Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Your need to know that I've expressed my dissent to the carnival's organizers and that they have, as so many corporations have done with us wimmin of color, expressed no desire to make changes that would leave me feeling empowered, or to move beyond empty apologies.
They have in fact cited the rules of carnival submission, as if I myself had come to them with this piece saying: please publish me. If you are a queer of color, a sex positive person of color or a just a feminist of color who feels this is wrong, I'm actually trying to get this month's editor of the carnival and the originator of the carnival to address my concerns.
So, please feel free to contact them and register a complaint on my behalf. I have no other recourse since they have said no to changing the piece or to making any changes whatsoever. I would really like for them to render permanent and transparent discussion about what they've done by posting on their own sites and being up front, accountable and self-critical. I'd like them to set boundaries and rules of conduct regarding the organizing the carnival and submitting to the carnival so that it doesn't end up being a vehicle for ignorance and the replication of oppression-based hate. Your support would be very much welcomed.
In fact, I am a many times published writer and editor in real time and understand what it means when an original work is taken and utilized without the permission of its creator.
To make matters worse, my work was included strategically, as there is another piece in the carnival written by a Black woman who was upset and triggered when I started writing and posting on blog sites she frequents. I was out about being a sex radical polyamorous Black queer mama. Her reaction, to write a pro-monogamy piece reasserting her privilege without acknowledging it was a very subtle way to make the spaces we share uncomfortable for me. She's made a lot of headway.
My work on the carnival's page is also present there to indicate my location in the blogosphere and also as an indirect way, I suppose to present "my side" for me without me actually being present and having full say about the work I would have included.
If you'd actually like to see one of the pieces I wrote on my blog trying to challenge this woman's virulent yet covert heterocentrism and erotophobia, please click here, or the piece I voluntarily offered to the wimmin of the carnival as replacement for the Coretta Scott King piece that they rejected, click here or the artist's statement I did as part of an art exhibit I created the last time a Black community member decided to not engage with me intelligently about their own political blind spots but instead to attempt to make a meal out of me while community members watched, click here or if you'd like to read an article written by people not roped into a polarized stew, click here.
Of course you're still welcome to read the piece I wrote about the passing of Coretta Scott King below. Cheerio!
Another long-lived widow passes over years after her prominent husband...
I saw on yahoo that Coretta Scott King the woman partner/ally of Martin Luther King had died.
I thought, the passing of more history and her/stories. I'm living in an age where so much is dehistoricized even by the feminists and activists I encounter, where so much emphasis is placed on youth and the young that I worry that our struggles become less and less grounded in a knowledge of the past. This passing marks a loss for sure. But a loss of what kind?
But, since I was always more of a Malcolm X-y sort of Black queer girl, I won't get too much up in the contribution of her late partner whose name and dream are presently being pimped by all sorts of folks who don't care one fig about everyday Black people, no way no how.
When I saw the article and picture of this Black woman so defined by her existence as loyal wife and widow, living shrine to the memory of a man, her husband, I thought of other Black wives of "great" men who had lived and worked along side their partners, yet who were defined as lesser, as patriarchally subjugated to visions not seen as primarily theirs, dreams not primarily theirs, but instead those of their men.
I thought with rage about Winnie Mandela...oops, did I say Mandela? I don't think she can claim the last name since he divorced her. Yes, she who fought the great battle, fought dirty in the trenches while her husband was being mentally broken, dominated and chemically lobotomized (so as to not leave any permanent scars. how do you think a resistance fighter and nation's leader went into the jail and a doddering, soft spoken man fine with white south africa came out? Any psyche survivor/consumer can explain exactly how one would take a defiant soul, make it more malleable, friendly and willing to "play nice.")
I thought about her "loving" husband and ally coming out of prison and almost immediately disassociating himself from the partner who had loved him, allied with him and kept his name alive all those years. I thought of him "setting her aside" and finding himself a more docile, friendly, less bloodied wife more in keeping with his new role as international man of peace.
I thought about the fact that Nelson Mandela, threatened by the leadership power of his mate, could and did side-line his greatest ally in struggle with ease, because Winnie Mandela had always been vulnerable to being seen as just his wife, just a feminized symbol of his resistance, a receptacle for his ideas, not a fully conscientized warrior fighting a battle that was also hers to claim and to define powerfully if not always ethically.
I understand that had he died either before or during incarceration, she would have been able to "keep her place" as honoured wife, as widow of the martyr of the struggle, as powerful head of the movement, as warrior mother of South Africa. Had he died, she would not have been seen as in direct competition with him for power. Had he died, I understand that South Africa would have been a verrrry different place today. (but that's a whole other posting in and of itself)
So, when I hear about Coretta Scott King's passing, I mourn a historical passing more than a herstorical one. I wonder how this woman's path would have diverged from that of her husband's if he had lived and she had continued to grow next to him. I wonder if she would have attained this status of legend if she had remarried or chosen to take a lover and have more children with another after his murder instead of spending the rest of her life (understood as) a sexless widow. But, under a misogynist patriarchal system of wimmin's oppression, it's clear that her life and status as living icon would have been different, right?
I understand her as a good wife, a good widow in black, monogamously faithful to her death. A wife keeping her husband's name alive, keeping her husband's dream alive and through this act, the dreams of a whole peopling.
Her husband was the phallic head of a non-violent struggle and she was it's mother, inseminated by his dream, primed to give birth ritually to his vision in his name publicly, over and over again, until her death.
I understand this woman as a subjugated symbol of heterosexual, patriarchal wifehood. A symbol of a man's struggle. A sacrificial ritual object representing a leader long gone. An icon of resistance to colonization...by proxy not through her own presence at the helm. Empowered to speak and to act, not through her own dreams for justice and civil rights, which it seems predated her meeting and marrying her partner, but ultimately through his patriarchal maleness and the access her proximity to it earned.
Welcomed and listened to because of the legitimacy conferred on her by his last name, by the "sanctity" of monogamous marriage and wifehood, I understand her as a foot soldier in a struggle led by a (Black) man, in a struggle that welcomed a female instigator (Rosa Parks), that would not have followed a female leader. I don't understand her as a symbol of Black female power and leadership in her own right.
Long may his name live after her passing.
Monday, January 30, 2006
So, among my other trillion of parenting associated worries is the one about my daughter not identifying with the people she comes from - West Indians.
Not in terms of being stiff, shadeist, classist, on the surface jovial yet emotionally blunted, workaholics with a tendency cover up pertinent familial information. NoPe.
More in terms of food preferences. I've had this worry that she would end up declaring any of the good stuff I know from Barbados, including the stuff I know how to make, off limits or yucky.
Mind you, I left Barbados when I was eight. So, I tend to romanticize the foods I remember from my childhood. The things I know how to make are for the most part built on visual and taste memories that sort of kick in sporadically.
I can wake up a morning with a particular memory of a taste in my mouth. I access a memory of the really good cooks I've known, specifically my father who taught me to cook and my mother.
Then, in channelling, auto-pilot mode, the cook in me, with a really good grasp of ingredients can usually piece together the flavour, texture and consistency I'm looking for and reproduce it...with a few unorthodox additions that might not show up in a caribbean food cook book. Like say...
Have you ever had rice and peas flavoured with miso?
Or Jerk chicken with oyster sauce and chilli garlic paste added?
Or Coocoo with not just okra but spinach, too?
Or baked snapper with a hint of sesame seed oil and red wine vinegar to round off the ginger, onion and garlic stuffing?
Or spicy flour dredged, deep fried shark chunks in honey, maple syrup and brown sugar stir fried with red wine vinegar, spices and mixed vegetables?
Why cook unless you can experiment, is what I figure.
Things I know how to make from scratch, from memory, from taste:
- souse: pickled pig foot, ear, tail and tongue
- coconut bread
- coocoo: a really thick, thick cornmeal porridge served with fish cooked in a steamy spicy tomato based sauce
- (yellow) split peas and rice
- oxtail: this is actually one of my favourite ja-fake-an recipes. I grew up not with Barbadians but with Jamaicans
- jerk chicken: another ja-fake-an favourite. Did I tell you I've really hoped to be adopted by a roving family of passionate Jamaicans who don't mind their rep? I mean, I'm hoping at some point people realize that the West Indian islands with the supposed worst reps, Haiti and Jamaica have been smeared for quite some time now on account of the fact that they were the only ones to mount consistent, effective armed resistance against the colonizer.
- bakes: pieces of deep fried dough fried 'til they're golden brown. I like to make mine with raisins, coconut, nutmeg and cinnamon.
- rice and peas, or beans and rice as some folks would call kidney beans or gunga peas and rice...a mainstay of my ja-fake-an culinary art.
Anyways, I was talking food. So, this weekend I got it into my head that I was going to make chicken foot soup. I went to the market and to China Town with my partner and the four year old, bought my ingredients, came home and set to work making a memory.
It didn't turn out too bad. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it. But the real kicker for me happened on Saturday and tonight. Saturday night while I was creating, my partner, a community member and me decided we'd order pizza. I wasn't cooking for family dinner. I was cooking for me.
My partner went out and picked up the pizza and we gave the four year old a slice. She starts eating, but as soon as I portioned myself some of the soup, her attention shifted. What pizza? That north american, canadian, western cliche of busy family life just plain dried up and died on her plate while she watched me chowing down on these very obvious chicken feet.
You could have pushed me over with a feather when my finnicky daughter asked for a chicken foot to eat and started eating it with chuncks of sweet potato, carrot (which she'll eat occasionally raw and cut into fiddly little sticks), spinach (which she already eats voluntarily), onion, garlic, ginger and almost liquified spit peas. Sucked the chicken digits and spat out the bones like a real West Indian. Needless to say, I was very happy.
Tonight, she did it again, only she added another move to her repetoire, chomping the bones and sucking the marrow. You should have seen me being the proud mama of bone sucking Black, West Indian child. I would have puffed out my chest if my belly wasn't already doing that very performance fer real.
All I can say is, go figure. Although I know I can't predict her choices or understand her thought process, tonight I'm a very happy mama indeed. This was definitely a good thing.
I think I'd be much more interested in the debate about gay and lesbian marriage, as I was when I was a lesbian, if discussion was actually broader. Opening public unions of loving parties whatever the dimension or size of the grouping, is something that makes much more sense to me as a polyamorous queer woman. My understanding of the function of extended families as excellent places to raise children also plays into this. Though, as a child raised mostly alone and away from family in north america I have to admit, the only extended families I've experienced for any substantial amounts of time have been the ones I've participated in or created as a queer adult and/or mama.
I was searching online after yet another set of odd emails/comments about my blog from the pro-monogamy mama. Still continuing to hope for signs of inquisitive and analytical life in the blogosphere.
I came across an interesting article. Here's an excerpt below. But click here to read the whole piece.
Dutch Co-Habitation Contract and a Triad Marriage
"ALTHOUGH THE TRIPLE Dutch union has been loosely styled "polygamy," it's actually a sterling example of polyamory. Polyamorists practice "responsible nonmonogamy"--open, loving, and stable relationships among more than two people (see "Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory," The Weekly Standard, August 4 / August 11, 2003). Polygamous marriages among fundamentalist Mormons or Muslims don't depend on a blending of heterosexuality and bisexuality. Yet that combination perfectly embodies the spirit of polyamory. And polyamorists don't limit themselves to unions of one man and several women. One woman and two men, full-fledged group marriage, a stable couple openly engaging in additional shifting or stable relationships--indeed, almost any combination of partner-number and sexual orientation is possible in a polyamorous sexual grouping.
Polyamorists would call the De Bruijn union a "triad." In a polyamorous triad, all three partners are sexually connected. This contrasts with a three-person "V," in which only one of the partners (called the "hinge" or "pivot") has a sexual relationship with the other two. So the bisexuality of Bianca and Mirjam classifies the De Bruijn union as a polyamorous bisexual triad. In another sense, the De Bruijn marriage is also a gay marriage. The Bianca-Mirjam component of the union is gay, and legalized gay marriage in Holland has clearly helped make the idea of a legally recognized bisexual triad thinkable."
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Whooo, whoo, ain't I a scary, scary, angry, mean Black woman?
Betta try and stop me.
Wouldn't want too many brilliantly shining, fearless, questioning, interactive, conscious, confident, articulate dark-skinned Black girl children running around tha place, now would we?
Might fuck shit up.
All togetha now!
"This little light of hers...I'm gonna let it shine. I said, this little light of hers...I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of hers...I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."
The conservatives, the monogamists, the heteros and the sex-negative prudes who define as lefties, liberals, anti-oppression activists or feminists turn and look the other way in their everyday lives. So oftn there's no carry over from the rhetoric used at demonstrations or in meetings to a political person's understanding of their own personal choices.
If you don't want to look and see who I'm sleeping with and don't want to think deeply about who you're sleeping with and why, you're signing the death warrants and living death warrants and social death warrants, supporting the suicides and homelessness, supporting the drug addiction and hopelessnes of real life people.
I've been tagged for something called a meme. It's a blogger written sport of sorts, I think.
The creatrix of Bitch | Lab sent me four questions to answer. Then I've got to answer them and tag four different bloggers.
I don't actually communicate on the regular with any bloggers and I haven't made any blogger friends yet. So this will probably be a good way to meet some.
I sort of lean toward the paranoid, so these questions could easily be questions designed to indirectly gather information about lefty/radical bloggers for United States government security purposes. I've got four questions of my own.
Who started this anyways?
Who's tracking this information?
Hasn't anyone else noticed something odd about the questions, like they're all linked to information that could be traceable in public records?
Is anyone who answered these questions experiencing any strange occurances?
Fine, I watched every episode of the X-Files. What of it?
Since answers to my questions aren't going to be forthcoming, I hope you don't mind if I answer accordingly?
my questions were:
Four vehicles You've owned
a tricycle, a bike, a lemon and a computer (takes me everywhere I need to be)
Four Jobs You've had
A shit disturber (ongoing), a sexpert (ongoing), a mama (ongoing), a blogger (very new)
Four Places You've lived
hell-on-earth (in one of an abusive relationship where noone believed me), oblivion (when I first came out and didn't understand much), darkdaughta.com (my own personal universe), turtle island (me and mine have been living here for a few hundred years)
Four Vacations You've taken
sabbatical from political organizing communities fast being co-opted (I took a mental health break from my toxic work environment), a lovership I entered into out of pure lust (a vacation from my common sense), raising babies (time away from writing being my number one focus), haircoloring (from the greys I'm not prepared to deal with yet).
Who I'm tagging... Bitch | Lab is right, this does feel like picking people for your team. It feels like popularity stuff...anyone else itchy or getting a rash? I really don't like opening myself to the possibility of not being responded to. It feels like too much power put into the hands of someone else. They could be stupid or cruel or into social hierarchies. Yech.
I'm going to tag and run away...
A Canadian Lefty In Occupied Land
I am severely disgruntled over the ways that so many Black, Diasporic African Descended Wimmin and other wimmin of color, traditionally and historically marginalized and constructed as sexual deviants under white domination, have left the discussion of sex and the articulation of sex radical theory, up to white wimmin.
We have summarily and collectively allowed ourselves to be excluded from the production of language, thought and resistance movements regarding sex, sexual deviance, sex radicality, sexual monogamies, etc.. Inserting ourselves and our histories as more than reactive in the negative would have meant us possessing the ability to insist on critiques of race, racism and white domination so absent from most of the academic and community-based work about sex.
Instead we have chosen to exist in an ignorant hinterland, a grey space of reactionary good girl-ism, a space from which all we can do is be good wives, good girlfriends, good students, good closet cases, good workers, good academics, good (sex-negative) womanists/feminists, good mothers, good pregnant ladies, good and safe, good and faithful, good and monogamous, good and conservative.
But our silence has definitely not protected us or saved us from being constructed as hypersexual sluts for tha taking. Nor has our ability to stick our collective heads in the sand. As evidenced in the media and on the streets, avoidance of discussion and knowledge as a strategy and protective mechanism hasn't worked. It's just means the converstions about us have continued on their merry way without us. So, now what?
In the meantime, here's an excerpt from an essay I found on The Red Garter Club's sex positive essays page. This essay was written by one of my favourite white queer sex radical wimmin writers, Dr. Carol Queen.
Sex Radical Politics, Sex-Positive Thought and Whore Stigma
Inviting Feminism Into Bed With Us
And in the end, what does this have to do with feminism?
Today, mainstream feminism is a site for anti-whore activism, a locus for demagogues like Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Kathleen Barry to agitate for the abolition of our livelihoods and to lobby for our silencing. Ordinary feminist women are often swayed by their rhetoric and may have no opportunity to hear our side of the story. (Certainly every letter I’ve ever sent to Ms. has gone unpublished.) We have learned to our dismay that a woman’s feminism is no guarantee she’ll be open to sex radical thought; sometimes, sad to say, the opposite is true. Whores make other traditional feminists defensive about issues of sexual stigma, boundaries, and the nature of women’s sexual relationships with men. However, we could equally powerfully raise consciousness around these issues, since sex-positive whores have learned to sexually negotiate at the intersection of our clients’ desires, our limits and boundaries, and with regards to issues of safety and emotional well-being. Were we to be acknowledged by orthodox feminists as the experts we are, our voices could help push the feminist analysis of sex in positive, productive directions. This could only strengthen feminism’s appeal, since sexuality is such a powerful, and often problematic, issue in so many women’s – and men’s – lives. If feminism were to take seriously my question about what separates the experiences of women who hate sex work from those who thrive doing it, would that not have profound implications for the lives and sexual strategies of ordinary women?
Further, taking whores – whores, not just “degraded” ex-whores – seriously would support a feminist claim that is at the moment fatuous: that feminists care about the experience of all women and are open to learning from the experience of all women. Whores are only one of a multitude of groups who do not get an open-minded hearing in mainstream feminism today.
It can be argued that whores labor on the front lines of patriarchy. Feminists really ought to be more interested in the things we see, hear, and experience there. Sex-positive feminists are, of course, and support the issues we consider important, including improved working conditions, safety, and freedom from harassment. They, unlike so many orthodox feminists, understand that we do not consider our work itself a form of sexual harassment; that many of the abuses committed within the sex industry have little to do, in fact, with sexuality; that we are not selling ourselves or our bodies (a reprehensible turn of phrase repeated, often as not, by feminists, who ought to have more concern for the power of language to shape reality) any more than does any other worker under capitalism; sex-positive feminists remember that any worker under capitalism is subject to mistreatment.
They understand that we value our work when it allows us autonomy, free time, and a comfortable income; we often like living outside the narrow circle society circumscribes of ladylike behavior; we are not “good girls,” nor do we aspire to be; and we relish the opportunity our work provides us to learn secrets, to support our clients’ forays away from traditional masculine sexuality, to transgress restrictive boundaries and rebel against the rigid limitations created by our own fear of sex.
To what degree is the failure of mainstream feminists to educate themselves about us a result of their fear of sex and/or of being labeled a whore? Like many feminists’ antipathy toward lesbianism, this is a feminist issue with implications far beyond the politics of sex work.
Sex-positive feminist whores invite all women to consider these issues, confront their own whorephobia, and learn from us."
I was doing what I thought would be another futile search for fascinating minds online when I came across this online journal. Haven't heard of it before. I started reading. I could feel my brain stretching. There was a lot I hadn't seen before and a lot of terminology I didn't understand (because much of it is historically or politically U.S. based) linked to ideas that I could. I've got to have some more. Bookmarking...
Friday, January 27, 2006
Early on in my pregnancy I had prenatal depression. I raged and cried and felt hopeless and thought of removing myself from this cesspool of a world and felt alone.
I found a counsellor who actually dealt with wimmin living with prenatal depression. I was skeptical, not because she wouldn't understand life chasing after a toddler or the hormonal changes that pregnancy could bring...
I understood that it would be difficult for her to truly offer me support if her political and social analysis wasn't as developed as my own, which by her own admission, it wasn't. If she had no historical, herstorical analysis of her own whiteness, her own class privilege, her own conservatism, her own sexuality, her own gender binary ideas, etc to layer on top of her clinical experiences, we literally would not be able to share useful space in deeply moving and generative conversation.
This is what happened when I finally sat down to speak with her on the phone for our first session. She was a nice woman, who wanted to listen to me. But she literally could not comprehend my identity as it had been painstakingly built by me in resistance to the effects of domination and colonization in my life. She could not connect with or make sense of the roots of my isolation, the systemic sources of oppression that had driven me into isolation and had infused my creation of a community that would shelter me and my family. She could not understand the life or death nature of the struggles inside my community and why we had all tried for so long to find solutions.
In short, she could not offer me any solace, because the society she occupies with comfort, the world she understands to offer so many options to the women/mamas who are her clients, is understood as a source of torment and oppression by me.
In an earlier online exchange she had written that she thought she could "help me". I replied that she could not. I didn't explain to her the inequitable power dynamics infusing her choice of wording. I told her that it wouldn't be possible for her as a practitioner to "help" anyone. People help themselves. They can be offered new tools or new perspectives that can turn out to be useful and transformational in their everyday lives. But in the end it's all about them, their commitment to gathering information, to seeing and making changes in their lives that leads to them "helping" themselves. I let on that what would be really useful would be for her to learn about herself as a way for dialogue about what supportive interactions could look like between the two of us, to actually flourish. She disagreed saying that the impulse to "help" and her clinical skills was all she really needed.
I got off the phone already knowing in my heart of hearts what I would do, knowing what I could not do, what it would be impossible for me to put myself through. That was our first and last session. She emails occasionally. I think she's curious about me. Although it would be good to talk to someone who knows mamas, she won't be able to understand this mama without recommencing her own education.
I live alienated from wimmin in my age peer range taught to give up their personal power through silence, soft intonation and carefully chosen word subtlety, taught to fear/accomodate/crave/ acquiese (to) power hierarchies for safety and defininition of self...
I live alienated from mamas of squealing babies and tantruming preschoolers...
I live alienated from Black conservative good girls who understand themselves as liberal, radical or revolutionary who are, nonetheless, products of our extremely classist and conservative Black communities...
I live alienated from political wimmin who only feel safe to speak their truths when safely surrounded by an approving herd...
I live alienated from queers of color worried about how much they can come out and be their whole sexual selves for all to see and still get really well paying jobs...
I feel alienated from younger wimmin of color who define as radicals...in relation to a world where an extreme right swinging social pendulum has shifted even what it means to be left, shifted the very nature of resistance.
I live alienated from thankful immigrants feeling so glad to "be here" where they can "make something of themselves"...
I live alienated from white queers arrogantly and knowingly sitting in positions of white cultural dominance...
I live separate, apart from everything that would cause me to understand myself as crazed, ugly, less than, abnormal, wicked, dirty, lower, too dark, too fat, too old,...blah, blah, blah. I cling to/indulge in aloneness, decadent, reliable, secure, impenetrable.
But I am a mama and my daughter was not born to be alone. So I try to be less of a loner.
But, as I sit surrounded by abundant sources of "help" who think it's enough to just "be there", white hands to stroke my hair when I cry (please don't touch my locks), to just "be there" to support a queer mama (I don't care who you sleep with, so don't talk about me and my man), to just "be there" to stand in solidarity with a Black woman (There's nothing I can do about my white (or light) skin. When I look in the mirror it's just there), to just "be there" we're all mamas who need support (but why do you need to be so judgemental and overly assertive?), to just "be there" sure come on over and we can talk over tea (let's say grace before we eat our snack)...
none of this looks like support when coupled with my would be "helpers'" uncritiqued experiences of oppression and access to privilege.
If someone trying to "help me" or just "be there" while fully functioning as a foot on my neck was to draw close, I would scream, I would stiffen, I would be triggered into herstorically grounded rage with their every other uncritiqued and privileged word. I would need solace and support, need some drugs, need a knife for my wrists, need to fuck the pain away, need to spend too much money on what I didn't need, need to walk out into a fast moving traffic filled street with my babies after being "taken care of" by them.
See? Get it?
Is it that hard to find?
a few knocked up revolutionary women...
or revolutionary women with analysis who are child and mama friendly not perpetrating...
or revolutionaries who have a living analysis
all of whom hold their ownselves accountable to what they say they believe, so I won't have to...
Consciousness that moves beyond lefty/liberal/anarchist/radical/academic word play right on into everyday life;
Brave hearts willing to open, to know and to fully feel;
Fiery spirits, indominable, present, ethical and unwilling to back down;
Cutting intellects that never stopped asking "Why?" Never stopped exploring, stretching and growing even in the grips of hormonally induced mamabrain.
If you are one of these or know of one or two or three, especially if they have blogs or websites?... send them on through. Then stand back and watch the sparks fly.
Learners not in charge of their own educational process (I can't be your personal search engine), People who don't understand their own emotional landscape (not interesed in recognizing/locating/ articulating/claiming your feelings and needs for you), alchoholics (recovered without any ongoing self-knowledge journey, too), sex addicts (folks who filter all life experience sexually), perpetual victims (especially those willing to utilize trauma or survivor status to manipulate the unsuspecting) or adult "children" (I'm a mama, but I ain't your mama) in need of care need not apply. I've got my own learning, recovery and re-parenting of my tiny child to do.
This reminds me to not do these sorts of exchanges. They're hardcore one sided. I give too much passion and get...nada in terms of actual fiery spirit returned, courage, intelligent conversation or information. nada...'less you count that searing pain in my heart, my spirit and in my belly.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
One of the mamas, the black woman writing the piece about the virtues of monogamy, emailed. She was respectful, probably much more courteous than I was, not cussing as I did in my postings.
The space to be nice. My queendom for the space to be seen and received as a good Black girl...not.
She wrote, among other things, that she had been harmed by non-monogamy and wanted to know how I had been harmed by monogamy.
I felt/feel forced to respond to her request for more information. When I say forced I mean that for me to go with my impulse to set a boundary saying: I won't educate you, is asking for pure trouble.
This sort of stance, especially in wimmin's circles where seeming open, receptive, understanding and accomodating is one of the ways misogynist stereotypes and patriarchal conditioning survives and thrives among those oppressed by it, is tantamount to a social death.
A woman who wants to be respected at large who wants to be seen as intelligent can't say: No. You're off base. Your analysis is limited. Go and learn and on your own not on my back.
It's just not nice for wimmin to express themselves in those ways. I've already been told that my tone and my choice of words are wrong and way too assertive. I'm always being draped up about my fucking tone and my dyam choice of words. For more about the oppressed and tone, please read the posting I wrote about dealing with one's own power to oppress.
So, even though I'd had conversations similar to this so many times before with people who have privilege and don't want to claim it,
even though I know that the best consciousness raising work is done when a person decides to stand at the helm of their own explorations and not force or invite another to lead or pursuade them,
even though I knew that I had given tons of information here in this blog and on my main website darkdaughta.com that explored my point of view fully,
even though I had done this so that people with views in line with the dominant society wouldn't have to come to me for energy/attention/education/ information while simultaneously expecting me to be patient and nice,
even though I'd already written to her extensively through the communal mama blog we share,
and even though she'd already read the post I'd written here further breaking down my poliitical issue with monogamy,
I went along with the program again.
How is it possible to enter into a conversation like this with a broad systemic critique when the ideas have been completely individualized and personalized, when the effects and beliefs and power of the surrounding society has been erased?
I tried, knowing that trying really wasn't my work but hers. Knowing that the ideas I hold to be true aren't mine, didn't begin with me, have context, a political milieu that includes me but that wasn't created by me. Feeling frustrated at having to describe the origins and effects of my own oppression, my own torment, my own community ostracism to those who uphold and perpetuate the stigmas that create walls around me, my family and my queer, poly communities.
This isn't my work. Google polyamory. Google heterocentrism. Google marriage, control of women. Google monogamy, control of women. Google some of the radical feminist and anarchist parenting sites where your mama blogs are listed as evidence of politically radical mamahood. Google any question that pops into your mind. Just start reading anywhere. A continuum with a left, a middle, and right and lots of space will quickly form in your mind's eye. You may be able to situate yourself and to finally see your own context. Most importantly, feel free to make an exploration of monogamy and non-monogamy larger than me and you, feel free to move it beyond experiencial evidence of your personal pleasure...
This is a lightly edited version of what I last wrote to this Black mama...
Thanks for your comments. I think what i've been challenging you to do is look at the larger picture.
The ways that the ideology of monogamy and all the beliefs that go with monogamy hurts is felt by people who don't manifest as in line with societal norms.
When you get into the supposed benefits of monogamy, there's an oppressive flip side.
Monogamy wouldn't be able to assert itself as:
respectable, safe, socially desireable, disease free, stable and family-oriented
without non-monogamy being constructed as:
unclean, std giving, unstable relationship terrain, obviously no place to raise children, unconventional, practiced by loose wimmin who are not nice or good, people who are nasty, shiftless and untrustworthy, of ill repute, to be avoided, to be gossiped about.
The damaging stigma felt by queers and wimmin who sex outside the boundaries of moral society is the legacy of monogamy.
How I, as an ethical slut have been damaged and harmed by the dominance of monogamy is via people, men, wimmin (re)acting with righteous conviction, who have been unwilling to look at the underpinnings of their beliefs about sex and sexuality.
But there's so much online, that this doesn't have to be about me or a conversation specifically between me and you that will allow this discussion to transcend its present polarization.
I'm just saying go see for yourself. Don't rely on me. Don't lean on me.
I'm just saying if you're going to extoll the virtues of monogamy and married life in a blog space that's supposed to be political, take a look around at whose back you're experiencing your good life on.
Non-monogamy as a relationship choice doesn't hurt people anymore than monogamy does.
People make the choice to harm people. As i said in my posts, people in relationships are hurt by non-communication, dishonesty, withholding of pertinent information, jealousy, assumptions about who is safe and who isn't, assumptions about sex and sexuality that lead people to feel they don't need to or can't communicate about their desires, lack of knowledge, fear, insecurities. Wimmin can get stds by equating feelings of increased affection/love with the need for no condom. They can get stds by not feeling comfortable negotiating for condoms or by their partners not respecting their boundaries and manipulating them into unprotected sex.
This sort of stuff happens in any relationship of any configuration with any number of people. It's not exclusively the domain of people praciticing various versions of non-monogamy. Really monogamy just means that there's only one person you need to negotiate, communicate, develop an understanding of and develop trust with rather than a few.
The belief in monogamy as best and safest for a woman or man, for that matter, is not simply an individual choice, otherwise there wouldn't be so many institutions and laws supporting it and none supporting non-monogamies.
The belief that monogamy is a solid choice is enforced systemically. The belief that fucked up things like disease transmission only happen in non-monogamous relationships actually contributes to the oppression and control of queer people, people with AIDS and women. The belief system that supports monogamy is dangerous to people like me. It leads to suicide, depression, the closet, the kidnapping of children by the children's aid, un/under employment, familial estrangement and ostracisation among other things.
It has led to my exclusion from the Black communities where I should have had a place by right of birth. It has led to the continued control of Black people's sexualities and desires...a horrible legacy left over from our enslavement by hypocritical, raping, unfaithful, violent, controlling, white, christian, monogamists bent on enforcing their understandings of sex and sexuality on the African people (constructed as inhuman cattle) they had stolen and forced to work and to breed (under the guise of us being lascivious, nymphomaniacal, Godless creatures who didn't care who we fucked).
I understand that you're thankful to have a relationship that works and that nurtures you and your children. It warms me to hear it. I'm saying that the system that supports your relationship launches subtle attacks against me and mine everyday.
I think that this can be discussed in a lot of ways that doesn't end up polarizing us or canonizing monogamy. I think it's possible for your approach to be complex and layered, where monogamy can be contextualized politically and historically without taking your happiness or your supportive environment away.
If the relationship and environment is that solid, it won't be harmed by you taking a closer look at where you sit and the privilege offered to those who do monogamy and marriage. It won't hurt to look at the personal carnage wreaked by systemically and societally enforced institutions like marriarge and heterocentric monogamy in the lives of people defined as abnormal, dirty, akin to rapists and pedophiles. It won't hurt to look at the closet inflicted on so many people with ethics and stable relationships who just happen to have decided to love or be sexual with more than one partner.
Not a direct correlation, but close enough for my purposes...
If this were a white person you had asked to think about their racism and they said to you: "T., I'm sorry I'm upsetting you. But you know, me and my family are so happy to be white. It's just not safe to be Black. Blackness brings police, crime, low birth rates, poverty and you all seem so angry. Me? I'm a nice, quiet, law-abiding, white person with healthy children the teachers like. God bless whiteness. But I'm sorry to hear you've had problems being Black in the past. I've really had a good life and have enjoyed all the access and success my whiteness has afforded me. You wouldn't grudge me that, would you? Whiteness has been a real place of strength for me. Has my whiteness upset you in some way? If it has, I apologize. Do you think you could explain to me? Because I don't get it. What has your personal upset been about whiteness? Has whiteness harmed you in some way?"
T., how would you do in that conversation? Where would you start to talk to this person? Wouldn't you invite them to look beyond their own personal experience. Wouldn't it be crucial for them to look at history and the society around them?
I remember one of the mothers writing a comment about me having lots of energy. I don't. This passion come from somewhere. It's taken from other sources in my life. I pay for these emails energetically and emotionally. I do the work and make the incursions because I'm driven to come out of isolation, driven to at least trying and find allies for myself and my family. If I don't do the work I won't make contact with folks who actually get what I'm saying. I don't do it to try and switch over people who are more than capable of doing their own work. Dealing with people who "don't understand" who they themselves are is exhausting. Especially when there are answers to any of these questions all around us.
Feel free to share this transmission with the other mothers. Feel free to access any of the links on my blog or on my website.
But one writer to another :), I'm conscious of the fact that you're doing an essay about monogamy. Wouldn't want to end up being unofficial, unconsensual, unreferenced research, so, I'll stop here...
In a subsequent email transmission I wrote...
Can you put a link to my blog on your blog? It would be good to have the conversation spread out to other circles and incorporate other ideas, no? At the very least, the folks you know who blog will have access to the ideas and words of anotha sista. :)
What can I say? She loves Angelina Ballerina, a femmy white mouse who titters. :)
But seriously, in order to supplement the lame school experience she had and to attempt to compensate for not yet having a cadre of friends her own age, we thought we'd try sending her to a preschooler and younger children program that the city runs through its community centers and rec centers. They offer all sorts of activities geared to children anywhere from six months on up.
She's done swimming. But her lips turn blue because the city doesn't heat its public pools in the winter. She did ballet before, but when our community cracked open and started to burn, ballet fell to the wayside. She did arts and crafts and really enjoyed it, though. She's also doing gymnastics (she already tumbles and flips all over the place), and soccer. I'm getting ready to enroll her in Tae Kwon Do as soon as I can make contact with her ethics and knowledge of right and wrong consistently. Don't want her to be knocking the heads off her playmates...well actually, only the out of order ones.
It's also been really good for her to have contact with other teachers who weren't as racist and biased as the ones at the school where we enrolled her.
Oblivious to how she was subtly labelled by the teachers at school, they express of their own volition, with amazement, how developed, verbal and social she is for a child her age.
I haven't mentioned that doing pint-sized anti-oppression work with her is only part of what I do.
The other little detail is that she never leaves the house without a community member who has been perfectly versed in "nice" and "dirty" methods of protecting this Black girl child's psyche.
They know how to smile and do popularity games with hierarchical, racist, classist or liberal parents.
They know how to redirect bad behaved or misguided or feral children who have been left by their parents or caregivers to figure social interactions out for themselves, often with bad or mediocre results for any child who encounters them.
They know how to be stern and firm with parents or children or strangers who don't have boundaries, seem dangerous or don't have a clue.
They know how to facilitate desired interactions with parents or children or strangers who seem like potential allies or playmates.
They know how to play subtly stink, "passing" as they do search and destroy, verbally manifesting as more classist, power mongering, patriarchal in "casual conversations" (which are really incursions designed by parental units to establish pecking orders on the playground, sidewalk and the schools). We've decided not to be subjugated to their petty power plays. We dominate these oppressive do-do heads by beating them at their own games thereby creating a safe space inside of which my daughter can play completely oblivious to the work that's being done to safeguard her fun time.
So, although we are educating her about her personal power, the beauty of her full voice, her physical strength, her Blackness, her Africanness, Kwanzaa, melanine, her beautiful skin, The Middle Passage, her genitalia, menstruation, pads, tampons, pregnancy, homebirth, estrogen, testosterone, femaleness, the goddess, crystals, braiding and locksing, the Dyke March, when it's okay to be naked in the streets, privacy, boundaries, the uses of head butting, kicking, roaring and giving verbal warnings: "You have to ask", as self protection when people cross her boundaries by touching her in any way, her ability to explore and chart her world isn't sacrificed.
Childhood fun doesn't mean lack of consciousness as possessing consciousness shouldn't mean boredom. Her play is intense and full throttle precisely because of the space created by consciousness, hers and ours.
We are her guides, protectors and sentinels lovingly at alert, watching, deconstructing and resisting in the streets, on the playgrounds, in playgroups and centers while she runs free, laughing and being a child.
And when stuff does happen to/around her in the home or while she's out that's oppressive or painful, caregivers use pint-sized language to discuss, deconstruct and create a space for her to talk about and have her feelings not submerge them. She understands how important talking about her feelings, her disappointment, her rage, her fear, her sadness and all the rest are to being healthy and whole. We all reference Harry Potter (she's seen the first three, but decided the fourth was too scary). We talk about people who don't share their feelings as dangerous and mean. We call them The Dursleys.
If she couldn't have her "armed" and trained (by me) guards, I'd have to keep her in the house, now wouldn't I? :)
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
And I'm still part amused, part annoyed at the lack of indepth criticism at the mama blog site where I go to post sometimes. Like the alternative school I pulled my daughter out of, this blog site gets way too much props for being radical and political when, from what I'm seeing and experiencing, the critique there functions at kindergarten level most of the time. I think that these mamas are positioned as radical relative to activist, anarchist and other political movements that never thought to include mamas and children on their political platforms. So, just the mere presence of wimmin who are mamas with their children is radical when they/we had been so thoroughly excluded for such a long time.
But any sort of essentialism, the I exist therefore I am political approach, isn't enough. I mean, if the mamas aren't backing it up with any solid analysis of themselves and their experiences as say...white mamas, middle-class mamas, conservative mamas, married mamas, monogamous mamas, heterosexual mamas, able-bodied mamas, north american mamas...and following that up with a critique of their own power and privilege, are they resisting the forces of domination they say they are, or are they acting these out on mamas such as myself who have identities that question domination?
Tired of dealing with the defensiveness of those with privilege for a bit. In the meantime, here's a piece I wrote about me being confronted with and forced to deal with some of my own privilege.
I know that by posting my original words here I'm taking a really large risk. You'd be surprised how many of my supposed "brothers" and "sisters" in the struggle and the academics they read feel no ways about stealing work of revolutionaries such as myself who take the risk to disseminate ideas and words of resistance outside the academy. I have people who read my work here and on my mainsite regularly who would never site me or my words in their essays, in the classes they teach or t.a, people who won't say hullo when I go to gatherings in community. Copyright stuff!
Anyways, here's me using myself as guinea pig while attempting to deal with my own shit...Look, radical Mamas! It's really not that bad!
Breaking It Down:
Acknowledging The Emotions Attached To Recognizing Oppression And Achieving Consciousness
© December 2002
What are the feelings attached to recognizing our own oppression?
Initially for most dominated people feelings around being oppressed include regret, embarrassment at having been lost, ignorant and willingly colonized for so long. Rage at having been treated as if our feelings, our pain and our needs don’t matter. Fear over being verbally, psychologically or physically abused if we should speak up. Worry about still being ignored or alienated even if we should identify who we are and what we want. Sometimes hurt if we should finally get the courage to speak the truth of our realities, point out or describe our oppression and the ways the people around us are complicit in our pain, only to be attacked, shouted at, silenced, told we are being too assertive or too powerful. Sometime we can be out-and-out ignored, shunned, pathologized, physically/emotionally maimed or killed.
What are the feelings attached to recognizing the ways we can oppress?
Most writings on oppression tend to concentrate on the emotional well-being of the colonizer or the oppressor falsely setting up a dichotomous situation where one is simply either oppressed or oppressor. This or that. Many writings by revolutionaries, feminists and other advocates of change have not examined the difference between personal power/grounding power and unearned power/power over. Not a lot of work has been done mapping out grey areas, the in-between spaces where those who exist as the dominated, can in other ways, exist as those who dominate.
Take for example, my experience with a Black person who was also male, straight, heterosexual, conservative, middle-class and as far as I could tell from simply observing, fairly erotophobic, meaning possessing no analysis around sexual oppression in his society or community.
I remember wielding my personal power, my power to speak and to resist by attempting to question him around his sexual conservatism and his very obvious classism.
His reaction? Enraged, he jumped up, yelled at me something about taking offense to my questioning and stormed out. I observed the ways he utilized the unearned power and privilege he claimed to not possess in a heavy handed attempt to stop me from questioning him.
Knowing that there would be no accountability for his attempt to silence me as he continued to masquerade as one of the revolutionary leaders of a certain set of young, Black, artistic yet still extremely conservative, classist, homophobic people, I decided to open my mouth and speak...often. I spoke, not to humiliate him as he still tries to insinuate, but to give my experience voice and to keep myself from creating and struggling in isolation.
I trust my perceptions and my ability to speak out about Black community and spoken word spaces as venues often supporting an empty, a-political, hypocritical, homophobic, heterocentric, sex negative conservative bottom line. This is work I do on my own as a queer woman who many conservative Black gays and lesbians refuse to ally themselves with because of my insistence on verbalizing, never hiding our lust for sexing against the grain. I understand that this sexual deviance marks me as different from them because I am not about trying to fit a Black, conservative, oppressive norm. Even with a straight man on my arm, I’m not about trying to be acceptable or assimilating.
Whether the other Black, Caribbean people I’m acquainted with, yet not presently allied with ever find the courage to question our African descended brethren and sistren is neither here nor there. Whether they ever find it in themselves do more than silently roll their eyes when confronted with the evidence of their own oppression is not my issue.
What I need to point out is that the sort of critique I level at other people is no different than the sort of work I expect of myself. How far can I stretch?
Case in point:
A few years ago I offered a class once a month to fourteen people of different sexualities, class backgrounds, gender identifications, experiences of racial oppression, age, mobility. On the first day of the course I walked down the hall toward the meeting room where my students were waiting. On my way, I passed the accessible washroom that had a sign saying out of order. I continued down the hall, opened the door and began teaching.
About half way through the class we took a break. Everyone went for the washrooms in the basement which were only fully accessible to people able to navigate the stairs. One of the wimmin in the class actually needed to use the accessible washroom. There was no option of running down a few stairs for this white disabled dyke woman. No avoiding or ignoring that sign. In order for her to have access to the washroom, she was forced to control any understandable anger or impatience she may have felt and come talk to me about her basic bodily functions in a very matter-of-fact manner.
I registered what this woman said and chose to hear. But I understand that my privilege as able-bodied allowed me the right and the option of blanking her or fluffing her off. I think what stopped me cold went beyond my belief in right or wrong, beyond the fact that I was actually teaching a course on anti-oppression. I think I had no choice but to look at the fact that I had made a split second, yet very conscious choice to put the significance of that out of order sign out of my mind because I could. Because it did not affect me.
At a really core level, beyond my privileged existence, a small, clear voice told me that this was evidence of oppression. That the very existence of this washroom was an indication that ableism existed, that people needing barrier free services could not just pee where ever they wanted. Because their needs are not considered ‘normal’. Because their needs are considered ‘special’, as in above and beyond what most people supposedly need or want or expect.
I immediately got up and went to question the staff of the building about why the washroom had not been fixed. But I was already behind. I had already seen the sign on the door of the bathroom and chose not to address it before I was forced to. Instead of receding into the wasteland of denial or treating this woman as if she was lucky to have me looking out for her, I internally claimed my complicity in her discomfort. I did not project my embarrassment and shame onto the staff by giving them attitude thereby diverting attention from my privileged (lack of) reaction. I claimed my irrational sense of embarrassment later on with my lover and friends.
But because I had not set myself up as the supreme purveyor of knowledge in the context of my class, I could allow myself errors and bits of self-realization without feeling affronted or getting angry with this woman when her words confronted me about my own privilege as able-bodied. I apologized to her for inviting her to a class in a building that was not accessible to her. I spent the next few weeks thinking about what it meant to have to go to another person and talk about your bodily functions just so you can use the washroom.
I spoke to other able-bodied people about our privilege and about the feelings of discomfort, shame, confusion and the impulse to hide that I was dealing with as one of the colonized confronted with my own privilege and ability to oppress. I struggled with not seeing a hidden experience of the world and my body I knew was there. I was mortified to discover how difficult it was to come into knowledge of this aspect of my social positioning when I had spent so much of my politicized adulthood feeling frustrated with the blank stares and uncomfortable shrugs of people equally unable to come into contact with their own oppressive selves.
I persevered, surfing the net, re-reading works about white domination, homophobia, patriarchy and power. I layered these words on top of texts and websites created by some really hardcore disability activists. I situated my (ambulatory, seeing, hearing, relatively healthy) self in relation to the oppression of people living with disabilities. My tongue and mind tried new language I could use to describe my realities. I worked of my own volition to pull the blinkers off my eyes. I scratched my own surface. I began to explore what it meant to have privilege as able-bodied in a world filled with barriers and stigma. I wrote and thought and wrote and thought some more.
On the day of the next class, I prepared myself to share the work I had been doing and to out myself as someone just beginning to deal with their own privileged body. I waited until break and approached the woman who had brought the bathroom to my attention. I prefaced by saying that I was not going to expect her to teach me or explain to me or take care of my upset. I told her that I thought that my ignoring the out of order sign on the accessible bathroom was evidence of my privileged ambulatory status.
She said she hadn’t thought much of it but it was probably because she gets flack all the time for speaking up, speaking out about the rights of disabled people. I said that I could hear that because I always get flack for talking about political issues no one else wants to deal with. I told her that I was not going to make her responsible for bringing up issues of ableism in the context of this class because ableism is the issue of people who benefit from it systemically, people like me. I was going to do my own work and encourage the other students to do theirs, too. But I said that if she chose to speak, I would support her all the way. Our lives went on...
I recount this story not to make myself seem more evolved than the Black, classist, heterocentric man I described earlier or like supreme political goddess. I share this story so I can expose the underpinnings of my own privilege and trace my self-critique and process of change as I undergo the process of peeling back layers of denial and assumption.
As an able-bodied woman, who is an immigrant living on First Nations land, as well as being university educated, English speaking (language of my colonizers), working class, Black, queer, sexually radical, able to rent an apartment, old(er) than some, young(er) than others, westernized, urbanized and very, very outspoken, I experience attempted domination as well as privilege with my every breath. This is unavoidable in a world built on power and control. Through my work, an art that is most often considered unmarketable and definitely unpalatable in most social circles founded on domination I try to encourage people to deal with what it means to live privileged and oppressed existences simultaneously.
I believe that the source of some people’s inability to critique their own power and privilege in any meaningful way is grounded in emotion. Most people initially receive critiques of their own acts of domination by going into a state of psychic/emotional/visceral refusal of the information being offered to them. They go into denial.
This makes a lot of sense. Who wants to think about things that make us uncomfortable? The going mythology about different forms of oppression says that people who oppress are warty, ugly, evil, rude, mean, unintelligent, unevolved and uncontrollably enraged. Our self image, our continued self-esteem is hinged on believing we are nice, civilized, beautiful, loving, courteous, insightful, evolved, sane people who don’t willingly oppress.
In order to continue seeing ourselves as worthy, wonderful people, we get angry and enraged when someone points out something about our politics they believe we should be questioning. We immediately seek to put some distance between ourselves and the stereotypical, narrow image of the racist, of the homophobe, of the classist person, of the name calling ableist person, of the male chauvinist, of the controlling colonizer.
We perceive the person questioning us as totally off base. We feel victimized and singled out as a horrible person like those skin heads or gay bashers or landlords who evict poor, single mothers and their children in the dead of winter.
People questioned about their oppressive ways often react with fear.
"What if someone finds out?"
"What if this is proven?"
"Will people still like me?"
"Will anyone want to work with me or be my friend?"
"I could loose my status in the community/clique."
"I could loose everything I’ve worked so hard to gain."
In a frenzy of defensiveness these people move into an attack formation in order to protect themselves.
"How dare this person question me when I’ve read this book or that?When I’ve attended this event or that? When I’ve been best friends with so-and-so for years? This is libelous, scandalous and ridiculous! This person is insulting me, attacking me. I am the victim here! They are targeting me. Trying to ruin me. They are being rude, evil and mean. I have every right to yell at them. To ignore them. To have them ostracized. They alienate people with their awful accusations. They don’t deserve to draw breath. They must be excluded!"
And so, the oppressor remains in a place of power and privilege by redefining themselves as the oppressed party. The person with white skin privilege or hetero privilege or class privilege or male privilege or bio gender privilege or thin privilege or able-bodied privilege etc... utilizes their unearned status as dominant and normal to silence, attack and isolate the person who has named the oppression. The person with privilege maintains their dominance by clinging to their denial because they are unwilling or unable to imagine any alternatives to their present state of being.
This is a hard place to be both for the people who name their experience of oppression but also for the people who are forced to grapple with the implications of being confronted with the evidence that they have privilege. Many people who don’t want to recognize their privilege get stuck here, mired in ego, arrogance and feelings of possible future humiliation should they admit to some perceived wrong doing.
When questioned about their preferred status, they deflect awareness by confidently stating that they are not homophobic, not racist, not classist, not conservative, not ableist, not fat phobic, not oppressive in any way. To these people, the surface, the very act of SEEMING a particular way becomes more important than the political act of claiming who they really are. Most people understand this sort of denial in relation to people of colour who are colonized and identify with whiteness or queers who try to pass as heterosexual because they don’t see anything good about who they are. But in reality, this sort of pretense is very common among men, the middle/upper classes, people uncomfortable with their desires, people living in urban centers or in the white, West where a person’s appearance, the persona they project is given much greater credence than who they actually are underneath.
Some people become so angry about anyone daring to question their values and realities and fearful of the power of any person able to resist systemic domination as they speak the truth against all odds, that they ally themselves with people who are colonized and may be not be dealing with their own internalized oppression. They batten down the hatches and prepare for a fight.
These angry, fearful people’s identities and sense of control are hinged on things staying the way they are. In order to avoid doing the work of recognizing who they are and what their values are, they use the presence of oppressed and/or (un)conscious people in their lives to hopefully provide a smoke screen that will exempt them from raising their own awareness.
"Don’t you know?"
"I have friends who are lesbians."
"I used to live with a gay man."
"I used to go out with a Korean woman."
"My cousin is mixed race."
"My best friend is disabled."
"My mother is a feminist."
"I used to go to a school where most of the kids were poor."
"I went on a retreat where I was the only man, so I know what it means to be a minority."
"I only like to hang out with people who are ‘different’."
The message? They are obviously so ‘tolerant’, ‘open’ and ‘liberal’ enough to hang out with all kinds of people that they couldn’t possibly be perpetuating systems of domination and control.
Sadly, they substitute associating with the oppressed for doing their own consciousness raising work. In effect they reduce the oppressed people they know to the status of tools, inanimate objects utilized to maintain dominant power structures. By using the oppressed and/or (un)conscious people in their lives as a political shield, people living in a state of denial actually provide proof of their own power without even meaning to.
When critiqued about their oppressive ways some people may project their emotions onto the people who have taken the huge risk of speaking. Maintaining a calm exterior that in actuality hides their upset and confusion, they describe the oppressed person as angry, overly assertive, violent or dangerous. These derogatory descriptions may actually more closely fit themselves and their feelings about the work they have been challenged to do. But because they have allowed themselves no outlet for their feelings, they are forced to go so far as to give their feelings away thereby disassociating from their own reactions.
For other people, recognizing privilege comes fairly easily. But even then, their work can be impeded by feelings of guilt. Some people use not wanting to feel guilty as a reason to avoid doing their consciousness raising work. They point out that they haven’t hurt anyone. It was their ancestors, the International Monetary Fund, that serial rapist in the suburbs, the first settlers, those gay bashers, the president of the united states, other able-bodied people, etc....who killed/oppressed those people.
Why should they have to feel guilty for something someone else did? Why should they get all down in the dumps and miserable because some people just haven’t been able to find success and happiness? Who wants to spend all their time feeling sad? They sure as hell don’t.
And so, armed with the mistaken belief that happiness and stability are easily accessible to anyone who tries real hard and with the belief that consciousness of privilege equals feeling guilty and not being able to live without shame, they refuse to question their hetero privilege, their class privilege, their white privilege, their sexual privilege, their conservative privilege, their cute girl/boy privilege, their thin privilege, their able-bodied privilege, etc.....
But really, who’s asking them to feel guilty about anything? Guilt is an emotion that effectively blocks consciousness raising. Recognizing oppression and questioning privilege is about being unencumbered and the growth of awareness. Guilt is usually accompanied by an impulse to hide. Consciousness is about exposing what lies beneath.
Many oppressed people describe being forced to deal with the guilt of their oppressors as another form of domination. Guilt can come in the form of the person who gets teary eyed and obviously disturbed when people experiencing oppression talk about privilege and isms. The message? Stop talking about this upsetting stuff and take care of me and my needs. Focus on me because you don’t have the right to demand attention and energy from others.
Guilt can take the form of people going out of their way to smile and talk to oppressed people while they make no changes to the fabric of their everyday lives. Guilt can come from people who feel they must atone for the supposed sins of their peers/ancestors. It can come in the form of someone feeling so apathetic about the amount of work they have ahead of them that they despair and stop struggling to make change.
Whatever the manifestation, guilt is counter productive and transfixes the person reckoning with their privilege so that they are never fully able to deal with their own unearned power. Therefore, they are rendered powerless to change their situation. They cannot be an effective ally to people demanding change. They manifest as masochistically stuck in the pain of their own awareness.
The work of making internal change as we recognize and shift our value systems is revolutionary and exhilarating. But it is also terrifying and daunting because, if we do it well, we will have to let go of the familiar, the values that our lives are based on, the little bits and pieces that we believe make our lives happy places. We may at first have to teach ourselves to recognize the different feelings that come up for us when we are put in a position of having to look at our oppressive ways.
How do you FEEL?
Having feelings in this society is often received as a weakness. You can’t control yourself. You don’t have the stuff success is made of. You can’t be counted on to not go to pieces in a crisis. Showing feelings only makes people who are out for your blood feel like they’ve hurt you.
In reality, the opposite is true. If you understand that part of being alive is having emotions, then to feel fully is as important as breathing. Feeling then becomes about resisting a living death. And if you can live and breathe and feel, expressing your feelings in this world, in this society when claiming your emotions is considered insane, threatening and out of control, you are courageous and powerful. Finding healthy ways to express emotion instead of denying them makes you an asset not a liability. It’s the people who often stifle or habitually segment their emotions who should be feared. Emotions that are stuffed down are emotions under pressure and emotions under pressure have this awful way of exploding in crisis situations or when people least expect it.
Claiming the feelings you have around your privilege should not be perceived as a problem. Although what you choose to do with those feelings can be a problematic source of more oppression for some people. Excavating your feelings should be done with someone who is being paid to do anti-oppression work so that there is compensation for the time and effort it takes to deal with oppression. It may also be possible to do this work with a therapist or a counselor. You may want to start a support group or another safe space for people dealing with the ramifications of their own oppressive tendencies. By all means, be creative. However, what you should not be doing is dumping your anger, your disbelief, you sadness, your guilt, your fear, your worries about being found out or humiliated on any of the oppressed people you may have already been attempting to dominate.
Become powerfully aware of your feelings. Big changes are not far behind. Acknowledge your automatic reactions as you trace their roots in your present day, in your family culture. Link your reactions to your personal past as well as to your collective history and her/stories. This is good work to do with other people identifying their own privileges. Communicate with each other, share with each other, come out of the closets of denial with each other.
Make a commitment to not do ‘wrong and strong’. This means: do not cling to your beliefs or ways of doing things stubbornly even after you’ve realized it’s time for a change. Take a deep breath when you are questioned about your privilege. Open yourself to what has been said. Do not focus on the choice of words, the tone or the decibel the words.
One of the ways people have been oppressed is by those with power over them defining the words and tones and strength of their words as not acceptable.
"You are rude."
"You are loud."
"You are arrogant."
"You are uppity."
"You are being domineering."
"You are being judgemental."
"How dare you speak to one of your betters in that tone?"
"You're new here and obviously don’t know your place."
"I will not listen to you."
If you're actually interested in making change and contributing to an environment where oppression cannot flourish, do not interrupt someone who has chosen to give you information about the oppression in their lives, the oppression you may have a conscious or unconscious part in with body language, non-verbal sounds or attestations indicating how insulted or angered you are. This is a smoke screen tactic used to defend against a person’s words. This is a deflection.
When a person with privilege who is being questioned about their racism, their homophobia, their erotophobia, their classism, their ableism, their lookism, their misogyny, their conservatism, there fat phobia manifests as wounded or shocked or jumps up yelling while someone is identifying their own experience of oppression, this shifts the focus from the person doing the communicating back to the person who is wielding the power. The discussion, the exploration, the possibility for revolutionary change has been curtailed. Power is once more firmly in the possession of the person who has been benefiting from it.
Another tactic I observe inside communities of resistance is when the person being challenged to examine their own privilege explains in a round about way that they, too are of the same oppressed group as the person speaking to them. “Well, I may have grown up in that expensive neighbourhood in the burbs, but we didn’t eat fancy foods and I couldn’t always get the newest clothes.” Or: “I spent the first five years in my grandmother’s house and she was very poor, but my parents, who I spent the rest of my life with, are...unh, doctors.” Or: “I have to work for a living. Doesn’t that make me working class?” Or: Well I never really thought of myself as disabled, but I wear glasses. Does that count?” Or, the ever popular: “Since I’m the darkest (read: olive skinned) one in my mostly blond family, I’m actually suspecting that I may be one sixteenth Ojibwa on my father’s side.”
Please, when someone speaks to you about your privileged reality, do not try to disguise your reality by assimilating their experience of oppression. Slipping on a blouse you bought second hand or shopping for food in an economically challenged neighbourhood will not make you less you. Saying you’re broke when you know you maxed out your credit buying RRSPs or GICs is not comparable to your friend who has no money to pay her rent or her bills because she spent what she had paying her rent and her bills last month. The reality is, If you’re waiting until someone else speaks out to claim some previously unimportant smattering of oppression in your own life, you may want to just take a moment to ask yourself why?
All this to say, when someone takes the time to speak to you about oppression, by all means thank them for being courageous enough to let you know. But more importantly, be thankful that they even bothered to bring up something that has probably been taken right out of your consciousness.
In other words, you’ve been ignorant about some parts of your own identity. Your friends/family/ lovers may have recognized this but never offered you the opportunity to change. This person critiquing your belief systems is offering a gift of words, thought and energy. They are complementing you with the implication that you are smart enough to know and do better. It’s up to you whether you accept that gift in the spirit it is offered.
If the person challenging you does not offer anything more than the observation that you are wielding some kind of systemically based power over, then this is a golden opportunity for you to do some powerful work on your own behalf or with someone who freely consents to work with you
If a person decides to not explain how you are oppressing them in great educational detail, this is not a situation where you utilize your power and privilege by forcing them to do your consciousness raising work for you while you listen (passively), question them (obnoxiously or unbelievingly) and benefit from the energies of a person already drained by oppression.You have the opportunity and the choice to be productive and to do powerfully revolutionary work. This work can free all of us from the strictures of shame and political inactivity as it allows us to each become more aware of our identities, our oppression and our privilege. We each have the choice to entrench ourselves in our oppressive ways if we so choose, but I’m counting on our innate sense of what’s right and good. I’m counting on us to do the right thing and break the system down.