Monday, June 7, 2010

A Conversation with my New White Friend about Social Change and Approaches to it

 [this image of "conversation" is from here]

What follows is the latest part of an exchange that has happened mostly online, here, but a bit offline as well. Here's the link to the earlier online part. The new friend is named "justme", here. It is not their actual name offline (I know. You're shocked.) I don't believe we'll (the A.R.P.ers,--you, I, we) will have problems with too many "justme"s showing up and so "justme" works just fine for me as the name for the person with whom I am engaging below in conversation about social change.

Hi justme,

I think your questions are terribly important, and I'll try and do justice in answering them.

I'm not disturbed by someone coming here and presenting a need to address something in greater depth, such as being intersex, intersexuality, and the problem of a hierarchically dual gender society that manufactures men to destroy women in various ways. I'm simply going to note, however, when someone white comes here and doesn't own the meaning and presence of their whiteness. I surely don't assume most whites and most men have much of a clue about what their whiteness and manhood actually means, but what I am refusing to do is to be "racism 101" and "sexism 101" perpetually. In part that's because there are other blogs that exist precisely to educate people about what being white and being a man means. I link to them. One is "stuff white people do" and the other is "Finally, a feminism 101 blog".

I don't think either adequately deal with women of color's experience and existence, practices and politics, and I am not surprised, but am deeply disappointed.

There's perhaps too fine a line between being forthright and harsh. I seek to be forthright, but not necessarily harsh. Unless I'm dealing with some silly prick. In which case all bets are off. ;)

But you are an ally, a new friend, and there's no wish or need on my part to be harsh to you.

And thank you for your very kind words about this blog. It and I appreciate them. :)

With that said, I do feel somehow that if the idea is to make real change, perhaps you should touch more on the issue of intent.

To me, and in the radical circles in which I swing, which are narrow and few and far between, we generally agree that there's far too much discussion about oppressors' intentions and far too little discussion on the effects.

This is to say, discussion of intention continuously makes the subject of discussion the oppressor. The wish and view of this blog is to make real the experiences of the oppressed, and to de-center the oppressor. To make him, usually a him, not the focus, not the subject to be continually addressed, as if he cares to change in ways radical enough to form a revolutionary movement.

I don't mean to be glum, but he doesn't wish to have a revolution. Or even anything too radical going on. The oppressors will not conduct the revolution. It will be, or ought to be, in my view, the oppressed who lead, who organise, who revolt, who reclaim, who take back land, who redefine humanity, and who redistribute wealth and resources.

It won't be whites or men, or especially white men, who do this because we--not you, but we as in, white men--don't have the knowledge, the experience, the skills, the survival strategies, and the means to achieve effective revolution, however it looks, however long it takes.

My blog exists to support women of color taking leadership and engaging in radical actions of every kind. I don't seek to convince whites and men of anything, in part because if whites and men wanted to "get it" they have so many ways and opportunities to do so that they don't avail themselves of that I am left with the distinct and repeated impression that whites and men are willfully ignorant, horrendously arrogant, and are militantly--while appearing to be casually passive in the process--holding onto the power that they believe is theirs.

I reject philosophies like liberalism and humanism as woefully ill-equipped to make visible the damage that white men do, and to empower those who most need support and help--when asked, not guidance, to lead us into a better world.

I don't seek to lead. I seek to support and lend that support when asked to by those I know can lead us out of this hell on Earth.

If whites and men want to know what we do that is oppressive, we need only pay attention, close, scrupulous, empathic attention, to what the effect is on those we impact daily and socially. We could learn most of what we need to know perhaps in a months' time, if we engage honestly with enough people, and put down our defenses of ego and institutions.

In other words, most white people (WHMs in particular) seem to be so averse to the notion of continuing racism, sexism, etc. because they don't feel as though they are "Racist" or "Sexist."

On the contrary, I believe most whites know they are racist and fully accept it, don't wish to change it, and only wish to present as if they are not so racist as to get into a whole heap of trouble for it. Same with men and sexism.

What whites and men can do and must do is call one another out on our evil ways of being and doing. The incredibly intricate, intimate, normal, socially honored ways we have of being oppressive jerks. And what we whites and men can do and must do, is be fully accountable to those we oppress. Which means we must build honest, trusting relationships with those we oppress, and I'll tell you right now, most whites will not do this. And many men will, to some degrees, with women, but not fully. Not completely. Because whiteness and manhood finds life in having control, in defining terms, in naming reality, and in managing power in ways that centralise him, the white him, and negate and deny her, especially the her who is of color.

Of course, anyone with an understanding of the sociocultural reality knows that they are, as we probably all are in some ways, but because of this disconnect, it seems that the rest of society can simply brush us off as fringe "crazies" who don't know what we're talking about.

That's why I welcome you here. The "crazies" have to validate and support one another as best we can.

As for the videos, I completely agree with you about the racial undertones. While I agree that being white is not being "just human," I do think that it's okay for individuals (who happen to be white) to come forward with their personal stories.

That any white person thinks their personal story doesn't include, to glaringly large degrees, the fact of their whiteness, is, to me, a glaring problem. This is the key point. I won't let it go.

As you mention, it probably is harder for people of color to come forward, and that is a shame (on a side note, Lynnell Stephani Long is the only person of color I have met/seen speaking out about intersex).

I am aware of one or two people of color who have spoken out about this. But the corporate mass media will not seek either of them out, nor any other intersexed person of color, as spokespeople for what it means to be intersexed, because the media will see them as needing to also discuss race, whereas the white person will be seen as not needing to discuss race, thereby allowing a single issue to be discusses as if it isn't connected to anything else. And this presentation of issues as disconnected, as you well note, is part of the problem.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with corporate mass media.

But if these people don't come forward, what should someone (in an idealist world of course) who does believe that only presenting white stories is insufficient do? Make someone up?

No. Not at all. Whites and men make up enough, are delusional enough, are in denial enough. What whites and men need to do is discuss how being white and being a man impacts everything we whites and men do, how we engage, how we express ourselves, what we think, what we believe we know, how we see the world, how we don't see most people in the world, and how we see ourselves as normal, or normative, or "just human" unproblematically raced white and inevitably gendered men.

So when we speak, we ought to speak honestly about how damned oppressive we are, so that those who are not white and who aren't men don't feel so isolated and invalidated socially. See, I'm not about doing it for the white man. At all. Fuck him. He's doing nothing at all to demonstrate willingness to be fully accountable. I know not only because I am one of them. I also know lots of "good" white men, who, when push comes to shove, duck out of their responsibilities to those they oppress and do exactly what they want to do, irresponsibly and oppressively.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that your entire blog needs to coddle WHM-society or excuse it, but maybe you could acknowledge that just because there are huge problems with pretty much everything that is presented in White, Heterosexist society, doesn't mean that the individuals who present it necessarily have (consciously) malicious intentions.

For whom shall I make this clear? Because from what I hear, women and people of color, and especially women of color, know full well what the intentions are and are not of their oppressors. And what women of color tell me is this: "It doesn't matter what their intentions are. What matters is the effect their well-intentioned actions (or not-well-intentioned actions) has on us." And, again, this blog doesn't exist to serve whites and men. They are welcome to read and learn what they can, and to go to the blogs I link to, particularly those of women of color, and learn a whole lot more than I could ever teach them. But will they? Let's see.

While this doesn't change the facts which you present, perhaps it would make the admittedly radical (albeit correct) concepts more digestible for society.

I'm not particularly concerned about whites' and men's indigestion. I used to be consumed with concern about it. But I've learned where my energy is best placed, and it is in friendships with women, not men. And with people of color, not whites. If I scan the last ten years of my life, what has most dramatically changed is the whites and men who I've let go of hoping will become humane. I didn't let go because of my pessimism, but rather due to their stubbornness, their patent refusal to deal with their CRAP. And I've spoken quite politely, quite kindly, quite lovingly, even, with many white men. The tone doesn't matter, actually. As soon as they whites and men catch wind that I'm requesting they understand themselves as those they oppress experience them, they don't wish to continue the conversation. The police, nice conversation comes to an abrupt halt. Over and over and over again. So I'm not invested in them getting it. But I also can't afford to stop speaking to them. Because if I don't, I know who the burden will fall to.

So I do have to try various ways and means of communicating, and what I honestly hope is that other whites and other men will take what is useful from this blog and from all the other blogs of women of color, and white women, and men of color, and trans people, and intersex people, and grow their humanity and bring that growth to their own people, in ways I will not, because I have made a decision to not put my energies there any more.

Or maybe that's just my white, heterosexist upbringing talking. ;)

In any case, I will certainly continue to stop by!

I'm glad you'll be stopping by, justme. And the political effects of the values we've grown up with, you and me, is critical to understand. Because central to what we learned is that we are the most important people on Earth, and our needs must always be met and attended to, which makes us horribly self-centered beings and terribly ignorant about most of humanity.

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