On Activism, Caging, Empathy, and Impact

In this time, I often hear from people practicing activism and advocacy that the exhaustion is overwhelming, that the pressure to educate is debilitating, and that the pain and despair is unbearable most days.
I am one of these people. I am one who, like many others in similar positions, feels everything so deeply that I can hardly breathe most days, who spends my days engaging in dialogue with people who will never open their eyes to reality or care to meaningfully digest history, politics, or the realities of our world.
I am tired.
In this time, I also see some who are choosing to sit in their radio silence, marinating in their complicity and conscious/willful ignorance, claiming that activism is an empty practice, a hollow feat, a meaningless endeavor that never inspires or commands real change. In the minimal words they do find, they demean and minimize the efforts of those who are adamant about not only critically thinking about systems, human nature, politics, history, and change, but seeing it through as well.
These are cages.
From the beginning, we are told that our realities, histories, communities, and truths are worthy of erasure, are easily ignorable and negated, and that our experiences are only significant in relation to the power structures and forces that dominate our existence. I have found myself feeling limitless amounts of sadness and hopelessness during this time, sitting in the heavy reality that this is the world we must live in. But it’s that very same anger, frustration, despair, and heartbreak that make the deep feelers, activists, and allies of the world the type of people that will question and challenge the very systems that harm them most, the ones who blaze trails, who catalyze change, and who make this world a brighter, safer, and more inclusive  place.
This world and this society will always tell us that we cannot make a difference. The system is built on the silencing and deeming of the oppressed/the Other as “crazy,” “loud,” “angry,” or “much.” But we are navigating through everything that we have no choice but to deeply feel because it is so close to us, and we are channelling our “muchness” into the kind of work, dialogue, activism, and philanthropy that is both needful and world-improving. We will be the ones to feel our way through leading what needs to be led, challenging what needs to be challenged, and shaking the earth under the structures and systems that have forever tried to inhibit the power and impact of our voices and our lives.
Nothing is simpler or more convenient than creating and perpetuating a system by and for one, while the many are silenced into thinking they are helpless, aimless, powerless, and worthless. But the power abandons the empowered when we realize that its continued suppression of our voices and our experiences, its dismissal and ignorance of our potential and value, and its unjust, marginalizing treatment of the oppressed is wholly dependent on our acceptance of such a premise. The continued drowning out, co-opting, and silencing of our own voices depends on our willingness to accept such false truths. The power (undergirded by ignorance, racism, bigotry, white supremacy, misogyny, and endless oppressive forces) is contingent upon our ability to believe in its falsehood. The system and the world want nothing more than to make us feel like we cannot make a difference, that our voices will not be heard, or that change, progress, and dismantling of inherently unjust systems could never be seen.
History proves otherwise.
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Should we decide that it is no longer enough to feel it all and be told to sit with it and be grateful, should we decide that we are to rise and to fight, the foundation of such injustice and misplaced power will have already been lost. A system that is so deeply and fully broken cannot have the strength and unwavering support in its roots that will be necessary to continue on. A system that was never built for us cannot betray us, but we are empowered and informed enough to turn our back on it, for we were intentionally excluded from every notion and ideation of “equality,” “justice,” and “equity” this country has ever popularized. We are not required to listen to the songs of the oppressors, to tame our voices, experiences, and activism so as to not make the ignorant uncomfortable, or to thank the system for having not killed us yet.
In this nation and in this time, it is increasingly important that we push on, that we continue doing the necessary work and creating the change we wish to see, that we advocate and educate, exhausting as it may be. And while our bravery may be less brave as it it compulsive in order to free our minds and make space for all that we are, our voices are meaningful. This work is meaningful, and change is meaningful.
There is nothing more imperative than activism and empathy now and always, and THIS is what will continue to have lasting impact.
Extending Activism Beyond Our Own Circles
At this point, there is nothing that weighs on my mind and my heart more than the questions of how to reach people, how to extend beyond the circle I have (proudly) chosen to surround me, and how to surpass the social media feeds and the people who consistently appear on and support my platforms. Though I am more proud than ever of those whom I call friends and of what continues to be shared amongst and within them on my feeds, I’m not naive enough to think that this is the way everyone’s phones or computers look right now. And while it’s equally inspiring and esteeming to see and hear people in your circle who directly participate, advocate, and show understanding, there is no doubt that these are not the people we need to reach. We can share, post, talk, and reinforce historical and political truths to one another until the end of time. But at some point, we’re just singing to the choir. The people who have made the effort to become informed, who have spoken, who have made deliberate, conscious, and intentional choices and actions, and who have listened to BIPOC and our experiences during this time already get it. They already know. They have shown this everyday. Our activism must now go beyond.
The question is: How do we reach those who need to hear it most? Those who so violently turn their heads away from the truth, reality, brutality, contexts, and political and historical facts that they continue to willfully ignore and even deny the existence of? Those who choose not to care, choose not to see, choose not to listen/hear, and choose not to learn?
Is the comfort of living such false truths and perpetuating incorrect narratives and histories that worthy of protection? Is that “Americanism?”
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Although this is still one of the heaviest and most daunting questions for me to consider and I’ve yet to come up with a clear, concise way to tackle this and to most effectively reach beyond, here are some tips and methods that I’ve found to be the most integral when communicating with people who appear to be uninformed, non-empathetic, or wholly apathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black experience:
  1. Continue to share Black stories. The consistent uplifting of Black voices and perspectives has been one of the most inspiring and necessary outcomes of the movement that I’ve seen on every media platform. Black voices have been silenced, repressed, and ignored for 401 years too long, so including as many Black perspectives, opinions, experiences, etc. when in dialogue with someone who may be majorly unaware is absolutely essential. Do not allow the continued ignorance of the Black experience to be a shield or an excuse for the conscious refusal of many to learn and evolve, particularly when resources and content is more available than ever. The world has learned enough whitewashed history and has heard endless white voices— it’s time for the Black community to be seen.
  2. Try to give people practical, methodical steps that they can choose (or choose not to) take. Ignorance and apathy are both poisons that threaten the Black Lives Matter movement and prevent the sharing of proper information, the opportunity for meaningful dialogue, and the necessary dismantling of the inherently unjust systems on which this nation was built. I’ve found that being as clear as possible in my wording and through even offering examples, circumstances, or any kind of experiential perspective on relevant topics is most likely to be impactful to those who do not understand, fail to hear, and cannot begin to think of living outside of themselves.
  3. Recommend insightful resources for people to self-educate, for it is not the job of the oppressed to teach about oppression. Learning, listening, and engaging is of utmost importance right now— encourage it in every way you can. Simply providing book, podcast, speech, or tv/movie recommendations that engage productively and meaningfully with race, racism, power structures, and systemic injustice is a good start, and incorporating an artistic lens or layer to complex topics is rarely a harmful thing.
  4. Speak as confidently and as often as you can, and be comfortable with making people uncomfortable. There is no space for fear, hesitation, or trepidation in this movement and in this time. BIPOC are being killed everyday, and our lives are consistently endangered. It is no longer the responsibility of the oppressed and silenced to enable the continued misconstruing and perpetuation of wrongful information, harmful ideas, or hateful ideologies (even those that have been societally accepted/permitted). While it is not our job to educate, I feel a moral obligation to say something, to step in when incorrect facts or falsified information is documented or shared, and when people outside of the movement work to demonize and villainize the intentions and purpose behind it.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

-Audre Lorde

 

Keep fighting. This is only the beginning.

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