Emancipatory Social Justice: Between Development and Deconstruction
The Black Pacific, which is the locus of this Blog-site you are engaging with, is a particular conceptual frame through which I work and experiment with the readers, engaging in reflections and revelations on Pacific and Asia-Pacific oppressions, hypodescent, and identities.
There are many facets and aspects of processes of liberatory social justice, the tools through which I think and write and show this blog, my website, and my book.
This, or any other posting, is not about “covering every topic” and every facet. I speak specifically about my own experience in beginning to think about the topic of contradiction and ways to move forward with certain intentions, with the knowledge that intentions are never fully realized, and fraught with contradiction, fragility, and sometimes has the opposite effects from what we want.
Also, I do not believe in “truth” in the sense of a universal and pre-determined superior position. I believe in perspectives that must be negotiated, challenged, taken, created with, and co-decisions made on thinking and acting for social justice. There are different capacities, goals, needs, and challenges to all of it.
My intention here is to open thinking on subjects that many people are talking about these days, as our world is much more information-oriented, and therefore, most of the world’s problems are at our fingertips through social media and community and national/international media. Many of today’s “issues” are related to difference and how it lives in our minds.
At the core of my own experience, is the reality of confronting my own capacities, and facing where I could grow and learn and push, and where my views of particular ways I behaved and thought might not be so much blocks, but needing a new frame or lens on that so-called “block.” In other words, it was a question of finding ways to: first, acknowledge what needed to be shift and; second, to acknowledge needing education or training in order to shift. A part of this was to understand that not all things needed to be changed or destroyed or kept. Different questions needed to be asked, to get to certain things regarding oppression and a society which would work to value liberatory possibilities and was ethical.
Furthermore, we must recognize that equality is a fiction. If we believe that the world is diverse, then equality is not possible. What we are left with is an endless display of our own and others’ hierarchies. They could be personal, communal, ethnic, national, geographic, gendered, etc. Equality, in actuality, is an ideological hope and promise that cannot be fulfilled in the middle of history, when oppressions are the reasons that cultures and nations live today. Oppressions come from hierarchies and that word I think is useful nowadays: necropolitics—the governance of difference through decisions made by the privileged about who is to live and who is to die. The coining of this word is credited to Achille Mbembe.
What needs to be created, maintained, honored, grown, developed further? What needs to be deconstructed? What needs to be radically shifted? These are questions regarding events and circumstances in the present, regarding the past and the future—in the present, right-now, this moment. Now, remember, when I mention de-construction, it usually gets collapsed by people, to mean dismantling in order to destroy. Indeed, sometimes it has this effect. But to deconstruct—as action, is not to destroy, but to understand and re-do differently.
In my mind, everything needs some deconstruction, to get to how it was made, how we got here, what was the intention, where are the different effects and what do they do in the present, and what works and what doesn’t, and what time factors and conditions are involved in those effects and circumstances?
In my thinking, if these questions are not asked when we are doing historical, cultural, social justice work, we will kill things that should not be killed, and exalt things that should be shifted or even destroyed. An aspect of this is the often unexamined emotion and thought-patterns that many people carry in their social justice work—that of morality.
When I say morality, it is not just “good and evil” but more about the limitation of thinking in binaries, and also to look at how “real” or “truthful” someone is when they say they are doing some particular act or process, for “good.” What does this mean? Something could be good for a certain people, community, person, institution, but would be detrimental to others. Also, what could “feel good” in the short-term—for instance to “get back at someone or group”—but be terrible in the long-run.
What justifies killing something or someone or a community, in the name of “good?”
What happens, at this point, is an array of possible reasons, conjectures, silences, games of hiding and subterfuge, and perhaps something really really worthwhile, or none of the above.
Some things appear “good” but in reality are not. At this point, the stakeholders, the people involved, will make decisions, doubt, or go ahead, depending on their knowledge and education and ways of articulation, or deep-seated intentions they’re not even aware of. Frequently, as we humans are, we decided on something because someone “good-looking” was saying those things, or someone “ugly” was, or someone we liked or didn’t like. Sometimes people make decisions about everything based on highly personal conjecture.
Studying intercultural communication, I put forth, really helps in looking at how different cultural modes come together between cultures, to create cross-meanings and contradictory messages. Some people will get it—usually those who have traveled and may be more familiar with different peoples, while others think everyone is on an equal plane, even though that other person or group speaks a different language or speaks one’s own with an accent, or dresses somewhat differently, etc.
So how are people supposedly going to work together for social justice and social change? How in a globalizing, transnational world, where people come together from all walks of life, supposed to work in solidarity for social justice?
Another node, is the reality of a kind of colonized mindset—that of consensus. This is related to assimilation and domination, related to missionary work—where like-minded people come together and recruit other like-minded people and they work together against decided-upon enemies. This is the present model that is dominant. It has become more popular and seemingly “natural” because of colonization, where these kinds of ways of thinking have been proliferated through colonial take-overs and policies and controlled cultures through the centuries, mixing with local ways of decision-making and power struggle.
So if we develop things and ideas and actions, paying attention to what is not, and what can be sacrificed or delayed, then I think this is always a smart way to start, with studies of historical development of a situation or conflict or negotiation or…….
To deconstruct is always a good thing, to understand what is making up what it is we are engaging with, confronting, building, and tearing down.
Not only, say, between men and women, poor and rich, and people-of-color versus white people, gays and lesbians versus straights, or the Asians and the Blacks–these are very problematic forms of identity-formation and conflict when we are going to struggle with developing processes that will make new societies. These above forms of viewing certain people are very dualistic and very non-diverse and when used, need to acknowledge diversities and divergences even further. People who have worked at educating themselves and struggling with themselves, and continue to day-by-day, will be better at making certain processes happen instead of creating yet another hierarchy of “those people aren’t educated enough” etc.
What needs to happen in this moment with this scenario, is to have people commit to processes (of some kind) toward education and re-articulation of difference, and to view difference from a position not married to colonized mind-sets, yet not making our processes and ideas yet another form of domination. Passionate or strong, yes. Dominant, no. Priorities, yes.
The last thing I wanted to mention in this posting, is that frequently, there is the notion of getting something perfect, and then embarking on a path.
If one deconstructed this, from the point of your own cultural traditions of thinking and what you have inherited or not, is that we are doing social justice work to arrive at a perfected society. The idea of a Utopia is for me, problematic, and as other social science theorists have mentioned, it is related to fascism. I will not go into it here, and hopefully, if you are wanting to find out more, you can read critical engagements to ideas of utopia and social theory on your own.
In this post, I just want to mention that the struggle to learn, educate oneself, to discover and investigate, to discuss, and to do social change work must be done simultaneously, to work in advocacy with oppressed positions and groups, to struggle with it all, so that we may test out things we learn, while we become more familiar with the terrain and forms of what it all looks like in reality, instead of in theory. Expect mistakes. All decisions should be transparent, forsaking moralities.
It is no small task, then, to shift these kinds of ways of assuming decisions and working in solidarity across difference. But what are our choices?