Inside, Outside

“We need collaborators on the inside and outside, working together to burn down the system!” Professor Ada Gregory’s words from last week really hit me hard.

See, I like to consider myself a “radical” thinker.

Although isn’t the concept of “radicalness” just a way that decision makers keep “inconvenient” problems from being seriously considered? But I digress.

For example, I don’t just want the U.S. to publicly apologize for centuries of mass genocide; I want our government to amend the Constitution so that the U.S. no longer can exercise any power over Native Nations.

I have felt that our government institutions are slow to change, and that’s just a fact we must deal with even if it’s incredibly frustrating. Thus, I have not always been a big fan of playing the political game.

But Professor Gregory’s words made me remember that ineffective government isn’t a given. We can make government work more effectively. If non-institutional and institutional radicals worked together, a lot of positive change could occur.

This idea is kind of like guiding power to its own critique. Non-institutional agents can assist institutional disruptors who work to upend the system internally.

I believe that this encapsulates Rustin’s ideas of coalition building in From Protest to Politics. If we can “broaden the social vision” and build a coalition of institutional and non-institutional agents who pursue different but aligning goals of equity, this will have the greatest chance at achieving change.

But where do I fit in?

As a White-coded, heterosexual male, the system has been built for me to succeed. Charles Mills agrees with this in New Left Project’s Interview and details how patriarchy is an intrinsic aspect of liberalism. For the entire history of United States history, our public policies have been overtly oppressive. Since change has only recently began to occur, we can see these institutional inequities that have persisted for centuries.

So, perhaps I could function best in a system that was designed for me to succeed so I can uproot it form the inside. But that said, I am also Chickasaw and have a hard time compromising over indigenous justice. I have worked within the system before, and institutional compromise has been extremely painful. Therefore, I would like to work outside the system as a radical storyteller, but also collaborate with institutional agents to burn it all down. Further, storytelling is unique in that it can function just as well outside the system as inside the system.

A Four-Year-Old Learns to Fight

A photo of my grandfather

You can trace my motivation for racial justice work to my early childhood.

When I was little, practicing archery from a bow that Papaw carved by hand, I would gaze up in awe at the lithographs of Sitting Bull and Geronimo that he had completed in immense detail.

“We don’t use guns to hunt, feller,” he said, bringing my attention back to the task at hand, “that’s not fair to the animals.”

My papaw shared neither his art nor philosophy with anyone outside my family, but this didn’t stop me from daydreaming that one day everyone would know about the incredible things he did.

Unfortunately,  Papaw died without any of that happening, and the bow he made for me collected dust on a shelf. So, when I discovered my own artistic voice, I wanted to pick up my culture where my grandfather left it: by creating indigenous art –but also by sharing it.

Today, I understand why Papaw never shared his work. My grandfather grew up ashamed of being Chickasaw. Although I wasn’t told until this year, my Grandma-Great, who I had been able to love for most of my early childhood, had gone to a boarding school. So had her mother. I don’t think anyone can grasp the trauma that they experienced.

That’s why, in my work, I want to give people like Papaw the safety share their voices by working to eliminate centuries of stereotypes about indigenous people. If we can create a society that uplifts indigenous people, it will be easier to return power and prosperity to Native Nations.