“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell
1. Your mother ALWAYS knows what the fuck she’s doing, especially when it seems like she doesn’t…… just accept this truth and your life will be a circumference of bliss;
2. DO NOT judge a book by its cover or title, whether you’re 10 years old, 40 years old, or have reincarnated into your current form; and
3. When keeping it real goes terribly wrong, it’s because your mother ALWAYS knows what the fuck she’s doing.
One of the panoply of badass variables that formed my mother’s equation was that she never said “no” when I asked her to please buy me a book. For a while, I thought I had an efficacious scheme going on, for in order to get her to purchase me a Nintendo 64 game I’d first have to write her two book reports. This worked incredibly well for The Legend of Zelda (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn), and was even easier for Mike Tyson’s Punch Out (Two of the Narnia books).
The sister was a world class psychologist, statistician, and educator after all. So when she agreed to purchase her 10year-old child George Orwell’s Animal Farm and announced that she would buy TWO games for one report of this book I was like, “Sheeit, I’m finally gonna get one over on Mum [who my older friends on my Spanish Harlem (not fucking SpaHA btw) block were already calling, ‘Yoda Black’]. How hard could it be to write a report on a book about animals who live on a farm?”
But I must have forgotten cardinal rules 1, 2, and 3. Because my mum was not playing.
It took me roughly three days to read Orwell’s opus. I had already decided the two games I wanted were Rygar and Metroid, and I needed to get those shits before anyone in my 5th Grade class at PS-163 beat me to the punch.
My mother, as always, had the five questions I had to answer in semi-essay form ready to go. I sped through the first three questions relatively easily, but the fourth one was a bit trickier.
And who the hell is Joseph Stalin anyway? By the fifth question, the jig was up. Mummy, again, pulled off the fourth quarter comeback that the Kansas City Chiefs were able to in Super Bowl LIV. I had no idea why the pigs acted the way they did. Orwell described it as, “in the context of unhealthy and iniquitous power dynamics,” but I didn’t even know what iniquitous meant. I just knew I hated these pigs and was really happy that I grew up in a home that kept semi-kosher.
After struggling to answer Mum’s final question—which took me longer than it took to read the damn book—I decided not to submit a report; I instead gave my mother a picture of a white flag to signal my surrender. (I can’t draw for shit by the way.)
Mummy explained what was happening in Animal Farm in the context of Siaka Stevens, the former cruel and brutal dictator of Sierra Leone, our homeland. She offered, “Tonino, far too often when oppressed people get power, they can become the most malevolent oppressors.”
Inquisitive as ever, I immediately asked her, “What’s that called Mum, when that happens?”
“Bollocks,” she replied. “Fuck-all-squared-bollocks” She then proceeded to put a five spot in the swear jar.
It took me 30 years to come up with a term that Mummy was describing, after 10 years of working in activist/”movement” spaces:
The process of becoming the oppressor we swore to usurp while unconsciously utilizing the same tactics that push people down, instead of holding them up. It’s a major force that prevents activist collectives and communities from becoming actual movements.
As imperfect—yet at our core, lovely—people, the potential for us to exercise paradoxical osmosis has been with us for over 5,000 years, literally since the days of Moses. Whether you are religious or just enjoy the stories of the Torah, it’s still possible to draw wisdom from the book. And when you consider the context of the Jewish people, recently emancipated from Pharoah’s enslavement, the need to be collective and individual watchdogs to ensure we don’t replicate the methodology of our oppressors becomes ever more lucid.
Consider Lashon Hara, a Jewish term that literally translates to “evil speech,” and considered to be scandal-mongering. In the book of Vayicra (Leviticus) we are commanded, “You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people.” The rabbinical sages took this shit really seriously. In fact, some of them even believed that acts of Lashon Hara are worse than the three cardinal sins of murder, immorality, and idolatry.
We Jewish folk definitely have much game in the art of hyperbole.
Come to a Shabbat dinner or a Passover Seder and you’ll know exactly what I mean. That said, the rabbinical sages were, I believe, attempting to instill into their people and students the importance of righteous speech as a means to avoid paradoxical osmosis. This is because they also realized that Lashon Hara has the power to damage a person emotionally and financially, while also lowering them in the estimation of others. Speaking of hyperbole, I would argue that rendering a person to that level, verbally or physically, is akin to the same conditions as slavery. Even Buddha could have easily owned a yarmulke when he once said, “I have seen more violence exercised with tongues than I have with fists,” or something like that, anyway.
That program was rooted in Lashon Hara. The fact that too many of us—likely all of us—have and do utilize similar tactics in “movement” spaces is the living manifestation of paradoxical osmosis.
Far too often, we exercise our own sadistic program of The New Jim Crow: We incarcerate reputations as much as we “take to the streets” while joining the chorus of played out chants like “This is what ‘democracy’ looks like.” Incidentally, this kind of behavior is further proof that the concept of “net zero emissions” is bullshit.
Many of us enter activist/”movement” spaces with a desire to do good, to make justice, to repair what is broken in the world and within ourselves. To that end, it’s axiomatic that we also bring our trauma into these spaces. That in itself is not a problem, for we should always show up with and as our full selves.
However, if the way we show up and operate is primarily or solely defined by our trauma, we are on a trajectory toward paradoxical osmosis, which may lead us to distribute the same oppressions we claim to fight to dismantle. A major driver of this is so-called “woke culture”—a fallacious righteousness that seems to be more associated with the right vernacular rather than right speech. Today’s “woke culture” performs obligatory motions rather than moving towards the spiritual, and exhibits an overarching myopia that being right is the same thing as right being. The outcome is the perpetual genesis of collective mordancy as opposed to collective “movement” building.
In their book, Come Hell or High Water, Delfina Vannucci and Richard Singer observe, “Collectives are not immune from underhanded tactics, grandstanding, bullying, or the willingness of some to remain silent as small and big injustices go unremarked. Sometimes the bad behavior that surprises us can even be our own.”
Which is actually all of us if we slow the fuck down and stop trying to be right, and instead work to become more righteous. The bastard stepchild of woke culture is cancel culture, and if we allow it to continue unabated, we’ll eventually be torn asunder and there will be no one and nothing, well… “Left.”
Vannucci and Singer go on to describe a practice they refer to as “creating pariahs,” whereby a small group of the arbitrarily chosen “woke” decides an individual is undesirable. They proceed to pave a road to perdition as this individual is singled out for vilification and expulsion. The authors go as far to describe this practice as, “one of the ugliest and most reprehensible.”
Too often our spaces engender a dystopian utopia that acts more as a cauldron of antipathy than a personal floatation device. It is not uncommon for individuals to be pushed underwater and held there until they drown in a wet baptism of furious fire. In the “movement” space, cancel culture is worse than murder because the victims are forced to stay alive while witnessing themselves being killed by many who claim to fight for the protection of life, via protection of air, land, water, and democracy.
Why would we allow this to happen and how could we? Fortunately for the world, we have the great Adrienne Maree Brown (AMB) who provides an incredible answer, “‘Why’ makes it impossible to ignore that we might be capable of a similar transgression in similar circumstances. We don’t want to see that.” She goes on to explain, “Often we are well down a path of public shaming and punishment before we have any facts about what’s happening. That’s true of mainstream takedowns, and it’s true of interpersonal grievances.”
We must become practitioners who accept the conditions that make us human—perfectly imperfect as we are—without contributing to a toxic and execrable human condition that becomes increasingly inimical for life and collective growth and progress. To this point, AMB admonishes us, stating, “It’s easy to decide a person or a group is shady, evil, psychopathic. The hard truth (hard because there’s no quick fix) is that the long-term injustice creates most evil behavior.”
Speaking of osmosis, it may be fair to say that the prophet Audre Lorde was hip to the practice of the “woke” mimicking oppressors long before I started writing book reports so that I could play video games and be the cool kid in elementary school. Lorde once asked, “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” And then she answers her own question (because that’s what prophets do), “It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.”
The task then, is to allow our differences in opinion, gender identity, race, ethnicity. and lived experience to become our collective strength. Our aforementioned prophet Audre Lorde tends to agree, saying, “Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.”
And if “accountability” is a formula, it must contain more integers of HOLD and fewer integers of SCOLD. That’s the proverbial cold fusion quest for activist/”movement” spaces… pointing out shitty things in a way that doesn’t make people feel like shit, but turns them into the kind of fertile, productive shit that fosters growth of new plant crops of understanding, justice, and love at the most basic, yet most intricate, human level.
We can either create compost or we can generate excrement. That’s a decision we have to make as individuals and collectives.
During a session with one of my favorite new teachers. Miki Kashtan, she said, “the best way to show someone you love and respect them is to not put up with their shit without making them feel like shit.” That’s the ticket right there, and the difference between real accountability, with healthy, accurate and precise feedback loops, and a weaponized form of tunnel vision. A false form of “accountability” that’s one sided and morally corrupt.
If you find yourself taking ACCOUNT of other people’s behavior more than your own, it says something about your ABILITY to really grasp an untainted methodology of true accountability.
During a recent trip to Colombia to visit my brother and mentor, the venerable Ajamu Baraka, we were discussing some failures of Black radical movements and the emergence of the petit-bourgeois guild of neoliberal Africans. I’ll never forget what he said to me, “The most radical thing you can do is not become that which you are seeking to dismantle.” That shit is bumper sticker worthy.
The knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors and elders from the prophet Moses, to the prophet Audre Lorde have been laid out for us, the knowledge of today via contemporary teachers and students like AMB and Brother Ajamu awaits our embrace, and the knowledge of tomorrow is waiting to be discovered and utilized. The question we have to answer together is how do we utilize this wisdom to create tangible and actual actions. That is, how do we ACT without becoming the IONS of our own destruction and render paradoxical osmosis obsolete and perfunctory? Only the bigger We can answer this question.
And by the way, I did get the video games, because in addition to always knowing what they are doing, mothers also possess the biggest hearts that produce the many acts of kindness so missing from our spaces right now.