It was during the Obama presidency that I finally understood how “working through the system” was all a myth.
I had planned, after graduation, to work for the government, to be in Congress or something. The Spring of my first year in college I took an internship in Marsha Blackburn’s federal Franklin office (yes, it was a God-awful time) because, at the time, this is what I thought would help my people.
But seeing Obama drop drones, deport as just as much and more than Bush’s administration, unable to reform the prison system, really dismantled my thinking. It’s not that I thought one man would change the world–I wasn’t naive. But there was a certain hope that at least there would be an addressing; there would be an acknowledgment of suffering. But Obama simply kept the same policies, recorded the same words: We must stay united.
Now, here’s the thing about unity: it’s often a device against change. It’s the excuse of the weak empowered people when they don’t want Black people as their lawyers and doctors, when they don’t want the status quo broken. We hear it often in it when we attempt to address social justice concerns:
“But why complain about women’s rights in the Church? Don’t you care about the unity of the Church?”
“The Nation comes before minorities’ rights.”
The problem with these qualms is that what we have when people are hurting is not unity, when white cops are murdering Black men, when women of color make less money than white women, when undocumented students can’t achieve higher education. That’s not unity! That’s simply the weak empowered telling the powerful weakened ones that their world is what is good–and it is not.
Side note: this is what Jesus fought for in the land of Palestine–Truth. It’s fascinating to me how often Christians focus on Christ’s attributes of Love, when to me, what always stood out is His cut-throat Honesty, His un-compromising Word. And the point was that true love comes from Truth–when we’re just with each other, when we’re candid about our conditions. Hence, Christ is risen after the Crucifixion–which is the symbol of un-Truth–conquering lies and alternative facts, calling upon true love.
Christ Himself was the symbol of breaking and making disunity. He broke and severed Jewish society in Palestine with His words, severed their identity as a chosen people and tradition. And yet His followers in particular claim unity as their goal. Unity is not the goal of Christianity on earth (it’s only their goal in Heaven); disunity is the goal of Christianity on earth–disunity with the world, disunity with evil and disunity with oppression.
ANYWAY, that’s my religious sermonizing showing.
Back to the main idea of this post: working through the system and the disillusion that is Obama for people of color.
See, what happens when you work with the system, you’re ignoring the truer problems:
- That the system is not broken–it’s formed in order to disenfranchise and oppress. It’s purposeful and dictated to withstand people of color making it something else. Thus, working with the system, you become the system and you begin to oppress your own people. Hence, many politicians of color cannot realize the struggle of their own–like Obama when the #blacklivesmatter movement broke in full-pursuit of the government’s continued and prolonged harassment and murder of Black people, like Ben Carson who believes Black slaves were actually immigrants, like the Black politicians who voted with Reagan on “fighting against the drug war” (read: Black people).
- The greater problem than the system, which is a very white liberal thing to point out, is the society that created the system. To dismantle the system is first to fix the society. Thus, the greater work to be done is on white American society, which is through local non-profit work, volunteering in communities of color, participating in communities of color.
In actuality, working in the system is actually working with the system. The people of color who run for office when they can use their political prowess for their own, on a local level, are creating an illusion of change and an illusion of democracy. They are, in fact, sustaining white ideas that the United States is a democratic country–when, simultaneously, there are no hospitals near Black ghettoes, families are denied entry into the United States and are broken up, education is still only for the wealthy who can afford prepping for years to mold themselves into white American standards, etc. This is suffering is all festering while Black people were allowed to be elected into office, while Brown people were finally allowed to vote.
Thus, we know now, especially highlighted after the Obama era, that running parallel to the white American system–people of color becoming police officers, running for public offices, etc.–merely helps sustain the system, and what’s worse, working with the system sustains the sins of white society as accomplishments that have been redressed.
If people of color want to help their community, the most effective means is through their own people–through their own churches/synagogues/mosques, community centers, neighborhood gatherings, etc. When people of color can mobilize together, instead of separately and individually (don’t trick yourself and say: I’m working alone in order to work for everyone), this is where the real effects of change come: when the Black Panthers started in Oakland as an alternative welfare system, when Martin Luther King mobilized Black Christians in the South, and James Baldwin’s writings provided the means for Black people in the North to fight back.
This is how we create a just and fair society–when we say the Truth, even if it separates us and breaks us as peoples, even if it means disunion, for when we say the Truth, we actually are promoting a greater and truer love for those who are suffering and for those who are producing oppression. We create a just and fair society through means of working outside the system, by creating disunion.