To the left, to the left
What does it really mean to be a Leftist in the early part of the twenty first century? What are we really talking about? And I can just be very candid with you. It means to have a certain kind of temperament, to make certain kind of political and ethical choices, and to exercise certain analytical focuses and targeting on the catastrophic and the monstrous, the scandalous, the traumatic that are often hidden and concealed in the deodorized and manicured discourses of the mainstream. That's what it means to be a Leftist. Let's just be clear about it. So that we're concerned about structural violence, if you're concerned about exploitation at the workplace, if you're concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, if you're concerned about organized hatred against peoples of color, if you're concerned about the subordination of women, that's not cheap pc chit chat, that is a calling that you're willing to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level. That's what it means, in part, to be a leftist. That's why we choose to be certain kinds of human beings. That's why it's a calling not a career. It's a vocation not a profession.
~Cornel West addressing the Left Forum 2007 this past weekend in NYC
Let me start off by saying that I respect the process. Still, it's been funky journey trying to figure out how to be. From naive acceptance to blanket rejections, from enthusiasm to indifference, from selfishness to selflessness and back and somewhere in between I have meandered with no constant destination in sight. But what I know that I know that I know is that I believe in love and justice above all things and they move me interpersonally and professionally.
So listening to the Democracy Now! Podcast of Dr. Cornel West’s remarks at the Left Forum, which I would have attended if I knew it had existed, reminded me of a self, an identity consistent when all about changed. The anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-bad shit me. I guess, per West's definition, the Leftist me.
Think it is when it ain't all peaches and creamIt's a challenging stance. The oppositional and contrarian are hard positions to actively hold while maintaining a diversity of relationships. Don't get me wrong I have always been relatively fearless and I generally don't bite my tongue when compelled to speak and act out but I have practiced studied obliviousness when it got too hard. I'd just sort of insulate myself. I was unsuccessful although had a few events in my life gone different ways I could have quarantined the Leftist me and had a grand life.
that's why some are found floating face down in the main stream
~Outkast feat. Goodie Mob, "Mainstream"
I was talking to one of my best friends Wednesday night about an old mutual friend from college to whom I don't speak despite numerous overtures. She wanted to know why I had distanced myself and I had a hard time explaining so we just started talking about My Super Sweet Sixteen. But it came to me today (I really wish I was quickwitted). It's that there are certain people who I know that are more interested in me being normal than authentic, and I'm afraid of succumbing to their influence (or maybe it's that I'm invested in them thinking I'm mainstream.) It could be that I'm paranoid or maybe just too sensitive and sustained relationships with them are possible. Peer pressure is a dogged bitch.
One of my most significant memories is of witnessing a fellow Spelman Student Government Association officer describe herself as "serious" in an icebreaking exercise of our 2001 retreat. I had never heard anyone describe themselves as such. Serious seemed a more suitable response to the question: what's your greatest weakness? Neither endearing or enamoring, it's not something I imagined anyone would aspire to but stated with such casual confidence it forced a smile. I admired her independence of spirit and mind and envied her honesty. I wish I could have been an unshakeable then. Shit, I wish I was that unshakeable now.
But even as I get there, as I figure out how to be, I don't gain any increased clarity into what to do, now: how to manage interests and passions and concerns with responsibilities, how to best use skills and talents or how to simplify my purpose into an executable plan.
*This isn't much of a conclusion. I was going to connect this to "Irreplaceable" and Audre Lorde but I had a few too many sips of organic wine last night and my head hurts.