Why do liberals think they know what it’s like to be black?

… or what it’s like to be gay, or a woman, or poor, or an immigrant or anything that they are not? Really, why does anyone think that they know what it’s like to be anyone else. I don’t mean to pick on people who consider themselves liberals but that is the culture I grew up in and that’s what I know. I’m routinely amazed at the level of hubris exhibited by white liberals in speaking for members of other cultures. I would never try to speak on behalf of someone else; or so I would like to think. I’ve probably done it myself. We all have blind spots.

I’ve spent the last twenty years or so being pretty active in the gay rights movement. When I first started I took on a position of leadership but I haven’t since. I never felt like I had the right to speak for a whole community. I know what it is like to be me. I know what my experiences with homophobia are, but to be honest, they are pretty limited. I grew up in a liberal city as a musician and a geeky artsy type. I never felt that expectation to “fit in”. I don’t know what it’s like to be the gay quarterback of the state champion high-school football team. I don’t know what it’s like to be the lesbian prom queen from a small town. I don’t even know what it’s like to be a transgender art nerd from Duluth, MN and I play in a band with one. Being part of a community, being part of a movement, being part of a band you hear a lot of stories. You get a sense of what it is like for someone else but you can’t really know what it is like.

In a way I get it. It’s part of the liberal ethos to try and put yourself in another person’s shoes. To see the world from their perspective. We try to immerse ourselves in another culture. It can become all consuming and at a certain point you start to feel like you really understand what it is like to be black, or Hispanic, or deaf or a single-mother on welfare. But can you really? I applaud the attempt. I know that people’s hearts are in the right place but let’s not kid ourselves. We can use this experience to build bridges but we can’t rebuild the building that have crumbled under oppression. We can use what we have learned from these experiences to build better connections, ‘to understand and heal ourselves, but we can’t fix anyone else. I understand the desire to raise our voices to compensate for the those that have been silenced but we need to remember that they are our voices. We can’t speak for anyone else.

And even more than that, we can’t tell someone else what it is like to be them!

The other day I heard a white woman tell a black child that the world was unfair and that he would be judged more harshly because of the color of his skin. This child was in trouble and the woman was worried that if he didn’t change his ways that he would become another black male statistic. The boy is adopted and his white mother was there as well. I could tell that she had the same concern. I’m not saying that the concern isn’t warranted, I’m just saying that this woman had no authority to speak about it. This kid needs to know what it is like to be a black man in America but he needs to hear about it from someone who has been there. Even then, his experience is going to be uniquely his own. Times are changing and so is this child. No one can claim to know what his future will be like.

I understand the desire of white people to use their “white-privilege” to help those less fortunate but white people are not privileged. White people are not better. Racism and oppression are fucked up. They are corruption. We can’t use corrupt power to fight the power of corruption. All we have is love. All we can do is stand side-by-side in solidarity as one people. I understand the feeling of guilt about the injustices of the world but there is nothing to feel guilty about. There is no way to atone. All we can do is accept that we are who we are and that we are no better (or worse) than anyone else.

Okay people, use your voice. I’m sure I pissed someone off with this post. Don’t hold back, I can handle it.

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Pay it forward

Since I started driving pedicab back in March I’ve been trying to figure out an economic model that works for me. I do the job because I love it, it’s good for my body and good for my soul. I need to make money doing it but if money was my sole motivation I would never do it.

My favorite rides are the ones I give for free, or at least not expecting any money. My second favorite are the ones where people totally over tip. That makes me feel good too. I usually I get a good balance of the two but one day a couple weeks ago I had a day where no one over tipped, but no one got a free ride or under paid either. Everyone paid their fair share and I made as much as I usually do. For some, that would be the perfect system and something to replicate but it didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t seem real. I want greater diversity. I want people to get rides even if they can’t afford it and I want people to feel good about paying more if they can.

What I really want is to be able to do my job without thinking about the money. What I really want is to be able to make a living by just being me and doing what I do naturally. I don’t feel comfortable accepting payment for services rendered because I consider the service to be priceless. The idea that you can get someone to haul you around on a bicycle if you give them enough money feels like bribery to me.

So I decided that no one would get to pay for their ride. I’ve saved enough money that I can do this, at least for a little while. In essence, that ride has already been paid for through the generosity of riders before them. My hope was that even though nobody had to pay me anything they would still want to. Since they couldn’t pay for their own ride I would let them pay for somebody elses. The belief being that we are all in this together and everyone does their part to support the community. It’s like I could never charge one of my friends for a ride but at the same time they have been some of the best tippers. I would just treat everyone like my friend. I thought it was a brilliant and original idea, but would it work?

Actually it’s not that original and it has worked. It’s basically the principle of “pay it forward”. Karma Kitchen and Seva Cafe work that way. There are numerous other examples of people paying it forward in real life.

Since I’ve been doing this for the past week and a half I’ve found it to be a pretty sound business model – at least for me. I’m getting the diversity of riders that I want and my income has stayed pretty much the same. Everyone who wants a ride can get a ride and everyone feels good paying what they can pay, even if that is nothing. Those that can’t pay it forward with money I ask to pay it forward with an act of kindness. Everyone has something to give and if we all do our part we can make the world a better place.

a penny for your thoughts, a dollar to act them out

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. – Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia)

I’m going to try and make this a quick post. I’ve been looking forward to this day all summer and I really want to get on with it. I bought my ticket to see Gogol Bordello outdoors at the Cabooze the day they went on sale. I didn’t think they would sell out (and they haven’t); I didn’t know what the weather would be like (I feel like it was snowing when I bought the ticket), I just wanted to make sure that I put it in my calendar and committed to seeing this show. For the past five years I’ve seen them every time they were in town and it’s always an amazing experience.

I’m also just looking forward to getting out on my bike and having a lovely summer afternoon with nothing to do but ride and enjoy the day. A potential added bonus is that I may get to see one of my friends who needed to be removed from my life for a while. She contacted me Wednesday night wanting to know if I wanted to meet up. I’ve been waiting for that opportunity all summer as well. We’ll see how that goes.

So I’ve been doing some connecting the dots.

I heard recently on public radio that the government is changing the way that it calculates the Gross Domestic Product to include things like intellectual property that currently don’t have a clearly defined monetary value. I still think that we would be better off calculating Gross National Happiness but I this is a move in the right direction. Ideas have value and so why don’t we try to quantify it?

I’ve also been working on eliminated my possessions while maintaining my standard of living. I’ve become fascinated with the movement called Collaborative Consumption where instead of everyone having to own things that we don’t use 99% of the time, we share them so that we can reduce our individual consumption while still collectively increasing the benefit of those commodities.

I have a wealth of ideas but honestly I don’t have the time to use most of them. What if I could share them with people who had more time than ideas? Clearly, that is not an original idea. That is going on all the time, every day all over the internet. That is the driving principle behind conferences like TED Talks and the Aspen Ideas Festival. I’m convinced that collectively we have all the ideas we need to solve all the worlds problems. It’s just a matter of getting them into the heads of people that can actually do something with them.

So I have an idea that I want to share. It’s not going to save the world or anything but it’s a fun idea that I’m not going to be able actualize to it’s full potential. In my last blog post I introduced the words drunkonomics and drunkommunication. I feel like there is a book in there using the principles of alcohol and alcohol consumption to teach otherwise boring or confusing subjects. There could even be a chapter on drunkemistry. Alcohol is a solution after all. So feel free to run with that. Hopefully you will give me credit for the idea. Hopefully you will consult with me because I have many more thoughts on the idea. Actually what I want is a penny on the dollar so if you make a million dollars off my idea I want ten grand.

Don’t worry, I’m a professional

“Wow, that show was amazing!”

“Thanks, that’s what we do. I’m glad you enjoyed it”

Venus de Mars & All The Pretty Horses at the Triple Rock

Venus de Mars & All The Pretty Horses at the Triple Rock

At issue has been whether Venus de Mars is a professional artist or a hobbyist. For anyone who was at our “Audit Hell” benefit show Saturday night at the Triple Rock Social Club there should be no doubt that we put on a professional show. For the Minnesota Department of Revenue the only issue is whether we make money. Well, we made enough money at the benefit show to continue the legal battle so I guess we’ll see whether the court can determine what it means to be a professional. Another memorable quote from the evening:

“Don’t fuck with an artist, they’ll just turn it into art.”

The irony is that this experience may turn out to be a tremendous career builder. It is certainly turning out to be a great community builder. The Triple Rock really went out of their way to make the benefit a huge success. At least 100 artists, writers and musicians have come together to do their part in support of this issue. The local press has also done it’s part in getting the word out. We had write-ups in MN Post, Vita.mn, Star Tribune, L’Etoile as well as a wonderful piece on Minnesota Public Radio. Musicians have also come together to produce at tribute album is support of the cause.

Call For Artists

Venus DeMars (performance artist, painter, founder of All The Pretty Horses) and hi/r wife Lynette Reini-Grandell (poet, professor, host of Write On Radio on KFAI) are being raked over the coals by the MN Dept of Revenue. Read the story by Jim Walsh on MinnPost: http://www.minnpost.com/minnpost-asks/2013/04/talking-taxman-about-poetry-and-deductions.
Despite living as professional artists for the past thirty years, Venus and Lynette are now being told that their life work is not work, it is a hobby.
This is not a new occurrence. Artists have drawn the ire of the tax man for years but it usually it ends in a settlement with little fanfare. This time they picked a fight with the wrong people; people with nothing to hide, people with nothing to lose, people with everything to lose, people with no choice but to fight.
But this is not their fight alone. This affects all independent and original artists. We are taking this to the streets and putting on a benefit concert to raise the $6,000 needed for Venus and Lynette’s legal representation, and develop an Independent Artist’s Legal Defence Fund to support other artists who find themselves defending their way of life in court. Our hope is that this will put an end to artist persecution, but if not, our hope is that this will be an annual event.
We are currently working with Sonja at First Avenue to secure a date. Current dates available include July 19th, 20th and 26th; August 9th and 10th.
Since this affects all of us we want to involve as many people as possible. We also want it to be a successful night for our beloved First Avenue. We want to put on a star-studded event with three or four short (20-30 minute) bands sets (using a back-line) interspersed with 1-3 song solo/duo acoustic or DJ sets, poets and spoken word performances. We will also have a silent auction and art show.
Please let me know if you or the people you represent want to be part of this important event. We need names. The level of interest will determine what kind of night we get at First Avenue. If you are interested and available we will find a way for you to be involved. This will be as big of an event as we as a community can pull off. If the TEA Party can attract national attention from their run-in with the IRS, we as independent artist should be able to draw statewide attention from this event.
Please contact me at: jevanmusic@gmail.com
~J Evan LeFreak (bass player for All The Pretty Horses)

It’s not me, it’s you

…actually it’s us.

But I’ve been focusing a little too much on me lately. It’s time that I return the love you have shown me and focus on you. I am taking the day off from writing so that I can read your blogs.

 

Much love, J Evan LeFreak

A simple smile

“Very occasionally, if you pay really close attention, life doesn’t suck.” – Joss Whedon

Tuesday was one of those days. I was deeply moved by the out pouring of  support and generosity I had received.  It wasn’t just gift I received in the mail. It was being taken out to lunch. It was the restaurant re-tweeting my check-in, thanking me for my business and wishing me a good day. It was a friend sharing her hair dye with my daughter. It was even the customer service person at the bank who expressed understanding of my situation and took the time to kindly explain the bank rules. It was in the eyes of the countless random strangers who smiled at me throughout the day.

All day long, I felt like I was part of a community, a group of people who were willing to do what they could, as simple as that may be, to make the world a slightly better place. At least for that day, I found reason to believe that we really are all in this together. I’m not naive. I know how cruel the world can be, but I can also see it’s potential. When I’m open to it, when I look with un-jaded eyes, I see the kindness and compassion alive withing the human spirit. I believe it is there burning within everyone. Perhaps the flame has gone out, extinguished after years of abuse or trauma,  but an amber remains, waiting for a breath of oxygen and the fuel to sustain it.

Filled with the kindness I had received I set out to share my love and compassion with others who were hurting. There are a number of other Facebook groups with the theme, “Life Sucks”. There is Life Sucks, but I Love it anyway, LIFE SUCKS!!!!!!!! and  MY LIFE SUCKS, to name a few. I figured my page should like them. Reading what people had posted touched me deeply. There are a lot of people in pain. There are a lot of people going through hard times. I wanted to reach out. I wanted to share whatever wisdom I have acquired through my life. I wanted to encourage them to hang in there, it’s hard, but it gets better.

I stayed up all night reading about other people’s struggles and offering support. That’s what I really want to become of this blog, eventually. I don’t want it just to be some narcissistic one-way rant about my life. I want build a community of people supporting each other, learning, sharing, and growing together. It’s going to take time, I realize. I haven’t even written my “About” page yet. But that is my dream. That is what I try to hold in my heart each day when I write these posts.

Without a wink of sleep, delivering my CityPages route was a real challenge. I had to go slower, I had to focus, I had to fight through the pain and I had to consume a lot of caffeine. Still, when I got a txt from a friend asking if I could baby-sit, I was there. Life sucks, anything I can do to make it a little bit better, I will do. Sometimes there is not much I can do. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have anything to give, but I know every little bit helps. In these times, I have to dig deep, muster up what little strength I have, to even produce a simple smile. But if I can do that, if other people can do that, if we all do whatever we can each day, we can make this world suck just a little bit less. We may even be able to find those moments when life doesn’t suck.

“If nothing we do in this world matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.” – Joss Whedon, Angel: After the Fall, Volume 1

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