It’s so big, this thing.
It’s bigger than I can really say.
How’s a crow tell what the sky is to her and her clan—her “murder,” we call it,
in a sundry manifestation
of our terror
of magnificent sentinels
of holysacred things.
How do you describe the sky when it is an inseparable, fundamental part of your existence. You don’t say “blue” when there are sixty-eight billion different blues in your world, and you don’t say “gray” for the same reason. You don’t think about “high” and “low,” because these things are matters of constantly shifting relativity. And you know, when the wind determines how you move your body on any given day, in any given moment, you undoubtedly experience it as an extension of yourself.
And so on.
There are two places:
- the environment you are born into, which varies enormously, depending on who constructed it, and why and how they did.
- the world, of which there is only one, though it exists in millions of fractalized continuums.
Crows are born into this world.
I was not.
I was born into an environment of white supremacist racism, imperialism, and male domination.
It is the environment I have experienced all my life. The big difference between my environment and the crow’s sky is my environment was not created by god, in all her wisdom. Or maybe it was and I’m just not smart enough to discern the divine purpose of five hundred plus years of systematic geno-, femi-, and ecocide in the Americas, on top of multiple millennia of the same horrors occurring in most every culture on the planet.
Racism-as-environment certainly appears to have been constructed by wealthy white men who have seemingly unlimited access to:
- money and grandfathers
- history’s presentation
- (via) literature, music, art, science, math, media, and eventually, film, telecommunications, and computers
- the inevitably high-ceilinged rooms of commerce, legislation, and war
My environment was painstakingly constructed by conquistadors, explorers, slave traders, imperialists, bible writers, capitalists, strikebreakers, Puritans ’n’ Christians, military heroes, politicians, Jesus hijackers, blockbuster movie producers, ad cats, CEOs, masters and slaves, hunters and prey, victors and victims, and one mustn’t forget the endless variety of civic propagandists, coincidence theorists, and yes-nancies who toe this massive, massive line of historic and contemporary oppression.
But this book isn’t just about white supremacist racism and imperialism.
It is about the choices we make in this environment.
Many of the biggest choices we make are directly influenced by white supremacist racism and imperialism.
This is a big distinction.
Most people in the U.S. support economic slavery by unquestioningly giving their money to corporations that fully suck the lifeblood out of entire demographics in Mexico, El Salvador, Vietnam, Haiti, India, China, and many other countries where whites don’t much factor into the head count.
People from all ethnicities, races, religions, genders, and classes freely give their money–their own lifeblood—to these suckers.
There are many ways to procure goods in satisfying ways that do not require money. Knowing this, however, requires a shift in perspective, a slight—yet crucial—movement into the world, utilizing the vastly underestimated biological gift that can never truly be taken away from anyone: the glorious human imagination. Admitting that your imagination has been colonized and then doing something about it is by no means an easy thing to do, but it is very much a thing that can be done, no matter how little economic latitude you may have.
If you shop at Wal-Mart, you are giving your money to full-on Arbusto-supporting right-wing activists who treat their employees like total shit and buy their goods from plantation-states who “employ” economic slaves. If you pay federal taxes, you are funding the brutal occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you eat Domino’s pizza, you are giving money to right-wing antichoice activists who also fully support the Arbusto administration. All of their ingredients come from big agribusiness corporations that make fake tomatoes and hormone-infused sausage.
If I were on Fear Factor and they said I had to eat one slice of Domino’s pizza, I would enthusiastically skip down their walk of shame.
There’s also the rather large problem with how we think plants and animals are “lower” life forms, to be used by us, the fittest. And then there are the widespread and varied retardations of how men view women; how people view “god,” disabled folks, and homos; how women view ourselves and allow men to rule our lives and the lives of our babies, which also results in a smorgasbord of–often highly manipulative–pathologies; how gender is policed with hatred and fear; how young folks treat old ones; and how pretty much everyone somehow magically forgets the complexities and pain of childhood, and consequently underestimates and refuses to see the innate wisdom of children and teenagers.
This isn’t just about white supremacist racism and imperialism, but these two things live deep in the hearts of everyone who was raised in this environment, and detrimentally affect our lives, destinies, and worldviews.
In my experience, once we can open ourselves up to our own learned racist, imperialist tendencies and/or responses, all the other unconscious choices we make start getting caught in the light.
And now it is time for a poetic interlude with your effervescent hostess, whose imagination does not compel her to shell out wads of cash every time a need or desire for something arises in her life:
Somewhere, Someone Can Hook You Up
By Inga La Gringa
If you’re gonna eat meat, raise your own damn chickens.
If you can’t raise chickens, then have a chicken co-op with someone who has the space. If you don’t know anyone who has the space, put up flyers or advertise online and find them.
can hook you up.
Knit winter wear and sew clothes for the kids in your neighborhood.
Exchange this for music lessons for your children, for help putting in a garden, for expertise on canning.
Do manicures and style hair.
Exchange this for new interior decor.
Fix cars or broken appliances.
Exchange this for help with your taxes.
Teach young people the history you have lived.
Exchange this for new slang words.
Offer self-defense classes in the park.
Exchange this for help fixing up your house.
can hook you up.
Counsel someone with their finances.
Exchange this for a gorgeous eight-tiered wedding cake for your sister.
Make a website.
Exchange this for childcare.
Mentor someone with your chess skills.
Exchange this for poker expertise.
Paint someone’s front porch/stoop.
Exchange this for a year’s worth of homemade candles.
Make sure all the kids in your neighborhood know how to swim.
Exchange this for the love and gratitude of parents who cannot afford swim lessons for their children.
can hook you up.
In the interest of survival, I have found it necessary to step into the world, outside of this environment. On bad days, when new, improved racist human-rights abuses are passed into laws, when a lynching is palmed off as a suicide, when my email inbox (but not the newspapers) fills up with word from the Oneida Wolf Mother Clan that they are under siege again, when the Navy presses on with its sonar that is exploding the brains of dolphins and whales, when years of a young black man’s life are stolen by police who set him up in a sting operation with a bike, a fucken unlocked bike left on the street corner, I say:
“This is an environment, it is not the world.”
I say this over and over and over.
Maybe it is a chant, maybe it is a prayer.
“This is an environment, it is not the world. This is an environment, it is not the world.”
It is an environment that is threatening the world, yes, but when choosing life in these dark times, razor-thin distinctions are often the only viable solace.
This distinction means that I have choices in the face of seemingly unopposable power.
If I open myself up to this world, this world opens itself up to me.
If I base all my thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions on the environment I was born into, cultural constructs will dictate my life and destiny.
This is a choice.
Here is story about choices:
Once upon a time, Nazi Bob led a gang of mean skinheads that you steered clear of if you knew what was good for you.
Boys like Nazi Bob hated girls like me–little bleeding heart punk rock race traitors who probably “sucked off beaners and niggers” when we weren’t too busy “munching carpet.”
I steered clear of Nazi Bob good as gold.
One night my friends ’n’ me went to an all-ages dance joint. When the club closed, all the kids from inside stood outside, smoking cigarettes and cloves and laughing. I was sitting on a bench, watching everyone.
It was quiet and nice.
Suddenly, the air seized in and up, upon itself.
One moment, you have here the vivacious hum of kids visiting pleasantly, and in the next heartbeat, tension charged the air sphincter tight. The awful, awful sound of human bone hitting plate glass filled the world.
Forty feet away from me, a shop windowpane shattered and people scattered like they too were shards of glass. I stood up on the bench I’d been sitting on to see what was happening. Nazi Bob and all his buddies were kicking the living shit out of this older Rasta guy who was known for minding his own mellow beeswax and playing a wicked sax.
An earsplitting scream came up into my throat and got caught there because terror clapped a fist over my esophagus.
The scream wouldn’t come out.
I looked around for my friends.
All was confusion, everyone was running.
Why weren’t we a group of kids who armed ourselves with rocks and bricks and attacked the skinheads en masse? We outnumbered them seven to one, easy. Everyone knew this was wrong. Everyone knew someone was being hurt in a grisly, totally fucked-up manner.
Our reaction–our choice–was to flee.
We chose fear.
It was a fear rooted in the grim reality of living in an environment where if Nazi Bob wanted to find out where you lived or worked, he undoubtedly could and, indeed, would. If you were a woman, and a gang rape wasn’t the plan for you, then there was an auxiliary group of skinhead girls who would beat the living shit out of you. Seven of these girls had cornered me in the bathroom of this same club just a few weeks prior, and the only thing that saved my ass was an irrational tendency to go psychotically ballistic when cornered. This reaction bought me the split seconds I needed to careen out of the bathroom.
Nazi Bob was not afraid to hurt people, or to see to it that people were hurt.
It had been proven time and again.
I was not exempt from this fear, and it hit me like the ton of bricks we did not throw–I was too scared to think of anything irrational or ballistic to help this man. A chick whose boyfriend’s name is “Reuben” asking eight skinheads to stop beating a black man equaled severe retaliation. Hell, even if my boyfriend’s name were “Tom Metzger,” I woulda gotten my ass kicked.
If not then, later.
In my concept of time–as opposed to the mellow Rasta gentleman’s–it was over very quickly.
I stood there, a slack-jaw dumbass, until the sounds of sirens arrived and the skinhead boys bolted. Then paramedics and four (white, legendarily racist) policemen were there.
The tight-assed air slumped in on itself.
I was still standing on the bench, staring into nothingness, when one of my friends came and got me. I didn’t do squat to help that man. The sound of his body breaking the store window has never left my heart.
He is black, and so he took that beating, got steel-toe kicked within inches of his life. He is black, so he knew the feeling of all those boots hitting his flesh.
I was able to keep attention away from myself because the scream got caught in my throat. My skin color and fear camouflaged me into the background.
Nazi Bob might have regarded me if I provided a stimulus, but I did not choose to do this. I don’t know the feeling of Nazi Bob’s steel-toed boot in my face because I had a choice.
I chose to do nothing.
The Rasta dude did not have that choice or any other.
As an adult thinking back on that night, I see how the dynamics of one single human being’s ignorance and fear swirled up into a tornado of violence that nearly destroyed another single human being’s sacred and glorious life.
Yet, wishing I had a different, superhero reaction that saved the Rasta gentleman from being hurt does not alter the reality that he was hurt in a horrible manner. Feeling guilty about myself for standing on that bench like a fool does not magically disappear the Rasta gentleman’s lacerations, internal wounds, scars, and memories. Nothing, in fact, changes the inescapable reality that I live in an environment with skinheads who terrorize people, or that I was too afraid to think of finding a big rock, and beaning Nazi Bob in the head with it.
From that moment on, however, it has been impossible for me to remain unconscious of the luxury and power of choices.
Making unconsidered choices throughout one’s life contributes to the collective perception that a constructed environment is the world.
A woman named Jhaleh once told me a story that also helped me to understand the power and luxury of choices.
One time, Jhaleh took a woman visiting from Uzbekistan to the grocery store, just a few hours after the woman had arrived in the U.S. Their first stop was the pet food aisle. Jhaleh made her selections, and headed toward the dairy section, but the Uzbek woman stood rooted in the middle of the aisle, staring, mouth open, eyes agog.
Suddenly perceiving the incomprehensible plenitude of a U.S. grocery store to this woman from Uzbekistan, Jhaleh realized it would be overwhelming for her to witness the endless aisles of opulence. Entranced, the woman nodded when Jhaleh told her to stay right there while she finished up her shopping. She quickly got the items she needed, and made her way back to the pet food aisle. The woman was still standing in the exact same spot, scanning the shelves slowly. Jhaleh asked her if she was all right and the woman, never tearing her gaze from the wall of Meow Mix, Fancy Feast, and Kitten Chow, replied, “I want to be an American kitty.”
This sentence comes to me often.
It flits through my head when I turn on a faucet and water comes out, when I flick a dial and heat pours through the vents in my home, when I go to thrift stores and find brand-new clothes and blankets, when I walk down the street and see flowers and trees and birds and butterflies instead of tanks, rubble, the severed limbs of dead people, or yellow-taped areas filled with crime scene investigators and coroners’ vans.
I could make the choice to believe that the USA is the land of abundance and freedom, and that the people who live here are inherently better at flourishing and thriving than people in poor countries. This choice, of course, would require that I also choose to remain completely ignorant of the realities of people in ghettos, barrios, prisons, the sex work industry, and rural coal mining/farming/logging towns, and on reservations here in the USA.
Or I could make the choice to believe that the victors of history’s present telling have constructed a self-sustaining environment, which they present as the world, that is easily palmed off on a population whose imaginations have been colonized ever since the bible, U.S. history, and Hollywood were allowed to define what is considered to be sacred, celebratory, and beautiful.
I tried the first choice when I was younger, and I never met much success with it, largely because it bored me to tears.
The second choice, however, serves me well.
It inspires me to seek knowledge, to listen closely, to imagine, and to dream of existing in an environment that is an engaged aspect of the world.
The world is beautiful.
The more I see this, the more the world shows itself to me, and the more I see this.
Here are some beautiful things I’ve noticed in the little tiny itsy bitsy part of the world that I have seen so far today:
- The iridescent sparkle of morning dew on a blade of grass that splashed to the earth when a swallow’s low-flying wings jarred the stillness.
- The way swallows always start showing off and doing devil-may-care loop-dee-loops the second they notice that they have an audience.
- The caring smile of an old woman who saw me stumble on a crack in the sidewalk.
- The vegan pumpkin stew that Ariel and Maria made last night with me in mind.
- The four-year-old nephew, hollering to his poop, “Bye-bye! See ya tomorrow!” every time he flushes the toilet.
- The lavender, the rosemary, the roses.
- The distant sound of traffic, moshing with the wind and sounding exactly like the ocean on a semiangry afternoon.
- The neighbor’s chicken that escapes from the pen almost every day and no one can figure out how. It is a magic chicken, or maybe a very crafty tunnel-boring chicken.
No environment can take away the billions and billions of beautiful things that compose this endlessly complex world.
Making the choice to be present in the world offers me the wherewithal to thrive in the ugly, mean-spirited, fearful, pathologically racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist, classist, ageist, two-gendered human supremacist environment I live in.
I’ve learned to practice seeing the powerful force of the world. It is the goddess, Bre’r Rabbit, the Matrix, the hobbit with the golden ring, the fruit on the tree of knowledge, the Holy Grail, the thundering down under rumbling deep inside a volcano. It is much, much stronger than any man-made environment, but it is difficult to believe this when you don’t learn to step out of this environment and into it.
It is beautiful, the world.
Do not get me wrong.
No one’s being a Pollyanna over here.
The world is also a horrifying place. It contains many environments filled with racism, pain, and brutal death. Hunger, rape, and poverty. Stolen lives, stolen land, and stolen stories from the past. Meanwhile, entire populations learn to rationalize and sanction all this horror by keeping the collective gaze averted.
To be present in the world is to also live with these realities upon your heart, and to closely examine the environment you were born into, and every repercussion of white supremacist racism and imperialism that your perception can seize upon, all together, as one.
In the world, all the horror is one.
Like seemingly everything else, the horror of the world is reflected into endless demographics in endless contexts. It’s still all one horrendous horror, with the velocity of manufactured history and consent hurling it into every curvature of the global marketplace.
And there are many, many choices involved with how a person might negotiate her life in the midst of all this horror.
An acquaintance and I were talking about this just the other day. He was telling me that he hunkers down into his daily life scheme of things because he cannot deal with all the horror in this world. I told him that I cannot live like that. He thought I was full of shit. “You can’t take in all that stuff,” he insisted. “It will drive you insane.”
But I disagreed. I hear this sentiment often, in a variety of forms.
Your average pissed-off citizen in the U.S. is willing to fight for three or four “causes,” maybe, but the line’s gotta be drawn somewhere.
When you’re present in the world you don’t just see one or the other. The horror and beauty go hand in hand. Even as this environment breaks your heart, the world fuels, protects, instructs, inspires, guides, and gently humors you.
So things balance out.
That conversation reminded me of a story I’d heard just a few days prior. I believe it comes from the Cherokee nation, but is told around many peoples’ sacred fires:
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice…
“Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die.”
“I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But… the other wolf… ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”
“Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”
To be present in the world, it is also important to shake your butt to the beat of sirens and car alarms. And, obviously, always dance while a sound system on wheels passes you by.
If you look at something, like a low-limbed old oak tree or a ladder leading up to an easily recontextualized billboard, and you think, “Gee, it would be so easy to climb up there,” and you then do NOT climb up there, you are not being present in the world.
The thing that tells you to climb up there is your body in the world.
The thing that tells you that’s a ridiculous and dangerous thing to do is your mind in the environment.
Climb up there.
My job has been to spend six years arranging a lot of words in such a way that they might speak with honor and respect to the people who take time out of their lives to read my book. I have learned that it is deeply humbling to know that a person spends many hours with my words–which is partly why I spend so much time arranging them.
The trouble with this book is I know that many people reading it experience the detrimental effects of living in a white supremacist and imperialist environment a fuck of a lot more than I ever will. And too, I know many people reading this book will have never in their life stopped to consider how white supremacist racism and imperialism affects every facet of their existence. Moreover, I know that the vast majority of people reading this book will have experiences all over the vast universe of In Between.
In light of this, I have three offerings.
Offering #1: Defensiveness, guilt, blame, denial, resentment, anger, jealousy, bitterness, mean-spiritedness, and the need to compete feed the fucked-up wolf inside you.
Offering #2: Compassion, listening, accountability, patience, courage, open-mindedness, focus, imagination, creativity, and the desire to cooperate feed the cool wolf inside you.
Offering #3: At the back of the book, there is a chapter-by-chapter resource guide, compiled by the scathingly brilliant valkyrie writer Mel Kozakiewicz and your effervescent hostess Inga La Gringa.
It is difficult to write about this environment while living in the midst of it.
I suspect it could be difficult to read about it too.
I thank you for taking the time.