Taking up the fight for racial justice in the U.S. with counter-narratives
Never again will a single story be told as if it is the only one. - John Berger
We stand at a moment when free citizens of the world wonder if the dreams of their forefathers have been waylaid by the power-hungry state that licenses indefensible intolerance and sectarian violence. Sonali Kolhatkar's Rising Up offers a timely exploration of how activists and the general public begin to narrate their personal stories about racism instead of the top-down official history, with the aim of advancing social justice in the U.S. where white supremacy dictates the thinking of the people in spite of the rise in the population of people of colour.
Literature of affirmation
The American political and cultural landscape, that is Kolhatkar's concern, needs immediate correction through this literature of affirmation with the focus on news media, entertainment, and individual discourse. The overriding suggestion of her book is to force the media to listen, so that people may learn to speak in different voices and languages. Words and writing are like weapons that spur radical notions of dialogue and participation to embark on a rebellion against those who do not listen.
Kolhatkar, who has been engaged in journalism for more than 20 years, shows the pursuit of racial impartiality through the narratives of writers, creators and educators aiming "to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." Social justice advocacy is her abiding credo. As she writes, "My liberation is bound up with the liberation of the people whose stories I share. By becoming fluent in each other's stories, we rise up against racism. Through solidarity, we rise up together."
Violence in such a society apparently arises out of the white supremacist assumptions underpinned by stereotypes that all black male teenagers are hardened criminals or that Asians are "slow drivers" causing inconvenience to the public. For instance, the assumption that police are essential for any security is ingrained in the public without finding out if policing reduces violence. Use of police force against blacks or the failure to intervene in fatal crimes is common knowledge.
Hollywood has, for years, excluded actors of colour in "spaces where their presence is considered anachronistic." The killing of George Floyd sparked the overwhelming desire to stop the onward rush of blatant racism. Kolhatkar joins the call for the power of the narrative to demonstrate its exacting responsibility in creating, in the words of Pete Seeger, "The right song at the right time which would change history." The poet Agha Shahid Ali seeks a world without borders and reprimands the authoritarian government, "My memory is again in the way of your history."
This is indeed, literature of witness, of the one who has been there and knows the torture of being marginalised within the punitive workings of the powerful. As Brecht writes in his play Galileo, "Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth... must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognise it, although it is everywhere concealed; the judgement to select those in whose hands it will be effective."
Courtesy: THE HINDU
Reviewed by Shelley Walia