Sunday, June 28, 2015

My decolonized revolution will be spiritually connective and nothing else.

I started getting involved in activism at the age of 16 but my consciousness of injustice, oppression and unfairness started early. At the age of 3, I learnt to shoplift, stealing my first candybar facilitated by my grandmother. At the age of 5 I understood what domestic violence looked like behind closed doors, witnessing the fights between my grandparents and my parents, between my father and my mother and then eventually amongst my parents and me. It should not surprise anyone that I tried to run away from home at the age of 7. I filled up two big rubbish bags with my clothes and toys and books and was ready to make it in the streets of Singapura.

I am now 31 and alive and kicking in New Zealand. Memories like these do not make me an activist but when someone asks me what got you into activism in the first place, it is these memories that flood my mind.  And it is not just me am sure.
Too many activists I know struggle with traumatic experiences growing up and try to find ways to survive through getting involved in activist collectives. More often than not, in social cause-based collectives, you are bound to encounter people who can relate to what you went through on a personal not just political level. The types of people we meet are multifaceted of course, and no two stories are the same. But we look for commonalities to interact and eventually find ourselves being drawn to people who reject mainstream values and lifestyles and seek to build their own little utopias away from oppressor-run society.  These are often referred to as safe spaces.

However these activist spaces become sites of unresolved effects of various levels and systems of oppressions too. For all that safe spaces policy advocates have done, there is still a lot more about spaces – particularly the intangible, non-material, invisible to the human eye – that has yet to be safe for all victim-survivor activists to participate in.  Recently there has also been a trend in making spaces “intersectional” in which people are expected or at least should expect to consistently exercise their awareness, checking in on their privileges amongst other activist fellows, and finding ways to diffuse complicities by self and collectively creating equitable opportunities, policies and resources for those let’s call us- intermarginalised folks- within these spaces. Put simply, it is very hard work being an activist these days.

Gone were the days when you are just trying to survive, connect and support other people who’s gone through the same shit as you. And am not sure if anyone noticed but all these consistent thinking efforts makes me feel even more paranoid, self-conscious and unsafe being in activist spaces. “Well, I’m Muslim…” I may say to someone at an environmental justice forum, extending a handshake and that person may be an Atheist Islamophobe hiding behind an animal rights organiser nametag, who has already labelled me a transphobe based on what they read or heard about me.

Sometimes these spaces are facilitated by victim-survivors who self-diagnose/appoint themselves as competent and capable enough to facilitate these spaces, often based on a lack of initiative by other people in the group. I have been one of them and also been in groups with one of those, and let’s just say that both ways things can go horribly wrong.  Here is what I have learnt were missing considerations in activist spaces that claim to be safe:
  1. Victim-survivor card trumps all – but if everyone’s a victim-survivor…While victim-survivor experiences and narratives are important, it is as important to note that some experiences and narratives are inappropriate to be explored in safe spaces. I have heard some activists, admittingly in their 20s, say stuff like, “there is no victim competition here, you can’t say one’s victimisation is any worse than another’s”. Well, actually you can, you just won’t get liked for it. When #BlackLivesMatter advocates say, “I won’t cry for white-on-white crime”, there is victim competition right there, legit as it may be. We live in a society where white, able-bodied, cis men lives are valued more than any other’s in society. Let us not bullshit ourselves into refusing to acknowledge that certain victims DESERVE and have A RIGHT not benefit, but  A RIGHT to have their voices amplified and respected more than others based on the amount and level of injustice(s) they have struggled through in their journeys. The issue however is are these voices respectfully platformed in spaces whose objectives are to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to contribute. And then the issue should be, do these safe spaces have the capacity to recreate themselves to accommodate for those intermarginalised voices in the first place? And if it doesn’t, should it? I don’t have the answers to this but I sure hope activists and group facilitators are seeking for some solutions for such too-often-a-time situations.

2. Black feminist quotes don’t make you all enlightened… Check in the poseurs within your activist peers 
I have only read articles and quotes of, never the actual books by bell hooks or Audre Lorde or Angela Davies. But I do know that there are many other feminists who do read, and are mostly white, who regard their words like how I do the holy Quran. bell hooks for instance, constantly promotes the notion of self-love, but it is fundamentally rooted in black womanist consciousness. But how many white activists interpret that as meaning about them? Who actually work and practise solidarity by working hardER (yes as in put in more work than the bare minimum) to ensure black and other people of colour activists can access opportunities for self-care and self-love as what she tirelessly writes and lectures about? Inspiring as she may be, the romanticisation of black feminist images, words and voices by white feminist activists disgust me. Consider that your actions speak louder than the words you supposedly read or listen to. Consider also the weight of those words – and test your vague ideas of social justice against their hard-hitting everyday realities-based theories.

3. Nothing about us without us… so where are these people in your ACTUAL life?
I used to get very annoyed and shun people who go “I’m not racist but…” and /or “I can’t be racist, my partner’s Maori/ Asian/ insert non-white ethnicity here”. Well, having been through several intimate relationships and developed friendships with white people and people of colour who are amidst networks of predominantly white people, I am starting to think that there is something not quite right and inconsistent amongst us activists who claim to live by the personal is political mantra. The personal is political IS personal. I met a white anarchist union organiser who has been in the activist movement for decades and has had his fair share of criticisms and acknowledgements by other activists. And he shares with me (to which I agree) that for all that activists advocate about, more than half of them probably have never met, made a friend with, nor connected intimately with a homeless person, an indigenous working class person, and many other intersections of the marginalised demographic that they claim to be working with and for. Outside of the picket lines and protest marches, everyone has a vague idea of who and what each other is about. Noone really spends time to relate and get to truly know who they are supposedly in solidarity with.
I bet you the very same people stick to the same activists they know for years and years and have very little lived experience of what it means to effect society through stepping out of these underground spaces. The contradictions and hypocrises are not suprising, as should be anticipated with any “well-meaning” activist. So why are we so-called activists hard on other non-acitivist people who are at least meaning what they say and doing what they mean?

4. Invasion and continuous lack of care for spiritual spaces How is it that when indigenous Turtle Island Canadians talk about two-spirit souls within gender and sexuality diverse communities, the wider rainbow activist community can regard that with utmost respect and enshrine that knowledge as sacred. But when I, a queer Muslim indigenous Malay feminist, finally and openly talk about my belief in the human body and soul as an intertwined God-given entity, I am attacked as backward or leaning towards conservative? Nevermind the fact that I took a long journey into reclaiming my faith, revisiting my spiritual consciousness and knowledge amidst trying to survive in the white power under-lyingly Christian-centred (I meant that as underneath and lying as in not telling the truth) dominated capitalist world. Both I thought, are spiritual-taught knowledges passed down by generations of cultural communities. Both promote self-love and ways of healing in dealing with self-hate. I understand that there has been a long-waging anti-God tradition in many activist circles. So much so that it isolates people of faith whose communities are marginalised by sections of race, gender, sexuality and class too. I have never felt more unsafe than I have been in these so-called gender and sexuality minority spaces filled with people who seem easily triggered by words that do not fit their self-determined vocabularies. It is very strange and unwelcoming to say the least and nothing seems to be done to address this either.

I guess by now I sound jaded and cynical like any 30-something activist that got burnt by unhealthy relationships and traumatic experiences. But you know what. I have lived in this body and soul, tortured and beaten, physically and spiritually for as long as I can remember and I have come to realise that opting for another body nor lifestyle does not address the psychological effects of my oppressions. I recognise now that the capitalist system, including its materialist cultures and its supposed opponent antidotes perpetuated through ideas of democracy or leftist ideas of freedom and liberation are all bullshit.  And while God or any entities promoted by faiths that have been politically institutionalized continue to be questioned and doubted by the masses, I for one believe that this world is beyond saving. And if I am going to choose to seek to overcome the greed, exploitation and hypocrises of everyone living in it, it will only be premised at a level of mutual acceptance: That the revolution I seek will see us decolonise spiritually, as people with histories of long-term psychological warfare and torture and that our ways of healing through self and community should start with us investing our energies in being good to ourselves, repairing relationships with those who we know deeply in our heart we love, working through the pain that has destroyed our families, our friends and ourselves, regardless of our political and personal complicities.

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