With the advent of the new year will come a corresponding incursion of friends posting Instagram snapshots of their Whole 30 diets and bodies purged by a wide range of dubious cleanses. Those more troubled by the forces of racism and patriarchal oppression than refined sugars might consider a new alternative for 2017: a mental cleanse of sorts, built to reorient consumption just like a traditional diet.
The architects of the Complicity Cleanse have created a 21-day program to combat the “toxins” that seep into the consciousness of everyone who lives in a capitalist society built to devalue people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups. “We are made not only of what we eat, but of what we collectively consume,” the program’s site reads. “This ‘diet’ is designed to inform you how to consume less: less of the bullshit, less products, less jargon, less violence, less ignorance, less of what makes you feel less so you can love more.”
Billed as an “anti-oppression diet,” the cleanse runs from Jan. 1 to Jan 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration and the day of the Women’s March on Washington. Participants will receive a free daily emailed “menu” of articles, quotes, discussion topics, and suggested actions curated as a guide to better understanding and combating systems of oppression. The cleanse takes as a founding premise the idea that every person, not just one-percenters and KKK members, has absorbed distorted paradigms that she or he could stand to unlearn.
“It is easy to shame the corporate person and blame the armature of oppression as if it were a separate existence: … the Courts are stacked; conservatives are out of touch; separation walls are Fascist,” the site’s mission reads. “It is far less satisfying to acknowledge that we—the good, the open-minded, the well-intended, We The People—unconsciously approved the prototype of these designs.”
The initial three menus are currently available on the Complicity Cleanse site. Each starts with an “appetizer,” a quote from a well-known thinker that sets the topic for the day. (The first is from Laverne Cox.) Each day’s “mains” are articles, videos, and podcasts that explore and explain the day’s concept; for example, this piece from bell hooks and this five-minute YouTube explanation of patriarchy are the main courses for Jan. 3.
“Sides” are where the actions are. Some resemble the strictures of a food-based diet: consume 25 percent less media that relies on good vs. evil “othering,” like Westworld or Game of Thrones; spend 25 percent less time on smartphones. Other sides are more proactive: follow political representatives on social media; discuss an article with friends. Desserts give participants ways to recharge—making their bedrooms phone-free areas, or placing a meaningful quote somewhere they’ll see it every day. The Complicity Cleanse’s creators intend for desserts to be “recipes for healing.” The Complicity Cleanse will also occasionally include “kids menus” with suggestions for how to teach children about injustices through age-appropriate activities.
Associated with the New Orleans-based Solitary Gardens, a public art installation that consists of platform gardens built in the physical footprint of solitary confinement prison cells, the Complicity Cleanse may strike woke participants (and who of the unwoke would sign up for such a service?) as a bit elementary. Anyone who’s read Edward Said or taken an intro-level gender studies class won’t need to spend 30 minutes re-learning the concept of “othering.” But a month-long commitment to meditating on everyday manifestations of oppression and examining unconscious practices that uphold them is a far more productive New Year’s resolution than most.
Like the Safety Pin Box, this cleanse seems like a useful way for people surprised and horrified by Trump’s victory to make some concrete moves toward active allyship. A handy “Who is this for?” page on the program’s site suggests that everyone—white progressives, people of color, Trump voters, bros in pastel shorts, yoga enthusiasts—has something to gain from this kind of self-improvement–as–social justice action. Future menus will be sponsored by organizations like the anti-racist People’s Institute, making the cleanse a ready structure for activist outreach efforts.