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July 30, 2008 / JV

Holistic Revolutionary Praxis

… or, all you need right now is a little bittuh ack right.

This blog has been inspired by many interactions I’ve had throughout the course of my tender life. The most recent event — the one that prompted me to sit down and write — was a bad customer service experience at the Nubian Heritage/Nicholas store near Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

I support black-owned business, so I go into Nubian Heritage every now and then. I avoid the generally expensive clothes section and even the retail-priced books (except to browse), but I get down with their oils, lotions, candles, and whatnot — all those things to pimp out my feng shui and keep me feeling “wholesome”.

I’ve always burned incense, but a friend of mine insisted that burning Frankincense oil helped her sleep at night. So I go into the store with the idea that if there’s anywhere I can find some oil and realign my chakras by just being in the atmosphere at the same time, this is the place. I stroll up to the counter where there’s a man with chin length locs pretending he doesn’t see me. I give him a small wave and a “hi” after standing there for about one minute unacknowledged.

Without getting into excruciating detail, let me just tell you I have not felt that talked down to since I was too young to remember, and never by someone less than 40 years my senior.

THIS guy was so unpleasant, and too above me to explain something as simple as burning oils. I can readily admit that I ask a lot of questions. I have ever since I realized that it is the only way to get answers to things you want to know. I ask interviewers a lot of questions, I especially ask doctors a lot of questions, and when it’s part of your career to answer them, you should not ONLY answer them but you should have a good time doing it. People find no joy in the spontaneity of human conversation anymore. There’s not even enough personality to fuel an interaction.

So anyways, I’m asking this young man questions about burning oils such as “Does the oil just evaporate?” “Is there maintenance?” “How long would this little flask of oil last me?” “About how many hours would a full top burn?” and so on. All to which I’m getting unnecessarily curt answers such as “Well yes, I suppose it evaporates” (imagine a face with raised eyebrows as though the brain behind it is imparting knowledge onto the world that of course should already be known by all) and “Yes there’s maintenance, as there is with anything.”

At one point I had to ask “DO YOU BURN OIL?”

“Me? Why, yes.”

But of course you do. Oil burning… “I and I” saying, djembe tapping, poetry reciting, Bob Marley shirt wearing, high maintenance dreadlock sporting, fake West Indian accent having, barley chewing, wheatgrass drinking, not to mention just plain rude . . .

But I’m not here to go in on the new wave Brooklyn-esque black bourgeoisie.

I simply wish to present the problem of one dimensional resistance and to propose the consideration of a more holistic way of living.

My MAIN problem with ol’ dude is this — If you are working at Nubian Heritage, I am going to assume that, to an extent, you agree with some of their ideals – African-centered living, community involvement, holistic health, radical black politics, and so on. If this is true, meaning, if you do believe in the empowerment of your people so much and you read mad books about oppression and liberation and revolution and whatnot, then ACT LIKE IT.

It sounds simple, but, maybe it’s not. Resistance and Revolution are not one-dimensional concepts. Your actions and interactions with people during your everyday life should always, without exception, reflect your politics. Otherwise, you’re about as good as a lake-front porch with sitting chairs and no screen.

Resistance is a constant act, and the result of conscious decisions. How am I claiming to be subversive by pontificating about universal health care with a bunch of other pseudo intellectuals in my cohort’s parlor, and on my way home I stop by McDonald’s? How am I a scholar activist sitting up in the student center talking about “organizing” people in the community around issues that affect them, and I haven’t talked to anyone that lives in my neighborhood? How am I protesting non-living wages for immigrant workers and getting caught buying bootcut jeans at the GAP on the weekends?

I’m going to need you to be more than an aesthetic posterchild for an appropriated and inconsistent lifestyle.

If you are into challenging the white supremacist capitalist patriachy (so hooks right now) run by corporations and six white men (one gay), then in my opinion, it is important to examine how to challenge that monolith in every aspect of your breathing life. BAD FOOD is part of that oppression (physical, emotional, and psychological), because your body is a phenomenal machine that can protect and heal itself. Enabling it to do so by eating to live is part of empowering yourself. BUYING POWER is part of resisting. Who does your money support and what structures do you perpetuate through your convenience? RESPECT is part of it. If you’re so revolutionary, why do you judge black women you see in the streets against yourself? Why are you incapable of asking people how they’re doing and actually meaning it? And why, oh why, can’t you respect me when I’m trying to ask you a few questions about some daggon oil?!?!? Since you’ve got so much theoretical “love” for your people.

I understand that eating to live, knowing the sources of what you consume, and so on, are largely affected by certain factors, including economics, region, free time, etc. And in a sense, being able to live “holistically” (buying live foods regularly, only shopping black/independent, etc) is a matter of privilege. And even those who have access and privilege do not always make the choice.

HOWEVER, your actions are within your control. Your energy you can control. And the fact is, your energy will determine everything else first, because what you put out into the world will dictate what you get back.

This is my challenge to anyone who claims they desire to recreate and name the world — stop being a snooty untouchable. It’s time to explore your power. The revolution starts with you.

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10 Comments

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  1. 8th / Jul 31 2008 8:04 pm

    What I find interesting is that you made the assumtpion of who he was before the incident. Assuming can be dangerous. I mean, we all know the saying…I assume, lol.

    Also, everyone, no matter what their politics or beliefs, has potential to be an asshole. Especially when working customer service. I have had less than pleasant experiences on both sides of the cash register. I say that to say we are all human. Not to justify what appears to be a case of douchebaggery on his part but we all have our weak moments. All we can ask for is the awareness of self to create the option to take control to avoid putting negative energy into the world.

    No matter what one believes, what one eats or where one cvhooses to shop, no one is perfect.

    (I purposely didn’t fix “chooses” to prove my point, lol)

    Props to you for taking something that irked you and making it a nice read.

  2. Su- Yan / Aug 2 2008 1:06 am

    Ok, so I have met and interact with this “type” of person all the time in Brooklyn. I am born and raised in Brooklyn so I really get disgusted by fronters, or those that FRONT. Stop fronting and be REAL. I get really put off by people with locks that don’t have self respect and respect for others. Yeah you may have asked a lot of questions, which would have made me rolled my eyes too, but then again i don’t have locks. The revolution does start with YOU, not me.

  3. brownblackandqueer / Aug 2 2008 5:44 am

    First of all, 8th:
    I think you’re completely missing the point. Assumptions, yes, can be dangerous, but when you’re running a business such as Nubian Heritage, you are selling a certain lifestyle and a certain ideology. It only makes sense to have your sales associates represent and practice that ideology. I believe rudeness and bad energy is not a part of their beliefs. That shit just doesn’t fly, period, whether or not you’re running a business.

    And no. Nobody is perfect. But I think this is just an example soltrane is using to make a bigger point on consistency. We must be consistent all around the board in our lives. It matters what we believe, how we eat and take care of ourselves, where we buy and where we don’t, etc, especially if we’re talking a whole lot about what we stand for. We should aim to practice what we preach. It’s all relevant.

    Which brings me back to this post… I was writing a friend about these same kind of people that live in Brooklyn, especially in the Fort Greene area. Apparently they don’t have jobs or are doing nontraditional work (which I’m not hating on. I think it’s great) because I’m currently not working and I see them all over BK at the same events hanging out in parks in the middle of the day. There is something so beautiful bout these black folk with their super-consciousness and naturalness and how into the arts they are. But there’s also something so standoffish about them too. It’s like they’re proud to be not struggling and living in BK in their middle class homes, and they worked hard to get there or something, but they don’t know how to actually be interested in other people. They’re unapproachable and snooty. Not all of them of course. It’s just that in my experience there’s some disconnect between what they’re saying they live by and how they actually interact with others. Unfortunately, this is not just limited to these Brooklynites that I speak of. It’s just that for me I’d love to be around people who have many of their supposed beliefs, but I don’t feel particularly welcome.

    Also, I’m glad you mentioned that it is privileged to be able to choose your lifestyle. Choice is privilege and power. Where you have the agency to choose, you should examine whether it is in line with your politics, your ideology. We all fail regularly in certain areas of our lives, but being conscious of all the choices you make it a beginning and is very important. Hopefully we can make revolutionary choices more and more often until it becomes commonplace for ourselves, and, by being welcoming and carrying good energy, we can affect change to those around us.

  4. 8th / Aug 3 2008 8:08 am

    In response to brownblackandqueer:

    This Nubian Heritage store is just a store. We should expect nothing more from it because expectations can lead to a not so fulfilling experience or, as we see here, plain disappointment. What made this clerk any different from any other clerk besides the preconceived image soltrane had for him already? The thing to remember in a situation like this is you are not there for him, you are there for you, as are the employees. If one is displeased with the service then don’t shop there anymore. A revolutionary act which says you will not stand for negative energy in the form of bad customer service. Hell, to drive the point home buy the oils from a non-Black owned shop if you have to. The fact that they are a Black-owned business selling a Nubian lifestyle does not seperate them from any other business and it’s mishaps.

    In my own experiences, I have come to find that accepting people for who they are, human and imperfect before anything else, is the first step toward making a change in yourself. Use those whom we feel are negative as an example of what not to be. You can’t control their actions but you can control your own. The revolution starts with YOU because the revolution is YOU.

    So, in your second paragraph, replace “we” with “you” (or maybe “I” would be better).

  5. brownblackandqueer / Aug 4 2008 2:16 am

    8th:

    It’s different to make a blind assumption than to have expectations. It is anti-revolutionary to not expect anything. What are we fighting for if we don’t expect that we deserve better? We need to hold people to expectations that we have for each other. People can’t get away with shit overall. We can excuse or accept apologies or understand the causes for actions we deem wrong, but in the bigger picture, these things must be identified and tackled. Should we not expect that people are treated with the utmost respect and dignity?

    In reponse to: “You can’t control their actions but you can control your own.” I can’t agree with the implication of your statement. You cannot control anyone else, that’s true, but you can be an agent of change in some kind of way. It’s social responsibility to at least want to see that we all learn from each other and work towards something better. Part of that is helping people understand what is not acceptable and what might be better. This is not a battle to be won always and it takes a lot to be constantly conscious and willing to make this move, but we can think about it. This is one simple case at Nubian Heritage, but it’s not about the store itself. Again, this is just an example used to illustrate a bigger idea.

    Shopping at a non-black owned business is exactly what I would NOT do in response to this incident…

    I accept that we are human and imperfect, but I also fully accept that we have agency to make necessary changes (not without bigger structures and institutions that we must nagivate and negotiate). It sounds like you are advocating apathy and, hence, the slow (or quick) deterioration of people who try not to change the world we live in. That’s anti-revolutionary. The revolution simulatenously start with singlular ‘you’ and a plural ‘you.’ Revolution needs to come from within, absolutely yes, but we don’t exist outside interactions and laws (of whatever authority) so we must work together to challenge what needs change and uphold what needs support. We are not alone in this world and we should not be solely concerned with ourselves. Fight for rights for all. Revolutionizing yourself is only a small part of the picture.

    When I say “we” I mean “we.”

    We should aim to practice what we preach. We need to hold ourselves and each other accountable for what we say and do. If we have no expectations, we have nothing to work with when it comes to creating change.

    Back to soltrane (This is nit-picky. I understand what point of saying this is for concluding your post, but taking it past what you were talking about.. and just throwing it out there):

    “The revolution starts with you[/me]” is a simplified statement. The revolution is occurring and has always been occurring in some form. We’re in the midst of it. Maybe you call it evolution, but I don’t think that revolution will come in one enormous wave of existence and last in that invariable form. It is revolutions in flux, which pertains to/includes you, the individual, and you, the plural.

  6. 8th / Aug 4 2008 5:27 pm

    I do enjoy a good debate.

    Oh, the difference one little word can make:

    “We should expect nothing more from it because [those] expectations can lead to a not so fulfilling experience or, as we see here, plain disappointment.”

    So to clarify, I wasn’t saying we shouldn’t have expectations AT ALL in life itself. I was saying we should not expect more from something than what it is. Regardless of what Nubuan Heritage is selling, it serves the same purpose as the GAP being that it is a store where you go to spend money to accomodate your lifestyle.

    We, as individuals, should have expectations for ourselves in order for any change we wish to see occur.

    I should aim to practice what I preach. I need to hold myself and others accountable for what they say and do [in order to understand what needs to be done for myself]. If I have no expectations, I have nothing to work with when it comes to creating change [for myself and those who share my ideas].

    I see the word revolution and revolutionary being thrown around here. I have to ask what is the revolution? What is the change that is needed?

  7. soltrane / Aug 4 2008 10:42 pm

    I feel the need to clarify some things in response to a few of the comments above.

    First, my use of the Nubian Heritage anecdote was more for kicks than anything else. I thought it’d make an amusing little side story, and hopefully warrant a few chuckles.

    In examining the experience, I thought the guy was a jerk, and I found his behavior inexcusable — on the most basic level of reciprocated respect. I think it was completely fine for me to assume that he agrees with some of the principles explicitly put forth by Nubian Heritage considering he works there, and considering the fact that a store that sells a particular lifestyle, of course, takes into consideration that lifestyle before hiring just anyone. They’re not just selling shit. They are claiming to espouse a very specific set of principles and a message. Nubian heritage differs from GAP in the sense that it is a locally owned, New York based store that outwardly (and proudly) caters to the black community, while promoting a certain set of ideals.

    GAP is an international franchise that may also promote a certain “lifestyle,” but it is nonetheless one that is markedly different from that of Nubian Heritage. This is, in my opinion, an important differentiation. That being said, I don’t enter both stores with the same expectations, and I don’t analyze my experience in the same way. They are drastically different stores, after all. And they deserve to be considered as such.

    I have expectations for every store that I enter, and for all of my human interactions (which is more what this is about), and one of those expectations is that I be treated with the same respect I have for others. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.. in a store, or elsewhere.

    I guess that in referring to my assumptions, 8th, you are referring to my assumption that the Nubian Heritage employee agreed with what the store he works in stands for. That is about as far as my assumptions went. I admit that I did assume that if you work at Nubian Heritage, your politics at least somewhat correlate with theirs. I don’t think that’s an unfair assumption. That’s part of presenting yourself. And if this assumption was mistaken, then that only brings me to the main point of the blog, which is living holistically.

    The point I was trying to communicate is that if you claim to represent certain ideas, you should always act accordingly. This includes personal interactions, how you carry yourself through various spaces, how you navigate your way through all aspects of the matrix, including what you buy, eat, and speak into existence. I am not claiming that this is all that matters, or that it matters in the same capacity to everyone. I am saying that to whatever extent you talk the talk, you should try to walk the walk as much as is reasonable for your lifestyle (which like i said, is always a matter of privilege). This idea of holistic living can apply to the Nubian Heritage story in this way — If the employee doesn’t agree with the ideals of the store, that is problematic because it would imply that he is inconsistent and/or lacking integrity. If he does agree with the ideals, that is problematic as well, because, well, he was an asshole. And yes, anybody can be an asshole, but in this particular situation, and for the sake of making a much larger point, I am relating his asshole-ness to his assumed basic beliefs — one of which should be respect for other people, particularly likely allies and those engaging in a presumably similar struggle. This may be a flawed connection, because I am not sure WHAT he believes, but that is mostly a moot point.

    I’d like to transcend the minutiae.

    I am merely trying to challenge myself and others, out of love and the concern for some form of ‘progress,’ to be conscious of how systematic oppression operates in all aspects of our lives. We are integrated human beings fighting against an integrated and multipronged oppression and we should live our lives as such. At least if that is what we say we are striving to do.

    That is not to say that we all need to be perfect, but there is no harm in working to be better — whatever that may mean to you.

  8. soltrane / Sep 4 2008 2:13 am

    re: brownblackandqueer

    immediately thought of your comment when i read this-

    “And again, let’s talk about the contradictions that we live with. That many black people with dreadlocks never speak to other black people or don’t want to engage in blackness in any way, but are engaged with white people who “love their dreadlocks” and are attracted to them because of their hair. So we see again the craziness and zaniness of this kind of culture. Dominator culture is so skillful in turning everything into commodities…”

    –bell hooks, Sisters of the Yam

  9. Kholi / Sep 23 2008 10:01 pm

    “But of course you do. Oil burning… “I and I” saying, djembe tapping, poetry reciting, Bob Marley shirt wearing, high maintenance dreadlock sporting, fake West Indian accent having, barley chewing, wheatgrass drinking, not to mention just plain rude . . .”

    hiiii -larious.

    and clearly there is room for some type of educated comment to be made here … it was an excellently crafted blog. howver, i fear that all of those educated points have indeed been thoroughly discussed … not quite into the ground … but close.

    either way … something has to have gone right with the writing … as i question my gucci/gap/banana addictions.

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