Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Issue Spotting

So... I want to address a topic that I've never really looked at before. I don't really even know how to start it, so I'll just say: I've been thinking a lot about race. I want to start by saying, this post is sincere. If I say something stupid, call me out. I know I've got a lot to learn.

It all started with the Slut Walks (I'm not gonna link. Y'all know how to use Google, and I'm lazy this evening). My issue, the thing that gets me excited or angry or ready to carry a sign, is women's rights. So when I started reading that some black feminists were criticizing the movement, I was taken aback. It took me a few posts and articles to figure out why the Slut Walks, which seemed like an awesome idea to me, were a potentially bad idea for women of color.

After the Slut Walks, it was the Occupy movement (again. no links. Google it. I'm tired). Feminist sites had already pointed out some of the sexist fumbles women were encountering at the encampments (indeed, fumbles is too nice a word. Rape and sexual assault weren't rampant, but they were happening and some blogs were objectifying female occupiers as well). In addition to the feminist critique was the racist one. Occupy is/was largely white washed. Where were people of color in this movement? Of course they were there, but once again they were largely marginalized.

After Occupy it was an evening with an attorney/writer from one of the Indian reservations here in Montana. He came to our university to speak about why he wrote. And he said he wrote because so many people have this image of Indians as stuck in the late 19th/early 20th century. And that's inaccurate. I spent time after the presentation talking with a classmate who grew up on a reservation in Canada, and we talked about her experience growing up Indian.

After that evening, it was my favorite move Iron Jawed Angels. There's a scene where Alice Paul, a personal heroine of mine, tells Ida Wells, a black activist, that she'll have to agree to march in the back of their suffrage parade with the rest of the black women because the women's movement can't afford to mix issues.

And that brings me to where I am now: realizing that I've been living with blinders on for awhile. My own struggle for visibility and search for my own voice made me sympathetic to issues of race (and sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), but I didn't really see them as something to spend much time thinking about. But the more I think about it, the more of an issue it's becoming to me. I'm becoming more aware of the general assumption of whiteness that pervades almost every aspect of our culture.

I'm finally internalizing that not only does this assumption pervade mainstream culture, but it adds a layer of invisibility for people of color who don't identify as straight or cis-gender or Christian or any number of other things outside this straight, white, Christian male assumption.

I've come across this quote often: "If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time... But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." --Lila Watson

It's always been something that I've given a passing glance at and thought, "Yeah. Ok. That's nice." But now I'm thinking about it a lot more. There's a lot of injustice in our country right now. There are a lot of groups--ethnic, gender, race, religious--being oppressed. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I've got to broaden my focus. The game is fundamentally skewed.
The fact that my classmate and I are both women means it's skewed against us both on certain levels. But the fact that I'm white means it's still skewed more in my favor than in hers.

I guess I'm asking: What do we do? What do I do? Obviously the game needs to change--radically. But what does that mean? This is where I'm hitting a wall. What action do I (we?) take from here? How do we write the contributions of all these invisible groups--and for me recently race has been the one on my mind--back into our everyday understanding? How do I teach my sons about these things? How do I help them notice and respect and learn from the contributions of so many groups are institutionally, systemically shut out?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Thing about Being a Kid and Being a Mom

The thing about being a kid and being a mom is they don't always mesh. When children are young, we make every effort we can to instill in them the values we wish we'd had instilled in us. The thing is, children grow up, and if we're lucky, they learn to look critically at the ideas we taught them and decide whether our values need to be their values.

This article on The Daily Mail, by Rebecca Walker, illustrates that point to me. Rebecca is the daughter of feminist/womanist icon, Alice Walker. Read the article for yourself, but Rebecca's argument is that her mother, in an effort to instill her own version of feminism on young Rebecca, ultimately neglected many of Rebecca's needs and refused to recognize Rebecca's own desires and personhood. Rebecca asserts that her radical mother didn't prepare her for the role of motherhood that Rebecca herself craved so desperately. And frankly, I think Rebecca is right. Alice Walker seems like the wrong kind of mother for a woman who wanted so badly to be a more traditional mother.

But what about women for whom the opposite is true? By that of course, I mean what about women like me? My own mother was very traditional. She stayed home, she indoctrinated my sister and I with the idea that a woman's place was in the home. Unfortunately, from a very early age, that was not that kind of person I was. So I could say that my mom's efforts to instill her values in me were ultimately damaging. My mom didn't seem to think doing well in school was that important for me and my sister. She'd never gone to college and was fine. If we wanted to go, that was fine, but ultimately, we should be looking for a man to take care of us and so college was mostly something to do until we met such a man. My mom didn't teach me about being independent and driven and passionate about career goals. Those were things I had to figure out for myself.

I guess what I'm getting around to saying is, for Rebecca Walker, the problem was feminism. For me, the problem was lack of feminism. And I guess that's what I'm getting around to saying. We're still not applying enough imagination when it comes to raising children. We look at them as either a burden and form of servitude or as the ultimate fulfilling object of womanhood. I think both do a disservice to children themselves.

The thing about children is they aren't interested in whether they're fulfilling you or not. They're interested in being loved and respected and acknowledged as individuals. My children are simultaneously one of the biggest points of anxiety for me (in that I'm by no means a traditional mother and feel like traditional motherhood would prevent me from attaining my personal goals) and one of my biggest sources of pride as they grow and become smart, loving and capable individuals.

I guess what I'm saying is, we can only expect so much from our children and, as we get older, we can only expect so much from our parents. My mom would have been a great mom for Rebecca Walker (based only of course, on the beefs she has in this article. Otherwise, I understand this is a gross over-generalization). Alice Walker would have been a kick-ass mom for me. As dearly as I love my children, I had them because I felt like I had to--not because I had always longed for a family. It would have been great to have a mom who told me that I didn't have to have kids. It would have been great to have a mom who enforced independence so entirely. Just as Rebecca didn't feel comfortable disturbing her mother from her writing career, I didn't feel comfortable expressing my career aspirations to my more traditional mother for fear of earning her disapproval.

And so I guess that brings me to my point:
We have got to stop telling women that they absolutely should or should not have children; we have got to stop making parenting about shaping children and more about recognizing individual children's propensities and interests; and finally, we have got to make parenting more village oriented--stop expecting so much from one woman.