Communal Living: Speaking Truth to Power

April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


I’ve been reading a lot of bell hooks lately. It was actually inspired by your post on embracing the self and others. A lot of what you said reminded me of hooks’ writings on multiple topics, especially ending racism through building community. She has a piece in one of her books, appropriately titled Killing Rage: Ending Racism, that focuses on building a “beloved community—where loving ties of care and knowing bind us together in our differences.” Here are few quotations that I really like:

“…beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

“To form beloved community we do not surrender ties to precious origins. We deepen those bondings by connecting them with an anti-racist struggle which is at heart always a movement to disrupt that clinging to cultural legacies that demands investment in notions of racial purity, authenticity, nationalist fundamentalism. The notion that differences of skin color, class background, and cultural heritage must be erased for justice and equality to prevail is a brand of popular false consciousness that helps keep racist thinking and action intact.”

“In a beloved community solidarity and trust are grounded in profound commitment to a shared vision…where borders can be crossed and cultural hybridity celebrated.”

With your most recent post on the effect of S.B. 1070 on the lives of so many individuals in Arizona, imagining a beloved community does seems like wishful thinking. *Sigh.* But it is in times likes these that we need visionaries, like hooks, to remind us to keep fighting AND that there is something worth fighting for. We must continue to “Speak Truth to Power.”

Those videos both angered and inspired me. S.B. 1070 is institutional racism at its best. (If you didn’t believe in it before, they just signed it into law, snitches…again. *blank stare*) Clearly so many in this country are terrified of change and are trying their darndest to hold on to their entitlement and institutional power in the forms of racial, social, cultural, sexual, economic, (and the list goes on) privilege. It is sickening and I am…tired. SMDH.

But these videos and the passion and determination of these individuals who are fighting for things that others in this country take for granted everyday, have given me so much hope. A 21st Century Civil Rights Movement sounds damn good to me. Maybe this time we’ll get it right.

Embracing Self, Embracing Others

April 20th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


First off, this post inspired me to put Badu on repeat for a day.  Best decision. Some artists just put you in a good state of mind, and she’s one of them.

To me, these questions of the individual versus the group emphasize our interconnectedness. Even as we strive to be individuals, we connect with others every day. And we find ourselves struggling to speak with a unique voice, sometimes in opposition to a louder collective voice (the group). Erykah Badu is challenging us to act as individuals, to be ourselves, even if doing so draws criticism and rancor from other people. To do otherwise is a form of dishonesty.

However, we do categorize ourselves in groups, and within every group, there are more categories. We see ourselves as individuals, even while we identify with some people more than others. Even when we’re trying to be “countercultural” we’re creating a culture (goths, hipsters, etc). We live and we connect. The no man (or woman) is an island kinda thing.

And so you’re point is valid, and I’d like to add to it: how do we embrace ourselves as individuals while accepting others as individuals as well? 

Individuality becomes a problem when we confuse our thoughts, actions and experiences (and those whom we most identify with) as the sole “truth.”  Instead, we must acknowledge that our experiences and our “self” can contribute to social solidarity only as we acknowledge the truth that others bring from their experience and “self.”

But, it gets difficult. How do I respond to someone, as an individual, who will not respond to me as such? For example, if I want to “speak truth to power,” how do I do so while recognizing those in power as individuals, even as their power may not recognize my, or others, individuality (or personhood)? And what do I do when I’m the power truth is being told to?

But, hey, that’s the real problem: execution. Being an individual that will work alongside other individuals for the benefit of ourselves and others. In the end, we’ll always be battling for a holistic movement that appreciates difference – and mostly, the battle will be fought within ourselves.

Side note: This didn’t fit anywhere but I can’t help mentioning it – the other danger is using “individuality” as a cover. Because, honestly, how many times have you heard someone say, “I just had to do me,” and you rolled your eyes? Often that line comes as a justification for destructive behavior. Often we don’t actually know who we are or what we’re doing. But I guess that’s why we have friends.

Groupthink vs. Social Solidarity: A Perspective Inspired by the “Window Seat” Video Controversy

April 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


So, you know I am a HUGE Erykah Badu fan, right? I have been too hype about her new album: New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Anhk. I was doing the mental countdown for several weeks before it dropped and it was the first album in a looooong time that I actually purchased, hardcopy, as a CD. That’s kind of a big deal…just saying.

I watched the “Window Seat” video as soon as she made it available on her website—before the media got wind of it and rewrote it as controversial, before talk of disorderly conduct and indecent exposure charges, before people actually started to consider her message of killing “groupthink.”

I’ve read just about all of the seventeen hundred thousand articles and blog posts that are out there about the situation (this one, this one, and this one in particular, I recommend) and it seems as if Ms. Badu is achieving what she set out to do—spur public reaction and conversation.

And there is quite a bit to discuss—Black woman stripping in broad daylight, no permits, no permission, no fear (seemingly), the Kennedy connection, urging people to think outside of the box. Yes, all very scary. **rolls eyes**

The irony is though, almost anyway you try to deconstruct or analyze the video or her actions, it brilliantly reinforces her message of “groupthink” (you are oh so tricky there, Ms. Badu, yes you are). For days she has been asking her followers on twitter to define the term in their own words. I’ve contributed twice, but still have not gotten the coveted ReTweet by @fatbellybella (#backtothedrawingboard).

But, it is this concept of “groupthink” and celebrating individuality that I really want to talk about, as it seems to be laden with contradictions that I am trying to wrap my head around. On the one hand, I do believe that Badu’s inspiration for the video is a belief in the power of self-expression—that one should not have to subscribe to societal constraints, rules, or limitations and can dare to be different. This is a very important message that she got across in a simple, yet poignant manner—Black female nudity (hugely symbolic, personal, and fraught with social implications).

On the other hand, in many ways “the modern West,” is based on a concept of individualism (and the Protestant Ethic), which led to the development of capitalism and contributed to the very foundation of society as we know and experience it today—“The American Dream,” pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and moving up the social ladder, with little to no consideration of all those that you step on (oppress) on your way to success: wealth, status, and power.

I understand that part of Erykah’s message is to urge people to challenge the status quo and step outside of what they have been taught is right or appropriate or “normal.” But, I don’t think that the “group” is necessarily the problem. I guess my question is: is there a way to be both an “individual” and contribute to a collective good? At what point can “individuals” work together in order to achieve social solidarity? Rejecting the status quo is an important step on the way to making real change, but how do we, as individuals, work together to make it tangible and lasting?

We have many examples of social movements. We have their successes and failures to learn from and throughout history it always seems that someone’s struggle is left out or put to the side to be dealt with “later.” How can we have a holistic movement that appreciates difference in all of its many forms, identities, and experiences?

At what point, can a focus on “individuality” become the problem?

**shrugs** What do you think?

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