xenologer: (I have arrived)
The 99% Isn’t Me: Being the Minority in the 99%
Another issue I have with the 99% concept is that it smacks of the rhetoric we black and brown people heard from the Left back in the 70’s, that we’re all just people and we need to be colorblind, and that we are all being oppressed by the same people and on and on… Those thoughts are valid, kind of if you ignore much of American history. My oppression as a black man in America is very, very different from that of a poor white person. Yes we both ended up poor and without food or a job but he doesn’t get called a nigger or have to deal with the very real reality of racism. Although the white middle class who’s central to the Occupy movement are right about Wall Street and politicians they fail to see that the struggle is different if you’re a woman, gay, Black, Latino, Native American, etc. Many of the aforementioned groups have been in the gutter for…. Um… ever. Actually yea really forever since this nation was created many of us have been at the bottom of the pile. With that said I think it’s a serious problem when someone tells me that my struggles are the same as theirs and I should get behind a movement that I had little part in creating. This is what the relationship (especially in places like my hometown of Buffalo) between the occupation and oppressed minorities has been since the beginning. It smacks of the reductionism that we have seen from the likes of the 10’s-40’s communist / socialist movement and its dealings with black people and how the movement has almost always dealt with women (aka sexism as a secondary issue). (...)

To many people the Occupy movement is strictly about economic inequalities and Wall Street not about race, gender, or class although they have no problem welcoming black people, women, or the unemployed as supporters. It’s indicative of a lack of recognition of race, gender, or class (and other issues) in the occupation (and its connection to capitalism and economics) and any felt need for the creation of spaces to deal with these issues in any real way.

What counts as "common ground?"

I got into my local Occupy movement at least partly hoping to prove to myself that arguments like this were baseless. They're not baseless. This is what it looks like to the people who're told that the issues of privileged people are "common ground" and the issues of marginalized people are "divisive."

If you're thinking reading what I just wote, "Cripes, Xeno, that's basically everyone, because everyone's getting screwed somehow," you're right, and you're beginning to see the depth of the problem and how many people can be alienated to a lesser or larger degree by it.

For example, what I face as a white person is common ground, and I can bring that up without anybody calling me divisive for centering a conversation on my experiences of the economy or governmental/law enforcement abuses. Whether I say, "I as a white person..." or not, these are experiences which are shaped and changed by my race and what that prompts people to assume about me. These are white experiences whether I label them or not, because they are so distinctive to people who present like me and would have been very different were I any other color.

However, I might want to talk about being a woman, and once in a blue moon I may talk about being LGBT (though the latter is something I feel less qualified to discuss due to the fact that I'm cisgendered and benefit from straight privilege in a lot of ways). Despite the fact that I am the same person whose plight was "common ground" in the previous discussion, suddenly now we're talking identity politics. Suddenly an experience I have had that is unique to my circumstances is divisive.

But I'm the same person I was in the first case. I'm not any more privileged or oppressed than I was when I was speaking to a particular (white) experience of our economy and culture. I'm still me. There are just parts of me and my experience that are not considered an "occupy" issue.

That's why, no matter how much we may say that women and people of color and LGBT people are welcome and no matter how sincerely and deeply felt that sentiment might be, as long as some people have to shut a door on part of what probably brought them to Occupy in the first place, we're not living up to that promise.

I also think that Richardson made a great point here:

"Too considering we’re (as in women, blacks, latinos, etc) are the ones suffering the most shouldn’t the movement come to us and put us in place to contribute versus us having to shoehorn our stuff to their? It’s their movement not ours and if they want it to become our’s too they are going to have to move towards us."

It's not merely our job at this point to open the door and say, "You are welcome to join us." We have to do that and then actually allow conversations about their unique experiences, or else what we're really saying is, "You're welcome to join us as long as you pretend your struggles aren't different." In that latter case, we're setting a very high price on participation by demanding that they be less true to their experiences and needs for the privilege of being accepted even at the margins.

That's why even groups that really sincerely want to be inclusive often still have at the fore and at the core the same demographics that've been at the fore and core of everything else in power. It's because until we start listening to what the people who aren't getting included are saying will make them feel welcome, no matter how hard we try we simply will not know how to get that done.

What makes this especially hard to climb up out of is that if a movement's face is not diverse, people who benefit from diversity and suffer from its lack will not always come sacrifice their time, money, and precious energy (of which we all only have so much) to be that diversity. I know that when I see an organization that is run entirely or almost entirely by men, I consider where the women went, because surely there've been at least some. Why didn't they stay? What happened to them that I can't see from here? Do I love this cause enough to risk finding out the hard way?

Getting personal for a moment.

To give an example that is not necessarily intended to translate here but merely to illustrate one example that I walked in with, I used to be involved with an activist organization. It was progressive in its politics toward the poor, its stated attitudes toward LGBT people and women were extremely forward-thinking, and the attitudes of all of the individual members I spoke to about racism were strongly in favor of creating a society where people of color did not disproportionately suffer.

And yet its upper management was run by all white men with the exception of one white woman. I didn't know enough at the start to wonder what the disconnect would be. Fast forward a year. After a year I'd seen hiring practices that weeded out nearly all people of color immediately, so that when higher positions were pulled from the ranks, the ranks had already been cleared of racial minorities. After a year, I'd seen a culture that shelters sexual assault by pressuring women who experienced it to avoid making a fuss for fear of damaging the organization's ability to do its worthy work. Essentially, after a year, I saw exactly why women and people of color were absent: they'd been driven out or had fled for their own safety and sanity.

Consequently, now I look for the signs. When I see a movement that isn't diverse, I hang back. I don't hang back out of a lack of love for the cause. I hang back because I learned why women and POC were absent from an organization that I loved very much whose work I am proud to have been part of to this day. I am still proud of the work this organization does, which is why I am not saying their name (though I will if you contact me privately).

(As an aside, if anyone reading is thinking, "Oh my god. Their hiring and retention practices were racist and assault victims were pressured to keep it quiet and you're still protecting them? What's wrong with you?" then I hope you are taking care to police this kind of thinking in yourself when it comes to Occupy. If you're not comfortable with what I just did, then please let it be a lesson about how ugly this reasoning is and how hard it can be to overcome even for people who've personally suffered because of it.)

What does that have to do with us now?

That experience is why I look at the Occupy movement, at the diversity problem we have in my city, and am willing to immediately assume that the problem is not people of color or LGBT people or women not caring enough. I am willing to assume that the problem is us. Unfortunately, it's hard to address this problem. My difficulty has been that so many of my city's occupation supporters are unwilling to make that first step of saying, "Maybe it's something we're doing wrong," that I never get to the point of having any other conversations.

It's like... remember how when all this started, OWS got flak for merely stating problems and not making demands? Remember what we told them? We told the press and our friends and our families that until enough people understand that there's a problem in the first place and until enough people understand what that problem is, we are not ready for a conversation about the solutions.

So! For those of you who are sick and goddamn tired of hearing about this problem because nobody is telling you how you can fix it, here's what you can do to help us fix it: Have these conversations yourself. Explain to the people who listen to you and respect you that there's a problem, because odds are they don't even realize there is one yet. Explain to the people you have personal relationships with that the problem is that we are doing something wrong. Get them up to speed. Get everyone up to speed. Get them ready to be part of the conversation about solutions.

Then we can really sit down with open minds and honest hearts and find a solution. Until then, there's no point. We're not there yet.

If you want to link this around, that's cool, but if you do I ask that you link the "public" version rather than to my personal journal. That link is here. Thanks for your consideration for my privacy.

Date: 2012-04-29 10:11 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] sparkindarkness.livejournal.com
I think the problem is with any cause is it tends to focus on the "default" i.e. the most privileged. Occupy is basically a classism cause so it is focusing on that single issue - and it's making it for everyone which means ONLY focusing on the issue of classism while ignoring how, when class intersects with other marginalisations

That's the problem with "common ground" because "common ground" means privileged default - considering a second marginalised point as well instantly removes. Considering "common ground" means considering JUST class and ignoring any other maginalisation beczause, by definition, those marginalisations aren't "common ground".

Instead, rather than staying "on message" at "common ground" we need several voices and, yes, to focus on each seperately and specifically as well

Because if, by some miraculous fate, the economic system is suddenly entirely fair and classism disappears, then women, GBLT people and POC are STILL going to be screwed unless their specific issues in relation to class (and beyond) are also regarded.

It also makes marginalised people leery of these movements because there's a sense of "when I get mine, I'm out of here"

There is something similar during the anti-bullying campaign. When GBLT people created our own anti-bullying campaigns. Straight, cis people started saying we shoulod make it a universal bullying campaign for all kids - after all wasn't all bullying wrong? well, yes but there are specific elements of anti-GBLT bullying that won't be addressed in a universal campaign (like laws banning positive mentions of GBLT people in schools, religious pressure etc) and if we "common-grounded" the movement then we'd be lost while we spoke about the most common (privileged default) people.

So all, in all - yes I agree. And this is why I fight causes and issues but rarely go near organisations to do it

Date: 2012-04-29 11:00 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] chasingtides.livejournal.com
ext_21906: (Default)
I'm obviously a little biased. (Street medic with Occupy - in a couple of different cities.)

But. I agree with most of this. I say that as a queer, poor, trans, disabled white man who is still (and will be for some time) read regularly as female.

I'm also going to make a touchy argument. It's touchy because I don't mean it in a... "You have to Occupy" way. There are other radical movements that are doing other things better. That's awesome and good. And I love that we have multiple fronts of radical movements because it increases possibilities.

In a lot of Occupies, the conversation is happening. (Or they aren't happening and shit's hitting the fan. I'm looking at Philadelphia.) But if there aren't people there to have the discussion, it's kind of lost? I hate being the trans person - but that's also why we formed a trans affinity group. I hate being the queer person - but that's also why we have a queer affinity group. Partly for solidarity but partly so if I tell someone to fuck off, I don't want to talk, there are others who might.

The conversations need to happen, but they need to happen with participation from the oppressed. Otherwise, it's null and void. I know I might be in the minority but I'm not ok with a cis person explaining trans issues, an abled person explaining disability issues, etc. It makes me immensely uncomfortable and distressed - and it's also why I won't explain racial issues. I have so much to work on, as a white person, that I can't be the person who explains.

Date: 2012-05-04 10:47 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] virginia-fell.livejournal.com
I think it's always best to have someone with real experience to draw on at the fore of these conversations, but there is some really basic introductory stuff that sometimes I think should have gotten laid out before a member of that group got hit with it.

Like, for example. I don't think that the first time my local Occupy group hears about using the right pronouns for a trans person should be when a trans person shows up and gets misgendered. We shouldn't need a gay man to come in and be called a homophobic slur before the straight folk get sat down and educated on why this is not okay. Ditto for racial slurs.

So while the voices of people who actually know what they're talking about in the most immediate and undeniable sense are always the best, I feel like there's an extent to which I should be watching other people who share the privileges I do so that maybe a marginalized person who comes by is walking into a slightly cleaner house.

I feel this way partly because of the way I feel about this stuff as a woman. I don't want men to speak for me, but I do want men to speak to other men about their behavior if it's not okay.

Our local movement has guys who'll call women bitches and cunts for disagreeing with them or failing to submit to sexual advances, and the fact that most other men who're still active look at this as something I shouldn't have their help dealing with bugs me hardcore. A little "hey wtf dude she's right that that isn't okay and here's why" backup would have been pretty nice, but as it was we just had the women getting angry and the men either supporting each other openly or trying to stay "uninvolved."

We have something at least in the online arena that pretty much exists for people who spot a problem and are trying to deal with it to ask for backup or resources or just a place where they know they'll find support. Our city's Occupy movements have collapsed to the point that this isn't an affinity group or anything. It's just a FB group that exists to keep an eye on the other FB groups for teachable moments and to sort of connect people with the spoons to teach to the people who're in need of a different perspective.

I guess the summary is that while oppressed people need to have a directing role in conversations about how they're needing to be treated, I don't think our local Occupy groups have done anything to deserve the attentions of those groups... and based on the slim numbers of LGBT people and the withdrawal of support for our local movement by a state-wide anti-racist organization, a lot of them don't think it is, either.

While there are some who are still willing to stick around and fight (and whose requests for backup are pretty much the only reason I'm still around, too), when it comes to the absolute most elementary lessons, sometimes I guess I sort of feel like privileged people need to share some of the workload of checking each other. I've been told this is a helpful thing for me to do.

Date: 2012-04-30 04:54 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] admnaismith.livejournal.com

What happens if you assert a leadership role yourself instead of hoping the Alpha Males choose to be inclusive?

Also, why are so many progressive groups headed by Alpha White Males who either act like the experiences of nonwhite, nonmale, nonhetero potential allies don't matter, or act as spokespeople for those experiences and get it wrong 'cause it isn't their own history...to the extent that the potential allies feel the need to stick to groups made up entirely of themselves--the feminists, the activists of color, the LGBT activists?

What would happen if, say, the feminists began a group to champion economic justice for all people, not just the women, and they invited men to participate in a supporting role?

Date: 2012-05-04 10:57 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] virginia-fell.livejournal.com
One of the things about privilege is that it's easier for some kinds of people to take certain risks than for others. The particular tactics of Occupy are a good example. A movement that is built around camping out outside is going to be made up of people that A: can just kind of readjust their lives around occupying, and B: probably have less to fear from police and less to fear from other occupiers.

In my city, this means white middle class men of a certain level of physical health and resilience. This means that it's already harder for people of color, women, the working poor (particularly if they have children), or the disabled to participate as frequently and deeply as others.

So aside from things like which voices are valued most by others and sometimes by the speakers themselves (which are slipperier issues that also tend to favor people speaking from privilege), the very format of the movement means that conscious effort has to be made to compensate for what amounts to a movement selection pressure that makes it easier for the white alpha males to take charge.

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