Itoro Udofia is an artist and writer living in Amherst, MA. Currently, she is attending graduate school to study social justice and . Her work focuses primarily on the African Diaspora, black womanhood, identity, solidarity, and love. She hopes to continue using art as a tool for social justice.
It’s the New Year and I am well aware that a thoughtful post has been a long time coming. Much happened in the 2010-2011 year to leave the very core of my spirit shaken. To ring in the New Year I want to use this space to begin having more of a dialogue about, naming the unnamed, articulating habits and actions that often remain hidden in our circles of safety, community building and radical organizing. I am glad to know that there have been a flurry of articles and activists courageously addressing the many types of violence, violation and abuse we oppose so valiantly in the presence of our obvious enemies, and then practice those same habits in more subtle ways, sheltered in the safety of our homes, our places of organizing and our personal relationships.
My reasoning for wanting more of these conversations have been propelled by the painful experiences I went through trying to organize from the past couple of years, and finally 2010-2011 was the year that broke my heart and made me look at things as I had never done before. I had found that somewhere along the line, I allowed myself to become everything I did not want to become. When advising me on this situation, one of my close friends said, “You have to be there. And whatever you do. Don’t let them win.” By my actions, I had…let them win. I became profoundly silent and debilitated. I had internalized many of the harsh criticisms, cutting eyes, controlling gazes and all the denials, silence and betrayals that accompanied it, all of that had been stored inside myself. Finally, something deep, that thing that somehow held me together, broke. In the end, I spent most of my time in tears and confusion.
I began to believe that I did not deserve genuine relationships, honest answers and even so much as a civil conversation. More insidiously, especially in White radical spaces, I began to feel that I only existed to help others with their own liberation and that it was my job to take those risks for them. Any destructive habits or actions was “just a part of their process” and needed not to be taken so personally. If I dare uttered that I was tired, then it was a selfish gesture and I better be careful because clearly I did not have enough love for the people. In the end, I truly believed that I was a problem that needed to be fixed and perhaps the contempt was well deserved. Therefore, any type of humiliation, bullying or downright ignorance experienced must have been warranted somehow, because after all, don’t people who often experience the worst of what humans have to offer deserve this anyway? Isn’t this the way the world is? After all, we’re not so bad, the world is much worse! And besides, White people are trying! They’re getting it, they’re moving…at their own pace, I mean so what if they talk too much! You should talk more. So really, there should be no support, no structures, no anything because this is the world anyway. Nasty. And I’m sure not gonna do anything to make it better. Better yet, I’ll watch. And besides the way I treat you isn’t really the big issue here, the issue is actually about this, so the way you are feeling is simply just that, a feeling that has no merit here. The list of the ways we annihilate one another goes on.
Never mind the sarcasm (and the speaking of bitterness), but please hear this. You can tell the type of inner work and reflection one does by the way they regard you the next morning. That’s the part of decolonization I’d like to talk more about. How far we’re willing to go in the action (or inaction) that is soon to come afterward, because when it comes time for us to really fight the more “relevant” issues, I simply want to know that you’re going to have my back and take that risk for us, rather than just try to save yourself. That’s a principled decision, and even indecision becomes a principle. The issue of how we regard one another is not mutually exclusive from the “real” issue. I feel like so many of us have been saying this in so many ways and it still doesn’t get through. If issues of power, privilege and dominance are not addressed, or remain compartmentalized isms simply to be addressed at one’s convenience, there is a way these missing links begin to reflect the organization, its principles, its problem solving skills and analysis. Often, when particular links are carefully left in exchange for immediate comfort, the complexity of the conversations that need to be had are swiftly flattened, and entire histories and knowledges of many different people are left out only to be further forgotten as we move forward on the “real” issue.
But who’s left picking up the slack later? And exactly who do we often find ourselves picking slack up for? …After all, doesn’t this economic system rely on such supreme tendencies and social relations to strengthen itself? Economics are fundamental, but it does not exist within a vacuum. And this was the greatest contradiction I experienced in 2010-2011, that need. That conditioned need that has been essential to saving this system. It’s that need to hoard and save oneself, and rely on carefully guarded supremacies and secrets to do it. And let’s not play around, we often know who is allowed to get by with this type of behavior unscathed. And not to say I didn’t try many times to bury myself in silence, often because I was tired, painfully uncomfortable, afraid and at times downright cowardly. But even despite all those things, I never had the luxury to escape. I had to learn real quick how things were. The system was not built on us escaping or as Audre Lorde puts it, us even surviving. But, we’re still here to tell the tale. For 2012-2013, I want us to continue to be brave enough to tell the tale and strengthen ourselves. I want us to speak out and just say it, because we know the lies that are there to explain reality, and we also know that for some reason not enough people are being honest.
So I’ll end the story here, because many of us have lived through these stories in many ways, and hurt in many ways because of them. So this is for us who cannot simply get up and walk away, escape, and remain willfully ignorant. This blog space is for us who have made mistakes and are doing the work necessary to undo the lies the master taught us. This space is for those who are willing to risk in solidarity, risk for unity and think beyond immediate comfort. Time and energy is of prime importance, and it is often something stolen from us as we fight daily for our humanity, bread and full development. I have been weighing how I want to spend my time and energy, and have decided that there are certain things I am no longer willing to negotiate for the New Year.
1. I am worthy of a loving community that wants to work for the full development of all human beings, and yes, this also includes some level of “emotional” support
2. No more compartmentalizing! No more escapes! No more selective listening and speaking! We need an analysis that includes us all.
3. No more disrespect, nastiness and violence towards people we claim we love and/or support. Yes the world is nasty, but we certainly don’t make it any more sustaining or accountable by letting things go on as they are and remaining silent when we see someone we love hurting. We should try to lessen the suffering, not exacerbate it. Since when is it okay to begin looking at each other through the same eyes our greatest exploiters and beneficiaries on this earth do? We already know all too well what it is to hurt, however, it is clear we need to do more work on what it means to love and truly make a world where all our basic needs are met. We do not deserve the worst of everything!
In 2012-2013, I will be tender towards myself and those I love, I will not espouse words and phrases without practicing them to the fullest extent of what they mean, I will be honest and forthright, disciplined and resilient. I am not a problem to be fixed, this system and the ways in which we regard one another needs fixing and it has to be a people effort. By no means, is this a fluffy, kumbaya type of sentiment, or something that can be simply theorized into abstraction for the comfort of not truly practicing it in reality. This is quite material and concrete. This means, that the power has to be laid down, the hoarding has to be laid down, the lies have to be laid down, put on the table and directly talked about. The ability to imagine everyone there as equals also has to be put on the table so we can say it is a true possibility for us. Happy New Year! Happy Blog Space! And Happy many spaces we are creating to do the work that needs to be done!