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?


G said...

Well said (and questioned) Lessie. (as always) <3

Brownbelle said...

Got here from the comment you left over at Black & Bougie.

Kudos to you for being willing to broach the subject of your privilege. So many white people are scared to acknowledge that the game IS skewed in their favor, feeling that it somehow makes them complicit in a host of ills that they had no direct hand in.

But now that you know better, you are better served by educating yourself than by ignoring it. A good book to read is "Race Matters" by Cornel West. He is considered a bit of a radical even by some blacks, but this book addresses the myriad, subtle ways in which the black community struggles to excel in a society that still views us as less-than. You may not agree with all of it (I didn't!) but it's a great place to start the conversation.

I also hope that, in future discussions of this nature with people who aren't as enlightened as you are, that you will address the ways in which white privilege still lives. We are at the point where legislation can do very little to change society--it takes one person at a time, talking to someone else and planting the seed that while we are all equal, in the eyes of the law & society some of us are still a little more equal than others.

Lessie said...

Brownbelle, thank you so much for your comment! I will have to read that book by Dr. West. I'm familiar with his name, and many people I admire admire him, but I haven't read any of his work yet. Being such a women's rights fan, I've been reading some Alice Walker and looking into bell hooks. But I appreciate the recommendation for a starting place.

Lastly, I'm currently in law school. I was hoping to make a difference in society by understanding legislation. But I'm finding more and more that you're right: legislation isn't as powerful as it once was. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm going to keep talking and listening.