By Maya Menezes
Dear fellow organizers, survivors of academia, and peers, something is wrong with our movement. In our effort to make things accessible we have made movements inaccessible. If our effort to speak for we
One of the most beautiful privileges afforded to those who have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education, and one of the most beautiful things that those with class privilege can do, is to use their privilege to ‘share the mic.’ What does this mean? Gayartri Spivak addresses this in her awesome (and incredibly dense and inaccessible article) “Can The Subaltern Speak?” When the left speaks for those who are oppressed, and makes profit from creating discourses of anti-oppression, are we creating revolutionary accessible texts on behalf of those who are not heard? Or, are we instead speaking over, for, and on top of stories we know nothing of?
The hijacking of revolutionary discourse by privileged folks (racialized or not) in the safety of our ivory towers does not serve those who we would think we are helping. Instead, what it does is make palatable a struggle that is quite frankly, not ours to tell. Moreover, the rewriting of discourses and silencing of the less eloquent speaker devalues and delegitimizes the thoughts and feelings of those experiencing oppression and colonial violence on such a raw level that academic language cannot explain it, cannot boil the rawness out of it, and quite frankly- has no business trying.
2014 saw the birth of some of the most revolutionary movements of our generation. Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have shattered the collective consciousness of millions of people around the world, and offered hope to the oppressed, violated and silenced communities of the fringe majority. What have they done differently? Inclusivity. The blockade activist who swears like a sailor has just as much (if not much more) legitimacy to speak than the PhD student who spent a couple days taking photos for a chapter. The angry racialized activist who asks you what right you have to be there, to speak and profit off their struggle, has every right to demand an answer of you. Your social justice studies, your weekend activism, your soon-to-be law degree or radical learning class, does not give you the right to decide who is heard, what voices are legitimate, and what discourse is just palatable enough to be the face of the revolution.
‘Proper diction,’ an anthology of theory, and formal citations should not speak over the current lived experience of oppressed communities. It is important to remember that, while English and your presentation of your knowledge through this format may for you be liberating, it is also the tools of the oppressor, the silencing strong-arm of entrenched colonialism, and the boot of class mite, meant to squash those who cannot speak it, and to push forth the rampant social stratification whose only goal is to to shatter and splinter our movements. Proper diction is the invisible hand of horizontal violence that clouds our understanding of struggle and experience.
We’ve all had our ‘ah ha!’ moment for our entry point to resistance. For me, it was sitting in a classroom, completely new to any type of academia (let alone activism), listening to my professor lecture us on the revolutionary building of the Black Panthers. He lent us readings that were in run-on sentences ending in livid swear words and manic punctuation. It was listening to him yell, and rage, and pace and shake with sadness at the state of the world, and the suffering of others. It was him telling us, his students, that if we have privilege to expend, the best thing we could do was step back and shut the hell up. I’ve never been more uncomfortable in my whole academic career. I’ve also never been more humbled or motivated to learn outside of the classroom.
Complex social movements demand a diversity of tactics. A diversity of tactics does not only mean marches AND sit downs. It means a diversity of participation, a diversity of voices, a diversity of lived experiences, and a diversity of language. When we think of language and the politics of justice over equality, we must remember that justice means sharing space, and giving up space. Giving up space is not only determined by the physicality of carving out space, but of changing the words that we use so that all folks of the revolution can understand our speaking. It means carving out a space so that those who have not read what we have read can still listen and understand your writings and your workshops. It means that you change the way you speak with people and preferably, speak a little less, and listen a little more.
A diversity of tactics means instead of making the complex and angry voices of non-academic movement builders more palatable to the mainstream by allowing white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy institutionalized language to be pervasive, it’s allowing for the legitimacy of all forms of rage, eloquent of not, to be heard and to be legitimate.
As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools cannot be used to dismantle the master’s house. So please, praise the Lorde, and remember that a movement voice in the image of the oppressor, is not a movement that encourages participation, but one that stratifies us, silences those who need voices the most, and discourages inclusion. Stand in the back, make room at the front, and listen instead of speaking.
So movement builders, as you organize, and write, as you speak and bring in speakers, as you build solidarity, finish your post-secondary certifications and join with others, remember, we are not here to re-make the system in a new image, we are here to fucking smash it.