An Article by Jonathan Barry on collective liberation(Boston sds)

So the following is an article by Jonathan Barry (Boston sds) discussing how our work toward collective liberation needs to be informed by an understanding of our own personal histories and experience with identity.

Here is a link to Jonathan’s blog, and below is his article.

Interrogating White Patriarchy- Constructing Personal Histories

Often, as a white male activist, I find myself wondering where my energy comes from. Maybe I should rephrase that… when I have the time I often find myself wondering where the root of my tireless commitment to “the movement” comes from. This is never something I have allowed myself to explore because the answers are pessimistic and discouraging, not to mention difficult to come by. For me, when I sit alone, there is an omnipresent pain and anxiety at the core of my being. I believe activism, as with most endeavors in my life, is a way to channel my fear of confronting the terrifying realities of my past into another space. Just as somebody would self-anesthetize with drugs or booze; I self-anesthetize with organizing, among other things.

Organizing is in and of itself is not a destructive activity, however, coming from a place of anxiety and urgency, rather than love and conscious intentionality, I believe it can do more harm than good. I could also add guilt into the equation for most white folks. I believe, correctly or incorrectly, that fear and anxiety and the urgency to be rid of them lie at the heart of what drives most men in our society. I must be conscious of this or my life becomes a means of displacing these emotions on others. This urgency, often combined with white guilt, can become a primary vehicle for re-enacting oppressive modes of thought and being, particularly in progressive circles. The tendency to look at other people as objects of oppressive systems rather than people with agency can lock interpersonal relationships into the framework of white supremacy or sexism (or any oppressive system for that matter).

It has also been my experience that over-intellectualization of anti-oppression work further distances my analytical perceptions from actual lived experience. By just “keeping me busy,” organizing work can be a tool to challenge white supremacy and patriarchy on an institutional level while also maintaining the distance between my conscious (often intellectual) worldview and the core of my being (for me, my emotional being) that is most handicapped by patriarchy and white supremacy. I believe binary thinking like this is a product of our society and forces many institutionally privileged people who study or think about systems of oppression to separate lived experience from ideological framework instead of one informing the other. For example, many white people or men who think about white supremacy or patriarchy frame sexism as a “women’s issue” or racism as “something that I don’t live through”. While men and whites are by no means the targets of such systems of oppression, the personal and psychological wounds for people who are “privileged” are real and by connecting personal experience to theoretical framework, I believe it is possible to gain a much more real understanding that can inform actions and activism. Unfortunately, the drive for consumption and immediate gratification that is instilled in us by a capitalist system works to placate deep pain and drive a deep wedge between what we think of ourselves and who we are. In my opinion, unless there is a conscious effort to bridge the gap, I believe the divide deepens over time, fed by a drug that draws from the exploitation of others to ease the pain of those in power.

In this way, I disagree with those who stress the critical importance of strategic planning of organizing in liberation work but do not acknowledge the centrality of the healing process in the life of an activist like myself. Combining theory, action and reflection in a cycle of praxis, as is outlined by Paolo Friere in his famous book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, is essential to a process of developing critical consciousness. We must embody the change we hope to make. I believe in this statement wholeheartedly. As men and white people, or anyone who benefits from institutionalized privilege, we must come into touch with the fears, anxieties and guilt of what it means to be ourselves in a white patriarchal capitalist society. The process of interrogating who we are and critically evaluating past experiences can be a tool for developing fuller understandings of what we are fighting against, just as research into social constructions of whiteness can illuminate the shadows of its historical specificity.

My own conception of colonization stems from my experience growing up with a father who handcuffed my own development as a person by (sometimes) violently enforcing his vision for my own growth and imposing his own boundaries on what I could think or how I could act. I now see his desire to “help” me become a man is couched in his own inability to be his own man in the most tender and loving send of what it means to be a man. He needs to deal with his own anger, fear of loss and pain before he can ever think about helping me or before we can ever again have a functional relationship. His need to help is a prison cell for my own growth. This experience has shed light on what my own presence may mean in non-white and feminist activist circles.

In addition, my experience and reflections on traveling home this fall to see my parents (mom and step dad) have helped me to more fully understand the pain of what it means to be tokenized. Going home is painful for me. It is not a friendly place. My parents are friendly to me but it is not a place where I can feel at ease with who I am. It is hostile, for whatever reason. Yet still, my parents want me to come home. When I am home, they do not take the time to sit and see how I am or how I have changed. Though they lament that I do not seem happy. When I attempt to articulate my feelings, I only offend them and then am left feeling guilty. At a deep level, my parents are not interested in who I am as a person, only the spectacle of my happy presence in their home, just as most straights enjoy and crave the spectacle of a queer presence to subsidize their own sexual emptiness.

These connections are real for me although they may not make sense for the outsider. In sharing these stories, I hope to lay groundwork for other white people and men to delve into their own histories- either personal or collective- to better understand the context in which our identities are born and the privileges they carry.

I find that the only way I can bring something new and valuable to the discussion on race, gender, sexuality (and capitalism) is to come in touch with my own emotions and how I was formed in this society. While the archive of work on these subjects is extensive, I believe it is essential for all white people, men and straight folks to make the connections personal so as to embody the discourse we espouse. In this way, I (we) can bring can bring something real to the conversation, articulate on my (our) own terms that which I (we) consume as part of organizing for power and the liberation of all peoples everywhere. For me then, counseling, quiet reflection, and scary messy conversations with others about common past experiences is also the work of revolution. This is not to say it can take the place of real struggle against oppressive institutions to build power and win concrete objectives, but it is work that must be done.

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