Monday, October 4, 2010

An open letter to all you socially conscious, just, progress, change, types… (and you chill folk too)

In the last year, I have made a strong effort to become as connected to various forms of media as possible. My google reader runs the scope from Washington Post to and everything in between. It makes a lot of sense for me to read corporate and independent media as I consider myself to be a contributor, participant, and voyeur of society. I also consider myself a cultural critic and humanist, focusing my attention on soundsystem music as it offers a wonderful window of social commentary, artistry, and contradictions. Correlating to this quest of capturing a wide range of opinion and reporting is my circle of associates and friends who represent this wide range of social views. I find myself hanging out in sophisto circles, drinking at hipster bars, talking to cleaning ladies and drunks at the metro, and watching Redskins games with my college buddies. For many, especially cultural/nationalist/cliquish purists, my involvement in one circle may seem like I am being fake towards the other. So, how is it that I have love for a D.C. team whose logo and industry is racist? How is it that I hang with progressives who can be just as prone to being elitist and discriminatory as the conservatives and neoliberals they fight against? 
I rationalize these contradictions and membership in many spaces as a part of our ability to self-contradict and to good ol’ human error. Albino, Latino, American, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Capitalist, Socialist, Populist, Humanist, Progressive, Competitive, Communal, Male, Moderate, Musician, Activist, Advocate, Educator, etc all reside in me, and come up based on situation and event. And as part of a larger society with particular processes and systems, I am also coerced into acting in these ways too. There are times where I take a very liberal stance and others where I may be seen as conservative. Many times this happens not by choice but because the surrounding voices and minds navigate me to these positions.

I also understand these circles have a wide range of diversity as well. Not every progressive ‘gets it’, and not every conservative is closed minded. And the use of categories is generally quite troublesome as they carry assumptions that may not be met by everyone. Even among supposedly inclusive groups, you have those in power and those who are not. As a result, I know progressives who wish not to identify as progressives, I know feminists who do not like using that term. And ultimately, no matter what side of the spectrum you are on… if you use a category at all, you are likely to fall into the same trap as the other group in the respect that you will abide by the rules of ‘groups’, which includes membership, establishing norms, and codes. These parameters result in similar behavioral patterns of members deciding who gets in or out, what to wear, how to speak… and that my friends sounds pretty segregating to me.

And this is pretty much the reason why I am writing. In my quest to make connections and put the dots together, I pretty much see every dot acting just about the same as every other dot, across all levels of political view or makeup. Cliques, cultures, and subcultures oftentimes share a theme of membership, self-discourse, and homogeneity. I read through comments on progressive blogs and everyone tends to agree on the article. I see comments on mainstream blogs and behaviors are quite similar amongst those participants. I see similar faces in progressive events. Angry folks stick with angry folks, social justice white-guilters stick with other social justice white-guilters, sophistos hang with other sophistos.The gifts, perspectives, and contributions these groups can offer to others is often muted as they are shared with people similar to them... you go to a really cool socially conscious event and it ends up looking like preaching to the choir.

Aside- I love it when I see certain progressives, radicals, activists and blah blah... actually interact with the homeless, working-class Latino, or Black female who do not speak the collegiate and progressive movement language... the progressives like saying cool things to grab their attention and love like "revolution" only to be received with ambivalence, cause they don't speak that way, their not using such codes, and they pretty much are talking like gringos who want to get down and don't...

Obviously there are folks who do not follow ‘group’ behavior. I was pleasantly surprised the other night where I visited a happy hour in a poshy spot in Downtown DC… amongst the crowd was someone I saw from what they called an ‘activist’ circle. I also appreciate being at get-togethers comprised of a motley of people and the conversation goes terribly awkward when the views of one person doesn’t link up to another’s, breaking group-think and having folks try hurriedly to change the subject. I like the fact I have conflicts of interests in the events I participate in… tailgating with my friends at a D.C. United game, or going to a film screening about gentrification. Those moments bring the dirt from outside the house and into your living room, forcing you to wonder why the hell I walked in, and putting to question what you are gonna do about it. And it’s that urgency, that awkward tension that brings excitement to my world… I have to deal with the contradictions, I need to figure out how to include you and you in this conversation, and I want to find a way to move the dialogue and movement forward.

My recent interest in transnationalism, and my ongoing study/participation in soundsystem music provide some steps for me to move this point towards something useful and positive. In my recent quest to go back to grad school, I learned of researchers interest in decentering current understanding of society as a collection of nation-states by looking at the tides and movements of ideas shared among people. My current research in Soundsystem music follows this closely as we have unique music genres in Brazil, England, United States, Angola, and Puerto Rico connected through history, oppression, and technology. The internet has made it easier for artists to send information to each other, and artists like M.I.A. exemplify this transnational communication of dance music. Soundsystem music is a great example where technology, economics, oppression, artistry, social commentary, literature, and language converge for a beautiful whole. And a good DJ makes decisions on track selection to speak to participants, and their reactions speak back to the DJ. The ability to communicate across all walks of life is what I strive for in all my work.

So, I am sharing my observations in order for you to think about your actions and attitudes towards social change and group membership. There are times where I think it is important for people to occasionally be immersed in a homogeneous space, we need breathers and it's good to recharge our batteries. But, I have heard so many progressives/activists speak of distaste for their ‘other’, as backwards, unwilling, and evil. I find such attitudes hypocritical and ineffective. And its usually the ones with the most resentment that end up having the least capacity to communicate their ideas with others. I am not saying what they believe is wrong… but social justice based on spite and social justice based on inclusion is very different. Let us look at the wind currents that slide across nation-states rather than the borders of difference. This should not be mistaken for some melting pot thing, or ‘everyone must get along’ thing, but a question of your ability to speak to others in an effective manner that reflects a sense of humanity and empathy towards members of our community, no matter where they stand.

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