You may call it differently than I. In this year’s September Vogue, I see a melding of time(s).
Time and space is carried in the body, over the body. We map periods and cultures, etch zones and expanses over and onto who we are. In a time and place where so much is shifting, and not in the direction that many of us are in league with, reflecting on who we are, who we’ve been and where we want to go—rather than where we are going—is of prime importance.
It is as if the plates are shifting again. Vogue, in a way, agrees with me. In designing the upcoming issue, Anna Wintour writes, “In all my time editing Vogue, this period is like no other I’ve experienced before, and for good reason: If fashion is radically different, it is because our world is so radically different.” .
Fashion is about change. So what could Wintour be getting at? Sensing?
I believe, it is a question of sense—meaning. What is fashion doing right now? And for whom? With so much of our attention being siphoned to news stories that give visibility to a tiny elite, what we turn our attention to matters. Turning our attention to fashion might provide a counterbalance. At a time when there is a focus on the provincial. Vogue is asking us to look globally.
Beyoncé dons this year’s cover of September Vogue. Beyoncé underwrites culture, what is fashionable, what is current—as much as she is written onto. She pushes back as much as she is pushed onto: Anna Wintour writes, “Her fame redefines what it means to have global presence; it’s the way she uses that status to challenge herself—and us, too. She consistently pushes aside notions of what is means to be a universally renowned musician” .
That sense of challenge that Beyoncé presents is akin to the same sense of challenge that editors and tastemakers are honing in order to articulate—the “now” of now. How fashion is meditating the Trumpism of media, how fashion is mediating the Trump brand is the story.
“We share a growing sense of global citizenship and kinship not to mention how so many of us are increasingly looking far and wide for labels to better enhance our sense of personal style,” Wintour notes.
While Trump campaigned on building an enormous wall along Mexico’s border and now is talking about imposing tariffs on Canadian products, for the September issue of Vogue, Creative Digital Director Sally Singer coined the phrase “fashion without borders.”
Here’s how I see #VogueSeptember: “Peek-a-boo Baroque,” Nature Taper, T-shirt Chic.
The September issue of Vogue is the pinnacle statement making for the fashion magazine each year. It is notable that in the “Letter from the Editor,” the following phrases appear: “challenging the status quo” and “drawing our attention to society’s imbalances and injustices;” or statement appear like: “our current politicians” seem intent on maintaining business as usual “or, worse, taking us backward” .
I, too, share the same sentiment as the folks over at Vogue. Yet, there is a slight difference in articulation I would like to make around the notion of a borderless society: Nature naturally has borders. They are called mountains, ice caps, rivers, valleys and deserts. It is not the bounds that make the discrimination we bemoan, per se, but discriminatory practice within them—how we do what we do where we are and with what we have.
While rethinking our boundaries may be in the right sentiment, moving too far away from the structural genius that nature already provides, that nature already affords us, misses the point about the usefulness of boundaries. Think about it: counterbalancing the Trumpism of the media is a kind of bordering itself. Borders matter.
Anna Wintour asks us, the readers, what this year’s September Vogue celebrates: Well, it’s a celebration of a check on excess by what was often thought of as excess: Fashion.
So, if Ms. Wintour is “looking far and wide for labels to better enhance our sense of personal style,” in answer, to wit I respond: there is no place like home. Meaning America is so diverse, our closets must be, too. We have all we need and then some within our own borders.
With so many cultures bumping and intermixing, our style and sense of self has to have also been shifting in league. I call for a “do it with what you got” fashion for this coming fall. Dress in the style of Vogue September with what you have in your own closets and/or with what you can afford in your wallets. Let’s call is #doitfashion, for short.
#DoItFashion in my mind is about getting in the game with whatever you got—in your closet, in your wallet, whatever size, shape or color you are—and doing September Vogue the way you see it. Why? Because we tell ourselves to wait until we have everything perfect, until we get that promotion, until we get that big paycheck before we start to live, before we become the fashionable selves in our heads. Why wait? Do it with what you got.
What I am saying is that it's about getting on the runway of your life & making a presence. Do it with whatever you got in response to all of the changes that we see in our lives and in the country. Vote with your autumn boots.
Asymmetry not symmetry is the aesthetic of high fashion. It is how a heterogeneity of differences creates a sense of appeal—desirability. That’s the America I want. That is the America I was promised.
Here’s how I see #VogueSeptember: “Peek-a-boo Baroque,” Nature Taper, T-shirt Chic.
For me, the look of the fall is Renaissance meets modern, extravagance meets nature, bordering the casualness of the t-shirts—the ones we all have with the logos we’re often embarrassed to wear but keep anyway for sentimental value. (See the full length of my Vogue September selections below—& forgive me Vogue for my grainy cellphone photos!)
In the issue you will see an homage to nature, yes, in the floral prints and verdant forest backdrops. Look again and you’ll also see a nod not only to flora but fauna: Big cats, horses and birds. There are armored carousel horses, metal rings, gold buttons and Romanesque coinage. You’ll see billowy sleeves, ruffled collars, long and plush skits and sprawling and puffy jackets. You’ll see even 17th Century nuns, knights and jesters, the whole court of them, mixed in with high-rise cityscapes and people waiting to hop on buses. There is duality everywhere: The bags are faux fur and golden gaudy; the jewelry leaf-shaped and sleek; the fragrance Woman; the shoes pointy-heeled and sneaker chic. It is nature, it’s now as neo-classic.
The colors: Mustard Yellow & Powder Blue (Early Fall) à Taupe Brown & Royal Blue (Mid-Fall)à Orange Red & Burgundy (Late Fall). It is seasonal for me. Coming off the summer, you’ll see the deepening yellow—the harvest moon is met by a still-powdery sky. As the leaves turn their shade of brown, we move a little farther away from the sun, a royal darkening in atmosphere. Then, the autumnal deepens into the regality of winter, the browning that becomes purple red.
I understand that there are many “designers in [Vogue’s] portfolio who are increasingly opting to abandon seasons in favor of continual deliveries of new collections” . I understand that some designers would like to move beyond the seasonal. Yet, I say celebrate the calendar—for, as much as we attempt, we cannot escape time and space. It is what we do with it, on it that defines us—makes us gorgeous.
The notion that to broaden in diversity one has to lose borders, to me, misunderstands the brilliance of nature. Instead of getting rid of boundaries, can we rethink how we interact with them? For example, can we respect the ways of being in a country, of a people? How in time and space have they come to be? The how of their design? How can we articulate who we are and respect the rights of others to be who they are? I defend your right to be fabulous as you defend my right to be fabulous, in the here and now. Caps and counterbalances, instead, can be thought of as the way one article of clothing compliments and comments on another. Mix and match. Pattern block. Accent. It's about delimitation and finding the fabulous where you are.
Anna Wintour’s closing words, in the September issue, it seems addresses the fashion community directly, “After all, if we we’re going to record a changed world, we should reflect that world” . After a global call, in the magazine and on social media, for how a broadening of and a diversity in perspectives could inform the magazine, Ms. Wintour acknowledges that the fashion world reflects our world.
May I add in acknowledging: I commend Vogue’s decision to place a minimum bar on the models they accept (18 & older). Not removing their complicity in working with underage girls in the past, Vogue is now taking a principled stance in order to be in league with an international push to do what writer Maya Singer terms as “working with young women of voting age. Vogue is talking the talk, and walking the walk on setting standards for a new way operating—on the catwalk, of course.
Above photos source: September 2018 Vogue
For the law to work well, those underneath have to recognize it. Social order is stamped onto our DNA. Thus, when those who we entrust with regulatory power, when those who we trust to enforce the codes by which we live, violate our good faith, it shocks our conscience. It is like a hit in the gut. That is why the story of the year increasingly is about the restoration of justice.
With all the stories of corruption coming out of Washington, coming off the vestiges of police shootings of unarmed black men, and being faced with the cost of our broken immigration system this summer, we all have had the wind knocked out of us. The more technical term for what has happened is—there’s been, on mass, a violation of social order.
Think about it this way: Law spelled backwards is WAL[L]. Law is the world we occupy and the way we should occupy it.
Francis Fukuyama in Political Order and Political Decay writes, “Natural human sociability is built around two phenomena: kin selection and reciprocal altruism…Both behaviors are not learned but genetically coded and emerge spontaneously as individuals interact. Human beings, in other words, are social animals by nature” . So, in essence, we are made up of laws (or code we called DNA) that has within it a genetic marker toward lawfulness. We are made up of laws.
Thus, there can a be a physical and psychological wound created when there is a preponderance of injustice against our individual and collective body.
Peace is what justice serves—the balance within a particular social order. Is that saying peace is relative? Varies depending on social environment? In some ways, and in some ways not. It is incumbent upon any group of people that finds themselves together to find what the right balance of actions and inactions are to create what resonates, what feels—like peace.
Activists, in this country, have been part of a long history of social actors who seek to restore the balance of peace and justice after tragedy strikes or after a series of injustices go unanswered. Jay-Z and celebrities like him are one example of social actors responding to the call for justice. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has a long, and admittedly, complex history with justice and philanthropic work.
"The story of the year increasingly is about the restoration of justice."
In a New York Times piece on the recent Trayvon Martin documentary, Mr. Carter, its executive producer, responds to controversies about celebrity activism and him increasingly becoming public about the community work he’s been doing. “The constitution where I am from—from the streets of the Marcy Projects, it was a thing, where you would give someone something and never mention it…I’m there for you, you’re there for me” .
What Mr. Carter is signaling by the use of the term “constitution” is that his codex, an often not-mentioned rule, in Marcy Projects was—reciprocity. There was no written law needed for that. Transgressing it either wasn’t an option or regulated by the notion of “what goes around, comes around.” From that one could also extend a paying-it-forward mentality.
Jay-Z’s album Reasonable Doubt, could be argued as representative of the lengthy and complicated—yet eventually more responsible, relationship the rapper has had with justice. For example, while selling illicit substances to members of his community during the latter part of the crack epidemic, he was helping other members of his community rise. In his maturation, his means are more appropriately justified toward his ends.
The philanthropic arm of RocNation, the company that he founded in 1998, works “to advance social good globally and provide opportunities for vulnerable populations to succeed” through supporting the growth of its clients’ philanthropic efforts” . Jay-Z is using his management skills to assist the management of good.
Justice—whether it is “street justice” or the kind handed down from the (1999) Manhattan Criminal Court, is what Jay-Z in his life and in his work has come to symbolize. His commentary on the American dream and what it is supposed to represent is a commentary about the notion of “rightness” in this country.
“The middle class was allowed to thrive and there was steel in Indiana and the car jobs in Detroit and all these places where these factories were to provide a way for you to start somewhere in low income, get middle class and then maybe end up with the house of your dreams. This was the American dream and it was real. Then that America changed and no one addressed that” .
Public Enemy said that rap was the Black CNN. Jay-Z is showcasing the “reporterly” quality of rap. It’s genre of witnessing.
The Streets Is Watching, a documentary produced and featuring Mr. Carter, earlier this spring celebrated its 20th anniversary. In its title, it is showing a how witnessing is a counterbalance in the presence of injustices. Executive producing a documentary on Trayvon Martin featuring video and never-before-seen images for public consumption, in a way—is a rap song. It is a way to present the facts in a more complete and equitable light—for the court of public opinion.
Before the writing on the wall, the knowledge (the know-how) of justice was kept amongst the people, in their daily practice. Written laws emerged later not prior to many societies, well, most societies outside of Western Europe.
Fukuyama writes that in “shifting political organization away from family- and friends-based organizations to impersonal ones,” in places like China, Egypt and the Valley of Mexico (the Aztecs), written code began to emerge and regulate the new social relations that coalesced in bigger cities . Written record in smaller villages, was superfluous because families were already telling their family members what to do. With the separation of families, and the enlarging of city centers, the law got dispersed, and it was hard to collect the messages for how to be—within law and respective of the law.
Part of restoring American faith in the justice system is recognizing how the dream got dispersed, how our society started losing its way.
The American dream is an unwritten social compact that has brought millions to this shore. The message that the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort trials is sending—in a moment where faith in our governing institutions is waning—is that the Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s office is leading the charge, if Congress is delayed in acting, in reminding the people, that justice still rules the day.
Excerpt from transcript from Department of Justice (8/21/18) on Michael Cohen's guilty plea announcement: “Today’s guilty plea exemplifies IRS Special Agents' rigorous pursuit of tax evasion and sends the clear message that the tax laws apply to everybody. Mr. Cohen’s greed to hide his income from the IRS cheats all the honest taxpayers, and we should not expect law abiding citizens to foot the bill for those who circumvent the system to evade paying their fair share.”
(Source: DOJ U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York)
In Trump’s reality TV star mind, Omarosa, Ms. Manigualt Newman is his femme fatale. Yet, in the 2018 reversal, bucking up against the worn narrative of female foil to the male hero—Omarosa casts the siren as heroine. She blows the whistle on a number of injustices—both racial and at the human resources level—happening in the White House.
In Re-visiting Female Evil: Power, Purity and Desire edited by Melissa Dearey, Susana Nicolás and Roger Davis, Kirsten Smith’s essay discusses how gender dynamics have shifted the notion of the “spy courtesan” to the “anti-heroine” and how both are part of the long-held troupe in espionage film noir of the femme fatale . For Smith, in fact or fiction, the feminine archetype represents the lures of sexuality and danger intermixed with cunning sensibilities and intelligence . Cue “The Omarosa Tapes” scandal.
In first section of Ms. Manigault Newman’s new tell-all, Unhinged, she lays out a detailed case of using the most-picayune of technicalities to attempt to do away with the siren noir presence. Simultaneously, entrapping her detractors in the very means of their own destruction. It is a reversal of queer feminist poet’s Audre Lorde’s famous indictment—Ms. Manigault is using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
It does matter that seasoned political commentator Chris Matthews, yesterday, called Ms. Manigault Newman attractive. He is familiar with the aesthetics of the Washington elite. These are aesthetics with which Ms. Manigault, to some degree, is most likely familiar. As a woman it is tough to admit, but her attractiveness does matter; she’s gorgeous. Her beauty stands side-by-side with her political and intellectual prowess. With all of the talk of her TV celebrity career, folks miss the fact that she has had a longer political career than Trump—no less beleaguered. She worked with Al Gore and Bill Clinton .
“Omarosa held various roles in government during the Clinton administration,” writes David Choi; Ms. Manigault Newman “answered invitations for Vice President Al Gore and eventually landed a job with the Department of Commerce” . It is important to note that she served four positions in two years and was quickly let go from—let’s say—a couple of them .
All the more to make a case for the affinity that Trump and Ms. Mainigault Newman shared. They were snubbed by industry insiders and leaders.
Ms. Manigault Newman was given a position in the White House while some of Trump’s closest allies like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie were overlooked. Her official title for the administration was assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, and her position on the campaign was director of African American Outreach. (Some have not-so- affectionately compared her campaign position to a tokenized “Chief of Blacks” position, in synonym).
Now, Ms. Manigault Newman has been known to exaggerate her duties—a bit. We all every now and again put a little flourish on our work responsibilities, often times by a slip of memory. Here is what she on a March 19th, 2004 panel titled “Wearing the Pants: A Woman’s Experience in a Man’s World” recounted about her position, which was responding to invitations, for Al Gore’s team:
“I have done logistics and advance and event planning for the White House under the Gore staff…At 23, I got appointed to the White House. That was not a place to learn how to be a young professional. That’s a very difficult environment, because they don’t believe in training. They just kind of throw you in the fire” . To me, she gets some cred for admitting, unlike our president, that in some ways, at the White House, she was in over her head and had a steep learning curve.
Ms. Manigault is using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
Yet and still, it is important cite here that co-workers reported that they were “scared of her” and that the Office of Public Liaison, created specifically for her, was hard to staff “because several applicants did not want to work with her” . Could “the doesn’t play well with others” card possibly point to an even larger undercurrent regarding “certain kinds” of women in leadership roles who are famously dislike? Is that a "dog whistle" particularly reserved for African-American women?
Dana W. White, chief spokeswoman for the Pentagon, according to The New York Times, faces an investigation currently for “reportedly retaliating against workers who had complained about her” . Does she qualify for a “doesn’t play well with others” card? Potentially.
Yet, Ms. Manigault Newman writes in her book, Unhinged, that she came under scrutiny and later was fired under the pretext for violating White House car-service policy by taking a car with her husband to Nationals Park for the Annual Congressional Baseball Game on June 15th, 2017 . This was, by Ms. Manigault Newman’s account, the “integrity issue” reference that General John Kelly cited in the Situation Room, where she was fired on December 12th, 2017. Mind you, that game was the same one played 36 hours after House Majority Whip Steven Scalise was shot at the GOP team practice.
Keeping with the theatrics, apparently, according to White House Reporter April Ryan, it was reported that General Kelly “kicked [Ms. Manigault Newman] out” in a display of “high drama with the Minister offering vulgarities and curse words as she was escorted out of the building and off campus” .
[Important Update:] However, the Secret Service on December 13th, 2017, a day after Gen. Kelly fired Ms. Manigault Newman, issued a tweet that said the "reporting regarding Secret Service personnel physically removing Omarosa Manigault Newman from the @WhiteHouse complex is incorrect" .
The “heightened” way Gen. Kelly escorted Ms. Manigault Newman off the White House premise is colored against the backdrop of the heavy use of force people of color have historically experienced by white men in power. It has to in part be read that way. As much as it is a tale of the femme fatale, it is also about the narratives that are written onto the bodies of, into exchanges with, black women pre- and post-Civil War, pre- and post-the-Renee Rogers 1981 case.
Renee Rogers was terminated from her place of employment for wearing her hair in cornrows. She was an African-American woman. In the case, it was noted that the plaintiff did not accuse American Airlines of being “so heavily polluted with discrimination as to destroy completely the emotional and psychological stability of minority group workers” . Yet, what her case did do was bring to the surface workplace frictions that African-American women were facing in corporate America and in the workplace.
Ms. White’s case at the Pentagon is as complex as Ms. Manigault Newman’s case at the White House. There were allegations Ms. Dana White chiding Defense Department aides for talking with news media, rumors that she was planning to hire the daughter of Adm. Graig S. Faller for a top public affairs position and accusation of using her staff to fetch her dry cleaning .
It is arguable that men may get a different blanket of protection around “questionable” uses of power. For example, Steven Mnuchin was found to have broken no law in the “use of a plane at taxpayer expense to travel to Kentucky in August  with his wife to view the solar eclipse” . Fetching dry cleaning costs as compared to seven trips on a private jet using taxpayer money runs about what?
Omarosa Manigault Newman is a dodecahedron. She has many sides, many faces. Is she your Elizabeth Warren type, no? Yet, she is no less a feminist figure. She is doing a service for our country, albeit by questionable methods. While there are some significant credibility issues that she has to still hurdle, one thing is for sure: She walked into the most secure conference room in our nation’s capital and walked out with tapes, potentially, implicating the president and his staff on some serious charges. It’s a spy thriller, I’d like to read.
With the recent introduction of shows like the new drama “Good Girls” showcasing women expressing “righteous outrage,” The Guardian writes, “Throughout Good Girls, female rage is not just a response to personal pain, but a reaction to oppression, and a necessary catalyst for change” . Celebrities like Sandra Oh, who plays Eve Polastri in “Killing Eve,” and Krysten Ritter, who plays “Jessica Jones,” are representing women who are uninterested in tales of feminine respectability. They answer to a higher calling, even from complicated starting points. As the famous Harvard professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said quite eloquently, we all know that “well behave women seldom make history” .
Right now in the blogosphere, there are many white boards, notepads and flow chart apps teeming with question lists about The Omarosa Tapes.
I decided to present one set of mine in a light and comical way, given the—rightly so—tense atmosphere. This moment is epic. No hyperbole. There are historical implications for how our elected officials staff and lead the administration charged with running our country. There are implications for what it means to work together in a climate—both in Washington and in our communities—where public trust has to be severely be rebuilt.
There are implications for how journalists, writers, publishers and news platforms are protected in a time where our Constitutional rights are being systematically eroded—and in a time where we are seeing a flurry of judicial retirements, elections and appointments.
We all need to be paying close attention to what is happening. Omarosa Manigault Newman is the first account by a former White House aide to make public allegations about members of the Trump campaign, administration and White House staff .
For those who can, who have some kind of online platform, it is incumbent upon us to write as quickly as we can toward raising the collective consciousness when so much is in flux.
Here’s a binary category feature I created to distinguish either:
"The Omarosa Tapes" Question List: Set One
1) Who’s Ms. Manigault Newman’s publisher?
A: Quick Google Search
2) Follow up question: Who's their law firm?
A: Quick Google Search
3) Has there been precedent for enforcing NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) violations made by public employees during and/or post-service?
A: Quick Google Search (However, there are parallels that can possibly be drawn to help bolster such a case if there isn't, and, thus, this question implores us to: Do Some Digging!)
4) How did she get a tape in the Situation Room (when she possibly was summoned there about taping staff members or the N-word tape)?
A: Let’s Do Some Digging!
5) How could Ms. Manigault Newman get a tape in the Situation Room and Trump think not to bring one while meeting with Putin in Helsinki?
A: Let’s Do Some Digging! (But try not to anger the Defense Department)
6) How did her publisher prepare for the potential legal firestorm from publishing the tell-all, Ms. Manigault Newman’s newly released book as of Tuesday, Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House?
A: Let’s Do Some Digging!
7) What does the timing of all of this say ahead of the November mid-terms and prior to the conclusion of Manafort’s trial?
A: Quick Google Search
8) How does the Trump administration’s blocking strategy regarding removing the sting out of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, compare to and differ from the Administration’s strategy regarding Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book, Unhinged?
A: Quick Google Search
9) How did the failure of the Trump administration’s strategy to keep silent about “The Omarosa Tapes” potentially lead to the “go low” strategy in Trump’s recent Twitter storm over the last three days where he called Ms. Manigault Newman a "dog" and a "low life"?
A: Quick Google Search (And hold your nose!)
10) What kinds of protections might Ms. Manigault Newman be offered and by whom regarding these historic tapings?
A: Let’s Do Some Digging!
Let’s all individually and collectively continue to do some digging. Such an increase in public engagement translates into energies toward turning out the vote for the upcoming Midterms. Let this be the year where the less than 10% turn-out for local elections across the country is bumped up by our increased attention and demand for accountability.
This moment for Millennials is our Pentagon Papers moment. No hyperbole.
The kind of world we want, the kind of people we want to be, is all about permission.
“The human age will be no Eden or dystopia, but an everlasting struggle among different people seeking different futures,” Erle C. Ellis writes in his article, “What Kind of Planet Do We Want.” “Seeking” is a generous term. What we will be doing is arguing—and that is okay. Part of the curricular experience going back to ancient times was teaching students how to argue a point (See Aristotle and the Egyptian Mystery Schools). Why? Societies were forming. Folks needed to agree on a couple of things.
Fundamentally, what Ellis is discussing in his article is—environmental consensus. We have to make a decision about the kind of world we want to experience. What will be our modernity?
This might come as a bit of shock, but we share a planet. Any agreement we make has to, first, at its basis, be founded in the agreement that we are all inheritors of this gorgeous place we call Earth. The planet is facing massive and life-altering challenges, as Ellis notes: habitat loss, global climate change and widespread extinction . We have a moral imperative to act as stewards of the planet. That means, however small or large, there are some things we need to do. We are, again, back to society building, social formation. There’s a democracy in that—a voting by doing.
"What will be our modernity?"
With social organization, comes social responsibilities. Another way to say that is—jobs. The complicated thing about working is that what we do shapes who we are. What if we are so entrenched in our identities—and the interplay of location, environment, parentage and so forth that engendered them—that have not found a way to respond to the newly emerging society?
As the Earth changes, we will be changed by it. That is an opportunity—okay, that can be framed as an opportunity since much of these changes are scary. It helps to find a constructive way to think about the new challenges we are facing.
In deciding on the kind of world that we want, we inadvertently decide not only what we are going to do but the “who” of who is going to do it. We are deciding on the division of labor in society either by accident or on purpose, implicitly or explicitly. I’d rather do so explicitly, to the extent that I can. I rather do some of the choosing. I presume there are others who’d like to do so as well. To begin, we have to argue. [Again, remember rhetorical debates from high school? It can be fun.]
Let’s say, it is determined (agreed) that yoga instruction is good for the planet. Having people less stressed out is a desired thing, yes? Okay, yes. Then a logical extension, I assert, would be to say that yoga instructors are good for the planet. “Why?” you might ask? Well, they tend to be health-conscious consumers  and according the article “5 Ways Yoga Is Making the World a Better Place,” they “combat toxic stress.” Given those now thoroughly researched and substantiated claims, you then agree that yoga instructors are good for the planet. Yes? Okay, good.
Next, who is allowed to be considered a yoga instructor? Jessamyn Stanley, the author of Every Body Yoga takes on this very question in this past weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review. She writes, “As a fat-bodied, queer, black practitioner, I have been dealing with this kind of discrimination literally my entire life in every single arena.” Implicit in what Stanley is saying is that in some spaces, she is not afforded the sincere permission needed in order to comfortably practice her developed skillset because of prejudices regarding how she is bodied.
Who confers licensure on paper is one things. [By the way, Jessamyn Stanley has been Yoga Alliance certified by Kimberley Puryear of Asheville Yoga Center’s 200-hour Teacher Training Program].There is another kind of, more elusive conferral process. “By whom?” you ask? The court of public opinion and her students. Stanley is keen to point out that as a proclaimed practitioner she does not have to be recognized by every audience. Know thy audience, essentially.
"Who is allowed to be considered a yoga instructor?"
None of our positions are fully static, and we can choose whether or not we continue to participate in any social situation we find ourselves in. We can choose what we give credence to or not by voting with our feet. In her New York Times fitness, ask-the-expert column, a reader writes in, “How do I get over being the biggest body in the room?” Stanley responds, “You do not have to explain or apologize for who you are,” and that, “You can leave in the middle of the class without explanation.” What that shows is Stanley’s recognition that the space of identity is contentious, and we can pick and choose our battles. That is what it means to create and recreate the societies, the planet we want.
This is why I assert that while Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against over-prefacing statements with the common refrain “as a [insert the identifier],” he crucially overlooks the contentious space of identity. Our society is trying to understand who it is, again. America is in a crisis of legitimacy, not only around the world with our global partners but here at home. With the anniversary of the Charlottesville march this past Sunday and the advent of the #MeToo movement, the rise of stay-at-home dads and Twitter becoming the official communication tool for the highest office in the land, America does not know who she is—or more precisely who she wants to be, anymore.
Appiah has a forthcoming book is titled The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. That, learned from the bio blurb next to his article, “Go Ahead, Speak for Yourself.” Also in that same bio blurb are two social signifiers prefacing his name: philosopher and author. I found that ironic. His main argument is that “not every opinion needs to be underwritten by your race or gender or other social identity” . He, nonetheless raises important points, “Because people’s experiences vary so much, the ‘as a’ move is always in peril of presumption” . Appiah cautions against “the urge to underwrite our observations with our identities” .
His contention with the “as a” qualifier is well understood but missing something crucial about how interlinked what we do is with who we are. What we do is also coupled with whether or not we are allowed to be it. “By whom?” you ask, again? Well, the audience.
Thus, a person who is 6’5 and flat-footed who wants to be a professional gymnast has to stake a claim in order to hurdle the bar of legitimacy, of public opinion. He does so by qualifying statements, “As an over 6 foot-flat-footed gymnast, I am pretty badass at…[insert some kind of somersault, spin move].” Why? Because people will argue with him or with each other about the acceptability of his claimed position or ability to perform.
When legitimizing bodies (ex. the White House) are in a crisis of confidence (legitimation) among the American people, the “as a…” phrase may be all some subjugated bodies have as a way to legitimate their rights: To be a citizen, to be scholar, to be beautiful.
Suffering is part of the overarching human narrative. In all of our stories there is suffering. The deepest tragedy is failing to recognize the suffering of others. I am often astonished at the bar we have to surmount to simply understand that someone’s hurting. Philosopher R. M. Hare aptly noted in Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method, and Point that one cannot believe the need for action as a moral imperative by using the language of opinions alone, even if they are announced authoritatively quality. In other words just saying “That is wrong” isn’t enough to inspire action .
It is the lack of believing someone in trauma, the lack of attributing sentience—feelings—to other beings sharing the planet with us that causes so much damage. Often in our bystanding (or in the Trump administration’s case, blatant disregard) we potentially allow for the re-traumatizing of our already most vulnerable. We cannot get away from this: Separating children from their parents is traumatic.
The human body was made to endure. That is different than forcing bodies to endure undue burdens.
In a paper I wrote titled Flowering Minds: Jacob’s Strategy & Hurston’s Innovation in Writing a Unified Black Consciousness, I wrote about black women arguing for their sentience—quite seriously, their ability to feel pain although they “appear” to be continuing “productive” activity. What motivated abolitionists to take up the cause of sexual slavery within the slave trade was black women appealing, oftentimes, to Northern women. A group more likely to sympathize with their plight.
What motivates someone to adopt a set of moral behaviors, or to reframe, what moral thought requires, according to Hare, “is to put ourselves in place of someone suffering” and not a set of descriptive words or even an injunction such as “Thou shalt not commit adultery” . What Hare is saying is that saying something “is terrible” often is not enough to spark action on an issue. People have to see parallels. They have to see how one tragedy connects to another one closer to home. There is an ancient vehicle, formed over millennia that has help make this very leap, from one understanding of suffering to another possible: It is called a story.
In Amnesty International’s 2009 compilation of short stories and poems on human rights issues, the theme threaded throughout was how to bring to life each one of the 30 articles in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is by no accident that Amnesty International used the narrative form to help bridge the compassion divide that immobilizes otherwise concerned people to act.
In Uncle Meena by Ibtisam Barakat, it takes a story and a picture to warms grandmother’s heart into accepting her grandson’s cross-cultural engagement. From Meena’s grandmother’s home, whom he is visiting in Ramallah, they hear a group of children play fighting nearby. When they come outside to investigate, they question the boys about all the raucous. The children shout that they are playing “Jews and Arabs.” Meena quips back, “In America we call this game Cowboys and Indians—but in America you would all be Indians” . Meena was making a parallel in order to get the boys to stop and recognize that they believed was “innocent” play had subconscious implications.
Meena’s grandmother was able to look past cultural and religious barriers and give her blessing in Meena’s proposal to his girlfriend Panu, who is Native American. The grandmother made parallels between Panu’s experience growing up on “The Rez” and the plight of Palestinians in Ramallah. “Grandma had taken Panu into her heart” the narrator recounts .
The parallel that I found most poignant in helping the American public deepen their compassion for the young migrant children who were separated from their families earlier this summer was the comparison made to children in our current foster care system. There already was public outcry, coming from parents and leaders on both sides of the aisle calling for families to be reunited with their children, expeditiously. Thankfully, journalists and commentators committed to this story, continued to stay on the issue. Journalist Jacob Soboroff, in calling for the respecting of asylum seekers due process rights, called for his peers to stay on this issue. Mika Brzezinski from Morning Joe, even when the news cycle was shifting, continued to reiterate the imperative for bringing migrant families back together again.
When the news cycle began to shift, I started to notice the foster care comparisons beginning to rise. I believe it was a way to gather as many parallels to the issue of migrant children being separated from the parents as possible in order to keep needed and sustained compassion levels amongst domestic audiences.
According to the Administration for Children and Families, over 600,000 children spent time in the foster care system in 2016 . That means for every 100 Americans, two children spent time in foster care, spent separated from their families over a prolonged period under dire circumstances. That means the large part of the American public has close proximity in one way or another to children in foster care. What happens to children in our country is a domestic issue. Connecting the plight of children, fleeing from danger in neighboring countries to our domestic issues, brings us all closer together as a global family.
There has been progress made with the family reunification process. U.S. court filings note that 1,400 out of the roughly 2,500 children have been reunited with their parents . Central American counties are seeking to know where the children are, which assists with accountability and aiding parents find their children who may have already crossed back over the border . With all of the trade war contentions, countries somehow finding a way to work together for their most vulnerable members can provide somewhat silver lining.
"What motivates someone to adopt a set of moral behaviors...'is to put ourselves in place of someone suffering.'”
“’Bodies in motion’ often belong to those on the fragile margins of society” is what reviewer Tobias Grey writes of Olga Tokarczuk’s newly translated into English book, Flight,” which won her the Man Booker prize this past May . The book’s publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions, remarks, “A lot of ‘Flights’ is about forging human connections and considering the other” . The connections we can make between what it means to be and what it means to be in transition is part of a globe full of experiences being had at this very moment.
With 24-hour news cycles and the onslaught of news tidbits on social media, we have to guard against the dulling of our sensitivity to the crises we hear about. It is our sensitivity that connects us to the global fabric. It is hard. It means being willing to be emotionally taxed when we all have our own daily struggles to surmount. Yet, our humanity must remain intact in this thing we call living. One way to keep our heart muscles freshened is to make new parallels to the stories we hear—even if the people affected by them look foreign to us. To suffer is to be human.
“As a woman my country is the whole world.” This is a quote from Adrienne Rich’s essay “Notes toward a Politics of Location.” Rich in her essay was noting that where our bodies are matters. She was also commenting on what she characterizes as “nation-states [being] pretexts used by multinational conglomerates to serve their interest”  and the amorphous, borderlessness of corporate bodies of oppression.
For Adrienne Rich, it is incumbent upon women to be aware of “how a place on the map is also a place in history.” Women marking their territory as guardians for peace with their bodies in context, a specific place and time, matters.
She was writing in 1984. She was alluding to what it means to have a seat at the table and bodies in the streets. Over three decades later, women are still making the case about how integral our role has been in both shaping and making history. Part of making that case is allowing for a more complex discussion about how women locate themselves adjacent to love and lovers.
"...Allowing for a more complex discussion about how women locate themselves adjacent to love and lovers..."
In reading about Gala Salvador Dalí’s new exhibition in Barcelona, I noticed much of the focus was on her romantic relationships, her varied voyages and the controversies that trailed behind her. The exhibition “Gala Salvador Dalí. A Room of One’s Own in Púbol,” which runs through October 14th, highlights that as Dalí’s wife, she was “more than a model and muse” . The article, “Gala Dalí’s Life Wasn’t Quite Surreal, but It Was Pretty Strange,” on one side, presents the Russian-born Gala as the multi-faceted person that she was. Yet, on the other side, it almost salaciously enumerates her various love affairs with surrealist writers and painters, colored against the background of luxurious travels. Let it be emphasized, Gala was an agent, an advocate for artists and one of the founding forces of the surrealist movement. She moved freely about the globe. Those are the things of note for me.
Her lovers, while beautiful human beings, map not so much her scandals but what it means to think and live with and in the whole body. What philosophies did she debate with her first husband and father of her daughter--Paul Éluard, a French poet whom she married in 1917 and one of the founders of the surrealist movement? What did her posture bespeak in her love affair with Max Ernst that made him want to paint her? What information or artistic processes did she share during her 1929 travels to Spain to visit “a budding artist named Salvador Dalí...in his fisherman’s house outside the town of Cadaqués” . Her love was fuel and philosophy.
"Gala was an agent, an advocate for artists...She moved freely about the globe. Those are the things of note for me."
Women’s central role in moving society toward love as a political reality has been long documented in the lives and work of trailblazers like--Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Katharine Hepburn, Angela Davis, Michelle Obama and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let that be the highlighted story. By love, I mean the kind of love including but not limited to the sentimental--as scholar and essayist bell hooks describes in “Love as the Practice of Freedom.”
For hooks, “our capacity to care about the oppression and exploitation of others” is determined by how much we are willing to love . Citing Dr. King, she said that he “decided to love” because that decision is “the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality” . We, myself included, have to critically examine our blind spots. In challenging domination we have to be aware, as bell hooks points out, that “women and men who spend a lifetime working to resist and oppose one form of domination can be systematically supporting another” . She calls for a “love ethic” to intervene.
That ultimate love-based reality is to what women have been pointing in our calls for peace in the home, in our schools and in our politics. Most recently, women’s contributions to political movements most recently have been crystalized in the largest political gathering in U.S. history--the 2017 Women’s March on D.C. By some estimates, between 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 people gathered to voice their opposition to an administration who has been, in its language and policies, destructive to women’s well-being and livelihoods .
That march was a map. It mapped and marked a place in history. That march was an expression of love, pink pussy hats and all. Real revolution is doing what you love. For the women--and men--in Washington D.C. that day, marching meant visibly loving and showing respect for the sanctity of the feminine body, so that body could go on loving other bodies. Allowing others to go on loving, to do what they love, is how we fully realize a sustainable path forward. .