1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I first need to name what I am afraid of.

I am afraid of hurting you. I am afraid that the hurt inside me will become aggression, need, demand, overwhelm, that I will push and pull and tear and break. I am afraid of hurling my trauma around irrevocably and causing more trauma. I am afraid of repeating the cycle of violence.

I am afraid of leaving you. I am afraid of changing my mind, of not being sure, of wanting more, or wanting less, or not wanting the same thing. I am afraid of all my imperfections, and of your imperfections, and of the inevitable scrapes and scratches we endure as we try to fit together like the puzzle pieces we aren’t. I am afraid it won’t work.

And I’m afraid for myself. I am afraid for my reputation, for what people will say, or not say, or see, or not see. I am afraid of being seen as sexual, of my sexuality being seen as hurtful (because it might be). I am afraid of being seen as emotional, as messy, for all my trauma and all my defenses and all my mistakes and mistakes and mistakes. I am afraid of shame.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?

Ask if I could kiss you.

It’s that simple.

9. Racial Justice

Four Questions About Racial Justice

This piece was written in collaboration with the fabulous Marc Dones, and posted on March 22, 2017 on JewishBoston.com.

We are taught to tell the story of Passover as if each of us individually were enslaved in Egypt, and each of us individually were liberated. In that way, the work of dismantling white supremacy calls on each of us to realize we are personally implicated. It is not enough to agree with the idea of equality. Judaism consistently asks us to go beyond beliefs into action. Tonight, we ask ourselves about our own actions—and we also ask the friends, family and community gathered together at the seder about our collective actions. Situated within the racial history and racial hierarchy of the U.S., we start with questions about anti-black racism.

1. What are we doing to pursue the Movement for Black Lives platform?

The good news about doing anti-racist actions in the U.S. is that we don’t have to guess about what needs to be done. The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against black people and communities. The platform is divided into six sets of demands: end the war on black people; reparations; invest-divest; economic justice; community control; and political power. Each specific demand includes local, state and federal policy recommendations. Where do you have influence? What can you do to ensure that we, collectively, meet these demands?

2. What are we doing to support black trans women?

Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen are seven transgender women of color known to have been murdered this year alone (by the time we are writing this in March 2017). Five of them were black. And there are countless more black trans women who are still alive. What are you doing to support them? They are creating beautiful art and running amazing advocacy organizations and building fiercely loving relationships and need money and jobs and housing and health care and need to not be killed by acts of racist-transmisogynist violence. They need to not be dehumanized. Trans women are women and black trans lives matter.

3. What are we doing to follow the leadership of black women and femmes?

Trust black women. This includes black trans women. This includes black femmes, as in people who embody femininity, feminine expression and/or femme identity. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—three black women. Tamika Mallory is a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. Ayanna Pressley has served on the Boston City Council since 2009. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Angela Davis. So many more. Listen when they speak, take in their words and push yourself to do what they are asking of you. When was the last time you did something that black women asked you to do? What are the black women in your community asking you to do? What are Jewish black women asking you to do?

Good news again—there is still plenty of guidance out there, in this case particularly for white folks trying to answer the above questions. Check this out, by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, two black women activists: “Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Box memberships are a way to not only financially support black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” Money raised from monthly subscriptions goes to individual black women and femmes working for black liberation. How can white people step into the roles black people are asking us to fill? What would it take for you to sign up for Safety Pin Box?

4. What are we ready to risk?

Ava DuVernay (another brilliant black woman) in her documentary “13th” highlights that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, “except as punishment for a crime.” As we tell the story of our own liberation from slavery, we see too that mass incarceration is slavery, and it is racial violence. Police brutality, vigilante murders and the criminalization of protests, immigration and addiction are all part of this system of abuse and control. When we say “Never again,” how can we mean it if it’s happening right now? Race-based violence is so deeply woven into our social structures that we need to deeply change our social structures in order to end race-based violence. That means now. That means urgently.

What will you put on the line to demand these changes? How much time, energy and money will you contribute? Are you willing to risk relationships to call people out on racism? Are you willing to risk your reputation within your field or workplace? For white folks, are you willing to risk the layers of safety that come with whiteness? Supporting black people means risking all that comes with the whiteness status that Ashkenazi Jews have gained. It means using power and privilege to advance goals perhaps alien to your own. What does whiteness mean to you, how does it shape your life and what will it take to leverage its power? Are you willing to risk your body by showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest? Are you willing to risk your own individual life goals? What will it look like for you to make racial justice a priority?

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice

What If There Is No Esther?

This piece was written in collaboration with the fabulous Marc Dones, and posted on March 3, 2017 on JewishBoston.com.

We have this narrative. This narrative brings through many aspects of Jewish history, not just Purim. This is the narrative: They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.

First of all, not all of us survived. We survived as a people—there remained such a thing as “Jews”—but not all our people made it through. In the Purim story, we had to fight back, and there was a battle.

Now, people are already not making it through. Many are claiming, “We will survive the Trump administration,” and that’s just not necessarily true…not for all of us.

Let’s examine this hope of survival. When we celebrate Purim, we spin the narrative that we survived because Esther revealed herself. Because there was someone on the inside, someone well positioned to directly influence the people in power, who was one of us, and took the risk of coming out and speaking up.

We survived because Esther revealed herself.

But what if there is no Esther?

We’re told to talk to our relatives who voted for Trump. We don’t have any relatives who voted for Trump. Do you? Are you talking to your relatives?

Are you Esther?

But Esther would talk directly to Trump.

Who is talking to Trump?

Bannon. Bannon is talking to Trump. So there’s certainly a Haman in the White House.

What if there is no Esther?

What is the false comfort we draw from the Purim narrative? That there is always someone in the inner circle who will risk their life to stop evil. That there is someone on the inside who is actually on our side.

Have you had that fantasy? That they will all retire, strike, come out…stop this?

Maybe you were looking to Clinton or Obama or Sanders or Warren or McCain or Romney to stop it cold, to not let him take power. Maybe you were looking to the Electoral College. Maybe you got excited about the rogue NASA Twitter account and the rogue White House staff account and thought maybe, maybe they will throw a wrench in it and undermine the whole operation.

They won’t.

There is no one on the inside who is magically going to get us out of this.

We are the ones. And if not now, when?

This is not a simple switch in mindset. This means action. This means we actually have to do something. And taking action is going to take a lot of intention and effort.

  1. First, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and investing in the leadership of women of color and queer and trans people of color who have been fighting this fight against white supremacy and know what they’re doing and are rocking it and need financial and other resources to rock it even harder.
  2. Second, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and investing in our own capacity to take risks. The risk to speak, the risk to fight, the risk to feel. Community organizing, mass mobilizing, protest. These risks will be different and look different for white Jews and for Jews of color. Talk to people you love about what your line is, and what you’re going to do when it gets crossed. Also, it’s probably been crossed already.
  3. Third, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and not waiting for permission to fight. Know what you’re fighting for, though. Remember that when we say, “We survived,” we mean that there is still a Jewish community in existence, but “we” did not all survive. And even beyond that, when we say, “Never again,” do we mean only to Jews? It is happening…again…or still…right now…and not everyone is surviving.

And if there is no Esther, if there is no singular primary shero, we need all of us to be in it together as deeply and broadly as possible. We need to be fighting a heck of a lot harder than we are right now.

1. Sex, Dating, & Relationships, 5. Connection/ Community

5 Strategies for Surviving Psychological Abuse on a National Scale

This piece was originally posted on February 8, 2017 on the Society for Research on Adolescence Emerging Scholars blog.

Alternating between mocking and manipulative platitudes.

Outright lying.

These are all aspects of intimate partner abuse. Or, to speak in terms of adolescents, tactics of teen dating violence. This is what I study and teach about – what I work to prevent, understand, and address. This is something I’ve lived through, too.

I never thought it would be so politically relevant.

There is so much that is not normal that is coming out of the White House right now. The discriminatory posturing from the campaign trail is turning into actual discriminatory policies. What I’m talking about is not just those specific policies but the comprehensive pattern of behavior towards entire segments of the population (including scientists and academics). Repeatedly, survivors of domestic abuse and other abusive relationships have spoken up about the ways in which they are triggered and traumatized by Trump’s bullying, lying, victim-blaming, and other forms of psychological manipulation and devastation.

So from educators, organizers, researchers, and people who themselves have lived through these experiences – here are five ways we can use knowledge about surviving abusive relationships to guide our collective resilience in 2017.

1. Don’t blame – Recognize abuse of power for what it is.

When harm occurs, the people responsible for that harm are the ones who chose to use their power to exert undue control. This harm can include grief, fear, loss of resources, loss of security, injury, and death. Don’t blame the victims. No one deserves to be hurt. Keep the focus on the ones causing harm – and don’t let them off the hook.

2. Don’t gaslight – Believe people’s reports of their own experiences.

Gaslighting is an abusive tactic that denies a person’s experience of reality until that person can no longer trust their own truth. When people are getting hurt, or when people are scared of getting hurt, we must believe them. Even if we can’t see it, and we can’t imagine their fear or anger or distress being warranted in this moment. The psychological effects of abuse and trauma may seem like overreactions to people who aren’t living within that experience, but they are not overreactions. To best take care of each other, we need to first believe each other, and bear witness to the painful nuances of what is happening.

3. Don’t numb out – Name your feelings, and engage in active coping.

I’m asking you to stick with the hard stuff. We live in a world where fear, anger, abuse, and trauma are real every day, and we’re going to need ways to feel as much of it as possible. Naming difficult emotions helps us accept and move through them. Journaling, taking physical care of ourselves, and finding others to give and receive care with, can help us build our capacity to hold and live with these difficult feelings. Emotions carry important information about how we are doing and how other people are doing. We can’t ignore these signals – we must feel, and respond.

4. Don’t isolate – Reach out and connect with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.

Isolation makes us even more vulnerable to psychological control and emotional despair. Avoiding blame and avoiding gaslighting are all about making space to actually listen. Paying attention to our emotions lets us share our emotions with each other. Talk to people about your truth and your feelings. Name what you see. Hear their feelings. Hear what they see. Be willing to hear more from people around you and notice more about other people’s experiences than you have before. Refuse to normalize – and insist on caring about all of it.

5. Don’t bargain – Hold firm boundaries around what is okay and what is not okay.

It’s insidious. Abuse is so unreasonable, and it’s so hard to believe that doing reasonable things will not lead to reasonable outcomes. “If I could only…” or “if I did it right next time then…” will not work. There is nothing we can do to change the behavior of an abusive person. We will want to think we have figured it out, but we haven’t. Holding boundaries is the primary thing that will get us out. We cannot end the abuse – we can only resist control.

One more thing that helped me, and that has helped many young people, is understanding how abusive relationships are produced through oppressive social systems. Patriarchy, racism, and imperialism are all systems of abuse in which power is used to exert undue control over others. We can work together to address abuse – from preventing teen dating violence to curbing this spiral of political violence – by ending these systems of oppression. And we can only get to ending these systems of oppression if we know how to survive the psychological abuse perpetrated through them.

9. Racial Justice

Intersectional Leadership

The speakers at the Women’s March on Washington called clearly for intersectional movement building. Following the leadership of Women of Color is not an abstract directive. Here are 25 Black Women and Black queer people whose work I will read, watch, listen to, respond to, and be accountable to:

And I will also follow #Our100 Women of Color leaders for the first 100 days of this dangerous federal administration. I am deeply grateful for this leadership.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice

#WhyIMarch

I march to undermine White Supremacy and support the Movement for Black Lives. I march as a queer femme and as a Jew and as a survivor and as a White person committed to anti-racist work with other White people, in solidarity with People of Color. I march for health insurance and public schools and trans rights. I march to end rape culture, to end sexual assault, and to end other forms of gender-based violence. I march to build caring relationships. I march for unapologetic intersectional progressive movements in which we are all indispensable. I march because I am indispensable. Because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.

9. Racial Justice

Remove the Statue: The Struggle to Regain Lost Humanity

Dear Mayor Signer;

I hope you feel shame. I hope you could not sleep last night. I hope you stayed awake wondering why you shut down citizens who were telling you to your face that you are failing them. I hope you are struggling to regain the humanity that you have lost. Because by dehumanizing other people, you dehumanize yourself. I was dehumanized by just sitting in the City Council meeting, too. Now I am struggling to regain my humanity. Now I can’t sleep.

I lost my humanity in the name of decorum. I wanted to shout across the room to you – “ending racism will require ending business as usual.” Because it will. And you, last night, were all about business. The business of the City Council. The business of maintaining decorum. The business of hiring consultants to design a bigger, bolder monument, as if to compete with the structural racism perpetrated by the statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee.

Structural racism: racism perpetrated by the very structure of the city. Listen. Listen to how upset people are. Listen to how much it matters. Every day Black people in Charlottesville live their lives in a city that is complicit with their dehumanization. You know it, and I know it, and it’s on us to do something to change it.

I am a White person. When I moved here, the pattern was clear: Other White people told me how much they loved Charlottesville and how much they wanted everyone else to love it, too. People of Color I talked to, Black friends and colleagues, told a different story.

That park matters. The psychological toxicity of racism – minority stress and trauma – impacts everything from academic engagement to physical health to simply feeling okay as a person.

That statue is dehumanizing. Just as slavery is dehumanizing. Just as a registry and a wall would be dehumanizing. (I could go on.)

When you are complicit in dehumanizing Black people, your own humanity is compromised. That’s why I hope you can’t sleep. I hope you are mourning the loss of your own humanity and struggling to get it back. You can get it back! But you’ve got to try really hard, in ways you’ve never tried before. And it’s got to mean an end to business as usual.

Black lives matter.

Remove the statue.

Or step down and have Wes Bellamy lead instead, if you’d rather grasp at rhetorical unity than take real risks in pursuit of justice.

Here to help if I can.
Sincerely,
Mimi Arbeit

I sent this letter to the Charlottesville Mayor, Mike Signer, after attending the January 17th City Council meeting. From about 9-11:30pm, the meeting focused on The Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. The room was filled with people asking for the removal of the Confederate Robert E. Lee statue and the renaming of Lee Park; the demands were denied.

5. Connection/ Community

Cravings, 2017

I crave love letters.
I crave touch.
I crave community dinners where we stay up for hours
holding our hopes and dreams together.
 
I crave the moment of being held.
However that comes.
With talking, dreaming, dancing.
With hands, arms, legs, waist.
 
I crave the chance to hold.
Yesterday I held a sleeping baby,
while friends spoke with me of political resistance.
That felt good.
 
I crave courage and kindness and maturity and presence.
In myself, for sure.
And also in other people.
I crave other people who have and share these things, and who crave me, too.
 
I crave mutuality. I desire to be desired.
I’m nervous and eager, and I’m sure I’m messing it up for myself
by not being responsive enough.
Or maybe I’m too responsive. Too needy. Too eager.
I’m never quite sure.
 
I crave confidence.
Scratch that – I’m basically quite confident in myself.
I crave confidence in others.
That sounds like a terrible thing to say.
I crave the time and space that all of this takes.
Building trust, building confidence, building togetherness.
I crave this with the sharp pain of my own body.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice

This #GivingTuesday, Give to the Resistance

Give a lot. Give more than you have in the past. Give to more radical places than you have in the past. Give in significant amounts right now, this week, because it is needed immediately. And set up recurring monthly donations, too, because this work needs to be sustainable. See more guidelines for giving here, and let me know if you want to talk through what giving plan might be right for you right now.

 

  1. Give to multiracial intersectional movement building, led by Black activists and other People of Color.

 

  1. Give to youth.

 

  1. Give to Queer and Trans People of Color.

 

  1. Give to the fight for sexual and reproductive rights.

 

  1. Give to independent media by Black folks and other People of Color.

 

  1. Give to individual movement builders with bills to pay.

 

  1. And give some more.

 

I welcome additions to this list, if you’d like to add a comment or contact me. I am thinking of organizations founded and led by People of Color – especially queer, trans, female, and feminine People of Color – doing intersectional movement building and resistance work.

Please let me know if you have any questions about people or organizations you might support, or if there specific goals you have for your giving/donations that you think I can help you achieve.

And I invite you to leave a comment when you do give, because I’d love to hear.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice

Why and How and When to Give your Dollars

I’ve seen a lot of fellow White folks ready to donate money since the election. This is important. The redistribution of resources is urgent. See here for suggestions about where to donate money.

See below for thoughts about why and how and when.

I will not address the “how much” question in this post, aside from encouraging you to give a lot. More than you gave last year. And to more radical places. I acknowledge that financial traumas and related anxieties are real for many of us, no matter the numbers that define your current financial context. Check out these awesome resources from Hadassah Damien on financial fearlessness and healing while doing this work.

And then, give.

 

Give in significant amounts ASAP.

Now. Giving Tuesday. This holiday season. Before the end of 2016. Organizations and activists are recovering and regrouping and strategizing for how to approach the coming year. The money raised in the next month will shape what they can plan and how ambitious they can be. And we all need to be very ambitious.

 

Become a monthly sustainer.

Organizations and activists need to know what money they have now – and also what they can count on coming in down the line. Becoming a monthly donor shows them that you are in the process with them, and is helpful as they plan ahead. It helps them figure out how to make their work sustainable.

 

Give tax-deductible donations as well as not-deductible contributions.

This information should be clear on the organization’s website or on the automated thank-you note you receive. Although getting a tax deduction is certainly a perk, please consider also contributing to places that are not tax deductible – perhaps because they are new and not yet sponsored (read: institutionalized), because they want or need to remain political/partisan, or perhaps because they are individuals trying to get by in the world who sorely need your support. If you are tithing or using another system to set a goal of how much you want to give each year, consider setting separate goals for tax-deductible donations and non-deductible contributions.

 

Give because you mean it.

Get in touch with your most visceral reasons for giving. What are you yearning to accomplish, or to be a part of accomplishing? Are you motivated right now by plans for emergency management, doing damage control? Are you motivated to build a deeper and more radical grassroots movement? Do you want to make sure we are better networked and better organized before the next election? Do you feel an imperative to redistribute the wealth accumulated by your or your family’s participation in American capitalism/ colonialism/ imperialism? Are you ready to start the process of giving reparations to indigenous communities and to Black people whose families were enslaved and who are persistently targeted by multidimensional structural oppressions?

 

Give here.

 

For those of you who have the opportunity to move large amounts of money, or want to further get involved in mobilizing people with wealth, check out the book Classified and the work of Resource Generation.