Inequality in America Student Blogger Study USA

Celebration in the Face of Adversity: A People’s Approach

Screen of happy zoom faces

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Maya Ulrich (she/her) is HECUA’s student blogger for Inequality in America Fall 2020. She is student at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, majoring in Art and Psychology. Read on for her first post!

Unprecedented times. This phrase is used a lot to explain the current state of our existence. It is a phrase that seemingly assumes that we had no way of seeing any of the anger, trauma, or exploitation of human and non-human animals rising to a boiling point. It is a phrase that is defined as being something out of the ordinary. When this term “unprecedented” is used so abundantly, I have to pause to reflect on what exactly is being referred to as “out of the ordinary.” Is it solely referring to the pandemic, or is it referring to the fissures underlying the pandemic that seem to appear in every sphere of our society? When I really think about it, I see the issues that have caused these “unprecedented times” as not very extraordinary at all. 

In HECUA’s program Inequality in America we have started to ask these questions of ourselves. We have begun to ask each other to think critically about language use and examine how much of our current social, economic, and political climate is really that unprecedented. We have started to learn the contextual information and statistics that reveal the poverty and ever increasing inequalities facing our nation. For example, since 1997, hourly earnings for 80% of workers have only risen by 1% after inflation, but worker productivity has increased by 60% — leading to more hours at work, higher family tensions, income inequality, and poverty. When I see statistical information such as this, I feel like I can say with more and more confidence that using the word unprecedented implies an assumption that there was certainty for most folks in the first place. However, many of us have lived in a state of uncertainty and upheaval our whole lives, battling against institutions and infrastructures that have tried to snuff out our most powerful assets — our voices. 

Voice, in this context, is meant both in its verbal and nonverbal forms — music, dance, touch, written word, spoken lyric, acts of care, etc. I make this distinction because not everyone has the ability to communicate with verbal language. Sometimes communication is best expressed from a place of spirituality. This spirit, I’ve learned through this course, is an asset that communities that have faced adversity carry with them. We have seen, in these times more than ever, grief bubbling over into our everyday lives. But, with that grief, we see our community’s resilience through the celebration of one another. We have heard it from Black mothers uplifting each other’s stories and leading the uprisings. We have seen mutual aid in our parks for the unjustly unhoused folks of our city. We have danced on the streets of Minneapolis. Even if we have not fully realized it, the grief over our institutions that uphold white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and a profit-over-people practice has been met time and time again with anger — and rightfully so — but also with tremendous support and care for one another. 

Relearning how communities facing oppression challenge that oppression is one of the biggest shifts in perception I have experienced this semester in this program. Specifically, in regards to my own trauma, I have felt a lot of shame, grief, and denial of the self. Understanding that these traumas carried within me can be used as an asset not only for struggle, but for celebration, has flipped the paradigm on its head. I understand now more than ever that there is so much reverence and pride held within these communities and within these bodies — within my community and within my body — and our momentous joy, hope, and jubilee is what will carry our social movements to success. 

Julia Dinsmore, one of HECUA’s community faculty members, has emphasized the importance of the word and practice of jubilee. She has shared in our virtual classroom space the transformative power of lyric and song, and how those art practices can create spaces of connection in times of disconnect and disillusionment. These moments of intensely intimate sharing of the self through our tiny zoom frames has given me time to reflect on how connected and close all of us were to each other before the pandemic, before we had to distance ourselves physically for safety. In examining our new normal and how it feels to have adjusted slowly to being more honest about trauma, and becoming more familiar with enforcing new (and old) boundaries, it gives me hope for what the possibility of a revolutionary new normal could truly look like, leaving a multitude of questions for us to ask ourselves as folks who live in the United States, and to then carry with us in our daily lives: Could unprecedented times really mean leaving room for upending the status quo of harm, of oppression, and of sanctioned violence against our people? Can we celebrate unprecedentedly in a way that assumes progression? What could unprecedented times look like? What would it feel like?

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