Get the glass cleaner, the mirror must be clear. All the senses must be opened to see, hear and feel in order to face what the reflection reveals.
On my commute to work one morning back in 1979 driving on the Northern State Parkway or maybe it was the Grand Central Parkway - it was on my route commuting from Nassau County to Queens where along the way one becomes the other but I noticed a billboard showing a woman in a green bikini, a matching headband around her blond hair and a string of what looked like white shells and laying on her side advertising Tropical Blend tanning oil captioned by, “THE SAVAGE TAN.”
Savage tan? As in brown skin that other people wish they had by tanning in the sun? What’s up with 'savage'? To have brown skin is savage?
After passing that billboard for several mornings to follow, I photographed it. At the time I only wanted to document what I could not believe I saw. My initial reaction of insult on my brown skin would morph into a curiosity, the kind that looks behind the curtain to find that there was more to this image, its marketability, and its public format to explore past that insult. I had no idea what I was going to do with it then but that one photograph would be the start of a collection of excerpts, images, objects, words, ideas, video clips, books, commercials, sound bites and media. I did not need a fancy grant to do research in any exclusive archive - that stuff was all over the place in plain site. Amazed at my surprise, I started searching there. Why was I surprised?
The fabric of this country is woven by truths of criminal acts against humanity. Inconvenient to society’s cosmetic mask but true. Just because an inconvenient truth is redefined (your eye ran into my fist ) does not mean the realities nor the consequences have been or can be.
Redefining or covering up truth (lying) perverts reality, which has consequences. A criminal event is one thing. But if a criminal event is to continue, there must exist a rationale to justify and enforce it. It is this enforcement (physical, mental, intellectual and emotional) that has brought the American society to its current state. This society has collectively been conditioned to think and behave by a perverse rationale of entitlement supported by invented notions of race, gender, and all that perpetuates criminal entitlement of the mythical superiority of what is known as a white male.
One result is a depraved obsession of coveting what is condemned. How does the successful browning of one’s skin deemed to be savage line up with the stringent rules of so-called superiority of whiteness? How can the successful sale of tanning oil be marketed on the appeal of looking as brown as a savage if savages were justified in being slaughtered? This kind of morbid contradiction is what I refer to as the mental toxic vacuum where the truth of all that is denied is stored.
In recognizing that contradiction it became clear to me that the projection of savagery onto my brown skin had nothing to do with me, it was born out of the whacked out obsession of the accuser. It all rang familiar to me as a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma. The guilt of the criminal is projected onto the victim who then absorbs the accusation of the criminal against themselves. Like Nazi interrogators, corrupt agents of law enforcement, cult sociopaths who pound accusations into victims to break them down, the victim is helpless, nullified and if not dead, subject to control. The standing accusation keeps victims in line who then react accordingly. Through this observation, I would realize that it was my job not to absorb the perverted accusation of degenerates while being able to realistically recognize the danger of their protected behavior, I would not internalize their madness against myself.
So of course a tanning product can be marketed to a mind set that would indulge in tanning to look like a savage by those who see themselves through falsehoods of whiteness. Like the continuous obsession with blackface, while blackness is reviled and condemned, there seems to be more behind masking oneself by those who perceive themselves as white. It reminds me of serial killers who were known to wear the skins of their victims as a ritualistic part of their criminal perversion, torture and murder. This is one of the areas that will be explored and expanded in my updated presentation.
In the meantime, suffice it to say this whole thing is not just about a billboard marketing a racist theme. It is not about being reminded again that this land was stolen through the holocaust of its indigenous peoples. It is about the chronic rationale, the distorted logic behind the thinking that brings on specific behaviors attached to this rationale that are normalized, protected, celebrated, romanticized, permitted, institutionalized, bureaucratized, disguised and mandated that continues to this day. And just like other systems of oppression, all participants are powerless to stop the chronic perversions and its consequences in spite of being masked by promotions of justice for all.
Although hyped as a nation of laws, this has never been a nation of laws. Maybe tools, idyllic notions and ivy covered institutions make it appear that way but anytime crimes against humanity through barbaric rituals that included torture and mutilation at the hands of raging mobs are maintained by a thought process of an entity of any kind, that is an entity of lawlessness. That entity, be it a family, club, community, congregation, union, governmental agency, society or country is lawless.
When the American behavior switch flips on automatic - like the victim of a routine black eye - the victim (the eye) is punished and blamed instead of holding the criminal (the fist) accountable. That flipped switch cranks up to protect the behavior with useless, ridiculous or confusing solutions (a bouquet of roses, dopey apologies, trophies, trinkets, a song, a dance, honors and oaths…) thereby preserving the esteem of the abuser (the fist). When we fail to understand the truthful nature of abusive incidences like racialized brutalization, choices will be made that will bring on more subsets of oppression by poor and toxic choices that spread more of the same.
Who are ‘we’ as a country? Exactly who 'we' were from the very beginning through a thought process that continues to:
Punish, humiliate, criminalize and /or destroy
Protect, preserve and uphold
Existing in perverted realities requires self detachment. If someone is cut off from believing and validating what they feel, see, hear and experience, their indigenous humanity is erased. There is loss of personhood whether that someone is believed to be privileged or not. Detachment results in a co-dependent need for an outside entity to define the self. There are predators ready to fill the void with easy solutions, comfort, relief and emotional acceptance while expecting total compliance with their madness.
If oppression is going to end, all components and contradictions must be first confronted and sorted out. The valve to the mental toxic vacuum must be released and the behavior unlearned, It all starts very local. It starts with a self who can admit that existing as an object of oppression, they are powerless against its degeneracy.
The warning signs of scams, stranger danger, bad relationships, following the madness of self-proclaimed geniuses, second comings, kings, pimps, mob bosses have some common red flags. The degree of self sovereignty will determine the ability to see those red flags and establish boundaries to act as guardrails that protect the presence of the sovereign self. Believing and validating ones own experience is empowering and provides the courage to see things as they are and act on what needs to be changed or stopped.
Imagine a society of sovereign selves, human beings interdependent on each other’s humanity existing in balance and an intelligent awareness of our presence on this Earth our Mother. Reflect, reconsider, reaffirm and rebuild.
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