On Divisiveness in Activism

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard a lot of accusations of activists being “divisive” by asking white protesters to take a back seat at rallies. This is not a new thing; in feminism there is a long history of white women telling women of colour to stop talking about race, that the movement is about ALL women and that they should stop being divisive by pointing out that women of colour have a different experience that goes ignored in feminist circles.

However, accusing people of being divisive is a dangerous thing to do in activism, as it is silencing and can veer into mimicking the very sexist or white supremacist oppression that we are trying to destroy. The problem seems to be that there is a mindset that goes like this: I am taking part in anti-oppression activism, therefore my intentions are clearly good, and we should all just focus on doing that good instead of picking on each other and destroying the movement from within.

But what this mindset fails to acknowledge is that just because you are anti-oppression, does not mean you are magically immune to perpetuating systemic oppression. The fact is that we have all grown up in these oppressive systems, and just because we are aware of them and are attempting to fight against them does not mean we do not still replicate those dynamics within our activist spaces. This is clear in feminism when men like H*** Sch***** (typing his name would inevitably attract his vitriol) become spokesmen for the movement and are considered more legitimate and relatable and a great asset to the movement. Oppressive systems are so pervasive in our lives that we model them without even realising it.

Thus, a huge part of activism is not just to protest against systemic injustice. It is also to constantly look inwards and analyse our own motivations and roles in a movement, to recognize when we are perpetuating an oppressive dynamic that we have learned. That is a huge amount of work, and not something everyone is willing to do; however, it is an integral part of being an activist. This is why activism is someone’s entire work and life – it is hard work. Activist spaces are constantly trying to unlearn oppressive behaviours and systems and create new ones; because if you do not know how to undo oppressive dynamics in your own life and spaces, how could you possibly know how to undo it on a societal level? You cannot come into an activist space, claim to be an activist, and then wonder why other activists are asking you to do the hard work that activism involves.

White people at a Black Lives Matter rally yelling the chants that do not represent their own experiences, acting as if they are affected the same way as their black co-protesters are not practising activism. Viewing people who ask these protesters to step aside and leave room for black protesters as being “divisive” is a dangerous viewpoint to hold – it is usually held by white people. White people do not get to decide where the lines are drawn in activism around racism, just as men do not get to decide what is important or necessary in feminist activism. We as privileged people do not get to define the oppression that we may perpetuate, and we do not get to ignore the voices of the people who are marginalized by a system we are part of. Telling us to take a step back is not a petty demand for people to be utterly perfect; it is a plea for us to take our activism deeper and heal the wounds we have carved into our own activist spaces.

Doctors Aren’t Always Right and Other Life Lessons That Never Get Learned

It seems an unfortunate truth that a lot of us learn how-not-to-be-an-asshole far too late in life. So I have compiled a list of resources and some discussion on the lessons I’ve learned in mine, and hopefully this will help other people on their way to not-being-an-asshole, too. Even if you think you’re not an asshole, you may be surprised. I know I have been surprised to learn that I was an asshole (and very well still may be about something I am currently unaware of), so don’t assume that you know whether you’re being one or not.

First and foremost is the strangely prevalent idea that our doctors (and professors, anyone with a “Dr.” in front of their name) know EVERYTHING EVER and are not possibly biased at all, or are not possibly behind the times in certain areas. Doctors are weird superhumans that are infallible, and if they say something is true, then it absolutely must be, no questions asked, and if you disagree then gawd you’re so stupid thinking you’re better than your doctor. But doctors are HUMANS, and they most certainly DO have biases. Say, for example, perhaps one of the most prevalent biases in the medical community today, fat stigma. WAIT, DON’T POST AN ANGRY COMMENT TELLING ME HOW FAT HAS BEEN *PROVEN* TO BE A DISEASE AND STUPID FATTIES NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT FOR THEIR OWN GOOD BECAUSE THEY ARE *KILLING THEMSELVES*.

I find the idea that doctors know better than everyone else — and if they say something is a medical condition then by golly it IS and who are you, stupid music major, to think you know better than DOCTORS — particularly strange because doctors do not focus on social justice. And receiving sensitivity training is in no way comparable. Doctors are not experts in issues of discrimination, so they can be just as thoroughly unaware of their biases as anyone else. These biases, as with any other human, can affect their research, their diagnoses/treatment of patients, everything — biases affect our view of the world, that’s the point. And since doctors are not immune to this, having studies that “prove” something does not make it True Solid Facts Totally Infallible Shut Up. Even if the data collection for a study is conducted properly, the studying of the data and trying to form conclusions, cause-and-effect, correlation, etc, can be coloured by our prejudices. That’s why there are some studies that support one side of a debate, and there are some that support the other side. It’s not that one side is just totally making shit up. But people can come to different conclusions and even get different data if they have underlying prejudices directing the way they’re approaching their research.

And even if we are unwilling to let go of the “doctor knows all” mentality, there are doctors who don’t believe that fat = UGH SO UNHEALTHY YOU ARE GOING TO DIE EARLY IF YOU DON’T LOSE WEIGHT. So why do we all believe the ones that do?

Health At Every Size
Health at Every Size Blog
21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People
My Fat Body is ME
The Fantasy of Staying Exactly as I Am
Fat Stigma at the Grocery Store

On top of that, there’s a current social trend to be as totally frickin’ culturally insensitive/ironic-racist as possible. This ugly creature rears its head in the form of the trendy “Navajo” clothing at, oh say, every major retailer ever. Hipster headdresses and warpaint, comebacks of racist team logos, and the ever beloved COMPLETELY BLATANTLY-BUT-SOMEHOW-NOT-BLATANTLY racist halloween costumes. And of course popular media, but we all know that’s not a new trend. People have all sorts of reasons as to why any of those things are actually a-okay, but they never seem to stop to ask themselves why they feel the need to come up with such strong defences. Why is it so hard to just stop doing whatever it is?

Racism has always had the fiercest defence, and people seem to raise their hackles pretty quickly as soon as the term “racist” comes into a conversation. But I know I have learned to really think about who something is coming from, and who I am in relation. As in, I am a white middle-class girl. Who the fuck am I to know better than anyone else whether something’s “really” racist or not, having never been on the receiving end of that form of oppression? I don’t mean that white people can never tell when something is racist. But if you don’t think something is racist and someone who is part of a group that experiences racism — who knows first hand what oppression looks and feels like — is telling you that something is racist, you bet your ass they have a better idea of what racism looks like than you do. So maybe ask yourself why you are so unwilling to hear what they have to say.

Because chances are, they’ve already heard what YOU have to say. White people get their voices heard all the time. But how often do we hear the voices of people of colour, not silenced, not stifled, not interrupted?

The Angry Black Woman
Native Appropriations

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Racebending
The Danger of a Single Story (video)

In the same vein, I STILL hear jokes about “Justin Bieber is a girl!” haha, super funny. Not at all. Considering the vast amounts of violent crimes against trans* and other non-gender-bindary folks that are still occurring, IN OUR COUNTRY, HERE AND NOW, I would expect people to stop with transphobic jokes already but hey, that’d be not-asshole-y. And if everyone was not-an-asshole, cissexism wouldn’t be a problem to begin with. Feminism isn’t immune to this shit either; some feminist circles are also transphobic — some very blatantly, and others through constantly equating/linking women with vaginas (vaginae?). Hey, newsflash, not every woman has a vagina. Why is that still news? And another newsflash-that-shouldn’t-be, making jokes about male-identified celebrities really having vaginas is transphobic, plain and simple. Cut that shit out already.

A Conversation With Isis King and Janet Mock (video)
Gender Bitch
Genderbitch on Tumblr
Not Your Mom’s Trans 101
Art of Transliness
My Genital Affirmation (video)

Obviously there are many, many more lessons in how-to-not-be-an-asshole that everyone needs to learn. But alas, I must save it for another day, as the words pass 1000 and the night grows old. So I will leave you with this information for now; the many links will hopefully bring you hours of joyous self-assessment and/or just some interesting stuff to read if you’re already down with all this. And some day hence, I shall return, with more lessons that I have learned and want to share with you. Until then, adieu!

Breaking News: Black Character Actually Played by Black Actor This Time!

I’m amazed.

I just watched the trailer for a new Wuthering Heights movie.

HEATHCLIFF IS ACTUALLY BLACK THIS TIME!

Except sadly, the only reason I think this happened is because it’s not a big-budget Hollywood production. So don’t worry, Hollywood is still as racist as ever, HURRAAAAYYYY.

When I read the book I had always thought it was pretty fucking obvious that he was a black guy, and that (along with the inevitable-because-yay-racist-society lower-class-ness) was why Cathy’s feelings for him were frowned upon. Although Emily never outright writes “he’s a black dude and everyone’s fucking racist”, but I thought it was pretty obvious from the description of his dark skin and the way everyone treated him like utter piss even when he’d been fancied up a bit. But in every big screen adaptation? Well, let’s have a look, shall we?

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m white as fuck!

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m also white as fuck.

Hey! Guess who I am! And guess what colour I am?!

Because god forbid there be an actual black actor on screen, as a MAIN CHARACTER? HEINOUS. And not only that, but as the MAIN LOVE INTEREST, too? That’s just out of the question.

Except now someone finally admits it — hey this book is about interracial relationships and how a racist society shunned people who had them!

(if the video doesn’t show up for you, here’s the link -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjdVKA1AuQ)

Hurray! Fucking FINALLY! THANK YOU! Now Hollywood, follow suit already!

Books That Shaped My Life

I was a pretty avid reader as a child. In fact, I still would be if it weren’t for good ol’ university getting in the way so much; now I just read avidly, when I get the chance. So, lately I was thinking about how my understanding of the world has been shaped by the books I’ve read. And I realised that a lot of my feminism and social-justice-ism has stemmed from the books I read when I was young.

The formative years for my ideology seems to have been when I was 13-17 years old. Which is when I read the most books, yay! And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the following books actually really shaped my life, they influenced who I have become today. This is not to say that they are all 100% awesome and don’t have any kind of problems in their portrayal of characters/etc; but there’s nothing major — or often, even minor — that I noticed, and they all have very positive messages overall. So here they are, in order of most influential! I have included the age at which I read each book, and a link to each amazon page so you can take a look inside :D

I call this my Pretty-Much-Mandatory Booklist for Raising a Social-Justice-Type Kid

Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli
Age: 12-13
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand out
Amazon: Linky!

This book was like my freaking Bible. I read it in 7th grade, it was actually a mandatory book to read for our English class. The teacher and class all agreed, during the group discussion, that I was very much like Stargirl; though I would actually say I’m more like her now than I was then. Stargirl is about being free to be who you are, about people needing to open their minds to people who are “different” or “whacky”. You know, typical “yay be yourself!” message, but it is a really well-written YA book with a character who may seem unbelievable to some, but to me it was like a shining beacon of “hey, being silly and whacky is actually awesome!” I also always loved that part of Stargirl’s fearlessness for being herself also included not being afraid to be incredibly kind. And I think that was a major point (if not THE major point) of the book; in all this conformity, this wanting to be cool, your humanity and kindness can sometimes get lost.

Fire’s Stone Tanya Huff
Age:14-15
The Lesson: You are all freaking awesome, no matter what.
Amazon: Linky!

I still go back and re-read this book. It’s one of my favourite EVER. It’s an older-YA book, so the messaging is a lot more subtle and underlying to an otherwise not-message-y storyline, unlike with Stargirl. This is a fantasy book (not sci-fi, shut up Amazon) about a sort-of-middle-ages-y-esque world with wizards and magic-ness and monsters and sword fights and YAY! The three main characters are: A woman of colour with shit tons of awesome attitude, a white gay(? though possibly bisexual or fluid-in-sexuality) man who has been exiled, and a white bisexual man who is the third son of a king so he sort-of-has-power-but-sort-of-doesn’t. And what’s awesome about this book is that they are all AWESOME. None of them are stereotypes even though at first they seem like they will be.

They are all fully-realised characters whom you grow to love equally, depicted as *gasp* HUMANS! And their “different”-ness is not portrayed as some kind of novelty; the relationship that develops between the two men is written just like a straight relationship is written in any other book. It’s not “LOL THEY’RE GAY FOR EACH OTHER LOL!” It’s “this is a human relationship developing! Yay!” And the WOC character rocks my socks. She’s powerful but flawed (as are all the characters), and although at first she’s considered to be the “bitchy” character, the reader and the other characters gain insight and realise that she’s not at all a bitch. She’s awesome. And the author is Canadian, by the way. SO READ IT :D

Whale Talk – Chris Crutcher
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Racism of all kinds and calibre is hurtful and damaging to people’s lives and society.
Amazon: Linky!

I only read this one once, and don’t remember much from it… but man, does it still haunt me. It deals with racism, and though if I recall correctly there maaaaay be a bit that could be taken as “White Saviour”-ness (though I took it, at the time, more as just the father wanting to protect his son), it deals with it really well. There’s this one scene, in which a little black girl, whose white father is a racist shithead, tries to scrub her blackness away with a brillo pad. I don’t think I will ever forget this scene, because of just the starkness, that this IS a reality for people. What I got from the book when I read it at age 14 was that even for people who don’t try to scrub away their skin, the ever-present racism in our society can make you fucking feel like doing it sometimes. And us white people don’t know the half of it.

You Don’t Know Me – David Klass
Age: 14-15
The Lesson: Life can be really shitty, but it’s usually worth living. It gets better.
Amazon: Linky!

This is another book that I only read once, and a while ago, but I remember how it made me feel. It covers depression, abuse, thoughts of self-harm and suicide. It deals with the reality of many teenagers’ not-so-awesome lives. It made me consider that I actually had a pretty fabulous life, as well, with a good support system. The book deals with how important it is to have a support system of people who you can trust and who really love you, and that sometimes the people who you think don’t care really truly do. It’s written as if we were in the main character’s mind, a character with whom pretty much anyone can relate even if they’ve never suffered the abuse that he has. It was really eye-opening for me to think about the reality of some people’s lives, as well as to finally have a book that deals honestly with internal turmoil that teens can have, without blowing it off as hormones or just a phase.

Flipped – Wendelin Van Draanen
Age: 13-14
The Lesson: Don’t be an asshole.
Amazon: Linky!

This one is kind of surprising for me, and if you’ve read the book, you might find it surprising too. The main plot is about a girl obsessed with a boy who doesn’t like her back. It follows their lives growing up, and their interactions with each other. Each chapter alternates between characters’ narration, so you get each persons’ perception of the interactions between the two. And although it’s mainly a love story, this narrative style actually worked really well for the main lesson I learned from it. It was one particular scene and each characters’ feelings around it that taught me this lesson. The main female character has a developmentally disabled uncle whom she loves dearly and spends time with as much as possible. In the particular scene, she overhears the main male character laugh at some ableist joke that a friend of his made about her uncle. Seeing it from the two different characters’ perspectives, it becomes really clear that doing or saying things just to try to fit in — even if it is simply laughing at a joke nervously when you don’t know what else to do — can make people feel just as awful as saying those things totally earnestly. Being a bullying jerk is shitty even when you’re just laughing along. Enabling bigoted and prejudiced thought can be incredibly damaging and hurtful. So. Don’t be an asshole.

Extra Bonus Books That I Read Too Late But They Totally Would Have Shaped Me If I’d Read Them Earlier On!

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson
Age:18 (but suitable for 14-16 year olds, I’d say)
The Lesson: Rape is terrible and terrifying, and healing from it takes time, and just surviving with the reality of it every day takes incredible strength.
Amazon: Linky!

This is a pretty famous book that also got turned into a pretty decent movie (starring Kristen Stewart? Zomg no wai). It’s about a 14 year old girl who is raped by a schoolmate, and it deals with aaaaall the social SHIT around rape. It follows the beginning of her journey towards healing from her assault, and it’s a very real and honest story that is easy to relate to. It takes all the things we “know” about rape and brings it to us on a personal level, making the reader not only know, but understand.

When She Woke – Hillary Jordan
Age: 20 (but suitable for 15-17 year olds)
The Lesson: Autonomy is an incredibly important thing, and the reality of not having it would be horrifying.
Amazon: Linky!

I read this book just a few months ago, and I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s more politically-minded than any of the other books, so I think it’d be for an older age group than the others. The book is about a dystopian future (which is creepily similar to what’s going on in the states right now, actually) in which abortion is legally considered murder and people who have had abortions are socially exiled. It deals with what the reality of what taking away reproductive rights would mean for individual people. It shows how utterly important a person’s autonomy is, and how devastating it can be to have that taken away. It is, of course, wildly pro-choice, so yeah, some people would say it’s “political propaganda”. However, it’s about the personal relevance of the politics. It’s about how, if fundamentalist Christians were to really get what they want, individual people would be affected by their autonomy being taken away. It’s a reality that people who are pro-life often don’t seem to consider; I think it’s a reality that everyone NEEDS to think about, and this is a pretty well-written and interesting introduction to thinking about that reality.

~~~~

So, that’s my list! Even though I read the books when I was younger/I think the other two would be appropriate for younger readers, I’d still say everyone should read all of those books. Even though they will be a pretty easy read, they’re still really freaking awesome. And really freaking awesome books are great to read at ANY age! In fact, I’m going to go and re-read all of them RIGHT NOW.  You should go and read them too. DO IT.

I’d also really love to hear about books that other people have found to have the most impact on their ideology and mindset. What would YOU say is the book that influenced you most, and what about it was so influential?

A Quick Word On Hoodies and Trayvon Martin

Everyone’s doing it, I know. Buuuuuuuut sucks to be you, so am I :P Even though I know I’m a liiiittle late to the game. But still. Some quick thoughts on this:

So I’m sure many of you have already heard about the Fox News presenter’s opinion that wearing the hoodie was at least partly responsible for Trayvon Martin’s murder. And as you’re all awesome, I’m sure you all rolled your eyes at the utter stupidity of it all.

It’s just yet another case of victim blaming. That the conversation of whether hoodies count as “suspicious attire” or not is even taking place is completely ridiculous. Then again, the conversation about whether a short skirt means a woman “wanted” to be raped is fucking stupid too. It’s because it’s pretty much impossible to be a “perfect victim” — someone will always find a reason why something happened to YOU (and the implied — not THEM). Because YOU did something wrong. They come up with the clothing bullshit… but really the answer goes more like this.

This is what you did wrong:

1. You were black
(“he looked suspicious! In a hoodie on a dark night, anyone would have been scared by that. He should have known better!”)
or for rape:
2. You were a woman
(“She’s such a slut, she was drunk and practically begging him to! And did you see what she was wearing?? She obviously wanted the attention”)
in cases of rape of men:
3. You’re not manly enough
(mostly focusing on excuses about “he didn’t fight back (enough)!”, special focus if he were a gay or trans* victim — not-so-subtly pointing out all the ways the victim didn’t conform to [the ridiculous expectations of] society’s “masculinity”)

A crime will never be entirely the perpetrator’s fault in everyone’s eyes unless it’s like… a middle-class hard-working straight cis white man who never did anything bad (that anyone knows of), wasn’t down a dark alley or anywhere suspicious, wasn’t drunk, was wearing plain old jeans and a t-shirt, and fought back — extra points if he died doing what is considered to be a heroic job (police work, etc). And if he fills out all of those expectations, he is of course no longer a victim at all, he’s a tragic hero who lost his life far too soon in this unfair world.

Though middle-class straight-A-student innocent blondie prepubescent girls come very close in the hierarchy of the “perfect victim”. But she still remains a victim, not a hero — the tragic angel.

But Trayvon Martin was black. And apparently that makes it a little less bad. It makes his own murder a little bit his fault.

Oh wait no I mean HE WAS WEARING A HOODIE GUYS, WHAT A DELINQUENT.

___

more reading:

Crunk Feminist Collective: On Appropriate Victims: More on Trayvon Martin and Others

The Angry Black Woman: Black in America

Tiger Beatdown: Obstructed Justice: The Death of Trayvon Martin