Have you ever seen the viral social media post that says “#policychange for America?” It is a handwritten image with a line through “pray,” replacing it instead with “policy change.” I understand where this post is coming from for most people–we are sick of inactivity in politics, and many of us are especially tired of people of immense privilege being the main culprits of this inaction. However, I worry about our vocalizations of this frustration turning into derisions of spirituality and emotionality, inside and outside of political spaces. Both spirituality and emotionality can be important modes for healing, especially for some of the most marginalized people in the United States–people of color, and femmes. So, perhaps instead of cancelling out the possibility for people to engage in rituals, prayer, or emotional catharsis, those of us who disagree with the way in which people engage solely with these facets of action can encourage the practice of both, or multiple forms that benefit ourselves and the wider world.
I am wary of fixations on one form of political action not only for reasons of erasure, but because of the possible side-effects of this erasure. When insinuating that certain forms of action, such as community and personal care, are utterly useless, we overlook the ways that these policies impact us individually and collectively, and erase the factors that contribute to the creation of such policies. To use the above example, derisions of all prayer, or alternate forms of spiritual healing, neglect its importance for community-building, and for healing from the traumas that result from structural and cultural violence.
Another example of the aspects of political action that many of us frame as less important than policy change is micro aggressions. People from all ends of the political spectrum ridicule people who place value on micro aggressions. But, writer and social worker Aisha Mirza, who produced the viral Buzzfeed essay entitled “White Women Drive Me Crazy,” often discusses how acknowledging micro aggressions is a vital practice to healing from oppression. Micro aggressions, as I define them, are instances that reproduce structural violence and harm through stereotyping, projecting ignorance or normalizing unequal power dynamics. So, really, micro aggressions are just the little workers who keep a grand system of structural inequality intact; and, of course, we pay less attention to them because we think that they are so minor that they are effectively irrelevant (i.e. there are bigger things to worry about!). Whether this is informed by Western prioritizations of the explicit, measurable truths over subjectivity, or it is a symptom of patriarchy, is unclear.
What is clearer is that policy, while central to the shaping of the ways in which people live their lives, sometimes fails to capture and validate the complexity of human subjectivity–the depth of our struggles. For that reason, it is important for us to hold culture change and healing spaces with importance along with policy change. For some of the most vulnerable people in society, a combination of engagement with confronting and healing from structural violence is a part of the process of moving forward. I believe this starts with recognizing the ways in which oppression operates in multiple ways: emotionally, socially, culturally and spiritually. In summation of these reflections, Twitter user @radicalamy remarks, “sorry, but the solution to mass violence is much more complicated than ‘gun control’ laws that are mainly enforced on people of color;” “there will be no reduction in mass violence in the US/world until we deal with root causes: white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, etc.” I absolutely agree.