The Intersectionality of Race and Democracy
Simply walking into the CUNY Graduate Center, there is a sense of immediacy and importance present. When I was seated at the front of the room with my fellow peers, right in front of the panelists, that urgency was everywhere.
“The personal is political, especially when we’re thinking about liberation and freedom,” said Mary Hooks.
Although each panelist brought some really unique ideas to the discussion, I was most interested in what Mary Hooks had to say. At first, she seemed a bit reserved, keeping her head down. However, as the topics became more heated, Hooks jumped into the conversation aggressively. I noticed that her perspective and identity played a crucial role in the direction of the conversation. I found that Jelanie Cobb and Jessie Daniels mostly spoke about the future generations and how our current actions will impact the next-of-kin. However, Hooks referred back to ancient roots to validate her arguments. When asked if she is able to imagine a day when democracy is a reality – her answer was a resounding “no.”
She elaborated by saying, “I believe in the hope of the people who exist on this land. Indigenous people that once occupied this land, that’s where I see possibilities of democracy. How can we move the empire out of the way to make room for democracy? We have a responsibility to struggle. The revolution happens everyday, a thousand small decisions at a time for democracy to exist.”
It was refreshing to hear an academic recognize the presence of democracy without indigenous communities. In fact, when Europeans first came to the Americas they observed the democratic processes that were present in most indigenous nations. In historic writing, the Europeans described indigenous political relations as decentralized entities, consensus-based, and inclusive. Although indigenous “democracies” do not reflect modern democratic values, they were huge steps ahead of Europeans governments. European governments were mostly characterized as centralized absolutist states ruled by class structures, in which the majority of citizens do not have the opportunity to participate in the political process.
Despite indigenous political cultures seeking respect, compatibility, and acceptance – most nation states do not recognize indigenous nations as political entities at all, and instead include Indigenous Peoples as individual citizens. I appreciated Mary Hooks’ commentary on indigenous peoples’ political structure and how it added depth to the conversation surrounding democracy and racism.