Race

Why my meditations suck

I go through cycles of clarity and swimming in molasses.    This is a molasses period, where I have too much connection to the people and social tissues around me to make rapid progress: I have to bring enough “tribe” along with me that I’m paying back what I was given.  I figure that’s 1000 storytellers and artists (which will magnify to 1,000,000 humans in general) so I’m in a very very low gear heading up a very steep hill, and it can feel like the greatest weight in the universe.  But that’s o.k….it’s just the work, and it is a joy to know there is enough strength to pull the plow.

There are so many things a person might engage with: environmental, political, rights connected to gender, race, national security…so many things where you might say: “I would die for this” and commit to change it in your lifetime.  Perhaps you will.  Perhaps Moses cannot enter the promised land, and it will take another generation to finish the job. It is not our place to know.  It is ours to express our truth, and be strong enough for the next generation to stand on our shoulders.  It’s just my turn in the barrel.

My obsessions in this sense are probably body-mind balance, awakening, racial issues, and what I call “self directed human evolution.”  I can always tell when I get spun off into one direction or another (to go back to the first sentence) by the amount of obstruction in my morning meditations: it feels as if I’m at the bottom of a collapsed building, as opposed to a mountaintop. Sigh.  Roll up the sleeves, and get back to work.

This has been a good week, but I got slapped in the face yesterday, yet again, with the difference between the political and the philosophical.   This time I think it may stick: I may “get” that it is unwise to enter a political conversation with a philosophical perspective. Wrong tool, wrong task.   Bad judgement on my part.  When people are in pain or fear, logic and information, even if correct, are inappropriate. Wrong key, wrong lock.   My bad.  Back up, reevaluate, see truth, behave appropriately.

 

Sigh.  Humans are such fascinating creatures.    I was tickled to see this “classic” post of mine, from 2007, found and posted by David Roel, who has been doing wonderful archival work for me, and who I appreciate.  It was and is very applicable to the struggle I’m undergoing right now, and I hope you find it interesting, in context.

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All living systems crave homeostasis, the state where all systems are in balance. Note what happens in a problem situation: “Lack of awareness of any need results in the splitting off of a part of oneself that continues to seek completion.” In gestalt therapy, this process is referred to as gestalt formation and gestalt destruction. This process aids the organism in returning to balance, and interruption of this process can be considered a neurosis. This interruption results in an unmet need. The expression “time heals all wounds” isn’t really accurate. “Unmet needs, unrecognized or unexpressed feelings, don’t go away.” “Left unresolved, the result is that a part of the self becomes preoccupied with this completion, and thus unavailable for a more present-centered focus.”

For instance, anger feelings at a parent are “dismissed out of loyalty or due to the consequences of this anger.” The natural process of gestalt formation–destruction never reaches completion. The child deadens itself to emotion that is too painful or dangerous to experience.

Compare this idea to those found in Yogic psychology.

For the organism to grow, there has to be a flow of “energy” smoothly from the root chakra (survival) or outward from the heart chakra. In other words, you can’t leave unresolved or repressed emotion behind you. If you have abandonment issues, fear or power issues with parental figures, this stuff can drain the joy from your life, and that joy is one of the “evolutionary” energies that enable growth within a human organism.

Many forms of therapy address this: analysis, role-playing, “parts party” zero-content work, dream analysis, journaling, etc. The point is to dig into the past and see if any of those basic developmental steps have been missed. Is there anything to communicate to a parent? Anybody out there ever paid 100 bucks an hour to scream at a chair? Or at a stranger in a therapy group playing your molesting uncle? That’s what’s going on.

I know a very good lady who was horribly abused as a child. Her parents should have realized something was going on—her father was far too involved in his career. She cannot deal with the possible loss of her paternal relationship, and has had difficulty confronting him. The anger knots up with her fear issues, and makes her weight armor almost impossible to lose. Man, she has struggled horrifically with it, and when she starts to lose it, she gets nightmares like crazy.

For this lady, if she can’t strangle the people who hurt her, if she won’t confront her father, then she has to process the emotion in some other way, or she will NEVER lose that weight. We might as well consider it a wall of solid fear. And that wall protects a child. Until she dissolves it, the energy will not be available to move her to full adulthood.

Scott Sonnon’s brilliant “Body Flow” concepts help explain why yoga and other body-mind disciplines work. Let’s just say that once you focus on the way your breath, emotions, and body work together to create each other, you can use your breath to measure, control, and express emotional states. The release is also available through journaling, dream work, etc. The point is to develop a clear image of what a fully realized, independent version of yourself would be, and then take full responsibility for walking that path. Those steps are steps toward adulthood—which might be considered a goal rather than a destination. A verb rather than a noun. A wave rather than a particle.

And that path is also the path to the “Gateless Gate” of enlightenment. That is: it won’t take you all the way there, but you can’t approach that gate along any other road.

And what has this to do with groups? To the degree that a group obeys some of the same principles as an individual (the thesis we’re exploring) then a group that is subjugated and dependent for food and shelter on another group develops a parental attachment. (Note Stockholm Syndrome for one version of this). If that “parental figure” is abusive, and the subjugated group cannot directly express its anger and pain, its “psyche” becomes fractured, and that energy is not available for maturation. Note that it serves the “organization” for individuals to remain immature, in the same way it serves your body that individual cells don’t wander off and become amoebas. This stuff is hard-wired into both sides: oppressor and oppressed. It takes no conscious thought. More’s the pity.

But the answer is the same, in a way. Honesty must be expressed. The truth must be told. The enemy, external and internal, must be confronted. If the abusing uncle is no longer alive (can you read Simon LeGree?) then through art, play-acting, cultural “dreams” (storytelling?) and other methods, the pain has to be expressed.

To my knowledge, there was only one short period of American history when this started coming out: the late 60’s and early 70’s. In the streets, in music, and in cinema, some of the anger from Slavery and Segregation finally started emerging, a dialogue within the black community. Needless to say, whites were scared as hell. Understandable. Confused, too: “what did I do? I owned no slaves. My ancestors didn’t own any slaves…”

All valid. Express it, and alienate the very allies you need to get bank loans, jobs, houses, fair play in the courts. Don’t express it, and your psyche splits. And the energy turns back in on itself in self-destructive behaviors and fantasies. Note that rap music originally railed against “the Man.” Now there is still plenty of violence in Rap…and it’s all black-on-black. Do you really think these guys are primarily angry at other black people? Are you that naïve? Ask yourself what happened that they stopped being able to tell the truth. There were both financial incentives…and the culture simply slapped them down. Police departments and the legal system are great for that. You can ALWAYS find something to hassle someone about, if you don’t like them or what they’re doing. And it doesn’t take an unlimited amount of legal attention to correct an undesirable behavior.

The pain, unexpressed, turns in on itself. Neighborhoods burn.

But how do you forgive with a free heart, when that heart has actually been coerced?

1) Tell the truth. To yourself, or a few select friends. You don’t have to broadcast your truth to the world, if it puts you at risk.
2) Commit to dealing with the world from a position of love.
3) Start by loving yourself. As individuals. As a community.
4) Commit to dealing with the world from a position of strength as well. Take responsibility for your emotions, your children, your neighborhood.
5) Make certain that your sexual interactions are responsible and mature. Regardless of what we try to say, the human hind brain interprets intercourse as reproductive behavior. Chemical or mechanical contraceptives don’t change this. So sex without emotions or commitments can be devastating to the psyche, and leave already damaged individuals with even more damage. And if children are born…they are born to grown-up children, and an even deeper cycle of dysfunction is triggered. If you aren’t self-supporting, don’t have sex.
6) Move heaven and earth to support yourself in a safe home of your own devising. Clean up your credit. Learn the skills necessary to provide goods and services to your community that will result in the money needed to support yourself.
7) Understand your legal rights, and fight for the leverage necessary to hire lawyers to protect them.
8) Write your truth down. Keep a journal. Tell stories. Write plays. But only broadcast stories that deal with issues you have resolved, unless you can see your way past conflict to love. Even Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” while having no answers, saw that the problem did not lie with the “Other.” It was within the nature of humanity itself. Grasp this, and you’ll see that the only work to be done is within ourselves.

-Steve Barnes, http://darkush.blogspot.com/2007/03/gestalt-formation-maturation-and-race.html

What If..?

I woke up this morning with a thought: all of us have concerns, things that we care about, problems we would like to fix, visions we would like to bring into existence.  Things that will affect the lives of children unborn.

 

I believe this is true of each of us.   Well…what if YOU made the difference?  What if we were close to the tipping point, and if YOU gave everything you had–

 

–if you dreamed enough

–if you loved enough

–if you were willing to burn yourself in the fire of your passion

–if you were willing to move beyond past failures, to cease clinging to past wounds

–if you were willing to risk enough, give enough…

–if you were willing to do WHATEVER IT TAKES…

–if you were willing to max out your genetic and psychological potential for energy, honesty, courage, tolerance for rejection and mockery and pain

–if the world needed ONE MORE HERO

–what if it was up to you?  If YOU were the one we’ve been waiting for.  If YOUR example, YOUR actions, YOUR clarity was what it would take to tip that balance and change the world in the specific positive ways you most desire…

 

What would happen? Would we make it?  If you gave it 100% of what you have?

 

If instead of discussing theories, you took ACTION?  If instead of wasting the substance of your life with arguments, you SUPPORTED the people who agreed with you…and realized that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD has points upon which you agree?  If you took more actions from LOVE than from FEAR?

 

If all it took to get everything you dreamed was everything you’ve got?

 

Would the children be safe?

Logan (2017)

Went to the Inosanto Academy in Marina del Ray this morning, to work out.  It felt like going home.  I plan to do this once a month.

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Saw “Logan” last night, and it is an exceptional superhero movie, with more genuine emotional resonance than any other I can remember, as well as excellent acting, and action. Basically, Wolverine is long past his prime, his healing powers diminished, wracked with pain and addicted to pain-killers.  Professor Xavier is semi-senile, his occasional fits creating mental havoc for anyone within a city block.  The time of mutants has passed.  They live in a Mexican backwater, dreaming of escape to the sea.  Into their hopeless lives comes a woman who begs Logan to help her and her daughter escape to Canada. They are being pursue by deadly enemies, and hold important secrets.

 

That’s all you need to know.  Franchise-best performances from Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, bringing a very real sense of weariness and honor, familial love and loss of faith, to a project that is really an exceptional film of its kind.  An “A”, without question.

 

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And now…SAMBO ALERT!

(SPOILERS)

 

LOGAN is another film that cannot be judged solely on its own.  It is the ninth in the series of X-Men movies, and as such, I feel very comfortable discussing the pattern I see.

 

It was clear from the first that the X-Men movies (and before them, the comic books) were playing with the Malcolm X/MLK split concerning race relations.  Should we assimilate peacefully?  Should we fight?   That was the earliest mutant metaphor, although later other threads of social tension were braided in.  That’s all good.

 

There was only one problem, one I noticed about four movies in.   And it is this: for movies of massive size, with huge casts, it was odd that there was not a single black male character of any note at all.  Out of more than a hundred characters in those first movies, set in America…not one, when statistics would have indicated about six.  O.K…are you saying black people wouldn’t mutate?  Or be represented among any of the “normal” human beings they encountered?  Well, clearly the white producers thought so, or didn’t care. And the white audiences didn’t care.   And if you think it unfair of me to be racially specific about the producers and audiences, then I doubt that, were you in my position, you’ be as polite about this as I tend to be.

 

As the movies rolled on, there was finally a black male mutant. He died protecting his white friends. Oh, and a black female mutant, who ended up as sexual chattel for the white head mutant.   All righty then.

 

What of Storm?  Oh, you mean the mutant with no human connections?  I can’t even remember her touching another person.  But yes, it was nice to see somebody black there…although still, no black males, even when the statistical unlikelihood of this (no one with a line of dialogue, no matter where they went, or what context they were in.)

 

The X-Men were not just comic book movies made by filmmakers. They had become WHITE comic book movies, made by WHITE filmmakers–in other words, there was a force of will, even if unconscious, pulling the casting in a very specific direction.  And there was no reason for it other than the ethnicity of those filmmakers and their target audience…who didn’t notice, and didn’t care.   Seven movies. Eight.  The exact, same situation just getting worse and worse.

 

I could go back and watch them all, look for someone, anyone I might have missed.  It’s irrelevant. Over eight movies, with hundreds of speaking parts, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

 

Then..LOGAN. I heard it was great. I also heard that Eric LaSalle was in it.  Someone over on “Aint It Cool News” said that in the matter of LeSalle’s family in LOGAN, a “courageous” choice had been made.    Ummmm. No.  Utterly cowardly choice. Predictable choice. A choice that fit right into the pattern established in eight previous films.

 

It wasn’t a complete wash-out.   There was a black major who spoke a couple of lines at one point. That was nice, even though he had no name, and was only there to establish a plot point.  The “Breeding Circle” thingie, that black men in SF/Horror movies were generally too old, too young, too obese, too gay, or too dead to be reproductive competition, was just barely violated, enough that I was able to enjoy the rest of the film. Yeah, there was a black mutant kid.  He had two out of five of the factors that kept him out of the Breeding Circle.  But that nameless major…that works.

 

That’s all I’ve got for watching a total of nine movies, eighteen or twenty hours of film, hundreds of characters with speaking parts.   No, I don’t think it is deliberate.  I think it is an unconscious expression of perceived value and worth on the part of the producers and directors, all of whom, so far as I’ve been able to determine, were white.

 

THIS is why it is critical to get diversity in the board rooms and behind the cameras.  This simply doesn’t’ happen when there are people who give  damn in control.

 

And it will continue to happen until that diversity exists.

 

Namaste,

Steve

“The Girl With All The Gifts” (2016)

Director Colm McCarthy and writer Mike Carey’s (book and screenplay) “The Girl With All The Gifts”  is described on IMDB as:  “A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.”  Yeah. And “Casablanca” is about a pick-up in a third-world bar.

 

This is the real thing, a horror movie with something on its mind, with terrific performances, genuine chills, a real beating heart, and a last ten minutes that will make you lose your mud.

 

The set-up is simple: you read it above.  Zombie apocalypse.  Society has collapsed, and there is a mysterious military/research facility where they keep strange children in Hannibal Lector-style masks while teaching them fairy tales.  Real WTF stuff, but it all works.  Frickin’ GLEN CLOSE plays a scientist, and plays the living hell out of her role.  GEMMA ARTERTON is another scientist, who develops a strange bond with SENNIA NANUA, that aforementioned special child.   Every actress KILLS.

 

And…that’s all I’m gonna say, except that it subverts your expectations at every turn, and is instantly one of the top ten zombie movies ever made.  This is the evolution of the form, where the zombie outbreak (and even there, they do things I’ve never seen before!)  is just the background to a serious, intelligent inquiry into the nature of love, life, sacrifice, and even race relations.  Oh, yeah, Melanie is black (or at least mixed race) did I forget to tell you that? And that, yes, it matters within the imagery of the film?   Tananarive watched it last night (streaming on Amazon) and realized we’d found a movie for the AFROFUTURISM class.   And a top-notch one.

 

(NOTE: Anyone who knows anyone connected with the movie who can hook us up with a Skype interview would be our friend forever.  We REALLY want to talk to someone who can represent an amazing, inspiring, horrifying movie!)

 

See it.  Support it.   We want more of THESE.  For lovers of horror, SF, and genre film of all kinds, an “A.”  For moviegoers in general who can handle a bit of the red stuff, a “B+”

 

Steve

“The Great Wall” (2017)

Warning: this whole thing is one big whatever the “Asian equivalent of a Sambo Alert” might be.  Here there be dragons.

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Just saw “The Great Wall.” It was 100% what I thought it was: white hero saves China.

Nothing intrinsically wrong with that: if Chinese made a movie set in America with a Chinese star, he would save the day. Why? Because Chinese, predictably, will prefer to see a Chinese star. That’s human nature. Asians will have a special preference for Asians, blacks for blacks, whites for whites. We will expand that to include certain members of “the other” but in general, whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the way to bet. The problem isn’t the movie (which was fun, although I wondered why the hell the Chinese didn’t use that damned McGuffin  gunpowder more, instead of dangling women like hors d’oeuvre yo-yos) but lets have some truth here.

 

  1. The issue was always getting a white hero in there, to appeal to white Americans. In all our cinematic history, there may have been a couple of “honorary white” actors like Morgan Freeman or Will Smith, who might have stepped into the role of “window into the exotic”   Damon supplied (he plays a Westerner in Asian to steal gunpowder…and why didn’t they use it against the monsters more, from the damned beginning, concentrating all fire on the queen for about two hours until she and all her guards were cinders?  Oh well), but in general, of COURSE that’s what they were doing. Nothing wrong with it, except the perceived need to lie, or the obliviousness.
  2. OF COURSE Matt Damon was Tarzan, the traditional “one of us who becomes one of them and is better at it.”   Again, I’d bet there are stories like this in all cultures. Everyone wants to believe they are the best, sexiest, strongest. People who claim this isn’t true of GREAT WALL obviously fell asleep during the critical plot turns of capturing the monster, and the climax of the film.  Little major points like that.   In the former scene, there are thousands of Chinese soldiers watching as two white guys sally out and catch the beast. And at the end, out of a billion Chinese,  Matt Damon’s brawn and brain are 50% of the team that solves the problem.   Again, nothing wrong with that, except the lying or obliviousness.
  3. There would be nothing overall wrong with the movie, except it is part of a pattern.  What’s the pattern?  Let me ask you one question: what was the last major studio film starring an Asian American?  I mean Chinese, Japanese, Korean, you know. “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson is half Samoan, which is kinda sorta Asian…which is a lot like pointing to Vin Diesel as “proof” that blacks can be sexual in boxoffice giants.   You are missing the point, and I think, deliberately.  Where is Donnie Yen? Or an Asian American without godlike martial skills?  I’ll tell you where–in the background, or not in your Multiplex at all.  Why?  Because people like to see themselves. Let’s be honest, shall we?  When you say “they wanted an American star” or “A Western Star” you mean “they wanted a white star, because white people control Hollywood and drive the box office, and like other human beings they want to see themselves.”    If you’re white, should you feel guilty about this?  Nope, because everyone else feels the same way.  I’m just saying “tell the truth, dammit.  Or wake up, because you’re driving while asleep.”
  4. Poor little Matt Damon.   I heard people defending him.  Why blame the actor? He just wanted to work with a beloved director and have a free Chinese vacation and make a few more million dollars.  He did those things. Huzzah.  But what he DOESN’T have the right to do is to do them, and not be criticized for doing them.  Is it his fault that this situation exists?  That there aren’t any American films with Asian-American leads?  No, it isn’t.  But neither was it specifically the fault of any of the actors, producers, or directors who made the countless films that  excluded Asian Americans and/or cast white people  in makeup in their roles and/or changed the backstories so that white people could play them.  In no case that I can think of did anyone ever say “we didn’t want to cast/see an Asian in that role.”  NO ONE EVER SAYS IT.  Someone, therefore, is lying.     There is always an excuse (sorry, I mean a reason).  And it is predictable that 90% of the people who lost the role will complain, and 90% of the members of the racial group advantaged by the change will look the other way and say “who, us?”
  5. Damon is probably a nice guy, but he is as blind or dishonest as anyone else.  On “Project Greenlight” he got into it with my friend, producer Effie Brown, on the question of diversity.  So far as he was concerned, diversity is only important IN FRONT OF the camera.  Not BEHIND the camera.  You know what happens when you don’t have representation BEHIND the camera? You end up explaining this shit again and again and again, to people who are profited by remaining oblivious.  When you have representation BEHIND the camera, magically and mysteriously, the right decisions begin to be made, and statistical parity is approached.   Odd how that happens.  You also get more human characters who are treated better. Prime example: WALKING DEAD.   No black creative talent?  The black male characters are treated like dirt, emasculated with less force or Yang energy than white women and children.   Are killed protecting white people, and so fragile that a single zombie child ends them. Put a couple of Asian-American writers on the staff? Glenn gets laid, is forceful and resourceful, and can be BURIED in zombies and get away without a scratch.   Oh, please…if you want to do this crap, be my guest. But don’t think you can keep lying about what you’re doing, or shame me for pointing it out.  Bring a lunch.

 

So there ya go.  In a better world, “GREAT WALL” is just a “B” monster movie with “A” production values.  A popcorn movie.  But in our world, where I cannot even remember the last Asian American who top-lined a major American film, it is another example of a very specific trend.  Did it get unjustly maligned?   Only if you don’t care about the pattern, IMO.  Was Damon unjustly blamed?  Same answer: he can do what he wants. And we have the right to comment on it, just as some of you will criticize my criticism.   If you have the right to criticize ME, I sure as hell have the right to criticized THEM.

Am I “telling China what to make?”  Hell no, I’m commenting on it. Do you really not understand the difference?   My concern isn’t Chinese, who are surrounded by films and culture that reflect them, and for whom Matt Damon is appealingly exotic, as well as a way to siphon up white dollars.

My concern is for Asian Americans, my brothers and sisters in a fight to make America live up to its promise, or tell the truth that it has no intention to do so.  You can’t have it both ways.

You know, until black people started complaining, minstrel shows merrily lampooned us in blackface, and we were told complaining was absurd: it was a sign of respect and affection!  And if we weren’t in movies, why make your own! And when we appeared only in secondary roles, well, you’re not “the majority”…it’s nothing personal. Nothing racial at all.  And if we died more often, or never got laid, well, that was just the script, and maybe those black actors just didn’t WANT to do love scenes…

EVERY SINGLE STEP we were told we were wrong.  Everything I’ve ever spoken of in this regard, gaslighting was attempted in return: I was told I was wrong, racist, exaggerating, pushing too hard and too fast, and should wait a little while longer…

Screw that.   We pushed, and we’re still pushing. Want our money?  Tell our damned stories, and hire our people.  PERIOD.

And I am so damned happy the Asian American community is finally making its voice heard.  Some innocents will be caught in the crossfire.

Innocents have been getting caught in that crossfire from the beginning. The only difference is that now, not all the blood is ours.

That’s war, but we didn’t start it.

 

Namaste,

Steve

Healing starts with the heart

There was a discussion of how we can heal the rift in our nation. I believe it is in finding tribes, rather than fighting those we disagree with.
 
The trick is that EVERYONE is tribe with you if you find the correct perspective. There’s not a person our there you cannot create connection with, if you know how, and have the quiet time to connect. (The fact that we cannot always get that quiet time is the reason violence is a necessary tool to master. Sometimes you just have to deal with aggression physically.)
 
The Internet is not the best place for this: I’ve had people who are perfectly pleasant and sweet in person become raging ego-beasts online. We lack the cues of vocal tonalities, facial expressions, real-time reciprocal mammalian pacing leading and following, and body language. So I disagree that the answer is to first decide on “what is true.” That is starting with the head, and most of the conflict I see in the world is a clash of reality maps.
Rather, start with the heart: love is the core reality. (Heart). Go from there to the reality that we are all creatures seeking a cessation of pain (Body). Once connected, THEN we can discuss our maps (Head) and how we hope they will help us experience pleasure.
My page is open to all who are polite and courteous.   Those who are willing to communicate politely ARE MY TRIBE.  
The rude have no greater wisdom I need to hear. They are just rude, not uniquely smart. I can handle anything anyone throws at me verbally (those who think I cannot are welcome to engage with me personally, one on one, face to face.   I’m around)   but people already traumatized have difficulty with aggression. This is MY party, and my guests must know they are safe. So polite crazies are tolerated, but rude crazies are not. That’s the rule. If you don’t like it, there are people who welcome crazies and the rude, and you will find tribe there. Good luck.

Talking Afrofuturism with Elon Musk

ElonandSteve.JPG

 

At Elon Musk’s house last night.  Couple of weeks ago, I asked people what question they would ask one of the 100 richest and most influential men in the world.  Lots of interesting possibilities, but I was attracted to one comment: that all of his business ventures were vertically integrated around the goal of reaching Mars.  I had some private thoughts about that, but considered that a good line of inquiry.

 

Seeing that he was probably ( in a very specific sense) the most successful human being I’ve had the chance to dine with,  I thought I’d test some ideas I have about how PEOPLE become “vertically integrated”, their basic aspects aligned so that they don’t fight themselves.  We’ve all known people with intelligence, talent, energy, and opportunity who never accomplish anything.   The idea is that they are not “aligned” like human lasers.

 

Elon, no matter how smart he is, would HAVE to be aligned, or he simply couldn’t achieve what he had.

I was struck by how relaxed he was.  Lots of questions, no interest in dominating or controlling the conversation at all. From time to time he would snap his attention onto a subject (especially when it concerned Mars, or rockets) and then that depth and clarity one would expect flashed out.  Excellent.

I have other thoughts I’ll keep to myself.

The conversation ranged from A.I. ethics to global warming (Dr. Gregory Benford, who did some of the original research which was later lied about by a certain bestselling novelist, was at the table) to Mars (of course), to missile shields, comparative Soviet and American technology, intellectual property protect as a spur to innovation,  to the need for humanity to be aligned (vertical integration again!) to move into our future…

Wow. Smart talk.

The subject of the NASA Hieroglyph project, science fiction writers discussing Near-Earth space exploration in story form, and my own story MOZART ON THE KALAHARI came up.  Elon believes we are spending “enough” money in this arena (and an absurd excess on defense) but not spending it as effectively as we could.   Vertical integration again?

 

MOZART ON THE KALAHARI was specifically designed to address a question often asked by people concerned with earthly social issues: why should we spend money on space when there are so many problems right here on Earth to deal with?

 

My answer: because as important as answers are, we also need dreams.  We need a vision of possibility, of life beyond any current pain or problem.   Dreams keep us alive. They sustain us.  Remind us WHY we struggle and strive.  Survival is for insects. Human beings need to believe they can THRIVE and GROW.

 

Science fiction is this.

And Afrofuturism is the science fiction and fantasy boiling out of the African Diaspora. “Human beings have always projected their dreams and nightmares into story” I said.  “It helps us wrap our minds around them, gives perspective and mastery, engages our problem-solving apparatus.”

Amazing evening, really. And strengthened my belief that properly aligned (vertically?) a relatively small number of people can change the world.   So my goal…of 1 million awake, aware, adult human beings, is stronger than ever. As is my commitment to supporting one thousand awake, aware, adult storytellers.

 

Whether you want to be one of them, support one of them, or just learn to appreciate them at a deeper level, you’ll love the AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class Tananarive and I are teaching. Ten weeks starting on March 25th, and we have a special “Early Bird” price for another five days.  Don’t miss this amazing experience!  WWW.AFROFUTURISMWEBINAR.COM

 

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

Thoughts on “Get Out” (2017)

Good Lord.

GEt out.jpgJordan Peele’s “Get Out” is at 100% on RT. All the time T and I were shopping “My Soul To Keep” or “The Good House” we were told again and again there was no really successful black horror. “Can we change the race of the leads?” was the most common question. “Can we remove the social subtext?” was woven into every conversation, every development process.

I gritted my teeth.

When I was 30, I knew that the world wasn’t quite ready for me. That I might have to wait another thirty years or more before America moved far enough beyond past social realities (the legacy of slavery and segregation) and demographics such that I could speak my truth to a large enough audience to make a case to Hollywood that a major film would succeed–and trust me, the only language Corporations speak is money.

 

Well, if “Get Out” succeeds, it is another amazing step. Like “Black Panther” and “Django Unchained” it literally fills in image systems that have been gaps in the cinematic/cultural lexicon, pointing out a path of success.

The conversation will change: “oh! It’s like `Get Out’, only with X.” Yeah, that’s it. I knew that if I could keep my heart alive, treated this as a marathon rather than a sprint, I could outlast the fear and the monsters sufficiently to find a Tribe willing to hear my songs. The only question was: would I be too tired, too beaten down to see the opportunities?  Scar tissue is inflexible.  Emotional scar tissue is perceptual tunnel vision.

Would I be able to see the opportunities,  be so wounded by failures, defeats, betrayals and accidental slights that I wouldn’t be able to see allies, mentors, and potentials all around me?   Bitterness is a poison to the soul.

 

So I decided to love life.   To be strong enough to be soft.  Embraced yoga, martial arts, meditation, and the company of people of all races and political persuasions, if they were wiling to see my humanity.  Took my three years in Georgia as a chance to see that yes, the South is both wounded and anchored to its history, and eager to move beyond it, almost desperate to be forgiven and accepted as human…and to see that that “Southern Hospitality” really is a beautiful and genuine thing.

 

To forgive my country for not living up to its promises. To love human beings for being imperfect, and therefore be able to forgive myself for being afraid. To give myself permission to fail. To find the faith to get up again, and again, and yet again…

 

Knowing that this day would come.   People think it absurd to be so excited about watching a black guy in a cat suit sprint through traffic.  They have never stood in my shoes, never understood what it was to watch “When Worlds Collide” and see only white people saved from extinction, and know the filmmakers didn’t give a damn what it felt like to be a black kid watching that.   To be able to predict that Paul Winfield would be eaten by cockroaches in “Damnation Alley” because the audience wouldn’t want to see him compete for the last woman in the world.

 

Countless times I’ve been told to shut up, stop talking about these things.  People have tried to gaslight me. Tell me to be ashamed of being a Social Justice Warrior or even have the temerity to try to define the term to denigrate it.

Screw them.

I will define myself.   I know who I am, better than you possibly could.  And if you try to define me, I know I know myself better than you know YOURSELF.   Had you any real self-knowledge, you’d lack the stupendous ego to think you can define others.  Or the fear to need to.

I am not my scars.  Not my disappointments, not my pain, not my fear, not my anger.  As a forest is the space between the trees, I am the space in which these emotions and events have occurred.  So long as I keep my ego small, I don’t crash into the obstacles, can navigate in the clear space.

 

I am love, not fear.  Love for my own soul, my dreams, my family and friends, my community, my country, my world.  THIS is why a gentle boy spent forty years learning how to kill people.  To be able to offer peace to anyone who would extend a hand to me.

 

“Get Out” is “The Stepford Negroes”, a meditation on the fear of assimilation, fear that hatred lurks behind the smiles.  Built on real concerns, it would seem (I’ve yet to see it) to do what great horror, fantasy and science fiction does: externalize our dreams and nightmares so that we can wrap our minds around them.  To water the poison until it makes you dizzy rather than sick.

 

Jordan Peele survived, and has questions about how and why and what next.   I am so proud of him.  And of myself.

I survived too, dammit.  I’m still here.  And seeing a world that some part of me doubted I’d ever see.  I managed to tamp those voices down, but they were always there. Oh yes, they were.

I survived.

Namaste,

Steve

http://www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

The Hope and the Dream of the Slave

In many ways, the best and strongest man I’ve ever known is Steve Muhammad, my beloved karate instructor.  Not only a man of devastating physical skills, an innovative genius, fierce competitor, inspiring teacher and devoted family man, but a creature of deep spirit and vast compassion.   With more street experience than any four other people I know, he is also gentle and humble, a combination that still boggles my mind.

 

From the first moment I saw him at a Martial Arts Expo in about 1974, performing a mass attack skit where four students came at him and he responded with an explosion of speed, power and precision that blew my mind, I knew I wanted to sit at his feet and learn.  What I didn’t realize was that THE DEMO WAS UNREHEARSED.    Years later I got to participate in one, and he simply said: “come at me” to all of us.  And he took us out with absolute control, his punches, kicks, palm strikes and elbows coming within a breath of our skin, kissing our uniforms in machine-gun rhythm…without hurting us.

I’d wondered for decades: HOW COULD HE BE SO STRONG?   And one day, about seven years ago, I found out.

As a child, Steve had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, who had been slaves.  Suddenly, it hit me. Dear God. THAT experience had burned away all that was false.  All the lies. All the “First World Problems.” There are two reactions to such stress, really.  It breaks you, husks you, cripples you for generations…or the heat and pressure transforms you into a diamond. The majority are broken. But some few…

 

Suddenly, I grasped that under stress, the few who manage to stand up, to shine, to maintain their humanity, have a knowledge of self, a clarity of their values, that can be shaken by no lesser power.   The 99% will be crushed, diminished, driven to lower their eyes and dull their dreams, crippled by fear and hatred…

 

But those who maintain their humanity are amazing, with near-divine gifts to offer those who will listen: how did I survive? What is true? Who am I?  How can you protect your soul in the midst of chaos?

Oppressed populations reliably under-perform. But they also produce some of the finest music, art, athletics, and spirituality on the planet.   THEY DO WHAT THEY CAN. THEY THRIVE WHERE THEY CAN.  They love each other desperately,  nurture their children and grandchildren, believing in “milk and honey on the other side,” encoding their wrath in fables, channeling their suicidal/homicidal urges into their dance and prayer, finding small joys to warm their hearts as they somehow survive from generation to generation…slaves becoming sharecroppers, who become servants, who become merchants and teachers…who become doctors and lawyers…who become scientists, politicians…and storytellers.

 

They take the fantasies and mythologies, blend them with a burgeoning understanding of the universe around them, and the technology that explores it, and add their own rhythms, creating what the outer world called Science Fiction and Fantasy…and they themselves began to call AFROFUTURISM.

 

And just as Science Fiction has always both expressed human dreams and driven our inquiry, the version of this phenomenon that grew from the depths of black pain, keeping alive the spark until the laws and cultures changed and allowed us to speak our truth more openly, contains lessons that could not be spoken openly until after the fall of Jim Crow, the end of Segregation, the passing of the Voting Rights act, the birth of a generation unafraid of lynchings and oppression.

 

When I was ten years old, my mother, who had grown up in the segregated south, whose childhood had been darkened by the shadows of dangling black men, told me: “Steven, if you show white people how smart you are, they will kill you.”

 

The terror of that statement haunted me. Drove me into the martial arts, where I found a man strong enough to lend that strength to me, so that I could have the courage to create my own dreams, and lend them to a younger generation so that they could stand on my shoulders, see further and imagine a world where children could play together and work together and build together, judging one another not by the color of their skin, or even the content of their character, but on their capacity to create a bridge to a future brighter than any of them had ever known.

 

The wisdom passed to me is beyond my understanding, but a part of my bones.  How to deal with fear, and pain. How to stop hatred and resentment from poisoning you.  HOW TO LIVE WITH LOVE, AND HOPE, NO MATTER WHAT CHAOS AND DANGER SURROUNDS YOU.

 

Lessons for our time.  Available to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

The AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class is a distillation of everything my dear, brave, brilliant wife  and I have learned about art, creativity, extrapolation, fantasy, and personal evolution. It will twine art and science together into a braid that cannot be broken.  You may have a story to write.  A screenplay to finish.  Want to understand what drove an Octavia Butler or Chip Delany or God help me…a Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due.  We will watch movies, study art and poetry, spend ten weeks walking in the footsteps of masters and ask YOU to find the dreams that sustain you, ask you to refine them, teach you to express them, share them with the world at a time we need them most.

 

I’ve been working toward this for twenty years, and its here.  Join us.  Be a part of a movement to be an awake, aware, adult human being by grounding your feet in reality while simultaneously reaching for the stars.

The future is ours, yours, our childrens…if you can keep your dreams alive, understand that we all aspire to the same things…and never stop fighting to create magic in your life

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We have a special discount price for just the remainder of Black History Month.  If you are in total financial emergency, reach out to us and tell us what you can afford and we’ll do all we can to help you.  If you can afford to donate a scholarship for a needy student, please do so.

You can make a difference.  WE can make a difference.  Every one of you, black and white and yellow and brown…if you are a brother or sister in this struggle…YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

 

Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares

(Steve here!  I was going to be talking to you about this new class, but T’s essay on the subject just knocked me out.  So I thought I’d let her speak!)Afrofutures .png

I often introduce myself by saying “I teach Afrofuturism at UCLA” but some of you are wondering: what does that mean?  Afrofuturism, or black speculative arts, bends reality—either in time or space, magic, or technology, often blending the past, present and future to present ANOTHER WAY OF BEING. Whether it’s the books of Octavia E. Butler or the music of George Clinton or Janelle Monae or films like Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” or Black Panther—Afrofuturism shows us a portal to another world, a different reality—one that is often empowering, or sometimes frightening.

            Afrofuturism isn’t just escape—although reading, music and film are a great way to escape our new political realities, to RENEW and REFRESH and find INSPIRATION. But more than that, Afrofuturism and black speculative arts help us map our way through challenges that are both new and as old as time.

            In the short story “The Space Traders” by the late Derrick Bell (there’s a film adaptation by the Hudlin Brothers currently up on YouTube “Cosmic Slop: The Space Traders”), aliens come to Earth and offer the United States riches and technology IF…they will agree to trade away all black Americans. As a lawyer and one of the pioneers of critical race theory, Derrick Bell could use precedents from the past to create a credible story in which American voters using a 900 line would actually vote to send black citizens away.

            I was teaching that story at UCLA during the election—and as Steve and I were just discussing with Reggie Hudlin, the fall election reminded me a lot of “The Space Traders”—populations traded away in exchange for hopes of prosperity.

            The late, great Octavia Butler’s name is on our lips more as we remember the lessons she tried to teach us in her novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. (I’ve blogged about the lessons from Octavia that can be applied to protest movements.)

            I often tweet out the books, films and music we’re studying in my UCLA class, and people say: “Can I have your syllabus?” and I’ve really been shy about that—it always feels like a work in progress, and there are so many artists who COULD be included but aren’t.

            But now I’m ready to team up with my husband, black science fiction pioneer Steven Barnes, to present a 10-week webinar course: “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares.”

            This won’t just be a course where we watch movies and read literature and listen to music, though we will do all of those things—it’s mostly about the LIVING relationship between world-building in Afrofuturism and world-building in real life. In other words, how do we best dream a better world? What makes these great works so powerful? How can I create powerfully as an artist in my own right? And if I’m not an artist, but I’m more of an activist, what lessons can I learn from artists like Octavia Butler to help fuel Movement?

            The course will include excerpts from an interview Steve and I did with Octavia where she talked about what she wanted to accomplish in her work, and how theme can help create a social justice message. We’re also lining up a FANTASTIC group of artists: Cheo Hodari Coker, the showrunner and creator of Netflix’s LUKE CAGE series that BROKE THE INTERNET as so many people flocked to see a bulletproof black man in a hoodie. And Oscar winning producer Reggie Hudlin, who wrote The Black Panther animated series on BET and co-produced Django Unchained. Jamie Broadnax of Black Girls Nerds, who’s helping to teach Hollywood the importance of black geeks and nerds, helping us flex our buying power. AND SO MANY MORE great artists, many of whom are our friends, to really unpack the WORLD-CHANGING POWER OF AFROFUTURISM RIGHT NOW, in the present.

            I’ve never taught this course outside of UCLA, but it’s time. The class will have its own syllabus with suggested reading, films, music and art—but FAR MORE GUESTS.

Our live webinars will be IDEA-BASED and interactive as Steve as I, as both artists and teachers, join forces with you to DREAM A BETTER WORLD and CREATE A COMMUNITY IN THIS ONE.

And it couldn’t be easier to take part: the webinars will be live on Saturdays starting March 25th, but if you can’t make the live sessions, you get the full video of every lecture to watch on your own time. If you miss a lecture, no problem—catch up when you can.

As we’ve done in past webinars, we have an INTRODUCTORY PRICE for just a few days: So there’s a special price until March 1, then it goes up to the full price.

Check out our website at www.afrofuturismwebinar.com – I couldn’t believe that was still free, but it was. www.afrofuturismwebinar.com Check it out today.

You’ll find more information and your link to HOLD YOUR SPOT at the early-bird price.