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Been participating in a comment thread over on shakesville and the comments thread was closed while I was in the process of writing. Since my every word is precious (ahem!) I figured I'd put it here instead. This may turn out to make absolutely no sense out of context; sorry about that.

my snarkiness aside, regarding teachable moments:

It's my experience that when somebody puts their foot in it, it's mostly a teachable moment for the spectators. Many of whom we've seen here in the last two days: multiple commenters have spoken here for the first time & stuck around to learn things in public.

Personally, my own process tends to look like:
  • I screw up publicly
  • I get called on it
  • I get defensive
  • I retreat (or flounce off, if I've gotten *really* defensive)
  • I shut up and listen
  • I watch somebody else screw up in the same way
  • I watch yet somebody else screw up in much a similar way
  • eventually when somebody is in the process of screwing up like that, I can see it coming...
  • ...and then finally I can claim to have learned something from my initial screw-up.

At best, I can say that after 17 years of talking about social justice, I'm better about being quiet when I'm feeling defensive. As it turns out, there's a lot of dignity available, there.
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Google, as long as you're pretending my gender lacks "creativity and innovation" I'm gonna keep not using your search engine.

Blizzard, srsly? You're trying to respond to harassment by making it easier for stalkers to find their targets?

Bah. Turning off the computer, now. Sick to my stomach.
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I often hear the question, what can liberal Whites do to be allies to people of color? Or the more-generalized question, what can those with privilege do to be allies, not oppressors, in the fight for social justice? A post by Anarchist People of Color regarding actions against Crimethinc. gave me an answer:

"Try to create a culture of calling people out on their shit."

The whole article is good, but I'm tickled to have a soundbite to pass around to people with less patience, too. (is the demand for a soundbite-sized explanations of complex situations a hallmark of privilege? I think the oppressor does live in a simpler world than the oppressed.)
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In my experience, mainstream liberals can grasp why overt acts of othering are something to be avoided: the tech conference shenanigans that marginalize non-heterosexual non-males, for example.

I want to talk about the covert stuff. The stuff that sounds perfectly *normal* until somebody points it out. And then I want to talk about *why* I think it’s important that we point it out.

There’s a category I’m looking to define, which I call “Casual Othering.” It’s in the caricatures we use as shorthand to refer to whole groups of marginalized people, without ever explicitly saying anything negative about those people. Often without saying anything at all about those people – we’re just using them to make an entirely different point. The pink bow to mean an entire gender, used to suggest that if “you” engage in certain behaviors you’ll attract women. A piece of traditional garb to mean an entire race of people, used to suggest that if “you” go to this place you’ll find tasty food.

By marking the difference, we normalize the unmarked state and dehumanize the other.

By doing so casually, we exclude that group from our audience and we move on with our conversation – not stopping and talking about the exclusion renders the othering invisible and protects the speaker, who can then hide behind intention: but this had nothing to do with any minority group! Except we *made* it have something to do with that minority group by using a reference to the group as a communication tool. We’re casually making fun of a whole group of people in order to make our communication sound edgy.

And why do I think we should not do this, and point it out when other people do it? Because the practice normalizes bias. It makes demarcating and excluding difference just part of the fabric of our conversations. It provides fodder for those who want to respond, “why are you making a big deal out of this little thing?” And it creates fertile ground for the more-obviously-destructive forms of bias, forms of discrimination which require a normalization of othering before they can be enacted.

It’s a teeny-tiny step from using racial references in casual conversation to actual civil rights violations.


Jun. 10th, 2009 03:37 pm
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I should have realized this before: When people talk about "special rights", what they're saying is that they think *other* people should have no right to the privilege that *they* enjoy. It's the implication on the speaker's part that the privileged *earned* what they're being given. This, however, is generally false, because if they had actually earned it, they'd *say* that, instead of resorting to this kind of doublespeak.

Related to this, the next time says that it sounds like I think they should be ashamed for having privilege, the answer would be: No, you should be ashamed for acting like you somehow earned it.

"I've Got Mine": The inane philosophy that privilege is earned rather than bestowed.
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Well, before I really got down to writing my "what about the men?" posts, Feministing started the conversation for me.

And, as usual, it's a theory-heavy discussion about "men" and "feminists", "allies" and "activism". It's absolutely a good read -- there's important stuff in there. But, I think, there's something missing for me in that discussion, as in most discussions about men & feminism (granted, I have not read all the comments to all those posts, so I may have missed where this gets discussed).

But anyway, I sat down to talk about why the theory isn't enough, and what I ended up with was ... pure theory. Oops. Well, I'm going to post it anyway. Right now, I'll talk some talk ... and next time, I hope to actually walk the walk, once this bit of theory is out of my system!

One of the side-effects of privilege is being used to being an individual, rather than a member of a class. That's often a sticking point, I find, in these conversations -- allies want to be treated like individuals, they want a chance to explain themselves, they want their personal snowflake-like eye-opening experience take the center of their conversations about social justice. And people who are in the thick of working for social justice know that if they spend all that time treating each privileged wanna-be ally like the individual they're used to being treated like, they'd never ever get anything else done.

But. For all that I'm impatient with the demands that male allies of the feminist movement get their recognitions as individuals, I can understand it, too. I treasure each and every one of my little "click" moments, where another bit of feminism slips into place for me based on my very own personal experience of the world. But those moments, rooted so deeply in my personal experience, are exactly how my feminism gets de-egoed. They're where my personal experience leads me to understanding the political reality of oppression. This is where the phrase "The personal is political" comes from.

Consciousness Raising groups aren't everybody's thing. But I do think that the process of coming to believe in social justice is one of personal consciousness-raising. Many women talk about coming to feminism via a personal "click" moment of realization. I think it's important to acknowledge that for many people, male and female, those moments can be traumatizing. And someone's personal trauma needs to be addressed, somehow, before that person can really work towards social justice.
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(I have not yet gotten to the 'what about the menz' posts; this is something else entirely.)

Have you called your congresscritter about the Employee Free Choice Act or the Paycheck Fairness Act yet? Yesterday was Fair Pay Day; read about this stuff at a feminist blog near you. Today I read a Feministe repost of an earlier guest post by Sarah Jaffe as well as Sarah's Blog for Equal Pay Day post on her own blog.

And I want my goddamned twelve cents. (that's the conservative number, from the GAO. Yes, the one you get after you control for all the variables; the pervasive myth that controlling for occupation, industry, race, marital status and job tenure wipes out the wage gap is a horseshit excuse to try to avoid social justice, so cut it out.)

I've noticed that support for unions among mainstream liberals decreases as the percentage of women in unions rises. Don't just say "I've got mine! Don't need 'em anymore!" We are here -- with a reasonably-sized workweek, worker protections, maternity leave, minimum wage and on, and on, and on -- because of unions. They're not out-of-usefulness just because the average middle-class worker has most (but not all) of the benefits unions have fought for over the decades.

WE'RE NOT DONE. Corporations still exploit workers for the bottom line; now they just claim they have a right and responsibility "to shareholders" to address "labor costs." I call bullshit. Treating your workers as valuable human beings instead of resources to be exploited has been shown time and again to be *good* for the bottom line (q.v. Riane Eisler's Real Wealth of Nations to name an accessible-to-the-layman text that talks about this. Note that I Am Not An Economist, and I believe neither is she.)

To quote Sarah Jaffe in the Feministe post: "Unions ... do and have done more to improve the living standards of American workers than anything else."

Enough with getting wishy-washy about labor rights, people. We're not done.


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