addressing racism

Going back to a work I studied in college – Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics by bell hooks – I found this:

Lastly, I gathered this group of essays under the heading Yearning because as I looked for common passions, sentiments shared by folks across race, class, gender, and sexual practice, I was struck by the depths of longing in many of us. Those without money long to find a way to get rid of the endless sense of deprivation. Those with money wonder why so much feels so meaningless and long to find the site of “meaning.” Witnessing the genocidal ravages of drug addiction in black families and communities, I began to hear that longing for a freedom to control one’s destiny. All too often of our political desire for change is seen as separate from longings and passions that consume lots of time and energy in daily life. Particularly the realm of fantasy is often seen as completely separate from politics. Yet I think of all the time black folks (especially the underclass) spend just fantasizing about what our lives would be like if there were no racism, no white supremacy. Surely our desire for radical social change is intimately linked with the desire to experience pleasure, erotic fulfillment, and a host of other passions. Then, on the flip side, there are many individuals with race, gender, and class privilege who are longing to see the kind of revolutionary change that will end domination and oppression even though their lives would be completely and utterly transformed. The shared space and feeling of “yearning” opens up the possibility of common ground where all these differences might meet and engage one another. It seemed appropriate then to speak this yearning.

There’s a ton to pull out of this. The whole concept of yearning and longing resonated with me. And then there’s this: “Particularly the realm of fantasy is often seen as completely separate from politics.” I agree. Since I’m a science fiction / fantasy writer, I especially like the word “fantasy.” Because to me it means, “what if?” Radical politics try to transform society, but without the “what if,” where exactly, do you want society to go? There’s important visioning work to be done, and fantasy and science fiction certainly does it. But my critique of fantasy and science fiction is that it does visioning work and then stops there – there may be no explicit connection between the world a F/SF writer or reader wants to see and the change it takes to actually get there.

This resonated with questions of privilege and oppression. I’m white. I don’t like racial oppression. I don’t want it. Nonetheless, I have white privilege. What can I do, other than wallowing in guilt? So this – “Then, on the flip side, there are many individuals with race, gender, and class privilege who are longing to see the kind of revolutionary change that will end domination and oppression even though their lives would be completely and utterly transformed. The shared space and feeling of ‘yearning’ opens up this possibility of common ground . . .”

I like that possibility. Good. Possibility is better than closed options. But I think that a lot of radical texts point to possibility and stop there. But if we really do want to transform society, we can’t step there. We have to take the next step. Which means, I think, finding out what the next step actually is.

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