Se-lah: “We Are All Chris Brown: The Difference Between Accountability & Casting Stones”

I have really, really been troubled by the hoopla surrounding Chris Brown, much of which has been reignited by him crying on the BET awards this past week. I also have been really upset and hurt by both his violence against Rihanna and the reactions to his violence.

I have been most disturbed by the medium through which the collective has condemned Chris.

Not because I don’t believe he should be held accountable and called out for his violence against Rihanna, I believe that.The choices he made were horrible and unacceptable.

But what i have been shocked at, and continue to be shocked with, is our increasing compassion-less desire to demonize Chris for his violence coupled with the attempt to distance ourselves from being his reflection. I am concerned with the attempts to absolve ourselves collectively for creating and or contributing to the creation of the cultural climate where the situation with Chris Brown and Rihanna could occur. I am concerned about us elevating his violence to a status that somehow seems to be able to erase the myriad forms of violence we all have enacted and continue to enact, embody and perpetuate every day by virtue of various racial and gendered privileges, citizenship status as Americans, privileged economic realities and psychological, emotional and physical violence against ourselves and others .Just because your fist did not hit a face does not mean somewhere someone, because of your privilege, is not bleeding.

In other words: There are no clean hands here. And it seems we have chosen to forget that Chris and Rihanna are just fruits from the tree; While we must make clear that his violence is unacceptable, denying that we have the same propensity for violence within us and projecting onto him our collective aggression and fear of violence does not strike me as a fruitful endeavor.

Let me make this clear. Chris and his PR camps response to this situation have been painstakingly predictable. From that horrible interview with Larry King, to the troubling “Crawl” video, there definitely is a lack of personal accountability and manipulation that could make anyone raise an eyebrow or loose their lunch.

Yet is it surprising? And considering the dominant narratives for black masculinity in this country, where is he likely to receive an alternative narrative? And how much of this is about Racism? How many white male actors and sport celebrities have done horrible acts of violence to women only to be forgotten by morning?

Perhaps one reason this really upsets me is because in my work, I work with men who have abused women (arguably, all men have abused women in some way, but i digress).

And the one thing I have come to realize is that the men I work with are not monsters. They do not have horns. They are men who have made horrible choices. They are men who have done terrible, sometimes unimaginable things. Yet They are men who love their families in the best way they know how, they are men trying to make the best from what they have. They are men who grew up in a system that gave them a limited outlet for human expression as men and then blamed them for the embodying the varied logical conclusions of that sexist masculinist ideology. They are often wounded children who grew up to be wounded men. They are almost always, like each of us, carrying heavy wounds and beaten hearts. Hurt people hurt people, it could be possible no other way.

And this is not to absolve men of our responsibility.

It is instead an attempt to balance the scales.

Now to forgiveness. Because that has been a topic of alot of discussion. Forgiveness, is first and foremost for the forgiver. If we hold and carry the anger against white people, or men, or able bodied people, it is that anger which festers and grows within us and becomes a siphon on our own spirits. It creates dis “ease” in our own bodies and in our own emotional lives.

I believe It is in our best interest to learn how to forgive and not forget if we are to embrace our full capacity to love and not be hindered by past experiences and disappointments. The collectives choice to “forgive Chris” ( while still not forgetting and making him accountable hopefully) will only happen to the extent the collective can acknowledge our own deep seated violence and forgive ourselves. Am I suggesting the public forgive Chris? Or That Rihanna Forgive Chris? No. I am suggesting that we each make our own choice concerning that.

We also must recognize that unlearning violent behavior is a lifetime’s work. Any one who has ever went through behavorial counseling or any form of intervention knows that change is possible, but it is not easy.

On Compassion: for me, while compassion can be connected to forgiveness, is not always synonymous. Compassion for me means understanding. It means looking within, through and beyond a situation to see/feel the other person as whole. Compassion to me for Chris means recognizing what you don’t know and what you do. You do know That he grew up in our culture, with a rigid masculine concept, and also was a victim of domestic violence. You do know That he is an African American male, which adds another layer of cultural pain and a narrower allotted route for his expression.

Compassion means that even when we are sharp with our words, we use them for the sake of shifting hearts and not inflating our egos, which are often all too ready to help us “other” individuals and self righteously separate ourselves from those who express the most troubling qualities of the human psyche we all possess.

And let me name also, that a large part of our collective response to Chris is undoubtedly connected to the the pain and frustration we collectively share with male violence and our feelings of powerlessness or fatigue with being able to end it. Far to many of us have been victims, present company included, and for most women, this situation is only a marker of the daily lived reality of male “terrorism”.

Yet accountability without compassion is violence. I am not, and nor are you, better than Chris. Chris made a horrible choice. And all of us have the potential to or have already made choices that impacted and hurt others. We are all each others reflection & We are all Chris. And the more we resist our own potential to do what Chris did, (which is not ALL of him, just a behavior he enacted) we are destined to continue the pointless finger pointing that will lead us to more pointless ego centric conclusions.

I dont know why he cried. It could have been a number of reasons. But unlike the seemingly immediate conclusion most have reached that he had to have staged it; I would like to think he may have realized what he has done. I would like to think it was a cry for help that he, like so many black men send out that is unanswered by anything less than condemnation, homophobia and without actual support to be accountable. Whatever it is, I hope we can collectively help Chris do what he must do for the sake of restorative justice to Rihanna, the world, and to himself.

As your mirror,


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Se-lah: “We Have Failed You” An Open Letter to the Spirit of Roy Jones

*This article was originally written in 2010, for Roy Jones, but is offered up to all spirits who come to this earth, only to be terrorized for how they express life.

Full story on Roy Here:

Story on Jadon Here:


News Item:
According to WPIX-TV, Pedro Jones, 20, of South Hampton has been charged with first-degree manslaughter for hitting Roy A. Jones so hard with his fists that the infant went into cardiac arrest and died at a local hospital. Police say Jones said he was “trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl.”

Dear Roy,

I am so sorry.

We collectively have failed you.

Roy, we created the environment that allowed what he did to you to happen. We sat and still sit, in our homes and walk our streets each day, feeding the spirit of homophobia and sexist gender roles that provided the psychological space for what Pedro did to you to occur.

Everyday in some way still, we say how “men do this” and “girls do this”. We still punish boys who embrace fluidity in their movements. We still penalize young women who carry assertive self love within their stride; and we label as “freaks” those who express life beyond the socially constructed biological sex and gendered continuum.

We have forgotten that spirit knows no gender. We have forgotten that spirit is ultimately all that we are. And because we have forgotten, and because to many of those who remember have not spoken out, you have lost your life within this world.

We have failed you.

And we have failed each other. Each time we typecast a being’s expression based on gender, or race, or class, or ability or anything else. We have failed each other.

I wish I could say now that you are gone, that something will dramatically change. I wish i could say that the thought of your brown & red body and the pictures left of your smile, would incite us to cast off the chains of gender and hate.I wish I could say that all of us here are wise enough to know, that what Pedro did to you, was only an external manifestation of what someone did to him, and to what he has done to himself. I wish we could find the compassion to call him to transform and not just rot away; a fate that ultimately changes nothing and does little to help him see what he has done…

But we are here on earth Roy. And here, fear is the food that far too often lines our bellies. We have not grown beyond attacking, silencing, or destroying that which we do not understand or cannot control. We have been so clouded by the corroded spiritual cosmetics of capitalism that we cannot see or sense each other clearly. We do not know that we each live in each other’s faces. We do not know that we are each other’s hearts.

Perhaps one day we will Roy. Perhaps when and if you return to us, in whatever form, we will be ready to embrace you with open arms in whatever expression you embody. Perhaps when you return we will be able to love the mirrors that life holds up to us; so that we don’t take the life of those who reflect the parts of ourselves we fear. I so hope so. Until then, I can promise you Roy, I will not forget you, nor will I cease to continue attempting to co-create a world where you would be safe to return.

I promise.

For now,

Rest in love little one. May the terrors of your passing fall like embers in the nite from your memory and rest upon the people of earth’s consciousness; where they ultimately belong. May you nustle the breast of the Goddess and find both peace and warmth in his embrace. May your mothers and family mourn your memory in peace. May the last breath you took on earth, forever haunt the hollow bones of those who hate. May you know your life, however, brief, will not be a star unacknowledged in the night. In this life, as in all others, I am you.

I love you.

As your mirror,


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Yolo On Panel for Southern California Radio

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“Concretely” is an erotic poem video Co-starring Dancer Juel Lane and Directed by Alex-Sarah.

“It’s Time to Live Fearless Lives”: Yolo talks about how fear can be a friend that can guide us to ourselves.

“To My Teachers” A beautiful poem celebrating Black Women.

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Shade Kills: On LGBTQ Suicides: Yolo talks about how the LGBTQ community contributes to high rates of suicide in our communities and compassion based activism.

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Yolo performing at Urban Grind in Atlanta Georgia.

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“Who You Are Has Made Me Possible”: An Open Letter to Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs & Joseph Beam on World HIV & AIDS

Originally published World AIDS Day, 2010.

I remember when I first came across “In The Life” and watched “Tongues Untied”.

I cried both nights after. I cried because I had lived too long to never know you.
I was 23 then, struggling with my own sexuality and politics, working at AID Atlanta as an organizer, taking Women’s studies & African American studies courses at Georgia State University; unknowingly continuing the work each of you were apart of.
But before then..

I didn’t know you existed, and it hurt me…

I went to high school in rural Georgia, my home less than 4 miles from the high school you attended Marlon. When my same sex desires arose within me there were no models around me to know how to navigate the slurs. I didn’t know how to dodge the dangerous desires of homophobes or how to circumvent the chaos of conundrums which would become my identity. I thought I was the only one.

I didn’t know you existed Marlon; and it hurt me….
When I first started sharing poetry that spoke of my experiences and love for men, I was at Valdosta State University.
I went up to podium mics and read poems to silence and cold stares. I read poems about dicks and love and sweat and tears and blackness and wrongness and longing…

I challenged professors on race, gender and sexuality, cried out that we as black gay men had a right to exist. I knew I had to do it, but i thought I had no models. I attended numerous Black studies classes at Valdosta State, but they never told me your name..
I didn’t know you existed Essex, and it hurt me…

I came across “In The Life” and “Brother to Brother” at Georgia State University…. cried and rocked myself to sleep at the stories of loss, of reclamation,determination and dying. I cried because those books had been written so long ago, and so little had changed.

But I also cried because I never knew you existed Joseph..and it hurt me.

And it was AIDS related complications.. that took each of your physical forms away…

Liz Greene, an astrologer and feminist whose work I admire says “Nothing ever goes away, until it has taught us all that we need to know”.
But then I have to ask, why is HIV & AIDS still here and all of you gone?

I ponder the former often. If nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know then “What is it that HIV & AIDS has to teach us?”
Not surprisingly, I always come back to the same place. I always come back to spirit and to love.

You see, as you all know, western science has it’s limitations. It cannot heal nor nourish the spiritual aching of a civilization that festers in silence and allows massive inequity to abound and preventable conditions to persist. For if a “cure” or more appropriately, a vaccine, is found for HIV, throwing pills at us collectively will not erase the psycho-spiritual wounds that allowed HIV & AIDS to engulf our lives in the first place. It will not solve the problem. Because the problem is not HIV & AIDS, the problem is us. And the “cure” for AIDS, is as always, in the place where western science, and to a further extent western culture as a whole, would never have us look to; within ourselves.

Perhaps it has not dawned on us, but I know we can create the conditions to have safety for all of us to speak of our status and sexual desires Essex.
We may not have realized it yet, but we can still create food that nurtures and not negates our auras Joseph. We can have communities that affirm our self worth and offer us shelter Marlon. Systems that enrich the individual and lovingly support the collective are not beyond our reach… I know this. I feel this and I like to believe.. that you must have known it too?
In my spiritual understanding I believe we are here on earth to learn how to become effective creators. I believe that to be a creator is to learn the spiritual laws of action and consequence. It means to understand the intricate play between air (ideas), water (emotions), fire (will) and earth (matter).

I believe that If we could remember this, we could see how our attitudes about sex, hierarchy, genetically modified mass production, ego and greed have helped to create the AIDS pandemic. If we could remember this, we could step away from our self-centered destructive patterns and become conscious students of the universe and work collectively to create change.

But there is still so much to be learned… and so many who have so much power within them, yet unawakened.
As always..The human classroom continues…

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us all we need to know”

HIV & AIDS is still here. And now I realize in writing this letter , that each of you are still here with us as well. You are not “gone” because your physical form is no longer present. You still “are” and who you are has made me possible… You know what Joseph, I bet it was you that whispered in my ear, all those years ago to enroll in that Black Feminist Thought class wasn’t it? And Essex, was it you that nudged me towards the stage, to read poems about boi sex and spirit? Marlon, was that you swinging side by side with me, cursing and fighting off straight bois and “trade” in Hephzibah Ga? Have you each been conspiring to pull me closer to my comrades and the successors of your black queer/gay/same gender loving feminist political fierceness?

Was it you all that told me to go to New York to meet Kenyon Farrow? Steven Fullwood? Darnell Moore? Nathan, Herukhuti & Pharon? Was it you that sent me to Fire & Ink? That connected me to Ashon & Sendolo? That Planted me in Atlanta with Craig, Tim’m, Kevin Bynes, Shomari, Will, Micheal,Lamont & Charles?

My heart smiles and thinks so… I am so grateful for each of you. And take so seriously your words Essex: “When my brother fell I picked up his weapons.. “. Even though to me, none of you have ever fallen. You are always floating, ouroboros, over all of our shoulders, nourishing us with the light of your presence.

I was wrong earlier when i said “I didn’t know you existed and it hurt me”. I did know you…even as our lives never crossed on this plane, the intangible wires that link us never shed away..and now i know you were always with me pulling me towards myself. We were always with each other.

Thank you so much for being brothers. Who you are has made me possible. Who you are, I believe, will one day, make a world free of HIV & AIDS possible too.
I bet it. On everything I love…

As your mirror, (always)


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Se-lah: Provocation is A Powerless Concept: On Raz B & Chris Brown

(Photo source: TMZ)

Hours ago, twitter was abuzz with the heated exchange between Chris Brown and former B2k singer Raz B. The tirade began when Raz B tweeted:

“Im just sittin here Thinking how can n**gas like [Eric Benet] and [Chris Brown] disrespect women as Intelligent as Halle Berry, Rihanna.”

In Seconds, Chris brown retorted with: “Nigga you want attention! Grow up nigga!!! Dick in da booty ass lil boy.”

The exchange continued with Raz B questioning Chris Brown’s sexuality, suggesting Chris was on the “Down low” and Chris calling Raz B a “Homothug” and with….well the typical predictable banter that one could expect from an exchange between two black men around sexuality and masculinity. (We see it everyday).

This in of itself is not surprising, or new.

What is equally not too surprising, though perpetually troubling; is the collective twitter response to the exchange. Many Tweeters lashed out at Raz B, accusing him of starting the argument and provoking Chris. Childhood banter of “He started it” and the typical homophobic banter of “Dick in the booty boi” filled the twitter time line.

Others went for Chris; calling him out on his choice of rebuttals to Raz B, using words like “Buttplugged” to describe Raz’s molestation, and mocking him with “aww your butt hurt”.

As with all things, I believe that pop culture offers us an opportunity to see ourselves reflected in those who we enshrine as “celebrities”. And so it is my intention to take this moment, via this exchange between Raz B and Chris Brown, to share and illuminate some of my thoughts about the place where violence, sexual trauma, homophobia and fame intersect.

So. Let’s begin with Raz B.

Ever since Raz B announced that he was allegedly molested by Chris Stokes and forced to engage in sexual acts with members of B2K, his presence in urban music has been one faced with ridicule and homophobia. Raz has created several You Tube videos speaking with fans and recording conversations with various individuals involved in the alleged molestation.

The videos are complex; on one hand we can see Raz B truly struggling with his (alleged) sexual trauma; as well as some (possible) mental health challenges that such a situation could incur. On the other hand the recording of the videos and antics within them suggest that in some way, Raz B may also be, from his place of pain, using this video medium and his fame as a platform for attention. This dynamic is arguably what Chris is referring to in his initial response to Raz B. However if Raz’s reflection on the abuse of Halle Berry and Rihanna was really an attempt to create drama is left open to the interpreter.

Let me be clear; I think Raz B is a young brotha who is having a hard time with alot going on his life. Unfortunately, as opposed to the community seeing this and offering support and accountability; the black media has instead barraged him with homophobic jokes, called him “crazy” ( instead of being compassionate about any real mental health concerns that may be at hand) and focused expressly often, if not solely on his dynamics that seem to be attention seeking.

Sadly, when the black community sees black men in pain and acting out, we still have not learned how to help them. And Raz B is a perfect example. Like, Chris, he too saw his mother abused, and is grappling with a myriad of other challenges. He is not unique in his attention seeking behaviors though; black men in hip hop and R & b often use their music as a platform to communicate to the world their isolation, loneliness, suicidal thoughts and desperation in what i perceive to be a somewhat “subconscious””desire to receive help. But the black community, like the larger American culture; has become so accustomed to “Black Male Self Destruct Porn” that these trials are just business as usual, and perhaps most sadly to some; entertaining.

Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting his former girlfriend and media superstar Rihanna, has had his career met with an equally complex mix of challenges. Chris is also a victim of domestic violence, having watched his own mother being beaten as a child. After pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna, Chris and his PR camp came out with a video and several statements that attempted to “clean up” Chris’s increasingly demonized image; but many felt those videos often fell short of Chris claiming full responsibility.

The media predictably went in two directions; Demonizing Chris as a “monster” or in celebrating Chris’s abuse of Rihanna by using playground politics of “She started it” and the typical sexist banter that “women are bitches” and are deserving reciprocals of violence.

Having worked with Men Stopping Violence, a social change organization dedicated to ending male violence against women for years now, I know that Chris Brown is not a monster; Even though he has done horrible things. I’ve worked with thousands of men who have done what Chris has done and worse; and been able to see first hand that the men who act out violently against women are “everyday” men. They are my brothers,uncles and cousins. They are our bankers, officers, teachers and often ourselves.

(See my full article “We are All Chris Brown; The Difference Between Accountability & Casting Stones for more on this.)

In response to Chris’s angry tirade at Raz B many on twitter said: “I thought Chris went to counseling!” “Isn’t he “fixed?”,exposing the immature American understanding of both behavior change and trauma. With an “anger” issue no-one is ever “fixed”. In “anger management counseling” men can be given tools with which to help them learn better self control and a how to relate in a healthy way to their emotional body, but it is always their choice as to whether to use those tools or not. And like any behavior change, it is not easy. Whether it’s changing your diet or quitting smoking we all should know that.

Holding all the above; when Raz B said what he said to Chris, Chris made a choice to react with anger and homophobia. The reality is that no-one can “make you feel anything” they can only awaken feelings that already exist within you. This does not mean individuals are not accountable to their actions. But what it does mean I believe is that When Raz B said what he said, it’s apparent that anger and frustration were awakened within Chris. In response to that feeling, he made a CHOICE to tweet back angry comments that mock and “comedify” gay sex as something to be ashamed of; a common tactic of homophobia.

The twitter world says he was “provoked”. But provocation is a concept held and celebrated by powerless people who have not learned self control. It is a blaming tactic, designed to absolve the person who enacts violence of responsibility for thier choices. It is commonly seen in how Americans justify many of our actions:

“If you just wouldn’t do THIS, I wouldn’t do THAT.” or ” If you would just act right I wouldn’t HIT you.” It sets us up to be reactionary puppets as opposed to responsible human beings. It makes it so we can take the mirror away from ourselves and blame the “other”. It makes the “other” responsible for our behavior.

Only a person who has no or little self control and does not understand inner power can say that someone can “provoke” them to speak, move or act in a way that they themselves do NOT want too. The reality is we make a CHOICE in how we respond. People can do things that awaken feelings within us, but what we do in response to that feeling is OUR CHOICE. That choice may be ill informed; it may be immature; or it may even come “at lightning speed” when we “snap” but we still make that CHOICE. I can tell you that even men who say they just “snapped” can often recant their choices clear as day as they were making them.

Chris tweets at one point “I am not Homophobic, he’s just disrespectful”.Perhaps Raz’s actions were disrespectful ( or more so, hurtful to Chris and awaken a wound that he is still struggling with) but Raz’s actions are not a justification for Chris’s response nor his comments. And Chris saying things like “Butt plugged” help fuel a culture where gay people, young and old, are picked on for their sexual choices around anal sex(even though judging from the heterosexual porn market; heterosexual men are in love with and fascinated with anal sex much more then they dare publicly proclaim.).

Chris and Raz B are both young men who are struggling with fame, trauma, and embodying black masculinity. While each has arguably used their fame to either avoid accountability or exploit it; our culture and we ourselves have often helped them. We have also helped perpetuate a world where black men who are evidently in need of emotional support and a healthier masculinity are left empty handed, forced to fight out a palate of projections and recycle the destructive black male narrative while many of us look on in amusement and almost always without accountability to ourselves.

Instead of sitting back and snacking on pop-corn; perhaps it would be useful for us to find ways to support Chris and Raz B in their own various challenges and growth. They are not monsters. They are our brothers. And like our brothers and just like me and YOU, they have made poor choices from their pain. Chris will never understand how his statement impacts LGBTQ people, or be able to deal with his anger and heal, or understand the impact his actions had on Rihanna and the world community until we help him do so. Raz B will never be able to heal from his alleged molestation and wounds, drama attention seeking and pain unless we help him do so. We are each other and We need each other. And until we realize that, It is unlikely that much of anything will ever change.

As your Mirror,


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