“They” and the shaping impulse of America

Fellas, this is “shape wear.”

It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. ~Robert F. Kennedy in 1966 speech to South African young people

In many post-election conversations I’ve been a part of in Washington, D.C. since November 9th, there has been a thread that sounds oddly familiar. That is, that “we” [the educated city dwellers] must help the “they” [the less-informed rural dwellers].

You see, “we” have to help “them” see that they voted against their own self-interest. “They” need to understand the political and economic systems that have marginalized them. (Full disclosure, I grew up a rural dweller. I got an education and now live in the city.)

Getting the “them” to understand something that “we” experts with more access to the system think is important for “their” lives should sound rather familiar to us in the global development space.

And we can never be okay with it – not with the patronizing, not with that narcissism, not with the need to assert one’s intelligence, status or control, which by now should be seen as the obvious throwback to colonization and imperialism that it is.

There is no “them.” Watch out for this word, this sentiment, this allusion of “other” in your language. This is not about political correctness or identity politics. This is about enabling connection, dialogue and building power, acknowledging what is has taken for Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ people to stay alive as America and other nations are shaped.

The suffering that us U.S.-born international do-gooders have seen as unbearable “over there” is here, has been here, will be expanded here. There has never been a time where the local-to-global connection has been more salient.

They are we.


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