Everyone has ideas about how people should lead others, or to form a good society. First of all, I don’t think nation-states will ever be totally “just” and free. It’s not possible. However, in the present, we can create a different future toward justice and more peaceful societies. It takes solidarity, mental-spiritual-emotional change, self-reflexive personalities, and ethical leadership. For Hapa, in relation to the BLM and other social justice movements, what would be required? I present just a snippet of pointers in this article, that I reflect on but continue to grapple with, along with other folks.
From my own experiences and education, there are many notions of leadership that disempower social justice movements and movement-building. Every issue needs to be addressed, faced, and changed. The hint in that statement is in the “many.” No one person or organization can do it all. And yet most people I know, continue to tear down movements and people who may be effective for certain change to happen, criticizing and cancelling them out of their power to change because they don’t “do this” or don’t “do that.”
The first factor is in the “optics” of social justice. Most Americans have been assimilated into placard-holding mass protests as a social movement. The barrage of media representations of what happened during the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and anti-government protests worldwide during the 1950s and 60s, remains a ghostly and assimilative set of images that we understand popular social action to be. We have to understand that social movements are much more. Effective Social justice movements are not a reaction to crisis, but further-reaching. But often, the movements become repeatedly linked with practices of goals that desire to assimilate into the privileges it offers. Many do not know the work, processes and endurance that must go into the many layers required in movements resisting oppression. It is work on self and structure—since the structure lives through each of us in differing angles.
To deconstruct this notion of optics, we must understand that movements are not events. They are a never-ending cycle of reflection, planning, investigation, trials, and action, and then over again. Some actions require immediate action while others are longer-term. Some people involved in movements are excellent at seeing multiple points of possibility and purpose on an intellectual level, but may not be good on the front lines that might require violent confrontation with institutions and authority. Others are better at those confrontations. Some are good at facing the public. Still some of the people-facers are good at mindfully-measured and calm explanations, while others are better at fiery speeches that inspire and motivate. Others are good at intellectual work (I use myself as an example), that may help those who plan and organize, to be aware of certain factors such as history or strategic planning and other such things that many people who are armchair activists are blind to. History is important in understanding that almost every social justice issue that exists, have been fought for centuries and written about but show up in different forms in the present. These are just some examples. Well-planned movements make use of the diverse skills that people have.
A social-historical condition that United States must understand, in particular, is the reality of alienation, which in the United States, especially, is normalized. Alienation shows up as extreme forms of identity-formations, self and its need to “purify” and “correct”, and the lack of skills for solidarity-building that has been engrained into the self and institutions in relation to capitalism, most kinds of psychology and spiritualities, and individualism in the extreme. How we communicate in relation to all kinds of difference, is usually hierarchical and assimilative, filtered through forms of cancelling or overtaking the other. Forming links between contradictions is difficult but necessary. “Agreeing to disagree” can be done at certain times, but is often over-used as a cover to not deal with “the other” and their opposing views. Recognizing an opponent who one cannot work with is important but is also often over-used. This kind of recognition is over-used because of the way we’ve been assimilated into alienation as normal or even noble. Certainly normal but we must acknowledge that it is culturally particular, especially in more capitalist-controlled countries of which the United States is king (yes patriarchal, imperial and dominating).
Along with this is the “picking oneself up by the bootstraps” philosophy of individualism that has been drummed into us in history, so that now, we view social issues and our depressions and mental “illness” ideas as individual problems instead of created by our society— and often they are forms of social control (for example, the sicker we are the more we need medicine—which becomes our own individual responsibility and may create individuals more dependent on medicine more than healthy). These are precursors to groups moving against each other and not having the capacity to join forces. Added to this, is that democratic societies (which were an idea stolen from certain native indigenous groups during colonization of the Americas) must be participative—and most Americans have not been participating in what is required of a democratic society. Being alienated is both a condition and a cause.
“We must realize that the labels we may use on the self, are ideas birthed already in racial structures.”
As Hapa, how may we begin to change aspects of solidarity-making and alienation? Understanding ourselves to always be “the other” among most people who see themselves as mono-racialized (I say “….racialized to note the act of turning oneself and others into a “race” or more), what must we do? How do we begin writing our leaflets and our posts on social media, or organizing a group, or making a speech? We must realize that the labels we may use on the self, are ideas birthed already, in racial structures—where the idea of race was an invention born in white supremacy. The result is a continuing and repeating set of conflicts between the various “races” as we access the normal (which is hierarchically organized in a whitest at the top, male at the top supremacist totem which includes social and monetary capital). What actions are necessary to face the militarized structures of nation-states, increasingly mixed with overtly violent white-supremacist domination? Are either “enemy-making fortitudes” or sappy liberalized notions of “everyone is assimilate-able into seeing us as we are (as good)” the only ways?