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.

Farewell, 2019. Goodbye, decade.

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2019, you have been quite the year. Looking back on all that I have gone through in the course of these twelve months, all the waves of change that have taken rise in my life, all of the unforgettable experiences I was lucky enough to be a part of, and all of the memories/moments (both wondrous and painful) I have both created and endured, it is truly hard to put into words. This year has been nothing like I anticipated and, at times, nothing like I ever wanted. But still, 2019 has been everything I needed. This year was equally as eye-opening as destructive, as insightful as disillusioned, as productive as damaging, and as fulfilling as completely heartbreaking. All of this is to say that 2019, whether I wanted it to be or not, has been nothing short of transformative. And for that, I am now so very thankful.

I remember heading into the new year at this time one year ago and thinking to myself, “There’s no way 2019 is going to be as tough as the past two years. It can only go up from here.” I naively believed that the pain, loss, and grief I felt throughout 2017 after losing my mom would forever go unparalleled. For me, 2017 was the epitome of heartbreak and agony, and a real manifestation of the “rock bottom” that is so commonly referred to. Heading into the following years, I worked tirelessly trying to convince myself that the coming year just HAD TO be better. I mean, how much harder could things get, right? And while I think I was right to believe that 2019 would be better, this was only true in very selective ways. While 2017 caused me the greatest heartbreak of my life (in more ways than one) and left me weakened on my knees time and time again in some ways, 2019 also did so, just in very different ways. I was so very wrong to assume that the hardest obstacles had already been planted before me in 2017 and that every hardship that came my way would be less heavy and less impossible to overcome. If 2019 has taught me anything, it’s that the pain, heartache, brokenness, and adversities that present themselves in our lives will never disappear. They will never cease to arrive just when you thought you were on a good track and felt as if your life was properly ordered, like a ticking time-bomb. Hard times will ALWAYS come; but, that also means that they will always GO. And the constant fluidity and nuance of joy and heartbreak, of pleasure and pain, is what makes life on this earth so beautiful and worthwhile. This year truly has taught me more than I can say. But most of all, I’ve come to realize that life’s hardships and things that try us don’t wait for us to be ready or well-equipped enough to face and conquer them. They never will. The universe can see you get knocked on your knees and do everything it can to keep you there. But despite it all, no matter how seemingly impossible it appears, love can always be found. And with love comes hope, light, and joy. That is what gets me through, and that is what I will carry with me forever.

You know, everyone always says that the end of the year is the most essential and valuable time to reflect. It’s a time to look back on the past twelve months of our lives, look deep within ourselves, the relationships we’ve worked so hard to create, forgive those that have been lost, re-discover what values we wish to hold onto, and set intentions for the next twelve months of our lives. And while I do appreciate that that’s what dominates discussions at the very end of each year because I think reflection paired with just introspection is one of the most needful elements of human life, I also think the extraordinary emphasis and insistence that people put on the coming of the new year is filled with immense loads of pressure, something I find even unbearable at times. I try my very hardest to avoid all the talk about what huge life changes, behavioral tendencies, toxic diet talk, and unhealthy provocations of what the start of a new year means to society and our culture, because I find it extremely damaging and anxiety-inducing. To me, the start of a new year is something to be celebrated, not feared. Simply because the last digit of the year changes does not signify that humongous life changes are to be made, nor should it be a signal to force unwanted or unhealthy change in your life, no matter what benefits it may reap. The pressure that comes with the new year is something I have always felt inside of me— it’s a constant push to be better, to change yourself and your ways, to be thinner, to achieve more, to gain more, to succeed. While all of these “goals” may be warranted, I think that for most people, these are merely things we are told to desire. We should want to earn more money, to have more things, to look our best, and to constantly be “better.” But what I think most people lose sight of is what “better” truly means to them. Each year I fear getting lost in all of the pressure-filled and anxiety-driven talk of the new year and failing to recognize what I truly need, desire, and deserve for myself and my own values. That’s why I reflect often, daily even. Not just on New Year’s Eve. Because I think it’s important to consistently reinforce my goals, intentions, relationships, and what I want to see manifest in my life. For that I am responsible. I have learned that keeping myself in check and on track in this way helps me to stay centered and focused on what I believe to be important, and I am grateful for the gift of introspection and reflection, both of self and of the world.

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While making lengthy resolutions isn’t my ideal way to enter the new year because putting impossible standards and pressure on myself NEVER goes well for me, I do like to head into every new year with a few words that I would like to see manifested in one way or another throughout the new year. For 2020, the words I have chosen are “be” and “know,” a constant reminder to be who I am meant to be in this world, acting and presenting myself as such, and knowing my value, worth, and power as a human being. I wish you all the very same. There’s so much beauty to be felt, seen, and embraced in this world, if only we have the courage and capacity to find it.

With all of that being said, I am SO READY to leave 2019 and this decade behind me. There are many things I want to, and definitely will be, discussing in great detail about this year in the future, because I learned countless lessons that deserve some level of discussion, especially if there’s a chance they can aid someone else on their journey. But for now, I am kissing 2019 goodbye, and leaving it behind me. This door is closing, and I couldn’t be happier. New opportunities, experiences, lots of big changes, and more growth are bound to come my way in 2020, and I couldn’t be more excited or anticipatory. I’ve never felt more ready to embrace the coming change in my life, and I am thrilled to enter this new year with everything I could ever need to continue on. I am equipped with all of the love I could ever ask for from all of the wonderful friends and family that surround me, an undying hope for the future, and an inner recognition and understanding that I am wise, strong, and worthy enough to overcome.

Here’s to 2020– to love, to hope, and to life. I am so ready for you. Bring it.