Can We Say Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stolen Land In the Same Sentence? Yes, and We Must.

(Image of tweet is of americahatesus.)

Can we talk about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and stolen land in the same sentence? My answer is not only an unequivocal yes, but also: we should. For anyone fighting towards actual justice, we must.

To me, it is disrespectful to feminism and the ideals of justice not to examine RBG, her life’s work and all actions with the fullness of critical analysis that feminism actually demands we apply to all leaders and significant events, politics, and our world in general.

Liberal and “progressive” friends were mad when I pointed out in conversations that RBG called Colin Kaepernick (and therefore the entire movement he started) “dumb and disrespectful” (she later apologized after the damage was done); that she voted for oil pipelines ripping and tearing through and profiting off of Indigenous lands, that she defended Brett Kavanaugh. That none of her good, revolutionary acts erase any of those facts. That’s what they are, folks: FACTS.

I know that people questioned my progressive solidarity when I didn’t jump on and celebrate the “Notorious RBG” bandwagon with them. It made some of my friends and colleagues deeply uncomfortable. That I named that appropriating a Black artist’s legacy to honor a white leader’s accomplishments — a white leader who argued in favor of upholding oppressive respectability politics through her comments on Kaepernick — made me necessarily pause. It made me unpopular, and friends stopped our conversations right there. Some white feminists, but I won’t lie: others, too.

And I also get that my posting an image of RBG on the night of her death, in recognition of the power vacuum it represents and the naming of my and others’ situational anxiety of the very real real threat that her seat could be filled with someone of the potential for increasing, compounding, more exacting and aggressive racism and fascism might on first glance suggest an unequivocal celebration of her leadership without that necessary criticality. I get it — attention spans are short and at times, superficial.

But that’s not what it was, and it’s not the message I want to leave anyone willing to listen to me to leave with. Instead, what I care even more about is sharing what I’ve learned in my multiple-lives-lived within my short 42 years has taught me, which is that the truth lives among and between the shatteringly difficult, uncomfortable, often opposing and polarizing realities that often present themselves simultaneously and competitively and suggest we support either one side or the other.

Let’s take just a split second to recognize that is the same “Either/or thinking” we recognize as one of the pillars of White Supremacy Culture. The running from what’s complicated, the fear of open conflict, the need for developing certainty — it is ALL recognizable clearly and distinctly as part of the “Right to Comfort” in White Supremacy Culture that silences critical thinking, leverages respectability politics as an active form of oppression, and discourages the type of necessary questioning, even appreciative inquiry, that builds accountability of leaders and systems and concrete, tangible forms of social contracts. Not just the laws that govern our every day lives, but our own judgement and decisions made within them. Our own feelings about ourselves.

Cancel Culture is lazy AF when it ends at just canceling. It’s so seductive to think it helps you protect your energy. But you might be mistaken. It offers a temporary reprieve, but no long term solution, political, intellectual, true emotional, or spiritual guidance. It bears a sobering relationship with cognitive dissonance. Oh wait, we’ve already talked about that.

So what does it look like when we build and begin to flex the muscles to hold and actively, unabashedly face multiple terrifying, exacting truths all at the same time? The opposite of this isn’t blind faith or forgiveness or acceptance — it is criticality. It is the deep, mindful, nuanced, sometimes painful intellectual and emotional wrestling of criticality. Some would say it may even be the most honest expression and embodiment of love.

The messiness, discomfort, and realities of making the act of holding each other accountable not scary (forever thank you to Mia Mingus) and not impossible is part of the work. It may be one of the hardest parts of the work. Lest we forget this irrevocable fact and only, merely rely on our handsful left of “infallible heroes” to depend on. What a luxury that would be. What a fantasy.

And you know what is also simultaneously scary, daunting, and liberating? The fact of realizing this work, this job of accounatbility, of building new systems of power, of calling in for the win — it was always up to us.

Liberation, leadership, and love in public. First Gen Queer Indonesian American. Head of Strategy & Culture @ The Justice Collective