It has taken me a long time to write this and I thought perhaps it was because I was so frustrated, angry or disappointed by it.
But what I have learned during this most affirming time in North Carolina, that in fact I was deeply hurt. My feelings, my heart and my spirit were assaulted during that experience. And it could have been avoided, it could have even transformed in real time. But the folks in charge wouldn’t allow it, despite the surging of energy in the room. I felt tokenized, exploited and silenced, so I left early and didn’t return – until now.
But I want to, I need to write about this because I want to warn us all, to affirm us all, and to remind us to trust our intuition, and to conserve our energy in order to nourish ourselves and our communities.
That is the thing with oppression, it is violent and violence hurts. But unlike a hit to the face, which can be treated directly, with intention. You can ice that until the swelling goes down. Oppressive violence, whether it is overt, subtle or systemic doesn’t operate in isolation, it becomes chronic, exists across centuries and can seed itself on our insides active or dormant, lodged in our subconscious. It is a parasite. You may not even notice that it is there at first. It may have already had time to multiply inside you, trick your body and brain to believe that it is supposed to be there. That its presence is somehow normal. It may have you doubting yourself, your very right to exist - but my folks it is real.
I have had many elders in my journey recount that prior to segregation, at least you know what was good. You knew that the government didn’t believe you were human. But now, they want us to believe that it is somehow a post-racial time, that all these experiences are things of the past, figments of our overactive, understimulated imaginations. And that all the power lies in you. If you fail or succeed, it based on your own individual efforts.
This is not true.
The workshop I attended was around ‘walking out’ of systems or structures that are failing, recognizing that although there can be no purity in a walk out because we are all still part of a larger system that is inherently fucked up, it is still possible to resist and challenge/change parts of it.
The first question we were asked was around courage, and where do we need courage. And I sat with it for a minute and realized the question itself was seated with so much privilege. In my communities, courage is not the question. For my genderqueer siblings who have to go to public bathrooms every day, for all the survivors of war and refugee camps who have to sit through another obnoxious air show, for all the First Nations folks who have to listen to one more O Canada, for all the nannies and caregivers who raise another one of their children only to have to exit through the ‘help’ door – courage is not the question.
We have courage and lots of it.
We keep going in the face of a system that criminalizes us, erases our histories, denies us access to basic civil liberties. And we still create culture wildly, irreverently. We still raise beautiful children into strong and resilient adults, we still learn and share our stories. We scare the shit out of the folks at the ‘top’ and still are the source of most if not all of the innovation in this world and we watch as our ideas are appropriated again and again. Watered down and whitewashed out. I look across the frontlines and see our bodies littered there, from Tecumseh to the Black Panthers, I need a damn good reason to continue sending our bodies out there.
The question for us isn’t courage and maybe it is for other folks. Do you have the courage to take a $30,000 pay cut, do you have the courage to check the racist things your family says, do you have the courage to seek justice?
The question for me is this;
Why are we going to work so hard to affirm the youth in our communities to remember their brilliance if you are still going to racially profile and deport them?
Why am I going to praise the beauty of gender diversity if you are still going to watch while others call them deviants in the street?
Why am I going to make another incandescent mural to affirm hope if you are going to murder one of our participants?
My question is; what is the work that you are willing to do? What power are you going to give up?
My challenge to you is to put your money where your mouth is.
Are you willing to give reparations and not charity?
Are you willing to fight for affordable housing not because you need it, but because we need it?
Are you willing to show solidarity and not sympathy?
Do you recognize that all of our liberation is wrapped up in each other and that you don’t need to save us, you need to save yourselves.
The conversation continued and a model was shown to us that proposed that belief systems come into existence, as they peak, then people begin recognize that it is flawed and they and others work together to hospice the old system, and create something new from the old one.
And even in the way it was framed, we were asked to just accept it as a pattern that has been noticed across the world and not to criticize it. Now I have seen this model before, and I had the same criticisms then as I had in that moment even though I was asked to silence them in order to participate in an education system that was denying that I exist.
If we fill this model with people, what it looks like is this.
1. Cash poor and racialized people are at the bottom and have been for a while. They have always known that the system doesn’t work. It was built on their backs whether through the trans atlantic slave trade or through the prison industrial complex or through the non-profit industrial complex.
2. Middle-class folks ride that line. The system was designed to keep them placated and at first things are good and then they get better. But somewhere along the peak, things aren’t as good as it seems, the quality of life might decrease, they might finally hear the folks on the bottom, they may even feel responsible.
3. At the top are the rich, the ones who making away like bandits, who ultimately need to quell the dissent to maintain their raping and pillaging. They figure out how to package, propagandize and institutionalize the new system these ‘edgewalkers’ ‘create’ so that ultimately the status quo doesn’t change.
Now this is just my idea and I welcome other ways of reading this model. But the way it is presented is inherently oppressive because it assumes that all things/experiences/people are equal and that simply isn’t true. It is very similar to the same primary fallacy with economics, the assumption that resources are infinite and that profit can grow forever is akin to the primacy fallacy that plagues this model – that somehow race, class, gender – one’s social location doesn’t matter. And I hate to break it to y’all but in this day and age, it is impossible to have any meaningful dialogue without acknowledging that.
Environmental movements are meaningless without conversations around environmental racism, just as state and foundation sponsored anti-violence initiatives are irrelevant without criticism of state sanctioned violence.
We need to recognize that we have different work to do. While we are figuring out how to heal, how to live away from the edge of subsistence, how to learn to love ourselves and each other – those who enjoy vertical mobility need to step down from the seats in government and ensure that the people most directly impacted by policy are in fact the decision makers, they need to learn and study the real histories of the people in the world, they need to give money back – money made through plantations, slavery and fucked up foreign policy.
But a start to all of this, is to have the courage to step aside so there is finally room for all of us.