Content note: anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican sentiments, child abuse
Today I read this article and felt I needed to address a few things.
I do agree with the author that some folks do become pretentious about their activism. These “allies” seem to only be in it for brownie points.
But I disagree with their assessment of marginalized people they’ve worked with. The author claims:
one of the first things you learn is that they usually do not frame their worldviews in terms of academic theories you learned in gender studies classes in University. For the most part, they tend to not analyze their experiences in terms of systemic power and privilege, concepts such as “the patriarchy”, “white privilege”, or “heteronormativity”.
I’m aware that not all people are cognizant of how these forces affect their lives. However, I’ve been homeless, I’m a victim of abuse and I’m mentally ill. I absolutely think of my oppression in those terms. My social circle, which compromises of people dealing with several forms of oppression, also know their situations are due to patriarchy, power imbalances and such other concepts. We absolutely DO bother with policing our language. Marginalized people are capable of perpetuating bigotry. We absolutely do educate ourselves “on the intricacies of capitalism.” We do “sit around pondering the effects of “problematic behaviours” in radical communities.” We are concerned with checking our privilege. For one example, I have light skin privilege. While I do experience racism, my light skin is seen as non-threatening. I can easily find make up for my skin tone.
Yes, I am extremely busy trying to survive and get my family’s needs met. But I know the reason I have such a battle ahead of me with these things is because of systemic inequality.
Speaking of Fascism, there is also a disturbing trend on the left nowadays that involves rejecting free speech/freedom of expression as a core value, because that speech could possibly be hurtful to someone, somewhere.
Because we’d like oppressors not to have a platform to speak their bigotry is NOT an example of rejecting free speech. One recent example is Richard Dawkins being disinvited to speak at the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. His right to have bigoted beliefs isn’t being taken away. The government isn’t taking away his Twitter account. So, his free speech isn’t being violated. He has a right to his opinions. I have a right not to listen to them.
Freedom of expression and the like does not mean we have to agree with what another person says…in fact, it means that when we do not, we certainly have the right to challenge it. But what myself and many others are seeing is the shutting off of dialogue entirely, for the purpose of “safety”. What could possibly be safe about censorship? What could possibly be safe about a group of people who claim to be freedom fighters dictating who can speak and what can be said, based on whether or not we agree with them? Study any kind of world history and you will find that censorship has never been on the right side of it.
I agree we don’t have to agree with what another person says. However, I do not want to engage with a bigot. And yes, that is entirely for the purpose of safety. My not wanting to speak to a bigot is not censorship. Again, see above for my explanation on free speech.
Now, the ending paragraphs of this article deal with trigger warnings and safe spaces. The author asks that we “stop with the trigger warnings and get serious about changing the world”. I am completely serious about changing the world, and one way to do that is to make it safe and accessible. Asking, for example, that a class syllabus have trigger warnings makes it possible for someone with PTSD to plan around their study time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. If a college class is then made inaccessible to someone with a mental illness, how is that not violating that person’s right to an education?
We are fully aware the world isn’t always going to be “fun and pleasant”. I mean, we have PTSD so, yeah we are more than aware. I am always scared but I continue with my activism because, pardon the cliché, I need to be the change I want to see in the world.
Author, you seem to think marginalized folks aren’t activists. Your article comes off as ableist because you’re asking for people not to ask for and use an accessibility tool I.e, trigger warnings.
Your tone comes off as condescending because you’re assuming marginalized folks don’t think about their situations as part of systemic oppression. Which is also classist because you talk about “university educated activists” as if marginalized people don’t also attend university. Or that university is the only way to become enlightened of these issues.
I’ve started therapy at a new clinic. My therapist is a WOC who identifies as a feminist so she gets points for that. We’ve talked about growing as girl children in machista families. She understands where I’m coming from with certain things.
However, every time I mention the word ugly she stops to ask if I really think I’m ugly.
No, I don’t. By conventional standards, I am ugly and not very feminine looking. I’m fat, I have stretch marks and cellulite. I have jiggly and flabby skin. I have scars from self injury. I’m tall. I have short hair dyed an unnatural color. I have piercings and I’m hairy.
But I really don’t give a fuck if I’m ugly or not. Not anymore.
When I was little all I heard from my family was how fat and ugly I was. So, as I got older and the other girls were trying on make up and exploring their femininity I decided that those things were vain and frivolous. They were weak and I wouldn’t be.
I had internalized the misogyny hurled at me all my life. I would be one of the guys, not like those other silly girls. I shunned anything that could be called feminine while simultaneously adhered to other rigid gender norms like shaving. And why did I shave? Because hairy women are “ugly”. Men don’t like hairy women. So while I shunned certain aspects of femininity to protect myself I also chose to follow some to also protect myself. I was a mess. A chill girl mess.
As I’ve matured into my feminism, I’ve learned that femininity isn’t weakness. Once I learned to let go of that internalized misogyny, I realized femininity is powerful. I wear make up and dresses now because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel pretty. Not pretty for other people. Pretty for me. I don’t shave because it’s too much hassle and I was only doing it for other people.
I’m going to have to explain that being ugly isn’t the worst thing. I’ll have to explain what I mean when I use the word ugly. I’ll have to spend part of my therapy session explaining 101 feminism/social justice stuff. And that’s exhausting. My thinking I’m “ugly” isn’t more important than treating my PTSD.
On a typical summer day, you’ll find me wearing a pretty dress, make up on my face all while my pits and legs are hairy. I’m not beautiful by conventional standards and that’s OK. I never will fit into the white ideal and I don’t want to. I’m beautiful for me.
TW: For Racism
During the Ferguson protests, during the Baltimore uprisings, during countless demonstrations that took place because black children, black men, and black women, are being murdered, there were countless and endless condemnations by white people of the protestors as being too violent, too angry.
Last night, white people came to a Black Lives Matter demonstration for no other purpose then to commit violence. Their purpose wasn’t to raise awareness, to express anger and hurt over government sanctioned murders. No. They were there to kill people who had the nerve to protest being murdered. They were there because they don’t see PoC as being human beings, as being people. They shot five people.
When the police responded, their response included macing protestors after they had just been shot at.
If you have any interest in the news, you have heard about the attack that took place by a stadium in Paris. The attacks on Paris were not the only ones that took place. In addition to Paris, Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) has also claimed responsibility for attacks in Beirut and Baghdad which took place just hours before the ones in Paris.
In light of the attacks, there has been an international backlash against Syrian refugees. The backlash has included attacks on refugee camps, attacks on Mosques in Canada, the US, attacks of Muslim people all over the world. It has also resulted in the US attempting to close its doors to desperate people fleeing from Syria. Politicians are announcing that they are barring their specific corners to refugees in flagrant violations of their own laws, and still others are suggesting measures reminiscent of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany before the start of the war.
Why? Because they’ve decided that Syrian refugees pose a safety risk.
Some people have decided that the torrent of refugees is the perfect disguise for any terrorists looking for admittance to the US or any other place where refugees fleeing. This, of course, ignores the realities of the refugee process, and the fact that none of the terrorists have even been found to be Syrian nationals.
The racist and islamophobic rhetoric and actions of the last few days, always seem to be accompanied by apologists asking: “Don’t You Fear Terrorism?”
The question is meant to suddenly make these bigoted measures seem appropriate, because, it’s not racist you see, its self-defense.
But see, here’s the thing. I do fear terrorism.
I fear the terrorists who send threats to people who fight for social justice.
I fear the terrorists who put people’s lives in danger by doxing them.
I fear the terrorist who decides to shoot me or my friends because he’s decided that feminists are to blame for anything that has gone wrong in his life.
I fear the terrorist who walks into a school with a gun because a woman told him no.
I fear the terrorist with a badge who kills people based on the colour of their skin.
I fear the terrorists who see nothing wrong with brutalizing their children because of a disability, or because they are trans, or gay.
I fear the terrorists threatening and murdering people of colour for daring to exist: in churches, universities, in parks playing as children, walking home from the store.
I fear the terrorists who blow up clinics because they disapprove of a woman’s right to choose.
I fear the terrorists in government who use fear to slowly strip us of our rights.
What I don’t fear are children and terrified people fleeing their homes and everything they’ve known, who have watched their homes destroyed, and seen their friends and family killed.
The refugees are not terrorists. The terrorists we are so afraid of grew up right here.
TW: anti-Black sentiments, racism, colorism, anti-immigrant sentiments, suicide, brief mention of Freddie Gray
My daughter TJ and I are Hispanic. We’re light-skinned and have curly hair. TJ’s hair curls into ringlets. My curls are a bit messier. Many times we’ve been told that while it’s a shame our hair isn’t straight, we’re lucky it isn’t “bad hair”.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I always heard people talk about “morenos” in a negative light. When I moved to NYC several cousins warned me to be wary of Black men. My totally not White grandfather used the “n” word against African-American people. He used it against Afro-Latinos. His mother was not light-skinned and she had what he called “kinky hair” but she was loved in our family. He and his mother were brown but they weren’t THAT dark so they were OK.
When I was in elementary school in PR I was made fun of because of my nose. I had a mess of curls and a big nose. To my classmates I was “negra”, clearly from the Dominican Republic. I obviously must have sneaked into the country and lied about being Puerto Rican. There was another classmate who was dark skinned. He was so bullied he contemplated suicide. We were in fourth grade.
When I took my daughter to PR to meet my family, I heard a lot of back-handed compliments about her “white” skin and light-almost-blonde hair. Such a ‘shame it’s so curly’, but thankfully she’s “tan blanquita y linda” (so white and pretty). They were shocked to learn that her father is half-Dominican. “Como puede ser si es tan blanquita y rubiona” (how can that be when she’s so white and sort of blonde”?
I thought perhaps naïvely that I wouldn’t have to talk to my five-year-old daughter about racism just yet. In a previous post I wrote about having to explain to my daughter about oppression and some of the types she faces. We had to have that conversation again when her teacher’s White “cop friend” paid a visit to her class. Having the cop visit wasn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was that he handcuffed the kids. Her class was made up of primarily children of color. This was not long after Freddie Gray’s murder in Baltimore. It just seemed like this cop was normalizing this to these kids. I was upset and TJ asked why. “But we are peach, mama.”, TJ said after I explained systemic and institutionalized racism in the most age-appropriate way I could think of. “Yes, but we’re technically Brown too”, I said not sure if any of this stuck.
Once again, these will be ongoing conversations which will be expanded as she gets older and better able to understand. She’s only five yet she’s already had to learn about sexism, racism, misogyny, and classism. She’s already experienced them and will continue experiencing them.
I feel so powerless. All I can do is continue talking to her and make sure I arm her as best I can with the knowledge and self-esteem to know she isn’t limited by her gender, race or social status. All I can do is hope that as she gets older that previous sentence becomes true.
I’m actually sort of upset that internet hate groups have managed to co-opt the matrix red pill analogy. It is actually a really good metaphor for social justice and the way that becoming aware of privilege and systemic injustice works.
It really is like suddenly opening your eyes and realizing that everything you thought you were seeing you were actually seeing incorrectly your whole life. It’s incredible. Where the analogy fails is by painting it as a single pill.
The truth is that becoming aware of social justice issues is really like swallowing a whole bunch of different red pills, each one exposing you to yet another level of interconnected systems of oppression. This is why we get some atheist activists, and other social justice activists, falling into this same trap over and over again of thinking that they couldn’t possibly be sexist, racist, transphobic, classist, etc. because they “already swallowed the red pill” so now they could see the whole truth.
There is also this idea that swallowing one red pill makes every additional one easier to see, but that’s not true. Sometimes you can swallow multiple red pills at ones at once. But the truth is that each one is painful to take. Each one produces its own side-effects, its own difficulties. Swallowing the red pill is never easy.
It’s not just one easily exposed system that once you see a part of, you essentially get an idea of the whole. It is more like a self-replicating computer virus that infects different system files. You can cut one out, but unless you get them all, it will just rebuild again.To really solve the problem, you have to root out every single individual corrupted system file. Otherwise, the program rebuilds itself, just using a different pathway, but ultimately yielding the same result.
Take the evolution of feminism throughout the years. Each wave of feminism exposed layers of patriarchal oppression, however, by failing to consider the interconnections of various issues and the level to which the system was self-replicating, rather than fixing the problem is shifted the scope of it. Such as when the response of women trying to prove that they were every bit as capable in “masculine” fields and tasks ended up reinforcing the gender binary. The focus was on showing that women can also do “masculine things” rather than on showing that the division of actions into an either or option was not based on an accurate social model of gender. The resulting surge in femmephobia reinforced a lot of harmful patriarchal concepts that are now that much more difficult to dismantle. It’s not that second-wave feminists went too far, it is that they didn’t go far enough. It failed to take into account how the system is also supported by race, by cis-centrism, by ableism. It failed to look at the matrix as a whole.
Imagine if the matrix actually existed as a series of levels. With every successive pill you see a little more of the matrix. But if you don’t realize there are more pills to take, you might be tempted to think you see the whole matrix. Agent Smith is counting on that, because as long as you believe you are outside the matrix, they can use the parts of the matrix you are still connected to to shift your perception of the world around you. As long as you are still within levels of the matrix however, you continue to power the system.
If we take the premise of the matrix movie that human beings are being turned into a potato battery, becoming aware of different spheres of oppression is like discovering that your potato battery is charging other batteries and working to shut off those batteries so that your battery doesn’t die. Those are the first red pills you usually take.
The hard pills to take are those that reveal that even while you are struggling to unplug the connections that are causing other batteries to drain your charge, you are recharging your own battery from other people as well. These are the pills that make us choke, that stick in our throats. These are the ones that make us want to fight and reject what we are seeing, because more than anything the matrix relies on our denial that we could be harming people even if we have no intention to.
You didn’t know. The plugs were in your back and you couldn’t see them because you were in the matrix level whatever. But intentionally or not, you have been draining other people’s batteries. Whether you knew or not, you may have been the connection that added just that extra little drain needed to completely empty someone’s battery.
So now you have to make a decision, which do you pull out first? The ones draining others or the ones draining you? Or do you try to pull them out at the same time? Do you leave others to try and pull out the ones draining them out themselves? Do you go back to pretending you never saw the ones in your back or deny that they’re there? Do you address some but not others? What makes you decide?
The choice you make is ultimately yours, but the one you make says something about you as a person.
My choice is striking a balance between pulling out both sides. I need to pull out my own because I can’t take out the system if my battery is completely dead. But I also need to work on pulling the ones that are charging me. Sometimes, when my battery is draining too fast, I need to take a break. I might need to focus on pulling out my own for a few moments, though I never forget about the ones in my back. Sometimes, I am being drained slow enough that I can forget about pulling out my own for some time in order to focus more on pulling out the ones that I benefit from. In fact, often when I am puling out my own, it is so that I have the surplus energy to spend more time pulling out the ones that charge me.
Everyone is interconnected into the system, but not everyone carries the same number of output and input energy. Some people only have maybe one or two output cabled, while being charged by several sources. Even when this happens, you might not be retaining a high charge, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are still draining others. The opposite extreme also exists with some people being almost completely output cables and none or almost no input cables.
The system is like a web and everyone is plugged into it.
It is essential that we all disconnect and break the system. When you have any system that depends on batteries basically sharing charge in a single continuous system, that leads to combustion. Just ask anyone who has had keys and batteries in their pocket, and ended up with burning pants because the two connecting created a single circuit.
The system is a path to destruction as long as it exists because either your battery gets completely drained or you combust. That’s ultimately why systems of oppression like patriarchy end up hurting even those they privilege.
It’s become a trope. A white man is involved in a shooting, and within moments people are rushing over themselves to call him mentally ill. Sometimes this happens even before there is a suspect on which to pin the label. There are several cartoons and memes out there depicting the trend, and comparing it to the coverage received by people of colour in similar circumstances.
Whenever people are called on it however, there is always someone rushing in to defend the idea claiming that no “sane” person would commit such a heinous act of violence. That that level of obsession, that level of hatred, could only be the result of there being something mentally wrong with a person.
I understand why we need to believe that. Growing up listening to tales of good and evil, the villain is always readily identifiable. Whether an underground network of evil super villains, the wicked witch, or even just the bully at school, there is always some way of telling who the bad people are. To borrow from Christian mythology: some mark of Cain identifying the evil inside. Continue reading “The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse”
The sex talk is not the hardest talk I’ve had so far with my kid. That conversation has been the easiest, actually. Everything was straight forward and easily explained.
Explaining poverty, racism and sexism along with other types of oppression is way tougher. How do you explain to your child who is five years old and falls on several axes of oppression about the oppression they will face? Oppression they are facing right now?
Recently, my kid and I were reading a book about different types of dwellings around the world. One picture showed favelas in Brazil. Another showed a house made of scrap in India. My daughter noticed these houses weren’t as nice as some of the other pictures; like the farm house in France. When I explained a bit about poverty, she asked why those people were poor.
If I start explaining poverty, I have to explain all different forms of oppression. She asked why we live in a shelter; that would lead into a conversation about domestic violence, rape and systemic oppression. This is just focusing on the USA. If I expanded the conversation to include Brazil or India, then we get into colonialism and how capitalism needs poverty in order to thrive.
Another time we were playing an online doll dress up game and I made my doll Black. She said the doll was ugly. I asked why she thought so. She couldn’t articulate why. This is why it’s so important for diversity in children’s toys and media. She’s already getting the message that Black equals ugly/bad.
I explained why what she said was hurtful. I told her, in age-appropriate terms, about racism and how racism kills. I reminded her of a conversation we had about a month before:
In her kindergarten class, she was taught about MLK Jr. I doubt they went into much detail, other than him “having a dream”. We were in a store once, and she saw a special edition magazine about the 60’s. She recognized his picture, so she flipped through the magazine and saw that picture of him lying dead in the balcony of that hotel. She asked what happened to him. I once again explained in age-appropriate terms. She seemed to get it and apologized.
At school, she’s dealing with a bully who used ableist and misogynistic slurs against her. I explained to her what those words meant. This kid is a few years older, he obviously has no idea what those words mean but he knows that they’re used to hurt women and disabled folks. He knows they have power.
The school seems to be laying the responsibility of not being bullied on my daughter. Which once again takes me back to the conversation of systemic oppression. She’s a girl, she’s a POC (person of color), she’s of low socio-economic status; the school most certainly won’t take her seriously.
This is all heartbreaking and defeating. She’s seen so much already and I cannot shield her forever. These are ongoing conversations, that will have to be added to as she gets older and better able to understand.
Even as the sex talk gets expanded it will never be as difficult as every other conversation will be. I was lied to. The sex talk is a breeze.
I want to say something about the whole situation in France.
1.No one deserves to be killed or be the victims of violence. This is true no matter who they are, or what they say.
2. What happened in France in terms of the killing was a tragedy. Many people died needlessly.
3. This does not mean that the Charlie Hebdo magazine wasn’t racist. It is important to discuss the differences between satire and just plain bigotry, between necessary criticism of bad ideas and using it as an opportunity to perpetuated stereotypical ideas based on biases.
4. I support the push for more open satire, parody, and criticism or religion, among other things, but with the caveat that if you do so in a way that punches down, your work creates harm rather than good. You can be critical of religion without being racist. You can draw Mohammad without being racist. You can create satire that is not harmful to oppressed peoples. If you can’t think of how, then you shouldn’t be doing it. A lack of creativity is no excuse for bigotry.
5. It is important to think critically about the attacks that generate this level of public attention and how they always focus on acts of aggression by stigmatized groups against privileged groups. The attacks of the majority groups on minority groups are largely ignored. Where is the outrage over the Muslim women in France having their hijabs forcefully pulled off, and being attacked. She was pregnant and lost her baby as a result of the attack. A Synagogue in France was attacked and also graffiti with Nazi symbols and anti-semitic messages. Neither of these attacks have been publicized nearly as much. There are no hashtags standing with these victims. What about the firebombing attack on the NAACP. This is not a Dear Muslima post. These attacks should be publicized and a public discussion of harmful ideologies generated, but not at the expense of always ignoring acts of violence, terrorism, and systemic racism, against minority populations. The critic that doesn’t take time to look in the mirror objectively is at best a hypocrite.
6. It is important to discuss how attacks like these don’t exist in a vaccuum. Yes they were wrong and there is no justification. That said, the result will most likely be a greater danger to the lives and safety of anyone who is, or more specifically, looks Muslim. Just like in the US the horrible 911 attacks were used to justify incredibly racist and unconstitutional laws: including detention without access to a lawyer or notification of charges, legalized and even encouraged racial profiling at airports and borders, etc.
7. When People of Colour and other oppressed minorities are telling you that something is racist. When they are telling you that racism exists, is rampant, and is perpetuated by certain things, it is important to listen. White people don’t get to decide what is racist and what isn’t, just like abled people don’t get to decide what is ableist, men don’t get to decide what is sexist, and cis folk don’t get to decide what is transantagonistic.
Last but NOT least. In fact I think this is the most important point.
8. The only successful way to combat attacks like this is not by increasing our culture of racism and prejudice but by fighting against it. By making this world, our world, one of acceptance and aid. By eliminating the excuses that are used to justify brutal acts of violence. By empowering the people within these minority groups so that the voices of the reasonable are not silenced, but can drown out the voices of the fundamentalist. Give a greater audience to brilliant writers like Heina, who have lived experience of what it means to be Muslim, an apostate, and a woman of colour in our Western Culture. Stop letting white men be the voices of what’s wrong with Islam, of what is an isn’t racism, or sexism, or transantagonism, cis-sexism, or ableism. Stop telling people in these communities how they should act and instead listen to what they have to say. Listen, and learn! and Do Better.
So no, Je ne suis pas Charlie, but my thoughts and condolences to the families of all those lost in the senseless violence.