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Radical for each other right now

Savala N. Trepczynski, director, Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice | December 16, 2016

If certain things about President-elect Trump remain unclear — policy positions, his taxes, his ultimate vision — one thing is certain: he has peeled back the worn-out bandage on America’s most infected wounds and summoned some of humanity’s darkest impulses. How we respond to his presence may, indeed, determine not just who we include when we say “we the people,” but which people still exist here to be included.

Here is the truth: all who believe that our experiment in diversity, equity, and inclusion should continue must become radical, now. And we must become radical for each other.

radical350This means shedding fears, silos, and inhibitions in order to be a warrior for the rights, dignity, and personhood of everyone Trump’s impending presidency imperils. If we don’t, we risk the horror that triumphs when good people do nothing. So how do we become radical for each other?

1.We learn to welcome pain. Our culture encourages us to replace pain immediately with anger, food, shopping, social media, and denial. But to be radical we must be empathetic, and to be empathetic we must be willing to bear witness to, sit with, and honor each other’s pain. Until you see and feel someone else’s suffering, their struggle will never be part of your circle of concern.

2. We commit to a fearless inventory of our own bigotry. Social science tells us that we all harbor unconscious bias. This is part of the human experience. Yet, especially in America, we are so trained to be superficially appalled by sexism, racism, and other biases that we are often unwilling to examine the bigotry in our hearts, conscious or not. This inventory, fueled by the disinfectant of self-awareness, is unpleasant. But even the most liberal among us (myself included) has an issue or two about which we secretly roll our eyes. Identify those issues and ask yourself whether you can still afford to be skeptical. Our skepticism, after all, keeps us silent. And we need each other to speak.

3. We engage our privilege. Each of us has a hand on some lever of power. I may be black, fat, and female (three identities which often lead to othering and dis-empowerment), but I am also well-educated, rich by global standards, and cisgender. I can use my particular nexus of privilege in service of others. I can use my money, my education, and my access to normative gender standards in ways that my poor, less-educated, transgender fellow citizens perhaps cannot. And my husband, who is white and male, can use his particular privileges in service of me, or our children, or you. We each must learn what our privileges are and research how to activate them in service of others.

4. We create belonging in our daily lives. Many women, people of color, immigrants, members of LGBTQI communities, poor people, religious minorities, persons living with disabilities, and more live with the untended injury of not belonging — of feeling like an “other” in one’s own country. We experience symbolic annihilation. We, as Martin Luther King wrote, “are forever fighting a denigrating sense of nobodiness.” But we can heal each other, starting with the small patches of earth on which we make and mend our daily lives. Make eye contact, speak to each other, openly ask and honestly answer the question, “How are you?” These habits transform mere members of identity groups (tall black guy, old Asian woman) into human beings. Let us do this work of rehumanizing to and for each other starting right where we live.

We will get through this chapter of history; but our condition after the “getting through” depends on what we do now. Today and tomorrow, there will be opportunities for each of us to be radical for one another. Let’s dedicate ourselves to subversive, revolutionary, game-changing inclusion and love. Now is the time.