we are just over the halfway point in our program and it feels like a crucial moment to step outside of our day to day to consider where we are, and how. it is often difficult and uncomfortable to face the conflict between good intentions and optimism, and a critical self-awareness of our own participation in many of the problems we attempt to understand. the tensions many of us are feeling from that in just a short time are becoming a twisted microcosm of how hierarchies maintain themselves and why it is so complicated to create unity in diverse communities for systemic change. every day it feels like everything terrible in “the system” has gone on too far and too long and too big and too deep and the weight of that, and of our inherent participation in it, is, at times, honestly soul-crushing. it feels almost idiotic to say this-- how could it possibly be hard for me to just listen to realities that i’m not even experiencing? when i hear about my friends’ terrifying journeys across the mediterranean to arrive here only to face, as far as i can see, more racism, paternalism, and continued disempowerment by every type of systemic oppression masquerading as support, what does it even matter how i feel or react? i get to leave. i get to go home after and a lot of people don’t.
we have, as a program, discussed the tendency in our american privileged educational bias to feel like we should come here and “do something” somehow, as if completely irrelevant people could pop into an entire community ecosystem for four weeks on their own terms and somehow expect that their interruptions could be constructive. and yet, it feels even more unbelievable that we can uncover further and further layers by the hour to all the obstacles we are seeing people and communities face regarding immigration, refugees, prejudice, and marginalization so how could not trying to learn and engage with it possibly be better? is there a gradient between those things? but as i said earlier, the realities are not easy to hold. you know that odd saying, “if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” or maybe it is a bridge, i’m not quite sure but the point is, it sometimes feels like the entire discourse narrative of the academic left/of intended marginalization allyship is that of constantly watching people we say are our friends be forced to jump off cliffs and then not having to follow or do anything to stop anyone and then being constantly shocked and sad that our friends are dying. as inherent parts of the cycle of marginalizing and oppressing people, it is as if we are all constantly turning to one another and saying, oh my gosh! how could all of these people who just had to jump off a cliff be dead?!! i just don’t understand! i care about them so much! and then being somehow paralyzed in the analysis of that unbelievably illogical non-confusion, when we ourselves did not experience the pressure of having to jump nor did we stop anyone else from jumping in any way.
this is what everything feels like right now.
the systemic practices and institutional barriers holding the greatest stakes in people’s lives are designed to keep efficiently, for their own benefit, organizing the line of people who are violently pressured to jump off the bridge next and how many of their friends will follow, and it’s the same groups of people over and over again. this is being constantly narrated and predicted and realized by the rest of us, but continues happening as it always has. and the question remains- what does it do for anyone if we sit here considering how messed up and unfair (to put it painfully mildly) these dynamics are and then leave? what does it do if we perhaps tap into our capacity for human empathy and misery and just cry about everything and then feel hopeless? what does it do if we don’t at least do any of that?
the work of systemic change, as stated by our tenacious mentor vicente, is often essentially a throwing of all one’s energy into a black hole. and in a month of scattering ourselves across the vicinity of several black holes and barely beginning to comprehend the meaning of throwing ourselves into one, there is just an unbelievable amount of things that we will not do here. nor can we do, nor should we impose ourselves in thinking we are doing. but then... what are we doing here? i am not totally sure. but if we can keep being honest with ourselves about the weight of that and allow ourselves to be kept in check by what we are seeing underneath all the analytical lingo and emotional defensiveness of things we have been told that we know, then maybe, at least the way that we speak about things moving forward could be different. a little deeper? a little more honest? a little less egocentric? a little less harmful? i don’t know. but if people can come together even in one small group to change a narrative, to change the way the realities of people’s lives are being discussed or understood or held in at least one sphere of privilege, then maybe that, too, could be a microcosm for how the world could be different. i hope.
by the way, this exists: