awareness ≠ understanding ≠ acceptance

I’ve thought a lot about this title since it first appeared as a Facebook status from a friend of mine. A message like “awareness ≠ understanding ≠ acceptance” is quick to unmask privilege. It’s borderline incendiary–and for good reason. It’s a tough pill to swallow when a lot of what I feel I can do is spread awareness or promote acceptance. But my friend is right. These aren’t the same things. And they rely on different modes of expression. There’s much, much more to do besides talk, but what do we do when our principal mode of engaging others is in writing? For those in the academy, where does this place us on the sliding scale of activism?

Bringing it down to earth a bit more, what am I doing wrong? What are you doing wrong?

What are we doing right? And what can we do to make things right?

What do you think?


SHARE: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Something worth considering as thoughts swirl about race relations among so many other intersections of identity, and when physical demonstrations of all kinds are on the rise. It’s been a common fixation lately to trace the differences between “protest” and “riot.” Particularly in response to something like Black Lives Matter, a frequent response has been to invoke the idea that MLK would be disappointed. Here are some excerpts from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

On the position of privileged nay-sayers:

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

And on the importance of intent in protest, alongside an absence of insight in those who watch:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

“I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

The full text is essential literature. You can find it here.

SHARE: Civil Religion in America

“Civil Religion in America”

Robert N. Bellah’s provocative 1967 article on the peculiar religiosity of American society and politics.

“Behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes: Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jersualem, and Sacrificial Death and Rebirth. But it is also genuinely American and genuinely new. It has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all the nations.”

As good a time as any to reflect on the rituals of American political life.

Cartoon Therapy: Bank of Relationships

[Transcription of the final panel:] The investments with the most long-term security need time to grow. Unfortunately, they also have penalties for trying to cash in early. Younger me wants cash now, but future me wants something to look forward to…

Patience doesn’t come easy to me, but I know it’s worth it in the end.

SHARE: Agents of Ishq – Jewels like Flowers

Agents of Ishq describes itself as a multimedia project about sex, love, and desire aimed at a generation of Indian youth for whom positive views of sex and sexuality remain taboo and/or absent in their culture.

“Jewels like Flowers: About Men’s Bodies and Women’s Desires”

This is an intimate essay that mixes art and vulnerable self-reflection to reconsider how the male genitalia is culturally framed. As the editor notes, the essay represents an “artist’s entranced paintings of male nudes and her tender essay on the penis’s strange invisibility in a phallocratic culture.”

The author reflects on the strained sexuality in her parents’ relationship, and concluded that it represented one thing: making love alone.

For those who grow up in sexually-repressed cultures and circumstances, perhaps this doesn’t seem too far off. But the author continues by rejecting that model and affirming her own sexuality and her passionate curiosity for others’.

“I dream of a society where women make choices and where men are spread naked across magazines …”

“The most difficult truth of the male sex is its visibility. Whatever its status, you can not retract it, it stands there, it hangs, it exceeds.”

“Men’s sex is their proudest and most fragile part, the lyrical paraphrase of their personality, the last sentence at the bottom of a poem which makes it come into existence.”

This essay makes me think of Georges Batailles and Michael Taussig. At a surface level, their essays on “The Language of Flowers” brings to mind how we encode these objects with certain narratives and meanings. And also their writings on jewels, adornments, and the body. Perhaps there’s something more here, a thread to follow somewhere down the line…

Agents of Ishq