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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Time for The Real World?


Why do we need coalitions instead of "outreach"? Because coalitions take us further out of the world of being too polite. Closer to the real world.

Have you seen MTV's long-running reality series The Real World? Yeh, a chunk of the show doesn't seem very real world anymore. People on the show are mini-celebrities, get a cool place to live, and MTV finds them jobs and sends them on exciting trips and adventures.

But the core premise of the show, I believe, is somewhat intact: What happens when people stop being polite, and start being real. Where else can we see the social twitches of American society played out? Racism, homophobia, and quite a few of the other prejudices, stereotypes, and cultural war clashes have gotten addressed on the show over the years.

I'm not saying that citizen activists should engage in dramatic talk-show confrontations or re-enactments from the movie Crash. But there might be something to the premise that we are all different, won't naturally mix and get along, and have sensibilities that are in conflict.

Does this premise explain why outreach is so unsatisfying to everyone, particularly in the pre-dominantly white world of progressive activists? We have good-intentioned white people who want to reach out to Black communities to bring more diversity. They believe in doing it because it's the right thing to do, and don't understand why their efforts don't have the effects they want.

Meanwhile, within the Black community, there's a threshold of how much we will take listening to the priorities set by white people without getting our own needs addressed. When you are interested in addressing problems from the view of a Black experience, an organization dominated by white progressives isn't really the place for that. I know from experience that if you're not careful, you're busy doing a lot of educating.

So the questions that I'm left with are: Do all of us need to perfectly understand each other's experience to act together?
If outreach is the standard by which Black people should participate in an organization, why not join the Republican Party? It's a white-run organization with a well-managed outreach plan.

Why should Black people en-masse join any organization or movement (conservative or progressive) when, in practice, it will mean that our priorities and sensibilities will be subordinated? Do coalitions provide a workable means to obtain diversity, in a way that helps us find common cause and make a difference together?

Emancipated by Quintus Jett @ 8:21 AM

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"Do all of us need to perfectly understand each other's experience to act together?"

We can't. It's not possible. Even growing up in the inner city, going through public schools in the early busing era, attending a high school that was 88% black and 12% other and being the biggest "other" around, I have always been painfully aware that I could not perfectly understand the experience of my African-American friends (and enemies) from the ghetto's. It just is not possible. I grew up in a racially diverse university neighborhood with friends of virtually all races and religions from the day I was born.

But it was a university neighborhood and virtually all the parents were part of the kind of community that grows up around a university. It was amile square surrounded on three sides by some of the worst ghetto in the city and on the fourth by he lake.

As I grew up and started wandering out on my own and saw what the surrounding ghetto's looked like and saw the difference in how authority figures handled troublesome black kids and how they handled my troublesome white boy self... I could see it, I could intellectually and even emotionally understand it... but I was only living it from the side.

Now, the entire African American experience isn't tied up in the inner city ghetto but a lot of it can be seen and understood there.

But if you haven't lived it you haven't lived it. For the most part us white boys haven't lived it.

I don't know what the answer is. I know the problem is a lot bigger than progressives trying to work together and not knowing how.

Travis talked about us widening our circle of friends to include each other. I think that is the right track. Hard to do when we tend to live in different communities but not impossible.

Eastern philosophies such as Zen and Daoism talk a lot about the problems of life stemming from the sense of self and other. Part of the problem I keep hearing is that this conversation is always spoken of in terms of self and other. When that difference is eliminated and we talk about we rather than us and them... then I think we'll have solved the problem.

peace

Posted by Blogger Andrew C. White @ Wednesday, July 13, 2005 1:54:00 PM #
 

Must we hold it to the standard of eliminating us and them language? My sense is that we should not retreat from recognizing differences, because in any group of people there will always be differences. Too deny them is to give these differences power, in the form of unspoken prejudices.

As you commented about your own personal experiences (i.e. your own differences), who you are as a person came through. You aren't just a skin color. But talking about it freely puts it context with other features about you, as a complete person.

Posted by Blogger Quintus Jett @ Wednesday, July 13, 2005 9:09:00 PM #
 

Hmmm... I didn't intend to mean language so much as thought and feeling.

As you say, and as I opened with, each of us is different in very real and tangible ways. In Zen way of thinking and perceiving the world this is acknowledged... reality as it is... but without judgement or pre-conceptions attached to it. It is the sense of that difference as separation that blocks us off from each other. A value judgement attached to that difference.

It is self and other, us and them, as a thought process that separates and divides that somehow we must eliminate.

You're black. I'm white. Ok. Reality as it is acknowledges that difference as equivalent to my eyes are green and yours are brown. Ok. So what?

In an America context with all the pre-conceptions we carry around with us you black, me white, means a lot more and separates us. Way out of proportion to the difference in the color of our eyes.

There are real experiential differences that go along with it too though. In the context of the greater progressive movement these things separate us as well. Different priorities or perhaps the same priorities but different angles, different views of them. Those can be overcome but the problem of... how do we reach out to you... how do you reach out to us... is this problem of self and other.

I can reach out to my... self... without much problem because we're the same but it is difficult to reach out to you because we are not the same. I am self and you are other.

It is a spiritual battle within each of us to eliminate that sense of self and other. Our differences are real but it is only within our heads, colored by our pre-conceived notions, that those differences separate us.

Peace

Posted by Blogger Andrew C. White @ Wednesday, July 13, 2005 10:57:00 PM #
 

I am one for coalition formation or building versus cooptation or joining a movement whose agenda has already been formulated.

People unite in groups to push agendas where common ground can be found. This, in and of itself is a powerful step. However, there is even greater ‘power’ in formulating coalitions across difference. For instance, it's just not necessarily so that I would have the same agenda as an African American heterosexual woman as someone who is an African American gay woman. However, a coalition between these two groups where ‘human rights’ issues (such as marriage and child rearing) are common among both agenda’s brings greater awareness to the dialogue of civil rights. Unfortunately we tend to paint ourselves as belonging under one umbrella and therefore believe that we should all culturally push the 'same' agenda, e.g., blacks are pro-life or blacks are pro-heterosexual marriage. Difference in and of itself should not separate (in my mind) but rather be validated on the same plane as what we've come to realize as the 'center' of americana. That's the issue - when difference becomes an excuse to discriminate, oppress and dehumanize and otherwise validate the hegemonic discourse of our culture.

So - I don't think it's necessarily so that we need to walk in each other’s shoes to know what it feels like to be in each other’s company and therefore want to do something about it. I don't need to be raped or otherwise violated to empathize or be an activist for women's rights. In my mind, we are all part of the human family; an excellent way to bring greater awareness to the issues which afflict us is to build bridges or coalitions across difference.

Posted by Anonymous Brown girl in the ring @ Friday, July 15, 2005 7:56:00 PM #
 
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