Oh, You're Resilient? ☔️
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Far too often, marginalized communities are praised for their resilience instead of questioning the conditions that made them resilient. This is especially seen during times of hardship, whether caused by a natural disaster or from the consequences of corporate greed. This repeated scenario has desensitized us in romanticizing the act of resilience.
The word resilience stems from the Latin word “resilire.” Meaning “the act of rebounding” (Etymonline). In today’s world, resilience is defined as the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster). The evolution of this word paints a picture of how we, as a society, focus on our ability to overcome difficulty instead of changing the conditions that created the difficulty. For many marginalized identities, resilience is a necessary component for survival within the confines of systemic oppression. And when we merely observe this resilience we allow systems of oppression to go unchecked.
“When talking about the social, economic, and environmental systems of which we are all a part, do we want to simply sustain the status quo – to be able to meet the demands of overconsumption, to be able to support the systems that thrive on race - and class-based inequity – or do we want to be able to respond to these phenomena in a way that shifts our thinking so that values align with actions?”
Phoebe Gelbard, Communications Assistant at Commonwealth Honors College
Perhaps a poignant perspective to understand is the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. The storm further exposed the vulnerability of the city and the negligence of developers who continue to build within or nearby disaster-prone areas. According to The Atlantic, the land in which New Orleans occupies was non-existent up until about 7,200 years ago. During this period, the melting of glaciers began dumping sediments along the mouth of the Mississippi gradually emerging lower Louisiana from the Gulf shore. For the most part, lower Louisiana was situated just above sea level. Then, over time, “anthropogenic soil subsidence or the sinking of the land by human action” took place. The consequences of these actions largely contributed to the high death toll and destruction when Katrina passed just east of a below-sea-level New Orleans in 2005 (The Atlantic).
Fifteen years later, there are many communities that still lack access to fresh produce and adequate living conditions. Residents have been vulnerable to evictions, facing high rent and a lack of affordable housing. Even before the pandemic, New Orleans's eviction rate was twice the national average and nearly four times in majority-Black neighborhoods (VICE). The Environmental and Energy Study Institute, or EESI, reports that while much of the city has been rebuilt, neighborhoods such as the Lower Ninth Ward have not had the same amount of post-Katrina growth (EESI). The Ninth-Ward is a historically low-income neighborhood that had the highest percentage of Black homeownership prior to Katrina. Despite being an area that was hardest hit by the storm, EESI states that they received the least amount of funding during the rebuilding process (EESI). Predominantly Black neighborhoods such as the Lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly, and Pontchartrain Park were directly victimized by the lack of action, the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the continued broken promises from the federal government to provide aid and assistance (Democracy Now).
These systemically racist and oppressive behaviors get overlooked when narratives of resilience become a label for those who survive unfathomable conditions. “Stop calling me resilient” became the rallying cry when Tracie Washington, the President of the Louisiana Justice Institute, denounced policymakers and the media’s narrative of calling Katrina and BP Oil spill victims “resilient” (SAGE Journals).
“Every time you say, “Oh, they’re resilient, means you can do something else to me. We were not born to be resilient; we are conditioned to be resilient. I don’t want to be resilient, I want to fix the things that create the need for us to be resilient in the first place.”
Tracie Washington, the President of the Louisiana Justice Institute
When we use the word resilience to describe someone overcoming adversity, we must consider the context for their resiliency. From the inherited inter-generational traumas to the oppression perpetuated by systemic racism, and the cause and effects of environmental neglect — it is important that we take time to understand the interconnectedness of our struggles. When we are able to make that connection, we as a society will raise our consciousness. Shifting from the glorification of resilience to challenging the conditions that create the need to be resilient. Therefore aligning our values to our actions.
🔑 Key Takeaways:
Understand that the resilience of many marginalized communities is conditioned by the oppressive systems that glorify it.
Build community with existing organizations and raise consciousness by understanding the interconnectedness of our struggles.
Demand that officials be held accountable and fully commit to implementing clear measures and policies that repair the harm and provide equitable solutions to problems they have been complicit in.
⚡️ Take Action:
Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a Community Land Trust (CLT) and housing rights organization committed to creating sustainable, democratic, and economically just neighborhoods and communities in New Orleans.
Operation Restoration, an organization founded by Syrita Steib focused on supporting currently and formerly incarcerated women and girls to reenter society by removing as many barriers as possible.
New Orleans Workers Group, a working-class organization of workers united in revolution fighting to overcome capitalism and build a better world.
[Art by Willa via @HighlyHuman]
This writing was initially submitted in 2020 for Anti-Racism Daily with editing by Nicole Cardoza