May 3, 2009

Day #3: Margins and Margins

There is always an uncomfortable gap between the "professionalized" Asian Americans who make it their living to speak on behalf of the communities that live within our imperfect, big-tent nation, and the people who they speak of (or ignore altogether). But I think there are even further divisions that separate us than just the elite and the non-elite.

There is also an elitism within community-based work that has created schisms in most major cities between people with different approaches and frameworks about working with immigrants, with the poor, and with the historically and currently oppressed. My personal priorities often align me with people who believe in peoples' movements and a move away from the successful immigrant class taking up all bandwidth when talking about "community issues" to policy-makers.

However, I have issues with both "sides" and still think there is a holier-than-thou attitude from some people on the left about what it means to be "real" and conscious when thinking about and addressing the significant class/gender/orientation/age/language/immigration status differences that can separate our communities and splinter our voices.

I believe that it's possible to be righteous about these important differences without always being self-righteous. I think if we work from a position that there is something to be gained for everyone if we find cooperative or collaborative ways to address shared concerns and stay out of each others' ways for things that don't affect one another, we can move things further and faster. By fully dismissing the prospect of working together, or for some kind of transformative process that can move people who have privilege to use that privilege to support a humanist, fully progressive agenda, we will continue to work in small silos and actually force our privileged, (and white-washed) static understandings of class differences upon a situation where that may not be the right answer.

I'm so tired of South/Asian marxist-leninists regurgitating white formulations of class struggle. What does that say to co-ethnics who are both class oppressors and relatives of people who are poor? Or those who have gone from one end of the poverty/realized power spectrum to the other? Do we assume that we can't move (or force) some of them to see the light and support poor peoples' struggles as their own? Why can't they be allies like we are? Is this all about the ego and insecurity of the "organizers," lest they be identified with the privileged, who they most likely more closely resemble?

Whatever it is, I'm not afraid of conflict at all, but I don't think we always have to start there. And I think using old, rigid ideologies to understand the current situation and condition of our communities is intellectually lazy and consciously insincere.

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