Rules for Unity in the Resistance: Privilege, Oppression and the Bonds of Solidarity

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Before I founded the Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy (SIIP), I spent the majority of my career teaching community journalism, activism and public policy in the streets, homeless drop ins, jails, nonprofits and universities. The following is a list of rules that would be handed out at the beginning of each meeting, class or workshop.

These rules are designed to upend the traditional concept of safety in intersected environments and create spaces for the most marginalized individuals and their “allies” to both own their scholarship (or skolaship, as coined by POOR Magazine) and learn when to sit down and shut the fuck up.

As we continue to seek the relationships and strategic alliances necessary to defend our communities form white supremacy and stop the unending attacks on our peoples, we need to ensure that we aren’t replicating the same patterns of exclusion, marginalization and just plain self-centered assholery in the spaces we create. The following rules are a pro-active way to confront the normativity of -isms in revolutionary spaces.

  1. Honesty and emotion are all parts of the game…learn when to speak and when to listen. You are mentee\mentor\elder\youth at all times!

You are privileged and underprivileged and you need to learn to own both. At any moment in the conversation you might need to switch from speaker to listener and back again. There are many different kinds and levels of privilege in the room and using privilege to overpower a conversation will be called out. For example, I’m an abuse survivor. I know how it feels to take beatings daily for years and years. I own the scholarship when speaking to someone that has never experienced abuse before. But one of my former students is a youth who’s experienced such horrible violence his cheekbones were irreparable destroyed and his ear was ripped off. When he speaks, I listen.

2. No crab barreling

We do not point the fingers at our own. This causes divides in our community. Fake divides between panhandlers and “aggressive” panhandlers, minorities and their “model” counterparts. It prevents solidarity. It keeps folks feeling like oppression and trauma is their faults. It destroys communities and families. And it will not be tolerated. If crab barreling should occur, time will stop and deconstruction will begin.

3. No otherizing

We are all in this together. If you are an oppressor, you are oppressing. If you are apathetic or “neutral,” you are enabling oppression. If you are in the struggle, you are being subjected to the traumas of oppression. Everyone plays a part. Own it, but we are all inseparable. So there are no others.

If you otherize, this is a red flag that you aren’t one of us, you aren’t trying to know us, and you’re probably a threat to us. If you use outsider language and protect yourself with it, you have your own privileged agenda…one that will fuck us up. SO if you wanna be in this space, you can’t protect yourself with a privilege wall and think we don’t see that as a threat.

4. No kkkolonizer stereotypes or –isms

Most rooms let overt and subtle racist, classist, ablist and homophobic comments etc. be said and gloss over them like nothing ever happened. This is total bullshit. This allows the people without privilege to be verbally revictimized in the space. If anyone feels the need to use any stereotypes or ism’s, time will stop and we will discuss that shit in length. You will know why its fucked up on multiple levels, and everyone around you will have the language for what to say if they encounter that kind of shit in the future.

5. No clichés

You gotta use your own words….otherwise we know you’re thinking about things, not feeling them. We’ll know that you aren’t being real with us. And you’re not saying anything we ain’t heard already. And if you’re saying shit we’ve heard already, you’re wasting our time and we ain’t got nothing to learn from you.

5. Show don’t tell…specifics not ideas

First, if ya don’t, we can’t trust you. We can’t trust that you were actually there or that you know what you’re talking about. Second of all, we cant feel you if your just talking about some weird ideas some privilege white man probably thought up in the first place. Second of all, we are communicating strategy. We are the media version of the underground railroad. Our voices and our speech are the original media. So we need to talk what we know so the people we’re talking to can survive better. For example, its one thing for me to tell you college folks that the College of Education has some really racists and classist shit going on. That doesn’t give ya much to work with. But if I tell you to stay out of Donna Kerr’s Morality of Education Class unless you want some awesome pimp training, then that give you something to work with. Its also important cuz we need to know what you don’t know. Rules in the Bronx aint the same as rules in the Tenderloin. In terms of interpersonal interactions and political challenges. There’s similarities fo sho, but there’s some differences that will get folks killed if you don’t know how to navigate them right. We’ve gotta know what games we’re up against where.

6. Make us feel you…No feeling = no knowing

Militantly encourage emotion. We want you to get fucked up and pissed and sad and inspired and rowdy bout this shit. We don’t want to hear your clinical words or what you think. We want you to feel us….and feel with us. If you can’t your protecting something and fucking us up with the privilege of that protection. And again, if you don’t feel it, you don’t know it…so you don’t got nothing to say anyways.

7. Real talk… use your own words!

Trauma blows your brains up. In those moments we piece ourselves back together with the help of imagery and sounds that are so deep and so unique that they could only come out of the skolaship of our own experiences. No one else could ever put words on them. That is part of communicating the language of truth and our ancestors. They are with us in those moments. Honor and speak those truths and the ways that YOU came to them….not someone else.

8. The I must be present

We need to know who you are. Bias is bullshit. Hiding behind the media is a tactic used against the people. You need to show us how you are emotionally connecting with the story and why and be clear on your shit. If there is no I, there is only otherizing. If there is no I, there is no emotion. If there is no I, there is no truth. If there is no I, you are frontin or speaking the language of agenda. If you don’t have an I to connect, you have no business speaking and you have no skolaship to share.