As the world turns and splits apart: Not long ago, we recommended the new memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
We recommended the book on the basis of Khan-Cullors' unusual sensibility and her striking life story. We also thought the world would be well served if she was a bit more careful concerning important facts.
At the time, we'd read the first half of the book, which largely deals with the way Khan-Cullors grew up in Los Angeles. Over the weekend, we read the second half of the book, which concerns the founding of BLM and Khan-Cullors' more recent life events.
Those events includes Khan-Cullors' recent marriage to Future Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter—Canada. Khan originally called herself janaya khan, and possibly still does.
We mention this for a reason:
In the most recent parts of the book, Khan-Cullors' personal life becomes heavily fraught. This isn't unusual for young and youngish people. It's exaggerated a bit in this case because of gender (and pronoun) issues.
We receommnded this book because of Khan-Cullors' unusually upbeat temperament, mixed with her long history as an activist/organizer. Also involved is her desire to create "intentional family"—to build family and love where none may pre-exist.
Early in the book, this seems quite unusual and admirable. By the end of the book, the undertaking by Khan-Cullors and others starts to seem a bit fraught.
It isn't just that she is trying to change the world in terms of prison practices and racial justice. It seems that she and her associates have also undertaken to tackle such matters as this, janaya khan speaking:
QUESTION: Can you briefly hit on your own use of they/them pronouns and how these gender identity concepts affect your work?We can recall a time when we had assigned ourselves the task of fixing everything on the planet. That assignment didn't work out well for us. Can it possibly work out well for these youngish people?
KHAN: There are seven billion people on the planet, how boring would it be if there were only two genders? The way that we negotiate people who are gender non-conforming, not treating femininity and masculinity as a spectrum; when we don’t do those things it's on the bodies of those non-conforming people—we directly disenfranchise them. I like that I can choose how I'm seen. I want more infrastructure built for the practice of presentation. Dozens and dozens of genders have always existed and we just don’t have the language for them. It's also important to note that I still gender people. We need to work on creating spaces. That if you want information from someone, are you willing to put that same information, i.e. your pronouns, out there?
I see nothing wrong with femininity and masculinity as concepts. The binary is bad because certain genders are oppressed or silenced. Patriarchy, really, is bad for everybody. There are all these different levels of gender. It is through daily revolutions and daily contradictions of those oppressive binaries that we find each other. We all love through those contradictions. We are tasked with creating 21st-century tools, how we consume and disseminate information is changing. We're using a 20th-century model. We are the first generation of people to do that, so we must change who are leadership is and what they look like. We’ve done it your way, the old way, shouldn’t we try new models of being?
In our view, racial justice is quite a portfolio in itself without also trying to straighten out the world's pronoun use. (In her memoir, Khan-Cullors persistently refers to her spouse as "them" without ever explaining why she does, or what her usage means.)
Khan-Cullors strikes us as someone who had it very hard coming up during an especially difficult time in Los Angeles. With something resembling the admirable fervor of the autodidact, she has seemingly set out to set everything right.
Is this likely to work out well? And by the way—do you think that "dozens and dozens of genders have always existed and we just don’t have the language for them?"
We're not saying that's right or that's wrong. We're just asking what you think, while thinking about unusual, ambitious young people who seem to be trying to change everything in the world.
Do such undertakings tend to work? In the current instance, does anybody actually care, lip service to the side?
Final reminder: Even though her memoir has hit the New York Times best-seller list, Khan-Cullors still hasn't appeared on the Maddow Show. On Rachel Maddow's corporate entertainment program, poor black people from Los Angeles pretty much don't exist, infrequent lip service excepted.
Who knows? Maybe Maddow can work Khan-Cullors into a crossword puzzle! Could that possibly help the cause? How about if the corporate hack throws in a drumroll or fanfare?