[Reposted on UrbanCusp Magazine]

Yesterday, I hugged Dr. Cornel West, I shook Professor Angela Davis’ hand, and spent the evening chatting with Rodnell Collins, the nephew of Malcolm X. What’s more, all of this happened in Oxford, a museum of colonial dreams and bastion of White elitist culture. Yesterday was also the 50th anniversary of the date when Malcolm X addressed the Oxford Union, less than three months before he was assassinated. And yesterday, a Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict the police officer who held Eric Garner in the choke hold that would claim his life. A lot happened yesterday.

9780520279339

Image courtesy of University of California Press

On December 3rd, 1964 Malcolm X was invited to The Oxford Union, the most prestigious student debating organization in the UK, to argue in the affirmative that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. Fifty years later I sat in the same place, across from Angela Davis and with a group of other students, listening to the audio of this historic speech. Seated in my row was an elegant elderly woman of colour who, as it turns out, was involved in organizing the original debate in 1964. As she looked around, I heard her remark to my friend (another woman of colour) that when Malcolm spoke here, there was nothing but a “sea of white faces”. I turned to look at the crowd, and was also encouraged by the spatter of colour across the room. But as we listened to Malcolm’s speech, his words quickly reminded me of how incremental this change was in the grand scheme of things and given the current state of affairs.

I don’t encourage any act of murder nor do I glorify in anyone’s death, but I do think that when the white public uses it’s press to magnify the fact that there are lives of white hostages at stake, they don’t say “hostages,” every paper says “white hostages.” They give me the impression that they attach more importance to a white hostage and a white death, than they do the death of a human being, despite the colour of his skin. I feel forced to make that point clear, that I’m not for any indiscriminate killing, nor does the death of so many people go by me without creating some kind of emotion. But I think that white people are making the mistake, and if they read their own newspapers they will have to agree that they, in clear cut language, make a distinction between the type of dying according to the colour of the skin.

Read the rest of this entry »

Image

Anger is good. It is often the catalyst and fuel needed for change. Even the Bible says, “In your anger do not sin” (Psalm 4:4), suggesting that it is not anger itself but some byproduct of it which is to be avoided. One might even go as far as to say you need anger at the centre of any social justice effort, lest you find yourself complicity maintaining the status quo.

Many of us are involved in some social change effort – be it through community service, academic pursuit, political initiative, business venture, or philanthropic gesture. Often, it was a disturbing encounter with injustice or inequity which drew us to this cause to begin with; whether we experienced it personally, witnessed it around us, or learned of it on a screen or in a book. For those of us who would aspire to a life dedicated to advocacy and activism, this feeling of distress and resentment can become all too familiar, and if we’re not careful, it can quickly become our default setting. After all, how is one to live happily as if the world were not filled with pain, evil and greed?

I believe there is a point where these feelings become counter-productive in the pursuit of a better world. What is the point of fighting the good fight if we begin to embody the very things we seek to redeem others from? Read the rest of this entry »

Image

Sometimes you go through life smelling roses, tasting snowflakes – unbothered by the Big Questions. Other times you find yourself reflecting on the fundamentals of human nature. Go figure.

I blame Dr. Elaine Storkey. She recently gave a great talk at the Christianity and the Life of the Mind conference, where she challenged social scientists to interrogate their assumptions about human nature before they begin their analysis about human behaviour. Still fresh in my mind, I attended a seminar to hear about the work of Dr. Randall Hansen and his new book on global governance and migration.

He began by explaining that he saw states as ‘rational actors’ which were ‘self interested’ and ‘profit maximizing’. (I thought only undergraduate political science textbooks talked like that!?) While his talk was very interesting, I found myself unsettled by where it ended. Read the rest of this entry »