don’t patronize us/them (from oakland to standing rock)

on saturday i learned of a warehouse fire in oakland that, as of this writing, has claimed 33 lives.

on sunday i learned that there was a victory in the fight against the dakota access pipeline – the army corps of engineers made a decision in our favor.

the emotional high and low of the weekend has been massive.

something i have noticed, many times before this weekend (especially around the movement for black lives work) but in sharp thudding pounding obviousness this weekend, is how patronizing we get with each other in the name of rigorous social justice. like mansplaining, but it’s not only men doing it…

for some reason, we patronize and condescend to each other in response to news in our community.

shortly after i saw the news out of oakland, when i was franticly bouncing from page to page of my oakland loves and missing everyone, i already saw comments from people about how unsafe these kinds of spaces are. and why aren’t artists demanding better work/live spaces?

and then as the news of the army corps of engineers decision was being announced by indigenous leaders on the ground at standing rock, amongst victory screams and tears, people were already saying ‘but, nope, no, not a victory,” and so on.

i wanted to take a moment to highlight this behavior as one of the ways that myths of superiority play out in real time, amongst people who don’t think of themselves as racist/sexist/classist/ableist or practicing supremacy.

as a virgo/first child this is a major piece of my own life work – thinking i know better than anyone else. i am unlearning.

so: we don’t know better than the artists who were in that warehouse on friday night. they made the ‘choice’ of freedom and community over (or while also) reaching for a safety most of us have been priced out of. because warehouse parties are a gathering place for those of us who are outside the systems in a million ways, for a million justifiable reasons. and warehouse parties are one of the places where we know each others’ faces and unique styles, we look for or become our favorite dancers, we wait for the dj who knows exactly how to liberate us from the week we had and remind us we are alive and in this moment we are in community and we are free. i found parts of myself on narrow warehouse stairs in oakland, i left parts of my pain on dance floors in warehouses in every city i have ever lived in. those choices, those risks, were a part of my survival as i found the communities that wouldn’t ask me to leave any of myself at the door.

we need to learn, together, how to grieve or respect the space for the grief of others in our community – without using it as a moment to educate those who are grieving. about anything.

i think we buy into the rapid river pace of social media and think we only have five minutes to say everything that needs to be said about a topic. this is not true. we have to protect the time and space needed to grieve.

and: we don’t know better than the multitude of tribal leaders on the frozen ground at standing rock. indigenous communities are well aware, after 500 years of dealing with this country’s genocidal campaigns, not to let down any guard. when we see them telling us the news of this victory step with tears in their eyes, we need to check any part of ourselves that wants to talk down to them and say, “you are wrong, because…”

kandi mossett said this in her facebook live video, which i am posting below and recommend watching: ““we have survived genocide. for 500 years we have not changed our story – you have to care for the earth so she can care for us.” and tokata iron eyes, a 13-year-old who lives at standing rock, said “i feel like i have my future back!”

they don’t say these things because they lack context or information or misunderstand the patterns of this country and need non-native people to educate them. they say these things with lifelong experiences of being in this battle for the planet, against nations.

the victories are few but they nourish all of us, help us to understand the potential of intersectional peoples’ power. we have to protect the time and space needed to celebrate.

this weekend i have found myself all over the emotional map, and that condescending tone has felt so loud and disrespectful. comment threads expose that social justice is guilty of the same anti-intellectualism rampant in the u.s. media right now. we know so little, but rather than admit that, we cobble together stances, little barricades to cover how scared we are to feel. we are still rushing to be right and know the most. intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. we need to turn up collective rigor around facts, yes, but we also need to hone our emotional intelligence.

if we were making massive decisions based on facts, we would already have a global commitment to a just transition and every single life would matter in practice and action. instead we live in a world of emerging patterns, human flaws and miracles, crises and ecstasies. and we share this planet with (and internalize the beliefs and practices of) criminal colonial power brokers who bend the law in ways the masses are not allowed to.

what holds us together is community and story.

stop telling communities they have their story wrong.

examine what it is in you that needs to counter things you hear from people directly impacted by oppression.

grieve with oakland. celebrate with standing rock. and keep doing your own work.

kandi mossett live:

tokata iron eyes with naomi klein:

3 Responses to “don’t patronize us/them (from oakland to standing rock)”


  1. 1 Zach S

    Adrienne,

    Do you think there’s also an element of defense mechanisms at play here? Both celebrating joy and mourning a tragic loss are occasions where we show emotional vulnerability, which our society teaches people to view as weakness. Both of your examples of activist-‘splaining remind me of Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability defense mechanisms.

    Zach

  2. 2 Eriel

    Love you! I felt so much of this. Thanks for this.

  3. 3 Adrienne

    absolutely!

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