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’m thinking a bit about how queers experience space differently, and I notice that so many of my experiences of being queer are intricately linked with the dichotomy of public vs. private, even now as an out queer adult.
When queer folks talk about growing up and early sexual experiences, it’s often about hiding or trying to find safe space. Few of us had a safe, private place for sexual exploration, though sometimes keeping our identity quiet can grant us such a place. I remember kicking myself for coming out to my mom as a teen when my peers told me about being able to hook up behind closed doors, free from suspicion, because a parent would never suspect a same-sex friend. Similar dynamics can also come up for queer adults, looking for privacy as an alternative to potential violence and/or sexual abuse.
I don’t know about y’all, but when I was growing up, massage was always something rich white ladies did. Sometimes kids I knew would pool together their money in multi-sibling families and get their mom a spa appointment for Mother’s Day, but in general I thought of massage as being part of another world, one I wasn’t likely to ever have access to. I associated massage with fancy hotels, spas, and all-inclusive resorts, and never thought of it as healthcare.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been getting semi-regular massage for over a year now. Shout out to Aviva Pittle at Freed Bodyworks in DC, who is amazing. The whole business is super awesome, and much more inclusive-feeling than what I used to imagine. I only started even thinking of massage as a possibility when I saw the Freed business card with its emphasis on all bodies and being friendly to trans and other marginalized folks.
On the other hand, I’ve had to work through some guilt about doing this thing for myself—a thing that is pricey, and sometimes feels frivolous. Am I just one of those wealthy white ladies (ok, people) now? Is this a justified expense?
Here’s how I’ve decided that the answer to the latter question is “yes”:
Welcome to the First Blog Carnival on Privilege! First, thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to this first round of the carnival. I was excited to see all the different takes on privilege represented here, and the diversity of those who submitted. You can see all the entries below the cut, and follow links through to read the complete posts. I also want to announce that we will be having a second carnival, since this first round was so successful. To give everyone plenty of time to think about submissions, the second carnival entries will be due Sunday, May 23rd. The topic for the second carnival will be White Privilege, so start thinking about race and racism for your posts. I would also accept posts for the second carnival that deal with other sorts of racial privilege, for example if you want to write about a community where one group is privileged based on the color of their skin, but that group isn’t “white,” that’s perfectly fine. Submissions again can be e-mailed to judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com. If we get a lot of submissions again, then I’ll probably switch over to a monthly format, and perhaps ask for other hosts for future carnivals. Also, because this came up a couple of times in this round, I do prefer new posts, but if you want to submit an older post for a carnival and not rehash an issue, that’s also fine.
And now, on with the carnival!
Don’t forget, submissions are due this Sunday for the Carnival! (Scroll down this blog to see all the details). We’ve got a ton of great submissions so far, so thank you if you’ve already submitted.
What: Posts on any aspect of privilege.
When: Due March 28, 2010.
Where: E-mail post links to firstname.lastname@example.org and see the carnival at A Lesbian & A Scholar.
Write a post about privilege. It can be general, perhaps about how privilege operates, how we internalize it, or how it applies to particular spheres. It can also be specific, maybe about white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, ability privilege, class privilege, Western privilege, or a category I’ve left out here. You might talk about privilege in the blogosphere, or in the workplace, or in academia, or in the media. You might tell a story from your own life, or provide some tips on how to approach privilege. Anything goes.
Any questions, comment to this post or e-mail me. Please feel free to re-post this announcement liberally!
I was just reading an article comparing US and Mexican abortion laws, and the author, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, made a really good point that I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of as we fight for our liberal values. We can talk about individual autonomy and choice all we want, and that perspective can be great, but choice doesn’t mean much if you can’t access the choice. Often choices require financial privilege or other means that not everyone has. While some forms of privacy/autonomy are easy for governments to ensure (negative liberties that don’t require the government to take action, only to refrain from it), positive autonomy requires resources.
This is where I go all socialist on you, but I really think we have a lot to learn from forms of government (and on a smaller level, forms of community activism or tribal systems) where the focus is on the group rather than the individual. Yes, this form can hurt women when they are blended into the group as a whole, but it also can provide guarantees of community support. The individualist system often claims to give all individuals a choice, autonomy, etc., but if the individuals do not have the resources to exercise these rights, then those individuals (often women) will suffer. The challenge is to find a balance, where women are not marginalized, not erased, and not harmed in between the lines of the law. It’s probably a challenge that can never be fully realized, but it’s a good goal.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about perspective this week.
It’s a topic I often hone in on, though in my everyday life I settle fairly firmly into my own shoes, like most people. Still, I remember the absolute eureka moment when I once learned about some particular African tribal practice (don’t ask me now what it was) and it occurred to me, some time late in my high school career, that I didn’t know shit about what it meant to look at a problem from a different perspective. I thought I knew difference, but in fact, the multitude of options of this world are always going to be beyond my grasp – and I like that. I like knowing that there’s always a new way of looking at things, a new way of understanding.
Wednesday night, I went to an MLK week discussion called “Open Mouth, Insert Foot: An Open Community Discussion on Hate.” Though a lot of what we talked about were things I’d already considered, I did hear some perspectives that were new to me. It had never occurred to me, for example, that when journalists always mention that the Postville immigration raids happened at the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, the decision to include the kosher part might be interpreted as anti-Semitic, even though Judaism is part of my (rather complex and syncretic) faith. As a panelist put it, “those guys weren’t Jewish crooks. They were crooks.”
Yesterday, I listened to an inspiring address by National Urban League President Marc Morial on the topic of Obama’s presidency and the new multi-racial America. He’s a fabulous speaker, and even in a lecture hall at the law school with maybe thirty people, he spoke as if he were addressing a crowd of hundreds. He made a lot of very poignant statements, but the one I copied down was this: “We as we look to the future cannot be restrained and straitjacketed by the analytical frameworks of the past.” A simple statement, yes, but immensely powerful. He spoke about how whites will soon no longer be the majority, but also about how minorities themselves are complex and diverse – more Africans and Caribbean blacks, for example, are coming to this country, and Latino and Asian populations are similarly made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of interests, values, and concerns. He didn’t mention this, but I also thought about how ethnic minorities include women, and LGBT people, and linguistic and religious minorities. He spoke about how the society is not post-racial, but multi-racial, and we should embrace that. I wholeheartedly agree. I also would add that we should reach across lines, find commonalities and use those points to approach and learn about difference. For example, I have friends who are women of color whom I met because we share a lesbian sexuality. Though I’m learning how to do this in appropriate ways, I would like to use this connection to ask questions about these friends’ perspectives as a racial minority, and as women of color specifically, and I would like to learn what interests and concerns these friends have that are different from my own, both as someone who may be involved in policy and also just as an interested citizen.
Finally, I read this article by Robert Kagan for my European Union law class, and I found it very interesting (and readable whether you’re a legal person or not). Rather than race, it’s talking about the difference in perspectives based on position of power, comparing the United States and Europe, and it’s a way of looking at geopolitics that I hadn’t quite considered.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this.