the philosophactivist

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Radicalism- is it sustainable?

I've been having a lot of discussions about radicalism, revolution, incrementalism, etc. Today I sat and pondered about whether a radical movement can actually be deemed "sustainable." When I think of revolutions, I think of them as vehicles to make change happen whether that be to overthrow regimes, transform systems, etc. I think about grassroots organizations and escalation - this tactic that people only employ sparingly. But what would this world be like if we could actually create transformations within different aspects of society continuously. Not just continually but intentionally. Not just strategically but explicitly. Every single day. Sounds tiring to some because they know the energy that it takes. But, if we were all on board, would it be different? There'd be less grain to go against, for certain. Those who were against change would be marginalized. Now doesn't that sound like a society you'd want to live in?

I'm sitting here thinking about this word- radical. Let's get the dictionary out-
1 :of, relating to, or proceeding from a root:
designed to remove the root of a disease or all diseased and potentially diseased tissue
2 : very different from the usual or traditional : extreme
3 : favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions
4 : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change
5 : advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs

Hm. What is that root they refer to? Is it good? Is it bad? Obviously what we are rejecting and trying to transform is bad, right? Then why is radical a dirty word? Why are radicals marginalized? Oh, ok I get it- usual and traditional is what's "right" and "good". Um, yea but what about all the people who are oppressed by "usual" and "traditional"? What about the different kinds of privilege and power that lead to the rule of many by the few. The foots on necks, if you will. Can you feel that foot on your neck? Do you daily? Well - I'm sure they're sorry about that. They are just acting properly. Being right and good. Sorry that this leads to your state of uncomfortableness.

Extreme changes being favored. Well, why would we need extreme changes if everything is so usual and traditional and good? Darn radicals have to go and upset everything and everyone! They must be making things up. The policies are fine- if they're not broke...
You get the point.

So- I guess that we've established that radicals can't work within the system that is so traditional. But, I'd like to argue that they are there. They don't call themselves radicals, though. Few people devoted to social change in communities (especially communities of color) do. I guess they don't have time to label themselves but don't be deceived. They have processed this, their place, and the place of others. There are all kinds of tension in the radical community. There is no one type of radical politic unless you look at the common thread of wanting change. But, don't most people who are marginalized? I don't know many people who are struggling to keep the foot on their neck. We like to breathe, too.

And one must really wonder about the privilege that is present in labeling oneself  "radical". Few of the oppressed and marginalized can afford to face the consequences of that label. If you are oppressed day in and day out because of your race, odds are that you are not going to want to add more oppression to your heaping plate. Also, the very white face of radicalism is not exactly appealing to you- especially when many come from a place of privilege that has not quite been processed,checked,or eliminated. It's hard to want to be committed to social change and then to go into these circles that are predominantly white who are committed to it (or say that they are) but they haven't done the work they need to do to eradicate the -isms present in the larger community (racism,sexism,homophobia). I've really reflected on this...why people of color are not at the table. I'm sure that some got the invite--- but when it comes down to it- were they really invited? And when they  RSVP and come to the table- will they like the entree? Or will they be forced to assimilate- to taste the dishes that have no relevance to them and smile and dance a happy dance like the one they do daily in every other setting. Will they be the token...the expert on blackness,latino-ness, Asian-ness?etc? I assure you that we don't really like that. We can't really speak for everyone in our race. And we probably shouldn't even be thought of as "mono-racial" anyway. I'm more than black. Sorry, I know it's easier to think of me as brown and lump me into this brown hole of cultures,etc. but...well, I'm not in a place where I'll allow that to happen anymore.

 But I digress.

Back to these white brown folk have our own day to day issues of survival that make marriage equality and "sticking it to the man" frankly look ridiculous and dangerous. When we have to worry about not being "too black or brown" so that we can keep our job, being ex-communicated from our communities because we have to buy into the White American dream and are seen as selling out because it's the only way we can "make it", or when we have to swallow our pride each and every day on the subway or the Metro-North train, or at coffeeshops and grocery stores because white people feel entitled and police our actions and expressions in every setting where they are predominant...(and I can take this into gentrification if you want...and the ways the spaces change because white people feel unsafe--we can break down just how "unsafe" it really is and what is really meant by this white notion of "safety"...but I won't digress). When we are seen as welfare queens, the enemy, immigrants, foreigners, people who don't belong, ignorant, "ethnic", etc....daily. DAILY! We don't want to go sit in a room full of white folk who can't even get that...and who tell us "well, this isn't tied to race. This is a class thing. This is about wealth...power." What??? You don't think wealth and power dynamics are tied to race? Oh no....we won't be coming back to that discussion. And we won't come back to a discussion that goes into theory and distances itself from what is at hand either. I don't want to talk about the government and conspiracies and theories when I've experienced homelessness, I can't get a job because I have an "ethnic name" or there are expectations placed upon me for having brown skin (whether it's that I"ll be too "ethnic", too angry, or a great pack mule----yes I've experienced every single one of these). Sigh. I just can't relate. I try...I try. I fail. I can't relate to a bunch of people with privilege who won't process it. I can't look at a person whom the system is set up for and hear about how they are oppressed  because they can't wear a purple mohawk and tattoos or smoke weed publicly or squat in some vacant property, aren't respected for unconventional views on relationships i.e. polyamory, etc. I just...well, I think you get the point.

When people are worried about survival and basic needs--it sure makes some of the things said within discussions in white radical circles hard to swallow and maybe even hard to take seriously to be honest. It's not that we don't want to empathize, I mean, after all- we have been socialized to do just that since we were in diapers (by our parents, family members, and society). You know, make whites feel better about white guilt, shift the discussion away from race, say "But you're not like the others" (just like we hear frequently) and coddle them, dust them off and put them back on their feet. We are accustomed to being the teacher in teaching moments like this...but when we want to talk about change and actual revolution---we don't want to have to worry about this. We don't want the focus to be shifted away-- some of us this whole coddling thing is second nature and we kick ourselves afterward. It's like Pavlov's dogs. Seriously. I can't make this up. I experience this all the time during discussions around race, class, privilege,etc. We as people of color are trained to set our emotions aside because they aren't important or *as important. Our pain is not as important as that of the white man or woman. We are not allowed to feel pain or we must set it aside. How does this play out in discussions about race and oppression in settings that are predominantly white? I won't take this further. I'll leave it as food for thought.

So- Incrementalism. Apparently the visible radicals aren't for this. Takes too much time. We need change and we need it now! Unfortunately, this is now how any system is set up in this country. Systems are set up on the assumption that they won't fail and that there are no flaws. And with a sidenote that just in case the aforementioned sentence does happen to come into fruition that there will be some quickfix that will fix everything.
Yea, if anyone believes that change is not incremental- I would direct their attention to ALL movements that have ever happened. If you believe that what happened in Egypt happened overnight and that it's due to social networking...I don't know what to say. Revolutions don't happen overnight. There is always marginalization, outcry, inquiry and education, organizing and an uprising. Of course there are other elements, but I think you follow me. Now, what I think that people don't want is the pseudo-incrementalism that the government and other institutions use many times. The kind that takes decades to roll out or never happens period.But- that's not incrementalism. I'll leave it to you to look that up.

The other night I went to a discussion on campus about how to raise critical consciousness.  A student made a great point about campuses that are liberal vs. radical. Not the same. Not at all. I challenge you to think about that. All this "progressiveness" and "liberalness" doesn't necessarily mean that anybody is trying to change any status quo. I assure you that the privileged are not interested in giving up power or privilege. It's not that they won't share- it's just that they are oblivious to the fact that this can't be shared. Not with the way that society is set up today.First of all if we are going to tackle power and privilege we need to understand it. Yes, this is radical. And once we understand it we have to get at the roots---we have to upset the balance of power and we have to take away ALL privilege. Yes, that's right. No one should be over anyone. Now THAT's radical  I'm sorry did I sound communist? Well- yea  I know that I agree with a lot of ideas prevalent in socialism and communism. Hm...I wonder if the FBI is looking at this blog. Seriously. I wonder if the CIA does google searches for leftist blogs. I bet they do. But you know what will happen- they'll say--this little brown person has no power to make the change they want. And they'll be so wrong. Because I'm all about creating a movement. Next blog I'll talk about my ideas on radical education---free universities...and smashing the ivory tower. Radicals don't come out of ivy league colleges- social change that doesn't perpetuate uneven balances of power doesn't come out of ivy league colleges and private education- enough said. People need access! Tools! Power to the people!!!

Back to sustainability to wrap all this up in a nice and neat, radical untraditional wrapper. I don't know maybe it's made out of safety pins or something...(shrugs). How do we sustain these movements that people are calling for? Yearning for? How do we not just picket and protest- but create change and then make sure that the change doesn't get forgotten and written off as post-blahblahblah. This society is not post-racial or post-queer or post-anything. How do we bring whites and people of color together? Well, we have to educate ourselves and each other. We've got to self-reflect and process. Get this stuff out of our system. We have to know that mistakes will be made but we need to be patient. We need to build those bridges that Gloria Anzaldua talked about. We need to be the change like Gandhi talked about. Enough with this pseudo-intellectual/couch activist/armchair philosopher/armchair revolutionary/ pseudo-radical refuse! I think the label for that is liberal...or is it progressive?

Let's make change people. Let's build a people's movement that spans all identities and eradicates all inequality and disparity. In order to do this- we have to talk to each other. We have to understand each other. We have to know one another. We have to know how our actions have consequences for other people. It is an obligation to not others- but ourselves. I assure you nothing will progress will be made until we do just this. There will be nothing to sustain if we don't commit to this...and the only way we can sustain a radical movement and create substantial change and transformation is if we make this commitment. It is a life-long process. A 2 hour workshop ain't going to do it people. Sorry to burst your bubble. But, I feel like most of you know this.

that is all.