On Listening

What I’m Reading Today, June 25th

The Right to Listen/ Astra Taylor

But to listen is to act; of that, there’s no doubt. It takes effort and doesn’t happen by default. As anyone who has been in a heated argument—or who’s simply tried to coexist with family members, colleagues, friends, and neighbors—well knows, it’s often easier not to listen. We can tune out and let others’ words wash over us, hearing only what we want to hear, or we can pantomime the act of listening, nodding along while waiting for our turn to speak. Even when we want to be rapt, our attentions wane. Deciding to listen to someone is a meaningful gesture. It accords them a special kind of recognition and respect.

“good” behavior, empathy and power over (instead of with)

What I’m Reading Today, June 23

Radical Dharma/ angel Kyodo williams

For too long we’ve been beholden to a set of surface feelings, organizing around ideas and beliefs about what it means to be a good person or create good society. These efforts at good behavior and pursuit of good policies have proven to be no match for the deep embedded ness of what is the foundation of, and has been intricately woven throughout, every facet, institution, and relationship of the United States and the psyche of its inhabitants: the radicalization of people and its underlying presupposition–the superiority of white-skinned peoples.

“empathy” = more powerful, better people bestow fairness upon the other, lesser ones

Much of what is being taught is the acceptance of a “kinder, gentler suffering” that does not question the unwholesome roots of systemic suffering and the structures that hold it in police. What is required is a new Dharma, a radical Dharma that deconstructs rather than amplifies the system of suffering, that starves rather than fertilizes the soil of the conditions that the deep roots of societal suffering grow in (xxiii).

the trouble with “good protesters” and “bad rioters”

What I’m Reading Today, June 17, 2020

Minneapolis Organizers Weigh Role of Community Defense Groups/ Alleen Brown, Mara Hvistendahl

blaming outsiders is a tactic used to delegitimize dissent and justify violent crack-downs

In the days after the 3rd Precinct burned, a series of public officials inflamed the growing anxiety about outsiders. “I want to be very, very clear,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said at a press conference on May 30. “The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents. They are coming in largely from outside of this city, outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades.”

Blaming civil unrest on “outside agitators” is a tactic that has long been used to help state officials delegitimize dissent and justify violent crackdowns. Mayors and law enforcement leaders across the nation repeated the trope over the past two weeks as the protests spread. Carter and Walz were both forced to walk back their statements after reporting on jail records revealed that the majority of those arrested were from the Minneapolis area.

“A lot of these neighborhood patrols are predominantly white — not all of them, obviously — and if those white folks haven’t dealt with their own racism, their own internalized white supremacy, then they can very easily turn into a vigilante justice group,” he said. “I think it’s a kernel that could evolve into an effective form of safety in Minneapolis, and they are keeping people safe right now, but I also think they’re going to require a lot of political education and a lot of dedication on the part of organizers and members of these groups in order to make sure they do more good than harm” (Tony Williams).

Burning Down the 3rd Police Precinct Changed Everything/Vicky Osterweil

The difference, this time, is not simply in the national character of the riots, nor some other quantitative change in their ferocity or visibility. It was, I believe, the destruction of the Minneapolis Third Precinct house on the night of May 28, three days into the riots. Having just completed a book on the history of anti-police rioting and uprisings in America, I cannot recall another time when protesters took over and burnt down a police station. It was an unprecedented and beautiful moment in the annals of rebellion in this country. By seizing the cops’ home base, rioters showed millions of people that they could defeat the police. For many, it finally broke through the veil of omnipotence, timelessness, and domination that kept abolition from seeming possible. Police were returned to the realm of history.

riots are the language of the unheard (Martin Luther King Jr.)

So how did one moment of direct action in Minneapolis serve to counter years of disinformation, miseducation, and media violence? Black Panther Party cofounder Huey P. Newton, in a speech called “The Correct Handling of a Revolution,” analyzed how rioting like what took place in Watts in 1965 was politically powerful because it could not be reinterpreted by the press. In Watts, Newton said, “the economy and property of the oppressor was destroyed to such an extent that no matter how the oppressor tried in his press to whitewash the activities of the Black brothers, the real nature and cause of the activity was communicated to every Black community.” This kind of communication is what we saw in Minneapolis at the end of May. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “riots are the language of the unheard,” but rioters do not address themselves to the state, the bosses, or the politicians. Instead they speak to each other, over the heads of the media and the white establishment, with words of fire and punctuation of broken glass.

In Defense of Looting/Vicky Osterweil

Modern American police forces evolved out of fugitive slave patrols, working to literally keep property from escaping its owners. The history of the police in America is the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights. When, in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, people loot, they aren’t acting non-politically, they aren’t distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor are they fanning the flames of an always-already racist media discourse. Instead, they are getting straight to the heart of the problem of the police, property, and white supremacy.

The Moral Costs of Whiteness

What I’m Reading today, June 16, 2020

Performing Whiteness/ Sarah Bellamy

White folks, you must dig into your embodied racism, even—especially—if you think it’s not there. And this is not just to shift what you say and how you shape your arguments, questions, Facebook posts, tweets. It’s not about performing your wokeness. This isn’t about what you say—it’s about how you act; how your body might be predisposed to rely on a racial inheritance that endangers the lives of others. What’s in your guts, in your muscles, in your blood? What are you carrying dormant in your body that springs up when confronted with Black joy, Black power, Black brilliance, Black Blackness in the world? How can you train your bodies to respond differently when you are triggered, when you’re in fight-or-flight mode? How can I help you stop yourselves from killing us?

James Baldwin mused that “one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” I will acknowledge that white folks may be in pain. They need to find healthy ways to express their rage, sadness, disappointment, and fear, ways that would bring them love rather than admonishment.

Here is what I know: hatred is heavier than love; ambivalence is less rewarding than action. We are diminished by the man occupying the presidency. We are diminished by those who enable him. People who have spent most of their adult lives on the sidelines are moving to the center. White folks need to move past their fear and call each other into deep, authentic, and embodied learning and unlearning around what it means to be be white in this country. All of what that means, both the history and the present.

“Stating that Black lives matter is a very minimum acknowledgement of humanity. The tenacity of the fight against this statement should absolutely stagger Americans and signal how far we have yet to go” (Bellamy).

White Debt/ Eula Biss

whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem.

What is the condition of white life? We are moral debtors who act as material creditors. Our banks make bad loans. Our police, like Nietzsche’s creditors, act out their power on black bodies. And, as I see in my own language, we confuse whiteness with ownership. For most of us, the police aren’t ‘‘ours’’ any more than the banks are. When we buy into whiteness, we entertain the delusion that we’re business partners with power, not its minions. And we forget our debt to ourselves.

opportunity hoarding/ Talking About Whiteness, On Being with Eula Biss

They use this phrase to describe what white parents do to make sure that their children are getting more than other children are getting.

And I really thought about both the opportunity hoarding that I had seen around me and the opportunity hoarding that I, myself, had engaged in. One example of opportunity hoarding that I’m just remembering from this article was that, for instance, something a little over 90 percent of white students at Evanston Township High School have taken at least one advanced placement class. And the numbers for African-American students are around 50 percent. There’s many more white students, a disproportionate amount of white students ending up in advanced placement classes.

There are probably a lot of factors that feed into that. There’s parent advocacy, there’s probably some racial bias going on on the part of the school, there’s probably dozens of different factors. But I think the reason that that term “opportunity hoarding” spoke to me is I thought, well, that’s something I can control for. Like, that’s something I can watch in my own behavior. That’s something that I could have conversations with my neighbors around, and how we’re treating the opportunities that are available to our children, and whether we’re ensuring that those opportunities are available to all the children in our community.

White peoples’ crimes are read as youthful mistakes

When I was 19, the head of my college’s campus police escorted me to an interview with the Amherst Police. The previous night, a friend and I had pasted big posters of bombs that read ‘‘Bomb the Suburbs’’ all over the town. ‘‘Bomb the Suburbs’’ is the title of a book by William Upski Wimsatt, whom we had invited to speak on campus. The first question the Amherst Police asked was whether I was aware that graffiti and ‘‘tagging,’’ a category that included the posters, was punishable as a felony. I was not aware. Near the end of the interrogation, my campus officer stepped in and suggested that we would clean up the posters. I was not charged with a felony, and I spent the day working side by side with my officer, using a wire brush to scrub all the bombs off Amherst (Eula Biss).

Twitter thread by @KristaVernoff on threadreader

I’m asking the white people reading this to think about the crimes you’ve committed. (Note: You don’t call them crimes. You and your parents call them mistakes.) Think of all the mistakes you’ve made that you were allowed to survive (twitter thread by @KristaVernoff).

A Plan for Belonging the Dis-belonged

What I’m Reading today, June 15th


This tweet is the start of an important thread about the radical rethinking and planning/listening we need to do to help people in crisis INSTEAD of calling the police or reinforcing policing logics.

typical response = police behavior, impose norms


At what cost to people’s dignity do we impose our notions of safety?

Our cultural default is police/punish and specify/impose.