Black Lives Matter: Transformational Politics and Mainstream Politics, Take 2.
Well, somehow I missed the first 6 ½ minutes of the BLM encounter with Hilary Clinton that I wrote about in Becoming the Change 2. It’s good that I’m a blogger and not a reporter. J This time I will be working from the transcript of the encounter on Democracy Now.
In this first part Daunasia Yancey begins the discussion this way:
…you and your family have been personally and politically responsible for policies that have caused health and human services disasters in impoverished communities of color through the domestic and international war on drugs that you championed as first lady, senator and secretary of state. And so I just want to know how you feel about your role in that violence and how you plan to reverse it? (Emphasis added.)
After Hilary responded to this question—somewhat directly and somewhat evasively—Daunasia takes the conversation to a new, more critical level:
Yeah, and I would offer that it didn’t work then, either, and that those policies were actually extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color.
It’s a very straight-forward question, and Hilary doesn’t run from it or dismiss it. But she certainly struggles in her long response to it to answer in a way that 1) is substantive in her context, 2) avoids any suggestion that she could be “guilty” of any racist violence to people of color, and 3) seeks to contain the possibility of the discussion blossoming into a genuine, in-depth exploration of how our blindness to the depths of American racism that is embedded in those of us who are born into and grow up within the embrace of our shared culture.
I am bringing the word “guilt” into the story. It’s my interpretation. I am suggesting that this is an unmentioned issue in this conversation. I bring it in because it is extraordinarily rare that a genuine interactive exploration of any aspect of racism or sexism doesn’t trigger at least the shadow of guilt. And here we have a famous politician and current presidential candidate putting herself at risk of having that kind of interactive exploration in public. I find it hard not to assume that Hilary, as astute and skilled as she is in public discourse, was not sensing the dynamic possibility of being sucked into some kind of “public confession.” Her way out of her predicament, was to energetically re-focus the conversation onto her turf—what can be done now in terms of new policies and laws—and to actively invite Black Lives Matter to join her in that work.
Then Julius Jones enters into the dialog, respectfully re-asserting the BLM focus:
…you’ve offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked, and that it is an unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work. But the truth is that there’s an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work, that particularly affect black people and black families.
And until we, as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek, actually addresses the anti-blackness current that is America’s first drug—we’re in a meeting about drugs, right? America’s first drug is free black labor and turning black bodies into profit, and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system. It’s a similar thread, right? And until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to white people in this country, so that we can actually take on anti-blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution, because what the conversations that are happening now and why there is so much—so much cohesion across the divide, the red side and the blue side, is because of money, right? We’re spending a lot of money on prisons. We’re spending more money on prisons than we are on schools, right? But if we look at it from a lens of "Let’s solve this financial problem," and we don’t look at the greater bottom line, that African Americans, who are Americans, are suffering at greater rates than most other people, every other people, for the length of this country, then it’s not going to go away. It’s just going to morph into something new and evolved.
I quote this at length because I think it brilliantly and succinctly moves right to the core issue where any transformational effort to address racism or any form of systemic oppressive dynamics must begin and continue its work. That is, any effort to “fix” the problem of race, gender, or class that focuses on legislative and policy solutions cannot succeed in doing that. This is not to say that such actions are useless. Not at all. It is to say that any “fix-it” consciousness can only perpetuate the problem because it will not see the problem it thinks it is addressing. Our oppressions are dynamics that our culture embeds in us and we grow to embody in ourselves to such an extent that becoming aware of the extent and implications of this unavoidable process is like fish becoming aware that they live in water. Unavoidable because no one can be born, survive, and grow up except in and through some kind of culture. My shorthand reference to all of this sticky stuff is culturalDNA.
I argue that each one of us is the problem of every kind of oppression. The primary site of culture is the body and soul of its individual members. Each one without exception. I also argue that each one of us embodies the awesome resources of human mutuality, care, and love. So each one of us is also the solution. So my mantra is let’s become the change we want to bring to the world. This is incredibly difficult because every effort and conversation is seriously obstructed to some extent by guilt and blame which always evoke defensiveness.
I know from first-hand experience that it is possible to have these kinds of conversations. In reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ amazing testament, Between the World and Me, (and many others) we know it is possible for one to share their deep and intimate stories. What I don’t see is how a public figure can do it openly.
So the central challenge I see for those working for deep social change is how do we move policy, legislation, funding, etc. forward in mainstream and movement politics, while, at the same time, promoting deep transformational work among ourselves personally and collectively. Our transformational work is crucial both in terms of finding out how to shape more cooperative cultures and in re-defining the parameters of mainstream politics.