As a community organizer, I spend a lot of time talking about and working towards social justice. It is a seemingly mystical future that fellow organizers and myself are tangibly fighting for. In the midst of being burnt out, misrepresented by media and under constant surveillance by police, we are regular young adults dealing with young adult ish, including dysfunctional and toxic relationships.
As an activist, your heart is always at risk of breaking. Seeing your community systemically and strategically attacked and your people endure suffering from every angle, makes you constantly gloomy. But what happens when the heartbreak we bear also comes from those we take arrest with and for? Many activists are righteously tied to a cause greater than their existence and fail to be noble in their personal lives. Seeing people whom I admired stoop to low levels of stubbornness and pettiness, and unwilling to work towards conflict resolution puts greater distance between now and the future we fight for.
“Many activists are righteously tied to a cause and fail to be noble in their personal lives.”
I began to analyze my own interpersonal relationships with the people who have their names in articles and faces plastered on news sites as leaders in the movement for Black Lives. I saw a necessary element missing from the community I was forming – emotional justice. Emotional justice is the creation and work of Esther Armah; she has been doing this work for almost 10 years in connection with Black liberation. This form of justice was needed in the romantic relationship I formed where being called a fuhk boi, regardless of actions, is the greatest insult to a cis-het guy’s ego. This did not stop them from basking in the harmful benefits of patriarchy; just encouraged them to silence the women who dared to address it. The other was in my friendships: GNC, trans and cis-women immaturely unable to commit to people they say they love when that person offers critique.
The final disheartening example is the overall disregard of femme members’ mental and emotional health, as if the movement is not dependent upon the people who make up the space. Simultaneously, I’ve seen women who supposedly operate though a Black Queer Feminist Lens support and treat with gentle accountability masculine folk while disposing of women who have often contributed more to the movement. bell hooks said, “when we face pain in relationships, our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.” That flaw in our human connections is why liberation, once reached, will not be sustainable. Even when centering the most marginalized communities, emotional justice and commitments are not extended to Black women and femmes.
I believe emotional justice – a commitment to the people we struggle with and say we care about– is the glue that can sustain our future liberation.
Those who fight for social justice undoubtedly believe in everyone having access to basic human rights. I believe emotional justice – a commitment to the people we struggle with and say we care about– is the glue that can sustain our future liberation. Our communities are filled with brokenhearted people who cannot receive the joys and healing that freedom will provide. Seeking emotional justice is a promise to the people around us that they matter, that their lives are appreciated and existence valued. I myself have had my soul crushed, not by the NYPD, not by feds infiltrating our organizations, but by the people whom I’ve shared my deepest intimate moments with, Black folks who love the idea of liberation more than the people who are working with them to attain it.
If we can take on emotional labor, be accountable, understanding and forgiving, as well as unlearn dysfunctional and toxic practices (gas lighting, defensiveness, etc.), then on our way to liberation we will cultivate within the realms of Black culture, a new social norm of healthy engagements. These engagements can strengthen and lessen the trauma incurred from unintended emotional and psychological abuse. I am fighting for something we have never seen, freedom from oppression, equity and commitment to my people who have suffered most.