By Shanti Louise Grafström
Many times on social media I have seen that picture of two babies hugging, one black and one white, over a caption that reads ‘No one is born racist’. It is true. Just as there are no naturally occurring national borders etched onto the Earth’s surface, nor are there any natural borders between races, religions, ethnic groups, genders or sexual orientations that should, biologically speaking, keep us separated or alienated from our fellow human beings. These are artificial borders, and like many an artificial thing, they have ended up becoming socially destructive.
From an anthropological perspective, there is a long history of argument pointing out how conflict arises when society severs our natural human relations along race, class, national or other socially constructed lines – synthetic borders that tear our more natural state of unity apart. For decades there have been movements amongst certain activists who do not want to simply change one law at a time, but who want to throw out the rules and change this fundamental way of being in society – to break down borders and regain our unity. Whether or not we keep some form of administrative borders, the fact remains that we need to radically erase our social borders. In the face of a global ecological crisis, our survival depends upon unifying as one planet. Regaining our connection to each other is more than some lofty spiritual goal, it is a necessary component of an alternative political agenda focused on equitable social and ecological change. As artist and activist Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey says, “Reclaiming our humanity is the truly revolutionary act.”
Time and again we see political leaders creating conflict along artificial borders in society for their own political and financial gain. Tradition gives credit to Philip of Macedonia for the ‘Divide and Conquer’ strategy. The concept of dividing the masses up into smaller groups and fomenting rivalries and discord among them is nothing new. A prime example is the “racial caste system” in the United States that has thrived since the founding of the nation until this very day, as Michelle Alexander outlines in The New Jim Crow. First the poor white people were convinced they had it better because at least they were free. After the Civil War, the poor whites were convinced by the rich whites to vote against their own best interests because otherwise the scary black folks might ‘steal their jobs and rape their women’. In the early twentieth century the same rhetoric was used to enact Jim Crow laws and racist housing policies, helping white Americans build wealth through homeownership whilst black Americans were trapped in cycles of poverty and mass incarceration. As for today, an analysis of a Trump speech or a Republican convention makes it clear that these artificial racial borders are alive and well, and that poor white Americans are still voting against their own best interests in favor of the rich and powerful political elite.
A similar picture emerges if we were to take a snapshot of many other ‘modern’ societies. It is simply a matter of degree. But despite all of this, underneath these artificially imposed borders, is an innate need for connection. In art, religion, mythology, literature and poetry in all cultures around the globe, there has been a search for meaning, a search for connection to our fellow human beings and for a ‘bigger picture’. It is why we seek to live in family, in community. It is why match.com is a huge multi-million-dollar enterprise! We all want to connect! What if the foundation of our human nature is actually cooperation and compassion? What if instead of creating societal structures out of ‘divide and conquer’ we were to form systems based on ‘unify and liberate’?
If we try to go about our political activism attempting to uproot every unjust law one by one, we will be at this forever. If we keep playing by the rules of a broken system, then the playing field will remain tilted against us. We ourselves need to rewrite the rules. We need to change the entire system, not just the structures, but society’s underlying way of thinking which led to this divisive system. We need to challenge the fundamental assumptions of separation – the borders that created our society of conflict in the first place – in our own thinking, in our private conversations and in our public discourse. In activism, instead of just intention, we need to stop and challenge our assumptions, to reassess the rules we need to rewrite. We need to stop accepting the borders that have been defined for us and regain connection. Politically, morally and ecologically, the future lies in regaining our unity and making unity our revolutionary way of being.
Shanti Louise Grafström was born in Uppsala but lived most of her life in the US and returned to her native Sweden to get her Masters in Religions in Peace and Conflict. Her favorite pastimes include cooking, knitting, writing, walking her dog Peachy, collecting palindromes, and standing up for peace, earth justice and human rights. She has spent most of her life studying various religions. She now spends most of her days studying ——————————various sociopolitical issues. Her true passion is socially engaged spirituality. She —————————believes that the true revolutionary act is being LOVE.
Image: Jim Nix