Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Breathing Life

There was just one more thing I wanted to follow up on with regards to my S-V-S post. I had asked whether or not The Apostate had used the critical language in her post ("erase", "lived experience", "silenced") sarcastically or not. I could certainly see it, though what I was hoping for was ironic. In my comments, she told me she was "half-sarcastic."

This matters to me because, as I said, I do not want the tools and rhetoric I value so much to be seen as an adversary, as an enemy, to those who need it. But of course, often they are. The question is, can they be reclaimed?

Post-modernists will tell you that every narrative, every tale, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction -- or at least subversion. In The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Patricia Williams wrote:
To say that blacks never believed in rights is true. Yet it is also true that backs believed in them so much and so hard that we gave them life where there was none before; we held onto them, put the hope of them into our wombs, mothered them and not the notion of them.

On the one hand, the language of law has for much of American history been the enemy of Blacks, and the rhetoric of rights mocking. Nobody, more so than African-Americans, would have more justification to be cynical about law's capacity for justice, or the ability of "rights" to protect.

But Blacks did not abandon rights. They did not abandon the language that had tormented them for so long. They clung to it harder. They squeezed rights so hard that they breathed life into what was a hitherto dead concept. Rights talk, even though it was for so long a hollow hope, also had a kernel of hope contained into that Blacks grasped onto and made into something real.

Likewise, I believe that within the critical concepts The Apostate uses -- the demand for space and recognition, the protest against privilege and presumption, the refusal to be erased to fit some master narrative -- there is a spark of truth. It is a spark that we cannot cede if we want to be truly free. The only reason the enlistment of these terms feels so mocking, I dare say, is because of that spark. Because even though they represent our truth and our needs and our very lives, they often as not are found on the other side from ourselves. And that hurts.

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