Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange: An Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley

Robin D. G. Kelley: And my sister, Makani Themba—who’s an activist, long­time, she’s my older sister—she trained me and raised me. And she’s always looking for opportunities for dialogue, always looking for a way to wage critique that is open and loving, but still critique. Because the ?ip side of this story is what annoys me the most, and that is, whenever I’m giving a talk and people start snapping their ?ngers, you know, they do this thing now [snaps fast], I feel I must have said something wrong!

Because it’s not my job to con?rm what you already know. And that to me is the ?ip side of it. The idea that people want speak­ers or want to read things that con?rm what they know rather than challenge what they know. That’s where I think, if I have edges that show up, that’s what I’m most critical of. Because it’s tied to the opposite. The culture of ad hominem and the culture of hating: the ?ip side of that is con?rmation. Neither of them is dialectical. Hating is banishment. Con?rmation is nothing changes. They’re two sides of the same coin. We’re raised politically to think dialectically. Which is that we need to have that thesis/antithesis constantly. And you cannot separate them; they have to be together, because those contradictions are drivers, they’re not some­thing to be afraid of.

[…] empathy also requires identifying with the person you’re em­pathizing with. And sometimes you only identify with those whom you recognize. That’s a problem because part of solidarity is the people you don’t recognize. The people who you don’t see yourself in. And we’re raised in this particular era of liberal multiculturalism to see ourselves in others. When in fact I tell my students, “Look, not only do you not see yourself in others, but if we’re talking about en­slaved people in the eighteenth century, I’m sorry, none of y’all can know what that means.” We can begin to understand not by simply imposing our own selves but by stepping outside of ourselves and moving into different periods of history. Understanding the constraints and limitations of people’s lives that are not us, as opposed to those who are like us. The fallback is always, “Well, if it were me,” or, “I can see how other people feel,” as opposed to, “Let me step outside myself.”

[…] I’m much closer I think to Dr. King in this when he talks about what agape actually means. The constant struggle to create community. Constant struggle! You can’t stop ?ghting. And creat­ing community means creating community with those you don’t like. And people who don’t like you. And trying to ?gure how to move forward to something better. Not to the point of, as King would put it, sentimental love. But a hard love, a hard love that’s in struggle. I can’t think of another path to go; it’s inconceivable to me. More here.

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