53 Years or 53 Minutes

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”  

These words, by American political activist and philosopher Angela Davis, make a clear distinction between holding a belief and actively trying to counter racism. Today they are more important to remember than ever. We live in a society paved by discriminative structures, prejudices and biases. The pandemic just made this fact more visible. The injustices of public health provision and the disproportionate way the pandemic has affected communities of colour, is simply a crack in the mirror that can’t be ignored.

Many protests are continuing around the world against racial discrimination, police brutality and white supremacy and in favour of acceptance, love, difference and sisterhood. The apt and catchy segment from a 1967 speech by MLK Jr. has been circulating quite a bit these days – ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’ – but it is worth taking a moment to read the context that scaffolds this nugget of thinking:

“[…] it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.” 

Sadly, this could have been written 53 years or 53 minutes ago. This struggle is deeply intersectional. Violation of the basic rights of one group, ripples to affect all others who are marginalised, discriminated against, and similarly treated with injustice.

In recent years, we have been taught to reduce much of our thinking to buzz words, tweets and quick sound bites. This means that we risk to reduce our understanding, our feelings, or the time we dedicate to reflecting or sitting in discomfort with questions we want to avoid. Precisely this point of resisting superficial reflection is what we are aiming to do in Apuro, the branch of Waking Life that brings people together to interact, listen, speak, witness, feel, and express themselves in different ways to the dancefloor experience. This summer, we had dedicated a day to Diversity and Otherness. We believe that transcending separation in all its forms is a fundamental mission of all projects that can spark real impact in a community. With a gathering of humans seeking to connect in ways they have not been able to in The Matrix, we have an opportunity to truly learn from each other and leave the bubble of art and sound more in tune with ourselves and the world. We had planned to bring speakers and artists that would explore decolonisation through movement, challenge the taboos of islamophobia, dissect the sometimes invisible world of microaggression, dive into the history of systemic oppression, personalise lived experience of racism, and spotlight the West’s culpability in creating climate refugees. We continuously discuss the questions of representation, diversity, inclusion, tokenism, within our programme, our team, and all participants.

Could we be doing more on the inclusion front? Yes. Are we using our privilege responsibly? Maybe sometimes. Are we cultivating each other adequately? Perhaps, but also unlikely that we can ever reach adequacy. Are we perpetuating patterns of consumerism and capitalism? Probably. Some of them we are aware of, others unaware. Could we be doing more with regards to actions to combat injustice? For sure. Are we committed to continue working on this? Most definitely.

The #BlackoutTuesday gimmick felt like a clicktivism trend. Clicktivism breeds slacktivism, a vanilla form of easy, armchair activism, that clears a superficial conscience and does little to undo injustice. No wonder people are fed up with performative allyship. But at the same time people are often uninformed, or struggling to make a living, or bombarded by conflicting viewpoints, or exhausted, or, or, or… So there also needs to be room for understanding that there are different approaches to activism, mobilisation, or community organising.

We also want to challenge white fragility as it is holding us back from honest reflection. It is true that taking up space to talk about how non-racist you are upholds white supremacist culture and centres whiteness. So writing the previous paragraphs about what we were planning to do with regards to these issues leaves us feeling ambivalent. Are we self-promoting or virtue-signalling? Are we yet again centering progressive whiteness? What is the best thing to do now? Do we speak out and seem superficial? Do we stay silent and seem disinterested? Does it matter what things seem like, or is how we feel or what we do more important? The questions just multiply, so we invite open conversation wholeheartedly.

We want to believe that people are listening now more than they have done in the past, or at least much unprocessed baggage is finally being confronted publicly. But we need to continue informing ourselves and challenging misinformation. We must not forget the historical path we took, while deciding what is the new path we wish to take. Without active participation in shaping society by those living in the margins, social injustice and unequal structures can never be dismantled. If my access to basic education and healthcare is radically unequal to yours, class segregation thrives. As long as double standards, hypocrisy and fragmentation persist, injustice thrives. The mission to celebrate diversity as the cornerstone of human flourishing is essential.

What would the world look like if we truly found variation valuable, deemed divergence important, and considered difference precious?