“No one wants to integrate into a sinking ship,” or reflections on Your Voice, Your Conference

“No one wants to integrate into a sinking ship,” according to Malcolm X (this is probably a paraphrase). Angela Davis, the keynote speaker at last week’s Your Voice, Your Conference: Awareness, Solidarity, Action quoted Malcolm X during her speech on Friday. She was amazing and hilarious.

But this statement, more than anything else she said, has got me thinking. Earlier in the week I attended a workshop led by Tony Vogt, Joseph Orosco, and Lisa Gonzalez on “Transforming White Democracy.” Vogt discussed the book The Abolition of White Democracy by Joel Olson, which Orosco discusses briefly (from his blog):

Olson builds on the Judith Shklar’s idea that to be a citizen in America is to have a kind of special social “standing” with its owns rights,responsibilitiess, and respect. Olson argues that American citizenship has been something that white people have appropriated to further their own supremacy over people of color, denying them full standing in society and, thus, full human dignity. In other words, whiteness has come to equal citizenship and more civic benefits come with whiteness than not.

During their talk, Orosco, Vogt, and Gonzalez discussed ways of democratic action and community that have differed from the white model (of a certain set of rights, of individual property, and of aggregated support of a party system) that puts more power in communities and groups of people.

And I begin to wonder if we shouldn’t view White Democracy as a sinking ship that we should not be trying to join, but rather trying to offer alternatives for: creating vital democratic public spheres, creating communities and pluralistic societies and cities, creating transnational actions and communities, incorporating multiple communication styles. Ultimately, looking for quality of life and liberatory potential (the right to self-determination and to self-regulation) instead of a rigid set of rights.

As a queer feminist man, I often wonder about marriage, and the drive for more mainstream LGBT folks to try to join into the institution of marriage. Angela Davis was concerned that perhaps the military is a sinking ship and wonders why LGBT folks and women would want to join. She proposed instead extending the exclusion of people from military. Wouldn’t not allowing anyone in the military be ultimate equality? I think that marriage is often an institution that is made to reinforce male dominance and female subservience (a la arguments by Radical Cultural Feminists). Isn’t marriage a sinking ship that queer folk shouldn’t be in such a hurry to join? Perhaps we can instead think about alternative ways to construct families?

Luke Sugie and I also co-presented a workshop at the conference called “Toward a Less Oppressive Social Justice Pedagogy,” where we talked about the oppressive ways we often try to “teach” others social justice issues: through masculinist rhetoric and pedagogies of shame, and how we understand argument as a war (Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By informs this). Instead, we proposed being compassionate, listening to your bodily reactions to what others say, and speaking from personal experience. And it dawned on me after the Angela Davis talk, that really, we were saying, “The way we treat each other is a sinking ship! Get off. Let’s be compassionate and try to have deeper conversations.”

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