Michael Onsando
30 May ,2017

“Unpacking is heavy. Unpacking is always heavy. And when the things we have carried around lay themselves bare on the ground to be watched one of two things happen. Either we are made by them and begin the path of leaving them behind or, embarrassed, (they might be too big or too small, too fragile, too impossible, too much, too little too anything) we quickly pack them back and carry them along.”

How much do we carry? Do we chose what we carry or do we go around the world burdening ourselves with others and silently resenting them for it? How do these things we carry shape us? Hold us back? Hold us steady? Do we examine the things we carry? Do we watch as they grow and change, growing and changing with them? Or do we work around them, slowly letting them fester into monsters of their own? Ahmed writes:

 “A wall can feel internal, like a voice inside your own head that says don’t go there; you can’t do that. Even when a wall feels internal it does not begin there. You might have been told: you can’t do that. You won’t be able to do that. This lack of confidence might be attached to you being a girl, or you just being the being you are; not good enough, not smart enough, or just not, not enough; or too much, it is too much for you, you are too much; that too.  You might be defiant in the face of this lack of confidence. I can do that. I will be able to do that. But if those words are repeated, you can’t do that, you won’t be able to do that; they can become a wavering of your own will, a doubt; an uncertainty. A conviction I can transformed into a question: can I?”

An awkard yeti comic strip  has the heart and mind carrying a boulder of self-doubt up the mountain to the goal. The mind tells the heart “perhaps it would be easier if we put this down.” I’m less interested in the setting aside of doubt and running headlong – this will not only be dangerous to oneself, but the people around them as well. I’m more interested in the examination of doubt. Ahmed talks of walls – my question becomes, why do this walls exist? To think about walls is to think about conditioned response. Or the things that we have been exposed to, and how the things we have been exposed to create our world.

Many words to say that problems have histories – and these histories have shaped the things we see as caution.

But histories are just linear narratives. A way of responding based on how things have been in the world. Which world? If the work is decolonization – re orientation based on different ways of seeing – then we are destined to run into the ways in which our old selves did not allow us to be, because we are looking places where our old selves did not allow us to look.

The problem, of course, with looking in new places is that suddenly the tools that you had don’t work anymore. Having not looked there, you haven’t developed tools to deal with that area. This, I’d imagine, is what privilege looks like – a lack of tools – to be able to not understand sentiment, for it is not yours to understand. For it becomes the work of the people around you to have, not only tools to work through themselves, but through whatever weight your lack of tools places on them. In refusing to participate in labour one dooms the labour onto another (what do they say? The work will be done one way or another?)

This is easy to understand when speaking of mechanical work – slightly more complicated when talking about emotional work. Berlant helps:

“This, I would argue, would involve a considerable restructuring of the place of work and expenditure in the production of ordinary life; but might also involve a transformation of what people imagine when they project out what the good life is, when they make images of what will secure satisfaction, and whether “adding up to something” is the best metaphor for justifying having laboured. “Adding up” is just one way to think about what it means to have and to have had a life: it means a radical rethinking of the relation of labor and time, of sacrifice, security, and satisfaction. This involves a huge commitment to rethinking being in relation, and for showing up for the social and sociability. Is it a world, a gathering, a public, a normative fantasy: where are the zones for belonging to be fought out? (…)”

I’d like to differentiate this from the argument that states the idea is to open up privilege for everyone. I’ve fancied the thought myself a few times – ignorance is bliss. And so sharing in the ignorance would then be to share in the bliss. The problem, as explained earlier, is that lacking the tools to perform the labour, doesn’t mean the labour won’t be performed. Which also means that if everyone were to lay down their tools, then the labour would just not be performed.

There is danger in unworked, unaddressed emotion – and there is power in numbers.

Give danger a little power and you have a few things coming your way.

What is seen then in the argument of opening up privilege is, perhaps not a refusal given how people battle with understanding in order to own it for themselves, but a wall that too must be questioned. A protection of what is yours to keep.

To be privileged is then to be unburdened (in certain ways). To be unburdened is to be able not to think about a certain thing – not to be weighed down by it. It is to be allowed to free your mind to whatever you wish. But it is also not to understand the nature of the burden, and to have the power to refuse to understand.

The work then, is not in opening privilege to everyone, rather it is in understanding the ways in which one’s privilege exists at the expense of others and taking up that labour. Which, of course, means that the work always begins with listening.



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