Why I am not writing a personal press release for the end of the decade
Its approaching New Years. Not just any new year, but 2020, the start of a new decade in the colonially imposed Gregorian calendar, and of course a year that inspires constant allusion to clarity of vision. 2020 is after all perfect sight.
Perhaps its that I have astigmatism in both eyes and so my vision will never really be 20:20, or the that fact that I work in a universe of donors and funding that is persistently and unashamedly obsessed with ‘results’. Perhaps its that I was raised in a left feminist philosophical tradition that is founded on notions of self-critique as rigour, alongside a collectivist thinking that embraces the idea that nothing we do is really ever just about ‘me’. It may well be that I have taken the a luta continua idea a bit too much to heart, along with Amilcar Cabral’s call for us to “tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. Whatever it is, but this time I am really feeling underwhelmed by the invitation to chronicle all I have ‘achieved’ in the decade that framed my 30s.
In the few early morning moments in December (like this one) where I have finally had a chance to sit, breathe and think after a gruelling year of work and my first year as a working mother, I have really been reflecting on the ideas that are (re)shaping how I - and that of my community of friends and activists- think and feel about the world. In the space of human rights and social justice that I work in, we are engaged in a still unsuccesful process of questioning why it is that though we are in it for principles, we are obliged to focus incessantly on the minuates of metrics and measurement- counting beneficiares, and turning summersaults to declare ‘impact’ in just one year of an initiative to undo the impacts of patriarchy. Unrealistic pressures that also push up against the politics of why we are here in the first place working so hard- to urge a more complex shift in power relations and in ways of being. This ‘results thinking’ that we rail about at work however is not too different from the logic in our personal lives that compels us to constantly assess whether or not we are #winning — or indeed to be so interested in who is or isn’t in our midst.
Success we are told by neoliberal career gurus (including of the evangelical kind) is about trying hard and taking risks. The truth is I know a lot of brilliant talented people who try very hard and take a lot of risks- and repeatedly do not come out on the proverbial top, because frankly the realities of structural sexism, racism, classism and/or homophobia and transphobia ensure that winning is really not a ‘lane’ they can slay in. So if I am to sit here and chronicle how ‘well’ I have done or how I have ‘bounced back’ from adversity I would have to do so paying attention to why that has not been the case for so many people that I know (because there is always an imperative to return to greatness, right? In fact I have never heard a TED Talk that says “then I hit a glass ceiling (or a city council permit that stopped me trading on the side of the road) and well, that was the end of my career frankly. And no, I didn’t go on to found a multi-billion dollar tech company”).
This is not to say we shouldn’t celebrate with people, or enjoy if others declare their excitment about the progress they have made in their lives. We should always be there for the joy! Celebration is vital.
What I am questioning is the compulsion to have to frame the journey of life- including my own life- as one of progressive success. And the compulsion to have to tell the whole world about it. For me personally, I am going to keep meditating on the idea that the ‘work’ is to work on being able to be- individually but also together.
So there we have it. You don’t have to read my list :-).
I wish you all the very best that this world can offer, given the circumstances (hello climate change, and the ascendancy of the economic and social right…everywhere). Please don’t feel bad also if you don’t end up achieving your goals. Its probably not about you. And finally, if the pressure to produce your end of the decade report is still strong, and you are panicking a bit, please remember that in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar it is still 2012.