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  • Writer's pictureApril Rosenblum

Why I Write About Things I’m Not an Expert in, and Why You Should, Too


Credit: Diego PH, via Unsplash



Here’s what I have some expertise in: Jewish identity formation, Black/Jewish interconnection, and race in post-WWII US urban space, with a touch of 20th century history of social movements and political repression.* Here’s what I don’t have formal expertise in: Pretty much everything else. But I’m going to keep writing about those things, and I think it’s important that you do, too, even though it’s nerve-wracking. Here’s why.

 

There is a culture, both in academia and in social movements, of critiquing people for making mistakes or speaking about something they’re not experts in. There are a few valuable things about that (see below). But most of it is a mix of classism and imperial Christianity.

 

Classism is the core logic behind a lot of how academia works. In a case like this, classism says that people’s ideas are inherently better if they’ve read a lot of complex books – which requires a degree of privilege, both in education and in time spent not working at other kinds of jobs, giving care to family members, etc. The reality is that all kinds of people have good ideas. And all kinds of people have mistaken ideas. People with no class privilege and little or no formal education, have ideas about life – from life – and their ideas are just as good and just as necessary as other people’s ideas.

 

Imperial Christianity (the form of Christianity that has developed as a tool for use by empires, as opposed to the Christian spirituality that inspires many individuals and liberation movements) is a part of this culture because one of the values it teaches is that people are expected to be perfect to be worthy of inclusion. (Clearly this is the opposite of a lot of the deeper spiritual values in Christianity.) This culture of domination gave rise to white supremacy and carceral systems. Our movements reflect these cultures when people who make mistakes (in their activism, their thinking, etc.) are treated as polluting to the group. This is not, and never has been, a liberatory value innate to social movements. It is a value left over from cultures of domination that we experience and then bring with us into movement space.

 

Movements have to be places where people can eagerly share their ideas. If people are afraid to talk because they’ll get publicly humiliated when they make a mistake, it prevents the movement from having access to new ideas, from experimenting, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

 

Now, what’s valuable about respecting experts and their expertise? First, people are experts on their own experience. Respect for expertise helps us check impulses some of us have to speak for other people, or erase the experience of people who have specific knowledge of something from their identity. (I know that I tend to do the first one, because of the nature of summarizing I often have to do in political education, so this is a place where I have to be mindful.) Second, expertise is precious and we should learn from people. We live in a society with a lot of regressive anti-intellectualism that bashes truth and bashes people who devote themselves to learning. Any bit of expertise people can share with us is a precious gift. Third, ideas and history matter. Glossing over the real meanings of words, ideas and historical patterns can be a form of domination. When ideas and slogans impact targeted groups of people, approaching them loosely can lead to exclusion and violence.

 

When I write an essay that I think could make a difference, I try to make sure people with a variety of kinds of expertise review my work, because more perspectives and more people’s experiences means better ideas. I try to be transparent in my writing about things I don’t know or don’t know for sure. Whether I do these things really well or fail, I try to write anyway. All of us have a right and duty to share as best we can about topics that make a difference in the world – even if we make mistakes. Including you.



*Never fear, I do have actual scholarship coming out. My forthcoming book is a microhistory of Black/Jewish interconnection in the 20th century U.S.

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About Long Game

 

Long Game is where I share my thoughts about movement building and Left culture, ideas-in-progress and more personal reflections. You can also see my full essays here.

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