The epistemology of KBURD
Most of my talking about OccupyWallStreet and my local Occupys has been on Twitter and Google+ rather than here on my blog. I drop in and start twittering what’s happening in a General Assembly or try to connect up the streams of what’s happening and report on a situation. But now I feel moved to post. This morning I woke up still full of beautiful dances I was watching online, links from a friend from various powwows around the country. This is a Men’s Fancy Dance,
This one is of a Grass Dance,
Bear with me. Okay meanwhile this long and deep conversation about racism in the Florence and the Machine video for “No Light, No Light” has been going on. Here’s an overview from Racialicious. A lot of bloggers spoke up to point out the giant bundle of racist belief systems that result in works like this being made and being viewed uncritically by many white people and people of color and that PoC are more likely to notice the outrageousness of it while white people don’t see it until it’s pointed out and maybe not even then. As usual, (see #RaceFails of time immemorial) the resulting backlash of white people getting defensive and then extra offensive feels worse and exposes more nonsense than the original cultural artifact that inspired the critique. That can be disheartening and in the middle of that alienation it’s refreshing to the deepest bits of me to see this video response from lebanesepoppyseed which was on the KBURD tumblr. Yay, rant on! I feel less alone in my rage and bafflement. (Bafflement is not quite the right word. Deep political and personal WTF that goes with alienation.) KBURD:
Short for “K but u rong doe”. Used when you know arguing is pointless but you need them to know they’re still wrong.
Person 1: women are partly responsible for getting raped
Person 2: kburd.
Ha! Yes. What a useful and amusing word.
But what does this have to do with powwows and dancing? Not much. But as I watched a bunch of videos and entered a happy click trance going between YouTube and Wikipedia and various Native American history sites I thought about knowledge and cultural contexts. I went to a powwow once in like 1982 and have read some books of stories and some histories of North America but I have no way to understand what I am seeing in these dances. And I have no particular knowledge of dance in general, at all other than having heard a friend once talk about some other dancer’s “placement”, after which I began to notice “placement” everywhere; so I realize there is a whole bundle of criteria that serious dancers would use to watch and understand and critique other dancers that I can’t tap into. I can’t see right off the bat very much of what it is that my friend (who is showing me the videos) sees and loves. So I can barely begin to appreciate these dancers — and I know that. I can see some guys dancing around in awesome looking outfits and get a vague feeling or mood and watch on that level. I can judge on the level of “I like how that dancer leaps”. But the art of it is on some level not visible to me. Reading the comments on the videos opens up a little bit of the context for me as people compliment a particular dancer. I watched a grass dance video about 6 times to be able to pick him out and to see even a glimmer of what they praised him for. Even that glimmer of vision makes me super happy as I see the depth of all the knowledge in the world and the way that epistemology is socially constructed and therefore more complicated than some sort of static objective Knowledge-Bit floating around in imaginary space. I get the feeling contemplating our inability to understand everything that’s like watching Cosmos and hearing Carl Sagan drone soothingly on about the emptiness between the stars. It’s not like abjectly going “oh I’m so ignorant” it’s appreciating the beauty of the immensity of what there is to know and love.
And that relates to everything about literary judgement and what people say about universality or scope of a story and they judge one kind of story to be profound and artistically wrought and then, lacking the tools to see a whole swath of the sky, declare that other things don’t reach those levels of complexity or universality or quality or goodness. It is incumbent on us to find out some depth about a thing, if we want to understand how to appreciate it, see its beauties, techniques, and craftedness, and judge its qualities. Education, it contributes so greatly to enjoyment! Context, people! This seems so obvious! But it isn’t, if you’ve not had some kind of double consciousness of truth and cultures and knowledge in general! Which people not in a dominant culture have more likelihood of thinking through and encountering! (Which…. rant…. you aren’t going to see if you don’t even accept that what is coming out of another person’s mouth is language, or thought, or makes any sense because you’ve already dehumanized them in your tiny racist white mind to the point where they’re a babbling mob howling about trivial unimportant things!) Why is this not obvious! I have to accept that it’s not. But then how to explain it.
The countless explanations are out there and then all the ignorant can hear is “KBURD” and a giant eyeroll and then they are back to whining about feeling excluded from where all the black kids are sitting at the cafeteria table and then I lose any semblance of patience and am KBURDing myself. But given that this idea about artistic or literary quality or judgement might be just a little bit accepted or accessible, then let me jump to critique and anger and #Occupy.
I got into an epic 3 days long and counting argument on Twitter about #ows with this dude “geekeasy”, Adam Katz. I know him a little from other political meetings and communities. One of my friends pointed him out getting into an argument about, I can’t even remember at this point; it had occupyoakland, I think the suggested name change of it to decolonize or liberate, the tipi that Running Wolf set up in Oscar Grant Plaza, a blog post by Andreana aka queer black feminist, and all sorts of stuff roiling around in there, but it seemed to be sparked by something he said about not wanting the General Assembly to have a progressive stack; ie, instead of just lining up to talk or getting your name on a list by raising your hand and being called on in order, the stack-keeper helping the facilitator would try to alternate between genders and races to make sure that the stack isn’t all white men standing up to speak because they are more likely to do so out of entitlement and more likely to be listened to out of white male privilege. So, i just went to link to an explanation of some examples of a progressive stack in action, but Christ on a cracker the top links are all to neonazis and MRA people and libertarian and the intersections thereof rejoicing that the progressive stack will unite all of them and all the other Folk of Reason against the coming Decolonization Mau-Mau, so, fuck. Okay. Yeah so. That’s a sampler of what happens when you even dare to suggest, Hey white dudes, how about you potentially wait 15 minutes to get your next chance to talk so that we can invite and make space for women and men of color to have a say? I swear to god it’s like asking a toddler to take a turn at a game and watching him lose his ever loving mind. Problem is he’s driving the fucking car!
Back to the discussion. What happened was, geekeasy was answering me and some friends and then increasingly other people jumping on into it, but answering us from a second twitter account, geekeasy2. I noticed that right off but then ignored it figuring he maybe had an account from his phone and one from a computer, and answered him there but like a day later realized he was still doing his “real” occupy twittering from his first account! As if all his increasingly amazingly racist stuff needed to be off in the corner so as not to pollute his main stream? As if the conversation we were deigning to have with him were somehow going to dilute his real message or bother his real followers or something? I don’t know. Along the way he said some epic and amazing things about black men’s privilege, black women’s privilege, “quotas” and affirmative action in every sphere, racism among PoC, racism against white men, continually quoted MLK to try and prove his point that everyone should be “colorblind”, somehow also it got all about black people when we were talking about Native American people in the beginning … I believe he may have told jay smooth (who talked with him for 2 days straight) that he was remarkably polite and articulate or something… holy hell!! It was like a hundred red alerts on the U.S.S. Enterprise were going off flashing because a bunch of us all hollered BINGO on our 4 dimensional hyper-bingo cards. Well, again, what does this have to do with “Art” and my watching a dozen Grass Dance videos last night, I am not sure I have the patience to keep outlining the connection and my kid wants breakfast now, but, it’s that I think, how can Adam judge whether someone else’s anger is justified or its meaning or background without him listening to or knowing that history and background? I am automatically really curious about his own personal situation and where he got to his thoughts, maybe his class rage is factoring into this big time, but then, go there and talk about that rather than invalidating the entire political thought process of a group of people you’re talking to. Like, he’s over there claiming that the lurkers support him in email, ie that he has talked with large numbers of white people who will leave the Occupy movement if there is a progressive stack, or if there is a serious meeting to change the name of Occupy Oakland, but he’s *saying that to people who are telling him they personally aren’t going to be part of the movement unless there *is* a progressive stack* without any seeming consciousness that he values his unseen white people not in the conversation more than he values the people of color he’s actually speaking with in that moment and that further, he expects the PoC he’s speaking with to also value those white people he invokes more than their own selves and feelings! It boggles the mind! My point though, is that he and so many white people feel free to judge the validity of women’s and people of color’s response, of our and their angry responses, of our humor, of our political experiences and beliefs, of our very capability of judgement and taking offense and finding other things acceptable, without even first listening to us or knowing anything about our experiences. And that, even aside from some sort of evenness in intrinsically making space for people to speak who might not otherwise get a chance to be heard, is the point, if white men would make structural changes in actual real life to pay attention to and value the opinions of people who aren’t them, they might get that depth of understanding necessary to develop some judgement! Why can’t they know that they don’t know, and take some time to look some shit up, like I just did automatically in googling for some history of Grass Dance, reading some comments from people talking to each other not to me about it, and making like 1 iota of effort! I realize that someone like Adam will instantly respond that that is why I need to listen to THEM more because omg what about the white menz, but my god! I spent my whole life being brought up to listen to them and judge everything else in the world according to their standards of importance and quality, and what an epic struggle to turn one’s attention elsewhere! The struggle of my whole life! And even then I still of course listen, especially to individuals who, like Adam, are in my community and directly up in my political arenas. And then they’re all like, Oh but we don’t get it, what is wrong, why aren’t there any (women in this hackerspace, women of color at this tech conference, etc etc) What can we do, please educate us on this subject and p.s. could you also do our Diversity Outreach unpaid and uncredited to get your friends to be tokenized and used and offended by us! And then when we fucking try to educate them even a tiny bit they’re all like Oh god reverse sexism/racism, my girlfriend says I’m not sexist, I have a black friend, Running Wolf said I get to have this tipi, You are oppressing me and now because you all dared suggest you get some of the time and I give up 1/10th of my privilege which I won’t even admit exists, I’m going to throw the internet’s biggest hissy fit for days on end so you will all pay attention to meeeeeee. (And even that is a bad framing that the point of things is for the benefit of white men to do their CR work for them. But, okay someone has to try.) At that point I am quite grateful to have the word to be able to simply say, “KBURD”. But then what? I mean I assume (with no real knowledge but in good faith) that geekeasy (in his non-geekeasy2 incarnation) does some useful and good and dedicated activist work. But then what do we do with his strangely split off alter ego, geekeasy2? We still have to live with these people after the revolution, if you know what I mean, so, damn, really, what now? Ally with the allies I guess and keep on fighting the good fight and leading by example. And this is what almost every day is like, in my head, during these months of #occupy #decolonize #liberate and all the conversations around it, so complicated and swirling, beautiful, inspiring, friend-making, and then, infuriating. It’s hard to blog because there is so MUCH of it. Is that how it is for you?
Peace out as I go make some eggs for my child and start my morning for real.