Shortcomings of the Conflict Resolution Field

Onaje Mu'id 

MSW and CASAC (Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor) with the Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute (PRASI)

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Bureaucracies that have been put in place as gatekeepers or certain rules and regulations. You know every organization has certain rules it has to follow and things that you can do and cannot do. Funding obstacles, not having enough funding, not having enough staff, not having enough equipment, not having enough money or resources to run the program or design the program or to implement the program the way that you want to. Having frustrations with the staff, having people resigning then having to train new staff. Liberation work is not easy work, no one is giving you anything to get it done. It's like being in a hole and you just keep digging and digging, deeper and deeper, but with all the obstacles, the strength is finding other people who are still involved in this work. With the truth will rise again??? It's like Martin Luther King said, "Progress is not inevitable, nor guaranteed," but there are enough people struggling to make things happen and that's my motivation. I use slavery as an example, during slavery my ancestors. How could they have possibly thought it would ever end? That was in the depths of hopelessness, but still in that, the only reason they had to live was that I can be here today and have this conversation with you. I was the motivation for them to endure what no human being should have to endure or entertain enduring. But somewhere in their depths they knew it would get better, so there is a well of spiritual optimism among my people and other oppressed people that allows us to endure the hardships because there is a tomorrow. There is something in us that says, "There is going to be a tomorrow," and will all these obstacles I too have tied into that well to know that things are going to move.

My criticism of the field of conflict resolution is that it is an infant trying to do a man's job. I say that to say that the concepts are not mature enough. Conflict resolution as it is now, is good when you have a super power and that power is mediating the lower level entities that are responsive to that power. But when the super power, particularly when the state is the problem, there is nothing to oversee that state in order to participate in the principles of justice and the principles of human rights. So the kinds of conflicts that people like me have, people of African descent, indigenous people, where the state is the problem, conflict resolution falls miserably because how do you get the powerful to give up their power? Frederick Douglass said that they never did it, power never conceded without a demand, it never did, it never will. It may be a moral struggle, it maybe a physical struggle, but it may be a struggle because where there was no struggle there was no progress. So we know that since people won't give up power, we have to take it from them because that's the only way that they will move into another space. People become so frustrated with everything else they say, "whatever I have to do."

Even though I'm a practitioner of conflict resolution I believe in what Malcolm X says, "It's the ballot or the bullet." You're giving me this choice, I'm not going to exist in this state any longer, so what do you want this choice to be? Do you want it to be a non-violent solution or do you want to make it a violent solution? My other hero is George Jackson who was incarcerated at the age of 18 for stealing $70 and they gave him 15-life, but while in prison he transformed himself into a political philosopher, writing the "Soledad Letters" and "Blood in My Eye." So I'm one who believes in peace and conflict resolution but I believe more in peoples' right to be free, self-determinating and to be liberated. I'm saying that the current state structures doesn't provide that for now and the field of conflict resolution doesn't provide that for now.

So I will continue to participate in this field, but I will continue to criticize it for its lack of honesty in terms of thinking that it can solve these problems and yet it hasn't done that. For it's lack of being ingenuous around holding on to all participating in cognitive dissonance, where because of their certain benefits into the system -- working the university system, having a salary, having a house -- all these material benefits they get by participating in the system the way it is, they use that as a way of not making the field more radical in terms of dealing with these really intractable contradictions like the one right here in America with indigenous people and African people who never were a part of the social contract. Nobody pays any real attention to that, it's like, "Let's ignore that, and let's just not talk about that." That's really too intractable. It's not just a question of race relationships, it's a question of national oppression where nations have been oppressed and the Constitution will never work because it was never designed to include these people in it. These kinds of intractable contradictions are not talked about by the field, the field isn't devoting any energy to that. There isn't any money put aside for the people who were oppressed to come in and have those kinds of conversations. So in the lack of work and money and funding it's an endorsement of the current system because it's allowing a certain injustice to exist. So I will always be critical of this field. I'm in it, but I will always be critical of it because it's not authentic at this point, it's more opportunistic.