“It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination.” -Marlon Riggs
In this space, i want to speak light to our lives and move beyond what others have projected and said for us. In this space i want to speak hope. I am a teacher in Oakland, I am an artist in Oakland, I am queer in Oakland and I am Black in Oakland. These labels have defined my existence here from the beginning and they are where i speak from when i speak from this place- which is home.
Lots of talk has come from the shooting of Kiante Campbell at First Friday last week. Lots of different voices have sounded- each trying to put a finger on some kind of analysis of the violence. And to be honest, its all pretty enraging that this is what becomes news. “Violence in Oakland” as many have put it is a problem. But what is violence and who defines it? What are the value of lives caught up in this? and what does a solution look like?
First Friday and the commotion around this spectacle is violence. As the event, First Friday also known as “Art Murmur”, continues to grow we see masses of folk pour into the city under the banners of “unity”, “togetherness” and a “greater Oakland” but that aint the case. My experiences with First Friday have been traumatic. The truth is Oakland (which is historically a Black and Brown town) is being colonized and the event serves as one of the chief tools of colonization by bringing in revenue and attention which is not placed into the hands of the communities in Oakland which are starving and dying- which find it harder to gain access to this street festival because of profiling and privatization. I was a vender on the streets before permits were enforced and i found myself trying to justify why my art- which is deliberately pro Black and pro revolution in aesthetic- belonged there. Hundreds of unchecked, drunken white folk flooded the streets shouting racial slurs, disrespecting the art of venders and initiating conflicts. The police- which militarize the city were no where to be found. In the past, other events which were hosted by Black and Brown folk, were swarmed by police before any alleged “violence” erupted. For example, the city promptly put an end to my folks cruising (driving around) lake merritt.
The reason this shooting is getting attention is because it happened on what is sacred ground for the new force colonizing Oakland. It happened in a place where the city is trying to gain revenue. Stories are rarely heard about the shooting that occurs daily in The Bottoms or Deep East. That there is naturalized- “niggas killing each other”– and ignored. The white media reports on it only when trying to justify the continued police terrorism against and displacement of folk. “The area needs to be cleaned up, its too violent.”
This instance will be the same in the eyes of the media and the colonizers.
The chief problem with all of this being that the “violence” is never fully put into context. If we are to talk of Black and Brown bodies destroying one another then lets talk about the violence of a system that denies them health care, that spends 90% of its bailout money on a police force, that plans on continually closing down schools in these neighborhoods, that does not give folk access to fresh and healthy food- lets speak on the violence of a system that teaches Black and Brown youth to hate themselves through this sinister programming. If I live in a place that the state has neglected and i am harrassed by the police constantly, and my schools are being gutted then where am i to find peace of mind and a sense of self worth. And it is especially hard to find that kind of solace when my home is being uprooted and torn apart through the violence of gentrification: white and other privileged bodies moving into our homes, disrespecting our culture and moving us out. The material conditions are not all that affect our spirits but they play a large role in socializing us. As a child in Southeast DC, part of the reason that I believed that I wasn’t shit was because I lived and saw shit. It is a direct message from the state: “you are not worth caring about.” and I believe that violent message is felt very deeply.
I think about violence a lot.
as a Black male i expect violence from the state. as a queer male i expect violence from the “straight” world. as a Black queer male, i expect violence from all over. And in turn, I am sometimes angry and ready to be “violent”. And I try to remember what someone said before me
“It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves that we are not an abomination.”
I must remember this because i believe that in these words there is healing. One of my primary goals is to explore love and find new ways to cultivate that with my students because i see that as a key to our liberation as oppressed bodies in this space. I firmly believe that one of the strongest movements we can make towards a greater social change is the act of loving ourselves- deeply. I want to speak love so that my sister and brother feel it and know it and hopefully return it- as naive as that sounds. It is easy for us to destroy one another when we are not aware of our immense worth.
And that is the project I want to commit to. The city and liberals will respond to this with more guns, more police, more degradation of my folk and that is what it is. But in countering that, i think it would do us good to talk about how we as oppressed folks can challenge the “violence” we do to one another daily through community action and collectivism- through the sharing of resources and building of alternative spaces where we can be free. And this ain’t easy. And this is vague. And thats the point of this pondering. The point is to begin again and see what can be.