Reflections on the Art of Radical Interruption

On the morning of November 9th, I woke up feeling nauseous. My typically strong digestive system convulsed. The specter of a strange new world, where “President-Elect Trump” was not the punch line of a sadistic joke, made my insides feel liminal, neither here nor there. How do you coherently articulate liminality? How do you express feelings of pain (physical and emotional), fear and utter disappointment?

The burden of saying something weighed heavy. Scrolling through Facebook only served to unhinge me. The instant reactions felt tyrannical and oppressive – a premonition perhaps – in their simultaneous velocity and inertia. What should I say? No! It is not the time for shoulds. What can I say? Wrong. It is not the time to appease others’ sense of shock and disbelief. Any moderately awake person must know that this catastrophe was quite simply a mixture of broken promises infused with the bitters of white backlash, fermenting for decades. Surprise should not be on the menu of emotions. What do I want to say? Yes…

I typed the following on my feed: All intersections of my identity feel under attack.

I was once an identity politics skeptic. A student in my Women’s, Gender and Sexuality class asked me whether I thought identity politics is good for social justice work. I replied that I think identity politics serves to fragment us and that social justice work must commit to something bigger than multiple identitarian claims. Marxist tendencies often elide intersectional analysis. I wish my response had been different.

I’ve learned to embrace the power and possibilities of identity politics, because, well, what other choice do I have? When one’s multiple intersecting identities form webs of significance deemed illegible and threatening by the so-called mainstream, then hell yes, I will affirm my commitment to identity politics. While respectability politics requires those who are marginalized to perform normativity in order to achieve the tenuous – and easily revocable – acceptance of the mainstream, identity politics enables the marginalized to express themselves on their own terms, to become visible in their own language. I speak and move in this world as a queer woman of color, a child of immigrants, a citizen of the United States, born in Canada, Indian, Pakistani, Muslim (although not visibly Muslim).
So yes, the only way I could articulate myself on November 9th was by declaring that all intersections of my identity felt under attack. Brown, queer, woman, immigrant, Muslim; walls, bathrooms, pussies, registries, stop and frisk. It was all there, building momentum. Trump/Pence signs kept popping up in city centers – sorry, rural America, you are not as exceptional as you think. The seduction of bigotry, with its satisfying solutions to your grievances, was too sexy to resist. Have you ever experienced masochism? No? You will.

On January 20th, an authoritarian narcissist will become the President of the United States. He has surrounded himself with white nationalists, climate change deniers, Islamophobes, misogynists, plain old racists and a host of utterly unqualified charlatans who plan to gut social safety nets, privatize as many public programs as possible, and ensure that the franchise is not universal.

When you are under attack, when your very existence is in question, how do you make a stand? How do you resist?

Hope resides in possibility, in imagining what a different world could look like. The late queer theorist, Jose Esteban Munoz, left us with prescient words on rejecting the status quo and instead cruising for utopia. “We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds.” In recognizing that the here and now is a totalizing rendering of reality, we must also acknowledge that our capacity to imagine something different has been systematically dulled; as a society we are collectively asphyxiating. Our experiences of the here and now are largely prepackaged, all-inclusive simulacra of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now is the time to strive for other ways of being and reignite our imaginations.

To do this, each of us must be willing to practice of the art of radical interruption.

What is protest if not the interruption of “business as usual”? What is resistance if not the interruption of everyday violence? To interrupt is to break the normalized repetition. To interrupt is to become visible. To interrupt is to imagine a different world, to introduce new possibilities. To interrupt is to be radical, to act in the face of complacency. Practicing the art of radical interruption does not necessarily require big, attention-grabbing actions. Radical interruption can be singular or collective. It can be a simple follow-up question to a racist comment or joke. Why did you say that? Why do you find that funny? It can be putting a purple triangle or a rainbow on your office or front door to let everyone know that this space is inclusive of all people. It can be in the form of a reminder that humans are not illegal. It can be intentionally reading about unfamiliar topics and exploring the work of authors and scholars who are not enshrined in “the canon.” Practicing the art of radical interruption can be using a privileged position to counter hate and stand in solidarity with friends, family, colleagues and strangers whose identities are vulnerable to attack.

Now, more than ever, it is time to practice the art of radical interruption, to resist the increasingly normalized violence in our discourse and actions, and to imagine new possibilities.

Mira Moshini is a cultural anthropologist and focuses on the intersection of material culture and inequality. She has conducted research in South Asia that explores how Muslim artisans articulate authenticity from positions of exclusion and how a politics of belonging emerges from subaltern experiences. She is working on a new Detroit-based project that examines the role of visual culture in postindustrial urban revival. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of London and currently lives in Akron, Ohio.