ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)   


 political slogans, statements or theories do not always translate so neatly

 into actions.  For instance, I get confused about what it means

 to struggle with really sexist and homophobic activists



On Political Struggle

 When is Patience Really Cowardice?

By Kil Ja Kim 


If there is one word I hear constantly repeated among activists, it is the word struggle.   The idea of struggle is central to political work, or at least in the multiple spaces I am in or have entered and in the political work I read.  I have used the word on plenty of occasions, or have nodded my head when it has been said.  Yet as a person who takes seriously developing analysis and practice rooted in it, I am really confused about what it means to struggle.   

It is not that I don’t know what the term struggle means.  Or at least I think it means to be committed to dialogue and to working through shit instead of running away.  At least that’s what I have been told when I have decided to end dialogues or run away from a relationship.  That is, it is usually when I am leaving the room, hanging up the phone, or cursing someone out that I am told that struggle is a key part of social change.

And sometimes, when I have walked out of a meeting, threw my phone across the room in exasperation of what I am hearing from the other end, or have yelled at people, some of whom I care about, I know that I don’t feel right.  In my heart, I know I am not treating someone well, and I come to regret my actions later. 

But at times I am not sure if I am just over-compensating.  Meaning, I am genuinely confused about how to struggle with others.  I am having a hard time figuring out when struggling becomes non-liberatory and non-humane.  Lately I have been wondering, when does struggling politically with others become hypocritical and contribute to violence I claim to be opposed to? 

I don’t use these words lightly.  I am genuinely confused. 

As many already know, political slogans, statements or theories do not always translate so neatly into actions.  For instance, I get confused about what it means to struggle with really sexist and homophobic activists.  How much is my willingness to struggle with them really just me sympathizing with them?  How much is it me trying to hide the fact that I share similar views?  How do I contribute to the centering of straight gender-appropriate people, particularly men, in the movement?  How do I provide sympathy or support for people who engage in, defend or perpetuate violence towards women and LGBT people?

Basically, when does struggling with some people’s issues really mask complacency and investment in particularly violent ideologies and behavior?  Why is it that we put so much energy into struggling with certain people but not with others, and what does this reveal to us about our own political commitments?   When is struggling not so much about trying to work towards a common ground where all people are equally valued but rather an act of cowardice? 

I have been struggling (ah, that word) with these questions for a while. As many people who know me can attest to, I can be impatient, cocky and quick to judge.  I often ask myself, when am I giving up on someone too early?  When am I unwilling to give to others what has been given to me in terms of patience and support so that my analysis can change? 

I am still trying to figure this out, but I do know that along with my personality characteristics, I avoid struggling with others because I want to avoid pain.  Especially because as much as I try to resist it, I am involved in politics not only because I think the world is fucked up, but also because I am searching for community and somewhere to belong in all of this mess.  And so my impatience with others sometimes reflects my desire to connect, quickly, immediately, and without tension or pain.  And I know this is silly because as activists we come together from so many different points of vantage with the common denominator being that we have all experienced, albeit differently, some kind of violence, isolation or marginalization.  And so I know that when there is so much shit to work through, patience is necessary. 

And yet as clear as it is to me that patience is part of struggle, I know that sometimes I am patient for the wrong reasons.  Many times I am patient not so much because I have faith that we’ll work it out, but because of I don’t want to make decisions.  And I know that I have difficulty making decisions because of fear. 

While this may sound goofy, my fear comes from experiencing, witnessing and learning about people’s isolation for speaking out about issues in the movement.  And it is this fear of becoming more isolated that scares the shit out of me.

For example, in regards to my gender and sexuality politics, I know that I have been scared to speak up against sexist and homophobic men and women.  There are times when I, even as aggressive and assertive as I can be, will find myself shrinking, especially when it comes to standing up to men, some of whom I care very much about.  And this is especially the case when it is a group of men, some of whom will talk louder or become more assertive in their speech or begin to feed off one another’s energy, resulting in a group dynamic that can be very overwhelming. 

So I shrink.  I become this over-compensating person.  As surprising as this may be to people who know me, I have great difficulty dealing with tension.  I tend to, as one person pointed out to me recently, take stuff on, some of which is not totally of my making or that I don’t have much control over.  So I get nervous with the idea of being the “bitch,” and to avoid the pain, isolation and violence associated with this position, I find myself trying to comfort or joke with people, some of whom just said some really violent shit or whose energy, words and action reflect a deep-seated hostility towards people I profess to show solidarity with or who, on an inter-personal level, I love and care about a great deal. 

And later, I kick myself for not being stronger.  I try to convince myself that I am struggling with others, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I just have no guts, that I am just trying to avoid being treated like those whom I am supposedly trying to show solidarity with. 

And yet I know my fear of speaking up has consequences.  I get rewards for not speaking up.  Drawing from the example I just gave, not speaking up has allowed me to be “respected” by political men, a “respect” contingent on my willingness not to be too “bitchy.”  Not speaking up has allowed me to be the “strong sister” speaking out against gender and sexual oppression in a forum or at a rally but a “sister” who, unlike a “bitch,” is willing to struggle with men in the meeting room, the office or riding in the car to an event.  It has basically given me access to a man’s political world because I don’t really disrupt or distract from it.  Overall, struggling with others has allowed me to resist particular forms of violence and isolation inherent to some peoples’ realities. 

I know these rewards are coupled with losses for others.  There is a reason I find my own voice faltering or getting less audible when I try to explain to a lesbian friend why I continue to work with people who are homophobic, or when I tell a Black friend about hanging out with a non-Black person whose political work is anti-black.  I can hear myself say that I am struggling with them, but I am aware that my voice gets smaller and that I have less confidence as we talk.  And I know why. 

  It is not because I am being “silenced” or “bullied” but because I am being challenged to actually live up to the friendship and solidarity I profess to want to give.  I am being questioned, with a glance or an audible silence, by friends and fellow activists why I am invested in people who are committed to political views that are not just different from theirs, but that are destructive to their lives because they’re perspectives and practices whose coherence is rooted in an opposition to their humanity. 

And so I am struggling with what it means to struggle with others and how this may be not only hypocritical but also contributing to the violence towards people, many of whom I care about for personal and political reasons.  I wonder how many times I should try talk to others about their jokes and snide comments, their organizational practices, or the way they treat people?  When do I know it is time to walk away, not just because someone’s politics are “not on point” but because they contribute to the violence that particular people or communities continuously experience?  When is it time to realize that I can’t have it both ways, that I can’t be friends with both a perpetrator of violence and the victims of it? 

As goofy as this essay may come off, I write from the heart as someone who is genuinely confused about what it means to struggle with others, especially because in a theoretical sense, I do think we have to be willing to struggle it out if we really want to change shit.  I am just at a loss for understanding how to do so in a way that doesn’t confuse cowardice with patience.   

Kil Ja Kim  is a writer, educator and activist currently living and working in Philadelphia.  Her intellectual and political interests are Asian American politics, immigrant politics, and Black-Asian American relations. Kil Ja is currently working on working on a research project that examines the role of global racial politics in shaping the disproportionate presence of Korean immigrant business owners in Black neighborhoods in the US.

posted 25 January 2004

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *


Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)   







update 1 April 2012




Home Irene Monroe  Table