Wake Up and Work: a reflection
By Taylor Weech
Over the past couple of years, something has solidified in my mind that I’ve had the uncomfortable pleasure of working on here at PJALS this past year. It probably began when I was told by a comrade of color that undoing racism is fundamentally a white people problem, and by that logic, my job. Looking at that sentence now, it seems so obvious. Of course white people should be the ones to take apart the system of race from which we benefit. Of course men should be the ones to examine and dismantle patriarchy. The onus is clearly on heterosexual people to end homophobia. Especially heightened during the mercifully-past election season, the divisions between our narratives and understandings have made simple conclusions like these and even honest conversation in general less possible.
But now, and always, we have a responsibility as people who believe not only in nonviolence, but in a better world where peace, equity, and justice are manifested in reality, to dismantle systems of violence wherever they are found. I’ve been very grateful to find an activist home in PJALS that centers the theory of intersectionality (a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989)—the idea that unfair systems that privilege some and oppress others based on identity don’t exist in opposition to one another, but rather stack and multiply in effect.
In the first workshop of the fall series we just completed, I led an exercise called “Intersectionality Twister” in which many colors of paper were scattered at random across the floor. “Find a pink square if you’re a woman or genderqueer”, “Find a yellow square if you grew up in or are currently living in poverty”, “Find a blue square if you’re a person of color”, “Find a green square if you live with a mental illness or disability”, and so on. Some participants stretched and contorted on the floor, reaching fingertips out to find paper sliding against carpet. Some participants never took a step. At the end of the exercise, I asked how people felt. One of the non-movers, a straight, white, man with class privilege said, “We were kind of just on the sidelines.” He paused and added, “Is that what we’re doing?”
And because I know and like this man, I flipped his question back at him. “I don’t know, is that what you’re doing?”. We continued to dive into that very personal terrain, talking honestly about anxieties, frustrations, hang-ups, and hopes for what we’d like to see emerge from a fair society. We practiced having difficult conversations, especially as white people trying to reach fellow white people on the topic of race, and we listened to one another’s stories of both privilege and oppression, which was a powerful reminder that these aren’t just theories to toss out at dinner parties, but each of our real lives.
That is why I want to ground our learning in collective action. Because analysis is important, but we are in an ongoing emergency that robs people of their humanity, their dignity, and their very lives. So we take on a strategy from our partner organization, SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice): accountability through action. Committing to learn from those affected most by our actions (or inactions), we act from our best knowledge, actively listen to feedback, learn from that listening, and repeat. I’m excited to hear what other participants thought and how I can improve for next time, and eager to act again with even more of you in a struggle for racial justice.