Thursday, April 5, 2012

More Adrienne Rich: We All Lose When We Force Others into Boxes

And there's this: here's an excerpt discussing Adrienne Rich's work from a posting of mine on 9 December 2009:

As I think about the dynamics—about the moral courage and witness to the supremacy of conscience—that have led a number of my African-American friends to step out and take strong public stands against anti-gay discrimination, I keep remembering something that poet Adrienne Rich said some years ago. This was in a book of essays that included an essay describing her experience teaching in an inner-city school. I don’t recall the title, but I do recall vividly some observations Rich makes in this set of essays. 
In the essay about her time teaching high-school youth in an economically deprived urban area, I recall Adrienne Rich noting that young folks who grow up in impoverished settings often resist the kinds of insights that progressive political activists want to teach, when we come into such schools as savior figures. But when progressive insights reach students in marginal communities, Rich notes, students in these communities become committed to working for social change in a way that far surpasses the commitment of young people in affluent liberal communities, for whom progressive insights are presumably old hat. 
I recall Rich quoting Daniel Berrigan at this point. In fact, I remember Rich noting that Berrigan spoke about the resistance he encountered when he spoke about his anti-war activities in working-class schools. But, Berrigan noted, he preferred the support of students in those schools, after they had fought with him and found common ground with him through verbal sparring. He preferred such support to the lukewarm, polite, but ultimately vacuous support of more affluent students who listened to his words without putting up a fight, expressed agreement, and then went about their business untroubled by the message he had sought to bring them.

I'm re-posting these reflections this morning for two reasons.  First, Rich's testimony here illustrates very well, I think, why she wants to overcome that requirement oppressive authority structures impose on stigmatized minorities--that they live split.  That they deny, feel shame for, and hide the very thing about themselves from which their creativity and love flow.  In which their God-given humanity is rooted.

Rich's testimony indicates that one of the tremendously high prices our entire society pays for doing this to targeted minority groups--in this case, African Americans--is the loss of creativity for all of us.  When we don't permit the gifts and talents of minority youth to shine forth in our world, we lose their transformative power to reshape our society to more humane ends.  When we want to require all African-American youth to live in tiny boxes mainstream society constructs for them--the subjugated, inferiorized place in which black people are supposed to live--we are all the poorer for this injustice.

And, of course, all of this has everything to do with my critique of the racist ideology of right-wing Catholic spokesman AD105, about which I've just posted.  What AD105 really wants, as a Catholic male of white European descent committed to right-wing Catholic and political ideas, is to keep black persons in their place.  (As he wants to keep women, gays, Jews, liberals, and Protestants in their places as well.)

This need to put others into inferiorized places says much about the intellectual, moral, and spiritual poverty of those mounting such campaigns.  It also says much about their--about our, since this is an ideology, after all, rooted squarely in some versions of Catholicity today--inability to understand the notion of solidarity.

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