Last night, I attended a keynote address by a noted professor of history. This professor is an expert in African-American, Black, and African history and as an AfroLatina woman, brings personal experiences and perspectives to her teaching and to her addresses. The theme of this professor’s keynote was “What do you do with the mess we left you?” and focuses on the polarized political and racial climate we find ourselves in today. Her goal was to provide some insight of where to go and what to do if we are in fact committed to working towards a more socially just country. Besides connecting large scale systematic issues, such as environmental protection and the war against drugs, two main points stuck out to me.
The first is the concept of blowback. Blowback refers to unintended consequences of an action – something that was not foreseen while planning and even while executing. The professor talked about the blowback on White America from the upholding of racist systems and White nationalism. I thought it was a brilliant way to show how racism hurts us all regardless of race. The second concept is the idea of accepting people back into the fold in efforts to build coalitions. Now this concept is probably more controversial and definitely harder in our state of perpetual hurt, grief, violence, and survival. In social justice work, we tend to burn people pretty harshly and refuse them into our community. This is a product of systemic violence and a self-defense mechanism for survival, but I’ve been thinking more and more about this concept. When folks (who may have voted for Trump) have an ‘aha’ moment that maybe his ideologies will not help the people of this country, are we ready to accept them back into the fold?
The short answer is no. And I do not place any blame on folks who are angry, folks who don’t want to accept others back into the fold, because it is not on the marginalized to coddle and simply be okay with those who have taken actions to oppress. But my question is… where does that leave us?
For me, that leaves us in a place where we are trying to push others to pluralism using a dualistic approach. You are either with us or you are a piece of trash. One mistake and you are ostracized. There is no way or a very limited way to come back into the fold. Now this is dualistic thinking. This or that. With us or against us. Us versus them. With no in between. YET, we expect to push folks to a more pluralistic view with this method. To clarify, pluralism is a state of cognitive thinking where we can accept multiple worldviews and perspectives simultaneously. At least, that is my goal. For someone with privileged identities to recognize and validate the existence on my experiences and how their own experiences impact that on an individual and systemic level. And I do not think a dualistic approach will help us in this fight. I think we need to model a pluralistic approach and deconstruct the us versus them mentality.
I honestly feel stuck because I am either supporting folks I can about or taking care of myself. It is exhausting to even begin to think about accepting people back into the fold. To recognize the blowback of racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and ableism and have empathy for people who might not have the capacity for empathy back. That’s hard. I recognize this is not healthy or safe for many people and I fully support that marginalized folks need to do what they have to do to survive. However, in order to truly progress, we must form strong coalitions which includes those folks who need to be welcomed back.