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Emotional Justice – We All Need It

2 Dec


The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice
Guest Post by Yolo Akili

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a  “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives.  In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity
Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end.  Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line
There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and  will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability
In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”
Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.
Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language
What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole.
An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like,
“I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues.  If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality
Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be  invaluable in times of challenge.  There are many tools for this;  one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence
“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places.  When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.
These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country.  My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques.  It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and  to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at


meet sister fierce

16 Apr
Sister Fierce

Sister Fierce

So, I just created this piece a few hours ago for my sister Carm. The piece is gonna be made into a flyer for an event she put together for April 23rd at the UCSD Cross Cultural Center. Event info below.
Womyn of Color Against Sexual Violence and Exploitation
A Cross-Cultural Center Intern Self-Initiated Project
Cross-Cultural Center
Thursday, April 23
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Women of color are subjected to routine, institutionalized sexual violence and exploitation. Third World and indigenous women in the U.S. and around the globe are raped in times of war, assaulted at the border, trafficked, hypersexualized, and experience high rates of domestic abuse. This presentation and community initiative will focus on how sexual violence is tied to larger structures of violence – orientalism, colonialism, militarism, and racism, and how political organizing, grassroots efforts and peer-based services can be used as powerful tools for radical transformation.

speaking out against human trafficking

31 Mar

So, if you have been keeping up with me, this blog has turned into an eclectic cyber log of my random thoughts. However, I still find all my postings relevant to myself as an artist because it is all the experiences I go through in life which inspire my work.

For those of you who already know me beyond my id as an artist. I am also currently the Director of Gabriela Network’s Human Trafficking/ Purple Rose Campaign. To learn more go to or check out my other blog regarding this issue @

Anyhow, I feel this issue is every important and needs to be talked about. So, I have cut and pasted my lastest blog from the Purple Rose Blog here below. Take your time to read it. I would highly suggest reading the links to the articles at the bottom of the post. The articles are on a recent trafficking case that occurred in Long Beach, CA.

Please read on.

Silent No More March 31, 2009

Filed under: books, global feminism, silence into action, trafficking cases — pinaysoul @ 8:41 pm Edit This

Reading List

1) “Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks

2) “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde

Today I was motivated to study more on feminism and the various perspectives which exist, hence the booklist above. 


As a woman devoted to the empowerment of all women, I feel the first step to building with my sisters is to educate myself. And, although this post may not deal directly with human trafficking issues (as is indicated by the Purple Rose Campaign reference in the title), I hope that you find my reflections today just as significant or even, just as interesting and enlightening.


What I want to digest onto the pages of this virtual journal are my thoughts on global feminism and how important it is that we all, men and women, do our part to dismantle the blatant oppression which holds us all back from sharing in a just society and engaging in true community. bell hooks says that the “goal of global feminism is to reach out and join global struggles to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” It is only in relation to the struggles of other women around the globe that we can better understand ourselves and our experiences, our similarities and our differences. Only within a global context can we come to fully undertand the ties between sexist practices  in relation to the site of the abuse- women’s bodies and minds. Thinking globally would allow us to, for example, examine the  sex trafficking of Pilipinas around the globe, link it to what women are going through in China, Africa, South America and connect this to our positionality in the United States.



What is the point of thinking globally and engaging in a global feminism? It is to ensure that we continue to make moves which encourage the dismantling of neo-colonialist patriarchical ideologies which dominate the world and our society. Practicing global feminism is neccessary in order to change our realities so that we live can live in a world where racism, sexism, and classism are no longer dividers to our solidarity work.


Believing in global feminism is one thing, but practicing it is another. Practicing global feminism means using your voice to educate the community. It means letting your beliefs transend beyond your mind and out into the streets via praxis (theory put into action). Whether this means mobilizing for a rally, coordinting educational workshops, or hosting various events, the point is that silence and non-action, in this case, do not serve the purpose. In her speeach, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Audre Lorde says,


” In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for eachone of us to establish or examine her function in tha transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation…it is neccessary to teach by living those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing..And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them an examine them in their pertinence to our lives. That we not hide behind the mocieries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which so often we accept as our own…We can learn to to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired…for it is not difference which immobilizes, but silence. And there are so many silences which need to be broken.”

Indeed, there are many silences which need to be broken. Speaking up about human trafficking and the sexploitation of women, children, and men locally and around the globe is pertinent as many don’t know this grievance against human life is going on in their own backyards.

Here is a link to a recent trafficking case that occured in Long Beach, CA.

Enslaved in Suburbia: Filipino Indentured Servants and Visa Violators Caught in the Eldercare Trap Two different ways to be illegal in America
By Gendy Alimurung
published: February 19, 2009


Department of Justice Press Release regarding follow up to the case above


Let us not be silent to actions which strip people of their dignity and humanity! Let us be silent no more!

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