Not All Vampires Live in Transylvania or Texas or . . .

The last time I worried about vampires was when I was about eleven years old. Of all of the shape-shifting monsters, vampires were the scariest because they could creep in through the creaks and crevices of your house as a barely discernible mist. They could also be deceptively charming and beautiful before they sucked the life out of you. Well, here I am again worried about vampires. But this time the vampires are not the darkly seductive creations of Ann Rice or Bram Stoker.  This time they are not dwelling in Transylvanian castles (although they are intent on entrancement); these vampires dwell on our school boards, in our houses of government, and in our neighborhoods. They are coming in through the cracks and crevices of our body politic, and they will suck the life out of us. 

I live in a state the pundits call blue, but the vampires creep in as a “colorblind” mist. They enshroud themselves in mystifying language in order to get about the business of their life-sucking mission. You can be sure that vampires are on the ballot in any election. In my smallish town in my blue state, they appear under the guise of Parental Rights Natick.  As much as I hate giving them any acknowledgment or visibility, I know that squeezing my eyes shut and pretending not to see them won’t make vampires disappear. In fact, we absolutely must learn how to see them. They look so “normal” and sound so anodyne and American apple pie-ish.  But here’s the thing: In a justice-denying society it is necessary to be very suspicious of anything that looks and sounds like American apple pie “normal”.  So let’s pierce through the mist/ mystifications and take a look at their life-sucking mission:

  • To defund the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance
  • To exempt students from diversity-oriented, anti-bullying assemblies
  • To erase queer and trans people from the curriculum and the community

I’m not going to lie: I had a real “WT*&@#!”  moment when I received the notice warning about their existence and their mission. My first impulse was to hurl profanities (and maybe rocks) at these folks who are “standing up for their parental rights” by denying the rights of other families.  Of course, I know that rock-throwing won’t work any better than squeezing my eyes shut pretending that the “parental rights” folks aren’t there. In fact, rock-throwing could land me in that notorious mass incarceration statistic.  Instead a line from the Marvin Gaye (can we say his last name?) classic kept thrumming through my head: “It makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands”.  That might be an understandable starting reaction, but it’s not a sustainable response. Vampires are in it to win the long game, so must we be too. As the timeless Negro Spiritual exhorts us, we must walk together and not get weary. 

A good first step for us is to recognize that the vampire power-over playbook is as old as what we call American history. It contains all of the stratagems required to build a justice-denying society.  Andrew Johnson did it by enshrining states’ rights; specifically, by dismantling Reconstruction Era protections and restoring the rights of states to oppress formerly enslaved people. In his failed attempt to veto the 1866 Civil Rights Act, he argued that “favoring” the formerly enslaved (you know – black folks whose kidnapped bodies and stolen labor actually built the country) was discrimination against worthy, intelligent immigrants (read: white people who had been neither kidnapped nor enslaved but were subject to naturalization laws). Although he lost that skirmish, he won the long game. He was among the first of a whole panoply of anti-black racists to commandeer the language of justice to perpetuate injustice. 

A fundamental strategy in the power-over playbook is to create a fear-inciting narrative that concretizes and justifies inequality.  Sound familiar? Given all of the vampiric legislation that has passed in state houses across the country in the past year (e.g. anti-literacy, anti-women, anti-hair), it should. According to the “parental rights” folks in my town, responsible education means “academics”, not “indoctrination”. The trouble is, just like old Andrew Johnson, they reserve for themselves the right to (a) define terms by which education may be delivered, (b) discern when education morphs into indoctrination, and (c) control the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. In one of their documents, they pontificate about protection of religious beliefs and guarantees that students are not exposed to materials that contradict their parents’ values. I’m pretty sure they’d disagree, but that sounds a lot like advocacy for intergenerational ignorance.  They claim that they want school policies that value the safety of all students, but somehow “all” doesn’t mean the child with the XXYY chromosome. It makes me wonder if their religious beliefs attribute DNA sequences to sinister choices the child or those “other” parents (those without parental rights) made. Does that sound ludicrous and hypocritical?  It is.  But vampires never let sanity or honesty get in the way of their mission.

Somehow vampires can hold values that compel them to advocate life for zygotes and death for real, live, breathing, heart-beating women. In a recent New York Times piece, Nikole Hannah-Jones reported that a California “equal rights” group sued the city to eliminate prenatal care stipends to Black and Pacific Islander women. Even though national statistics show that these women are four times more likely to die in childbirth, they argued that attempts to reduce this disparity violated the constitutional 14th Amendment rights of all women. Does that sound perverse? It is. But again, vampires never let a little thing like malevolent distortion get in their way. In fact, it is one of their favorite ploys. Another case in point: the superintendent of Houston public schools defended the decision to deprive Darryl George of an education because of his “disruptive” hair. In his own words, being “American requires conformity for the positive benefit of unity”.  Conformity to what?  Is the district more “positively unified” if this student is forced to sport a buzz cut?  A shaved head? So far, Darryl George has suffered humiliation and has been denied education, but does his hairstyle put his citizenship at risk as well? Does that sound dangerous? Fascist? It does because it is. But if we get caught hyper-focusing on the lunacy, the hypocrisy, or the malevolence of vampires, we miss the point.  They suck the lifeblood out of the citizenry for one purpose only: to fortify their supremacist position in their rank ordering of human worth. 

What we must know is this: vampires will protect their access to any resource that marks them as superior creatures. They create legislation and policies that secure their entitlement to the best and the most resources (e.g. health, education, housing, air), and they do it all without calling those policies affirmative action.  Not only do they protect their entitlements, but they also reserve the right to circumscribe the conditions to which their “inferiors” must submit in order to prove their deservingness for access to resources. There is a certain vampiric logic to it all. I was once told that successful theft depends on believing that the object (e.g. land, labor) is already and rightfully yours. 

What we must learn is how to read their playbook. We must learn to decipher the codes and the symbols that signify the ultimate goals of power-over vampirism. Otherwise, we end up distracted by the sideshow. Otherwise, we end up almost entertaining ourselves with impotent outrage. We need only remember the long-term damage (i.e. the Supreme Court) that the 45th resident of the White House was able to accomplish while many of us were hyper-focused on his idiotic and infuriating antics. In a justice-denying society, idiotic antics can be very useful in keeping the power-over narrative in place. Those same antics can stoke the fears and the cannibalistic self-interest that weaken the body politic – much as an auto-immune disorder can weaken our physical bodies.  I like the way Bishop William Barber puts it: we must learn to take back the mic. We can’t do it by ourselves, although there is always something each of us can and must do. We must resist the power-over narrative wherever or however it presents itself.  We must insist on co-authoring a narrative of shared humanity. And we must persist in cultivating our capacities to walk together and not succumb to weariness. We must resist, insist, and persist. All that – and it still makes me want to holler.

1 thought on “Not All Vampires Live in Transylvania or Texas or . . .”

  1. nicholas petron

    since the election is today, i suggest you show
    up to vote with pockets full of garlic & acceptance
    for all.

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