As Venus prepares to retrograde in Capricorn, I can’t help but think about what she and her retrograde signify in our larger American society. One manifestation of my recent thoughts on her comes from my studies in Islam. In Islamic thought, there’s the concept of Allah (G-d) as reflective of two principles: Tanzih and Tashbih. With the concept of Tanzih, everything in the Cosmos is unlike Allah as Allah is incomparable and transcendent. It’s the opposite of thinking that God is everything and everything is God. With the concept of Tashbih, everything relates or is like Allah in that Allah has those traits or is the source/embodiment of a trait that we express as well, like love or mercy. One interesting distinction is that Tanzih often emphasizes how Allah has distance from us through wrath or judgment. Tashbih relates more to the mercy and compassion of Allah.
If you’re curious about how Venus relates to race, racism or injustice, you might want to start here with Nick Dagan Best’s amazing correlation between Venus cycles and African American history. In that blog post, Nick does an amazing job of illustrating that the similitude function of Venus warps in American polity when it comes to race. It becomes a dissimilitude instead of a similitude. This dissimilitude between what’s perceived as Black & White is what’s at the heart of the unjust experiences of Black people. In fact, it was a few weeks before the last Venus retrograde in May 2012 that much of Black America was mobilized to bring George Zimmerman to justice for the murder of Trayvon Martin in late February of that year. And then he got off this year. I’m not in the position to debate the measure of justice Trayvon’s family received as I didn’t watch the case closely. However, it’s become apparent to many that the “Stand your ground” laws and practices are coming under question, like with the cases of Marissa Alexander in Florida (again) and Renisha McBride in Detroit, MI. With the McBride case about to go to trial, I find it all too strong a parallel with what we were contending with during Venus’ last retrograde.
But what set me flowing about Venus retrograde as a manifestation of Tanzih or what’s incomparable is the rash of “blackface” shenanigans we had this past Fall. Here’s a piece from fellow Ebony.com writer Jamilah Lemieux about it. But a thought occurred to me this year about blackface that hadn’t before: it would seem some White folks find being a Black person in costume incomparable to their own experience without wearing brown or black make-up. That’s bizarre since I’ve never donned any White make-up to be any number of White people I’ve been in my life. It’s as if the color of a Black person’s skin becomes the only pathway to finding a shared point of humanity in “being” or looking like the person. This not only shows a paucity of imagination, but empathy as well. It’s as if for these folks, some of them even good hearted in wanting to pay tribute to some notable Black person, Blackness is a thing so incomparable to their own Whiteness, so tanzih in their own experience, that they can not enter the guise of someone else without painting themselves. That’s profoundly sad. It’s not even maddening for me anymore.
I’m pretty sure the answer is not just in telling folks to step out their “Tanzih” zone and reach for more Tashbih. I think we can find a more nuanced way to appreciate space for both. That’s what made me think of Shakespeare’s Love sonnet 130:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
What’s beautiful about this sonnet is how Shakespeare expresses how we can have the idea of the incomparable yet find love and appreciation all the same without denigration. A love sonnet is naturally under the auspices of Venus. A Venus in Capricorn is an astrological marker for how Venus seeks to find and experience value in the world of competence and materialism. Taken together, I hope we experience events, whether it’s the McBride case or Alexander case, or, heaven forbid, something new, that help us bridge the gaps in our imagination and empathy. That we find more space for tashbih and reserve the space for the incomparable for Supreme values that borrow from the Divine, but can never embody wholly as humans. One of those values is not your skin color, though.
Happy Full Moon!
Here’s how the Venus retrograde may manifest for some by Sun, moon or rising sign this week:
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