Enlightenment is a destructive process
It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier
Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth
It is seeing through the façade of pretense
It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.

Amelia Mae Paradise, Fall 2018 Zimmerman Library
University of New Mexico

I have always been a feminist.  This word has held many definitions for me in the course of my life.  As a small girl, it meant, looking up into the proud, beaming, hopeful eyes of my mother, and believing that I could “do anything and be anybody” I could imagine. As a teenager, feminism was confidence instilled in the solid boundaries of my own body. In my college years, feminism grew to mean a visceral sense of dismay and dread, and righteous indignation, at the intellectual and historical revelation of pervasive violence done to women, and the clear social inequality and culturally assigned inferiority of women. That’s the origin of the rift, the psychic dissonance – between my own experience as a person joyfully inhabiting my body and my burgeoning understanding of what it was like for “others,” in danger.  And then, there was feminism as sexual freedom, feminism as lesbianism and dykeism, feminism as earth witch spirituality, feminism as egalitarian judaism, feminism as hirsutism, feminism as burlesque performance art, feminism as communalism, feminism as separate space, feminism as inclusion.  Feminist as me. Feminism has always fit me, because like me, feminism is a shape-shifter.

I was formally schooled in American Studies and in 1998 wrote an honors BA thesis entitled “Stripping Down: Feminism, Postmodernism, Queer & Transgender Theory and Women in the Sex Industry.” In 2000 I moved to San Francisco and was colloquially schooled in a social justice mentality in Northern California as an artist, community organizer, mentor, friend, and professional for 10 years. The next 7 Bay Area years were designed as a personal course of study focused on the creations, configurations, and continuations of racial, gender, and economic structures of inequity in this country.  Some of the most crucial works I read and engaged with during that time, works that moved me and compelled me to start the confronting and necessary work of deeply exploring and reorganizing my own thinking and behaviors are:  The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, and The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman, Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the film I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck.  The note of discord planted in my early twenties, rose in my late 30s to a sound I could hear increasingly much of time; I had an easier experience of living.  The sound of this refrain, like the crashing of an ocean tide was sometimes dramatic, sometimes almost imperceptible, and sometimes, simply lulled me back to sleep.

3 years ago, in 2015, I read Michelle Alexander’s TheNew Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and was exposed to the work of Oakland’s Prison Abolition movement, and the organization Justice Now.  The crack opened up deeply in me, revealing the utter necessity and unavailability of facing my own complicity in these persistent, horrific, systems of harm.  I returned to live in Albuquerque in the spring of 2017, suicidal, and after almost 20 years away, to my city of origin, family of origin, and neighborhood of origin.  Here I have confronted what Robin DiAngelo calls the “water of whiteness” in which I grew and thrived in total segregation.  In my early 40s, the cacophonous din presents all the time, the inescapable disharmony – no, not everyone has it like me, and many, most have it much, much worse.  I am safeguarded. I am privileged. I am white.

As a white dyke jewish american woman, it is my responsibility to face unwaveringly my own participation in racism and evolve my own part of dismantling racism and american white supremacy individually, institutionally, and structurally. With an eye towards both leveraging the privilege I have as well as engaging actively in the redistribution of privilege, I hope to carry this message into my community of origin.  In the white jewish community of central New Mexico, I strive to develop my capacity to model, teach, and encourage pulling whiteness out of the background.  We don’t see whiteness very well, and yet, that’s what we’re seeing most of the time.  So, how to give people the tools, language,and perspective to do just that, see and identify, and thus begin to pull toxic whiteness out of the background?  It may, at first glance seem paradoxical to aim to simultaneously leverage and cede privilege, yet embracing this level of complexity is necessary to move forward in my community of origin.  My understanding of the jewish cultural identity, is that we are a people who inhabit contradictory identifiers as both persecuted/more in danger than others as well as chosen/better than others.  These seemingly paradoxical yet fully integrated ideologies inform the foundation of the american white jewish identity, and must be the jumping-off point for constructive transformation and a guarding against the infliction of further harm.  It is my obligation to share and teach from my own experience that before I had a consciousness of privilege,what started as cultural empowerment grew into entitlement and then shaped in its entirety my complicity in a world that does violence to other people’s bodies.

I’ve had, and continue to have, nothing less than a completely disorganizing and reorganizing experience of being alive. All the formative and invisible pillars girding my sense of where I fit in the world, and who I am in the world have been revealed as false construction and delusion.  As these old and corroded,seemingly unmovable, stakes are painfully removed and dismantled, it is my experience that there is more space for crucial knowledge, heightened awareness, and a fuller perception of humanity, and of life itself. It has become my purpose now to serve harmonious anti-racism consciousness raising.

Amelia Mae Paradise, Summer 2018
Red Canyon, New Mexico

Oh, my philosophical & moral convictions galore
Righteous ideas about what it means to be a

liberated woman
I am a radical. Yes, I am a very idealistic person.
But ideals don’t work, ideals are dangerous belief. 
Because when life doesn’t go by the ideals – it’s deadly.

And ideals are impossible to maintain.
So that’s what’s going on
Everything I have referenced my life on is getting dismantled.
And it’s painful. 
The belief systems are getting shattered and
This is what shattered is, this is how shattered feels. 
This is the painful experience of shattered. 
Nothing gets shattered lightly, and nothing gets spared.

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