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Why you can’t liberate others until you work on liberating yourself

Organizing spaces have been some of the most unsafe, triggering and detrimental spaces I’ve been in. The rise of the fake deep hotep who dominates space, coupled with overeager radicals who don’t question the proliferation of hotepery in the space, leads to misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and hate running rampant among the very same groups of people who attempt to “get us free.”

How can those of us with any form of internalized hate work toward the liberation of a collective? The answer is, you can’t. You can’t dedicate your life to dismantling white supremacist capitalist patriarchy if you haven’t taken any steps to see how those systems of oppression have influenced your perception of self and the way you interact with the world. You can’t preach about police brutality and stay silent when black women are killed by police, you can’t talk about patriarchy when you don’t acknowledge your male privilege. You can’t roll your eyes at my love for trap music without addressing your own hate towards women.

There has been a buildup of these emotions among black women who are frustrated with spaces being dominated by leaders who only further oppression. #SayHerName has garnered attention in recent years in hopes of bringing to light the oftentimes unacknowledged deaths of black women at the hands of police, as well as #translivesmatter, which addresses the inconceivable rates of violence towards black trans lives. In 2015, Cecile Emeke released a poem titled “Fake Deep,” striking a chord with viewers worldwide.

You can’t liberate others until you work on liberating yourself.

This is not to say that there comes a point in time when one becomes free and can then begin to do the work. However, one must be proactively and constantly taking steps toward their own liberation if they feel even remotely inclined to work toward liberation of the collective.

So what does this look like in action? Intersectionality. 

Intersectionality, a term founded by Kimberle Crenshaw and a core tenant of black feminism, is defined as the study of how identities intersect. Intersectionality examines how gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, religion and other identities influence how one faces systems of oppression. Intersectionality calls for thinking of identities as being inextricably linked in order to fully understand one’s lived experience.

Acknowledging intersectionality does not come easy. Frantz Fanon once said “imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” Oftentimes, oppositions toward intersectionality are the result of germs of rot growing in one's mind — how do we unlearn hate?

Paulo Freire says “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people — they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

If you are someone working toward freedom for anyone, you must approach your fight for liberation through an intersectional framework, otherwise, you only end up furthering oppression by continuing a long and frustrating history of erasure. Moreover, understanding intersectionality will only make you more free. Show up to the work with an open mind, engage in dialogue, engage with theories that are difficult, and make space for people whose experiences are more complex than yours.

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free" - Fannie Lou Hamer 

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Blavity Staff Writer