Monday, February 28, 2011

"Human Well-Being and the Environmental Paradox", by Kendra Pierre-Louis

photo of Kendra Pierre-Louis is from here
I believe the author of the following article is Kendra Pierre-Louis @ Justmeans. Sometimes it isn't at all clear to me who has written something online. I've been accused, accurately, of adding to the problem here on my own blog. I'm trying to do better in identifying who has written what, if you're finding it here.

Kendra Pierre-Louis is a Justmeans staff writer with an interest in creating healthier, more sustainable society. She's particularly interested in the intersection of business, sustainability and economics. How can we structure an economic system that allows business to behave better? She has a M.A. in Sustainable Development from the SIT Graduate Institute and a B.A. in Economics from Cornell University. She has worked with the UNEP's Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, though she currently resides in New York City. [source: *here*]

Everything that follows is also from Justmeans. And you can link back by clicking on the title below.

Human Well-Being and the Environmental Paradox


One of the arguments against environmental conservation is that there is an apparent paradox between environmental degradation and human well-being. In short, when viewed through certain lenses (such as the UN's human development index), human well-being is increasing even as environmental health declines.

Scientists and economists expend a great deal of effort trying to untangle this paradox - perhaps most recently in a September 2010 Bioscience article titled Untangling the Environmentalist's Paradox. In the piece the authors propose four possible reasons for this apparent paradox:
  • There's a time lag between improved well-being and the effects of environmental degradation.
  • We've gotten technically advanced enough to separate human well being from environmental health.
  • As long as the ecosystems that provide food remain intact human well-being will increase.
  • We're measuring the wrong variables and economic well-being is actually decreasing not increasing.
It is this last argument that is the most intriguing. How do you measure human well-being? The UN's Human Development Index (HDI) while helpful in certain ways, is not an effective measure for arguing against the need for environmental conservation efforts in sustainable development.

The HDI is broken into four categories - life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling, and gross national income per capita. The problem, however, with this sort of composite index, is that it hides a lot of factors.

For example, life expectancy as an indicator of health is helpful when looking for preventable death, such as from polio or other diseases with which we can easily vaccinate or prevent through proper sanitation. The problem, however, is that in many countries (such as the United States), people are living longer thanks to improved medical technology, but many of those years are sick years.

It's questionable if a society that manages to extend the life of its life populace thanks to technology that allows it to mitigate the effects of the diseases that society itself creates is "healthy". Stated differently many of the diseases in industrialized nations - from moderate depression, to type II diabetes, to heart disease, to the rise in autoimmune disorders - are strongly correlated with the structure of said society. Diabetes and heart diseases are strongly linked to how we eat, which itself is strongly correlated to large-scale agribusiness and mass environmental degradation. Similarly, mild-to-moderate depression can often be treated effectively with exercise and improved social connections: things that are eroded in modern American society with its focus on excessively sedentary work and a competitive rather than cooperative culture that erodes social cohesiveness. Furthermore, it's increasingly believed that autoimmune disorders ranging from seasonal allergies to Crohn's disease, in industrial nations are on the rise because people in those nations are too clean. Having co-evolved with a certain number of bacteria, when stripped of those bacteria our immune systems over-react and start attacking our own bodies. We are able to mitigate many of the original negative effects with a panoply of inventive pharmacological agents is a testament (non-ironically stated) to our pharmaceutical industry.

This, however, does not mean that we are healthy.

In addition, the HDI uses per capita GDP as an indicator of human well-being. The idea is, that as people's income increases their well-being increases. Never mind that in developing nations increasing GDP is correlated with increasing environmental degradation, so that within the indicator itself there is this correlation between increasing human well-being and increasing environmental degradation. It also ignores movements such as that of the Zapatistas in Mexico who very deliberately are eschewing global measures and aiming for self-sufficiency. Says Vandana Shiva:
People are perceived as "poor" if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.

Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people's lives . Because these poor don't share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those "left behind".

Finally, this kind of measurement ignores that human well-being is predicated on direct access to ecosystem services beyond the role of ecosystems as a resource base. The emerging field of biophilia, or humanity's innate affinity towards and need for natural systems, has shown that human well-being declines upon separation form natural systems. Lack of access to ecosystem services encompassed in green spaces has been shown to negatively affect our cognitive ability causing difficulty in memory, attention, and self-control. Studies out of Japan, by contrast, have shown that two night three day camping trip in the woods can reduce insulin resistance in type-2 diabetes patients while also increasing human immune function.

None of this is encompassed within the values that the HDI uses to indicate human well-being while also excluding harder to quantify indicators of well-being such as happiness, cultural diversity and community cohesiveness.

In other words - measuring human well-being is hard. This does not mean that we shouldn't try, but it does mean that we should stop using it as an excuse as to why environmental conservation doesn't matter.
Photo Credit: Queralt

Houzan Mahmoud and other speakers on the Revolutionary Struggles in Northern Africa and Central Asia

photograph of Houzan Mahmoud is from here

I'll confess this from the start: I'm no Marxist. And I'm anti-corporate capitalism. What does that "make me"? It makes me pro-humanity and pro-Earth/Gaia and its diversity of Life. I don't identify with, work with, or organise with people who are on the white male supremacist political spectrum, which runs from State Fascism to (in the U.S.) Christian Fundamentalist Extremist Conservatism, to being a Moderate Republican, a Moderate Democrat, to being a Liberal Humanist, to Social Progressive, to (beyond the U.S.) the political philosophies promoted among Social Democracies, and Socialist Nation-States.

The reason I'm not Marxist (or any of the other categories above), is because I view Marxism--and most if not all of its manifestations, to be anti-Indigenist (see the work of Winona LaDuke and analysis by Noaman Ali of the work of Ward Churchill, as well as Ward's own work, on this subject) and pro-patriarchal (see the analysis *here* as well as the work of Catharine A. MacKinnon in Toward A Feminist Theory of the State, among other radical feminists, on this subject). The spectrum above doesn't tend to deal with heterosexism either. So that's another point of non-affiliation and non-alliance for me.

But, people around the world have limited tools with which to combat various forces of destruction. And while I don't identify with many current political movements and philosophies, I do support those people seeking freedom from tyranny, terrorism, and torture. And greed, rampant social oppression and terroristic dehumanisation, and gross unchecked corruption in various countries and by nation-state leaders is a serious problem, including, historically, in North America. The U.S., for example, is a gross violator of international human rights. It has engaged in torture. It is a pro-rape society. It is a society that is white het male supremacist to its foundation. It is an anti-woman society. It is also a society that is anti-lesbian and anti-feminist (actively opposed to the radical efforts of women to attain freedom from patriarchal conditions). And while the liberal media here portrays this country as unequivocally "good" and "moral" this society is neither, if we look at what practices it passively and actively, covertly and overtly, endorses and enforces. That said, here's information on some speakers addressing radical social change in the Middle East, including Northern Africa. I support oppressed people working with the tools available to them to achieve freedom from systematised, institutionalised harm and inhumanity; I rather passively support resistance to the destruction of Life on Earth beyond human life. See, especially, the work of all Indigenous activists and the collected writings of Dr. Vandana Shiva.

All that follows is from *here*.
Alan Woods, Serge Goulart and Houzan Mahmoud to speak in London on the Arab revolution

Written by ULU Marxist Society
Friday, 25 February 2011 00:00

On March 3rd the University of London Union Marxists will play host to a very special meeting on the revolutionary events unfolding in the Arab world. Speakers include: Houzan Mahmoud, the representative of the Organisations of Women's Freedom in Iraq and a member of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq; Serge Goulart, co-ordinator of the Occupied Factory movement in Brazil; and Alan Woods, secretary of the International Marxist Tendency.

Houzan Mahmoud (Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq)
Alan Woods (International Marxist Tendency)
Serge Goulart (Co-ordinator of the Occupied Factory movement in Brazil)
Dramatic events are unfolding across the Middle East and the Maghreb. Mass uprisings against high prices, unemployment and brutal dictatorship which began in Tunisia have spread throughout the region to the most distant parts of the Arab speaking world. Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait, Djibouti -- the list is growing longer, not by the day but by the hour.
The dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have already been toppled by the movement and the same fate now threatens Gaddafi in Libya who has shown his readiness to slaughter his own people in order to cling to power. In Bahrain, which is next to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, the desperate attempt of the monarchy to crush the mass movement in blood has failed.In Iran also there are indications that the mass movement is reviving. There are clear signs of splits in the regime and in the state upon which it rests.Now, in Kurdish Iraq, mass unrest has erupted, threatening the shaky edifice put in place by the imperialists as they try to cut their losses while maintaining influence over the country's affairs and its oil. Everywhere in the region people are on the streets!
The Revolution taking place in the Middle East knows no frontiers, unifying the people of the region in struggle and inspiring people all over the world. The Western Imperialist powers are terrified of the great wave of change engulfing the Middle East and behind limp messages of support for “pro-democracy” movements, they are already manoeuvring to see the movement sold short in their interest. In the midst of these world-changing events it is imperative that we come together in support of the growing Revolution and discuss the nature of these events, what we can do solidify and act on the mass of support in this country, and what inspirations and lessons we can take for our own movements. Anyone is welcome and encouraged to come and share their views!

On Facebook:!/event.php?eid=156800401041992
Last Updated on Saturday, 26 February 2011 20:39

The Spiritual Ethics and Social Politics of Sudden Disengagement: a few cases in point

image from the Trans Youth Support Network is from here

I've had the experience in my life of disengaging from people and of them disengaging from me. When this happens abruptly, often enough this is due to one or both people being triggered into some old, deep well of pain, and when one is dropped by unresolved associations into that lonely well, isolating from what appears to be (or is) the current source of pain may seem like the best route to getting out of the well. But the more alone one is, the fewer hands there are to offer a lift up and out to a better emotional-spiritual place.

But no single person is responsible for someone else's well of pain, unless they have inflicted gross pain across one's whole lifetime. And such things do happen. They happen not just interpersonally, among and between people; they also happen institutionally. So, for example, I've heard many people with health care, with access to health care, state, defiantly, "I will not go to see a doctor! I don't trust the medical establishment."

The point of this post isn't to make a case for going to see people who consistently hurt, exploit, or dismiss or disrespect you. Or for staying engaged with institutions and systems of harm, degradation, and atrocity. But the point here is to note that only some of us have the option to leave places of discomfort, wounding, and disregard.

I have the privilege to do this: to leave places I don't feel comfortable in. People with less privilege than me have pointed this out to me--how when I don't feel welcome or safe in an environment, I leave and don't return. Or I wait a long time to return.

Considering the fact that most people have no means with which to travel anywhere, including out of one's village, away from one's family, or even the social resources with which to end friendships and acquaintanceships with a swiftly sent email, I think it is worth exploring other ways to find respect in places where one is often hurt.

I'm going to give as an example my own reactions and responses to men. And I'm speaking here as a male person, not as a female or intersex person. I'm speaking here as someone raised to be a boy and then a man. This ought not be generalised outside of this political realm, to, say, apply to women who seek permanent refuge from abusive men.

I'll hone down the group more: I'm speaking here, at this moment, about white men who are not overtly abusive, who do not intend to do harm, and who are generally skilled enough, emotionally, to communicate feelings as well as thoughts. Because these members of society are also skilled at appearing to survive by "going it alone", they can pretend they can do without human connection. Or, they will invest too much in one particular connection, burdening that relationship and often crushing it under the weight of great expectation.

That's my pattern with men, generally. I'll invest a lot, emotionally, and when disappointed or hurt, if it happens enough or triggers me sufficiently, I'll end things. Or, when they feel too burdened by my expectations, they'll end things. This ending can be done with more or less grace; with more or less compassion; with more or less concern, care, and regard for the humanity of the other person.

I've had men in the last year decide they don't want to stay friends with me because they were either triggered by something I said, or because I placed too heavy a burden of expectation upon them.

Within that population, I see tendencies for us males to cut each other out of our lives without much consideration for the effect on the other person. And if we've come to see someone as "THE ENEMY", we're not likely to want to find ways back into a relationship. Including with institutions that seem like "the enemy". Or, even, those that are the enemy. And when males cut one another out of their lives, this generally means a burder of care is put more intensely on the women in the lives of those males.

Structures of enemyhood abound, in places where destructive hostilities are reigning--whether in a home or a country--or within oppressed populations where self-hatred is deep and alliances and trust are hard to find.

In my experience, many friendships can appear momentarily, or longer, to be dangerous. Friendship, after all, is dangerous. As are all relationships. And the more traumatised and betrayed one has been in friendship and relationship, as well as by institutions, the more difficult it can become to maintain them.

I elect to not establish many relationships with men because my loading from the past is so great, and wounds can be accessed so easily, that I'd rather not inflict the pain of my own triggering onto myself and other males, if I can help it. But how many of us have this luxury--to cut out all men? To separate from all males? Or, pick the oppressor group: all whites? All people with power who use their bigotry to hurt others? I will, necessarily, bring more of my needs for care to women if I have few to no relationships of care with men. And what does that do for the women who also wish to limit their contact with males?

I'll shift gears to another population: queer folks across gender. This is also a site of great loading for me. I've been hurt and have felt rejected a lot from people within this population. And, no doubt, there are many people who are queer who have felt judged, rejected, or hurt by me. The issue is, "What do we do about that?" Do we mend and repair when possible and when it is humane to everyone concerned to do so? Or do we simply cut others out and try and leave no traces of ever having known someone.

I shouldn't make it seem like cutting people out of one's life is simple. For those of us who have stayed in abusive or grossly exploitive relationships for far too long, ending a relationship may be the healthiest thing someone can do. And, for example,  choosing to live without men in one's life may be exceptionally difficult, while also greatly spiritually and personally beneficial.

I'm not promoting a single ethic here. I'm discussing conditions in which we break or mend relationships. I've been militantly all for women seeking shelter from men who harm them. Interpersonally and institutionally. To whatever extent women can manage to accomplish it, I support women removing men from their lives if those men demonstrate chronic and direct disrespect--as named by the women, or misogynistic exploitation or abuse--as named by the women.

Different personal or social contexts call for different approaches. One has to decide when to flee one's home, if being abused. One also has to know whether fleeing is really possible. Something that stands out for me is Andrea Dworkin's discussion--I'm not sure where or if it exists online--of women being battered by men in intimate relationship. She spoke of how, for a time, the battered women's (shelter from men) movement used to advocate a single approach: leave him. As soon as you physically can, leave him. And what many women being battered by men reported to those activists--including to activists like Andrea who had, herself, been battered--was that leaving him would be very dangerous to her life. And the response, for a time was, "Woman, staying with him is very dangerous to your life!" And what Andrea discusses was what happened when it was discovered that women who left male batterers were far more likely to be killed by the terrorist-abuser than if they stayed in the home of the terrorist.

Clearly there ought to be far more options for women than that. Because in either case, she is being destroyed. But time and again we have people advising other people to do things that "make sense" and seem to be principled, and yet "don't work" in reality. And Andrea has spoken in her work of the need to always re-assesss one's own stance, to adjust one's politics, to adjust the course of action, given new information. And new information could be this: "Women battered by men, intimately, in their homes, know far better than anyone else what is best for them to do to survive."

Which brings me back to queer community. I disagree with so much that I see going on in my own queer community. I see flagrant expressions of misogyny among gay males, for example. And levels of racism among the whites that stun me, even while I shouldn't be shocked at all at this point. I see willful refusal to be aware of class and region privilege. For example, this shows up with mandates to "come out, come out, wherever you are!" Well, that's easy to demand of lesbians and gay males when they have a place to go once kicked out of their home-of-origin. And, yes, such homes are not safe places for queer youth if they are virulently lesbophobic, homophobic, and transphobic. But, more often than not, those very out-and-proud queer people promoting the ethic of "come out, come out, wherever you are!" are offering safe shelter to the youth who decide to do so. And where, really, are those truly safe places for women battered and sadistically controlled by men to go, where their terrorist-husbands can't find them?

So many times women, and queer youth, either find ways to stay in abusive homes and survive, biding time, or they flee and end up on the streets, which are no less friendly to anyone who is queer or female, or anyone younger than seventeen. Male predators abound on the streets. And some of them appear to be friendly--very friendly. And many of those "friends" turn out to be pimps or procurers, or slavers or traffickers. Or boyfriends or future husbands who will also turn out to be abusers, if not also woman-hating terrorists.

What I can ask of myself and others is this: when you are about to end a relationship, are there genuinely no options for repair and rebuilding, or does it feel like there aren't any? And determining one from the other--reality beyond but inclusive of feeling, from the inner realm of feeling only one's most triggered emotions, isn't at all easy. And those are waters for each person to negotiate and find buoyancy in.

But one thing I learned and keep learning from Audre Lorde's essays and speeches is this: we are not one another. And we ought not expect others to become ourselves. And the conditions under which friendship, relationship, and political alliance occur ought not be "falling in line" with one set of rules of behavior or one code of conduct. What I've learned from Audre is that for radical communities to exist--and here I specifically mean communities of revolutionary resistance to oppressive institutionalised forces of human and other destruction--the communities must accept differences as a welcomed requirement, not as something to endure or only fear.

At the beginning and end of a speech to women in an academic setting, Audre Lorde spoke these words:
I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable.  [...]
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women -- in the face of tremendous resistance -- as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.

Simone de Beauvoir once said: "It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting."

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.  -- Audre Lorde, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" [source: *here*]
Three things have happened to me in the last week: I received a death threat by email. It was from a man who, based on whatever allegedly "misandrist" posts of mine here that he'd read, decided I was "a monster" who needed to be shot and killed. (I know that many feminist activists and non-feminist radical activists do get these, on far too regular a basis. So I don't think there's anything special about me for having received this message.) Since this person threatening me--or whoever he thinks I am--is not part of my life and has demonstrated a gross lack of regard for my humanity, I feel no obligation to engage with him in any way. In fact, to engage with him is to acknowledge him too much. It would mean giving him too much credit for being human, when all he's shown me is that he's inhumane. So that one is easy: I don't respond. I don't engage. I don't seek out connection across difference.

And, there's a white feminist blogger who wrote to me privately that she no longer welcomed contact with me. She's never indicated any disagreement with me in the past. She's never brought any complaints, any charges, any expressions of anger, hurt, or anything else that would let me know that she's been dissatisfied with our connection. It was never a close connection, but it was one that lasted for a few years--at least two, I think. And it was friendly, at least to me it was. And, she's not obliged to communicate with me. But the point is this: to just end something the way she did, with words that appear to be intended to hurt or humiliate, does what, exactly? Does it make her safer in the world? Does it make her feel less isolated?

I have not demonstrated myself to be someone who can't listen. Or who won't listen. So if she instead wrote to me to say "I've got some strong disagreements with some of what you're expressing on your blog!" I'd be interested to know what those are. Instead, she linked me to one post--one post of hundreds that I've put up over the last couple of years--and gave that as the reason why she doesn't wish to hear from me ever again. As if I shouldn't be using this blog as a place to explore my own political and emotional positions on things. Or, as if me doing so is reason enough for someone who criss-crosses me in privileges and power to decide that the time has come for no further interaction. (As far as I know, she is not Jewish, is not lesbian, is not disabled, and is not transgender; I obviously have male privilege and power that can be used to hurt and oppress her.)

And, well, of course she gets to do that. She gets to take care of herself as she sees fit. My ethical practice isn't that people ought not take care of themselves, even while it is my personal practice too often. But was that, truly, her only option? Only she can answer that question. And as I'm not sending her a link to this post, she'll not likely ever read it.

In relationship with many other feminists, we express concern, disagreement, and hurt, and we move through it, building stronger connections that feel safer and enrich our lives, making each of us feel less isolated, not more so.

Also this week a man contacted me by email with care and support. And some criticism too--of a particularly U.S. American way I have of communicating here--but not the kind of criticism that was expressed outside a context of regard and respect. And, really, love. So I'm engaging with him. And maybe we'll be friends. I've had other men arrive via my email box. And I've befriended some of them. And one time one many was hurt by something I said to him about his own behavior. I probably could have found a more gracious way to express myself, but I was, admittedly, a bit triggered by something he wrote to me that sounded very misogynistic.

He, in turn, was triggered by my sloppiness and felt very confused and misunderstood--not seen and invalidated--by what I brought to him. This was not a white man. In some ways that doesn't matter, but the dynamics of people who aren't white being unseen or invalidated by someone who is white carries its own institutional, experiential loading. I think--or hope--that I acknowledged at some point that I might have been wrong in my assessments of his behavior. And he, months later, after his wound healed up and his capacity to trust me and be vulnerable to me was internally/spiritually re-established by him, he reconnected with me. We are on good terms again. I'm glad for that. And so it goes.

When it is emotionally, spiritually possible, I recommend that as a way to proceed: working across differences and disagreements if they are not loaded with gross disregard and disrespect--or with hostility or terrorism as a strategy of control and destruction. I recommend this approach to myself, so that when some parts of the revolution are occurring, we are not all fighting these battles alone. And, when it is time to celebrate, we have a room full of people with whom to share the joy.

Tony Porter on "The Man Box" (short video): on oppressive masculinity and het men's choice to be humane instead

This is only eleven minutes long and any man you know who is misogynistic, sexist, or just plain callous about women or girls, must see it. He's very good. I think many men will be able to "hear him". Honestly. Part of the story was intense for me to listen to, but he took it to exactly the right moral place. TRIGGER WARNING: This video contains the story of the gross sexual assault of a girl by many males.


Please share liberally with all men.That's about all that can be done with this perspective on patriarchal masculinity. There's nothing too radical about it. Or overtly pro-feminist, either.

(Here's the transcript, which I found *here*, on 16 April 2011.)

Transcript after the jump (thanks to DECIUS for posting it in the comments):

I grew up in New York City, between Harlem and the Bronx. Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear — that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say; that men are superior, women are inferior; that men are strong, women are weak; that women are of less value — property of men — and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men, better known as the “man box.” See this man box has in it all the ingredients of how we define what it means to be a man. Now I also want to say, without a doubt, there are some wonderful, wonderful, absolutely wonderful things about being a man. But at the same time, there’s some stuff that’s just straight up twisted. And we really need to begin to challenge, look at it and really get in the process of deconstructing, redefining, what we come to know as manhood.
This is my two at home, Kendall and Jay. They’re 11 and 12. Kendall’s 15 months older than Jay. There was a period of time when my wife, her name is Tammie, and I, we just got real busy and whip, bam, boom: Kendall and Jay. (Laughter) And when they were about five and six, four and five, Jay could come to me, come to me crying. It didn’t matter what she was crying about, she could get on my knee, she could snot my sleeve up, just cry, cry it out. Daddy’s got you. That’s all that’s important.
Now Kendall on the other hand — and like I said, he’s only 15 months older than her — he came to me crying, it’s like as soon as I would hear him cry, a clock would go off. I would give the boy probably about 30 seconds, which means, by the time he got to me, I was already saying things like, “Why are you crying? Hold your head up. Look at me. Explain to me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong. I can’t understand you. Why are you crying?” And out of my own frustration of my role and responsibility of building him up as a man to fit into these guidelines and these structures that are defining this man box, I would find myself saying things like, “Just go in your room. Just go on, go on in your room. Sit down, get yourself together and come back and talk to me when you can talk to me like a –” What? (Audience: Man.) “like a man.” And he’s five years old. And as I grow in life, I would say to myself, “My God, what’s wrong with me? What am I doing? Why would I this?” And I think back. I think back to my father.
There was a time in my life where we had a very troubled experience in our family. My brother, Henry, he died tragically when we were teenagers. We lived in New York City, as I said. We lived in the Bronx at the time. And the burial was in a place called Long Island, it was about two hours outside of the city. And as we were preparing to come back from the burial, the cars stopped at the bathroom to let folks take care of themselves before the long ride back to the city. And the limousine empties out. My mother, my sister, my auntie, they all get out, but my father and I stayed in the limousine. And no sooner than the women got out, he burst out crying.
He didn’t want cry in front of me. But he knew he wasn’t going to make it back to the city, and it was better me than to allow himself to express these feelings and emotions in front of the women. And this is a man who, 10 minutes ago, had just put his teenage son in the ground — something I just can’t even imagine. The thing that sticks with me the most is that he was apologizing to me for crying in front of me. And at the same time, he was also giving me props, lifting me up, for not crying.
I come to also look at this as this fear that we have as men, this fear that just has us paralyzed, holding us hostage to this man box. I can remember speaking to a 12 year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you you were playing like a girl?” Now I expected him to say something like, I’d be sad, I’d be mad, I’d be angry, or something like that. No, the boy said to me — the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.” And I said to myself, “God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?”
It took me back to a time when I was about 12 years old. I grew up in tenement buildings in the inner-city. At this time we’re living in the Bronx. And in the building next to where I lived there was a guy named Johnny. He was about 16 years old, and we were all about 12 years old — younger guys. And he was hanging out with all us younger guys. And this guy, he was up to a lot of no good. He was the kind of kid who parents would have to wonder, “What is this 16 year-old boy doing with these 12 year-old boys?” And he did spend a lot of time up to no good. He was a troubled kid. His mother had died from a heroin overdose. He was being raised by his grandmother. His father wasn’t on the set. His grandmother had two jobs. He was home alone a lot. But I’ve got to tell you, we young guys, we looked up to this dude. He was cool. He was fine. That’s what the sisters said, “He was fine.” He was having sex. We all looked up to him.
So one day, I’m out in front of the house doing something — just playing around, doing something — I don’t know what. He looks out his window, he calls me upstairs, he said, “Hey Anthony.” They called my Anthony growing up as a kid. “Hey Anthony, come on upstairs.”
Johnny call, you go. So I run right upstairs. As he opens the door, he says to me, “Do you want some?” Now I immediately knew what he meant. Because for me growing up at that time, and our relationship with this man box, do you want some meant one of two things, sex or drugs — and we weren’t doing drugs. Now my box, card, man box card, was immediately in jeopardy. Two things: One, I never had sex. We don’t talk about that as men. You only tell your dearest, closest friend, sworn to secrecy for life, the first time you had sex. For everybody else, we go around like we’ve been having sex since we were two. There ain’t no first time. (Laughter) The other thing I couldn’t tell him is that I didn’t want any. That’s even worse. We’re supposed to always be on the prowl. Women are objects, especially sexual objects.
Anyway, so I couldn’t tell him any of that. So, like my mother would say, make a long story short. I just simply said to Johnny, “Yes.” He told me to go in his room. I go in his room. On his bed is a girl from the neighborhood named Sheila. She’s 16 years old. She’s nude. She’s what I know today to be mentally ill, higher functioning at times than others. We had a whole choice’s-worth of inappropriate names for her. Anyway, Johnny had just gotten through having sex with her. Well actually, he raped her, but he would say he had sex with her. Because, while Sheila never said no, she also never said yes.
So he was offering me the opportunity to do the same. So when I go in the room, I close the door. Folks, I’m petrified. I stand with my back to the door so Johnny can’t bust in the room and see that I’m not doing anything. And I stand there long enough that I could have actually done something. So now I’m no longer trying to figure out what I’m going to do, I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get out of this room. So in my 12 years of wisdom, I zip my pants down, I walk out into the room. And lo and behold to me, while I was in the room with Sheila, Johnny was back at the window calling guys up. So now there’s a living room full of guys. It was like the waiting room in the doctor’s office. And they asked me how was it. And I say to them, “It was good.” And I zip my pants up in front of them, and I head for the door.
Now I say this all with remorse, and I was feeling a tremendous amount of remorse at that time, but I was conflicted, because, while I was feeling remorse, I was excited, because I didn’t get caught, but I knew I felt bad about what was happening. This fear getting outside the man box totally enveloped me. It was way more important to me, about me and my man box card than about Sheila and what was happening to her.
See collectively, we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men. We see that as an equation that equals violence against women. We as men, good men, the large majority of men, we operate on the foundation of this whole collective socialization. We kind of see ourselves separate, but we’re very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property and objectification is the foundation and the violence can’t happen without it. So we’re very much a part of the solution as well as the problem. The center for disease control says that men’s violence against women is at epidemic proportions, is the number one health concern for women in this country and abroad.
So quickly, I’d like to just say, this is the love of my life, my daughter Jay. The world I envision for her, how do I want men to be acting and behaving? I need you on board. I need you with me. I need you working with me and me working with you on how we raise our sons and teach them to be men — that it’s okay to not be dominating, that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions, that it’s okay to promote equality, that it’s okay to have women who are just friends and that’s it, that it’s okay to be whole, that my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.
I remember asking a nine year-old boy. I asked a nine year-old boy, “What would life be like for you, if you didn’t have to adhere to this man box?” He said to me, “I would be free.”
Thank you folks.