This last weekend I started reading Mychal Denzel Smith, Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education (2016). I’ve just started, but I appreciate how Smith immediately gets to the essential and defining issue for activists in the 21st century: connecting the dots between all of the forms of privilege and prejudice.
One of the first things Smith talks about is how his dissatisfaction with the status quo led him to read radical thinkers, which tended to be male-dominated. The strength and bravado of the great black figures like Malcolm X helped Smith in his journy to discover himself as a radical and to more intimately understand himself as a person, but it had its limits.
When you only learn from “right thinking individuals,” Smith says, men who are strong in their sense of their own rightness, then you assume that whatever you believe is also right. It’s a form of narrow-mindedness, I think that tends to be the mark of male thinkers and activists.
As someone who grew up in a very heavily male-dominated culture, composed of men who were very confident in themselves, I think I can relate to what he’s saying. There’s little room for nuance, which means that there is precious little room for checking one’s own privilege.
Smith, though, began to recognize that something was off.
“I began to see myself,” Smith says, referring to his journey of self-discovery, “I began to see myself, but only by refusing to see black women.” It was through the process of engaging non-male voices that Smith began to deepen and widen his understanding for the way power works and for the way in which power translates into systems of domination and control.
And indeed this is the essential issue that humankind faces, in the 21st century. Our task is to identify all forms of prejudice and privilege and develop an all-encompassing mass movement that changes the fundamental structure of our world. In a word, the struggle is for solidarity. It’s all all or nothing. It’s either one for all, or all for none.