Righteous Causes with Mixed Messages

Every group or person that professes an ideal must always have an Achilles heel.

Usually, these indiscretions do not prove fatal to the ideals these heroes uphold. If the indiscretion is not so sordid, then we can surrender it to the recess of our collective memory while sustaining the myth of our chosen knights.

It was these musings that helped lift my vow of silence regarding the events of last week. In Upper Farinon, students of different creeds and colors recited poetry that reflected the convergence of their oppression and discrimination at its locus: they are all minorities in America. The energy in the room was palpable, and the poems were at once uplifting, depressing, enraging and edifying. It was an event the likes of which student protests were imagined to be.

Then it happened. One student stood up and charged in the course of reciting her poem that she did not want to be objectified by guys as they drink their “corporate-issued coffee.” I don’t remember her exact words, but whatever they were, I began to wonder why capitalism was suddenly brought into an area it did not quite belong. Even righteous causes can often conjure up novel ways of oppression. I found it ironic that the same person criticizing capitalism also enjoys its trappings.

Capitalism can seem to be a distant specter when we criticize it. In reality, we are all like the rich young man addressing himself to Jesus; we want to have the best of both worlds. So, we denounce low wages in coffee-growing countries while enjoying our Starbucks, and we write poems against exploited labor on the iPhones and Macs that are products of the same thing we are fighting against.

It could have been another curious case of the “Gucci Revolutionary,” as the African National Congress Youth League leader Phakamile Mbengashe calls Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema. This is someone who continuously calls for the end of capitalism while using its most ostentatious products.

It was not, but it helps us learn an important point that comes with upholding an ideal: we can easily taint it if we are giving ourselves to a not so righteous indignation, half-baked arguments and vacuous slogans. Worthwhile causes have been toppled by such issues much to the chagrin of those that supported them.

But then I could be wrong. Just maybe this movement did have its heel dipped in the River Styx.

Opinion piece written by Mwangala Simataa ’18. Opinions and letters appearing in The Lafayette are solely those of the authors.

Leave a Reply

*