Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the SowerIn order to rise
From its own ashes
A phoenix
First
Must
Burn.

-Octavia Butler

I’d seen the above quote before in a number of places around the web, and I remember bookmarking it (back when people bookmarked things) to return to later. I’ve always felt the quote succinctly captures the fact that positive change cannot happen in a vacuum, and that change itself is one of the toughest things in life to accept. I’ve long been curious about the book that these wise words had come from.

Enter Parable of the Sower, the first book in the Earthseed series that Butler unfortunately wasn’t able to finish before she passed away (though she did leave behind one sequel, Parable of the Talents). In Sower, Butler creates a world where mankind is headed toward demise. Climate change has ruined much of the environment and economy, and people are left to eke out a life with relatively little support from any sort of formal government.

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Revisiting Washington DC

Several years ago I used to live in Washington, DC. It was an important time for me — I grew a lot, built a social community, fell in love. So going back recently to visit was quite a trip in more ways than one.

Washington DC

It was fantastic to see some old friends and reacquaint myself with the city, but to be honest it’s also just bizarre on some levels to visit a place you used to live. The people have changed (is it just me, or is DC a little whiter overall now?), the physical structures aren’t the same as when you left, and you don’t quite remember the intuitive feel for the city that you had before.

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Why Intentional Compassion is Critical to Racial Justice

Intentional Compassion

Last winter I attended a powerful march for #BlackLivesMatter in Oakland. When I came home I started to write this piece on the need for more intentional compassion in the racial justice movement. While the piece didn’t end up coming out until this past week, I still stand behind the position that we need to explore implicit bias through the lens of compassion and lovingkindness. Many thanks to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship for publishing the piece and uplifting the intersection of Buddhism and social justice!

Book Review: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

It's What I DoI’m not sure I can say that my life has ever legitimately been in danger — much less that I know what I would do if kidnapped in the everyday process of doing my work. But these are some of the things that Addario talks about in her memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.

What is perhaps most compelling about Addario’s memoir is her relentless pursuit of her passion: visually documenting some of the world’s most intense conflicts and humanitarian crises. We see what it takes to rise to the top in the cutthroat environment of aspiring photojournalists, especially in her early career.

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Social Justice and the Permaculture Movement: Where Do They Intersect?

social justice and permaculture

My Southern black grandmother grew up on a farm in the years before they migrated to San Francisco as part of the Great Migration. I’ve heard her talk about her childhood family life a number of times. Her stories of growing their own food, the backbreaking work of caring for their own livestock, and the necessity of older children taking care of the younger ones always felt so removed from my clean, amenity-rich life growing up in a quiet California suburb.

Her stories have also always felt disconnected in my mind from the permaculture and urban farming movements of today. These sustainable lifestyle choices seemed branded by (often white) liberals in a way to which I sometimes still have a hard time relating. Living in Oakland it’s hard not to see the ways that urban homesteading and urban farming can be tools of gentrification and displacement if not integrated into the full richness of the community fabric.

But my grandmother’s experiences growing up and the modern permaculture movement are not supposed to be separate. While I don’t consider myself a part of the permaculture movement, I know that its participants aim to live off the land in a more sustainable way, particularly when it comes to growing one’s own food. The deep wisdom and reliance on the earth that black folks, indigenous peoples, and many other communities of color have cultivated for centuries is permaculture.

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When the Stoplight Turns Red

by bwright923 via Flickr
by bwright923 via Flickr

On my way to work there is a stoplight that used to stay green for ten or so seconds after the “stop walking” hand finished blinking. This week something changed, and now the light turns yellow immediately after the hand is done flashing. The first time I went to the intersection after the change I almost walked into the middle of the street on a red light, because I was so used to being on autopilot going through that space.

Since encountering the change I’ve noticed that my quality of attention is quite different at that intersection. I watch. I look more at the cars and the people walking by. I pay attention to the new rhythms of the street. The space feels unfamiliar in a slight, nagging way. I am there in a sense that I most normally am not when encountering that corner.

I say this to point out how we can become so used to the physical and social dimensions of our neighborhoods without even realizing it. What we’re accustomed to goes far beyond the timing of traffic lights. Perhaps we’re used to the homeless men and women hanging out on certain street corners where there’s a liquor shop. Or maybe we’re used to seeing a long row of trees down the sidewalk when we round the corner on our home block. We might be physically passing some of the same people everyday as we move through the dance of our lives.

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Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministRoxane! Why?! I’ll be honest, Bad Feminist was hard to get through. I read it for my book club and when it came time for us to all talk about the book, we looked around the table at each other with a collective “ummm…”

Don’t get me wrong — the Scrabble story was great. Who wouldn’t want to know what it’s like to be in a competitive Scrabble league in the middle of America? Better yet, who wouldn’t want to hear about Gay’s hot pink playing board and the intensity with which competitive Scrabble aficionados adhere to the rules?

But after those fun and games (pun intended), I hit a rut with this one. Gay presents a number of book reviews, movie reviews, and pop culture analysis as a lens through which to comment on race and feminism. But there’s not enough tying the essays together to make the work feel like anything cohesive.

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Baltimore

Freddie-Gray-portraitThe privilege of being white or rich is the privilege to question. To say: but he ran… but he did drugs… but he was guilty…

I don’t know much about the man who died in Baltimore last week. I know my friends’ and allies’ rage. I know their pain. I see it splashed across social media.

Who gets to believe is one of the biggest problems. Who gets to believe in the roots of this epidemic and who gets to turn away or add in skepticism.

Writers are telling us that these deaths are different, reminding us that each black person killed is a unique human being. Let’s always remember that. Let’s never let a black death become just another number.

Shifting Identity and the Public Gaze

Image via Flickr.
Image via Flickr.

As a kid I quickly developed coping mechanisms for the racialized comments I’d hear on the playground or in the classroom — whether it was a friend telling me that my braided-in extensions felt like “Barbie hair” or other students making fun of elements of black culture, like our high school’s step team.

Growing up in a predominately white community I was acutely aware of my race most of the time. I didn’t know how to understand or articulate it at the time, but my experience of being black in in a mostly-white community was also layered with gender — being a black female meant that I was disempowered, objectified, and not “cool” in the sense that some of the black boys in my class were. In reflecting back now I understand some of the ways in which the black boys were stereotyped and feared by the community in a unique way, which is very important also, but different from how we black girls were perceived.

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