How to be "down for the Revolution

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Are you down for the Revolution, Tinbete? I was surprised, to say the least, when my friend from back home asked me this over the phone one night after I told her I was reading a book on the Black Panthers for one of my classes.

My amazement was evident in the long silence that followed her question: “Um, I-I guess,” I replied, quizzically. The truth of the matter was, however, that I didn’t know. I had no clue as to whether or not I was “down for the Revolution” or not.

This particular question, though asked jokingly, got me thinking about my time at Macalester and the way I engage in activism and my identity as a black student. The catalyst for me thinking about this, however, wasn’t just a talk with my friend from back home, but with friends here as well.

After the annual Black Liberation Affairs Committee (B.L.A.C) Faculty and Staff dinner last week, I was talking to a friend of mine on campus about the event and why she decided not to come. She seemed to be reluctant to participate in B.L.A.C activities because of our lack of community involvement and activism. This made me curious as to my role in both on- and off-campus activism and brings to light, at least for me, the history of B.L.A.C.

The name of the organization arose out of the student activism that took place around the school administration’s lack of resources for students of African descent in the 1960s. The organization’s members would hold sit-ins, teach-ins, and rally around causes they thought would liberate the black students of Macalester (and yes, there were more then).

But in thinking about all this, I still wasn’t able to address some of the concerns I felt were plaguing the current state of black students involved with B.L.A.C today. Do we have to participate in black-oriented activism only because we are black? What if we join black student organizations simply to find community? Aren’t activities like the annual Faculty and Staff Dinner somewhat liberating since we are allowed to come together and talk about issues we couldn’t talk about elsewhere? What about schoolwork? Are we obligated to help liberate our people but still have our 10-page paper turned in by Friday?

But it’s not enough for me to just have a ton of questions on my plate; I sometimes appreciate answers, too.

So upon looking for answers, I made a proclamation that I was going to become active in the greater Twin Cities black community. I was going to right all my wrongs as a student and become more active in things that would benefit my community so that I personally could feel good about myself.

Sadly, this only yielded more questions.

For instance, is it any better for me to participate in off-campus activism and organizing simply to make myself feel as if I am actually doing something?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think that that motive is somewhat selfish, wanting to help others only so you can feel good about yourself with no analysis of the greater implications of your “activism”. I’d rather “keep it real” and say that I haven’t thought about community activism because, quite frankly, I haven’t had time to.

And I know that not all activists think like this, some really do a great job of analyzing the work they do, my friend being one of them. But I know for me, my motives aren’t necessarily where they should be, and I am comfortable admitting that I just need to work on that.

In all of this, however, the one answer that I have been able to come up with is that blackness and liberation are not static terms and neither is the relationship between the two. For some, having soul food with other black people on campus is just as liberating as tutoring inner-city youth.

I guess my problem comes in when people begin assessing other people’s dedication to `the Revolution” (or whatever its modern manifestation is) and the people for whom it is supposed to be liberating.

The world is plagued with problems. How we deal with them is up to us. Whether or not we deal with them is up to us. But I find comfort in knowing that people can choose how they will revolutionize the world they live in and that they have that option at all.

For me, choosing to write this column weekly was a form of activism because it provides a space for me and other students to deal with the thoughts going on in our minds. And so far I am pleased that, at the very least, others have shared in the thoughts put forth here and aren’t afraid to ask questions.

But even with all these questions, I am still plagued by the one that my friend brought up.

This being the second time she asked, I knew I had to reply, and do it quickly.

“Yeah,” I began to reply warily, “I am so down for the Revolution. And I will be sure to join you at whatever protest you go to. But first, let me finish this paper. It’s due Friday.”

Tinbete Ermyas’ 08 is editor of the weekly column “From the Margin to the Center.” Contact him at [email protected]