Written two weeks ago on December 5, 2014, but offered still as some food for thought:
I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation. Hand on the plow, no looking back. I have even left town for the whole month of December in order to minimize the everyday distractions that are part of my life in Boston and increase my focus on writing. I’ve set up shop in my friends’ living room, surrounded by multiple windows, perfect natural lighting, and festive Christmas decorations. But, two days in, and I have yet to get into my dissertation writing groove.
So I am writing this blog post instead in an effort to work my way back to the dissertation. I read somewhere that writing is thinking – which is why dissertations, and every other kind of writing project, often change direction along the way. If writing is thinking, then, I’m hoping that writing this post will help me think my way back to the dissertation, because at the moment, all I can of think is, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
I have Eric Garner’s repeated last words running through my head. I have the video images of him trying to tell the police to just leave him alone, that he hasn’t done anything to warrant their harassment. I have the images of him holding his hands in an open gesture stating, “Don’t touch me,” as he is taken to the ground by (at least) four police officers who overuse their force and quickly, collectively, even if unintentionally, kill him.
The killing of Eric Garner happened this past summer on July 17th, but the decision by the grand jury not to indict the NYPD officer who held Eric Garner in the hold that contributed to his death occurred recently on December 3rd. After the grand jury decision was announced, so soon after the other grand jury decision not to indict a white officer Darren Wilson for killing black teenager Mike Brown, people immediately took to the streets, unwilling to allow “business as usual” to continue – and rightly so.
Newspapers and newscasters across the globe are reporting on the unrest across the United States. This CNN report offers a sampling of the reports being made in various countries, of their reporting on the excessive use of force, the wave of indignation, and the institutional racism of the United States:
I want to be on the streets. I also want to put my body in the way of business as usual. Not just because of these more recent grand jury decisions, which in effect affirm that there is no protection for citizens against the injustices of our country’s policing system, but because this is business as usual. Increasingly, it is being made clear to us, to those of us willing to see, that these kinds of racist, violent, death-dealing incidents are business as usual, from a structural systemic point of view (as amina wadud’s recent post helps explain).
It is not easy to choose to see. There is a responsibility and a burden of accountability that comes with seeing. There is also a weight that comes with seeing. It feels heavy to see – heavy all over, psychically and bodily. Many people are therefore unwilling to see. They use excuses and strategies of denial, even strategies of dehumanization, in order not to see (read/see Sara Frykenberg’s recent post on the un/believability of the oppressed). However, it is an imperative of justice that we, indeed, see.
See. Think. Act. This is a common expression in liberation theology (ver-pensar-actuar). It is shorthand for a methodology that begins by first seeing what is real and concrete, then reflecting critically and theologically upon what one sees, and finally of discerning how one is to act in response. I guess that is the process in which I currently find myself – the thinking and discerning process. I see the racist structural and systemic injustices taking place (injustices not unrelated to our sexist and classist systemic realities – making them all the more familiar), and I want to act in response.
We all have our various parts of the work, justice-making work, to do. We have different talents to share and actions we are capable of contributing. For me, being out there amidst the crowds of protestors is something I can do, something I am physically and psychically capable of doing. I find myself struggling to stay before my computer to do the work of my dissertation – also a contribution I intend to make to the justice-making work of the church. So I write in order to think – ver, pensar, actuar. With my hand on the plow, what is the action I am today called to make?
What is yours?
Xochitl Alvizo is a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.