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.

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.

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.

5. Connection/ Community, 9. Racial Justice

For White people asking me, What do we do?

Taking it step by step. Here’s where I was the first day.

I’ve had many White people – friends, colleagues, Facebook friends – ask me what we do. So here’s what I’m doing now, at least this first week.

Note: I am a White Jewish queer femme survivor of sexual assault with an advanced degree and enough money. I write and love and work from all of those places. I write with the hope of engaging other White people. I also welcome feedback, pushback, and connection with folks of color who may be reading this, and I want to repeat over and over that I value you and I am with you.

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1. Self and community care reminders

  • Water, sleep, food, movement, human company.
  • Offer support – particularly to people who have been the primary targets of this campaign and of American White Nationalism. Pay attention.
  • Reach out – to the extent that you are able – share your own emotional response with people who may be or feel more secure than you do right now – I specifically ask upset White people to reach out to other White people in your life. Maybe you’ll get some real, useful emotional support. And maybe also showing them why you’re agitated will get them agitated. And we need them, too. We need them with us.

***trauma triggers trauma***

We’re all going through different kinds of shock and grief and fear and betrayal and trauma right now… triggering different kinds of shock and grief and fear and betrayal and trauma that we’ve experienced previously… especially all that systemic stuff that is so interconnected. Hold that, give space for that, for yourself and for the people around you.

2. Action planning

  • Our 100 — An open letter to Our Nation from 100 women of color leaders — read and sign
  • Showing up for Racial Justice — engaging White people in racial justice work across the US — sign up, get connected
  • I am also planning a Skype series for anyone who wants to talk, to move from reflection to action. We will talk about Whiteness and the Vision for Black Lives and all that is happening around us and whatever else you/we need to talk about.

***White people need to listen to People of Color leadership and be ready to respond***

And by ready to respond, I mean ready to risk more and to contribute more than we ever have before. Professionally, emotionally, financially. To do that, we will need teams of people we love and trust who will hear us when this gets hard and push us and guide us through it. Let me know if you want me on your team.

3. Moving money

***pay folks of color for their labor and leadership***

Many people who can lead us out of this are right now unable to pay their bills. Medical bills. Student debt. Big bills. They are educators and activists and organizers and writers and designers and more. Hire them. Give them jobs, speaking gigs, consulting gigs. Give them money. And do not ask them to do anything for free.

That’s not to say there won’t be a lot of unpaid labor by folks of color in this process. There will be. It’s just that White folks shouldn’t be asking for their unpaid labor. At the same time, White folks who can should be investing more and more of our own unpaid labor – and we should be reorganizing budgets so we can pay folks of color for theirs.

***

More soon. Let me know if you want in on the Skype series, of course.

Thank you for reading. Be in touch. And please, please… stay alive.

5. Connection/ Community

First response.

 

Originally posted on Facebook, 10:00am Wednesday November 9th.

I’m here and I care about you and I’m worried about you. I’m fighting to dismantle White supremacist patriarchy and I’m in it with you and deeply grateful to those who are in it with me.

And I’m here for the work of taking care of each other. My heart goes out to the counselors and therapists and educators and activists and organizers and writers who are spending today holding space for others and making a plan. I’m here to offer care for you, too.

I’m paying attention and I’m ready and I don’t quite have plans yet but I’ll be in touch. I’m ready to act. I invite you to text or message or call if you have feelings or questions or plans or requests or just want to connect.

Black lives matter. I stand with Muslim folks and indigenous folks and refugees. Trans and queer and nonbinary and gender non conforming humans, I value you. I trust survivors. And there’s so much more and I will do better by you because you deserve better.

Lastly, trauma triggers trauma. I’ve heard from a lot of people already who are dissociated and I encourage you to try not to be alone today, and to check on your loved ones too.

5. Connection/ Community, 6. Young Adults in our 20s & 30s

“You’ve done everything right up to this point”

The most dominant image I have is me sitting on my couch staring at the ceiling. But really I was luckier than that – it was a beautiful fall, and I spent a lot of time lying in the grass soaking in the sun. In the park down the street… on the field across from the gym… on the hill by my office… resting my concussed brain, trying to cope.
I was coping not only with the concussion, but also with the effect of the concussion on my basic emotion regulation abilities. It was like there’d been a buffer zone around my feelings that had dissolved, dissipated. Hard feelings turned to panic much more easily, with a dangerous intensity. And panicking could only make things worse: spiking my heart rate, sending me down a steep dark spiral, and only aggravating the injury further.
So I had to ground myself. I had to. Feeling the grass underneath each limb, waves of guilt and shame and fear threatening to flood my system for uninterrupted hours in which I was supposed to be recuperating so I could get back to the very limited amount of work time my brain could take. Fear, shame, guilt. Fear, shame, guilt. Regret.
I have done everything right up to this point.
That’s how I would anchor myself.
I am alive, loved, and enrolled (as in, enrolled in grad school, even if I didn’t know when or how I would be able to finish). I have done everything right up to this point.
I would focus on those words, repeating them over and over and over again, for weeks and weeks.
Of course, it wasn’t true. I mean, it was true that I was alive, loved, and enrolled. But it wasn’t true that I’d done everything right. How could it be? That’s not a thing.
I said it to myself so much that it became a habit – telling myself I’d done everything right because at least I’d gotten to that point, still in the game, with people in my corner. But those good things can be true even if I haven’t done everything right. And I haven’t. I didn’t do everything right in concussion recovery; I didn’t do everything right in grad school (shh don’t tell!); and I certainly haven’t done everything right by the people who have so valiantly loved me.
Sometimes I’ve messed up and hurt only myself. Sometimes I’ve messed up and really hurt people I care about. Sometimes I’ve messed up in ways that hurt marginalized folks around me and perpetuate the very systems of oppression I’m committed to dismantling.
I want to hold these truths. I need a way to be here and to feel them and then to do the repair I can do in/for myself, in/for my relationships, and in/for my communities. Can I tolerate the reality that I have not done everything right, without getting stuck in spirals of regret or shame or self-flagellation?
The first step is feeling the feelings. And then comes speaking back, but not to negate or deny what I’m upset about having done. Not to claim rightness or say it’s okay when it’s not. What can I say instead to speak directly to/with those feelings? I’m gonna play with some ideas here, and I’d love to hear feedback and reflections from you, too!
To regret, I could say: This is how things have happened. I did what I could at the time. This is the only way it’s happened, and this is what I get to live with now.
To shame, I could say: I care about my impact. I want to understand and address the impact I’ve had. Having a negative impact doesn’t negate everything about me. Everything else is still true, too, and I can be complicated.
To self-flagellation, I could say:Actually what I need is the opposite. What I need is self-care. To do better in the world, I need to do better for myself. The more okay I am, more aware of my own feelings and holding more of my own stuff, the more responsibly I’ll behave towards other people and the more I’ll be able to do for/with other people.
Perhaps these thoughts can help me ground myself in the presentand future, and engage with the pain and complexity of the past. By paying attention instead of turning away, maybe I will find an opportunity to do repair work, and maybe I can expand my capacity to do differently next time.
I am alive, loved, and employed. I’ve done a lot right up to this point. But not everything. I’ve messed up in some significant ways.
I did the best I could. I care about my impact. The more I take care of myself, the more I’ll be able to address what I can of what I’ve done, and to do better moving forward.

I hope?

5. Connection/ Community

Hopes and Dreams for 2016

  1. Stop saying I “just” moved to NYC
  2. Cook – like, roasted vegetables and soups
  3. More reading and writing
  4. More music and dance and prayer and poetry
  5. Host another dinner party
  6. Go back to not checking email and Facebook on Saturdays
  7. Read/listen/talk more about the impact of white supremacy and structural racism on the work I do and how I do it
  8. Read/listen/talk more about the impact of gentrification and what it means for me to be living where I live
  9. Further systematize my financial contributions to bolster the work of the people most impacted by local and global systems of oppression
  10. Stop getting annoyed when people send me vague text messages… avoid over-interpreting
  11. Open my heart to other humans
  12. Feel as much as possible