Tuesday, November 09, 2010

This is why intersectionality is important to me.

I am quoting Marianne from The Rotund:

There is no way that one social justice movement can benefit by creating a false hierarchy like that anyway. There is no hierarchy of oppression. Undermining other social justice movements is a loser game.

As a person of color this is a huge reason why I disengaged from a lot of social justice causes and people talking about those causes.

What set me off of the path of activism involving other people was this.

Quite a long time ago I had an opportunity to work in sex education on a peer level. I was about 20 years and had a burning passion to help kids my own age with sex related things. A friend of a friend was trying to start up an organization that was more catered peer sex education for street kids, sex workers. She wanted to include things like self care, getting out of street level sex work. Safety, dealing with cops and prosecution.

Seriously, advanced shit.

This was long before I really knew anything about sex positive culture in regards to sex workers and giving sex workers support. This is where I was introduced to the ideas which was amazing for me.

Unfortunately though as with pretty much every activism related thing I'd done to that point, everyone but me was White. Most were middle class, educated Feminists. All more formally educated than me and at the beginning I was intimidated out of many discussions because I didn't have the women's studies classes or other academics under my belt.

That became an issue.

What started to really push me out was I became for this small group of women The Brown Person Authority.

I had an inherent understanding of the intersections of being a minority and things like sex work, but I did not have the language. What I had was a brown face so any time anything that had to do with brown people came up, all eyes quite literally turned to me.

I began to pay attention and although no one explicitly said so, everything beacme based in White ladies sensibilities. Any other voices were secondary to the cause and when I started to learn how to talk about these things from my perspective the Oppression Olympics began.

Instead of getting down to the work we were all there to do it became a contest to see who was the most special snowflake who dealt with the most oppression and y'all it was fucking exhausting.

It broke my heart and turned me off of activism where I engage with other humans entirely for almost a decade.

You're talking about me as a post teen who had skipped school to go to political rallies, who was finally starting to read books and figure out what I was truly passionate about. I was primed and ready to go.

But the continuing attitudes of (in my mind then and now) trying to seem like they were commiserating but weren't really listening or caring to listend ruined it entirely.

At some point despite how passionate I was about what the now long defunct organization was trying to get going I couldn't hack it.

I often left those meetings drained and deeply emotionally hurt. I felt like I had no voice.

And therein lies the shitty part about when people want to play Oppression Olympics or decide that the cause is the cause is the cause and nothing shall intersect with the cause. At least not in discussion.

When we try to keep intersectionality out or when we play Oppression Olympics, we're ruining it. Engaging in those things is what will kill a social justice movement nevermind the people against that movement.

It's why I still have a hard time with feminism as it is now. And why I was a little hesitant to get into the fat blogosphere to begin with.

Yes, yours truly was very conflicted about taking part.

I have been burned and heart broken and lost friends and I actually like so many of the other people participating I wasn't sure if I could deal.

I can deal.

No matter what your cause is, once the people in that movement begin to feel unwelcome for whatever reason, your cause is going to fail.

Let me stop here for a minute and admit that talking about that first failed activism really hurts.

The way to avoid this is to start (as with most things) with yourself. IF you find yourself tempted to play Oppression Olympics or if you're going to be very vocal about what does and doesn't have to do with the movement because you said so think about this.

Every social justice movement needs people. Needs people to talk about it, to spread talk of it. It needs people. If you engage in these things, you could very well be ruining it for people you need.

If you decide that talk about fashion whether it's trends, daily outfits or availability has no palce in FA and you go on a tear to make sure everybody knows that you feel that way, you could be ruining it for people. And why do that?

The thing is that one particular issue may not be as important to you as another, that doesn't make your issue the most important over all. And if you push out either on purpose or with good intentions where are you going to get more voices from?

I believe that a lot of this happens when we want to be heard. That is a natural thing, we want people to hear what we're saying and what we're about. The hard part is learning when it's not your turn or the discussion isn't about you personally.

That's more difficult than you'd think. Especially if it's the first time you've felt any kind of solidarity about a particular issue.

Here's my solution or part of a solution remember these things.

Calm down.
Yes you're important too.
It's not always entirely about you.
Shit happens to all of us.
Be awesome.

That's all.

Okay tomorrow a sexy entry about a transwoman I had the worst kind of epic crush on and how my at that point skinny ass missed out because I had a skinny ass. Rejection, lust, tragedy..er no tragedy unless you count the two of us ladies never being naked together but that's tomorrow.

Swearsies.

How are you darlings?

Are you okay?

In the Winter swaddled places keeping warm?
In the Spring swaddled places keeping cool?

Your homework is to tell another person (not me necessarily) that they are awesome. No reason, just because.

Homo Out.
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2 comments:

asubjectivity said...

Hi Shannon. This post speaks to me so much I work in social justice and I am not white and sometimes the fucked up shit that goes on makes me so sad and angry.

Regina T said...

How exciting to be involved in a movement that invites intersectionality! That's not to downplay anyone's "oppression"---and I think that's where people get into a tear about it---it's just rarely been done before, and that's exciting to me. It's exciting because diversity can be both stand alone AND inclusive. The energy behind the movement doesn't have to be solely focused on a single cause...and that's really what diversity means. It's cool to me that a cause such as FA addresses intersectionality because it means that we're all finally looking beyond a singular identifying factor and really humanizing people again. Addressing the oppression (and its impact) itself, saying "What the fuck's up with that shit?!?" altogether and regarding it while taking into account the whole person. And understanding the individual struggle is still valuable, important, and empowering...it's just not the central focus all the time because it can't be that to everyone all the time. We all function with different experiences, influences, and attitudes, it just makes sense to tackle the outcomes of oppression and point out that it's just shitty. That way, we expand the scripts we use in real life without losing sight of our humanity.

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