Alex Puricelli, Contributing Writer
“Your life is a trajectory of social justice,” Dr. Maylei Blackwell told a small crowd of students and faculty members who gathered at the Center for Multicultural Experience on Thursday, September 17.
Dr. Blackwell came from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she was a professor of Chicana/o Studies. Her talk was part of the Gender Out of Bounds series called “Geographies of Difference: Cautionary Tales from Transnational Feminist Travels.” It focused on the social injustice wrought by globalization, capitalism, and how some people resist.
Anti-capitalistic narratives are frequent today. “Occupy Wall Street” brought the issue to national attention following the financial crisis of 2008. More recently, films like Guardians of the Galaxy have adopted this ideology. “Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie about characters who steal this incredible commodity and come to realize that it shouldn’t be on the free market at all. It’s too dangerous,” says Washington Post columnist, Alyssa Rosenberg, in the podcast, On the Media. The moment that the characters become heroes is when they decide not to profit from such a commodity, she says.
Messages against Capitalism may be relatively new in the United States, but they have been present with people internationally for decades. “You can ask anyone in Mexico with an eighth-grade education what Neoliberalism is, and they can tell you,” says Dr. Blackwell.
Neoliberalism is a way to describe modern Capitalism that puts an emphasis on making a profit. The criticism is that profits come before people. As an example, the Pacific Island nations that are home to more than 40 million people are in jeopardy because of a global sea rise as the result of unchecked carbon pollution from the fossil fuel industry and others.
The ways in which people are affected by cultural forces, like Neoliberalism and inequality, depends upon their intersectional identity. Intersectionality describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality intersect to form someone’s social experience. For instance, a poor, transgender Latina will have a much more difficult time finding a job and a home in the United States than a straight, white male.
Such forces transcend personal borders to also include sociocultural borders. Social movements have a history of being exclusionary. The Women’s Movement in the United States did not often include black or Latina women. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s were almost exclusively middle class and male.
Dr. Blackwell’s talk focused on how transnational feminist movements have overcome these limitations. Intersectional restrictions may prevent certain—more marginalized—people, such as poor, lesbian Latinas, that do not fit neatly into a broad women’s movement, but that does not mean that such people are helpless to resist. As an example, a feminist movement in Mexico City helped to legalize same-sex marriage by organizing a kiss-in. Similar to a sit-in, a kiss-in involves demonstrators refusing to leave an establishment, kissing each other while they do so.
“We have to learn each other’s histories,” says Dr. Blackwell, “We have to learn to speak a different language of liberation. We’re organizing because we’re different. We’re organizing because of our differences.”
The protection of differences is what the struggle for social equality is all about. Yet, René Lantigua, a student manager at the CME, points out that those who join social movements are often doing so to protect their own interests, and those interests are similar to the others in the movement.
In other words, we fight for social justice only when we’re directly affected. “It’s difficult to get different people involved,” he says.
“You can’t force someone to care about someone else’s situation. And you shouldn’t have to blackmail them emotionally by telling them, ‘if you don’t help them now, their problems will become your problems later on,’” says Dr. Raúl J. Feliciano-Ortiz, a lecturer in the department of Communication Arts. “Ideally, people would care about someone else’s struggle simply because they are other human beings that are suffering, or are being persecuted, or are fighting for their rights. Simply knowing that injustices are being committed should be enough for us to care.”
Dr. Blackwell suggests that we can navigate such personal borders by being creative in our thinking. If we open our minds to the lives of other people through their art, writing, and expression, we may be more apt to understand their position. “If we want social change, we have to use our imagination,” she says.