Our Justice Is Complicated

Jose Vilson Jose

For some reason, my Pocket app has been full of idiosyncratic profile pieces. This Fader one of Drake. This POLITICO one of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This New York Times obit dedicated to teacher-turned-community activist Terry Rosenbaum. This Esquire bit on the old new Mark Zuckerberg.

So when La Galeria Magazine published their profile on me today, on the same day that the most beloved education blogger would visit my classroom, I was curious about what’s happened since the last time she visited my class.

One of the recurring themes I see in my work is the idea of justice as a messy and complicated idea. That’s where justice needs to be served. Justice isn’t a facile thing. Whereas any number of situations can be looked at from a binary lens, I’m more excited by the idea that most of the work we must do requires finer instruments than folks have used. Most of this work feels more like knowing when to use a Phillips screwdriver instead of a hammer, or when to use a drill instead of a pocket knife.

Most of my friends have more than one tool in their toolbox.

Some of us have grown rather weary of the binary, favoring social justice through all the layers it merits. It makes justice that much fuller, more meaningful when we get it, more vital when we don’t get it. We can’t settle anymore for doing battle for the sake of doing battle, as if war is growth. A peace where we perpetuate the same power structure that created this mess is no peace at all. We can’t negotiate from a reasonable middle. That’s why, even when those in power finally have an ear for what we say, we can’t stop giving them an earful.

And I can’t stop because someone’s favorite so-and-so disagrees or agrees with me or my favorites.

When folks ask me if I’m too calm in my nature, too soft in my sentences, I remind them how much of my palpable actions say otherwise, how quickly discussions about the things I’ve done have turned into vitriol, and how hard my questions have been to the aforementioned Duncan (to his face) and every major official all the way down to my principal of the last decade. For the time being, I also like to remind them that I’m doing it from a pastel-green classroom where students await my voice at 8 in the morning every weekday, not strictly from a keyboard and a screen.

This is my work. It has to be complicated.

Recently, after witnessing a discussion about me unfold, Renee Moore said about me, “Yeah, but he can handle his business. Fearless.”

That’s what I know about fighting for justice, and I can’t be dissuaded. We can’t lose.