(In solidarity with fellow people of colour and white supporters of justice and equality)
What started off seemingly as a comedy appears to end up as a tragedy, for at the beginning of the US presidential campaign, no one really took the controversial businessman Donald Trump seriously as a likely candidate. The fact that he did end up as a president reveals the proverbial elephant in the room that is increasingly brought to the fore in this day and age of the Internet.
The uncomfortable truth that is often swept under the rugs in mainstream media is that America has always – always – been built on the violence and bloodshed of indigenous people, of black and brown people, of those who don’t fit into the agenda of the white supremacy, Eurocentric capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, which is rife with racism, sexism, misogyny and other forms of systemic and institutional discrimination.
As this article “Don’t be surprised. This is the America you have always lived in” noted:
“This is hatred on a level that that we have not seen since Jim Crow… We underestimated as Americans how deep out hatred was of the ‘other,’ how deep white uneducated Americans felt about the demographic shift. We underestimated that level of insidious hatred.”
Barack Obama’s eight-year service as the president of the US may have brought some semblance of justice, sanity, equality and progressive change, but it fails to contain the underlying destructive mindset that remains embedded in the majority of the population. Mass shooting, mass incarceration of black and brown people, white police brutality against unarmed black and brown people and US invasion and involvement in the conflicts and wars especially in the Middle East and Africa and its interference in Asia-Pacific continue unabated, and are likely to stay the same or increase during the new president’s four-year term.
Perhaps what is more frightening than a racist and misogynist man becoming the president of the US is the fact that he has the backing of the majority who supported and voted for him, who make up the demographics of those Americans who are:
(as noted by a white progressive Christian man living in America)
Social activists need to grow as humans as well because the greatest enemy isn’t outside, whether it is white supremacy or colonialism or patriarchy; it is the untamed ego or shadow side of us. (We can have a holistic t’shuvah understanding of ourselves, recognising that while we bear the image of the divine, we have a capacity to do tremendous good or terrible evil.)
When we succeed in bringing about a revolution and challenging and dismantling white supremacy, for example, the question is “what’s next?” Is the response “who’s the next enemy?” If so, it can become a means to not deal with our interior life and stay preoccupied with fighting against an external perceived enemy all the time. This can lead to infighting in social activist groups or movements as the members begin to turn on one another. But if the response is “how can I continue to create a better and more humane world?” then one can find creative ways to bring about or facilitate restoration and reconciliation. It might mean working through one’s own pain and suffering to experience healing and peace more and more; it might mean reaching out to help the oppressed heal from their pain and suffering; it might mean working with the white people who are aware and willing to bring about equality in real and tangible ways in society, and so on.
To be sure, social activists are human and have their own fears and egos and insecurities. But are they going to allow these to override their primary motivation in activism, which is a love for oneself and others and working towards their emancipation? If others’ freedom and well being are their top priority, they can choose to not their own hurt pride and wounded ego get in the way of their mission to alleviate the oppressed of their pain and suffering.
Social activists have to learn to develop a thick skin and a willingness to be open and receptive to questions and criticisms. They have to realise that as public figures who have a platform that is open to scrutiny from the rest of the world, they cannot be shielded or sheltered from opposing views or different perspectives. Instead, they can choose to learn from the criticisms and different perspectives to do their own soul searching, to grow and expand, to become stronger and bigger persons.
Social activists need to create a space for themselves to embrace their own brokenness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as that of others. Only then can they live an honest and authentic life, and continue to inspire others with their humanness.
Social activists can choose to learn from other role models who have been through struggles and upheavals themselves and who are open about their struggles. People such as Rob Bell and Carlton Pearson, who have suffered and been ostracised in their work to challenge oppressive systems and mindsets and who have worked through their struggles and shared openly about them, can serve as such role models.
A university student named Iwani Zoë from South Africa wrote a perceptive blog “Is Singapore a racist country?” Someone in this related article “Foreign student in NUS writes an article on racism she faces in Singapore” made a rather disparaging comment, saying “She lives in an utopian planet. Racism exists everywhere but it is up to the society and government to regulate and minimize its threats to societal upheaval.”
My response to his comment is:
“Yes, racism exists everywhere, but each of us can take a more active approach to deal with racism because we can’t always depend on the government to “regulate and minimise its threats to societal upheaval”, especially if we are dealing with less overt forms of racism such as the micro-aggressions we experience in daily life, as described in Iwani’s blog. In fact, sometimes racism is state-sanctioned, as evidenced in the white police brutality against unarmed black people and the mass incarceration of black and brown people in America, so the government in general isn’t always dependable.
Also, we are the society and we can do our part to deal with the issue of racism by having open conversations about it in order to educate and raise awareness among people about how being subject to discrimination and prejudice is affecting us; we can do so online through blogs and social media as well as offline. It is through such dialogues that we can find healing and no longer suffer in silence, and that the ones who are enjoying racial privileges can check themselves and not contribute to the problem of racism, such as by reminding themselves and educating their children to not stare at those who look different from themselves and to not subscribe to negative media stereotypes of other races for a start.
Already, in America, and increasingly around the world, the issues of anti-black racism and white supremacy have become an open conversation (thanks to Black Lives Matter and the like), to the extent that more and more white people themselves are acknowledging that they are benefitting from the white privilege system and are choosing to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. While it might not be possible to create an utopian planet, we all can indeed find ways to make this world a better, more humane and equitable place for everyone by sharing our experiences, accepting our differences and celebrating our diversity.”
“The government can legislate but they cannot change behaviour. That comes with education and inner motivation.
The bottom line is that we must embrace our racial diversity. Contrary to what some have said, I think racism is rather mild in Singapore.”
My response is:
“Less overt forms of racism, such as the aforementioned daily micro-aggressions, can be as insidious and detrimental as armed race riots because they create despair, resentment and frustration for those who have been subject to discrimination, prejudice and marginalisation. (It may also result in self-hatred and low self-esteem, as one may wish one was born white or fairer skinned.) To be honest, I myself used to think that racism is rather mild in Singapore compared to some other places, until I realise I have been living in a privileged bubble as a majority Singaporean Chinese and see for myself how many non-Singaporean Chinese, or darker skinned people in general, have been stared at or subject to racist jokes or made to feel as if they don’t belong to the community here as much as the Singaporean Chinese do.
To quote Professor Adeline Koh, “Singapore Chinese, as they are termed, enjoy systemic, racialized and institutional privilege in the country as opposed to the countries’ minorities (primarily racialized as Indian and Malay).” The question is: Do we own and acknowledge the fact that we are benefiting from the system of Chinese Privilege in Singapore? The next question beckons: Do we exert our Chinese Privilege by pretending that it doesn’t exist, and benefit from it all the same—or do we recognize that we are, like other minorities in Singapore, also a person of color, and should be more sensitive to what they are saying, because we go through exactly the same thing when we are not in Singapore that they do at home?”
“The revolutionary move for those within a perverse structure involves finding ways of casting light on the constellation of acceptable transgressions that are going in within the system.
This can help us uncover the central problem with the All Lives Matter hashtag that arose in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the surface the former is simply a reiteration of the official standpoint of America; one that is positive and worthy of support. But this overt position of all lives mattering is inexorably coupled with a network of covert acceptable transgressions. One of which being that black lives don’t matter. This acceptable transgression is not expressed in words, but covertly operates in the institutional realities of the country (in education, policing, prisons, the legal system, etc.).
We are living within a perverse system in which affirmation of the official stance (all lives matter) involves acceptance, and even direct participation in, the disavowed unofficial transgression (black lives don’t matter).
The radical move here involves bringing to the surface the obscene secret that undergirds the perverse system so that it can be short-circuited. In Black Lives Matter, this obscene secret is brought up in such a way that it disturbs the smooth running of a system where some are valued over others.”
– “Transgressions that Support the Law: The Perverse Nature of All Lives Matter” by Peter Rollins
Indeed, the “All Lives Matter‘ hashtag is problematic because while it may on the surface appear to be “positive” in the eyes of society in its declaration that everyone is equal, it is actually intended to dismiss the real issue of black lives being discriminated, and also perpetuates the violence of the white supremacy system against the black community.
Thus, it is a revolutionary move for Black Lives Matter to seek to disrupt the smooth running of the white supremacy system by highlighting the issue of some being valued over others. Others, such as the Guardian, have also sought to find ways to cast light on the problem of how “All Lives Matter” ignores the issue of racial disparity and results in acceptable transgressions, such as the recent event of a black protester being mistreated by a crowd of white people who, ironically, chanted “All Lives Matter“, when in reality, their very actions contradicted the essence of what they professed to promote.
In my search for relevant articles on this topic, I also learnt that US President Obama recently wanted to address the problem with “All Lives Matter” by responding to the critics and clarifying that “Black Lives Matter” is justified in its rallying cry as they wanted to deal with the specific problem of discrimination and oppression by the system “that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities”.
I am also encouraged by this blog as the blogger, who is white, wants to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter supporters.
“when Black women and men say similar things, they are inundated with accusations of “reverse racism” or “divisiveness.” I think it’s important to keep in mind how white privilege gives me a larger and safer opportunity to have this conversation without being excessively harassed – both highlighting the exact racism I’m discussing and the importance of having white people speak to one another when and how we can.”
A few members of the black community have liked a particular post from Gospel of Grace and Peace Facebook page today, which is a quote on success by Maya Angelou. Come to think of it, maybe there is a reason why this quote resonates with them so much, as much as it also resonates with me. When I consider the context of how the white supremacy system has sabotaged the entire lives of Africans through slavery and oppression down through the centuries, such as uprooting their families from their Motherland during the colonial period and enforcing structural and institutional racism which makes it difficult for them to make a living, as well as propagating a narrow one-track definition of success in the name of capitalism and imperialism, I now see her quote as a revolutionary and subversive act of creative rebellion and defiance to divest oneself from the mainstream view of success by boldly declaring that “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Let’s deconstruct this amazing quote and see how it is so liberating and empowering to us who are seeking to challenge and dismantle the oppressive white supremacy system:
1. Success is liking yourself.
This is the first major step to regaining our sense of true identity and self-worth. The white-washed media has sought to devalue and dehumanise non-whites, especially the black community, by portraying white people in a positive light and casting non-white people in a less than positive light. Studies on the influence of the mass media on black children have revealed shocking but perhaps unsurprising results: they grew up hating themselves or their own skin colour. Being impressionable at a young age, it is no wonder that people in the black or non-white community grew up struggling with a sense of unworthiness and inferiority complex. It is therefore of utmost importance that we, including the black community, regain our dignity and establish ourselves in self-love and self-acceptance, and dare to shine in the full glory of our original identity.
2. Success is liking what you do.
For too long, the capitalistic and imperialistic system has been imposing their ideals on us, telling us to conform to the norms in order to be accepted or recognised. These norms tend to revolve around status, power, class, material wealth, possessions and so on. These ideals are based on an illusion of separateness and do not nourish the soul, nor do they engender compassion for oneself and others. Conversely, when we choose to listen to our heart and follow our dreams, we will find ourselves doing what we really like (and thus liking what we do), in a way that honours our spirit and the natural environment we live in. We thrive when we are empowered to express our gifts and fulfil our callings that serve to heal ourselves and the world around us.
3. Success is liking how you do it.
Similarly, the white supremacy system tends to breed many “white saviours” who want to run and control the whole world, telling others how to do what they are doing and expecting them to listen and obey and submit to them. But when we choose to think for ourselves, we will find that we need not have to follow the practices of the system, especially if they do not serve us or others or bring about the highest good. We can like what we do and how we do it, whether we are doing high-profile or low-profile work, or whether we are helping a large group of people or helping them one-on-one.
Giving voice to the voiceless, in an expression of empathy and rage, a cauldron of fire and hailstorm of ice, hitting deeply into the core of humanity
by Dominique Christina
We become poets in an attempt to tether words to righteousness,
Our notebooks to social consciousness.
Sitting cross-legged and anxious in wing bat chairs, we sip lattes to news of regimes,
firing American-made artillery into crowds of folk.
Dead bodies pickled by the sun,
they line streets in countries we never think about and we
suck our teeth and ask a thesaurus to become a machete
and as romantic as pacifism is, these days I dream of dictators falling headfirst into karma and forget to be afraid.
If I could write this shit in fire, I would write this shit in fire.
This ain’t poetry, this is rage unabated, a verb, a means and end.
This is my body.
This is Sankofa, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South-side Chicago, Compton, California. Redhook Projects in Jersey, Roosevelt Projects in Brooklyn.
This is severed hands and clubs against flesh,
black boots to pregnant bellies.
Sterilizations masked as inoculations, leg irons and chains, the bit and the noose,
this is a war-cry.
Tell ‘Massa I coming back,
carrying fire in my knapsack.
Tell him “Patrice Lumumba, Steven Biko, Fannie Lou Hamer.”
Tell him “they have been born again in me.”
Tell him, “I found my mother tongue buried under the rubble of the World Trade Center.”
Tell him, “this shit ain’t no poem, this is me, running naked from sugar cane and cotton field having dropped my crocker sac.”
Tell him, “He can call me Karma, I am refreshing the bones of a witch, a root worker, a sorcerer, a priestess, a gangster.”
Tell him, ”this is the result of segregation.“
Tell him, “this is the result of integration.”
Tell him, “I have never been invisible.”
Tell him, “He has never been invincible.”
Tell him, “I am melting the barbed wires and steel bars of prison yards, they ‘gon flow over him like lava.”
I am returned, I am blood thirsty, I am fangs, and hooks and swollen feet in welfare lines, the gauntlet thrown down.
Lines drawn in the sand.
I am apocryphal-
Historical deletions gathering themselves up into textbooks.
I am the niece of exploitation on a rice and pancake box come to collect the royalties for Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.
I am the line of smoke, a rain dance, the Tomahawk used to kill the first invader.
I am a passbook in South Africa, a Whites-only sign on a courthouse door in Mississippi,
The streets of Benghazi pocked in prayer beads and shell casings, the juxtaposition of faith and savagery.
Tell him, “I am African wide hips and American bulimia, peace symbols affixed onto assault rifles.”
It is the deepest kind of contradiction.
If I could write this shit in fire, I would write this shit in fire.
Tell ‘Massa “I’m coming back.
Howl in the wind I’m coming back,
Burr in your heels I coming back
‘Massa, I coming back. ‘Massa, I coming back.
‘Massa, I coming back.”