I started this blog a year ago, thinking that I would accomplish things that I haven’t accomplished, and not realizing that I would accomplish things that I’ve accomplished.
Perhaps the most difficult part of activism for me is the prospect of talking to the “other” side. I’m angry. I’m hurt. And I don’t want to hear why people on the “other” side feel like victims, because they’re not victims. They’re racists and sexists who don’t know how good they have it. Besides, there’s more of us than there is of them. We don’t need them….
Except that they are in power right now. And with gerrymandering and voter suppression and a slew of new judicial appointments, who knows what the future holds? So it seems imperative that I learn how to talk to them.
But still the problem remains of just how to go about doing that.
For me, activism has always meant tilting at windmills or screaming into the vacuum, trying to convince an apathetic public to care, and “correcting” the misguided thinking of others. People said I was arrogant, but I didn’t care, because I was “right.” I always had the “right” opinion on everything and I had the “right” friends and I said the “right” things.
Or so I thought. Some incidents in the last few months have really rocked me, scraping away at my self-assurance and revealing to me just how complicit I am in the very things that I want to change.
As a result, I was a little more receptive than I otherwise would have been to discussions at the Women’s Convention about the intersection of activism and self-work. Being raised by a mother who flitted from one self-help guru to another, I’m deeply suspicion of self-work. It seems self-indulgent and of limited usefulness when there’s so much work to be done in the “real” world.
But at the Women’s Convention, I realized that the division I’ve created between self-work and working with others is artificial. In a session run by Service Never Sleeps, the facilitator contended that being an effective ally means working from a place of humility. “It’s about being the most humble, not the most ‘woke.’” Our conversations with the “other” side can’t come from a place of superiority, she argued, because however “woke” we may be, we’re still struggling with our own implicit biases. If we approach these conversations as though we are hoping to “grow” with the person to whom we’re speaking, we can tap into the compassion and humanity that we need to find in order to make a connection and change minds.
I feel like this is the insight I’ve been looking for. I’ve been really struggling with the whole idea of talking to the “other” side. And while I’ve had a few of these conversations, I continued to have reservations about the intellectual and ethical implications of these discussions. These implications seem to disappear when I think of these conversations as work that we’re all doing together, myself included.
So with my new-found appreciation for the ways in which activism calls for self-work, I’ve decided to begin keeping a log meant to heighten my awareness (and hopefully my growth) in three areas:
- White supremacy – One of the panelists at a session devoted to the activist Grace Lee Boggs recommended keeping a log of incidents related to white supremacy that we notice every day. A few months ago, I would’ve said that I didn’t need this, because I was already “woke.” But I’ve come to realize that I’ve been taking a lot for granted.
- Courage – My anxiety has been out of control over the last year, thanks in large part to a career change, a move to another state, and my foray into flesh-and-blood activism (so much harder than simply sending a check or signing a petition). It didn’t help my nerves when they announced a Muslim ban(s), or a transgender ban, or my students defended white power, or I learned that a white supremacist had murdered someone on the grounds of my alma mater, or that…the list goes on and on. On top of all of that, I spend a lot of time beating myself up for things that I “mess” up (a long list indeed!) and for the times that I let anxiety get in the way, out of the belief that we need to face our “sins” if we’re ever going to improve. But I wonder if this is actually backfiring, by fueling my anxiety. So I’m taking some advice from one of those despised (by me) self-help books (Don Greene’s Fight Your Fear and Win) and starting a log to keep track of the things I do that require courage. Maybe positive reinforcement will produce better results than the negative reinforcement I’m more accustomed to.
- Gratitude – I would’ve had no time for someone suggesting that I focus on gratitude a year ago. “I don’t have energy for that.” Or “Okay, I’ll do it to get work out of an employee/student/friend/relative, but only because I need them to do something concrete for me.” I was all about the bottom-line. Results. Results. So imagine my surprise when I took the suggestion to thank someone on the “other” side for taking a stand after the election. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, or even the names of the people involved, but I do know that I only did it because I was doing everything to fight what was happening back then, even if I thought it sounded crazy. I recall thinking “Well, saying thank you will make so-and-so more willing to help us next time.” It was all about getting results again. So I was surprised when I found that it made me feel better, and at a time when I was feeling terrible. With all of the bad news every day, I’ve realized that spending a little time to express gratitude isn’t selfish. It isn’t a waste of time. Especially if it makes me feel a little better when I’m so tired that I want to give up.
Knowing me, I probably won’t be able to keep up with making this a daily log, but I have managed to record something for the last few days. It feels self-indulgent and obnoxious. The writing isn’t clever and witty. (And therefore, not worthwhile, the old me would’ve said.) But I’m going to keep at it, at least for a while, and see where it takes me.
This is probably the biggest way that I’ve changed over the past year: learning to value things like self-work and gratitude, things that, in the past, I would’ve said didn’t matter, or only mattered insofar as it provided a short-term material benefit.
According to Grace Lee Boggs, it’s this kind of personal work that’s going to be the real driving force of the revolution. Here’s hoping that she was right!
First three entries in my log
White supremacy – This guy on the street spewing one racist statement after the other (implying that blacks are all drug dealers, saying that everyone is being raped every day in Sweden because they “let” Muslims in”, and “Obama was only elected to make the black people happy”). Did I push back hard enough?
Courage – I went to the Tax protest outside of the co-op even though I really didn’t want to and talked to that racist for about twenty minutes even though I really hate doing stuff like that, and I think that I might have made some headway with him.
Gratitude – I’m grateful to the people who arranged the Tax protest and to everyone who went. I enjoyed my time with them.
White supremacy – Ep 6 of this season’s The Flash is a #MassiveFail. It accurately iterates (some of) the grievances of Native Americans while conveniently removing them from the picture (sending the one Native American representative to jail for trying to rectify her people’s subjugation), allowing the white savior to swoop in and (out of the goodness of his heart) do what the murderous (read: “barbarian”) Native American was trying to do in the first place. (The Thanksgiving episode of Buffy was much better.)
Courage – Hosted a fellow resister at my home to plan an upcoming meeting, even though I’m a mi casa es mi casa sort of a person.
Gratitude – I’m really grateful to this fellow resister for her hard work and for being such an enjoyable person to work with.
White Supremacy – Thanksgiving is a convenient way to forget the ongoing violence of colonization. And who the hell am I to think anyone wants to read my take on early Christian views of “blackness”? For that matter, who the hell am I to challenge a black scholar (Frank Snowden) about the history of racism against blacks: “Oh sir, don’t you realize how badly your people have been subjugated?” I talk too much as it is.
Courage – Posting an article about some of my struggles over the past year and sharing a paper about a subject I’m interested in (taking the risk of people being annoyed that I’m running my mouth again).
Gratitude – I’m grateful that my brother and father are “healthy” and home for the day.