Sunday, November 10, 2019
Putting Out the Gaslight
[NOTE: Last spring, I jumped momentarily down the rabbit hole to comment in a way that wasn't the kind of post I typically write. This post is the second in that "series."]
The other day, I had a conversation with someone who is recognized as being at the top of his game in terms of political analysis. Maybe he is. I wouldn’t know because we’ve been up to our asses in alligators in the U.S. for a long time and I had to quit staying up all night talking theory decades ago. Instead, I spent thirty years paying bills, raising kids (and more than a little hell), going to school, living through a ton of trauma -- including the murder of my son and the suicides of my father and a man who had threatened to kill me, as well -- and then spent twelve years teaching college full-time which allowed me to spend literally thousands of hours focusing on what’s to be known about power relations: race, class, gender, and sexuality, while applying what I was learning to better understand myself and the struggle we're all in.
Thinking about society as an abstraction has its usefulness, but it is a luxury few can afford when people are not being able to feed themselves and their children. This is why the Black Panther Party instituted breakfast programs, food giveaways, and health clinics on top of their political education classes. But people don’t live by bread alone. Without respect, the men -- and women -- perish. And respect as a theoretical construct is meaningless.
Lack of respect and what sociologists call “verstehen” (deep understanding) have caused most Black Americans to despair of any hope that wypeepo will ever “get it,” no matter how radical they supposedly are. Similarly, some women (and me among them) have long since wearied of listening to men who do not recognize the way they come across and gaslight women to avoid seeing it themselves. Gaslighting, for those who don’t know, is using your power to manipulate another person in an effort to make them doubt their perception of their own lived reality. It is a hallmark of every type of oppression and a principle tool used to maintain any system of dominance.
I’m not by any means suggesting that anyone should be or could be perfect. We are -- all of us -- socialized to reflect our capitalist, White Supremacist, patriarchal, homophobic culture and continually encouraged, co-opted, bought, browbeaten, manipulated, and tricked into manifesting that socialization on a moment by moment basis.
I, for one, began fighting against class-based oppression of people other than myself at the age of eleven, but I didn’t really begin a process of rigorous self-reflection until decades later. Now I work on the internalized effects of oppression that plague us all by giving myself no quarter. I work not only to overcome the way I oppress others, but to overcome the ways I participate in my own oppression. And I listen hard to those who struggle with issues like race, class, gender and sexuality to assist me in my evolution.
Learning how to talk (or write) a good game comes long before learning how to avoid the pitfalls of perpetuating the traditional and current norms in our own lives. In the meantime, I don’t reject Black resistance against White Supremacy as we fight classist enemies together. In fact, I join my Black brothers and sisters in the effort to free myself. And I most certainly do not tell them it doesn’t matter that Black people are extra-judicially executed daily because that will all be different when capitalism is a thing of the past. Nor would I suggest that we don’t need to fight that battle today because I wrote something about it once.
Three trips to Cuba have taught me that economic change doesn’t fix everything overnight. Nor would I expect it to. But I am not going to ignore any level of oppression either now or later -- whether it’s about me directly or not. And any conversation that attempts to tell me that radical men “don’t see gender” sounds to me like “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.”