Selfishness in Compassion

I read through a New Yorker article, by Joshua Rotham, on a movement that pushes for people to stop having kids. Referred to as the anti-natalist movement, adherents argue that because human suffering is immense and reaches all forms of life beyond the human race, humans should stop procreating. Essentially, as the article title suggests, while existing life is better than death, “not being born is better” than being born at all. The article profiles South African philosopher David Benatar, who has become known for promoting this movement through his academic work; however, what sets him aside from other anti-natalists is that he is not a nihilist/misanthrope. His concerns come from a space of compassion: suffering is worse than pleasure, and no one should have to experience. If you’re interested in what he has to say, you can continue reading the article here.

It’s interesting that I stumbled upon this article this morning, because I used to hold a similar view for several years. Then, I was a lot closer to the rawness of trying to kill myself due to despair from anxiety and severe depression. My central concern was passing on mental illness and raising my theoretical child an anti-black world, along with miscellaneous, but interconnected, worries on parenting, cycles of abuse, etc. I thought that these concerns were compassionate. I don’t think I should have suffered in the way I did, and I don’t like hearing that others go through the same harm. In general, I don’t believe people should suffer, and I try to help them avoid it (to my own peril most of the time lol) at all costs.

But the answer, for myself and in relation to others, is not to argue that everyone should cease to exist to avoid suffering. I don’t agree with the Weber/(Protestant) Christian ideal is to suffer for reward or intellectual insight and emotional growth. But it is selfish to presume that your version of compassion should be the universal understanding or choice for others who also have to contend with their own suffering. This is particularly poignant to me irt racism and Afro-pessimissim. Racism, especially anti-black racism, is deeply entrenched, vast, and penetrating in our world, leading to material, psychological, and social damages that have fatal costs. When folks are focused on the existence, presuming that the deepness of the problem is seemingly infinite, the answer becomes that black people are doomed, forever. It misses the point that black people exist and continue their lives outside the frame of whiteness, and see themselves as human beings, deserving of the things human beings deserve and look forward to. There is nothing so totalizing that it closes off hope and possibility for change.

The other problem with the anti-natalist view is that its understanding of compassion assumes that accountability and justice are impossible. Like many Afro-pessimist works, accountability, justice, and change are highly unlike, or outright impossible. In doing so, it forecloses responsibility for peoples’ bad behavior. The desire and work towards responsibility and accountability, I believe, is compassion in action without selfishness. It seeks to resolve an problem with an eye towards accountability and justice. Of course, such things are many times elusive, and because of greed, laziness, contempt, etc (alllll the isms), they are passed down as work for several generations. This perhaps privileges a long-view of history, which does not follow a linear path to progress (in fact, it zig-zags all over the place, as the African and African diaspora cases make clear). But gains are made when we continue to work, continue to believe in the transformation of the world into what it could be, and continue to joy in spite of injustice and suffering. In short, it is refusal to indulge in the selfishness of a totalizing framing of suffering.

This may be the actual selfish part of this essay, but I deserve to receive and distribute joy. I deserve to work towards building a world with less suffering my hypothetical child. As someone who lives with a multitude of privileges in the wealthiest nation on Earth, I deserve to labor against the conditions that enable human suffering to exceed what it needs to be, because it is man-made, not natural. Simultaneously, the specter of racist degradation, violence, and death is forever here, but I spite it by living a fulfilled life with a family, joy, accountability, and hope, just as my ancestors did and my descendants will continue to do. Life is worthwhile.

In conclusion, anti-natalism on the surface appears to be a compassionate ideology, but it is just as selfish as it presumes its counterpart to be. It lacks imagination and creativity when (not) addressing human suffering head-on. Ironically, it also shares the sexist, racist, and profoundly ableist thoughts that inform the population capacity/control movements. So, basically, hard pass. Nah.

  • Note: Deep consideration of mental illness and end of life is beyond the scope of this essay. I am not, as someone who survived my own attempt, one interested in judging individual or collective cases of end of life situations. It is a separate question, and I’m not interested in moralizing it here.

Self-Contempt and Its Inverses

Denying oneself confidence and compassion is cruel.

What is that for? Do you deserve to suffer? If you are worried about ruining an event or a not measuring up to a responsibility, is it okay to deny yourself some compassion because you think others wont give it to you? Does the other have to matter for you to hold space for yourself?

If we were able to separate ourselves from our internal critic, we would hate them. Because we cannot, we hate ourselves. You move back and forth between being exhausted and wanting to strangle yourself.

I enjoy my own company very much, but I am notorious for not giving myself kindness. Slowly, I have given it to myself. Several days ago, I realized what a profound disservice it is to refuse kindness to yourself.

The folks who love you or ally with you try to yell this at you every time you have a crisis, and you resent them. I resented them because I didn’t believe them (some of the advice, while well-meaning, is actually self-aggrandizing). It is easy to be kind to yourself when no one is invested in killing you.
But why fasten your death by your own hand, drowning in cynicism, nihilism, and paranoia? Why do the job for them?

There is no respect for self-compassion as a process. A method is something that must be developed with time, and tested. Because we are individuals, we are not the same. Similarly, our journeys are not the same. I did not berate myself when that realization dawned on me. Instead, the question becomes, “what changes?”

Respecting my process. Not wasting time. Acknowledging my fear and pain.
I deserve it.



Cocooning femme.

Photo by Erica Jones.

Being sick adds a different dimension to refusal. My body refuses to cooperate to the demands of the outside world, like productivity. My body is healing me, and I have to listen and be still with that. The ability to heal is an indicator that I’m overall in good health. It is okay.

November puts an accelerator on time: demands, responsibilities, and Daylight’s Savings Time. And now, exams. I need to adjust my schedule so I can sleep more and work more diligently during the day. My body does better that way; otherwise, depression becomes my long-time companion. I think my own company, as cheerleader and higher self, is a better friend.

There’s something fantastic and exhilarating about being on the tip of something wonderful. Even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow or soon, knowing that it will happen at some point is a nice feeling. I’m blessed.

Women of Color in america have grown up within a symphony of anger at being silenced at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters. – Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde

The Funambulist is quite good. I also recommend their podcast. Highlights:
– Mehammed Mack: Virilism, Clandestiny and Alternative Modes of Being Queer & Arab in France
– Mabel O. Wilson: Can the Master’s Tools Dismantle the Master’s House?
– Nacira Guénif-Souilamas: Design of French Structural Racism 
– Alexander Weheliye: A Black Critique of the Concept of Bare Life

Complement to the Funamblist: Here There Be Dragons podcast.

Kasey‘s angels: x, y, and z.

I really enjoy Soma’s music.

To Refuse

I am embodying a practice of refusal. Studying histories of race, racism, race relations, and systems of harm gave me a language to process and discuss my past and ongoing experiences with psychological violence and interpersonal neglect within white suburbia + its institutions. From my late teenage years on, I slowly adopted a built a vocabulary that privileged resistance. I vigorously consumed information, from books to news to tumblr posts, to learn how to be better at resisting.

Resisting agains harm creates stress in the body. Anticipating harm maintains stress in the body. My depression, my off-and-on companion of 17 years, thrives off on stress. Years ago, I recognized what this was doing to my body, but I kept going. If not me, who will push against misogynoir/homophobia/xenophobia/etc etc in X space?

Will the world collapse if I refuse?


The world did not collapse. My body did not collapse. I became more free.
I love life. I love myself. I love what my body can do. I love that I am blessed enough to have the option to refuse.

The world is not ending; it is getting more difficult for most of us. For some of us, the difficulty remains the same, but its form has changed/is undergoing a change.

I will take the opportunity to shape my life, in spite of that, like my ancestors before. And I have the best moment to do that, to spin the silk that crafts a gorgeous, intricate web for myself, my loved ones, and the things that matter.

I do not have any words of hope for anyone else but myself. This is compassion of the highest degree, for myself.

Onwards. I’m mine.

Crabs in the Swamp // 11.02.17

D.Va Room by artist/cosplayer Jenni (Pixelninja)

Why are women still sexualized in cyber-punk fantasies? Why do scifi artists still imagine worlds on the ground as we approach our over-heated climate reality? Why do our imagined fantasies still revolve around colonized/privatized spaces? What about the outback, the badlands, or decolonized/uncolonizable spaces? Exclusion causes misery, but the excluded still find ways to survive. The same people who are crying about institutions falling are the same ones who chose to deny or accept who moved through said institutions in the first place. They don’t get to imagine the future, we do. I do.

We don’t control our own data/internet footprints.

Joy is so necessary. Don’t deny yourself joy as the world falls apart. Don’t aid in your oppressor’s goal to kill you faster.

We must leave eek out space in the badlands of the net. We must decolonize the boundary between capitalist publics and authoritarian privates.

I’m being transformed by my grandmother’s passing. She left me blessings as she moved into the pantheon of the ancestors. I can feel it. Another magical femme powerup.

mine&mine // 9. 01. 17

I had a really relaxing break? With minimal stress, excluding select instances that turned out to be minor? Usually I don’t do valley-girl inflected statements, but this is unironic because THIS ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS TO ME ;____________; Truly! During undergrad, I worked or had to focus on some kind of research project year after year, and families usually just dysfunctionally family it up during the holiday, so 🙃🙃🙃🙃🙃🙃 Instead, I got to sleep infinitely better, not cook ever, not pay to do my laundry, be around my family and not combust (except that time I went to Ikea with my boyfriend and Mom and she embarrassed the fuck outta of me ;___;;;), eat good food with friends! Upgrade my phone, and  now my whole iTunes library finally fits ☺️☺️☺️

I also had the best nachos of the year, and they were vegan! The restaurant I was blessed to receive them at substitutes dairy cheese with cashew “cheese.” Cashews? I know it sounds suspect, but I swear by it: cashew cheese sauce is a fantastic substitute for regular nacho cheese, which I say as the King of Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce. As long as you can put good filler in the nachos and use your spices, it tastes fantastic! Perhaps vegan food gets a bad rap because white people have trademarked veganism, and they still refuse to use spices in their cabinet drawers

I made a strategic plan for 2K17, filled with ambitions, goals, and plan pathways along career, health, and personal lines. I think I’ve spoken about this on social media, but there is a strange irony in how folks are either apathetic or terrified out of their minds right now. Additionally, I feel like the world is accelerating faster than it actually is, via social media outlets reinforcing that feeling. I do believe in being well-informed, and I’m an obsessed information nerd; but it got super draining with time to read Sarah K or Paul Krugman’s tweets. Of course, the world is terrible and the coming admin (minus 11 days and counting) will induce some incredible suffering; no buts about it. Something does have to give, though. Will I feel better knowing everyday how bad things are going to get, even though I’m a historian and my background in US history already tells me I know what is coming, just with some tech updates? Or, do I just live my life, wanting and trying to hope for the best, but still expecting the worst? Furthermore, do I do the later and just prioritize my well-being and those of the folks I love?1 

Duh, the second one. Stress kills, I don’t want to be stressed out, and I need some good buffers that affirm my humanity while i’m working on my doctorate degree. And I already know what those things are + I left some of it by the wayside years ago because I thought I needed to be a “serious person…” which was actually some bs about how scholars become scholars and is some white supremacist trash tbh. So I will pick back up web-coding, re-teach myself Adobe Suite and drawing, learn new code languages, among other things (I see knitting, zine-making, and food crafts in my future). My domestic sphere needs to be my refuge from the world. It’s a brave thing to do!

Speaking of refuges, I think 2K17 will be the year that I do sever my ties with big social media. I think I’ve given up on the idea that I just delete them outright (lbr nobody wants to read e-mails anymore), but using them as small branches that re-route back here. I do believe we are being robbed and scammed out of our online lives, which are transformed into cash cows without compensation.2 Of course, I’ve written about this numerous times, but I’ve also realized that the importance of carving out a personal space online is the fact that all of those websites are a ticking timebomb: like Livejournal, they will also die. Interestingly enough, they may enact it themselves, by not taking care of their tr*ll problem. Anyway, that’s that. Point: let’s save ourselves lol.

#miscellaneous stuff: podcasts & footnotes & fandom
☁ Yuri!!! on Ice is perhaps the best anime of the 2010s. Watch it.
☁  Listen to dadfeelings: the episodes on Vegeta and Professor Utonium killed me.

☁ 1. Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Ezra Klein show 
2. Melissa Gira Grant‘s episode on Woodland Feelings expands a lot more on my social media net takeover feelings

byeeeeeeeeeeeee for now 💖💖💖

Internet Roundup // 4.12.16

Poster for Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue (1997)

You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole. – Warsan Shire

“Why do we have to live in an anime?” I’ve asked my friends this in frustration, cynicism, and humor the past month. Later, I switched it from “anime” to “Final Fantasy X.” I think you can keep swapping it for something else over and over. In most anime and Final Fantasy X, there is some semblance of a happy ending. No happy ending is guaranteed at this moment, and perhaps not in our own lifetime. Only the suggestion that we may perish en masse.

I believe in radical optimism: it may fluctuate, but it is always with me, eternal. It does not mean willful obtuseness, like in the Panglossian sense, but rather that understanding justice, accountability, and renewal as long processes, which improve despite the likely possibility of being unable to see it. James H. Cone elaborates on this in his book the Cross and the Lynching Tree.

See, whites feel a little uncomfortable because they are part of the history of the people who did the lynching. I would much rather be a part of the history of the lynching victims than a part of the history of the one who did it. And that’s the kind of transcendent perspective that empowers people to resist. That’s why King knew he was going to win even when he lost by human sense.

I believe in myself. ‘While There is Despair, I Am Not Hopeless.’

Photo credit: Clitselfie

☁ Normalize joy.
☁ This really is a great tribute to Jet Set Radio & Jet Set Radio Future.
☁ Why the folks who were dying to say how they really felt about the most vulnerable social groups’ visibility need to remember that they, too, are also a social group. This is the reason why they refuse. The United States is worse off for it.
☁ Stop blaming everything on young people. It makes baby boomers and their destructive bullshit invisible.
☁ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us to say what we really mean, no longer hiding behind pretty phrases to become smaller in the face of unequal cordiality.
☁ This episode of PhDivas really touched me. “Remember that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams[…]What if we were our own wildest dreams?”
☁ Chani‘s readings for me are, as always, on point:

No spiritual practice can be liberating if it isn’t also deeply challenging in its nature. To only listen to teachings that lull us to sleep isn’t spiritual in nature. Spiritual practice is meant to jolt us awake. Disrupting our lives. Interrupting our complacency. It is a call so loud that it stirs the same kind of howl within us. It engages us with the world. As it is. As imperfectly as it appears. As difficult as it can be to contend with[…]

There are certain roles that we can’t get out of. We have to play them out. We are someone’s child. We are someone’s family. We are someone’s hope. Someone’s point of envy. Someone’s misunderstanding. Someone’s wildest dream. The roles that we inhabit aren’t always negotiable. We can’t always get out of them. But how we inhabit them is entirely up to us.


Internet Roundup // 6.10.16

I am enamored with A Seat at the Table. It has acted as the needle that threads together my entire being, and all the links to my family, my spirit, my rage, my struggles, and power. It works beyond representation: not only do I see myself in the mirror, but I am recognized as regal. So much to unpack and learn, which I am gaining more context from Solange’s interviews and subsequent essays from others musing on this masterpiece.

A Seat at the Table stages artful, grounded pictures of the ephemeral. Phenomena like institutional racism and other indignities are entrenched in the fabric of the country. It is in the air here. We know its strategies well. The knowledge doesn’t preclude that at any given time, the air can coalesce into a “metal cloud,” can freshly distress you. A Seat uncovers these moments, gives loose shape to both them and the consequences they wreak. So much of this album documents, with colossal beauty, the way environments conspire to ruin or lift the moods of black people. For Mathew Knowles on “Interlude: Dad Was Mad,” the surroundings are the fallout from school integration. For Lil Wayne, clarified and vulnerable on the twinkling “Mad,” it’s general despair. Whatever the cause, Knowles makes room for the effects, the weariness, and the defiance. Knowles is unmoved by didacticism, by referential storytelling. She prefers traditions like anguish, annoyance, aggression, pride, haughtiness, and jubilance, and in that order. She maps the escalation of feeling.

Doreen St. Felix, “In Solange’s Room

She recognizes that anger can be a burden on our souls, that it can keep us from our true potential as black Americans. This is why she invites her mother, Tina Lawson, to remind us that there’s “so much beauty in being black.” The conversations with her parents harken to a black childhood of hearing your elders sit around the kitchen table, engaged in conversation, sharing grievances, and laughing over joyous shared experiences. When Solange named her album A Seat at the Table, it wasn’t about black people clamoring for a seat at the proverbial table of whiteness. After all, as Erykah Badu once sang, “Don’t feed me yours / ’Cause your food does not endure.” We don’t need a seat at any other table — we have our own. And once we’re nourished, we’ll juba down.

Ira Madison III, “Solange’s Feast

Diamond Sharp, “Sonic Healing
Bim Adewunmi, “‘A Seat At The Table’ Contemplates Black Life’s Contradictions
Judnick Mayard, “A Seat With Us: A Conversation between Solange Knowles, Mrs. Tina Lawson, & Judnick Mayard
Anupa Mistry, “An Honest Conversation with Solange Knowles

Cribs – Master P from The CF on Vimeo.

By the time this piece comes out, you’ll know that Master P actually narrates my album. I remember being a teenager, much like many teenagers at the time, and seeing Master P on MTV Cribs, and it being one of the most gaudy, incredible displays of wealth that I had ever seen in my life. It really impacted me that, out of all the houses on MTV Cribs, this was a black man from New Orleans, and he got this by completely staying firm in his independence. As a teenager, and my family being in the industry, I would hear my dad talk about No Limit and how they never sold their company and how they started from the trunks, from nowhere, from nothing. It left a huge impression on me. I saw a lot of my father in Master P, and him in my father, as young black men who dreamed really big and manifested those dreams. Although I, like everybody else, loved “Hoody Hoo” and TRU and all of the No Limit jams, I, at a very young age, felt a deep, deep connection with his story.

Solange on Master P, from “Solange Shares Her Inspirations for A Seat at the Table” by Tom Breihan

Other links:
Review: Michael Jackson’s Dangerous by Jeff Weiss
The Anti-Blackness of Interracial Porn” by CiCo3
The Final Countdown – Getting Ready for the final PhD Years” from PhDivas Podcast (XIne Yao & Liz Wayne)
First episode of season 2 of the Pineapple Diaries!