Justice as Praxis

No.1

“Not infrequently, participants call attention to ‘danger of conscientizacao’ in a way that reveals their own fear of freedom. Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid!” –

Paul Freire fromPedagogy of the Oppressed 

All of my days are filled with me trying to be my most restorative and transformative self. I think it is essential to practice both. This means exercising accountability, care, and imagination everyday because our personal healing is part of our collective liberation. I believe that when we are involved in the work of restoration and transformation within the self the work extends to our communities and collectives and goes on to move outwards and onwards. I haven’t always been like this, and it would be misleading not to acknowledge that there are days and moments that I am not acting within the realms of restoration and transformation. When I was younger I struggled with apologizing. It wasn’t that I was unable to self acknowledge the harm that I had caused, what I was lacking was my ability to vocalize it — to surrender to the harm. It would be remiss to not mention that I also grew up in an environment that never modeled this type of vocal accountability. This environment was riddled with domination, power, and control.  I was afraid of punishment. I was afraid that owning up to the harm, to the mistake, would mean that I was “bad”. I never wanted to be bad. 

Words alone can’t save us, and it is important to understand that our language does shape what we can imagine. Over the years I have learned that when we don’t have familiarity over ourselves it becomes very hard to like ourselves. As a result it becomes very difficult to hold ourselves accountable, especially to those in our communities. In my current state of self, it is much easier for me to vocalize my apologies, and acknowledge my harm. It is much easier because I am not afraid of being free. I am not afraid of existing in a world that requires processing, authenticity, and accountability. Nina Simone said it best– “I’ll tell you what freedom is! It’s no fear”. 

“HOW DO WE HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE FOR WRONGDOING AND YET AT THE SAME TIME REMAIN IN TOUCH WITH THEIR HUMANITY ENOUGH TO BELIEVE IN THEIR CAPACITY TO BE TRANSFORMED”  –

bell hooks  

6 weeks ago I sent an email demanding accountability and an apology from a family friend that had spent a large portion of my teenage years sexually harassing and exploiting me. It took me back to when I was 21 years old trying to navigate the world after being drugged and sexually assaulted by two men from a neighboring college in my hometown. From there I sat as my body catapulted me into a world of recollection, shame, and vulnerability. As a person who has survived multiple forms of violence I know that it takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying memories of terror. These memories affect how I love, how I wrestle and plead with my body, the days in which I show up, and the days where I am buried under blankets, drenched in misery. It is especially in these moments that I think a lot about harm, accountability, and justice. 

“AWAKENING TO LOVE CAN HAPPEN ONLY AS WE LET GO OF OUR OBSESSION WITH POWER AND DOMINATION”

bell hooksfrom all about love

My understanding of justice has always been deeply rooted within me due to the identities that I hold. I am a Black, queer, Zimbabwean jew. The pursuit of justice has, from the very beginning, been a fundamental tenet of Judaism. My generational lineage (as a African/Black woman) is one of trauma and the continual search of justice. My bisexeuality demands justice. However, alongside all of that, I came to America by way of the ‘American Dream’. As an immigrant I mastered the brutality of assimilation– consuming whiteness as a means of survival. I migrated to the United States post 9/11, and absorbed the carceral state of mind. It is deeply entrenched in the genetic makeup of the United States of America. I see it in the political, social, racial, and economic fabric of the United States. And because of  that, when I thought about justice it was deeply rooted in carceral punishment. I am embarrassed to say that I would sit and devour “Law & Order” and let out a sigh of relief anytime the “bad” guy was caught. Have you ever stopped yourself to ask; who defines bad? And who defines good? And why do we think that we are so far removed from “bad” when we all commit harm. Harm is unavoidable.

My awakening to consciousness has been a tumultuous but rewarding journey. It’s personal in that It began with my understanding that I had the power to choose freedom. Freedom as in liberation and not freedom as in maintaining the status quo. (See the ways in which the United States government uses “freedom” and “democracy” to maintain white supremacy structure through western capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.) It reminds me of one my favorite Einstein quotes where he says that the “significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when they were created”. The carceral state of mind teaches us that justice should be inflicting harm back on the perpetrators. It teaches us that justice is a service for the white bourgeoisie to further white supremacy, even though most everyday white folk barely benefit from such systems. (Read: “Dying of Whiteness by Jonathan Metzl) That is a one dimensional way of thinking. The carceral state of mind doesn’t leave room for accountability, nuance, restoration, and/or transformation. (Think of the phrase: “innocent until proven guilty”.) Justice for our communal members who are living with memories of terror does not lie in the systems that were created for our oppression. Justice for our murdered communal members does not lie in the systems that were created for our oppression. Justice lies in creating a new world that cherishes and protects us while we are all still alive and in community with each other. 

“FEAR OF RADICAL CHANGES LEADS MANY CITIZENS OF OUR NATION TO BETRAY THEIR MINDS + HEARTS. YET WE ARE ALL SUBJECTED TO RADICAL CHANGES EVERY DAY. WE FACE THEM BY MOVING THROUGH FEAR.” –

bell hooks from all about love 

The result of my email is complex.  Immediately after sending the email I was filled with anxiety. Thoughts of “this man is going to find me and have me killed”, and “oh shit– not one person is going to believe me”, and the infamous thought “what if it was my fault?”

I would just like to pause and say: It was not my fault.

Critically Riro

Everything happened so fast, especially compared to the 2 years I had spent wrestling with the ways in which I could confront the situation. There were days where I would wake from nightmares with my siblings in mind, hoping that someone out there was providing spaces where they could experience ethical love and accountability. It was after the brutal rape and murder of Oluwatoyin Salau that I sent the email. I felt good–good in the way that finally being able to confront and let go of a shame story feels. 3 days later his wife called me, put him on the phone and I heard a “I’m sorry for anything I’ve ever done to you. I have known you since you were a little girl”. Within a second his wife was back on the phone with words that I don’t think I can ever forget. She said, “He said sorry. I hope that we can let go and we can find ways to heal and move forward with our lives”.  I said bye, and sat on the toilet and cried for 20 minutes. It felt so unreal. I felt dismissed. I felt angry that all of my work had accumulated to a phone conversation that lasted 4 minutes at most. 

Why didn’t I call the police? I am an abolitionist–a full time justice practitioner. I don’t believe that the police would and/or could have helped me. I share this story to show that justice practitioning is all things messy and empowering. It can’t be completed to its full potential within the systems in which we reside. I don’t believe the current justice system works in a way that upholds survivors, and people as a whole. Recently I’ve looked at my own previous experience as a survivor in regards to a previous case I had taken to the police. To this day, my case is open but when I called the St. Louis Police Department they said that they had no information on the case because the detective had been moved to a new location. When I asked if I could have information to reach the detective I was told that they don’t give that information out, and that there was nothing that he could do.

 I believe that anything we love can be restored, and/or transformed. Imagine if we could build a world where police didn’t exist , where we are all justice practitioners by connecting with our people, our communities and learning how to be accountable. Imagine creating communal responsibility in regards to harm reduction. Imagine if we learned to trust and love ourselves, and believed in our internal powers of growth? We are all responsible for each other. We are all connected. Envisioning a new world can not begin outside of ourselves. It is in the intimate and the intimacies. It is rooted in consciousness, and love. 

VIOLENCE + OPPRESSION BREAK COMMUNITY TIES + BREED FEAR + DISTRUST. AT IT’S CORE, THE WORK TO CREATE SAFETY IS TO BUILD MEANINGFUL ,ACCOUNTABLE RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS AND COMMUNITIES.”

Beyond Survival, “Relationship Building”

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