Why Maroon Community is Not Enough, For Me

{image by Brian Hughes Kasoro, taken 2014 while leaving Old Nanny Town (now called Moore Town), a village in the Blue Mountains of Portland Parish, north-eastern Jamaica, used as a stronghold for Maroons (escaped enslaved Africans) led by Granny Nanny; the town held out against repeated British attacks before being destroyed in 1734.}

The word Maroon means to "abandon or isolate with little hope of ready rescue or escape". Many of us in the past, and presently, clutch maroonage as a necessary tool for survival. But as I've become more and more intentional, the older I've gotten, about building community, I've realized that accepting a reality with "little hope of ready rescue or escape" is not something I want to do. Some people are built to dig in and fight forever. My inner voice tells me that, while I am ABLE to do that, I am actually meant to run, to find a most-ideal environment, to build, and then to defend. My inner voice tells me that I am not a maroon. The question is, does that matter? Does the world require maroonage from me regardless? Or is there a place where I can live outside of maroonage?

My last post on Audre Lorde (link) was about her struggle with merging her personal identity with her political one. Further, it was about her recognizing that her two identities, and the friends/comrades of her two identities, had conflicting characteristics.

That is something I can relate to. I have people in my life who have me in common, but little else between them to share and bond around.

As I continued reading Lorde's book "Zami" I found she talks more about her experiences with community, being black, being woman, being lesbian.

So here's another excerpt that peaked my interest. She's describing her "community" when she was a younger woman:

"Together, we formed a loosely knit, emotionally and socially interdependent set, sharing many different interests, some overlapping. On the periphery there existed another larger group of downtown gay-girls, made up of congenial acquaintances and drinking buddies and other people's past lovers, known by sight and friendly enough, but not to be called upon except in emergencies, when of course everybody knew everybody else's business anyway."

Then she goes on to talk about being afraid to confront the differences -- specifically, racial -- between her and her white lover... because she knew the differences might threaten the love they had built on their similarities:

"This was the first separation, the piece outside of love. But I turned away short of the meanings of it, afraid to examine the truths difference might lead me to, afraid they might carry Muriel and me away from each other. I sometimes pretended to agree with Muriel, that the difference did not in fact exist, that she and all gay-girls were just as oppressed as any Black person, certainly as any Black woman."

Then she relates the two -- the alienation in her personal life and the alienation in her communal life:

"Every one of the women in our group took for granted, and would have said if asked, that we were all on the side of right. But the nature of that right everyone was presumed to be on the side of was always unnamed. It was just another way of silently avoiding having to examine what our living positions were within our small group of lesbians, dependent as we were upon each other for support. We were too afraid those differences might in fact be irreconcilable, for we had never been taught any tools for dealing with them. Our individuality was very precious to each one of us, but so was the group, and the other outsiders whom we had found to share some more social aspects of our loneliness. Being gay-girls without set roles was the one difference we allowed ourselves to see and to bind us to each other. We were not of that other world and we wanted to believe that, by definition, we were therefore free of that other world's problems of capitalism, greed, racism, classicism, etc. This was not so. But we continued to visit each other and eat together and, in general, share our lives and resources, as if it were."

Part of why I love the way she talks about it is because she's so open and honest about who she is and how she connects in many ways to different people, but also how in many ways she fears how different she is from the very people she wants to love, or at least support.

This connects to maroonage for me because in my generation blackness has changed from when Audre Lorde was a youngster like me. I care less about the racial differences between me and white people, but much more about the differences between me and other black people, whom I am supposed to want to build community with because we share oppression and struggle. Everyone from black Stock Brokers, to black Emcees, to black Teachers, to black Lawyers, to black Doctors, to black Scholars, to black hustlers, black poor, black rich. Because we're black, or of color, I'm supposed to build community with them all, or at least try to, for the sake of our common survival.

I view this reality as the maroon reality, in my modern time of course. Those who have recognized the oppression we face, "abandon or isolate" ourselves, "with little hope of ready rescue or escape" from the idea that our fate is oppression. And because we accept this as the reality of this place we find ourselves in, we come together primarily for the sake of surviving that oppression by keeping alive whatever we have held on to of our former selves.

Maroonage is a status of desperation to me. In nature, no one chooses to maroon themselves. It is widely recognized as a non-ideal way to live. It is a necessity.

In Maroonage, it seems that, because the urgency requiring the maroon community to exist in the first place takes precedence over all other concerns, many things between members of what is essentially a community built on, necessary yet still reactionary, unity, go unexamined.

In our reality here in America, we have always needed to build communities like this because, frankly, we need each other.

But what about when we are no longer physically held captive by a place or people? What about a reality where we now have the (perhaps limited) freedom to AT LEAST go where we want to go and build what we want to build, how we want to build it, without compromise to an "extreme other". Yes, it will still require defense, but we have the freedom to try to build more permanently and to try and defend more permanently.

If we choose to pursue this type of community as an alternative, or perhaps a companion, to our maroon communities, then we must ask different types of questions. In maroonage, the only real question necessary for membership is the question of loyalty to the survival of the community. Even that loyalty comes in varying amounts. But if folks prove that they at least have a drop of loyalty to their community -- from teachers, to retail workers, to rappers, to drug dealers, to athletes, to corporate workers, to blue collar workers -- they are granted membership in this big umbrella called "our people". After all, given the relative sad state of cohesive and organized unity across urban America in 2009, we need as many members as we can get in various "community and collective activities", most of which exist to try and help us remember, or prove to us, the importance of community that we seem to have forgotten.

Essentially, a large part of community work in 2009 is simply a marketing campaign FOR community. Society at large has deemed it useless in solving essential problems, so the believers among us have to battle a new set of "triple evils" -- individualism, capitalism, and materialism -- for the minds of "our people", with the hopes of proving that community is an effective weapon in the war for peace, freedom, and prosperity. Meanwhile, every day, the neo "triple evils" seem to be gaining new members to their gang.

But outside of maroonage, there are questions of choice and preference. About what to eat, how to work, how to conduct business, when to enact justice and how, and so many more nuanced questions that people coming together out of choice have to answer in order to truly have sustainable unity. Outside of maroonage, a common enemy or oppressor to defend against is not enough to hold a community together.

Outside of maroonage, building community becomes a process of finding your tribe again. Building family. True mini-nations. Not just states with defense capabilities. I'm all for tribalism. I think it's a natural desire in humanity. Finding the TYPE of people you want to live with and raise your children with. Identifying the human characteristics (cultural, spiritual, political) that really matter to you. Humans build hierarchies based on what they find most important in life. Muslims don't eat pork, but to some people eating or not eating pork is not an important characteristic to build community around. Polygamy, patriarchy, matriarchy, Christianity, diet, hunting, farming, consumerism -- there is a whole host of characteristics that some people can ride with and others just cannot live with.

I believe that family is the foundation of the community and of any entity larger than community.

I do realize, however, that acts of maroonage are necessary at some larger stages of unity. Take a federal or national military for example. Various tribes that do not share many characteristics in terms of how they choose to live can abandon their localities to come together in order to defend the federation or nation of tribes as a whole. Those who play this role, sacrifice their former lives and they become soldiers -- an individual act of maroonage in the context of stability.

My inner voice can live with that, and even sees this as ideal in some ways.

But provided that, sustainable unity STARTS with the family in my view. And family starts with self. The love and knowing of self leads to a knowing of someone who matches you. Ideally you would create a family with such a person. Or you would marry into this family because you recognize it as a sustainable, or compatible, union of individuals and families.

Compatibility's primary function is as a predictor of sustainability.

Odds are that the community formed by these families, matched by compatibility, would be sustainable, precisely because the formation of the community of families was built through careful and deliberate consideration of compatibility, or simply matching whichever characteristics are most important to the families, before unity.

This is natural community. This is how I believe our ancestors -- and really all indigenous people in touch with the land and their natural environment -- were able to build sustainable community.

In maroonage, we are much more lenient. We are much more tolerant of differences and contradictions in cultural, spiritual and political characteristics, because our need for unity surpasses the desire to have unity around these things. And maroon communities serve a vital function in the world we live in. But it is also important to build organic community, that is AT LEAST less influenced by man-made oppressive socio-political forces.

There is a natural human escalation of war that has led communities to form more and more based on fear and defense than based on proactive desire and compatibility matching. While I recognize that this natural escalation is hard to prevent in a realistic world, I do think that, like economic inflation, we should not merely accept it totally and not resist it. We ought to resist it by continuing to attempt to reinforce organic processes -- similar to how a free market theorist might think of capitalism, or how an organic farmer might continue to adjust to changes in his soil and climate instead of opting to use artificial solutions such as pesticides. There may be a time where the Earth is so fucked up that metaphorical pesticides are our only option for survival. But is that time now?

And so, I guess the essential question is, do you believe that such a reality of organic community, or AT LEAST more-organic community, is possible? Do you believe that there are places on Earth where communities can form even semi-sovereign unity based on shared cultural, spiritual and political characteristics instead of fear of a common oppression? Or is the entire world a capitalist imperialist plantation now, requiring maroonage everywhere, requiring us to sacrifice our desire for tribes, compatibility, and community-that-matches-our-personal-characteristics, for the simple existence of community itself?

This essential question is what you have to ask yourself. Your answer will then inform your choices on relationships, family, community and any other form of combining people into a common entity.

I think I've found have my answer. I believe.

So Ima listen to my inner voice.

Ima run, Ima find a most-ideal environment, Ima build, and then Ima defend.

The irony, of course, being that not all people think of such things as important or necessary. And that's okay, because it HAS to be okay. There must be room in life for that to be okay for those who chose it. Some prefer to be fully present with the reality they are presented with. Others prefer to imagine something different. Most of us are somewhere in between. Torn. But the desire to envision something different is something that we, even those of us who are torn, feel the need to manifest -- even if it's as slow as one act at a time. To be clear, being a visionary is not a messianic task, it's a simple preference in living.

Maroon communities must constantly discuss how to reach into the plantation and lend a hand to the plantation communities they choose to remain on the periphery of. And they must constantly discuss the most effective tactics toward building and sustaining the maroon community itself.

Thus, oftentimes, maroon strategies must involve a new "double consciousness" of sorts. An effective maroon must change just enough to be free, but must also stay connected with oppression enough to be recognizable to those still on the plantation. Currently, many of us are attempting to be effective maroons. My question for myself is whether or not I can sustain this, and for how long. My inner voice craves total liberation. Yet, as a maroon, I cannot achieve it.

Unlike Dead Prez -- acknowledged maroons -- I do not believe that we are all under the same levels of oppression. And I don't believe we should lie to ourselves for the sake of "solidarity marketing". We ought not run from this truth, as it disrespects the efforts of those communities and families who HAVE consciously and intentionally and directly fought so that their local communities could be a bit less oppressed than the communities of those who have put up less resistance.

We forget that the struggle is first a local one. And "territory" is freed one locale at a time. Thus, like liberation struggles against colonialism in Africa, one locale may gain certain freedom from certain types of oppression before another.

Yes, communities outside of maroonage must struggle more with compatibility than maroons. This alone costs time and resources and renders these communities further outside of the center of solidarity struggle. But this difference brings similarity. Because it requires these communities outside of maroonage, like maroon communities, to constantly be discussing how to stay connected and lend a hand -- both to communities that choose to stay in maroonage and, like maroon communities themselves, those communities still living on the plantation under direct oppression.

We can have unity, without being uniform.

There is room to both obey our inner voices and achieve our total liberation, without abandoning the struggle -- if we do so conscious of those we separate from and conscious of our ability to continue to serve the collective struggle despite distance, metaphorical or physical.

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}
by Brian Hughes Kasoro

Originally Posted 4/20/2009

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