a bad day to be awake

I feel sick. Today, something I’ve been waiting for finally came to me. And something I wasn’t waiting for at all came right behind it.

Y’all know about my tattoo, right? On my neck? The one symbolizing Erzulie, a Voodoun love goddess who I know absolutely nothing about (unless you count what I’ve read online)? Yeah…
Sometimes people recognize the symbol, but up until today it has always been other white folks, who seem excited to see it, and who I (blindly) assume learned about Erzulie in some African or religious studies class they took in college. I’ve been feeling pretty uncomfortable with my tattoo for a while now, due to my ignorance about the cultural and spiritual tradition it comes out of. I’ve been anticipating, with a dull spark of dread, the moment when I encounter someone who actually is connected to that culture and tradition in a meaningful way.
Today was that day. At Herbivore, right after I sat down for brunch, a man at an adjoining table turned around to ask what possessed me to get a tattoo of Erzulie on my neck. He was not unkind at all, but he was clearly struck in a powerful and strange way by the sight of me. I briefly explained to him how I found the symbol in a book and then researched Erzulie further. All throughout my meal I was very uncomfortable. A woman sitting with him kept looking at me, and I could just tell she thought I was a fool – and rightly so. Finally, as we were getting ready to leave, my friend L went to the restroom and the man turned to me again. He started telling me that, although I probably chose this symbol because it is connected with love, it is also connected with a lot of violence. People’s heads getting chopped off. Specifically, white people’s heads getting chopped off during the slave rebellion in Haiti. Which is why he felt so powerfully struck by seeing me, a white person, waltz in with this symbol tattooed on my neck. His ancestors are from Haiti, he said – there is all this ancestral energy coming at me through this symbol and I have no idea what it’s about. He suggested I meditate on what it was that drew me to such a powerful symbol, and figure out what is in me that made me want all this powerful, possibly violent ancestral energy coming at me. He said I was bold, that he wouldn’t even put the symbol on his body. I assured him that it was not boldness, but ignorance, that allowed me to do such a thing. I left feeling shaken, ready to go home and think and maybe cry a little to calm myself down. What was I thinking when I got this tattoo? “Peace be with you,” the man had said as I left.

And then. Then L and I went to 25th and MLK to check out this show “Hoodstock” that was supposed to be happening there (illegally) all weekend. Apparently, the organizers were not worried about the cops showing up because it was being held in the parking lot of a purported crack building. L had gone on Saturday but left before it was over. Her friend called while we were eating and told her the cops had shown up around 2 in the morning and cleared everybody out. So we roll up and there’s nobody there. A woman sweeping the street out in front of the gate tells us they moved the party to somewhere on Telegraph. She lives in the supposed crack building. Says that when people at the party started breaking bottles in the middle of the street at 2 in the morning, someone finally called the cops. She points out a car in the parking lot that’s been trashed, pounded and spray-painted on. Says it belongs to a woman in the building, and that both this woman’s cars were messed up by people at the show the night before. The woman doesn’t want to call the cops about her cars, but “someone has got to pay for them,” explains the woman speaking as she looks away. She points to the overflowing dumpster, says she and her neighbors filled the dumpster with the trash people left behind after the show. A man standing nearby glares at us. I can hardly breathe. I drop L off and go home, feeling incredibly angry and helpless. What can I do? I have no desire to go to the show now, but I think about going to take up a collection for the woman’s cars. L tells me she’ll talk to the organizer and see if he will take care of it.
But… REALLY?! Really, Oakland punk/anarchist/hipster kids? Really, people I probably hang out with? This is where we’re at – busting into a neighborhood that isn’t ours, to party, using the residents as a shield against the cops, trashing their property and then leaving them with our garbage? If I could make this screen you’re reading scream, I would. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! WHAT THE FUCK???

September 13, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

3 Comments

  1. Laura replied:

    Last I heard the kids who live in the house who threw the party are being charged for the car situation and will have to pay damages. I felt really gross that day too, knowing I had participated in the previous night’s events. My main concern at the time was the title of the party and the appropriation of the term “hood,” without realizing the destruction that would be caused and who would pay the price – I’m still confused because I have been under the impression that if you seem intelligent, identify as anarchist and live in Oakland that it meant you were at least mildly aware and conscious of the political implications of your actions? I got drunk and was (intentionally?) not fully aware of my surroundings that night, although I remember really getting into the Enigmatics song “so ugly,” feeling like the lyrics resonated with the atmosphere. I’m totally guilty.

  2. mymammouth replied:

    Well I’m no fan of the penal system, but I gotta say I’m glad she pressed charges.

    Yeah, their use of the word “hood” to essentially indicate a lack of respect for the neighborhood and the folks living in it was pretty disturbing in and of itself, even if that other stuff hadn’t gone down. I think there are a lot of people who identify as anarchist who really don’t understand that in the event of decreased state control, our social responsibilities would increase. They seem to think that the goal is to have more freedom to fuck shit up. And through the selfishness of their actions they only confirm the mainstream belief that anarchism would mean chaos and it could never work.

  3. meadowlarkb replied:

    That really is a shame then, how the crowd behaved. For some reason there was no alarm that went off in me when I saw people start to stand upon that car. The tendency to trust that people are benevolent made me assume that the car was abandoned and that the event was organized down to the clean up. For having just accepted an anarchist point of view myself it is a surprise to see the anarchism foil in effect already, that idea that “anarchism equals pandemonium”. Since I don’t know the Oakland scene very well I just assumed W Oakland was integrated and Hoodstock was an integrated effort. I just assumed the best of everyone.

    I wish there was some way to educate the participants about what was wrong with Hoodstock.

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