Stop Caring About Intentions, Start Caring About Actions
The argument proposes that the struggle of our new millennium will be one between the ongoing imperative of securing the well-being of our present ethnoclass (i.e., Western bourgeois) conception of the human, Man, which overrepresents itself as if it were the human itself, and that of securing the well-being, and therefore the full cognitive and behavioral autonomy of the human species itself/ourselves.
“What I did wasn’t racist or sexist because it wasn't my intention to be.” Variations of this phrase easily translate to “the problem isn’t my political limitation, it’s your misinterpretation of reality.” Such idea can lead to a spiral of self-doubt and paranoia. It can be a form of gaslighting.
Many years living in the Netherlands as a Latin American immigrant has taught me that White Supremacy and the Patriarchy have malicious ways of penetrating people’s subconsciousness. I spent almost a decade hearing “Zwarte Piet isn't racist," “it has nothing to do with colonialism" and doubting my perception of reality, before a powerful anti-racist movement arose denouncing it. Essentially all of my heteronormative relationships involved men saying they loved me, while at the same time infantilizing my thoughts and my feelings. Any expression of discomfort was reduced to “that spicy Latina temperament."
Even after I learned the political vocabulary to express myself, I was told certain actions weren’t racist or sexist because they didn't “mean it that way." Honestly, if someone meant to be racist and sexist, I wouldn't bother having a conversation. I would leave, and perhaps plot an attack for later. What drains more energy than direct combat is interacting with those who lie to themselves in order to preserve their self-perception. Some people are more concerned with not being seen as racist and sexist than with not acting racist or sexist.
None of this is new. Amazing black women have been saying this for years. “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist” (Angela Davis). “Critical self-reflection (...) is a scarce commodity in a culture that delights in imagining itself as ‘nothing,' ‘just normal'" (Gloria Wekker). And yet, the problem persists. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
For instance, I recently told a white man that he is more likely to be taken seriously, or to be treated as if his opinions mattered, because in our secular-Christian Eurocentric society he is seen as being closer to God. He instantly disagreed, “but I don't believe in God." What I handed him was a gem. It was information based on years of research, blood and sweat of incredible women, delivered eloquently and concisely. He picked it up, called it garbage, and threw it on the ground.
[T]he large-scale accumulation of unpaid land, unpaid labor, and overall wealth expropriated by Western Europe from non-European peoples, which was to lay the basis of its global expansion from the fifteenth century onwards, was carried out within the order of truth and the self-evident order of consciousness, of a creed-specific conception of what it was to be human—which, because a monotheistic conception, could not conceive of an Other to what it experienced as being human, and therefore an Other to its truth, its notion of freedom. Its subjects could therefore see the new peoples whom it encountered in Africa and the New World only as the “pagan-idolators,” as “Enemies-of-Christ” as the Lack of its own narrative ideal. This was consequential. It set in motion the secularizing reinvention of its own matrix Christian identity as Man. The non-Europeans that the West encountered as it expanded would classify the West as “abnormal” relative to their own experienced Norm of being human, in the Otherness slot of the gods or the ancestors.
(Sylvia Wynter in Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom, pg.291)
Some might say he didn't understand it, or that I didn't explain it well enough. No. That man had no intention of understanding what I was saying, because he is used to being the one who explains, especially to someone like me. If he wanted to understand, he could have asked a question. If I wasn't clear, he could have asked me to clarify. But no. His intention was self-preservation, and he achieved that by making me feel that my views were untrue while his were. Perhaps there is no better proof that he sees himself as closer to God, even as an atheist, than him believing he’s closer to the Truth. “Truth" is the secular reinvention of God, owned by those closer to the Christian idea of Man.
Others might say that this person just didn't like me or trust me. Also no. This is a man who for the past 12 years has been convinced I am the love of his life. His intention has been to love me and care for me. Even in relationships apparently filled with love, intimacy and memories, oppression and violence creeps in. If you exist in this world, you cannot avoid the hundreds of years of political atrocity and toxic socialization. This violence contaminates our psyches, and regardless of the other person's ‘intentions', their actions can still deeply harm us, lead us to doubt ourselves, and to think gems are garbage.
It saddens me to think that many of you probably relate to this, but on the other hand, it's important to know we're not alone. If it wasn't for the Anti-Zwarte Piet movement, I would maybe still be doubting my own discomfort with the tradition. We might not be able to prevent certain encounters from happening, but we need to protect our self-worth. This must never be taken away. For me, the most effective way to do this is to summon an ancestor in moments of doubt. It can be a Goddess or an Orixá, a dead family member or an influential thinker. In this particular story, I summoned Sylvia Wynter, a writer and an inspiration, to make me feel closer to my Truth. We had a little conversation in my head- “Sylvia, you are amazing, you spoke truth, and you're here with me now.” It worked.
There is no safe space in this world, not even in our own minds. We can't always predict or control other people's actions, much less their true intentions. But we can call for help in the realm that is within our control, because we are never alone. Regardless of religion, spirituality, or lack thereof, there is always someone or something we can summon in moments of need.
Writer, editor, political theorist, and teacher.