Rock! Paper! Scissors!
Tools for anarchist + Christian thought and action
Vol 1. No. 1
The Movement Makes Us Human
The Movement Makes Us Human
Editor: Joanna Shenk
By: Regina Shands Stolzfus
One important part of undoing the inhumanity in our world to deeply love ourselves.
I am thinking a lot these days about what it means to be human, what it means to be treated as a human, and what it means to respond to acts of inhumanity in a humane way.
I am an anti-oppression educator. I think about systems of oppression and the ways they interlock with one another and uphold each other all of the time. When I’m in the classroom, my primary goal is to help students understand how these systems are perpetuated, even by those who know the systems are toxic, and want them to change. I want them to understand that this is long, slow, difficult work.
In so many ways it is the work of remembering our common humanity, in spite of what we have inherited. Every January I teach a weekend intensive course called “Conversations on Race.” Perhaps it needs a better title. But yes, the focus is on conversations. From Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, students engage in the practice of conversations about race. Readings for the course must be completed before we gather to lay a foundation for our conversation.
From the readings and our conversations, we learn and relearn together the racialized history of this country. Together we consider the groundwork that was laid by centuries of blatant in-your-face racialized (and sexualized) violence. We do this in order to understand that the current context did not emerge from nothing or nowhere. I also want my students to understand that there were and always have been people who have been working against systems of oppression.
To do this work I keep up with current events. I read the news. I listen to podcasts. I follow other educators and activists on social media. My consciousness is saturated with the many ways people commit acts of violence and injustice against one another. Over the years, I have learned a number of strategies that help me stay in the work; how to take care of myself.
A primary learning is that I must acknowledge and respect my own humanity. Toni Morrison says this beautifully in the character of Baby Suggs in the novel Beloved: “Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it… No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them! Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you!”
I try to teach my students, and remind myself, to fortify ourselves to stay in this work for the long-haul. In short, I need to remember that I am human, and practice acts of humanity toward my own self. Systems of oppression sustain themselves by dehumanizing groups and individuals – reducing them to objects.
This is a lesson that needs to be repeated over and over again. The objectification happens through laws, through custom, through media representations that declare some people are not worth good schools, safety, citizenship, or health care. Such messages become internalized.
As Baby Suggs says, one of the ways we resist those messages is to love ourselves. We need to love ourselves, hard. Love must be part of our resistance. Without it, we cease to be human.
About the journal
Rock! Paper! Scissors! is a topic-focused, web-publication exploring issues from anarchist, radical Christian and other anti-oppression perspectives. To find out more, read the introductory piece, "What's in a name?"