Click this link!: http://www.organizingupgrade.com/2010/02/the-strength-to-love-and-dream/
I hope you’ll take the time to read this inspiring essay from Robin D.G. Kelley. I was first introduced to Kelley in the book that led me to grad school, the Stephen Duncombe edited CULTURAL RESISTANCE READER. In the reader was his essay “OGs in Post-Industrial Los Angeles,” which has not only impacted my ability to engage in dialogue about race and culture, but has also transformed a number of undergrads that have read it for classes I’ve since taught.
In this piece, Kelley states: “My purpose is to reopen a very old conversation about what kind of world we want to struggle for. I am not addressing those traditional leftists who have traded in their dreams for orthodoxy and sectarianism. Most of those folks are hopeless, I’m sad to say. And they will be the first to dismiss me as utopian, idealistic, and romantic. Instead, I’m speaking to anyone bold enough still to dream, especially young people who are growing up in what the critic Henry Giroux perceptively calls “the culture of cynicism” — young people whose dreams have been utterly co-opted by the marketplace.”
He goes on to back up my claim that the Left is trying to erase identity, which, if you read my “About Me” section, is going to probably be the foundation of my dissertation: “Another problem, of course, is that such dreaming is often suppressed and policed not only by our enemies but also by leaders of social movements themselves. The utopian visions of male nationalists or so-called socialists often depend on the suppression of women, of youth, of gays and lesbians, of people of color. Desire can be crushed by so-called revolutionary ideology. I don’t know how many times self-proclaimed leftists talk of universalizing “working-class culture,” focusing only on what they think is uplifting and politically correct but never paying attention to, say, the ecstatic.”
I struggle in his last paragraph–my constant battle between post-structuralist theory and social justice demagoguery–when he essentializes: “I have come to realize that once we strip radical social movements down to their bare essence and understand the collective desires of people in motion, freedom and love lie at the very heart of the matter.” But problematic reductionism aside, when I finished reading this I was moved, I was galvanized, I was legitimized.
A few days ago I sat in a class where I got attacked for admitting to bringing “a political agenda” to my research. I explained that my motivation for picking research topics is solely reliant on the possibility that the resulting work could eventually act as a tool of social change to build a more progressive world. And yes, I do have my version of “progressive” and yes it does include a world that is rid of racism, sexism, heterosexism, capitalism, able-bodyism, binaries, neoliberalism, etc etc etc. My colleagues were aghast that I felt like I could use something in a way that would push towards a definitive “better.” (Because there is no capital-T truth, apparently there can be no better?). I was adamant that I would rather be a scholar-slash-academic and an insurgent intellectual, who may not be taken as seriously by the academy, but who made an impact on society, than to be a “rigorous” academic who was esteemed in the ivory tower, but whose research was limited to the elite.
I think Kelley is a superb example of the ability for scholarship and activism to merge in a way that both demands critical thought and also demands a loyalty to the fervor of one’s mostly deeply held convictions.
My politics are as much a part of me as is my skin; I cannot simply–and would never desire to–check them at the university door.