For the sake of utmost transparency: I am a woman of color who approaches movement work predominantly led by white people with a hermeneutic of suspicion and, while I have gotten some word on the happenings in Occupy Boston, I have not gone to see what’s happening on the ground there since it officially started this past Friday. (I do plan to go down there with a faith community of which I’m a part sometime in October.)
The second concern has been with the frequent concurrent omission of the fact that Wall Street itself is already on occupied Algonquin land and that the graves of thousands of Africans lay beneath the financial district in New York underscoring, in a historical allegory of biblical proportions, the fact that “American” wealth was built on African blood. I would concur with others that rather than finding hope in reoccupations of Turtle Island by new groups of white freedom fighters, we might find hope in decolonizing land, systems, minds, colonized first by some of the earlier waves of white freedom fighters on this land. I cannot imagine that these ideas are controversial to any of the Occupy Wall Street organizers, though it is possible that their importance was not felt as starkly by them as it was by others. They would have to speak to why they were originally omitted from certain declarative statements and would probably have different insights into the writing and editorial process.
As I have seen it, friendly and modest people of color and white people against racism have been asking for clarifying amendments to the language of the movement to make their perspectives and basic historical facts evident. It is my understanding that the Occupy Wall Street movement began mostly among young white people (Yay for young white radicals! Good idea, pals!) which has meant that it started pre-Occupied by a particular context and set of commitments. Due to a complex set of factors (the relative ease of networking among those of similar race/class, the influence of original organizing strategies, agendas, and language, the concentration of privileges making it easier for some to protest and risk being arrested) the movement is continuing to be led mostly by young white people as it nationalizes. Some have been supportive of the work to end the original pre-Occupation and decolonize the mind of the movement while others are concerned that bringing up such issues will cause it to fracture.
In fact people of color and white people against racism have not been creating factures in the perfect unity of the movement but rather are pointing to the fracture lines in its false unity. America is quickly becoming a majority nation of1 opening up space for dialogue where a diversity of views persists could only prove that this is a movement of a new Spirit with the self-reflectiveness and elasticity to avoid becoming dry and brittle under the winds of self-righteousness, as some movements before it. For organizers in New York and nationwide to hear and learn from these requests (as they already have in some cases and will, I have faith, with greater openness and understanding) would only heighten the movement’s momentum. While discerning collective truths in diverse communities is challenging, naming global truth from the location of any one person (or people) is impossible. True “unity” will not emerge alone from a universalizing recognition of God’s spark in all people. It will be wrought from a healthy respect that this spark, this equal access to Spirit and Truth, should help us build communities where all peoples are heard in dialogical movements of change capable of making room for one more at the table.
- In 1970, Vine Deloria Jr. wrote in his seminal We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf, “a generation ago white children were taught to look directly at black people and pretend that they didn’t realize that they were black. Viewing such behavior today with our experiences of the civil rights movement behind us, it appears to be the most unsophisticated and racist behavior imaginable. But at the time it was a sincere effort by an ignorant white populace who were truly concerned about equality to express equality by pretending that differences did not exist” (26)
Eda Ruhiye Uca is the director of Hosanna! People’s Seminary and a regular contributor to Jesus Radicals. A first generation American of Middle Eastern heritage, she has lived in intentional communities and works on the Christian Peace Witness steering committee and Women’s Ordination Conference anti-racism team. Eda is currently a Justice, Missions and Reconciliation Certificate student at The Episcopal Divinity School.