Radical liberal movements getting defensive about people of color’s specific concerns? It’s more common than you think. On the more recent end, it happened with Occupy Wall Street, and it happened with Slutwalk. And here we are. It is happening again, right before our eyes, with Bernie Sanders.
I remember how it went down before, with Occupy Wall Street. People supporting it to the point where they wouldn’t hear of any problems with the movement. People who didn’t care to hear native people on the problematic nature of the very name. People who accused the women sharing their accounts of sexual assault during various iterations of Occupy of trying to discredit the cause as a whole. To them, if Occupy Wall Street is anti-classist, then it falls under the banner of “liberal” and could not possibly have fallen short of liberal ideals by definition. Why not go after the real problem, they asked, which is snooty 1% Republicans?
I remember how it went down before, with Slutwalk. People supporting it to the point where they wouldn’t hear of any problems with the movement. People who didn’t care to hear women of color in their long-repeated and loud cries against self-proclaimed slut-herder Hugo Schwyzer. People who accused any critics, even internal ones, of being “sex-negative” for not wholeheartedly and unequivocally supporting Slutwalk. To them, if Slutwalk is sex-positive, then it falls under the banner of “liberal” and could not possibly have fallen short of liberal ideals by definition. Why not go after the real problem, they asked, which is right-wing war-against-women-waging Republicans?
And here we find ourselves, in 2015, with Bernie Sanders’s candidacy. People supporting him to the point where they won’t hear of any problems with anything to do with him. People who answered “What about racial justice?” with “He marched with Dr. King”, as if participation in a political action from over fifty years ago automatically means not only anything in particular, but everything.
People who painstakingly dredged up and made viral the fact that the black woman hired by the Sanders campaign used to be a Republican, as if all of us were perfectly politically calibrated by our late teens. Does the irony of using something someone believed as a teenager as a shield to defend the lack of racial platform on the part of a grown man with a robust political career strike them even a little?
People who nitpicked every detail of the accounts being shared and the criticisms being made, missing the forest for the trees. As if the grander-scale point being made about the lack of attention (and actual denialism) endemic among anti-classist activists regarding issues that are indeed specific to race were rendered invalid because the reported timeline was off. As if nitty-gritty fact-checking were more important than the fact that the actions taken over the past few weeks clearly had some kind of net positive effect.
People who insisted on asking “Why aren’t they targeting Hillary or the even-worse Republicans for their silencing attacks?” As if protest (yes, even to the point of shutdown) were anything akin to cutting out someone’s tongue rather an esteemed American institution.
Especially if the protestors people of color you don't think are being respectable enough. Then they're thugs to you.
— Heina Dadabhoy (@heinousdealings) August 9, 2015
As if protest is limited to only the worst of the worst, and we are not allowed to speak up and out where it would be most effective. As if it’s a problem that we focus on speaking up and out with people open to our ideas rather than completely unwilling to hear us, rather than good strategy for progress. As if Dear Muslima were a well-reasoned argument instead of an informal fallacy. As if Republicans consider changing your perspective based on new-to-you data to be anything but suspicious slipperiness. As if the actions taken were ineffective.
“Liberal” is not a get-out-of-everything-free card. If anything, it should mean you are, by definition, more open to changing your standpoints in light of new information, engaging in the so-called “flip-flopping” so reviled by conservatives.
“Ally” is a call to action, not an enlightened state of being where everything you do is perfect and no one is allowed to say anything to you about anything you do. If anything, it should mean you are, by definition, more open to changing your stances in light of call-ins and call-outs from the people whom you claim to support.
And to those white allies I have witnessed discussing this issue this past weekend, to those of you who helped do the exhausting work of educating people and those of you who desperately needed that work done and those in between, to all of you: I don’t always say everything that I’m thinking and feeling, or even anything at all, but know that I see you.