Lessons of Activism: You will lose. A lot.

The last two years have seen me borne into a new space of my life where my activism efforts are at the forefront of everything that I do.  They are at the forefront of my professional work, they are at the forefront of every new relationship and friendship I build, and they are at the forefront of every interaction I have with existing relationships.

With Trump as president of this country, it is really hard for those of us with activist hearts not to be constantly activated.  It seems like the onslaught of work to do is never ending.  With social media in the palm of his hand, Trump has created a world where people’s hatred and bigotry is laid bare and then contorted into policy proposal.  For many of us, this has lead us down the road of having constantly hard conversations with people, both well-meaning and not, about what the fuck is happening here.

These conversations are incredibly difficult.  They are exhausting, but they are truly one of the most important components of Trump-era activism. We need to have conversations with his supporters, we need to have conversations with liberals who think they’re helping (but aren’t), and we need to have conversations with people who want to do better (but aren’t).

The problem, though, is that in these conversations, you very often will lose.  You won’t change the person’s mind.  You won’t make any real headway.  You honestly won’t make any gains at all.  BUT, when I say lose,  I am also discussing it in a much deeper and general sense.

  1. You will lose friends.  This is the hardest piece for me.  There are going to be people in your life who don’t want to have the hard conversations and won’t understand why you need to.  They won’t understand your anger, or protests, or resistance.  There are going to be people who, up until the point where action was necessary, seemed as though their values and vision of the world was aligned with yours.  However, the point of action has arrived and lines in the sand have been (necessarily) drawn.  You may find yourself on a different side of the line from people that were once your friends — or even your family. In many cases, you will find that a bridge between the two of you is impossible to build.  This is necessary.  When you begin to work actively and diligently to dismantle systems of oppression, it is really hard to be around those who either: a. don’t believe these systems exist or b. are content to, either passively or actively, continue to benefit from them.  They will make accusations.  They will tell you that you are letting politics ruin a friendship — and yes, you are, because in this case, the “politics” are tied to human and civil rights.   They will tell you that you have changed — and yes, you have, because the backdrop of our nation has.
    BYE

    (It might be personal, though…)

    Stepping into action and pushing for progress always involves change.  Embrace it because, while this loss hurts, it is inevitable.

  2. You will lose patience.  OH my lord, will you lose patience.  It is exhausting to have the same conversations with people over and over.  It is exhausting to watch people defend Trump or find spaces of acceptance for his supporters.  You will feel like shutting down (or punching “alt-right” nazis).  This has happened to me almost daily as I endeavor to talk to white people in my life about race.  I have found that, after countless attempts at explaining and hoping for change, very little change actually happens.  I have found that most white people struggle to engage in the kind of self-reflection necessary to understand their role in white supremacy.  I have found that their default response is defense.  I have found that they still think their voice and opinion matters in the face of a topic on which they have really no experiential knowledge (the old “talk less, listen more” could really help them here).  Their privilege feeds their ego in a way that allows them to think that they not only get to perpetrate the oppression, but also control the way that the victims talk about it.  It is in the muddy depths of this that my patience has worn thin and I have abandoned relationships.  And it SUCKS.  A friend of mine, who has struggled with these same conversations with her white friends, sent me this.  I had read it before and, while I respected and understood it at that time, I had decided I should still continue to the conversations.  I have often felt that as a mixed race woman living with white privilege, it is my duty to have these conversations — and so I have them, even when it’s unhealthy or hurtful for me.  However, today when I read it, I was like YEP.  In order to preserve my heart and soul — in order to continue to pour myself into the work that matters (following the lead of and supporting POC throughout this entire journey of progress) — I must stop talking to most white people about race.  I have lost the patience.  It isn’t working and it is hurtful and it is miserably fucking exhausting, which brings me to my next point.
  3. You will (occasionally) lose hope.  It may happen even more than occasionally, if I’m honest. I have, on many occasions, thrown my hands up and said “fuck it.”  However, that’s not productive.  Yes, it takes an incredible amount of emotional labor to continuously help white people (specifically white men) understand systems of oppression, how they impact people of color, and how their own privilege makes it difficult for them to see things clearly.  It’s a burden that often becomes way too heavy to carry, which is why leaning on white allies is vital.  POC are not under any obligation to educate white people.  It is spiritually difficult work, and while it is important, it is not always doable.  Instead, white allies should step up and take over.  In my case, I turn to and lean on my husband.  He is always ready to pick up the reigns when I grow weary.  This gives me time to breathe and recharge, which is desperately needed as I continue to work.

These losses are some of the hardest I have had to endure during my time working as an activist online, in person, personally, and professionally.  However, I don’t want to leave you to focus only on these losses.  We are activists because we keep going.  We are activists because we understand that change takes loud and consistent persistence.  And so, you must cut your losses, and you must keep going.  Resistance is a noun that suggests a continuous process; one does not stop until the force working against her is defeated.  So please: Keep. Going.  

keep going

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