Doing Better in 2017

Earlier today, I finished writing my first manifesto. It’s just a little over 6,200 words and I didn’t write it for anyone other than myself. I defined it as being “a preface to who I will be, the ways I want to grow, the things I want to change and do, what I want to read and realize and remember and forget, now and beyond.” I talk about the universe and my body, growing in intellect and empathy and healthy relationships. I talk about what I want to shed and how I want to emerge.

This semester I’ve done a lot of reading and research about the idea of “writing yourself into existence” and this manifesto was my way to write myself and my future into existence for the new year and beyond. I figure that since 2016 has been a year of immense personal growth and a tumultuous global climate, I ought to go (write) into the future with a solid framework from which I can continue to build the house of myself. Ultimately, my manifesto emerged as a series of reminders that are to act as the foundation for the manifestation of my visions.


This year I read a lot about Dreams. The two books that impacted me the most were Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. The books historicized our struggle, problematized uncomplicated dreams, and asserted how essential visionary action is in moving forward. They reminded me how real we are, how real I am, and how essential constructive, dream-fueled action is in creating change.

Last year, one of my vague resolutions was simply to “do better.” I didn’t really make it much more specific than that, it was an uncomplicated dream and, therefore, pretty unhelpful. But alongside a whole slew of other reading, these books reminded me that the sentiment of “doing better” can remain, but in order to see the change we need to be committed to being strategic and intentional.

And as the world becomes increasingly hostile, dangerous, and unforgiving, as we draw closer we to inauguration day and everything that happens afterwards, the less the world wants us to exist, the less it wants us to survive. This only means we must be more earnest in our struggle, kinder in our communities, and more disallowing of injustice. We need to do better. And so I thought on the dawn of a new day, with a few Dreams in my pocket, I ought to share some of the ways that we can envision and take action to do better in the new year.

Set a baseline for your labor.

This is one of the most important things I learned this year, and it is integral for self-preservation and for remaining focused. Personally, the first baseline that I established for my labor is that if you don’t believe Black lives matter, I will not engage with you— I am not here to appeal to you for my life. I am not going to sacrifice myself to try to convince you that I’m a human being or that I deserve to be treated as a human being.

Set whatever baselines you need, but keep in mind your privilege. Don’t push the labor that you can and should be doing with your privilege to someone without those privileges.

Stop being silent.

Silence is violence. It enables and normalizes violence. It is complicity. And it doesn’t change anything.

When you see or hear or do something harmful or wrong, say something about it, film it, write about it. Hold your friends accountable, hold your family accountable, hold yourself accountable. Make room for critical thought and analysis. It will be hard, people won’t like it, you probably won’t like it, but it has to be done in order to shed light on our condition and how we can push past. And, either way, requiring accountability helps people to do better and it helps protect people from being harmed.

Be intentional with language.

All of our prejudices and -isms are tied up in our language. Our use of language expresses what we are comfortable with, what we normalize, and what is important to us.

Stop using slurs. Racial slurs, homophobic slurs, transphobic slurs, ableist slurs, classist slurs, no matter what form they take, stop using slurs.

Add trigger and content warnings. I’m especially guilty of not being diligent in this, but adding warnings is part of making things accessible, it’s part of reducing trauma, and it’s just being kind. Include content and trigger warnings about things like: rape, sexual assault, war, violence, self-harm, abuse, discrimination, and police brutality.

Stop with presumptuous and gendered language. Science doesn’t support the sex binary, so why should our language? It’s so easy to refer to people as a person instead of a man/woman or refer to people with they/them/theirs pronouns as opposed to he/him/his or she/her/hers pronouns. Speaking of pronouns, introduce yourself with your pronouns.

“Hi! I’m Rachel Atakpa, my pronouns are she/her/hers.”

Easy as that.

Stop coding things. This is particularly in regard to things like calling white supremacists “alt-right” or the KKK a “white social club.” Coding lets harmful things slip through the cracks and become normalized, unchecked. Say what should be meant.

Remember that being intentional with language goes far beyond using or not using specific words. Interrogate your thought process and choices of referents, work to understand the implications of what you’re saying. It is much easier to take a few seconds to think about what you’re going to say and what it means than to throw out something violent or non-constructive. We need to become increasingly aware of the impact and implications of our actions, and being intentional with language is one of the simplest and most impactful ways we can make people aware and hold ourselves accountable.

Share Resources

Essentially, “resources” means: information, money, and time.

Share articles, share access codes, share twitter threads and facebook posts, share pdf versions of books and academic journals. Work to make your information accessible.

Respect and value the information and labor of others. Especially that of women of color. Uplift the information and labor they provide. Pay them for the information and labor they provide. A lot of the time I see white liberals only retweeting or boosting other white liberals, that needs to end #LeaveItIn2016. Uplift the voices of people of color, women of color, queer people of color, poor people of color, disabled people of color, trans people of color, and the voices of everyone at any one or multiple of these intersections. I guarantee that’s where your glorified white liberal got their ideas in the first place, anyway.

I know that in most cases money is little and far between and so it’s hard to donate to crowdfunding initiatives like GoFundMe. But don’t dismay, there are a myriad of other ways to help outside of monetary donations (and you can still boost visibility for places to donate monetarily by retweeting, sharing on facebook, and reaching out to friends).

You can donate clothes, split meals, bring over leftovers, share groceries, offer your couch, offer rides, offer to walk with someone. Offer kindness.

Sharing resources is an integral part of community building and self-preservation, it creates a collective, a kind of insurance, and allows for people to ask for help. And if we really want to subvert capitalism, sharing is the way to go.

 


 

Everyone has different reminders, different guides, different priorities. But as we move forward we need to keep becoming more intentional, aware, accountable, and action driven. That requires a focus on self-preservation and community building. Because if we aren’t alive and functioning together, we can’t do the work.

So share your manifestos, your dreams and your visions with your community. Share your hope and your foundations. Help others build theirs. Do what you need to remind yourself that you and your experiences are real, that they matter, and that they are an integral part in informing and preserving the fire in our struggle for liberation.

So go forth. And let’s work on being better beside one another.

Black lives matter.

–Light

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