I’m starting to get tired of how often we describe oppressed communities and individuals with an awed praise of their “resilience.” Yes, oppressed folks are often resilient, and there are positive things in that recognition–it’s impressive how creative people can be under stress, how we can survive and sometimes even thrive in remarkable conditions. But praising resilience also hides a lot.
What does resilience really mean? That you’re strong? That you’re connected enough to survive? Who gets to choose who’s resilient and who isn’t? What conditions create resilience? This isn’t a word that we use for everyone. It has an undertone of “hey, good job not crumbling under the horrible thing we just now did to you!” and shifts the spotlight away from the oppressor’s culpability and even tries to reframe a terrible experience as positive. Yes, resilience is impressive, but you know what would be even more impressive? Not subjecting entire groups of people to slavery, genocide, torture, and other forms of oppression in the first place!
When we focus on resilience, we don’t focus on accountability. We’re not talking about how conditions of oppression are created by real live oppressors. We’re not talking about ongoing culpability or solutions that the oppressing group can enact to get the weight off the oppressed person’s back. Instead, we’re saying, please perform daring and magical feats for us with this weight on your back. We’re so impressed by your skill! Framing certain communities–often black women, trans folk, Native people–as “resilient” can be harmful and fail to recognize the harm actually done to those communities.
So when you read the word “resilient” to describe these communities and individuals, if you’re in an oppressing group, take a step back and think twice. Ask yourself, if these survivors are so resilient, who hasn’t survived? Who from the same community have we killed through war, environmental degradation, the criminal injustice system, and similar tactics? Instead of offering back pats for survival, let’s offer changed behavior and meaningful reparations for communities to rebuild.
I don’t celebrate the 4th of July.
I’m an American, but I don’t really understand the point of celebrating independence from Britain. It seems a little ridiculous to celebrate freedom from a colonial power when you’re living in a country that simply became a separate colonial power, a country that was built on the back of genocide, slavery, and mass oppression. Too many of our history lessons are whitewashed, and I think it’s important to be frank and honest about that. Many of our national values are abhorrent.
Does this mean that I’m in no way proud of my culture? No. What it means is that I’m proud of certain things, but I avoid expressing patriotism as a whole because I believe that displaying the symbols of American patriotism without talking about what they represent would just make me a part of an often-unthinking mass. It’s not okay to say “sure, our history kind of sucks, but we’re past that now,” or “I know that we’re culpable in a lot of ways, but the problem is too big for me to tackle.”
Yes, it is a big fucking problem. It is a big fucking problem. But that’s not a reason to ignore it. That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that many of our laws, policies, and programs are racist. That’s not a reason to ignore the fact that we continue to perpetrate cultural genocide against indigenous cultures. That’s not a reason to accept the rewriting of history that teaches elementary school students all over the country that bad things happened in our history, but don’t worry, you don’t have to think about those.
I think part of tackling the problem is looking deeper, at what is good and what is bad in our country. For example, when I look at my Southern heritage, I do feel some guilt. I hate that my ancestors “owned” their fellow human beings. I hate the racism that continues in the South today. So I try to do what I can to fight the problems I see in the South–racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the eradication of reproductive rights, to name a few. At the same time, I look at the good things. If I hated everything about the South, I wouldn’t be eager to change it. I’d just hang out up here in Maryland and say “good riddance.” But it’s my culture, for better or worse–I love that our food kicks your food right in the pattootie. I love putting bourbon in everything. I love the mountains and the beach, I love sitting out on the porch chatting and drinking tea. I love the pace of life, the difference between the rural and urban South. I love our writers and musicians.
I can say the same about the United States. I’m an activist because I give a shit about my culture, and I want to be proud of it. Culture goes beyond government, beyond nation. If you dig deeper, you find great things to celebrate in the people who live within these borders. Among all the shitty history, you find great little stories that make you feel a sense of pride and connection to the land and the people who live on it. I don’t care about our independence from Britain. I care that we are here, that we are fighting, that we are trying to make our society a better place in which to live.
I’ve been a great admirer of Virginia Woolf since high school, but this is my first time reading this particular work, and I’m quite struck by it. She has a way of communicating that is hard to match, and I would recommend A Room of One’s Own before any denser modern material in a basic women’s studies class. I think that in the time we live in, it’s very easy to get accustomed and complacent and forget just how monumental the steps are that have been made in recent years for equality. Women and men are not equal, that’s for sure, but it’s just amazing to think that I was so lucky as to be born in this shimmer of time where I can forget the long years of oppression and hopelessness for women and have not only a room of my own, but three, and on top of that not one degree but two, and one of those in law no less. I’m sure Woolf would be very pleased indeed to learn that such things would be possible so soon after she wrote. We haven’t conquered the realms of men, but we have entered them, and that’s saying a lot.