The Limits of the Liberal Imagination

No matter how much liberals try to remove themselves from the burden of racism, white supremacist ideology – which governs all systems in America – holds them just as guilty to its effects. Like Pilate, their hands are still full of so much blood; though they may not directly offer up communities of color and indigenous communities to be discriminated against and oppressed, colorblind policies do very little to stop the mass annihilation of a deeply marginalized people.

Appearances can be deceiving. Sure, liberals may be down for the cause, march in our marches, go through the anti-racism trainings, attend conferences on social justice and reconciliation, advocate for equal pay and living wages, press for an end to mass incarceration and police brutality, and even quote the thought leaders of our present day movements – so long as the freedoms of others do not threaten their own, they are there. But the moment, the moment, when the freedoms and power of people of color and indigenous folks appear to threaten their own sense of ownership, pride, and identity, they function just as criminal as the conservative other.

Of course, the tactics of the liberal beast may not be as racially overt and in-your-face as the conservative bunch. More often than not, liberals – particularly those who equate their stance toward policy and social issues to spiritual salvation – harbor a more paternalistic, condescending mindset toward people of color and indigenous populations. They throw out a ‘there, there,” and a pat on the head, as we lose our children, homes, and jobs. They insist that if we just had more training and experience, things could be better. And if all else fails, they erase our identity and minimize our experience of hurt and pain in the world, insisting that our interpretation of events cannot be true because they have a friend, co-worker, or neighbor whose story is different, usually a story that holds more closely to a negative stereotype.

But we know this, right? At least many of us do. Many, if not most, people of color understand that the dangers of liberalism are the same dangers expressed in conservatism. And dare I say, progressives themselves also know that as an ideology, liberalism fails to liberate people from the long lasting effects of structural racism. However, because it seems to be all that we have, we continue to hold out hope, and that is, hope in the possibility that if we work hard enough, scream loud enough, hold people accountable enough, that the liberal ideology could embody the freedom that we are looking for. We imagine that it could be more inclusive; more just and much more fair; that it could aspire to our greatest ideals of what democracy could be; that it could even contain the elixir that brings structural racism and capitalism to its needs.

We hope in vain. Liberalism does not have the capacity to deliver us from the crushing blows of racism any more than conservatism can. This is mostly true because both ideals turn around the same exact axis, and that axis is beholden to representing and protecting America’s economic interest both domestically and internationally. Throughout our country’s’ history, power has gone to great lengths to ensure the economic prowess of a nation whose land and labor was stolen in order to build it. In particular, this has meant the continual dispossession of those whose involuntary sweat and blood made the country for what it is. No matter who has held political office, and the political party/ideology that they espoused, this has always been true.

For comfort’s sake, I guess, we keep trying to convince ourselves that liberalism affords us the opportunity to live up to our highest potential – both individually and corporately. We keep trying to psyche our minds and erase our memories, ignoring the harmful policies that have been passed by many of our liberal elected officials. When will we wake from our slumber and call a spade for what it is – flawed? Deeply, deeply flawed.

Hope cannot lie in the conservative vs. liberal paradigm; it must rise outside of it! Any meaningful change has to represent a new system and a new ideology – particularly one that does not continue to exploit communities of color and indigenous communities but that has these communities at the forefront of leadership and decision-making. Thus the political revolution that Sanders so eloquently speaks of – and which is completely necessary and which I deeply support – can never truly happen within our existing framework because that framework will not allow for it. Indeed, Sanders own sense of revolution only extends as far as ensuring that low income communities have more economic opportunity but his target audience consists of white people. By default, or consequence rather, any policy change that addresses the needs of low wealth communities could very well have a positive impact on communities of color. But the benefits will be marginal unless taken with intentionality. Reparations represents intentionality. Yet as philosophical as Sander’s rhetoric is, it still cannot imagine the possibility of righting the wrongs done to communities of color and indigenous communities for centuries.

The reality is that at a heart level most liberals cannot imagine the possibility of reparations and restitution to a people so deeply wronged because our country continues to profit off of those wrongs. Without the perpetual marginalization of these communities, our economy simply will not function. At best, liberalism only offers a raft in an upending storm. But the waters are rising and we are going under.

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