Note: The following is not about our everyday lives of opinions and doings for shopping and choosing what to eat or deciding which friends to go visit. The following is written in regards to social issues and what to do about them. It is a perspective committed to social change and justice. It is not about me having an answer or believing that it’s what ‘good people’ do. This is a dialogue with two different people’s perspectives and the interaction.
I was conversing with a fellow the other day. He is a generally thoughtful fellow. He is of German and English ancestry, and has done some anti-oppression work on himself. In the midst of a conversation with him, he said the following: “I think that people need to stop bringing up the past and using the past to continue legacies of violence. I think we should look at the present and work for the future.”
To this I responded, of course. But first let me reiterate, I am not covering over or annihilating the other position in conversations. I say things in response that may disturb single-positions and universals, hoping to open up further thought and complexity in order to make better choices and create possibility. However, initial words sound biting and are critical. So it creates openings in sometimes not-so-pretty ways. It’s not about being good or perfect, or acceptable or manageable or comforting. It’s that the ancestors and the people suffering right now, cannot wait for your feelings of comfort. When will that be?
So I responded to this fellow: “I agree with you in that we have to start from where we are and work forward. But how do we know where we are unless we know how we got here? If you’re at London airport and you dont’ know how you got there, what will need to happen? What questions arise? ” To this I further added:
“So let’s say I’m at London airport. I don’t know how I got there. I’m black. Everyone in my immediate environment is white, or blue, or pink. Was I carried here muffled and tied up by a pink person? Was I in an institution run by the blue people,then let out because of some purple people? Hmm….. No Idea.”
Some people will say that they’ll just act and find out. Yes that’s true. If you have no responsibilities to other, and risk your own life, who is left? If one has a spouse or partner, and children that depend on you, if you jump in and were killed because of taking that risk, where is the responsibility in this? For some, it doesn’t matter. I say that it does matter if one is thinking in a way that isn’t controlled by alienation and extreme individualism. Or perhaps that willingness to die in a risky action is about being a hero for your country or neighborhood or in your family’s eye?
But how did I get to the airport?
If we know histories, and how the terrain has developed, and how I got there, then perhaps I make better choices that are better for all concerned. The terrain can be assessed and I perhaps waste less time, create less violence toward myself or not react irresponsibly. Or perhaps I wind up repeating it and telling myself ‘this is all there is” and start to believe that my returning to the same place I found myself in the London airport again and again in the same clothes with the same people, is ‘reality.’ I, perhaps, do not know that one can leave the airport, or come by train or boat or car. It can get ugly here too. Ultimate reality is the London airport. If I love to save others, then I begin telling people that this is reality and this is the way reality works, even though all I’ve done is get to the airport over and over and over again and I accept that as reality. I had gotten there somehow, but I ignore it, forget it. What is the point?
Especially if, in the case of anti-oppression work and social change, it is about making new inroads towards justice, ethics, equality. Perhaps the instinct to ‘be right’ forecloses difference. There is only one right in most people’s minds. Other things other than that one ‘right‘ is simply ‘wrong.’ This is what is there in the mind. It is taught to us in a certain system of relating to things in cultures. It is NOT UNIVERSAL! Since it isn’t universal, we don’t need to have that controlling our reactions and responses to difference.
“It is better to know history,” I then said to him. However, history shouldn’t be used to go back and bring up everything that has happened. Usually this is not a good strategy. It is not about having the other person feel guilty. However, we have to feel pain. And perhaps that is the bottom line in statements that refuse history, no matter what the good intention. Running from the pain that is left. James Baldwin’s quote, which I copied in the earlier blog with his video, is so wise, in the sense of the pain being left and that this is what we are so afraid of.
We understand somewhere in our body/minds, and mostly unconsciously or consciously forgotten and ignored, that this pain has been accumulated over generations. Repetitions of burning buildings, explosions and the deaths and killings that made our present real. We think it’s natural and normal or as some leaders tell us: it’s a part of progress. I say “bull.” Each of us, joined with others, can be quite empowered in our self education and in the forward movement of love/justice. Do not stand alone. Move with others, and accept the difficulty that is diversity and complexity. Our present and future is already that. Why are we running? Let’s move with it.
My friend responded, saying that he agreed and that that’s what he meant. Alright then!