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Real talk, 'radical love,' and plugged-in black consciousness

Black History Month
By PHILIP EIL  |  February 12, 2014

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STRIVING FOR EQUITY Clifton.

It took an extraordinary amount of time at the beginning of our recent interview with Reza C. Clifton to catalogue everything that she’s doing. Having recently stepped down as the communications coordinator for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, she is now a full time freelance writer, digital storyteller, and “cultural navigator,” she says.

This means that she has a photography exhibition called “Music Moves” opening Saturday, February 15 at the Mount
Hope Neighborhood Association’s Barros Gallery in Providence. It means she recently released the third issue of her zine, 3 AM Is the New Black, from which she read the poem, “Raised on Subtle Forms of Black Consciousness,” at the kickoff for RISD’s 2014 MLK series. It means she is the producer/host of no less than three regular audio programs: “Venus Sings Radio” on WRIU (every fourth Tuesday from 1 to 3 pm), “Sonic Watermelons” on Brown Student and Community Radio (Tuesdays from 7 to 8 pm), and the syndicated radio show and video podcast, “Reza Wreckage 10 in 10” (YouTube and Vimeo). It means that she is currently running her own “Writing for Survival” workshop series, which will start afresh in March at the Warwick Public Library. And it means that, amidst it all, she’s posting prodigiously on Twitter (@rezaclif), Tumblr (ambitiousblackfeminist.tumblr.com), and Facebook (facebook.com/3amblack).

Having discussed all of that, it was finally time to talk black history. That is, until we took a detour for Clifton to define a term she uses to describe herself: “political rasta.” (Despite a fervent interest in justice, peace, love, equality, ending racism, and caring for the environment, “I’m really not into electoral politics,” she says. It’s an approach she says she shares with her favorite roots reggae musicians. “Ninety-eight percent of [the music] is talking about peace, justice, ending racism, ending white supremacy, and has nothing to do with electoral politics.”)

What follows are edited and condensed excerpts from our conversation.

YOU SPOKE AT THAT RISD EVENT ABOUT “RADICAL LOVE.” WHAT IS RADICAL LOVE? I think it’s putting love first and trying to find ways to institutionalize love and to make love, and thinking through a lens of love, automatic. I don’t see a lot of it implemented. That’s kind of my problem.

This is why the institutionalization of radical love [matters]. You’re driving around Narragansett. Your dad’s a cop. Another officer stops you. He sees you’re Joe’s kid. “Ah, you’re just messin’ around. It’s not a big deal. I’m gonna let you go, ’cause you’re Joe’s kid. It’s fine.” You’re going to grow up to one day be this really great person. Because you’re Joe’s kid.

Same cop pulls over a person of color, all they see are the prison uniforms. All they see is the kid who got suspended and expelled. All they see is the criminalized rapper who we are promoting on TV. All they are seeing is every single stereotype.

SO A RADICAL LOVE APPROACH WOULD BE TO ACT LIKE THIS WERE JOE’S KID AND LET HIM OFF WITH A WARNING? Exactly.

Let him off, or arrest Joe’s kid. Be consistent.

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