Principle 2: Be Very Clear, It's Not about You

Our ethical commitment to abolitionist communication is rooted in the idea that what we say is for the advancement of communal consciousness. As such, abolitionist communication should, at all costs, avoid any moments of a "what about me?" individual consciousness from the leader. Any leader who centers a "what about me?" ethic instead of "what about us?" ethic is laying the groundwork for communication debauchery. Is this lack of self-focus fair, particularly when the leader is as impacted by the crisis as the community being led? Of course it is—communally conscious leaders must center the realities and needs of the community, at all costs including costs to self. In that sense, maintaining a communal, selfless ethic while communicating amidst crisis is analogous to communicating with a preschooler. When we communicate with a four-year old about a critical matter that impacts their life, their safety, and their future, i.e. "don't touch the stove or you'll get burned," it is not about us; we must get the point across clearly and boldly, and we must maintain vulnerability that demonstrates our humanity in order to ensure that the child is willing to trust what we're saying. And, to not only trust us this time, but to trust us the next time, because let's be immensely clear, there will be a next time. One of the fatal mistakes we often make in communicating with preschoolers is the same mistake we make in communicating during crises with adults: our focus in communication is selfcentered and self-impacted.

Principle 3: Address the System and the Issues, Not People

Have you ever heard the phrase, "if you don't have anything nice to say it, don't say it at all?" Ignore that long-held wisdom when it relates to abolitionist communication—it serves no value. For abolitionist communicators, the criticality of our pursuit of freedom demands that we focus what we say on the issues we are addressing, not individual people, even if what we have to say fails the litmus test of niceness. While niceness is not the measurement of our communication, as teaching and learning leaders, we should avoid a threadbare approach of using crises and other heightened communal events to soley place blame on individual people. Focus, instead, on the system. Douglass' address to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society at Corinthian Hall included a roll-call of slave-holding individuals, many of whom we can assume would have been known, by name, affiliation, or relationship. But in the entirety of his address, he refutes the idea of individualizing the problem, knowing that the influence of a moral moment is in foregrounding the system underpinning the complicit, depraved morality of individuals. "There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour." By focusing on the system and the issues, instead of the individual participants, Douglass' scorching critique of the unkept promises of the American democratic project has stood the test of time and continues to echo as a prophetic admonition against the lingering consequences of chattel slavery. No one single human in the history or current fabric of this nation, even the vilest human conceivable, is the sole embodiment of the protean power of American racism. Only the system is the culpable.

When we, as abolitionist communicators, minimize ourselves by addressing individuals, instead of the system, our complicity in individualism undermines the communal consciousness in the pursuit of freedom. Communicative critiques of people as individuals instead of people as conspirators within systemic oppression weaken the abolitionist process. While our communication should not exclusively indict individuals, neither should it attempt to justify, defend, or absolve individual conduct, particularly in a moment of crisis. Oppressed folx have borne the individualizing of moral crises, as an attempt to dislocate the stem of our plights and paucities—racism. Reflect on this two-part question: does your messaging critique structural practices and systemic policies, or does your messaging center individual complicity? If it messages individual complicity, how do you do the work of imaginative hope for a freedom framework, if you have only maintained an individual-specific message?

 
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