“Reflections on Social Justice” by Rihab Azar
Updated: Oct 17
(Submitted to Sound Connections on the 13th October.
Published on that platform on the 16th Oct 2023)
You and I matter. People like us are needed there..
When I was invited to present at Sound Connections’ Music and Social Justice Network relaunch, I was thrilled but also worried. I wasn't sure if the few specific titles I briefly held as a freelancer in a number of organisations over time promised more than I could deliver outside of them.
I have Brenda Rattray to thank for reminding me through her visionary and committed approach, of the importance of my lived experience before anything else; something I - and maybe you too? - frequently forget inside of the grinding, reductive and brutal systems that have infinite ways of telling us we're not good enough all the time, and that there isn't space for us.
Just earlier this week, Israel’s defence minister called Palestinians in Gaza: “human animals” and informed the world of the genocide that Israel has started against 2.3 million people trapped in an open-air prison, half of whom are children. There are international laws in place that powerful countries like the UK fail to acknowledge especially when it comes to the shedding of non-white blood.
Why are some human lives considered worthless or cheaper than others?
As a non-white, neurodivergent, immigrant, woman, - and like many others - I fight daily battles that nobody should have to fight. Battles to overcome and bypass prejudices, microaggressions, outright racism, ableism, patriarchy, neo-liberal playing fields, hostile environments, corrupt politics, the cost of living and other battles I'm sure yet to realise I'm fighting.
It goes without saying that my experiences are incomparable to those of the people living in my homeland Syria, in Palestine, and other parts of the world, but I know for a fact that injustices are intertwined and that people exercising their rights and using their privileges with a social awareness can and must make the world fairer and more equitable.
The "Local" simultaneously (or with time) can and does affect the "Global" and vice versa. History, change and the future are very lengthy processes but also very immediate, and their most profound layer is made by people making everyday decisions.
Our decision to come together for this event will inevitably ripple out and enable us and those we live and work with to understand more, care more, and do better.
Who holds batons? When? and Why? and For How Long?
I find the relay race analogy so successful. After all, isn't it exactly the seed of thinking about social justice to truly believe in the unique wisdom others bring to the process and in the cruciality of genuine multiplicity as the way forward?
I'm aware that mere multiplicity is not enough. Throughout this type of work, we need to keep asking big questions:
Who is not in the space? Why? What other space do they prefer to be in or have better access to? Why? But also (and this can sometimes be a hard look in the mirror):
Why do we really and truly want them to be here?
What are the lessons we can learn about our approaches from the absence as well as the presence of people in certain spaces? What are the lessons we can learn from and about our desire for them to be there?
For me, there are so many question marks around power dynamics when it comes to thinking about and doing work that has great depths and high aims. In fact, there are almost always more questions than answers, which makes it ever so crucial to not shy away from the questions or seek answers in isolation.
I like to think in opposites, so when I hear the words "social justice", my intersectionality and lived experience translate them into the opposite of neoliberalism and meritocracy.
I'm sure there are so many more powerful ways to describe these two giant words: “social justice” and what doing the work towards them entails.
However, for me as someone who grew up under an authoritarian regime, only to move to an allegedly-democratic, First World country and see so many scary parallels in it, I find neoliberalism and meritocracy to be expressions of the First World's version of authoritarianism.
I see them as design strategies through which corrupt systems dodge their responsibilities by pushing toxic narratives that people then adopt and internalise; by pushing myths around scarcity and individualism, they facilitate the dehumanisation of others. That same way of thinking is the incubator of genocides and crimes against humanity.
The issue is big and systemic for sure, but that is not to say there isn't a lot that we can each do every day from our little positions in our families, communities, workplaces, and societies to dismantle it and change it.
We are incredibly powerful, each one of us.
We impact and inspire each other all the time, and the people we impact go on to impact others, and we all influence change or sustain the status quo all the time with our day-to-day decisions, whether we realise it or not.
Despite what injustices nudge us towards internalising,
We each matter, hugely. We have power, and together we can be stronger
and do better.
Thanks for reading my reflections. I very much look forward to our event.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a book recommendation if you've not already read it:
"Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.
It’s a real gem.
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