Complicity, Contradictions, Criticality: The Challenges of Finding a Voice

I don’t even know how to characterize this week except to quote from the title of Angela Davis’s collection of essays, interviews and speeches to say that, “Freedom is a constant struggle.”  Dr. Davis, in this text that I’ve been listening to on the long drives to visit with my aunt or the shorter drives around town, discusses the collective, global struggles of oppressed peoples and the importance of collectivity, coalition, and extending the struggle for freedom beyond civil (and human) rights towards freedom and equality.  She argues (and I agree) that this will not come without the dismantling of structures of oppression including prisons and our current ideologies of “security” which are founded on corporations and individuals profiting from dehumanization of groups of people to maintain control of societies through fear and separation.

In light of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia of this past weekend, which are not just indicative of the persistence of white supremacist ideologies in the US, but demonstrate how they have been emboldened in this current political time, I find myself, as an individual, standing at the intersection of multiple identities (Chinese American, Asian American, Social Justice Educator, Teacher Educator, Mother) and struggling.  I have been selective in how and where I raise my voice, particularly in relation to social media.  I am more outspoken on Twitter than on Facebook, but more through retweets and amplifying thoughts than through offering original thoughts.  On Facebook, I did engage in one dialogue countering notions akin to color blindness and brought forth the importance of naming white privilege as critical in beginning to dismantle structures of oppression on a friend’s Facebook thread with another Asian American woman. But, I regretted this engagement. I felt that this discussion didn’t lead to very productive, critical reflection. Instead, it turned into defensive justification of points of view (hers and mine).  I was frustrated with the time invested in this conversation (and others like it) and with how these conversations leave me angry and frustrated with the fact that within Asian American communities (particularly East Asian or Chinese American communities, of which I am a part), individuals often choose to align themselves with dominant discourses and fail to speak out against racism in our society, buying into notions that white privilege is divisive and that racism really isn’t so prevalent, that we can work our way to freedom and success if we just continue playing by the rules.

The problem is, racism is inherently divisive with very real consequences for people.  When we fail to acknowledge that racism (systemic, embedded in institutions) at a societal level inform our actions subconsciously (and for some more consciously, with or without justification), we continue to perpetrate and benefit from (if we have forms of privilege) this racism.  The logic leveled against me was that no one is “given privilege,” that it is earned by themselves or their ancestors in good or bad ways.  At that point, I just had to leave the conversation because I just got too frustrated.  I fail to understand how being born a certain race or to certain parents is a form of earning any privilege or rights, and that the mere fact that one was not born a certain race or to certain parents should deny them these rights.  Then I was informed that language is powerful and that we should use it to unite and not divide.  I agree with this.  Language is powerful.  And we should use it to unite, but who are we uniting? For what ends?  Are we united in confronting injustice?  Can this be done without calling out injustice for what it is?

I don’t know.  But, the thing is, I left the conversation.  There are many conversations I just don’t enter into, or don’t enter into unless I am in a space, with people with whom I feel comfortable.  I am EXTREMELY non-confrontational, and this troubles me.  Freedom is a constant struggle.  Struggle means confrontation.  I hate confrontation.  Yet it is necessary to move forward.  Discomfort is necessary to move forward.  I am confronted.  I wonder where my commitments are and where I am complicit to the oppression of others (Black & Brown others, fellow Asian Americans, religious minorities, immigrants) because my privileged fear allows me to remain silent, because I don’t want to be judged by the people I know.

So, I’m calling myself out, and I’m being honest about the fact that I’m struggling.  My commitments call me to make a louder, larger stance.  My identities call me to find quiet ways to contribute to the resistance without putting myself on the front lines.  I don’t know if that’s simply privilege or complicated privilege, complicity, self-care, or just a different form of resistance.  I don’t really want to make this about me, but I also don’t think I’m alone in this struggle.  In trying to find my voice, I want to be honest.  In trying to be authentic to all the parts of myself, I want to share where I am in this struggle with you.  Because the struggle against injustice and for freedom are real, and I need to find a way to participate productively, sustainably, and in coalition.

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