All posts by moonwise

Jihan McDonald is a facilitator, counselor, writer and educator from Oakland, CA. Currently completing a Masters in Social Transformation, Jihan derives deep pleasure from the meaning of words, the reading of books, the dancing of feelings, and the naming of squirrels. Jihan greatly dislikes inequity & close-toed shoes.

September-October 2017

so much to mull these days.

one of them is my bubble.

i admit it, i live in a bubble.

in my bubble, there are men, women,
girls, boys, trans folx,
two spirits and non-binary people
who are vulnerable, courageous, and
so very fierce in their love
for equity and justice.

they put their truths, their voices,
their bodies, their hearts online and
on the line in service of solidarity
and human revolution.

they are my oxygen.

this has become increasingly
apparent to me, and it has become
something to criticize lately.
there’s an idea that to be
in a bubble it is by definition
“safe” or protected, but like most
bubbles i know of, this one is fragile.

this space is fragile and requires care.

this space is subject to breaking.

this comes to mind as i struggle
to be in multiple communities acutely
dealing with the impacts of toxic
masculinity, abuses of power by people
with authority and in positions of leadership,
sexual manipulation and violation right now.

my bubble protects me but it isn’t from reality.

my bubble protects me from gaslighting
because i know people who can say “me too”,
i have been a perpetrator of harm.

my bubble protects me from gaslighting
because i know people who can say “me too”,
i have had harm perpetrated against me.

my bubble protects me from gaslighting
because i know people who can say both
of these things at the same time.

my bubble protects me from the deepest despairs,
trust i got some shallow and mid-layers, because
i know people who fight every single day to end
cycles of oppression and abuse.

my bubble protects me from delusion by refusing
to be anything less than, often, painfully critical
and questioning of the status quo and all the things
it implies and justifies.

my bubble protects me from the spiritual mire
of complacency by always seeing and demanding
more in and from me.

my bubble protects me by offering death
to those things that cannot survive within.

my bubble protects me by being full
of healers, dreamers, artists, and
activists committed to keeping this thing afloat.

be conscious of your bubble. get to know its curves,
what it holds within, and how much it can bear before breaking.

i am still impacted and regularly feel bent out of shape.

my bubble also shudders, contracts, condenses, expands.

but my bubble holds.

that bubble is your atmosphere planetary being,
you won’t make life without it.

don’t burst your bubble, make sure it’s full
of life-giving elements; not philosophy,
just bio-physics.

Leveraging Our Influence in These Challenging Times

Are you feeling challenged to step into your power in the current social and political climate?

Join facilitators Aya Caspi & Jihan McDonald in an embodied exploration of Leveraging Your Influence in These Challenging Times by maximizing our impact in our spheres of influence which includes our families, communities, workplaces, impacting society as a whole, and the work that we do within ourselves. In these challenging times of deep uncertainty, rifts in our social environment are being exposed and exploited to benefit a small portion of the whole. Many of these rifts are also showing in our personal lives as we struggle to reconcile different beliefs and our relationships with the people that hold them. This workshop builds on the work of Miki Kashtan in developing the core commitment to using NVC principles and practices to become an agent of change. Specifically, we are focusing on the notions of Strategic Discomfort, The Conscious Disruptor, and The Living Laboratory. We will be using Nonviolent Communication and Theater of the Oppressed to empower each other in recognizing our innate capacities to act for justice to meet universal needs.

This workshop builds on the work of Miki Kashtan in developing the core commitment to using NVC principles and practices to become an agent of change. Specifically, we are focusing on the notions of Strategic Discomfort, The Conscious Disruptor, and The Living Laboratory. We will be using Nonviolent Communication and Theater of the Oppressed to empower each other in recognizing our innate capacities to act for justice to meet universal needs.


About the Facilitators

Jihan McDonald has a knack for hearing people’s heart when they speak and connecting what’s in it to the larger currents of the world. Jihan has worked with people ages 8-80 on learning skills, tools, and capacities for assertiveness, empathy, self-realization, and social change in contexts ranging from the redwoods to seminaries and college campuses. Jihan has received the Alpha Delta Leadership Award and a Changemaker Fellowship Award for their work in developing Allies for Life for people to learn pro-active interpersonal allyship. Find out more about Jihan and her allyship work here, or here.

Aya Caspi has dedicated herself to applying radical, uncompromising nonviolence in every small detail of life, starting with the ongoing laboratory of her family, including her three children. Aya brings her unique blend of vision, practical clarity, utter innocence, and deep commitment to transformation to all her endeavors such as co-facilitating the LYI program, the BayNVC Leadership program, family and business coaching, mediation, couples counseling, and promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Visit here for more about Aya.




my heart is a wooden bird
perched on the edge your soul’s pool,
tasting with no intent to consume.
the ritual of rising and falling
becomes a prayer to the ephemeral,
steady, dynamic, process:
fall, encounter, break, dive, rise,
and do it all over again; a mantra
of purpose, dedication to doing
what is meant, the steady drip of
soul substance from my beak is
sweet because there is nothing
lost in giving back to that which
feeds me; fall, encounter, break,
dive, rise and do it all over again

breaking never limits itself to the seems

i am sitting

in a cafe,


– i think-

i am smiling

– i think-

i am trying

– i think-

to remember…



some part of my mandible has split and a piece of my face

and a piece of my face has chipped

and slipped off into my soup

before i realize it’s gone



my head bows to look

for what I have lost but,

somehow, before my hands

grasp at my image in horror

though not before their clenching,

i stop myself


i open my hands,

i do not unclench,

i lift my head, without straightening my neck,

without straightening my neck,

and i continue to try, to remember how…

to try, to remember how…

my ear has slipped,

hanging now at the crux

between neck and skull; it is a little distracting,

it is a little distracting,

i forget.


i scratch around the area,

hoping to trip or trick

a synapse into reconnecting,


i get lucky.

with a blink i can hear again

with everything, well,

my ear anyway,

in its’ right place.


i check their face

to see if i have missed



it is smiling at me

so it must be fine,

i didn’t miss, much,

i can go back

to remembering how to…


i have no control,

i stretch to meet

the openness their face indicates

of their heart

and my nose splatters

into the lemonade i reached

for to get away from the widening

gap of their lips;

there is no splash

but i worry i have

now ruined the pleasantry

as it has become quite difficult for me to breathe

for me to breathe.


i am no longer a beginner, my luck doesn’t last

my luck doesn’t last

and i see i have lost the light in their eyes, somehow,

the light in their eyes, somehow,


damn; you can’t win them all, they say, no one’s ever

you can’t win them all, they say, no one’s ever

they say;

no one’s ever said, at least within my hearing, if we can lose them all

at least within my hearing, if we can lose them all

if we can lose them all.


the advances, the giggles, the long gazes like headlights

the giggles, the long gazes like headlights

the long gazes like headlights

illuminating a path worn by the soft passage of sheep, not

by the soft passage of sheep, not

not by me.

not for me.

i am sharp at heart

in tooth and claw,

i bite into my sandwich

i worry it will leak out,

through the void

filled barrier and splatter

onto the tablecloth,


i already lost the light,

i’d at least like to


to keep my dignity

as my face is beyond

immediate repair


it seems the only things that won’t fall

are the tears,

those cling stubbornly

like rock-climbers on the curves

of my lashes, maybe

they need eyeballs to fall

properly but those disintegrated

as soon as we sat down,

their dust the salt in my meal.


check please,

just in case there’s something

still hanging on;



good old cheekbones,

well the right one anyway,

better right than left i always say, when

when left is not an option; still got it.


i put it all together again, as much as

as much as i can find in the pockets of my mind

in the pockets of my mind

and huddled in the dusty corners of

of my heart.

once i am back

to where i go for sleeping,

there is time for gentleness there,

if not actual healing,

i may take stock

of what’s been lost and perhaps

and perhaps trace

the departure routes.


i rarely find them again, the pieces that fall,

the pieces that fall,

i wish i did, sometimes;


i feel so naked without

without them and being naturally lean

and being naturally lean

i chill easily,

the drafts don’t help and

and i’ve never seen

a treatment for draftiness of the skull

of the skull that didn’t involve death



so instead i sit near the window

i use as a mirror reflecting, wandering

after where those pieces have gone.

i find my nose in a puddle

i cried the night

the wood threatened

to make us mud

and stick us back

into the earth


by the banks

of the river


that blasted bit of mandible

had fallen in the nook

of his parent’s couch while

they were in greece and while

he assaulted me

somewhere between

a bottle of 151, my independence, and

my independence, and

and my all-time favorite book


favorite book



these tears are like my torso pressed

are like my torso

pressed against the seat back of the bus refusing

the seat

back of the bus

refusing to follow gravity in a slow arc towards

gravity in a slow arc towards

towards the earth-

i rub my nose and mandible

and mandible

into them.


they crust

on my eyes

like scabs,

such ugly,




i use their

capacity to carry

a charge to send

an s-o-s,

shame of survival,



it tips out through my

through my fingers

as they try

to hold t(his) hand

which they let slip because for all their

because for all their

for all their

remarkable dexterity

opposable thumbs

are terrible

at multi-tasking.

Some Questions & Answers about Lifehacking

What is lifehacking?

Lifehacking is a new word for one of the oldest human practices: developing tricks, shortcuts, skills, or novelty methods that increase productivity and efficiency in any part of life. Any time we create something that helps us live with more ease we’re lifehacking.

Lifehacking is an incredibly empowering way of engaging life’s challenges. Instead of looking outside to see who or how much we need to pay for a solution, we look at the resources we have available to create that solution.


Who might be best served by a Moon Wise lifehacking session(s)?

Lifehacking is really the art of designing your life to suit YOU. The really, real answer is everyone, and not for business reasons. Whether I ever hear from you are not, if you’re reading this I hope it inspires you to take on a more pro-active role in the shape of your life.

For some people, it looks like transitioning an adult child’s room into a home art studio; for others, it may mean a review of their filing system, wardrobe, or garage.

A few more specific answers are:

  • people experiencing major life transitions (divorce, kids going to college, health challenges, moving homes, family moving in, etc.)
  • people who find that they tend to keep more material things around than they use on a regular basis, aka hoarders
  • people wanting to DIY their own beauty, cleaning & other hygiene products for health reasons
  • people who struggle with self-care & keeping to regular cleaning routines, often folks struggling with physical, mental &/or spiritual health dis-ease
  • people wanting to de-colonize & DIY their day to day lives

Our lives are largely determined by systems to do not prioritize our well-being and creating more agency in our everyday lives develops resiliency, self-confidence, and directly creates healthier environments for us to live in.

What does a Moon Wise life hacking session(s) look like?

My goal is to be obsolete, my success is you not needing my services anymore!

As a companioned process lifehacking involves a consultation and a visit to the space of your life you’d like to hack, which often corresponds to a physical place. We take a look at not only the material but the emotional and mental things creating obstacles to the ease you’re looking for.

We clarify your goals, organize & let go of what’s no longer needed in your heart, head & environment, take stock of the resources you have and use them to create new ways of addressing old challenges with more ease & efficiency.

I’m a facilitator & a guide, you’re the one who will ultimately decide your success but by the end of the process, you will have a decluttered heart, mind, and spirit in a cleaner, healthier space. You will also have a plan and more tools for you to keep them that way so that you can continue to build on the work we’ve done when the process is formally over.


I Accidentally Called a Friend “Nigger” & Other Scenes in Belonging

Haha, I click baited you! I lied.

I didn’t call my friend a nigger.

I called her a coconut, which is basically the same thing.

I’ll backtrack.

I went to Spelman College, an all-female, all-Black, college in the South. I am from Oakland, and in particular the Oakland of the 80’s & 90’s, the Oakland of peak national diversity, Oakland mid to post-(pandemic) crack & pre-gentrification. For all the glorious mix of cultures I come from, it too had its limitations. There is a decidedly different mix here than in the East, North, or South, and although most Black-Americans in the West come from the South, particularly Texas & Louisiana, there are far more Black people from the Caribbean as you move East, which I did after graduation.

After college I moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, importantly pre-gentrification Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, with one of my good friends from school and we took over the apartment she’d grown up in.

It was a total culture shock. The narrow, neo-liberal lens of “diversity” often obscures, quite ironically, the whole deal about diversity: we’re not all the same. As above, so below: not all Black people are the same.

I knew this already but at Spelman I had been more like a bell-pepper, or a cherry tomato, in a cobb salad; part of a plethora. In Crown Heights I was an adorning anchovy to a Caesar, clearly just adding my own flavor to an already stable palate.

The African diaspora is a vast swath of both geography & culture. Depending on your chosen timeline of humanity All of humanity is the African diaspora. That’s not really helpful when looking at something as socio-political as a racial slur though; it Matters that people who carry the physical and cultural traits of African tradition as it has survived through the generations experience an oppression on this planet that those who don’t do not. And when I say African what I mean most at heart is Indigenous, but that’s another thought piece.

Upwards of 95% of my neighbors were West Indian, including my roommate. Most had emigrated themselves or were 1st generation Americans. And it was clear that I didn’t “belong”.

I am walking home from the subway station after a day at my internship in the Upper West Side. I’m in my boho business casual wear- ironic t-shirt, a skirt with 30’s hemlines, flip-flips, and a backpack. The brick buildings with grated windows that line the sidewalk are removed, all of them, from the sidewalk by a short flight of stairs, a squarish lawn, and another short flight of stairs before their gated & buzzered doors.

What differentiates them most are their relative heights. Some are shorter, and feel more like homes. Other are more true to their functions: boxes of human beings stacked upon one another like so many forgotten tools in a garage. The systemic neglect is written across the walls and the faces of the people that line them in the middle of the day looking for something other than a wall to see.

I am stopped by a neighbor a few buildings down. They wait in front of the wall to their building, a shorter, homier one, in a white t-shirt, blue jeans and a doo-rag. As I come down the block towards their building I see them move towards the flight of stairs closest to the street.

I have become accustomed to this as I move through the neighborhood. The curiosity. It doesn’t bother me here, though it does make me curious in return. I understand their curiosity, their wariness, and only wonder, what does the sight of me mean to them?

The neighbor, a middle-aged man, stops at the steps.

‘Scuse me. Hey!

I have on earphones, which I always do when I am walking in the city. I don’t always have them turned on and today I hear them through the buds, though I initially pretend not to. But they are insistent, and at 22 they are my elder so I slow and pull the buds out of my ears.

I seen you walking here, a new face; you live a few buildings down, right?

I say yes, and vaguely gesture in the direction of my building not wanting to reveal too much and already feeling so very conspicuous, exposed.

Most of us have lived here for years, some always, so we know who’s who and so I knew I didn’t know you. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got an eye out in case anything happens. I’m always looking to see who’s around.

As we talk he is indeed looking around, not in alarm, but a gentle, known, surveillance of his environment.

I feel it as a message with double-meanings: I am both protected, and accountable. If something happens to me it’d get checked out; if I was that something I’d get checked accordingly.

I wonder what role they play in the flow of life. Who they might tell about what they see, and why. I thank him and promise to let them know if anything unruly happens in the community that they should know about. Nothing ever does. Well, there was The Cat-Rapist, but that’s another thought piece.

Black Mike, a friend who lives in the next building, tells me while we smoke a blunt in my then somewhat circa apocalypse living room- futon, a tv, on a nightstand, literally nothing else-,

You stand out here you know.

I knew.

Really, how?

– For one thing, you wear flip-flops, and like Keep wearing flip-flops, waay past summertime.

It was true (it’s still true).

Okay, okay, but I’m from the Bay, where I’m from Fall is the warmest part of the year!

– Whateva Jihan. It’s not just that, I see you on your way to work sometimes, you leave about the same time I get my sister up for school, and I see you sometimes out the window, and you come out the building with your backpack- and your fucking flip-flops- on, (he mimes my morning strap adjustment on the stoop) and nobody from here walks like that.

His caricature of me is spot-on.

Ha, ha. Like what?

– Like they’re about to go on an adventure.

Well, I am!

To prove my point I quote Bilbo Baggins, “Stepping out of your door is a dangerous business, you never know where your feet may take you,” which only proved his, as his amused side-eye let me know.

– What? the fuck Jihan. (laughing) Yea, exactly.

We both crack up, me from the familiar knowingness of how being a nerd interrupts my belonging most places, and how being Black interrupts my belonging as a nerd, and he because now he realizes: it’s not a joke, and that’s why it’s so funny, I am an adventurer, because I don’t belong, there, or anywhere, really. As a Black, female-bodied, neurologically atypical, nerd I am always between.

I started to wonder how else I might stand out. I’d already experienced 3 distinct socio-cultural environments (mixed race, mixed class childhood; mostly White, less mixed-class adolescence; all Black, mostly female young adulthood) and traveled to places where I wasn’t “normal” so I had no expectations of belonging, per se (I usually get a reaction like that quoting Tolkein anywhere/everywhere), but I did expect to at least blend in.

There were other little incidents and I started to feel more and more awareness of living on a certain surface of my neighborhood. There were rules, codes of behavior, norms of address, that weren’t mine. And that was ok. I’m an Oaklander through & through (hella), but I didn’t want to eschew these cultural expectations either. I acknowledged my place as an outsider and sought to understand rather than become.

I spent time with my roommate & her friends and the more I did the more I started to understand. How to make proper curry, where to get the good roti and how to order it. I started to get comfortable.

And then it happened.

One day in our kitchen while a friend of hers from around the corner was over, it happened. She said something funny, and then I laughed, and said,

You crazy coconut.

That was the wrong thing to say. Well, it was the wrong thing for me to say.

Both of them froze along with the laughter in the air. They looked at each other, and then at me.

You can’t say that.

I feel mortified, and confused, and embarrassed, and a little hot from image protecting defensiveness.

Oh, my bad. Is that a bad word? I know I don’t know how to use it. I said it because I’d heard you say it to each other, and because I like coconuts. [And because I want to belong too!]

They relax a little and tell me it’s slang in the West Indies, but is like using nigger for them, a laughter only appropriate for those hurt by it.

Oh. It’s too bad they fucked up something as wonderful as coconuts like that.

That’s actually the end of the story. Nothing else happened. And that is the point of this story, of all of these stories.

My desire, need, to belong didn’t trump anything about my impact.

They didn’t need to know anything more about my intentions than that my impact was from ignorance & I didn’t need to know anything more than that it hurt them to never say it again.


The end.



Getting There From Here: Interracial Intimacy- Part III

*   Note to Reader from Part I: This is a rather long read I’ll warn you, and one that is organized more by the neurons in my belly than the ones in my head, but I audaciously, earnestly and genuinely hope that by the time you reach the end you will have discovered something new that will facilitate a greater empathy, awareness & passion for engaging in the life stories of different peoples. It started out as one post which I decided to break apart knowing the attention span of the average industrialized human being.

Part 1 will deal primarily with defining intimacy and with a  bit of U.S. racial history, Parts 2 and 3 with my experience and observations. I would also like to make it clear that I DO NOT believe the relationship(s) between Black & White culture/people to be the only one(s) of relevance, importance or impact; it is simply the relationship(s) I will reference here because it is where my personal experience comes from and I practice not trying to speak others truths. Also, this is intended to be neither scholarly nor academic. It is what I believe today based on my experiences of yester days.

Disclaiming is done.]

– Part III –

This lack of understanding created a situation where intimacy was blocked, there was no traffic between narratives. We’ve all been there, felt that obstacle, that thing in a relationship that you just can’t seem to get around, over or under, when connection just isn’t there. The block was already so vast at the age of 14 that it precluded our abilities to see each other in our full forms. Had they had any interest in increasing their knowledge it would have increased the level of intimacy possible, and increased the possibility to develop healthy, full relationships. The lack of interest killed the potential intimacy. Had there been an expressed interest I would have felt recognized, appreciated for my differences and empowered by the potential value of what those differences brought to the table. Instead, I was overlooked, talked down upon and shut out from being fully seen. I can count the number of white friends I made at that school with less than one hand. The reason is because I was not able to develop an adequate level of understanding, and therefore the emotional trust and safety also necessary for intimacy, with most of my white peers. They didn´t get it because they didn´t care and it was the not caring more than the not knowing that made genuine, personal relationship impossible.

The only person I dated in all 6 of my years at that school was white though more by his skin than culture per se. He had none of the other markers of the status of his other white peers, not the money, the lifestyle, or the bubble. this difference made his reality closer to mine, we were both knowledgeable about crime, neglect & abuse, vacations spent at home, limited financial resources; we had a level of intimacy of life experiences available to us that did not exist with my other white peers of different socio-economic standing. His understanding of the life conditions that often accompany brown skin in this country thanks to centuries of societal neglect meant that I didn´t have to defend or prove certain aspects of my reality, which I constantly had to do with other classmates who were only intimate with an essentially homogenous, white, middle-class life experience. When I moved to Portland a decade after graduating from high school I quickly, and sorrowfully, lost the hope that what I had experienced were the simple teenage growing pains people outgrow.

While gaining certification in poetry & independent publishing I began dating someone who was 10 years my senior, southern and white (he was also a Virgo which makes no astrological sense with my Libra, but I´ve always been a risk taker). As someone who has never really experienced living inside of a comfort zone I can honestly say I don´t know the difference between risk and breathing for they have always been so intricately intertwined, but that’s a whole other traumail. We fell in love quickly, and out of it with as much rapid-fire pacing, and while we had many other issues, one that loomed large in our relationship was race. For all the intimacy we shared as mainstream outsiders & book loving fantasyphiles who felt daily showering to be a little overrated, we shared almost no racial intimacy. Well actually, he shared none with me. I’d gone to college in his hometown, and had been educated with other people much like him, comfortable, privileged & normalized. This would not have been quite as clear to me had I still been living in Oakland where the environmental diversity does much to offset certain kinds of strain, but in Portland this was huge. My own image in the mirror was the most brown-skin I might see all week, especially once my brother left the city.

When I would walk, well anywhere really, all of my movements were followed by curious eyes, always questioning, wondering about my obvious difference. There was absolutely no space other than my workspace that I felt seen for being much more than black and therefore different, whatever that meant to the observer. One day while walking back from lunch I found myself on a street corner with a wrap on my head, earphones in my ears, and the unmistakable sensation of being watched. I looked up. I was surround. Five white people stood around me all with their necks craned and direct attention on my body, curious, yet none of them would meet my eyes when I looked up. One white woman actually ran away from me one night when I approached her to ask for directions; she had been standing still… ironically, I was with a friend, another white woman, who was too afraid to ask her. We got on the trolley stunned. I wondered if/what the woman who ran from me told her friends or family once she got home. I let my friend ramble about how weird it was for a few moments while I stilled the anger in my body before pointing out the elephant, “I’m black.” She froze. It hadn’t occurred to her. I could never make these kinds of experiences up. Who would want to?

While due to my previous life experiences I understood the societal & psychological functions at work in his struggle to come to grips with this being a major problem for me, he had none of the familiarity with the dynamics of my life needed to make reciprocal intimacy, nor appropriate support, possible. I also had an understanding of his life experience from having been socialized around it, though, of course, this was not reciprocal. And once again, though he tried as far as his self-image compelled him, he didn’t really want to know, because not knowing was comfortable and as a middle-class white male he was conditioned for comfort. Ultimately his actions admitted that his comfort zone mattered more to him than sharing the oft times painful information about my life experience, which in that environment were heavily influenced by my race, that intimacy requires. For me it was my life experience, simple & raw; for him, it was a great leap into discomfort to acknowledge the annoyance & pain that I felt daily as a result of living in a racialized society where my brown skin was considered strange and his white skin was not. It was more comfortable to dismiss my experiences, ignore the emotional content of them & rationalize the behavior of people who hurt me, not because he wanted to hurt me but because he didn’t have the knowledge to integrate the information into his life in a functional way, an almost tacit social survival skill for black people in this country.

This inability to safely, openly share and accept knowledge around racial dynamics has proven itself time and time again to be a major stumbling block in my relationships with white people as friends, lovers or any position that requires a certain amount of intimacy. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but they are just that, exceptions. Me as the more context aware party is generally perceived to have the problem rather than the problem actually being an empathy crippling level of ignorance about both what´s at play and what´s at stake. Without consciously being aware of this division in understanding, the situation quickly becomes psychologically and emotionally abusive, just a microcosm of the macro issue of race relations here. I am frequently put into positions to prove my experiences relating to race as legitimate, valid & intelligently interpreted, as if simply because something is related to race I suddenly lose all the credibility my education, experience and manner otherwise afford me. I believe that when people are able to treat their interracial relationships with specialized caring- putting the unique needs of the individual/situation in front of you before preconceived notions or personal assumptions of what’s needed- this breach in intimacy may be healed, but only through developing an actively engaged knowledge base that is equally rich & informed from both perspectives. As with all relationships, it takes both parties and we have a lot of work to do. 

Getting There From Here: Interracial Intimacy- Part I

[Note to Reader: This is a rather long read I’ll warn you, and one that is organized more by the neurons in my belly than the ones in my head, but I audaciously, earnestly and genuinely hope that by the time you reach the end you will have discovered something new that will facilitate a greater empathy, awareness & passion for engaging in the life stories of different peoples. It started out as one post which I decided to break apart knowing the attention span of the average industrialized human being.

Part 1 will deal primarily with defining intimacy and with a bit of U.S. racial history, Parts 2 and 3 with my experience and observations. I would also like to make it clear that I DO NOT believe the relationship(s) between Black & White culture/people to be the only one(s) of relevance, importance or impact; it is simply the relationship(s) I will reference here because it is where my personal experience comes from and I practice not trying to speak others truths. Also, this is intended to be neither scholarly nor academic. It is what I believe today based on my experiences of yester days.

Disclaiming is done.]

– Part 1 –

     While reading up on yet another of my emotional-psychosomatic physiological conditions, also known as the side-effects of being a well-lived human being, my brain mixed together quite a few different bits of information and a peculiar concept came out of it: racial intimacy. Not dating or relations in the group level sense, but intimacy. I know this sounds soo Berkeley woo-woo strange but, please, dive with me.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary defines intimacy (noun) as:

1. the state of being intimate, familiarity;

2. something of personal or private nature.

 It’s a good place to start, but, of course, there’s also that whole defining a word by its root thing, so let’s take a step back and define intimate:

1.a. intrinsic, essential; b. belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature;
2. marked by a very close association, contact or familiarity;
3.a. marked by a warm friendship developing through long association, b. suggesting informal warmth or privacy;
b. suggesting informal warmth or privacy;

4. of a very personal or private nature.

Now, in this country’s history the separation of people into races has produced unique, specific & easily identified differences in how people go through the life experience and there is nothing more intimate than our experiences of our own lives. They are the basis of all culture, the ways we create by adapting to our particular circumstances. What is so strange is that despite the intimacy of our environment (we’re all in this together and have been for the last 500 odd years), for the most part, we seem to be unfamiliar with or unable to recognize, at the empathetic level, how these differences affect people. For example, while many white people may experience both shame & guilt for being descended from slavers, the descendants of enslaved Africans might experience shame in being descendants of enslaved people & it’s unlikely they would experience guilt in response to this truth. This results in the development of different coping skills to deal with these different feelings. They represent just two very distinct, profound & understandable relationships to the one reality that slavery was practiced.

Another reality is that regardless of how you’re related to it, it’s painful. It hurts to know that you carry the karma of slavers and it hurts to know you carry the karma of the enslaved, and it’s even more confusing (and therefore painful) to know that you likely carry both. Not to mention those who may have immigrated after the fact yet still have to grapple with this karma through their experiences here (talk about a goat rodeo!). When it hurts, how it hurts, where it hurts, and why it hurts are all different because the nature of the wounds is different, as are our relationships to them, but we are one in being hurt. We are also unified in having human reactions to being hurt, like denial, defensiveness, aggressiveness, stockholming (my verbification of Stockholm Syndrome) and so forth, all of which are easily observable in our world (the next time you think Uncle Tom, think Stockholm Syndrome and see how differently you understand the phenomena).

Intimacy, specifically in the realm of relationships, is one of those areas of life that has proven itself to be just as much of a conundrum for contemporary living in the United States. Capitalism thrives on the negative feelings that separation & isolation create while our industry-driven technology addiction keeps us more firmly attached to our gadgets than the people around us. Intimacy is something much sought after and little understood because the socio-cultural environment we live in does not openly acknowledge its existence as something both real and necessary for human survival; more often than not it’s regarded as something that merely improves a sexual experience. Yet, while reading an article (which did indeed have to do with sex) an idea of relational intimacy was presented to me that punched the ticket on this thought train: the creation of intimacy (remember, those definitions) is driven by interest. Damn.; obvious & profound.

Many of the relationships I´ve had in my life have been interracial, romantic or otherwise. Until the 5th grade, I lived in an incredibly diverse neighborhood in a different part of both state and country than most of my family. Once we moved to a shockingly less diverse, mostly upper-middle class white, part of town I attended my last year of elementary then jr. high and high school in an environment with incredibly limited access to people who shared my cultural background, as well as less access to the general diversity of my previous life experience.

So much of what defined life for me was simply not possible in this environment. Like learning Spanish from our next door neighbors to the South & Vietnamese from our next door neighbors to the North, or why not to use God’s name in vain from the Jehovah’s Witness’ across the street and how to swear like a sailor from the Irish family two doors up from them; I’m talking diversity way deeper than race here. The majority of my classmates came from very homogenous cultural backgrounds, they went to school with people who looked & lived like them, they lived in neighborhoods where people looked & lived like them, and they frequented environments where 90% of the people looked & lived like they did. And if this wasn’t the case, it was likely because they were the token family of differences in their environment.

There were many consequences of this vast difference of experience, some amazing & helpful, others not so much, but one that I didn´t understand until reading this article was that much of the not so much resulted from a lack of intimacy, a situation I still contend with. The lack of resources available for me to feel seen, understood & appreciated around my racial identity, especially at that time in my life, has had a unique, tangible, long-term & detrimental impact on my life, which in itself is a case in point. Whiteness as a culture/perspective is so pervasive that there is no need to create specified resources to support it, it’s de facto supported by the vast majority of what is created in the media which dominates our environment

Relational intimacy intricately involves knowledge (which the aforementioned media distorts quite regularly). It involves knowing someone for more than what they appear to be, knowing how they respond and are shaped by the dynamic interactions between their tangible and intangible lives and knowing something about what those lives are. It is not created by one person talking at or about another, it’s created by the active sharing of information that puts both parties in a place of being equitably informed, it’s the creative process called unity. One of the key factors of the continued racism of this society and culture are the spheres of knowledge that do not cross racial lines.

Growing up with a rich oral history tradition as a descendant of enslaved Africans, I was always privy to knowledge about U.S. history which most of my peers were not. I received a parallel education outside of school where almost all of my extra-curricular activities reinforced my sense of belonging within a strong pan-African diaspora. I was also privy to a certain amount of information, intimacy in the sense of familiarity as well as due to my cultural immersion, about their culture which was thoroughly unequal. And what made it worse was that most of them didn’t care that they didn´t know, there was no interest in knowing this part of me. Here’s where it starts to come together.  Interracial Intimacy Part II

Getting There From Here: Interracial Intimacy- Part II

*   Note to Reader from Part I: This is a rather long read I’ll warn you, and one that is organized more by the neurons in my belly than the ones in my head, but I audaciously, earnestly and genuinely hope that by the time you reach the end you will have discovered something new that will facilitate a greater empathy, awareness & passion for engaging in the life stories of different peoples. It started out as one post which I decided to break apart knowing the attention span of the average industrialized human being.

Part 1 will deal primarily with defining intimacy and with a  bit of U.S. racial history, Parts 2 and 3 with my experience and observations. I would also like to make it clear that I DO NOT believe the relationship(s) between Black & White culture/people to be the only one(s) of relevance, importance or impact; it is simply the relationship(s) I will reference here because it is where my personal experience comes from and I practice not trying to speak others truths. Also, this is intended to be neither scholarly nor academic. It is what I believe today based on my experiences of yester days.

Disclaiming is done.]

– Part II –

 I’d like you to do a small exercise here. Just take a moment and think of a situation in which you wanted to share something deeply meaningful or impactful with someone important in your life and they just didn’t care, wouldn’t even pretend to be engaged or interested, might even attack you for having shared it. They might be important because you care deeply for them, because of their position in your life or because of the ways in which they can influence your life; what matters is that they had impact. How close do you feel to this person now? How safe? Do you feel you can trust them with your feelings, your emotions, your inner world? Now imagine this scenario playing out anywhere from 1 – 15+ times a day when what you have to tell them involves race. Yeah, it’s like that.

I can still remember the numb anger that settled in me when we got around to reading Toni Morisson’s Beloved in high school. Many of my white peers complained about it, they didn´t understand why it was important to read this book, they did not understand the relevance of the lives of these rural black women in the South in their privileged city lives in the West. What hurt most about this was not the fundamental lack of understanding, that was merely frustrating, it was that they didn´t want to understand. I felt invisible; even if they couldn´t see the relevance to their own lives they had to be able to at least comprehend that there was a connection to mine and that that made it important… right? After all, it’s only fair that after going through a full handful of courses in U.S. history that at least one story out of the whole narrative be heard from somebody that wasn’t an old white man. More importantly, by not being open to the stories from my racial tradition they were not open to me; it was an unspoken rejection of my reality via encouragement to leave that part of myself on the bus when I came to school.

Intimacy is not possible without interest (remember) & they just weren’t that into me. We all know what that feels like, it’s awful when you actually care. That was the key the article gave me to unlocking the connections of my personal experience with that of a greater dynamic, the fundamentally abusive relationship between black & white at the group level. For white to be okay the reality of black has to be denied, something black isn’t too keen on; for black to be okay white has to listen to how white has hurt black, something white isn’t very excited about. Both have to be vulnerable & open  to hearing & sharing things about themselves which they’ve been hiding their lives, having all the frank appeal of wet shoes in winter to all involved. And yet, I think it to be easily understood that this is the only way to truly heal, to get past the denial and get to the listening, to be both vulnerable and trusting, and for both parties to be truly committed to the process. If you can do that, you can have intimacy.

To be very, very (very) clear: I am NOT making any form of claim nor do I believe that every white person is an abuser, nor that every black person is abused, or vice-versa;  nor that all instances of interaction between people who are either self- or externally identified with these two ways of categorizing human beings are abusive. What I am claiming is that there is an abusive RELATIONSHIP between the two realities and that over time the abusive element of the macro-relationship will manifest itself in the micro-relationships and have a poisonous effect on them. Period. I am also claiming that we have the power to change this poison into water and restore the flow of love between people; and that it takes consciousness, intention and more than anything the development of a healthy relationship between the two, which requires this intimacy I’m talking about.

Now, the real the kicker, and the other barrier to intimacy, was that I did have an appreciation of why the lives of these women were so crucial to being an informed human being. I also knew why my classmates weren’t interested in learning more. It was uncomfortable. They were manifesting the group level relationship in our interpersonal interactions. All their lives they had been groomed for comfort and this knowledge, this information, this reality, was uncomfortable. I was groomed for this discomfort and had held it so long I could no longer feel it. It is a part of the rearing of every black person I have ever known to have heard some version of the “so there’s this thing called racism and in it you always lose, and losing is not fun” speech. It is openly discussed and at a certain age we all learned to laugh over the pain of its truth; it’s cultural, a survival technique.

At least I had some idea of the cause of my suffering. My classmates were suffering even if they didn’t know it because this avoidance of discomfort meant that there were countless roads left untraveled, and Robert Frost is right: our roads make all the difference. There were lots of questions asked, but only the most superficial, and generally offensive, ones. I’m not exactly sure when but at some point I noticed that if a peer were to ask me about my culture it would either be a question about rap, hair or slang. I wondered if I was putting more on it than was there and asked other black students if they’d had similar experiences. I heard the same thing, unless they were already friends with the person, those 3 categories represented the entire spectrum of interest.

Intimacy is not a one-way street and it is our relationships that nurture our development, the consequence of not doing so being internal stagnation based in a lack of diversity; we cannot eat only carrots & survive. It is common scientific knowledge that diversity is one of the not so secret keys to life; biological communities that do not contain diversity die because they cease to evolve. Take a look around you, do you see anything that can functionally exist on in a vacuum (that microwave needs electricity, that pillow needs a floor or a chair to be useful, your blankets need a body to cover to function fully & your cat won’t make it either, sorry) Evolution is the process of adapting to change and when there is no change, or difference, there is no adaptation. And again, as our interpersonal relationships can teach us, what happens in a relationship that is one-sided or lacking in intimacy? It dies.

The women of Beloved are my great-aunts, grandmothers and kin; the architects of my existence, the dreamers who made my life possible. This was also true of my white classmates; these women were & are the backbone of everyone’s existence in this country; it was their hands that held babies & their breasts that fed them, their backs that bent to pick cotton and scrub floors while those founders sat around thinking up theories on equality & businessmen made the deals that formed many of the big companies still in existence today. They were content to leave those women nameless and without personal human experience or empathetic consideration because it was uncomfortable. It meant they’d have to start asking questions that affected every aspect of their lives, and they, like I, were human and not interested in inviting discomfort into their lives. So they shut down their emotions and essentially left me & the other black students abandoned in a sea of stories, stories that told some painful truths that only we would hear because  no one else would listen.

The desire to be comfortable became racism because they had the power to deny  and ignore- sometimes supported by adults, de facto supported the culture at large- whereas I did not. This power differential, so ironically relevant in Beloved itself, was then used as a tool to intimidate, silence and dehumanize me and other students of color into not disclosing the parts of us that were related to these women because it made the white students too uncomfortable for them to engage with. My peers who became my friends asked me uncomfortable questions about race, they cared about how it affected my life, family & community, allowing for true connection. Interracial Intimacy- Part III