I’m in the midst of writing the proposal for MAGICAL DEPRESSIVE REALISM and I’ve been thinking about mainstream success, what it does to your perspective, what it requires you forsake and leave behind.

In the social media microwave background are murmurings about Black Lives Matter Global Network CEO Patrisse Khan-Cullors being called in by the families of the dead Black folks whose names the organization used to “build power”, and her recent interview with Marc Lamont Hill essentially refusing their requests for accountability. Her high-profile friends rushing to her side, claiming they are acting in the name of love for all Black women, in defense of all Black women. Some of those high-profile friends are writers, artists, and organizers I love—if from afar—and respect, whose work has inspired me and changed the trajectory of my own. And none of them, as far as I can tell, are directly addressing the very valid grievances raised by the families of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and others whose deaths laid the foundation for BLMGN’s mainstream success and at the very least bolstered Khan-Cullors’ influence and prestige.

It’s really making me think, is it damn near impossible to remain rooted in a set of values that centers the most marginalized once you achieve a certain level of success? Or is it that so many of the folks in our communities who get to that level were already middle class or white adjacent to begin with?

As a Black person who was mostly raised by a white parent, I know that I must be ever-vigilant in examining my own reactions to and understandings of situations. The same goes for my class background. Raised on the stoop of the middle class and paying rent with credit, I am constantly learning how good I had it compared to a family with no access to credit and no extended family with savings. It sounds like Khan-Cullors, raised in Van Nuys, had a similar upbringing as my cousins out in Pacoima, CA. My cousins are Black middle class, nothing fancy, but also way better off than many others. Yet I’m sure they have horrible stories to tell, ways they could claim purchase to the gravy train of Black death, if they wanted.

Living in LA, I’ve heard things about Dignity and Power Now, Khan-Cullors first organization here in the Los Angeles area. They have a reputation, at least in disabled community, of not compensating appropriately for labor requested. Former BLM LA members—disabled working-class cultural worker Walela Nehanda is an example—have spoken out about their dismissive treatment by Khan-Cullors and Melina Abdullah, a professor at Cal State LA and leader within BLM LA. Ferguson activist and media director for Planting Justice Ashley Yates has long been drawing attention to the abuses within BLMGN, particularly their handling of sexual assault accusations against one of their members by Yates herself.

None of this is new and none of it originated in right-wing media. Like everything else, white people noticed calling BLMGN out was trending in Black circles and decided to capitalize on it. And it’s a cute swerve to finally come out and say something about it after all that’s gone down, and then claim the whole thing is a right-wing op.

It’s the elite playbook, really, and it makes sense that it’s being used by folks who’ve gained some level of mainstream success. To get to the point where you’re regularly bumping elbows with celebrities, especially as a fat Black queer person, you have to have begun to believe in their bullshit to some extent. More importantly, their bullshit has to have rubbed off on you.

And perhaps most importantly, you have to have shut out the folks who would take you by the shoulders and shake some sense back into you. Those folks are, too often, the same ones you had to use to get where you’ve landed. Folks like Nehanda and Yates. Folks like the parents of murdered Black people, like Samaria Rice and Mike Brown Sr., and the grassroots BLM activists who support them.

Generations of Black middle class academics, writers, and artists have interpreted the experience of the Black underclass into profit and refused accountability for it. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and as long as folks think protecting Black women means protecting their right to acquire wealth by any means, it damn sure won’t be the last. The constant social media gaslighting around Black abundance, acting like any critique of earnings is an attack against all Black folks’ right to be comfortable, is white supremacist capitalism internalized. Folks are using the same arguments billionaires deploy to justify why they deserve their wealth, just draping it in kente cloth. If you add shine to your name off saying the names of dead Black folks, I’m sorry, but you are engaging in exploitation unless their survivors are also living in abundance.

And that’s something I see too: the conflation of white supremacist attacks against Black activists in general and Khan-Cullors, Tamika Mallory, and others in particular with the legitimate critiques of BLM chapter members and the families of those murdered by police. Yes, some people making noise do want these high-profile activists dead, do want them to suffer in poverty. But many others are folks who are directly invested in the struggle, who have been on the ground doing work in BLM’s name, or people like me who were inspired by the way the phrase “Black Lives Matter” seemed to separate the chaff of white folks real quick. I mean, we have two Black Lives Matter stickers on our car, so it’s not like I was ever anti-BLM or anti-PKC! I’m still not. I’m just anti-evading the communities you say you want to lift up and build power for.

I know there’s only so much you can do to control the ways people use your name, your ideas, your image. I want to offer generosity to these activists, consider that they did not willingly participate in the their uplifting to a position of community leadership. But I also know it’s possible to limit your success, to turn down invitations, to donate speaking fees or suggest a different speaker with an experience that needs centering. In my own career, I’ve had many opportunities to speak on the Black experience, bolstering my own profile in the process, that I’ve turned down.

It might have more to do with my neurodivergence-fueled affinity for fairness and my general disdain for celebrity, but as someone who straddles the borders of many marginalized identities, I am very conscious of the space I take up. I want the same level of conscientiousness from those who have taken up the mantle of community leader. Particularly if that’s not a mantle the community you’re trying to lead has handed you. I don’t think, even if you feel this way, that being “divinely called” to this work is a valid excuse for evading calls to accountability. That’s a very individualist mindset. If you are called, it’s to serve the people, not the other way around. Demands that we ignore these families’ cries for redress sound to me like we’re being expected to serve our leaders, who are in turn serving white supremacist capitalism.

Anyway, there’s this saying of adrienne maree brown’s, one of the aforementioned writers who’ve rallied to Khan-Cullors’ defense while either ignoring or completely mischaracterizing what Mike Brown Sr. and Samaria Rice and all the grassroots BLM activists are saying. The saying is, “What you/we pay attention to grows.” She repeated the saying in a recent blog post, which was actually a recent speech she gave at Tulane University, defending Khan-Cullors against these supposed right-wing attacks. I used to nod along in the way I nod along to other movement platitudes like that, i.e., “The power of the people is stronger than the people in power.” In the latter case, when I drill down into that saying I find all sorts of nuance, like yes, the power of the people is potentially stronger, but the people in power have riot gear and tanks, so we’ve got to be more specific—if we were all aligned, all working towards liberation strategically and diligently, then our power can overcome theirs.

Today I found myself at last reacting to the simplicity of “What we pay attention to grows” as brown sought to divert our attention from the struggle of poor and working-class Black families inviting their self-installed leaders to accountability and towards the struggle of being a high profile Black middle class activist. I realized my experience with gardening does not bear the phrase out as a truism. Sometimes what we pay attention to rots and dies. It depends on the quality of the attention.

I think these celebrity activists and movement writers with a high profile have been receiving low-quality attention. Too much water. Adoration absent honest critique, attention that can look and feel like it is helping you grow but is actually cutting off your oxygen supply, dooming you to suffocate in stagnant ideas. When the families of Black folks murdered by police are calling you in and you can’t step off your pedestal (which you claim you don’t want in the first place) long enough to acknowledge what they’re saying? Your root system is gone.

I just… am so disappointed. I had to write about it. If only so I remember, so that if I’m ever in a position to disappoint others in this way, I can avoid it.

i want to talk a bit about love and what it means to me on this day for lovers.

love, to me, is inherent to the structure of this universe. hell, even the multiverse potentially, but this universe for sure. i say this because we are able to exist here. the laws of physics arranged themselves into a ruleset that allows the formation of complex life. to my mind that is evidence that our universe is at least capable of love, if not composed of it entirely. and if we are made of the same stuff as the stars, as the universe, are we not also meant to love and be loved by each other? are we not also meant to link ourselves together into constellations of care?

love is the dark matter that holds us together. evil is that which turns us away from love, away from each other. there is no epic battle between anthropomorphized god-creatures that we must choose sides in. there is only the choice to come together and love each other or embrace the systems that are keeping us apart.

when i look at the world as it is currently constructed, i feel a deep sense of mourning. we have been forced so far away from the truth of love. the truth that we are here because we are loved. these systems that we live under—capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, ableism, imperialism, cisheteropatriarchy—are designed to institutionalize evil, to make us forget we are born loved. to make us hate each other and ourselves. they convince us that we must learn to love ourselves despite all odds, or that we must seek love from a partner or a friend, and that we are only worthy of that love if we’ve attained a certain level of social acceptability or popularity or enlightenment. but universal love is accessible to all of us, all the time. it is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we consume for food. we are here because this universe loved us enough to shape itself into something we can inhabit.

in my own spiritual practice i call the universe god, and in a sense that is correct. the universe is so much more powerful than i am, so much more intricate and unknowable, that it might as well be a god. but what i am really invoking with my reference to deity is the idea that love is a force, that the universe itself is a force, and that if we can tap into its love energy we can make magic happen. when we organize together and dream together and work every day at loving each other we are making magic happen. we are counteracting the forces of evil that drive us into our silos of individualism and achievement.

it is from those same silos of individualism and achievement that we are encouraged to love ourselves. self-love is a capitalist substitute for universal love. it is impossible to feel loved consistently in a world built to separate our souls from our minds and bodies, but self-love tells you that you must somehow overcome all the structures set up to separate you from your ability to tap into divinity on your own. that if you only love yourself enough none of it will matter, and if you cannot love yourself you must spend the rest of your life learning how. but universal love tells you that this is all wrong. universal love reminds you that what prevents you from loving is not your flawed psyche, or a lack of will, but the systems of oppression that were constructed to keep you mired in hate.

universal love asks you to look at the earth, at your mere existence on it, and use this as evidence that you are loved.

this philosophy is not dependent on a belief in divinity or magic. if you aren’t about the woo, i understand. but you are reading this, and you are alive. outside of all the bullshit of the human world, life is a gift. it is a result of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not have occurred outside of our universe. i choose to see this confluence of randomness as evidence of love in action.

i believe love is the strongest force in the universe, stronger than gravity or nuclear attraction or even change. when we are tapped into a sense of universal love we are capable of so much. we are capable of dismantling capitalism and colonialism, halting climate change, transforming the world into a place where we can all feel loved and cared for. we can articulate our needs and support others in getting their own met, without shame and bitterness. we can see beyond our immediate crises and into a future where we aren’t making decisions based on the lesser of two evils.

my own magic is centered on harnessing universal love, on bringing people into a mental space where they can realize their divinity and go forward knowing they are loved. and most importantly, knowing they are capable of focusing that love into a transformative force for social change.

on this day of commercial romance and beyond, i encourage you to root yourself in such love. with every single breath.

i was going to write about all the difficult lessons i’m learning this scorpio season about fluid boundaries and respecting others’ wholeness at the same time as you respect your own. but then i crashed back into depression after turning my attention to financial matters again. so instead i’m going to tell you about the darkness, because it teaches us something too.

i have tried to end my life actively twice and passively an uncountable number of times. 6/7 days of the week, give or take, i am in an intentional practice of finding reasons to live. in a world where new reasons not to live manifest on a daily basis, this requires a good deal of my energy and focus. there are nearby things that are reasons to die and far away things that are reasons to die: nearby, financial instability, hunger, and unemployment; far away, climate catastrophe, ableist white supremacist fascism, capitalist ruin. all these things and more weigh on my mind, weigh down my mind so that depression becomes inevitable.

when i look back at each moment i can remember making serious plans to kill myself or actually trying to kill myself i think about whether or not i would regret it if i had died then, if i had missed out on all the events in my life that followed. the answer is invariably no. not because i don’t love the people in my life dearly. not because i haven’t had good times since. the thing is, i don’t think being alive in and of itself is worth anything. i think being alive is worth something if you love your life. i don’t love my life a lot of the time. sometimes it feels like i’m always miserable. but i know depression fucks with my sense of balance in that way, so i don’t use my proportion of good days to bad when i’m doing the calculus of whether or not my life is worth it. what i do is think about the proportion of struggle to reward. for me. i’m sure other people get something out of me being alive, because out of necessity i have shaped myself into a person that others would enjoy being around. but for me, life is also often way more struggle than reward.

of course things might turn around at some point if i stay alive but the way things are looking now in the context of my life history thus far doesn’t bode well for the kinds of extraordinary developments that would have to occur for this to reverse course. plus, i don’t have a lot of life left in me. i have multiple disabilities and i am multiply marginalized. every day a new study comes out telling me this or that trait is a risk factor for early death. being Black, being mentally ill, being queer, being fat, being in chronic pain. all these things wear on my bodymind. and accessing the things i need to counteract them is contingent on me having the money to do that. if i can’t make or raise money, i am on a path towards death anyway, regardless of if i want it or not.

so i am presented with a choice: use my spoons on trying to keep on top of finances/fundraise OR look for a job OR find a reason to live. because at this point i don’t have the spoons for all three. and since i can’t always generate reasons to live for myself i am falling into depression way more often. and i am afraid–no, i am not afraid, not anymore. i have accepted the inevitability that if this continues, if i cannot find some kind of work, at some point i will fall in and be unable to pull myself out. i don’t want to hurt the people i love, but i cannot control the world. i can only do what is within my capacity.

this is what is real for me right now. nothing else takes up so much space in my life. the specter of death. the futility of trying to find a reason to live as a suicidal person when every day brings your involuntary negation closer. i am angry when i think about how i’ve fought to survive for so long and i might just die because capitalism. because i fell for a lie, when so many others fall for the same lie and are rewarded.

this is what is real for me right now. i say optimistic things on social media but i don’t believe them. i don’t really believe the world won’t just let me die. i don’t believe i have the ability to survive. i am scared and hurt and angry and i feel abandoned and betrayed and bitter.

this is what is real for me right now. people die every day. people are abandoned by their families and communities and societies every day. if there is a god they do not discriminate when distributing suffering among the marginalized and oppressed. if there is a god they seem to favor the rich, the white, the depraved. at least in this realm.

(god, please tell me there is a place where this is made right. please tell me this pain isn’t for nothing. please help me understand.)

this is what’s real. i don’t know how i am going to get through the rest of today, or the rest of the week, or the rest of the month. i have nothing to guide me but a shaky faith in myself as a part of the divine and in the divine themselves. i constantly shift between deep, bone-crushing despair and butterfly-wing-beat-hopefulness. i constantly delude myself to keep going and that’s okay. when consensus reality is too harsh sometimes you have to exist in your own.

this is what’s real. i can’t promise to stay alive because that’s not entirely up to me. the world has the ultimate say in my survival. but i promise that i will keep fighting. i promise that i will stare down the darkness until it has said what it needs to say. and if i survive, i promise that i will teach you everything it taught me.

on the day of the hearing, sing:

let no evil come by you, [name] let no evil come by
you will be set free today, [name] you will be set free
all our love will guide you, [name] as you stand calm within the storm
no evil shall come by you, [name] today you will be bound no more

or whatever words you feel called to sing that invoke collective liberation, breaking chains, uprooting systems of oppression.

as you sing, write the name of whatever system, institution, group, or individual is responsible for the activist’s incarceration 3 times on a piece of brown paper bag in black ink. turn the paper 90 degrees and write the activist’s name three times in red ink. fold the paper into a square.

combine dill weed, galangal root, calendula flowers, licorice root, cassia chips, rosemary leaves, eucalyptus leaves, cascara sagrada powder, and sandalwood chips in a cauldron. light charcoal and add to cauldron. place folded name paper on top of charcoal. open a window.

while lighting a rainbow taper candle (any protection candle color will also work), visualize the activist safe, protected, home with their loved ones. sing. let the candle burn to the end.

make sure all plant material in the cauldron has burned. bury ashes and wax in the earth.

wonder at the miracle that is our collective body of loving support and ferocious action.

image showing degree conferral from UCLA: bachelor of arts, sociology, magna cum laudeSociety—other people, systems, institutions, culture—has so much more power over our lives than the average person gives it credit for. Acknowledging its outsized influence is devastating at first, incompatible as it is with a vision of the individual as master of their own destiny, culpable in failure and deserving in success. But there is a freedom in relinquishing our illusions of control. If I am not charge of my destiny, if my class or race or assigned gender or national origin are stronger determinants of my fate than my individual decisions, it matters less what choices I make. I can make the choices society prescribes for me, or I can choose a different path.

A little less than six years ago, I fled back to school hoping that when I finished, I would be able to avoid the stress and disappointment of looking for a job without a college degree. I had just been laid off from my job as a technical support specialist and was already attending community college part time, so it seemed fortuitous, especially since my partner and were talking about me quitting my job and going back to school full time once he found a teaching job. I made the leap and enrolled in a full load of classes at my local community college.

(Society told me going back to school was a respectable choice, the right choice. I should have graduated from college a long time ago, according to chrononormative* standards, anyway, and won’t a college degree give you a leg up in the job market? They can never take your degree away from you, they say, and promise it will all be worth it, all the struggling and debt and biting your tongue.)

There was no way for me to know five years ago that I would be graduating into a job market even more unfriendly to folks like me than I had avoided by entering college in the first place. No way for me to know that I would be made more disabled by my time in academia; definitely no way for me to know that the world as I understood it would effectively be ending in slow motion, that overt and aggressive fascism and white supremacy would be in power all over the world, that the naively hopeful environmental trajectory I thought we were on would be replaced by dire warnings of our dwindling opportunity to halt the inevitable collapse.

But—this is actually an okay place to be, for me. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes it hurts so bad I wish I could sink into the molten outer core of the earth. Systems are failing, nakedly, obviously. That means there is no way for me to blame myself. There is no way for me to be exceptional enough to overcome an actual apocalypse. If I learned anything from studying sociology, I learned that.

At last, finally, and in the end, I understand: It’s not me, it’s society.


I once believed that higher education was a refuge for the bookish and bright. Being the kind of learner that prefers to absorb a subject through obsessively researching as much as I can on it, I found only misery in elementary and high school. I felt trapped, forced to learn in a regimented way, forced to adhere to conventions set by long-dead colonizers and bootlickers and other types interested in turning children into compliant cogs in a surplus-generating machine. College, I thought, would be different, would be more open to the kaleidoscope of brains humanity contains. Despite having attended college on and off since I was sixteen, I didn’t have enough long-term experience with it to dispel my idealistic beliefs. I was always too crazy to attend class regularly, always withdrawing mid-semester to deal with some emotional upheaval, some mental collapse. And I was so drugged up and indoctrinated into various mainstream viewpoints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the reality of it all even if I had managed to spend any length of time at school.

This time around, though, I noticed. I noticed all the ways higher education operates to exclude folks like me, all the ways it demands exceptionalism in the face of its own mediocrity, all the ways it perpetuates a status quo of ableism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. And as I got further into my upper division major work—sociology—I noticed even more. It became too much to bear too many times to count. The small ironies piled up like so much oppressive detritus, my daily commute a recounting of historical and present-day trauma, my thoughts a running tally of injustices: I am currently driving on a freeway system built by displacing poor people of color, past houses big enough to hold every single houseless person I meet on the way, to a campus more concerned with the appearance of diversity than materially improving the lives of its Black or disabled or queer or immigrant students, to learn about the impact of housing discrimination on intergenerational wealth in whites versus Black folks.

I channeled my anger, my outrage and existential despair, let it flavor impassioned papers and pointed presentations, but it felt hollow, was hollow. It meant nothing, and I knew it. I had to endure the slights, had to make do when my disability accommodations were phased out, had to push myself beyond the point of burnout to finish my degree. Because in my mind, if I didn’t, I’d just spent five years and however many tens of thousands of dollars to have my dreams crushed without even getting a receipt. As much as I wanted to be the kind of bitch that says you know what, I’m good and forges their own degreeless path in life—as much as I had effectively been that bitch for the first part of my adult life out of necessity—I felt obligated to finish, not only for myself but for the loved ones who were sacrificing to help me get through school.

To stay motivated, I told myself that I’d find a job quickly once I finished school. I knew this was a fiction, but it was a necessary one—more than once, the specter of graduating and still being unable to find a job almost convinced me to drop out. I pretended as if this degree really would allow me to navigate the job market with ease, picking and choosing from a panoply of well-paying jobs with full benefits, leapfrogging over my un-degreed competition. But even if that were the case, I was using every last bit of my energetic reserves to reach a finish line that had shifted since I started the race, leaving me in no condition to leapfrog over anything. I spent the first few weeks after graduation pretending it was just another summer, trying to recharge a little before I started my job search.

A manic episode lent me the optimism to apply for a dozen or so jobs and write sparkling cover letters to each. The inevitable fibro flare and depression that followed forced me to acknowledge the truth of 2019’s job market hellscape. Several of the $15/hr-and-under positions I applied to expected me to do free labor in the form of aptitude tests and their ilk. (For some jobs, I did these, because I felt the position/salary would be worth it, and the tests weren’t too egregious. On others, I declined.) Out of the positions to which I applied, only one has even opened my resume—I’ve received no response from that employer at the time of writing, two weeks later. One job I was particularly excited about, one whose qualifications I greatly exceeded and whose hours and duties perfectly matched my needs, had over a thousand applicants at last update. A few jobs have “moved to the next stage in their hiring process” without my resume even being acknowledged.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be jobless for a while, if traditional employment is the way I insist on making my living. I can write about it now, find the silver lining in my misfortune, because it’s been a couple weeks and I’m high as fuck. But realizing that I just spent five years under some of the most extreme stress of my life to basically end up worse off than I started broke me for about a week. My always-tenuous commitment to staying in corporeal form dwindled to nonexistence more than once, but I happily do not own anything capable of killing me in a guaranteed manner, so I’m still here.

(Kidding, kind of. As long as the people who love me are here on this planet, I’m staying in solidarity. But things did get pretty pale in my head.)

I cannot Black excellence my way out of being on earth as worlds crumble around me. I cannot young, Black, and gifted my way into insulating myself from climate collapse, into financial security, into overcoming a system built to oppress and exploit folks like me before leaving us to become casualties of their disregard for life. All I can be is open to learning how to live in different ways, how to ride the waves of change such that I can keep my head above water, keep what’s important in sight. And if I can’t keep my head above water, I can learn to take bigger breaths before I go under.

If I could travel through time, I would impart this wisdom to 34-year-old me on the eve of their decision to go back to school. I would whisper in her ear: Do not give in to fear. Leap. You will find you have wings. I don’t know that I would fly, that things would turn out any better if I threw myself into professional writing in 2014 instead of seeking the comfort of official validation, but I might have avoided destroying my health in order to get it. I really thought I needed the legitimacy of a degree. I didn’t. Turns out what I needed was to finally internalize the idea that it’s not me, it’s society. For accomplishing that, at least, perhaps going back to school was worth it. For what it did to my emotional and physical well-being, decidedly, it was not.


It’s the end of the world—at least, it’s the beginning of the end of a way of living based in colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy—and that means we don’t have to do things the same way anymore. We never did, but we have even less incentive now that doing things the way we were told to do them has been so starkly revealed as a path to destruction and separation from god, god being that spark of the divine we each hold within us, the glue that binds us to each other and the planet and all beings across the universe. The way of living that tells me that I must depend on a boss or a landlord or a mayor or a president to manage my work, my housing, my community, my people, is the same way of living that has cleaved Indigenous land from Indigenous humans, the same way of living that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for large human populations, the same way of living that I will reject every single day until it has been banished from this earth.

We must reject ways of living that perpetuate systems of oppression if we are to have hope of humanity surviving the catastrophic change that is underway. But since systems of oppression also shape the ways of living we have available to us, this rejection will come with pain and sacrifice, especially for those of us who are subjugated under the same systems. I know this, I been known this, been known revolutionary change is full of what we are taught to perceive as negative emotions and experiences, but that there is growth contained within them. If a little pain, a little discomfort on my part, on our part, could propagate through the system all the way up to the institutional level, could destabilize the systems that oppress us, wouldn’t it be worth it? Especially when—in my experience, at least—pain can be a catalyst for awakening, and a pleasure unto itself.

For me, the desire to be traditionally employed is partially rooted in a genuine concern that my disability might prevent me from being able to manage freelance or self-employed life. Putting the responsibility for finding streams of income on myself and not on some professional who ostensibly knows what they’re doing is a terrifying prospect when I consider how few days out of a month I feel well enough to work on projects. At the same time, I do get shit done despite how I feel. I don’t have to feel good about something in the moment for it to be worthwhile. In fact, the most worthwhile things I’ve done have often been ordeals to get through.

That’s not to say that everything worthwhile must be painful, or that suffering is necessarily productive—I would never endorse that idea. Sometimes, though, the only way we get out of a destructive situation is for it to become untenable, uncomfortable, painful. Sometimes pain is a friend nudging you: Are you safe here?  Is this what you really need? I’ve been trying to understand what this pain is trying to tell me, this discomfiting space I’m in where I don’t know when I’ll find work, how I’m going to support myself, where I’m going in life when it comes to career.

Before I got my sociology degree, I might have blamed myself for my inability to find a job. I might have taken the metaphorical whip to my own back, expected that I would be able to make up the gap between economic expectation and reality by hustling, killing myself to meet a capitalist ideal of productivity and employability. Now, I know. It’s not me, it’s society. Trying to be middle class, trying to live up to hegemonic ideals of success, is destructive. What I am feeling is in part the shame of not being able to consume the same disproportionate amount of resources as my parents did, the anguish of believing hard work gets you anywhere, the guilt of having held that ideology against the poor and the houseless and other unfortunate souls I probably thought myself better than, the humiliation of having that ideology thrown back in my face when I cannot succeed under the same terms.

(And when I say I, I mean we. None of us are safe here, and this is the opposite of what we need.)

This job market, this disappointment post-graduation, is painful for me to confront. It’s a bit of the same pain I felt when I came to understand that higher education was not a great equalizer but merely a mechanism to perpetuate the status quo, the same pain I feel when I hear people defend throwing families in cages because they violated some law, the same pain I feel when I see folks saying we can’t take radical action on climate change or abolish prisons or dismantle capitalism because it will cost too much or be unfair to folks who paid off their loans or their debt to society or whatever milquetoast excuse the centrists are offering that day. We insist on adhering to the tenets of a way of life that is killing us. I adhered to them by going back to school, even though I had literally no reason to, was receiving no real benefit besides the false sense of security that comes from doing the right thing. If we just work hard enough. If we get a degree. If we are exceptional. If we go high when they go low, if we open a business in a disadvantaged community for three years, if we are silent as the waves of change crash upon us, as the inexorable tide of exploitation pulls us under, we might become one of the lucky ones.

The past is the past. I made my choice, I went back to school, I graduated. But now, I intend to break away, take a different path than the one society prescribes for me. A scarier path, but maybe a more realistic path. A path that I forge myself, with guidance from others who have navigated this chaos longer than I have, successfully. I want to write full-time, or as full-time as my bodymind allows. It isn’t my first choice to make writing my primary source of income—it is partially a function of the reality of the job market—and I may end up needing to find part-time work to supplement my income after all. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe that making writing my full-time job is at least something worthwhile for me to attempt. Writing is where I see myself doing the most good on this planet, and despite the awful state of publishing, I think I have a chance—however tiny—at my version of success. It will be hard. It will involve a lot of rejection and crying jags and questioning whether I ought to just peace myself out and avoid all the misery. It could also be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. The way I find community. The way I build community and leave a legacy of work for the folks who live after I’m gone. I have nothing to lose, anyway. We have nothing to lose but a world that would see us in chains again.

It’s not you, it’s society. And society is in shambles. What would you do if there was nothing holding you back, if you had nothing left to lose, if everything you thought you knew turned out to be a lie? What will you do now, at the beginning of the end of this world?

* Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke University Press. 2010.

Neoliberal capitalism is obsessed with choice: the illusion of it, anyway. Same with patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, settler colonialism—they all sustain themselves in part by making our oppression our job. We internalize the rules so we can flog ourselves for breaking them, over and over again. We proclaim, loudly, that we deserve what we get, that we are oppressed because we choose it, and we must only wish away or ignore structural burdens in order to experience freedom. We fight other oppressed folks who dare to name our oppressors as entities outside ourselves. The ways our oppressions internalize themselves are often so insidious that the ideas our brains produce in their thrall can appear revolutionary, at least to us, at our current level of awareness. (See Kanye thinking a white supremacist chestnut is the key to black liberation.)

I’ve been thinking about why I’m fat, lately.

In the past, I declared that I was fat by choice. It was important to me, then, to grasp at what few shreds of individual agency I could. I needed to feel like my existence as a fat person was a rebellion in the sense that I could quit any time, and not doing so was a middle finger to society. At any point, if I just paid a little more attention to my body, if I was just a little less frivolous with my food groups, I could leave the abundance of fatness behind. I just choose not to, right?

(I see them, now. Ghostly relics of internalized fatmisia: my insistent proclamations that I had a choice in the matter of being fat. Relics adorned in the garb of an illusory agency, a complicity in my own destruction that was difficult to resist when I was deep in my feelings about having had little say over the trajectory of my life.)

For some oppressions I live with, the origin lines are relatively linear to me. Ask me why I’m Black and I will tell you a story of chattel slavery, a colonial project undertaken as the greatest wealth redistribution project in human history, and a category created to distinguish humanity from property; ask me why I’m femme and I will tell you of babies carelessly assigned a gender based on a glance at external sex organs, a patriarchal society’s desperate efforts to contain femininity, and my own journey reconciling my internal experience of womanhood with my apparent gender.

My fatness, though, reaches from all directions. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about patriarchy, his tyrant son, rape culture, and the wrath their mortal instruments inflicted on my young psyche. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about ableism and the forced drugging of psychodivergent adolescents. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about capitalism, its capricious devastation of our food environments, and its sorting of humanity into useful and useless. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you, again, about the razing of a continent through enslavement and colonialism. There are so many reasons, and I realize, now, that all of them are outside my control.


I had a 23andMe health and ancestry test gifted to me a while back by a friend. Last week, I got the results, and part of my health analysis stated that I was likely to be average weight. After I stopped grumbling about Whose average?, I started thinking about the course of events that tipped the scales of probability in favor of fatness. Not in a wistful, if-only-this-hadn’t-happened way, honestly. Just musing on the fact that my body, as reviled as it is, is basically a monument to the success of capitalism (and white supremacy, and settler colonialism). Like, look what having food accessible abundantly (to a few) and insisting we prioritize productivity over well-being to increase wealth (for a few) can do for a body. Or, look what tormenting brown folks whose bodies crave taking up just a little more space than your narrow white selves are comfortable with into yo-yo dieting in order to fit a white supremacist ideal can do for a body.

(Basically, y’all should be worshipping fat folks as gods of the fucking free market, patron saints of capitalism. Something other than pretending we don’t exist, or actively working to ensure we can’t.)

I know that genes aren’t destiny. I also know that I am what society made me. It is vital, then, to me, to find and name origin lines, because I do not believe in a fat liberation that does not also seek the dismantling of the structures that created my fatness.

But. But.

I’m not looking for reasons why I’m fat so that I can make it so less fat people exist. Despite my belief that our current food environments are designed to maximize profit rather than human happiness, and despite my belief that our ever-diminishing access to guaranteed shelter, abundant leisure time, and safe outdoor space is making our bodies and minds sick, I also believe that humanity contains a diverse array of naturally-occurring, joyfully normal body types, sizes, and shapes. I also believe that good health looks different for everyone, and is not a moral obligation.

(Especially when we’re in no danger of extinction from any “obesity epidemic”, but we are damn sure in danger of extinction from capitalism and white supremacist imperialism.)


I read a HuffPost article that really resonated with this desire I’ve been cultivating, to have the origin lines of my fatness identified (“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”, September 19, 2018). In it, the author, Michael Hobbes, prints the words of actual fat people, their stories of medical discrimination, inaccessibility, and wage theft. He also touches on the impossibility of losing weight and the paradox of individual choice in a society that works against you. I felt seen, affirmed: we know it’s not your fault, in article form. And I felt angry, because in that article are so many injustices. So many of my fellow fat folk pouring out their experiences, maybe hoping for understanding from their oppressors, maybe hoping to inspire their kin.

(I channeled that anger into wearing a crop top to pick up my parking permit at school, hoping my belly fat would disgust someone so much they’d say something and I might bring the full force of my rage to bear upon them.)

Of course Hobbes is saying things that fat acceptance activists have been saying for ages; diets don’t work, fat stigma kills. He’s just acting as a thin interpreter. And as Margitte points out in her incisive rebuttal (Everything you know about ‘obesity’ is still wrong, September 24, 2018), he’s still approaching fatness as a problem that needs to be eliminated. He is still linking fatness with health. Margitte, in response, implores us to stop searching for the cause of fatness and instead work towards liberation via building a society designed for all body sizes and shapes.

But when I read her words, I felt myself chafing against the idea. Why? I had to think about it, sit with it, make sure it wasn’t another relic of internalized fatmisia. And then I discerned my problem. It wasn’t the idea of working towards liberation, but the idea that I had to stop being concerned with the cause of my fatness. Because, like I said, I can’t see a true fat liberation existing in a framework where fatness is not a choice, and as long as patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism are still standing, my fatness will never, can never, truly be my choice.

Even my current level of health is not my choice. I think one reason Hobbes’ article resonated with me is that I have a deep longing to be healthier than I am, but I’m up against structural obstacles that make obtaining the health I want difficult. It sounds like liberation to my ears for society to remodel itself so that eating foods that don’t trigger my IBS or fibromyalgia flares is easier, so that I can get the free time and access to exercise I need to soothe my crazy mind and achy body.

But Margitte is right in the sense that a society remodeled in this way would be remodeling itself in a fatmisic image. It would be remodeling itself to achieve the erasure of fatness under the guise of improving health, because we have not accounted for the root of our hatred of fatness. And when the remodeling project did not succeed, society would again turn its wrath towards us and demand we account for why we’re still fat unhealthy, because in a fatmisic society fatness can never be healthy. And our subjugation is not dictated solely by our socially constructed health status.

(Fat folks are expansive, billowing. It takes many tethers to tie us down.)


Is it paradoxical that I still feel some sense of choice to my fatness now, having firmly outlined my lack of such? Let’s see: I choose to love myself even when I don’t. I choose to rage against my creators. I choose to exist in this body, every day, even if that choice is only made by inertia. But no, I don’t choose to be fat any more than I choose to be Black, queer, femme, or crazy. These are all categories created to divide humanity into those who hold power and those who do not. I find joy in the family I’ve discovered through the sharing and celebration of these identities, but I can’t deny their nature, their intended, oppressive purpose. And my fatness strikes at the core of all of them, connecting them, nourishing them with its decadence. I could not exist as any one of these things without my fat.

(Like so many beautiful things in life, fatness is multifaceted.)

I want us to create a fat liberation movement that strikes at the core of our intersecting identities and nourishes other liberation movements. I want us to acknowledge and honor where we came from, acknowledge that we share the same root system with others who are oppressed by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. We all have different origin stories for our fatness. We have all been shaped round in part by the societies we live in. Our bountiful, glorious abundance deserves an acknowledgement of receipt, a tracing of origin points. Not so we can follow them back to their heart to destroy the adipose beast that birthed our kind, but so we can dismantle the structures that prevent our fatness from truly being a choice.

Source: NewsOne

Representation and participation in the existing political and economic system, for oppressed peoples, will not produce lasting change no matter how many of us manage to infiltrate it.

In struggles for liberation of oppressed people, some of us choose to do a portion of our work within existing systems, such as academia or government. Those who subscribe to the gradualist/incrementalist school of thought view work inside the system as the best way to ensure equity for oppressed groups. For me, that kind of work is a temporary fix aimed at protecting the most vulnerable among us from institutional harm, rather than a long-term strategy for getting free. Since the institutions that we’re working in weren’t designed to serve Black folks and other oppressed people, attempting to reform them is a Sisyphean task. Political gains are short-lived and transient, and oppressive systems are shape-shifters. Too often, the system will corrupt those who work within it for its own ends, turning folks into weapons against their own communities. Either directly or indirectly, gradualists attempting to effect change from within are usually required to participate in the oppression of minority groups. The system tends to change who works inside it more than we change the system.

A certain degree of assimilation, of course, is needed to work within any institution successfully. Gaining access to positions of power requires that you behave in a certain way, that you use a certain type of language, and that you moderate how you express your beliefs so you’re more palatable to the gatekeepers you’re attempting to woo. Once you gain power and access, there’s an increase in freedom, but you still must work within the confines of the institution to stay in its good graces. Certain institutions demand you surrender more of yourself than others—government or law enforcement, for example, are going to force folks to embrace the status quo more than academia or science. Politics in particular runs on compromise, so politicians often find themselves in situations where they have to support policies that hurt one marginalized group in order to advance policies that benefit another.

Being “in charge” of the system also does not prevent you from perpetuating its harm. Keeping an institution running smoothly as is means making choices that will contribute to marginalization and violence against oppressed groups in order to preserve the status of the institution. In the case of President Obama, while his educational background and experience in community organizing indicated he would be more conscious of the the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism than your average President, he still supported policies that harmed brown people worldwide. Drone strikes and deportations both escalated under his administration. We could spend hours debating the reasons why this is—and it likely would have still occurred under any of our other choices—but the point is, him being Black and conscious didn’t change the manifest function of American government. It did not transform American democracy from a force for domination and subjugation into a force for equity and equality.

This is because institutions themselves have internal philosophies that are derived in part from the circumstances under which they were formed. These philosophies drive them and define their function in society, and while that function might evolve over time, it is unlikely to stray too far from its origin point. No matter how an individual might feel about an institution or its function within the status quo, that institutional philosophy has a powerful effect. For example, law enforcement has a history of terroristic behavior towards Black communities and sees itself as adversarial to them; the institutional bias within law enforcement that Blackness is synonymous with crime can and will infect nonwhite officers. The tragedy of Philando Castile is an example of this—Castile was killed by a Latino officer who had clearly bought into the white supremacist philosophy of the system in which he worked. Whether or not Officer Yanez consciously considered Black people’s lives to be worthless, when under duress, he fell back on an institutional philosophy rooted in Whiteness that prioritizes the comfort of white and white-adjacent people over the lives of Black people. An assimilationist, conformist mentality is both encouraged and required to successfully function as an agent of an oppressive institution. As long as you are harming the right people—in other words, nonwhite people and preferably Black people—the institution will have your back. When oppressed people working within systems fail to recognize that institutional support is only maintained as long as they’re working to uphold the status quo, they will be sacrificed.

Working within the existing system can only ever be a palliative measure. Legislative and legal change is easily undone, because the underlying problem is that our political system was designed to serve white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied, cisgender men. It’s pretty simple, if painful, to rip off a band-aid, and all our interventions, from the 13th amendment to the Voting Rights Act, are band-aids attempting to cover the gaping wound that is a Constitution written to the exclusion of a majority of the individuals living in the country at the time (and resting on the genocide of those individuals who held the land before its founding). Band-aids over that wound are useful, however, for preventing vulnerable populations from bleeding out. Legislative and legal change can provide comfort, keeping us alive and able to work towards transformative change.

Participation in the political system is a way of making sure we stay relatively protected in the current paradigm while we scheme on what’s going to replace it. Any revolution has to have both short-term and long-term aspects. Working within the system to achieve short-term goals makes sense. Voting, running for office, and other status quo political activities do have a direct impact on the lives of oppressed and marginalized people. Despite the perceived futility of it, I vote, because who holds office can greatly affect the ease of existing as an oppressed person. Doing work within systems that we know are not designed to work for us also has educational potential—learning what structural features of the current system enable inequity instructs us on what to avoid when creating a new one.

So what can we, liberation-minded folk who choose to engage with systems that can perpetuate oppression, do to avoid losing ourselves to the machine? Keeping goals clear is crucial. Long-term goals should be transformative, short-term goals palliative. Visualizing the desired outcome of our interactions with institutions, and utilizing harm reduction principles when planning the steps we take to reach that desired outcome, will ensure we’re doing as much as we can to avoid being used in service of maintaining the status quo. Of course, listening to the most vulnerable among us and triaging their pressing concerns should always be a priority when we attempt to use institutional resources and knowledge to improve social conditions. No matter what knowledge we think we’ve gleaned during our time in the system, it will be misapplied unless we pair it with knowledge gained through lived experience—whether ours or others’. Reconnecting with our communities and families as a form of self-care can be invaluable both for staying centered and embodied as well as for reminding us what and who we’re fighting for.

It is also vital to remember that work within systems has to be paired with work outside systems. Demeaning the work of activists who seek to disrupt the functioning of institutions, as some gradualists tend to, is counterproductive. Disruptive, even violent activism is needed to provide a pressure point that emphasizes the existential necessity of transformative change, as the status quo will not change unless under duress. We have to stay focused on why we decided to work within these institutions in the first place—liberation. Liberation cannot be gained via incrementalism, because white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy will always adapt and reimagine itself no matter what superficial systems we modify in an attempt to approximate equality. Slavery became mass incarceration; colonialism became globalization under an American hegemon. To bypass white fragility and preserve a false sense of class-based unity, incrementalist strategies also tend to avoid addressing white supremacy as foundational to the American political system. Without addressing why the system is structured the way it is, without a critical interrogation of the role Whiteness plays in how the system operates, an egalitarian society will remain an unattainable goal.

Representation and participation in the existing political and economic system, for oppressed peoples, will not produce lasting change no matter how many of us manage to infiltrate it. The myth of “change from within” is a mirage sold to us in order to secure our compliance with the status quo by giving us a buy-in to the system. It is a distraction that allows our leaders to continue kicking the can down the road, claiming progress is being made towards “diversity” and equal opportunity, while avoiding the eventual and necessary revolutionary change that must take place. Ultimately, dismantling the current paradigm, and creating a new one based on equity, is our only path to liberation.

Source: British Journal of Photography

I love Black people.

It’s a learned love, a fought-over love, a bittersweet love, but ultimately, a fulfilling love. Blackness has been like this beautiful thing that I don’t want to cheapen by forcing myself onto it. I keenly understand that my experience is very different from that of a more visibly Black person. I know that not everyone sees me as Black when they look at me. So to claim it, for me, is something that I have battled for, and I value so much that claiming. For most Black people, their Blackness is not something that can be confused for some other race or ethnicity, and because of that they are vulnerable to police violence. Loving someone for whom that is a reality is scary. Because I love Black people, I am scared. Because I love a Black man, I am scared.

I’m also heartbroken. I want everyone to see the beauty in Blackness and value us the way I do, the way I have fought to. I want everyone, every person to take time and learn about our history and heritage, because it is incredible what Black folks do despite being allowed so little. I want our amazing bodies to be celebrated and not left in the street. I want us to be valued and respected and heard, and when we say “stop killing us”, I want the world to act. I don’t see that happening any time soon, and it makes me sad. It also makes me angry.

Being angry feels better than being sad, qualitatively. Quantitatively, humans tend to get more done when they’re angry versus when they’re sad. So right now, I’m welcoming and embracing the anger. If you feel it, I hope you’ll embrace it too. The only way anything will change is if everyone feels the kind of righteous anger and desire for justice that can only be born out of watching something you love being hurt. Blackness is under attack right now. Black people are being hurt and killed.

The police aren’t under attack. The police serve as a proxy for Whiteness. This is why White people and others who worship Whiteness are so quick to defend and exalt them. The police exercise the will of a racist society, and are charged with protecting the status quo. The status quo is a White supremacist society. Whenever anyone says “Blue Lives Matter”, you can just mentally substitute in “White” for “Blue” and still retain the meaning, because the police and Whiteness are essentially the same thing. There’s no place for either in a society where equity for all is a reality.

When I say “no place for Whiteness”, please note that I did not say “White people”. Whiteness is a concept and an institution. It can’t exist without the subjugation of Black people, period. So if Black people are going to be free, that institution has to be dismantled. In its current form, it is violent, isolationist, xenophobic, selfish, and inhuman. The battle to uphold White dominance is wreaking havoc worldwide. Devotion to Whiteness is an exploitable weakness in a populace, and politicians like Trump are using that to gain power and access. Law enforcement is using it to escape accountability for violence against Black people. I love my White family, but I don’t love Whiteness.

Because I recognized Whiteness as toxic from a relatively young age, I threw myself into Blackness. I embraced and absorbed it. I studied Black history, read about our enslavement and emancipation, about our revolutionaries and artists and writers. I listened to our music, and watched our movies. Although my dad wasn’t a big part of my life, I cherished the time I had with his huge family, my cousins and aunts and uncles, my granny and granddad, and the extended family they had acquired over the years. My teen years are, perhaps, when my love came to fruition. I surrounded myself with as much Blackness as I could. I allowed myself to feel that belonging I craved.

I look back on those years fondly, now, in the golden years of my love. I know that some Black people, if they could choose, would rather be White, because it would relieve so much of the hardship they have and will bear. I might be looking at Blackness through high-yellow glasses, but I would never in my life choose to be White. Not only does being Black allow me to naturally separate myself from the cult of Whiteness, I was born into an extended family of millions. Even for my misanthropic ass, that feels amazing. So much love, and so much power.

I see us exercising our power now, and I wish I was able enough to be out there with them. When I was in my youth I fancied myself a revolutionary. Now, I sit behind a laptop and write. We all have our part to play, I suppose. The muscle, though, is supremely important. Activists provide that, and I am so grateful for them. Their persistence and perseverance has made me fall in love all over again.

Despite the opinion of those who know me, I’m actually not a cynic. I do believe that change is possible. I’ve seen change in my lifetime, and I’ve studied enough history to know that I’m better off in 2016 than I would be in 1956. Ours isn’t a hopeless fight, although the forces that must be confronted are intimidating and intractable. Folks have to move on from attacking individuals and pivot to attacking institutions, and that’s difficult. It’s easier to focus on interpersonal dynamics and ignore the sociopolitical framework that sanctions and encourages bigotry. But we have to try.

We have to succeed if we’re going to survive, literally. The same mentality that allows for state-sanctioned violence against Black folks is the mentality that allows people to stick their head in the sand when it comes to climate change, or deny the destructiveness of poverty, or ignore any number of social justice issues. Everything, ultimately, is connected, and not in a “dude-we’re-in-the-Matrix” way. Watching the events of the past year has really underscored that for me. The events of the past few days were like a stab in the gut, reminding me.

For the sake of my love, we have to succeed.