Trailers for Diego Luna's César Chávez movie has been making the rounds and people are pretty excited. I am too, mostly.
I'm excited about the possibilities that a film about such an important moment in Chicana/o and Pilipina/o history and movements holds. I'm excited to see Chicana/o and Pilipina/o lives and stories on the big screen, and I'm excited about America Ferrera.
I'm weary though, fearful that the film will deify Chávez without honoring the complexity of who he was and the inherent contradictions in some of his actions and stances. I fear that the film will follow the standard of most biopics and strip Chávez of what made him human -- the complexities and contradictions -- in the name of "good storytelling."
Hollywood seems convinced we need heroes and deities and will do what it must to deliver. This includes conflating ideas and muddling facts.
One trailer says Chávez "stood for equality" and "fought for peace." And, yes, Chávez believed in non-violence. But to say that he stood for equality grossly oversimplifies and dilutes what he and the people of these movements set out to achieve: justice.
Equality gets thrown around a lot and, unless you're a rabid tea partier or an ideological relative of one, you'll probably say you believe it's a good thing. You might believe the contrary and vote accordingly, but publicly you don't want to be thought of as a bigot.
Equality is that thing pursued by professionalized movements for social change (read: reform). An important difference between human rights and civil rights is the pursuit of equality. For instance, the Gay and Lesbian (I do not include bisexual and transgender to reflect the reality that, really, they aren't included institutionally) Movement wants (and is achieving) marriage equality, the right to serve in the military, the right to file joint tax returns, the right to petition a partner/spouse for immigration purposes, and so on.
Equality is that thing people believe we need in public education. Liberal and moderate (if you can distinguish the difference between the two) agendas dictate that poor black and brown kids need the same education that affluent suburban white kids receive. Equality is "closing the achievement gap" -- helping students of color achieve as much as the lowest performing white child.
Equality is that thing people believe is needed to rid ourselves of racism. All would be right in the world if people just got along, treated each other as equals. Equal pay, equal housing, equal education, equal voting rights. If only we had equality.
Equality is that thing immigration reform (not to be confused with immigrant justice) efforts want when they say "let us serve" (code for let us serve in the U.S. military). That to be fully "American" includes the right to serve in the exploitation and massacring of people of color around the globe.
I hate equality. I hate the word, I hate the principle. Not because I believe white women should continue to be paid .70 cents for each dollar white men earn. Not because I believe gays and lesbians should be discriminated against. Not because I believe poor black and brown kids should continue trapped in a decaying public education system. Not because I believe my undocumented kin should live in fear and continue to be exploited. Not because I believe racism, economic injustice, misogyny are good.
I hate equality, less because of what it achieves, but because of what it impedes.
The women's movement (albeit fraught with racism and classism) included a fight for self-determination. That is, the right for every woman (again, the race and class stuff not entirely figured out) to have agency over their own body and life. The demand that every woman have the exclusive right to exercise their choices onto themselves was deeper, more revolutionary, than the lip service liberals offer on equal pay.
Queer liberation (also eyebrow deep in racism, perhaps also classism) similarly insisted on self-determination as a fundamental right. The ability to freely express and manifest our loves and desires is radically different than achieving legislative nods of approval.
The prison justice movement does not seek to address the overrepresentation of black and brown men in prisons by increasing the number of white men imprisoned. The reduction of overrepresentation is not the same as prison abolition. Less men of color in prisons is not the goal, a world without prisons is.
Equality inspires dull, unimaginative solutions to social ills. Solutions that lean on other ills, merely spreading, redistributing, and/or reinforcing the disease that is injustice.
Not only is equality different from justice, it gets in the way of justice.
A just world is not one that adds gays and lesbians to the list of people who can partake in an institution based fundamentally on discrimination against those who do not marry or are no longer married. A just world is not one where gays and lesbians openly serve in a military that, through violence and subjugation, maintains a world order of profit and white supremacy in the name of a freedom anyone with a critical mind knows is a farce. A just world is not one where love becomes a tool of capitalism by being financially encouraged and incentivized. A just world is not one where only those marrying a U.S. citizen can be petitioned -- or a world where people need to be petitioned in the first place. A just world is not one where more resources ensure poor black and brown kids are taught that whiteness is the standard against which to measure themselves, their families, and their communities, rendering their own ways of knowing and being as deficits to be eradicated. A just world is not a world where black and brown youth take up arms to murder and colonize other black and brown folks. A just world is not a world where simply less men of color are imprisoned. A just world is not one where the legacies and systemic results of white supremacy are invisibilized and ignored. A just world cannot come about because of, or despite, equality.
Articulating what justice is and imagining a just world necessitates a retraction, perhaps an overthrowing, of liberal movements. It requires a challenge these movements have rendered us fearful or incapable of: to imagine a world that is possible, rather than the world that is not.
That is, a world where all expressions and manifestations of love and desire between consenting humans is legally respected and socially affirmed. A world where every person exercises agency over their own body and life. A world where peace and the realization of economic justice flourish. A world where simply love, desire, choice bring people together. A world without borders. A world where the ways of being and knowing of students and families of color are a classroom's greatest assets. A world where accountability is informed by our humanity. A world where communities of color thrive.
To say that César Chávez and the Chicana/o and Pilipina/o movements he was a part of stood for equality suggests that what they strived for was to be poisoned only as much as white folks were. That their working conditions become equal to that of poor and working class white folks. The goal, then, would be achieving the same poison levels and poor working conditions of their white counterparts. Equality is not justice.
People took to the streets, walked off fields, boycotted goods because they wanted justice. They were being poisoned, forced to work in inhumane conditions. Justice was putting an end to the poisoning of workers, to the exploitation-- creating new, good working conditions and opportunities.
We can argue about the many, many problems within Chicana/o and Pilipina/o movements and the shortcomings of César Chávez (his stance on immigration among them), and we can talk about how farm workers continue to be poisoned and exploited. However, that what was achieved fell short of what was pursued does not negate the power of movements for social justice. I would venture to argue that equality played a role in the debilitation of outcomes.
Equality is a disease that infects, overpowers, overthrows movements for social change. The NAACP was supposed to be a human rights organization-- civil rights was the compromise. The descendants of the Queer Liberation Front, ACT UP, and the Combahee River Collective (all imperfect in their own way, of course) now celebrate that they are no longer subject to a small number of discriminations, ignoring the fact that their celebrations are subject to perpetuated injustices against others. Our willingness to trade justice for equality says so much about our fear of freedom, or worse, our inability to imagine ourselves free.