re-starting again? or am I stuck…

Was in Florida last week at the JFK Charter school. Having trouble getting my writing feet back under me today. Doing some detail things that saps energy and need to be done. This is hard. Maybe tonight after all is quiet.

I’m not quite sure where to go at this point. Momentum has lagged.

Had another a-ha over the weekend. Had read a wonderful little piece from Vanessa’s loaner, called “Can I Get A Witness: Testimony from a hip hop feminist.” Shani (Jamila) was writing about the seeming conflict for her of being a hip hop (per) and a feminist at the same time. She writes

“They are the two baic things tha mold us. However, we must not confuse having love for either one with blind defense. We have to love them enough to critique both of them and challenge them to grow – beyond the materialism and misogyny that has come to characterize too much of hip hop, beyond the exptermism that feminism sometimes engages in. As women of the hip hop generation we need a feminist consciousness that allows us to examine how representations and images can be simultaneously empowering and problematic.”

The phrase “simultaneously empowering and problematic” really hit me. I wasn’t expecting where it sent me. My mind went right to the core of what I’m trying to do with my writing. That called to mind a conversation with Joel Heir following Suzanne’s oral on Thursday. I was trying to explain to Joel what I was doing and I felt I was really stumbling around, almost apologizing for what I was trying to do. What was that all about? He said something like this in response: So you are trying to write to guys like me and what you are trying to say to us is ,

“Hang in there. There are moments in your life that made you the power that you are today. If you understand them, you’ll invigorate your place and purpose in your piece of our collective struggle for social justice in this country. I’m writing to show you mine and to show you how I’ve come to understand their place in my life’s journey. Knowing they all kind of fit together is at once comforting and inspiring to me. Maybe my journey can spark a greater awareness on your part of your journey and how they person you are now is a kind of culmination of all the good stuff that has come before.”

Awfully wordy. But the idea answers some basic questions…

What’s important to you now?


How did you get here?

What is it you want to accomplish now?

How is this different from other times in your life?

What leaves you with a smile on your face and feeling of having done your “mission” well?

How do you answer the “you” others want to make you?

What’s the difference you see between how you see yourself and how you think others might see you?

How is this true for a privileged white guy? How do you make sense of it? How do you come to peace with it? What would you say to critics?

Oh, here is the a-ha. It goes back to Shani’s “empowering and problematic” comment. I was struck by the realization that all along, I (white male privileged dude) may have been writing this stuff in order to gain acceptance, in order to feel empowered. But its like in the politics of race and gender, I can never really clear the deck, make a clean sweep as it were, of who I am by trying to state clearly once and for all, “Now I understand who I am.” Whatever understanding(s) I arrive at will always be empowering and problematic. I have to understand the problematic nature of them goes with the territory and I don’t think I quite realized that before.

So what this has me thinking is to create a series of responses to paragraphs that from the point of view of African American social critics, are critical of who I represent. My responses would situate the criticisms in my life stories. They would particularlize broad sweeping statements and in the particular personalization, establish a personal meaning for me and perhaps, for others. Maybe the quotes become truth texts to the stories, and part of the stories is my working with the truth texts. Or maybe the quotes introduce sections of several stories that allow me to interpret and ground the meaning of the quote in the particular experience of one man.


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Charles Rathbone

Retired. Emeritus. UDL consultant, FIrst UU Racial Justice Committee, photographer, married, four children, five grandchildren. Embracing life, all of it. "Today is tomorrow's past."

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