The Impotence Of A Single-Issue Struggle

‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.’ Audre Lorde

I am often asked (mostly by my devout grandparents) why I chose to leave the Catholic faith. Of course, that is not to say I haven’t been told those famous words, ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.’ But when dealt with such a loaded question, my answer is always the same: disillusionment. I grew disillusioned with religious practice in the hands of mortals. I grew disillusioned as I found that so many who professed to believe in the teachings of a messiah, would leave a day of thought and prayer only to pick and choose when it came to questions of morality, to pick and choose when it came to what is right and what is wrong. And so today, I guess you might call me a reluctant atheist.

And yet, as a lover of literature, I am naturally drawn to myths, to scriptures, to philosophies of being… There is one in particular that speaks to me, and strangely enough it is not rooted in Catholicism but in Judaism. It is the Myth of the Shattering Vessels. And it goes something like this… As God drew his breath, so he created darkness. Then he spoke light into being and sent 10 holy vessels filled with this primordial light into the universe. Too fragile to contain the divine light they carried, the vessels shattered, scattering holy sparks like grains of sand. The myth holds that it is humanity’s purpose to gather these holy sparks, to bring them together, so that the world may be repaired. This is beautiful to me… That my purpose might be to gather together broken fragments, to make whole again.

But, then, how many of us truly take it upon ourselves to heal this fractured place we call home? It somehow never feels like enough.

Perhaps, I digress, but this is the mood I am in. A contemplating kinda mood. It is has been an emotional few days for most South Africans, as we have watched our youth take to the streets and demand their right to accessible education only to be met with resistance and police brutality from the very party that had claimed to care about apartheid’s disenfranchised. And right now, for today, I feel that I am sitting in the eye of the storm, anticipating what will come next. And I can feel the electricity in the air… And I am beginning to imagine what a better South Africa might look like… It is coming sharper into focus… And hopefully, the children of the revolution will not see their dream deferred… Hopefully, they will be victorious and their unrelenting courage will be written down in history books for generations to come.

Of course, I cannot help that I also have some reservations about our future, and perhaps not just as a South African, but as a human being. What the youth are attempting may indeed change South Africa forever… In fact, it may already have done so. But if education is won, what will we do with this future they have so boldly demanded for us all? What will become of the future we were given with bodies on the line?

And here is not something I think, not something I believe, but something I feel to the very core of my person… We can no longer pick and choose our struggles in a fashion that is simply self-serving. Not if what we are truly after is a new world. You cannot want equality in the workplace as a woman, only to return home and play the role of the ‘White Madam’. You cannot want equality as a black man, only to have a leg-up in a male-dominated society.  You cannot want equality as a gay man, only to treat your black brothers with scorn. And you may not get the respect you feel you deserve for any victories you have won, for any struggles you have fought, when your aim is only to get that foot in the door so you can climb on anyone, irrespective of race, gender or sexual orientation, on the way to the top of that big ol’ corporate ladder.

Oppression is a many-headed monster. You cut off one head and it will simply grow another. We have to gather together the broken fragments of the world; we have to make whole again. Then, and only then, will we have the strength we need to pierce through to the very heart of the beast.


*This piece first appeared on Jocelyn’s blog, Humble Pie, and was reposted with her permission.