There is no solidarity with liberals. This a bold statement with nearly twenty years of experience to support it.
Over 18 years ago, I discovered the word liberal had a political meaning. I’m sure it had been shared in spaces I’d occupied before then but I was too deep into whatever fictional literature work had my attention at the time to notice. As a young teen mother, I turned to message boards to help me figure out parenting, the sort of home I wanted to raise my child (and future children) in, where I was politically, and what all I didn’t know having been raised in a conservative to moderate Black home in the South.
There was a lot I didn’t know.
I found the words “progressive” and “liberal” sounded right -at least on paper-. They represented what I knew I wanted, a world that strived to meet the needs of those in our society that are forgotten, erased, and victimized because when they are thriving we all can thrive. It felt like openness when so much of my upbringing had felt closed, shut off, and limiting.
I didn’t want limits for my child. I wanted expansiveness.
Nearly two decades later, what I’ve found is those words are hollow and often nothing more than pretty little badges worn primarily by white folks in attempts to distance themselves from the white folks they deem undesirable, all while simultaneously continuing to engage in those same undesirable behaviors. There is no change, only the illusion of it.
Liberalism centers the feelings of whiteness and the systems it supports, first and foremost.
This isn’t a new critique of liberalism, it’s a tale as old as time that we still see playing out. For instance, the conversation on wage inequality centering on the pay gap between white women and white men, conveniently ignoring that Black men and Asian men and women make the same as white women -and thus aren’t receiving their full worth-. In addition to Black and indigenous women as well as Trans and disabled people make 20-40 cents less (if not more than that) per dollar than those groups, but that’s conveniently left out of the conversation as well. We are supposed to believe that if the conversation centers on cishet white women we will all somehow magically get free as well. Despite the fact that these women, historically and currently, sit in positions of immense privilege, in some cases more privilege than Black and brown men because even though they are men they aren’t white, and that matters. This leads to the conversation on wage equality sounding more like a husband and wife bickering over if the other loves her more than he loves everyone else. In that conversation, we all still lose because white supremacy will be victorious either way and nothing will fundamentally change.
Liberalism does not seek fundamental change. It seeks to create illusions that allow those on the top of privilege mountain to sleep peacefully at night.
More recently we can see this in conversations on inclusion and how they never mean for the space to change, merely for those being asked to sit at the table to change themselves. Asking for accommodations or pointing out the macro and micro-aggressions experienced by marginalized groups in those spaces gets painted as an attack instead of an opportunity to live the values these spaces claim to want to have. We see this with the lack of Covid mitigation protocols, with the push for returning to normal, and with the way, Black, brown, queer, and disabled bodies are pushed out of these spaces the minute they don’t confirm or allow their labor and existence to be tokenized. And even with DEI jobs that are overwhelmingly held by white people.
I use to believe that liberalism had the potential to grow into something more, it merely needed the aid of those with varied life experiences to help guide those who sat atop privilege mountain to the promised land. After spending the last four years in exclusively liberal spaces, I’ve come to believe that that’s no longer a possibility. Those who enter those spaces ready to do the change work either find themselves - like me- fleeing to safety to lick our wounds and repair our broken spirit or so fundamentally changed that they can’t see that they too have become part of the problem. You can see this in politicians who after years of being in the system have moved from leftist ideology to firmly moderate -toeing the line- thinking. Devil’s advocating, excuse-making, and minimizing become the norm. Liberalism still operates in the system of white supremacy, its goal is to assimilate or destroy all who enter. Liberalism merely adds bumper stickers and pink-knitted hats. It still has the same goal. Assimilation.
I had already found myself pulling away from these organizations, the weight of living in my body with all the boxes I check and the exhaustion from having to fight in every space I walked into to prove I mattered was too damn much. But, I wanted to hold on to the spaces that seemed to hold the ideals of liberalism but existed on the outside of those white spaces. The thing about white supremacy, once that bitch gets in somewhere it spreads like a plague. Even the fringe spaces had caught the bullshit.
The moment I decided to hang up the towel came as I sat in a virtual space with other Black people, and one lamented about wishing there were more of us in a particular organization. I nodded in agreement sharing the sentiment. Then another individual chimed in, “But not too many of us” and everyone, but me, nodded in agreement and laughed.
I felt sick. Their words were no different than the white people who sat across from me six years previously complaining about not wanting a particular Black educator to be present at an event because they were “too much”. Too much of what you ask? Too much of their happily Black, queer, and informed self. That’s exactly who we need more of in spaces! The white liberal woman who sat next to me at that meeting remained silent. Conveniently. She didn’t speak up, she only nodded in agreement and then after the fact said it was fucked up. “Can you believe that, Rayven?!” she said seeking solidarity and approval for her silence. She didn’t get the solidarity she sought and that was the last project we worked on together.
In that virtual space, I was right back in that boardroom and the faces looking back at me were my skinfolk but not my kinfolk. They had all become what we wished to change and I realized if it could happen to them, then it could happen to me.
I refuse to let that be my destiny.
A thought process built on being seen as being on the right side of history while actively avoiding the work of creating a future that is safe and inclusive can never be a leader in liberation.
Liberation work is a constant discomfort. It means analyzing every facet of your life, discerning how you can do better, and then doing the work of being better. It’s a multi-level approach that involves the polls, the pews, the schools, and the streets. Liberation work never sleeps. It doesn’t don a safety pin, it dons a mask. It doesn’t parade around the same half-dozen approved Black, brown, queer, young, and disabled folks and proclaim progress. It instead creates spaces where heteronormative whiteness is so small that the rainbow of humanity can thrive and flourish. Liberation doesn’t ask, “How will this make us look”, it asks “How will this impact the present and the future for the better of humanity?”.
Liberation doesn’t ask “How do we get more of these particular people to the table”, instead it asks, “What about our table is unsafe for others and what can we do to change it?”
And then it does the work of changing the table instead of requiring others to change in order to have an uncomfortable seat.
Liberation calls for us to examine the places we hold privilege and then move accordingly to build a world worthy of the generations that will come after us.
Liberation is bigger than liberalism.
Liberation asks us to be more than what the system wishes of us.
During this most holy of weeks, where Ramadan, Passover, and Easter collide as you look around those who fill your churches, synagogues, mosques, and gatherings ask yourselves, are we living for liberation or are we merely living for liberal likes?
And then shift accordingly because there can be no liberation without work and we all deserve to be safe and free.
Rayven Holmes (c)2023
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