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All lives do matter, but why ignore words Black, Dalit for the sake of convergence?

By Jai Sen*
In June 2020, soon after the Black Lives Matter movement irrupted in the US, Ashish Kothari published an article titled ‘Lives matter!: Can black, indigenous, worker, farmer, ecological, women, queer uprisings come together?’ Though I've seen other such ‘plays’ off the name (‘All Lives Matter!’, or ‘White Lives Matter’, and even ‘Blue Lives Matter’, referring to the police in the US), I was first struck by the removal of the word ‘Black’ from it; and then, frankly, by the fact that one of ‘us’ had done this, in a way that was both inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement but also piggybacking (to use that term) on it, to make his own proposal about convergence.
(I say ‘us’ in part because Ashish is an old friend, and in many ways, I think we are fellow-travellers in social movement; but also because we both belong to so-called ‘civil society’, which I see as an issue in of itself.)
But then, and as I read the article itself, I also came to be struck by the myriad, multiple meanings of this seemingly simple, innocent action, and especially in relation to the emerging moment in history and struggle for social justice, in the US and worldwide.
I  want to clarify that though apparently addressed to Ashish and his article, my comments here are not about him as such but about all of us and addressed to all of us, and about what I see as serious social problematics, and contradictions, that we all need to struggle with; but perhaps especially those of us who structurally belong to so-called ‘civil society’, myself included. In my opinion, it is therefore best to get such thoughts out onto the table, and even if doing so runs the risk of personalising the issue. 
Here, I try to summarise my points in a longish essay, "On removing the Black from Black Lives Matter, and more: In defence of the specific, in search of principles, and speaking to this moment in history -- Comments on and triggered by Ashish Kothari’s article...": 
1) I believe that the idea of removing the key word from the name of a movement of historically and structurally oppressed peoples, in order to put forward another idea, is not acceptable, and has multiple, deep, and profoundly negative meanings. (In my opinion anyway, piggybacking – as it’s commonly called, in English – is always a bad idea, but especially a bad idea done like this.) In this sense, and even if – I feel sure -- not meant in that way in this case, this removal does violence to the name, and implicitly to the peoples.
2) I feel that this is especially so when done by someone, or some people, who does/do not belong to that section of peoples, and all the more if it is done by someone who belongs to what in terms of social and political relations, is structurally a more ‘powerful’ section of society. I do not think that ‘we’ (since I myself belong to this section) have the moral right to do this.
I’m not sure about this, but I very tentatively venture the idea that something like this is to be done at all, it is perhaps – perhaps -- only those who belong to equally historically and structurally oppressed sections of people, such as Dalits or Indigenous Peoples, and Women, who might have the right to do so; as has historically happened, such as in the case of the formation in the 1970s of the Dalit Panthers, inspired by the Black Panthers. (But as I say, and since this is hardly for me to ‘decide’, I also put this idea forward only very tentatively.) 
One should consider accepting leadership of people now building movements -- such as peoples of African descent in the US and Dalits in India
3) Three key issues I think are critical in such situations, and therefore necessary for us all to address in proposals such as the one made by Ashish:
  • Talking power, making power visible
  • The dialectics of ‘convergence’ and of power 
  • Recognising structural location in society. 
4) In short, I suggest, while elegantly argued, Ashish’s proposal for ‘convergence’ fails to understand – and therefore hugely over-simplifies and overlooks – the profound internal contradictions that lie within and between movements, some of a structural nature. While I agree with him that in some ideal world, ‘convergence’ is an important thing to attempt, in order to do so we need to also address all the hidden dynamics that are involved, especially when proposing convergence across sections of society that are in profoundly different locations in society, in structural terms. 
 (Quite aside from also being in different parts of the world and from different cultures, which he also suggests, but without even opening up and addressing this issue.)
5) In terms of social dynamics, and of the rise of movements among historically and structurally oppressed peoples in different locations across the world, we might have entered (or now be entering) a moment in history where people such as Ashish and myself, belonging to middle and upper-middle sections of society who would like to be consider themselves working in solidarity with historically and structurally oppressed peoples, could also consider taking a step back in relation to making such proposals, to make way for the emerging movements and their proposals; and also consider accepting the leadership of the people now building such movements -- such as peoples of African descent in the US, Dalits in India (and elsewhere), and Indigenous Peoples and Women everywhere; and/but where practising this of course has many very significant ramifications. (I have said this before, over the past some years, and I say it again here.)  
---
*Independent researcher, editor; senior fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa. Source: Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre (PMARC). This article has been edited for style 
Click here detailed arguments by Jai Sen in his essay, "On removing the Black from Black Lives Matter, and more: In defence of the specific, in search of principles, and speaking to this moment in history"

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