Monday, June 11, 2007

Continuing the riff...

First, Nezua says,

ARE WE BACKING OURSELVES into a trap? With our surety and righteousness and protection?

If A has been oppressed/hurt/abused by B's type of people, and because of this we all agree that A owes B no explanation or education on why or how they experience life and need to be seen and treated because of this (yet A does want this awareness and sensitivity on the part of B), nor any sensitivity to B if B crosses a line that B is not aware of...what is left to happen? Have we created, thus, a dynamic that will mostly lead to exclusion and continued alienation and nonunderstanding?

Do we really want unity? Or just to be tight and safe in our posse? Either one is okay. But do we want one and say we want the other? Do we actually want unity but not know how to work to get there? Is our safety eventually protecting us from even reaching our goals?

Sure, I may be—in this agreed upon locus of duty and obligation that Internet Race Theory has taught me so far—in my "rights" to tell a white person, white man, white woman, to go figure it out. I could dive into my hurt, or even just my safety and know I am understood by my brown friends. In the times I have confronted white people displaying ignorance or even racist thought in my blog, you'll note I almost always begin with trying to do my best to make them understand. Or to understand them. [See "Speech Rules or Beliefs and Attitudes?," see "Right of Peaceful Assembly. Gone," see "Plant the Fear: Reap and Sow"]. I usually end up getting...a bit of a sad reaction from my brown friends, as if I am pulling a Coconut on them, an "Uncle Tom." I feel a pressure to ignore the white people's feelings entirely, their confusion shouldn't count, I ought to respond with anger or scorn. I feel wrong for trying to speak reasonably to them, to help them see what is going on. I am "pandering" to whiteness.

But if all of us in our respective areas—gay, disabled, women, brown, black—give up on caring in this way about other humans, even if the OTHER and their kind have not cared about us as they should have, how much progress can we make? If we really want unity, can we stand so strong and proud and righteous in our refusal to meet anyone halfway? ...

Trinity responds,

I don't have much to add to these wonderful words. I guess I will simply say that I think "we don't have a duty to educate" comes originally from a good place. Burnout is easy to get to and easy to get lost in.

But not having a duty to do it doesn't mean people never should. Sometimes when we have the guts to say it, to cut down on the snark and say "hey, you don't know much about this but have you ever considered...?" it actually works.

And I think a lot of us lose that in the fierce pride and fierce solidarity that anger initially provides. It's invigorating to give yourself over to feminist rage if you've too long hidden your anger. It's thrilling to be the "angry, ungrateful" crip who says "I was born this way. What the fuck made YOU so nosy?"

It feels good. But after a while if rage is your center, everyone in the "oppressor class" looks exactly the same, and every one looks beyond redemption.

...allies are not perfect.

people who try to be allies but backhandedly hurt you don't deserve free passes. but some people are trying. really trying.

which is why my mom going to pride was actually pretty awesome, even though she might not really get it.

some people really are trying for the kindness.

and I think in the end it'll be the kindness that makes all the shit come crashing down, eventually.

not the theory. the kindness.

not the rage that consciousness-raising initially stirs. that rage is a stage. a real one. an important one. and one that never truly leaves, not until people are really free.

the kindness.

the stupid humans trying to accept and love others, in their own bumbling ways.

And that, you know, is really fucking important. ..actually, looking at this I almost want to just leave it and not continue on with what I was going to say, because in a way it sort of detracts from this really simple, key point.


But I'm gonna soldier on with it, because I want to explore a little bit about -why- I think people burn out, go to that defensive place.

I said:

I think in a way it's actually safer to retreat to the burned-out, cynical position. It's understandable, it might even be a necessary retreat, isn't a good permanent resting place. then you start getting into I Blame The...territory. then you don't really accomplish anything.

I do however think it's okay to give up on particular -individuals- when they repeatedly demonstrate no indication of any breakthrough whatsoever. That's realpolitik, but it might also be something deeper.

Truth to tell, i think that it's partly that--the repeated efforts with a particularly obstinate person or group--that actually leads to burnout more often than not. People pour a lot of investment into person or small group x, -sure- that this is the key to bridging the gap, that -if i can only break through to these people-, well, the skies will open and hosannas will play, and...

Meanwhile glossing over all the -other- people wandering to the door and going, "hey, that really speaks to me, I never thought of it that way before," or "you really changed my mind on this," or "thank you for being there, your words make a world of difference to me"

...because, well that's nice, but that doesn't -count-. Not as much.

We're taking that for granted, you see.

Even more truth to tell, -sometimes,- i think that when -that- happens, there's...something else going on besides pure politics. Old shit getting worked out, maybe.

Which, and I think that's inevitable; but maybe it's worth getting conscious of that. Of let's call it old patterns and old beliefs, and whether or not they're what's actually happening right now, and--especially--what -we- have invested in holding onto those old beliefs.

The belief being something like,

"If I can get so and so to love/accept/understand me, then everything will change for the better. Until that happens, nothing will ever change."*

Because so and so is standing in for some -other- so and so, in whom we've unconsciously invested a lot more power than they probably deserve. Certainly that's true of the stand-ins. Honestly it might even be true for the original so and so's. Politics isn't really equipped to deal with that as such, though, I don't think. Which is unfortunate.

Yes, I know. But but such and so is REAL, it's REALLY HAPPENING, so and so DOES have power, it manifests in xyz concrete ways.

I'm really really trying to not discount the structural stuff we've all been talking about, or reduce this all to some sort of happy-crappy self-help thing. I know, there are issues with that sort of approach when it comes to politics. Really.


What if it were a yes-and rather than an instead-of? What if, yes, so and so has material and manifest power in xyz ways, in ways that have nothing to do with anything I've done or contributed to -that- original situation,


the -feelings- of hopelessness and despair and deep hurt that come up when so and so, or some representative of so and so, doesn't get it, might be also coming from something that isn't just about right now? And, more important, what if it could be dealt with in some other way? So that when we come back to the table and discuss realpolitik, we're recharged, have gotten the emotional/spiritual sustenance elsewhere, so that we can continue the work?

*and there is also this question:

Do we really want change.

And if so, 1) from what to what, specifically, and 2), why?

Because you know what, on the individual level and so I think even more so the collective level, change is scary.

Yeah, even change for the better. Yeah, even though we swear up and down consciously that of COURSE we want to change, this situation is miserable, anything's got to be better...

But, see, there's also this little inbuilt human fear of the unknown.

It's natural. It's instinctive. It's self-protective. And, it's one little fucker we're really gonna have to struggle with if that part of us which is conscious and rational really sees that change is necessary if we're going to continue to survive.

Old habits that no longer serve
. How do we identify them, and how do we transform them into something that -does?-

It's a challenge on the individual level as well as the global one; and it's probably never been more crucial.


Sabrina Star said...

Really good entry.

I'm thinking along similar lines today.

SallySunshine said...

Continuing is such a good title for this post. Or Triggering, or Remembering, or the Subconscious Solicits an Emotional Reaction.. would all work, no?

A little more self-awareness and ownership in the spirit of discovery on both sides of the fence would be beneficial.

I see what you're getting at.

KH said...

We all project more significance onto somebody or another than a coolly pragmatic appraisal would warrant. It’s a hazard of clinging to our situatedness, or reducing our situations to just one thing. And even when we do get it right, when it really is just about right now, there’s more than one way to be burned over & cynical. Intolerance of ambiguity lies beneath a lot of this.

Sassywho said...

i'm so happy for this making the rounds after the recent ugliness....

it warms my heart much more, there is time to shove a foot in someones ass and there is time to make someone an ally.... "this is going to hurt me much more than you".

i want people to understand... not for me but for them...

Roy said...

Great post!

I can totally understand why people don't want to feel obliged to teach someone who doesn't get it, but I have to admit that if people hadn't taken the time to explain things to me, I might not have gotten "it" either. I don't think anyone was obligated to teach me- but having people who were willing to explain to me what their lives were like, and how they saw the world seeing them? It helped a lot. Having people who could help me see the things I was doing wrong, and could give me direction and guidence? It helped a lot.

There are times when I'll see someone cluelessly fumbling through something, and I'll feel like that person really does want to know and understand, but before that person can figure it out, someone is getting snarky or angry or whatever, and the moment is lost.

So, yeah... Obligated? Probably not. Still... it's not a bad idea if you find the right person.

The vampires are definitely to be watched out for, as you point out. I admit to having a tendency to do that- to invest tons of my time and energy into one or two people who, I realize later, were never going to get it- who really weren't interested in anything but causing trouble.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Excellent words!

Renegade Evolution said...

Yeah, the 2 cents from rage central I miss it when I am all wired on pissed that good people are nice to me corner...

You know, I realize I go into almost every type of relationship with every person on the face of the planet expecting to get kicked in the teeth. It's happened enough to make me paranoid, and yes, it is safer and easier to expect that such things will happen.

And sometimes they do. But sometimes they don't. And when it doesn't happen, I am not only pleasantly surprised...I am freaked out. I am sitting there wondering "how the hell did that happen? History dictates that..."

It's a little strange, really.

But it's nice.

However, I've spent time trying to build bridges and you know, I am more than willing to treat other people human and respect them and their choices, but only if they can do the same damn thing...and I am just running into too many damn people who can't. And frankly, I am real sick of trying.

Mandos said...

Truth to tell, i think that it's partly that--the repeated efforts with a particularly obstinate person or group--that actually leads to burnout more often than not. People pour a lot of investment into person or small group x, -sure- that this is the key to bridging the gap, that -if i can only break through to these people-, well, the skies will open and hosannas will play, and...

See, I don't get burned out from this very easily. Must be a personality thing.

Alon Levy said...

Mandos, you're a masochist when it comes to dealing with radicals.

Rebecca said...

This was an excellent post, and something I think I'd do well to heed. Having gotten to that point of cynical burnout, perhaps it's time to step back and realise that diplomacy really has a place in building up a movement of allies.

belledame222 said...

RE: Much as I'm usually loathe to post song lyrics for Deeply Felt Stuff, I've often thought of these by Paul Simon:

When something goes wrong
I'm the first to admit it
I'm the first to admit it
And the last one to know

When something goes right
Well it's likely to lose me, mm
It's apt to confuse me
It's such an unusual sight
Oh, I can't, I cant get used to something so right
Something so right

M.Dot. said...

Internet Race Theory

Sounds like dope senor level undergrad libral arts course.

Tom Nolan said...

Mandos, you're a masochist when it comes to dealing with radicals Alon

Yeah, but he tops from the bottom, hadn't you noticed?

Alon Levy said...

Only here. On Reclusive Leftist it seemed more like he was bottoming from the bottom.

Mandos said...

Yeesh. All this analysis. Why can't people just accept that I have a patiently curious soul?

belledame222 said...

"Let it be a challenge to you."

Elizabeth McClung said...

I do agree that the resistance to change is a strong motivation - I found working with a PFLAG group that adding Intersex and Two Spirit provoked a reaction from the parents of gay children - a sort of "we are the 'real' organization" and jokes at how they are letting "Anyone in the alphabet in now" - and public jokes about intersex people during lectures and such - and this was PFLAG - you know, people who kinda WANT to accept other.

It is frustrating because change can't occur without more than the group involved wanting it - and yet there is really nothing in it for the majority except change (skary) and maybe learning more about different humans. I try not to get too wrapped up in, and often deliberately use the same phrases on others, "'re straight...I'm sorry; but don't worry I still think we can work together." - and only reserving my real fire for those in positions of authority - but then I am in the privilaged place of not having to give a toot anymore and being on medicated pain killers most of the time - so that might be an unfair advantage to being lippy.

Tom Nolan said...

Yeesh. All this analysis. Why can't people just accept that I have a patiently curious soul? Mandos

And the question you were most curious to have answered was:"Can I make it right into the middle of this potentially murderous pride of radfems, get the Queen to eat a sugar-lump out of my hand, and then tip-toe out of danger before my presence has been really noticed."

It was like watching Richard Attenborough sometimes. Really, I was all admiration.

R. Mildred said...

but some people are trying. really trying.


I don't think anyone was obligated to teach me

Well yes, that's the trouble, the people who cry loudest about wanting to learn give no indication that they're actually willing to listen to anything anyone says - the point isn't to actually get education from the POC, the point is to control the actions and conversations of POC.

It's about reaffirming their privelage, not about learning.

Which is hte problem - I'm not sure anyone really suggested a clear "Oh POC or women or whoever must NEVER under any circumstances even try to teach or reach white people/men/wh473vr."

If you think there's a dichotomy going on there, don't.

It's about educating those who are willing to listen and who, more than anything else, GET that while people from an oppressed group to look out for are not obligated to be your teachers in this school of life, they are damn well obligated to learn if they honestly want ot be good people.

The trouble is the people who get that bassackwards while declaring how much they require education and tell people off for not making them learn what's being taught to them, even while they refuse to actually listen to anything that's being said.

rachelphilpa said...

OMG-dess, BelleDamme, exactly.

I transitioned only recently, having spent two years identifying as genderqueer, and identifying as a trans woman only for a year. And I've spent so much of that time just angry all the time, separating myself from the non-trans community as much as I could.

I fought tooth-and-nail with my parents, meeting their every question with hostility, until we were down to trading insults and I all but cut the relationship off. But the thing that stopped me from doing that, ultimately, was my compassion for them. I've learned to tone down the anger, and so have they, and now arguments have been replaced with long discussions about the issues that I face as a trans woman, and the issues they face as the parent of one.

My parents will never be able to fully accept me as a trans woman, but we've made more progress in the last 6 months than in the preceding two years, and they are starting to have some understanding of, and compassion for, the things that makes the lives of transfolk so hard. And thank goodness, because they now both have cancer, and if I had stormed out of the relationship, where would they be? That's not to say that they don't have other friends and resources, but I am an important part of their lives now.

Sure, when I read the words of a Jeffreys or a Raymond or a Greer or - even more so - our friends Heart and Mars Iguana, or I have some idiot ask me in a passive-agressive way why I want to "mutilate" myself, I sometimes boil over. And when some guy, upon reading me as trans, calls me a "faggot bitch" and spits repeatedly on me, I just want to go back to that separatism; it's really tempting.

But are these so-called safe spaces really safe? When some transman tells me that women are "over-emotional and manipulative" and "don't know how to be direct"? When a fellow trans woman in a support group throws out such racist and misogynist shit, that I have to walk out to avoid punching her? Is there really a safe space, other than a cave?

Yes, I like to be in the Dyke March (Philadelphia); yes I like to yell at the G-ddess-damned xto-fascists with their silly signs as much as the next girl.

But you know what is making the most difference? My being the first out trans woman to work at Bryn Mawr College - a women's college that is part of the Seven Sisters. Doing so quietly, as part of a team, without focusing on trans all the time, encouraging my coworkers and student interns to see past the stereotypes. That is what turns people's hearts. (Admittedly, Bryn Mawr College is a place that encourages diversity and openness to difference to a much greater extent to the corporate world).