The epitome of cultural disintegration. Utter Kitch. The purest form of the copy. The complete simulacrum.
It the little things that make being white sooo good. Like good ice cubes. Who notices good ice? White people. Good ice is compressed ice, with little oxygen mixed up in the freezing. Why? For our drinks of course, and my favorite – coke. Only white people resist coke, for their health. But if you get a coke, and it doesn’t come from McDonalds – McDonalds, hands down, has the best fountain coke on the planet – then you must put the coke over good cold, compressed ice, otherwise you’ll have a flat coke almost immediately. Good ice comes from ice you’ll get from the freezers of 7-11 or the grocery store, or if your as privileged as I am you’ll find good ice in bars like Trick Dog, Potrero, SF – they offer oversized compressed ice cubes that almost take up the entire glass.
Then there’s another little thing white privilege likes very much: peeling off stickers that don’t rip. How that is as satisfying as its is, we will never know. I guess all of us living in the contemptorary world have encountered shit stickers. We spend precious life hours of energy, developing conditions of OCD to go over, nail scratching resistent stickers. We blame them for doing what they were made to do – stick. BUT, every once in a while – and I would argue more often as sticker tact develops and becomes more friendly to our sticky dilemmas of controlling every little thing we place our hands on – we get the privilege, a white privilege, of peeling a sticker off cleanly. Oh, how wonderful the technique! Oh, how blessed the day! We didn’t know something so little, and so particular to our time, could so powerfully bring our attitudes to soaring heights of accomplishment.
Then there’s the bottle cap pop. I’ve been eating lunch at a cafe and ordering SNAPLES. Most people think of the sound – that subtle, “POP” as you twist off the cap. But, there is also a particular feeling to opening the untapped bottle… the subtle vibrations that give rise to the “POP.” It is the breaking of the seal, the loss of bottle virginity! Here is freshness, newness, purity, capitalism in a twist! “For your behalf… you and only you!” “You’re exceptional.” Or at least, “You’re unique.” “We made this for you, for you to open and enjoy – you, you white person.”
The students had just returned from their library visit for the day and quiet time had settled the classroom. Adam walked over to James’ table hovering for a moment to dissuade the subtle eruptions of conversation with his presence. He considers his positionally and the course of the body as a disciplinary object, subjecting and subjected, and then he notices James’ book: Early Civilization. Written on a forth grade reading level his first graders could handle he sits down at the table with the students and opens the book. “Did you pick this out James?” “Yeah, I like civilization!” James’ smile is precious, his eyes wide and expectant. “Yeah, me too, James.”
Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. Diverse in climate and ecology, it was the first global area humans ceased hunting and gathering to become agricultural. The first cities emerged, the first Kings crowned, both Greece and Rome would follow in the cultural footsteps of these great peoples that lived some 12,000 years ago. Just then a familiar thought came to Adam, “All the wars original to these lands, between these peoples live deep in the bodies of their decedents and still, to this day, in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Israel, wars follow from contention over original lands and resource. Deep cultural-land memory – genetic deep – is a living curse upon that land. It is a global curse perhaps, as we are all children crawling from that cradle.” Duty calls his thoughts back from wonder, his co-teacher rings her bell, signaling clean up.
Adam turned toward one of his favorite students in the class, a gifted girl, her gaze laid upon him with enthusiasm. “We live on an Earth, Ann!” “I know!” “Everything is magic here, and full of wonder. Its a whole Earth and everything is happening. Magic and wonder, even suffering. It is God’s doing.” She smiles large, knowing and accepting the truth of the matter… as a first grader knows…
I don’t remember the smell of the incense, but it was being burnt as an offering to God. It’s really interesting how similar sacred practices are across cultures. We were Tennessee Christians, of the charismatic Baptist sort, burning incense, singing, and dancing; we might as well have been living in Big Sur, California in the 60s, completely hippy, connecting with our spirit animals. But that’s not the exceptional part. I will never forget this night. It is still more than I understand. I experienced what I consider to be one of the most potent religious experiences of my life. My friends mother along with a few other women began praying over our bodies – laying on of hands, its called – and what happened after that is the spiritual event called being ‘slain in the spirit‘ or ‘falling out in the spirit.’ I remember watching this woman place her hands, one by one on my two best friends next to me and watching their bodies fall to the ground supported by someone behind them. I remember the room lit with an amber hue and worship songs continuing. We were in the back. Perhaps, those moments were the most religious – in the most complete sense of the word – that I have ever encountered. I remember my turn, her hands placed on my head and the sound of her voice – words happened I have no idea what was spoken specifically. And then I remember a great wave of euphoria wash over me. I remember allowing it or excepting it, even expecting it or knowing it. Whatever the case it was not fixed or formula, like a drug once taken, whether bidden or not, one is committed or condemned to the process. On the contrary this experience required my presence and my will; it was deeply participatory and overwhelmingly intimate; it was Holy. I fell backward into safe arms and was laid on the ground. Overwhelming joy. Incomprehensible feelings of presence, safety, LOVE. I remember tears and laugher and having no clear discernment or interests between the two; they flowed together as one experience, expression of surrender. I was 16 years old.
William James, one of the most important 20th century philosopher/psychologists to live and write offered his Gifford Lectures on this very topic I describe above: The Varieties of Religious Experience.
There is no sufficient substitute to the power of God. When one’s life becomes a testament to the work of creativity through right relations, creative faith, that power becomes beautiful.
I want to speak briefly about my relationships. First the children. I’m surrounded by them daily. In the first grade class I assist, I am tested by them and treated with their trust. It’s quite an experience, an exceptional experience, full of great enthusiasm. I am discovering how to trust God through witnessing their trust in me. Their hours are perfectly and carefully ordered. Their bodies secure and disciplined through gentle nudges of educational guidance. I am learning so much more than I ever expected. They express their humanity plainly, their tears are often. I consistently mistake their playfulness for disrespect and though play is an intervention against conformity, their refusals flow from an innocence I am not ready to fully believe. They are me. My disbelief in myself is mirrored back to me in their refusals to obey, in their flailing, silly bodies.
AND they trust us, they trust me with their bodies and their time. Education is sacred. I have a structural and sociological critique about my students that I would like to note briefly. These children are the products of an accumulation of core privilege unmatched in any human age thus far. The majority of families building these children are affluent, well adjusted, highly skilled leaders and laborers in San Francisco, one if not the pinnacle of Western Civilization development. Their vehicles speak this privilege, but not as much as do their bodies. The majority of these children highlight the exceptional difference privilege offers their life potential and few others show the deep shadow that haunts the results of accumulated privilege – the historical and contemporary violence irrevocably bound up with it, constituting its existence. We still step forward, and in the end we find this good.
More times then I can count I have been mistaken about their intentions, their actions critique the very authority I hold over them. I wonder what power I assume is mine in their presence and what portions of myself I extend in need of validation at their expense, or in their favor. Still, we all know that as an adult I am their greater, their teacher, and not the other way around. Power flows one way in our exchange and I wonder about the dominance of that condition.