, you get the calling out of whites for their ignorance and racism, their Karenism. The "nice" whites trying their best to be helpful, though often hurting the cause (check "Nice White Parents," the podcast that nails the coffin.) Either we live in strange times, or we live in...times. We see it more - the brutality, the anger, the backlash, the fear, the "calling out" and "erasing," the mean-spirits and cross-posters. It's all out there, swashing across the internet's deck during perfect storms and hurricanes.
This summer I did like lots of folks, pulled up anchor for awhile, to think, to breathe. I'm lucky. With the family I went to New England, worked remotely, chasing wi-fi, falling in love again with one of the most beautiful places on earth. Truly. The mountains, the sea, islands, farmlands, the green green green, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, gardens, and a surprising number of Black Lives Matter signs and murals all over the rural lands. Mostly white people live there of course, but it's a pretty strong showing nonetheless. I wish rural America felt more welcoming to African-Americans, but I've come to learn that many POC don't feel comfortable around ruddy-faced pickup driving types, who I will admit don't always make me feel welcome either. Had to keep the Mrs. from bashing out the windows of an asshole's confederate flag flying truck. The food is worse, music worse, dancing WAY worse, parties lamer, streets tamer. Not a lot of vim and vigor, or culture to speak of (though the Drive-In movie theaters are a hoot). Sigh. The country, even in blue states, for all its seductive beauty, can never match the hustle/bustle flamboyant City we call home. If Brooklynites could come take over Rochester, Vermont for JUST ONE NIGHT, maybe we could cut a deal?
Speaking of gaslighting, I felt a good deal of it a couple years back. What was it with Imani Henry and Alicia Boyd going after me like I was the new David Duke? Gaslighting, make me question myself and my motives, make me silently slip away. I've always expressed, to the best of my ability, my own awkward reckoning with race and social justice through the lens of my neighborhood, its changes. I've never shied away from the effects, adverse and (sometimes) positive, of the ever-changing neighborhood enviornment. I've never pretended to be "woke," but I have woken up to all sorts of things over a decade of blogging.
Basically my crime was that I had the audacity (and some would say stupidity) to publicly call out Alicia Boyd (MTOPP) and Imani Henry (Equality for Flatbush) for being abusive, divisive, dictatorial, unable to handle civil dialogue mean and bullying. I knew I was stepping into a landmine, and man oh man, Boyd tried to shut down the blog and get me fired. Imani was just plain a dick. It wasn't fun. I lawyered up. Got ready for battle. Endured the abuse. I moved on - got sick of fighting with the Community Board as it crumbled under pressure from Boyd. The activists continued to do their work, their points often good enough for me to leave well enough alone. I wanted to be part of the conversation, but then the conversation became unproductive, and friends told me I wasn't helping, and to leave well enough alone. And then...
Not that long ago I got a call. From a mom. Her daughter, she said, was caught up in a cult and being brainwashed by the leader. "Why call me?" She had found my name on the interweb connected to this guy, and she wondered if I knew how to get her daughter back. When I found out she was 19, I told her what I knew in my heart to be true. That her daughter was an adult, that she was entitled to make the mistakes of youth, to feel passionately about stuff, to get sucked into things that she might later regret. I told her that my own life had gone off the rails a time or two, that I could commiserate, but unless she was the victim of a crime, not much could be done but pray and hope for the best. The stories she told were hard to hear. But I took a pass on getting more involved.
And then, someone sends me the below. A heartfelt plea from a passionate young person (not the same one whose mother had called) to be mindful of a treacherous and longstanding tendency in revolutionary politics. Leaders who are abusive, who profess things they themselves can't adhere to. I'm not going to insert myself into their struggle, these young folks, some of whom showed up at my house to spew anger my way for what they perceived was MY hatred, MY racism, MY ignorance. (I plead not guilty to the first charge, unwitting acceptance of the system of the second, and to the third, all I can say is what I don't know could fill a warehouse.)
I'll let Em tell Em's experience. I was going to go into a whole diatribe of my own, but this isn't my story. This isn't my truth. I know Imani to be abusive; I've experienced it. I've told you about it. I'll let someone who dared to get close to him tell how leaders fail, how they're often hurtful to the hurting, how they cause damage to those damaged by a society that tells them they don't matter. They do matter. I share this, because I know they do, and I'll try to listen better to everybody. I found this essay insightful and full of decency and self-knowledge. I hope you will too.
Please give Em 15 minutes of your time?
Below, a couple short quotes from Em's article. These are some classic gaslighter behaviors. Activists beware, take care, please know that there are lots of older white guys like me who are pulling for you to change the things we have been too inept or too blind to change for the better. I really mean that. I feel my generation has let you down, horribly, perhaps fatally. I will continue to join the call, but I'll keep my voice to a minimum and try to elevate yours. In the coming months, I hope to do more of that. Feel free to reach out to me if you'd like to do an interview or write a blog post. I'm here.
"Imani Henry is abusive, he has abused me, he has abused survivors of violence who trusted up for help, he has abused other leadership, and while he has said he is willing to be a part of this process, every action he has taken since I and another former employee had a call-in meeting with him, has shown that his priority is to protect his control, his position, and attempt to delegitimize everything we say by deflecting and putting blame on us."
"Transformative justice has been co-opted by abusers to continue cycles of abuse. More things I’m learning in the NYC left organizing scene. All I can hope for is the former leadership and volunteers of E4F to continue the work we want to do because it is needed and valuable in Flatbush. We do not need Imani, we do not need E4F. I wish nothing but healing and peace for Imani and everyone in E4F leadership. All I know is that in no spaces period, but ESPECIALLY these places that are supposed to be “safe”, should there be any type of abuse, predatory behavior, and manipulation"