black lives matter

Mother’s Day is Here to Transform White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy into Something Beautiful

I’m inspired by Mother’s Day. It’s wonderful to know that this is not, after all, a Hallmark holiday, but one that has its roots in compassion, healing, and opposition to war and violence.

julia ward howe

I’ve griped on here quite a bit about how alienating I find consumer capitalist culture, so to be reminded that one of the buy-things-to-show-you-care holidays actually has its origins in radical anti-violence activism and to see that it is actively being reclaimed this year by women of color activists gives my heart some serious joy.

And, because bell hooks has made a career out of insightful cultural criticism and does such a great job articulating the structure of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, here she is:

The Miseducation of We the People and the Transformation of Human Society

We live in a society that would be absurd if it wasn’t tragic. Yet a majority of the society embraces the myths of its miseducation and, doing so, refuses to accept reality. To be fair, all of the systems and institutions of the society–not only the miseducation system–encourage people to deny reality in favor of dreams. The American Dream of individual and familial meritocratic success isolated from the larger context of society is the driving myth that permeates all the institutions of what has become a corporate-dominated plutocracy masquerading as the world’s leading example of democracy, freedom, and equality. This Dream is exactly what it advertizes itself as: a dream, a somnolent fantasy that we must forget as we move into wakefulness and the realities of the American, and international, day.

America is a product and America is a fantasy, but America is also a reality. Relatively few people are willing to see the reality of America. We live in a banal version of the Matrix. Once you wake up, you’re still where you were. There’s no Morpheus to guide you, no organization with answers. No violent struggle against tyrants in corporate suits will free us. No superpowers will be gained. No pills will point the way out. What you find when you wake up alone today in America, aside from a moral wasteland and a devastated environment, is a loose collection of individuals and organizations stretching out hands and wifi signals in an effort to reclaim a sense of humanity. Our task is to ignite consciousness and conscience so that the people will wake up–if not all the people, enough to claim the ideal of We the People for the 21st century and beyond; enough to actualize the American dream of freedom, justice, and equality for all.


Education Emma Goldman copy

Miseducation put me to sleep. That’s what it’s designed to do. It put you to sleep, too. Maybe you woke up. I see a lot of people here that woke up before me. I’ve been half-awake. Groggy. Disturbed by the cold out there, the lateness of the day. Lulled back to sleep by comforts, rising half-asleep to consume lies. Willingly consuming lies, not because I believed them, but because I could see no other option.

Sure, I fasted in protest. I abstained from the most horrific lies, refused to partake in fake religion and consumer patriotism. I read some Chomsky, a third of A People’s History of the United States, Inga Muscio, Anne Moody, Derrick Jensen, The Conquest of Paradise. I was full-on awake for a while there. Publicly freaking, speaking out.

I got complacent. The reasons for my complacency are complex and irrelevant. What matters now is that I am awake again. Black Lives Matter woke me up. I intend to stay woke.

Miseducation shapes us. It stamps us with answers, stifles our questions. Generally, white people get ahead and get by by embracing our privilege and engaging in the parade of consumption-driven miseducation. The tests are multiple choice, memorization, or regurgitation of the white-washed historical party line–easy shit if you’re white and middle class. Go to college. Pass go, collect a job.

I stalled out. I’m ashamed to say that, despite stalling out, I repaired my jalopy ass–in the way that capitalist, white supremacist society recommended–and tried to get back on the road. But the road was a highway, people drive crazy, I’m overwhelmed by traffic, the damn radio is stuck on some white preacher delivering the news about the War on Terror and how Jesus approves, cut to commercial, and I got distracted, overwhelmed, stalled out again.

I’m built for back roads. I’m a jalopy. It’s good to be a jalopy. Sometimes I’m a bike. It’s good to be a bike. My favorite way to move is to walk, slowly and with awareness.

But the society is built for driving machines, real privileged BMWs and SWMs and SWFs. Career people with cars. Cars with career people. I’m an intentional, pensive guy driving a jalopy; rather be walking.

Miseducation directs us to a false life: the career embedded in capitalism. The goal of education in a capitalist society is not to draw out and nurture the human being, but to produce a worker-consumer for use in the economy. The goal of work in capitalist society is not to engage in meaningful and productive activity that nurtures the human being and human society, but to make money–ostensibly for yourself and family, but also for the perpetuation of the capitalist system. Engagement in meaningful work, a passion for your field, is incidental and a privilege. Capitalism doesn’t care about your passion. Capitalism doesn’t care. Capitalism is being driven to perpetuate itself and concentrate wealth. To work in this capitalist society is to channel wealth upward, no matter what your values, color, or creed.

And look at how that wealth is spent:

military spending

War. We work for war. No matter what we do, our tax dollars go to kill and maim, to destroy and drive to despair, to subjugate people to an economic system that is perpetuated by our miseducation, our labor, our passions. And increasingly, as we’ve seen in communities of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised Americans this past year, that war is coming home.


How does one respond to this situation? By reaching forward, by pushing boundaries and defining the new. And by reaching back, embracing the work of those who have come before to push boundaries and define the new during their historic time. We are alive in history. History is a living thing, not a static page. We are alive within it, the vanguard, the representatives of not only ourselves at this moment in time, but also our ancestors in vital struggle and our children and grandchildren, the young, the just born, and the unborn.

Perhaps the miseducation system can be transformed from within into an education system. Valuable work is being done and will continue to be done from within the system–not only from within the miseducation system, but from within all the systems that are designed to perpetuate white supremacy and capitalism. Valuable work can also be done outside the system. The marginalized, the poor, the incarcerated, the disenfranchised and disadvantaged are increasingly forced to the margins or outside of the system and locked out of the economy. Against immense prejudice and odds, they rise and work. I discover organizations doing powerful, grassroots work–revolutionary work–in communities across America daily.

These organizations and the people that make them up move and inspire me. They call me forward to embrace a more authentic reality and a more authentic identity. Those of us who are overly privileged can work outside the system as well, if so inclined–or impelled. American capitalist society, white supremacist society, is not the inclusive entity it advertizes itself to be. That illusion is crumbling into transparent wreckage day by day, even as the willfully ignorant cling to it and claim it as reality.

No one knows what the future looks like. The image of the past that we have been miseducated to see and revere is an illusion, a socially-constructed lie that serves inhuman interests. Now is the time–the only time we have–to affirm or reaffirm our humanity and commit to serving human interests. When enough of us do, the inhuman will be deconstructed and transformed. With the scraps and wreckage of inhuman tyranny, we will recycle, renew, and rebuild reality. We will build a human society based not on dreams, but on the immense and beautiful potential of millions of human beings working together.

This is a vision. Far-flung, for sure. So far-flung that it seems like a dream. Yes. See it with me. Affirm it. And work toward it.

America Needs a Radical Revolution of Values

American society suffers from a profound clash of professed values and actual practices. We profess the value of education, but criminalize our children with a school-to-prison pipeline. We profess a love of liberty, but imprison unprecedented numbers of people, most for non-violent drug offenses, and the majority of those we imprison are people of color. We profess equality and security, yet our police departments operate as judge, jury, and executioner in the most disadvantaged communities–the ones that most need police officers to serve and protect. Those communities also need social services, yet social services are routinely cut in favor of corporate profits and privatization, and so the professed rights to life and the pursuit of happiness are compromised.

Chicago activists protesting criminalization of black youth at Cook County Detention Center on January 15, 2015 (photo by @MinkuMedia)

Chicago activists protesting criminalization of black youth at Cook County Detention Center on January 15, 2015 (photo by @MinkuMedia) Click image to read “Willing to Live for Our People”, about the young students who led the Chicago action

The roots of this clash grow from a contradiction at the core of our nation. The “unalienable rights” asserted in the Declaration of Independence have been denied, in some way or another, to African-Americans for the entire history of our nation. Unalienable rights, denied: a contradiction between the professed philosophy of the nation and its lived experience, its history.

This lived contradiction is similar to the notion of cognitive dissonance, the stress experienced by an individual who holds two contradictory beliefs. America professes equality, but practices inequality; this mismatch creates stress in America’s image of itself and in our public discourse.

American practices violate American ideals in the realm of foreign intervention, as well. Throughout American history, the nation has violated the sovereign rights of other nations: Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, to name a few. While many apparently find it easy to dismiss military interventions as irrelevant to the unalienable rights of U.S. citizens, the professed philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is violated by foreign interventions that aim to subjugate populations to American interests.

Speaking on April 4, 1967, about his opposition to the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that America had chosen to:

make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

In 21st century America, King’s recommended revolution of values has never occurred. From the perspective of militarization and violent foreign intervention, our practices have changed little, and arguably worsened, since Vietnam. Our media is complicit. The propaganda drilled into the American people after 9/11 had a profound effect, obliterating the security that many Americans felt during the 1990s and replacing it with a climate of fear. The violation of reason, the lack of debate and a measured response perpetuated by the military-industrial complex after 9/11 created a climate hostile to democracy in America. The 21st century would be a very different time if, rather than rushing to war, the American people had been able to muster the political consciousness and will to approach the attacks with objective analysis, rather than reactionary patriotism. Questions could have been asked, foreign policy analyzed and revised; America could have wrestled with the contradictions inherent in a nation that has never been at peace with its professed values of equality and liberty.

In a country where King’s “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” have never been conquered, and at a time when the reasons he cited for their continued tyranny are equally, if not more applicable than when he gave his speech, our ability to see the roots of our stress and discontent is obscured. In the pursuit of justice both at home and abroad, America must renounce an economics of consumption for a life of engagement. We must engage in a critical assessment of the ongoing national failure to actualize the ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” that we declared on July 4th, 1776. We must undergo, as King declared, “a radical revolution of values” in order to engage in a correction of course that is long overdue.