By Esther Armah | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Thursday, June 20, 2013.
"The woman who loved me for me told me I had a dysfunctional way of showing I love someone. That if I needed to display hate to show that I loved, I never really loved, I was truly lost."
Crunched over a computer, with his hair braided into two cornrows that touch his shoulders, Jason Davis writes a letter about lessons in love. The letter continues, "My very first love was at the age of 16, when I was accepted by a group of brothers of the gang I joined. We learned and adopted the idea of love in the form of fighting, lying, stealing." Jason stands around 6 feet tall. He's chocolate and fine. His upper body is covered in deep, deep scars from years of self-mutilation. The scars are interrupted by skin: some scars came from rage, some from loss, some from hurt. Jason started cutting himself at age nine. No one in his family knew. Mom was working hard -- a workaholic, he explains. Pop? He was a mean drunk who beat both him and his mama. Years ago, Jason was on Delaware's Most Wanted List. Now, he's a daddy of four, who works, talks, and writes to persuade young men that while a yearning for love might prompt them to join a gang, it may also open them to an intimate relationship with violence, death, jail and trauma. Jason is finding his way as a pop. He's being challenged, and he's working to heal.
His letter is one of many written by men for a special multi media, multi-platform campaign to launch theSWAGspot, a digital village via Tumblr, a safe space for intimate public conversations that tackle traditional masculinity. Through letters, notes, poems, and stories, men talk, share, exchange, and write about love, forgiveness, regret, rage, hurt, power, partnership, heart break, dishonesty, leadership, soul, being a man, a pop, a brother, an ally and so much more. It is sacred space created to elevate men's emotional consciousness and to get down to doing the emotional work that is needed to transform self, relationships, institutions, leadership and our movements. On June 12, a live event in New York City's Dwyer Cultural Center in Manhattan will feature Jason Davis in conversation with award winning journalist Jeff Johnson and poet and lecturer Mo Beasley.
Why theSWAGspot? Girls are dying. And men and boys are killing them while other men and boys stand by and watch. Statistics reveal epidemics: homicide of women by men, sexual assault, rape. Facts and figures, however, don't capture feelings -- a necessary connection if we want to effect real change. The deadly connection of the personal to the political, cultural as well as to policy is making traditional masculinity a mass murderer of bodies, spirits, and possibilities. We're witnesses to death via rap lyrics by brothers, through policy written by white Republican politicians, and through tradition in the military; rape culture is complicit in all these cases and spaces.
Why theSWAGspot? Because boys are dying. And men and boys are killing them: sexually, spiritually, emotionally, and lyrically. Why theSWAGspot? Because women are held responsible for all the violence inflicted upon them. Why theSWAGspot? Because traditional masculinity has put and kept the full spectrum of human emotional expression in a chokehold. Women have led the movements to end violence against women. Men and boys must become a part of those movements too-- to not only end violence against women but also to deal with their own traumas. One often reflects the other. Why theSWAGspot? Every dude wants swag. Let's re-imagine and re-define it with heart, soul, truth, and emotionality.
How do you socialize more men to publicly challenge other men and to engage and exchange with each other when offensive dangerous behavior occurs? How do you do that? How do you encourage, inspire, demand, and challenge more men not to deflect their own and others' abusive and violent actions, but to focus on that behavior? How do you encourage many more boys and men to speak out, to stay standing, to do more than the absolute very least or nothing at all when it comes to the global avalanche of violence against women? How do you transform a masculinity that normalizes violence, celebrates aggression and anaesthetizes feelings? By doing the emotional work. For me, that is emotional justice -- a space where untreated trauma is given voice; where space is made safe so tough truths can be told and change can happen. Public intellectual, scholar and writer Dr Brittney Cooper has said: "there can be no emotional justice without the equal division of emotional labor." In order to divide the labor, we must all first do the emotional work. That means creating a process in which men can engage with each other, for each other and about each other in a format where geography, economics, titles don't create boundaries or barriers: that's theSWAGspot.
Jason is one of many men writing letters to their younger selves on theSWAGspot about the lessons they've learned and the legacies they've lived and are seeking to heal. There are letters by bishops, doctors, pastors, organization CEOs, teens on Rikers Island, among others. The men are black and white, of different ages and generations. Some letters are signed while others are not. They share poems and stories too. This digital village on Tumblr is a safe space to have tough conversations. There are organizations and individuals doing various forms of this work: A Call To Men, MANup Inc., Men Can Stop Rape, Brothers Writing to Live Campaign are just a few. theSWAGspot partners with them to create a bigger village with easy access.
theSWAGspot uses the digital revolution to wage an emotional one. It takes the process of mentoring, parenting, loving, challenging, and disciplining and pours it into a space that men have access to, can communicate within, and, importantly, can explore. Process is messy; it's rarely neat or sweet. Shit gets said that is painful and powerful. Men need what women have been socialized to create -- safe space to emote. We built it.
Welcome to theSWAGspot.
Esther Armah is the creator of ‘Emotional Justice Unplugged’, the multi platform, multi media intimate public arts and conversation series. She’s a New York Radio Host for WBAI99.5FM, a regular on MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes and an international journalist, Playwright and National best-selling author. Follow her on twitter @estherarmah For Emotional Justice, go to: www.facebook.com/emotionaljustice. She is the author of the upcoming book: Emotional Justice; A Kiss Goodbye To Struggle.