10 Ways to Make POC Activism More Effective
As with any job, there is stress involved in social justice work. The people who connect themselves to the long-term commitment of changing our world sacrifice time, energy and personal resources of many kinds. They also carry their personal burdens, biases and blinders of different sorts along for the ride. Everyone does. There is a notion that somehow personal matters are "on the shelf" when we are "at work," but that's only true to a point. We are human beings, not machines.
We have all been a part of organizations that fail under their dysfunction, that are fractured to the point of falling between their own cracks, that waste lots of time on bickering or show-boating. There are also those that operate "fine" in the public image, but within the membership, formal and informal, internal strife abounds. Some people end up in public office or highly paid positions, having participated in less than fair ways on their way up the ladder. Below are a few of the issues to address if we are to be the most effective for the long haul, a goal so crucial to addressing the mounting evidence that there is more work to do than some of us have anticipated.
We Have Choices
1. Deal with your classism.
Depending on how conventional an organization it is, there is an amount of class privilege embedded in certain persons' ability to commit. We cannot always tell someone's resources by looking at them. Who is a single parent without a consistent babysitter? Who lives in an area tough to travel from on public transportation? Who moved to the state recently and didn't know that most of their communities' activism takes place too far away? Who plays a "'hood personality," but really comes from privilege? We put on expensive events to worship a person's commitment, when someone else may have done half as much with a fifth of the winner's resources. I think that makes person number two worth recognizing.
2. Look out for the narcissists.
Those who have cleverly joined their true interest in issues, with their desire to be the center of attention have to be put in check before the waters are muddied by those who don't see through them.
3. Remember the gender double standards that elevate male privilege above the work and safety of female-identified members.
This comes in the form of men's ideas or efforts being seen as more credible than women's, or a tolerance of men's bad behavior. Don't let cultural patriarchy get a pass. Don't someone's charm or looks blind the fact that they have the #2 problem.
4. Look at the toxic internalized racism that drives wedges between marginalized communities that would have more in common than not, if we weren't "fighting over the crumbs" and dismissing each other's historical trauma. There isn't enough funding for what needs to be done, to be able to afford such alienation. Immigration issues are a perfect example for this moment in time. As some have mentioned, the Brown Paper Bag test is not dead. But sometimes the yardstck measures "how much of a (perceived) sellout," "how 'Black,'" "how American" or whatever. Who deserves advocacy? Who has earned admiration for their struggle? Who will never find credibility in their chosen effort because there has been a covert assessment of them that will hide behind internal gatekeeping?
5. Have a good look at how much things like higher education may have created unnecessarily rigid notions of the way efforts should be conducted.
Many of our U.S. communities of color have a long lineage of non-linear, collectivistic values, which are often dismissed in favor of eurocentrically-embedded notions of professionalism that prevent us from drawing on the things that were just fine about the way our people did things before we were so deeply colonized.
6. Don't romanticize figures of the past, minus their personal flaws.
There were some very honorable heros of our past who succumbed to their addictions, womanizing, etc. We can separate their flaws from their accomplishments, so as to not excuse their problems, dismissing patterns that re-emerge in later generations because we don't cut it off at the pass.
7. Connected to #6: Re-examine our notions of RESPECT.
Avoiding addressing someone's flaws because of their status as an elder, a parent, a man, etc. is enabling "un-health" in our communities, a pattern hard to address if bad actors are granted excuses.
8. Stop the age-ism.
We waste a lot of energy and resources by continuing to re-invent the wheel. This also means that some vocabulary, technology skills and new thinking needs translation so "the old" can effectively inform and participate with "the new."
9. At this point in time,there are generations of assimilation, intermarriage, immigration factors, etc. which means that "acceptably _____ (fill in the blank with a race, religion or ethnicity) is changing!
If the standard beliefs are outdated, we aren't doing each other any favors. Unique, at first can look strange or objectionable and maybe are based on regional biases within a city or state On closer scrutiny, who knows what new tidbit could save you time, money or grant you better collaboration and success on a broader scale?
10. Don't conflate culture or custom with dysfunction.
For example, "This is how Black people do things" forgets that Caribbean or African-born Black people have differences that come, in part, from the influence of their cultures' conquerer(s).
Sometimes we don't even know how much a current cultural norm, expectation or dysfunctional factor has roots in our original ways, having been twisted into a pretzel by generations of abuse, neglect, values of colorism, forced (now 'normal') religious practice and/or the resulting shame or adherence to unhelpful hierarchy. Infighting in a Latin@ organization between Mexican heritage and Caribbean heritage, immigration efforts excluding Asians, Africans or Haitians are another example. Patriarchy can also be excused by this factor. Excusing homophobia and bigotry toward LGBTQI2-S community has progressive religious leaders re-searching long held interpretations of their historic writings and many are coming up with effective solution.These issues have everything to do with whether certain people are fully accepted into an organization and understood to have a new contribution or valuable perspsective. These issues have everything to do with whether we become brown versions of the very oppressions we claim to be resisting.
We have to be self aware and consider it part of self care. Do we have unending energy to waste? We suffer, wasting valued talent, say one thing, then do another? These are among the problematic issues that we have more control over than our actions may show. All this makes the work harder than it needs to be. We don't have complete control over institutional racism. We must have more control over ourselves.
(note: workshops for addressing any of these concern are available by contacting Westcloud Consulting at www.westcloudconsultingllc.com)