Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Constitutes True Social Justice?

I often wonder what it would be like to wake up in a world where liberals believe half of the shit that they regularly spout.  You know the catch phrases, we're colour blind, men and women are equal, children have universal rights, cruelty to animals is wrong etc. We give lip service to so many things and fall so far short of living up to our stated beliefs.

The same people that can walk up to alter crying in front of God and Church that they are redeemed, will in the very next moment use religion to justify their ignorance and xenophobia. 

The west is a culture that thrives on the masquerade. I do believe the only honest city in the U.S.A is Las Vegas.  When you roll into that city, they make it more than clear that their goal is to rob you blind with a smile.  Yes, we'll kiss your ass until you go broke, and then we'll happily put you on the next bus home. The bullshit is right out there for the world to see.

Social Justice is dishonest because it pretends to care.  Equality, is the repeated mantra, and most believe it, until it conflicts with their special interest movement. 

Feminism is all about women, but you had better be white, and privileged.  The MRA is all about men, but once again white and privileged.  The GLBTQI want to be treated like anyone else, but you must clearly understand that the movement itself is white and privileged. 

Do you see a recurring theme here?  Let me have the honour of spelling it out for you, WHITE AND PRIVILGED. Even movements that we do not typically associate with inner discord like disability groups, and fat hatred groups have one major thing in common their leaders are white. 

Due to the fact that these particular groups are fighting to make the world a better place, (with the exception of the MRA) we are not supposed to notice the white power structure. The suffering of whiteness is meant to blind us to the ways in which they participate in the social imbalance that creates their own stigmatization. 

If you support one form of ism and "othering," you should hardly be surprised when the same standard is applied to you.  All forms of oppression are interconnected.  What blinds people to this simple truth is a quest for power.  The overvaluation of whiteness encourages the systemic hierarchy wherein so-called leaders of justice movements continually choose white representation, silencing the members of their group that are of colour. 

POC listen as we are repeatedly told how wrong racism is by the so called avante garde avengers.  We watch incredulously as they pat themselves on the back, and yet routinely silence us in group meetings.  Don't pretend you don't know what I am talking about either.  Time after time a person of colour will make a suggestion about fundraising, or outreach only to have it rejected. Magically before the meeting comes to an end, the same suggestion is re-worded and suggested by someone white and it is hailed as a stroke of freaking genius.

But why focus on race and specifically whiteness when social justice movements are working so hard to make a change?  I continually return to whiteness and race because it is the elephant in the room.

We only want to speak about race in the ways in which we have become comfortable.  To deviate from the liberal belief that we are all post racial, or that the world is colour blind forces us to talk about the ways in which whiteness daily fails to acknowledge that it is indeed an issue in inequality.  Whiteness is neither dormant or passive; it daily engages in preserving its hegemony. 

Liberals hide behind their justice movements and then daily use whiteness to recreate and perpetuate oppression.  Until you can truly say that you are interested in benefiting everyone, you need to stop and think about the ways in which your whiteness informs your behaviour. 

I know that you have been taught that whiteness is the default neutral, or that whiteness does not constitute a race, but that is far from the truth.  If you cannot even acknowledge the ways in which you are an active body, it is because you have become accustomed to embracing the power which is embedded to your body. 

Wanting true social justice and equality means more than owning your unearned privilege, it means actively seeking to listen to the voices of people of colour. It means ensuring that within the movement that you are participating in, that you're not recreating social injustice.  To care about bettering humanity means putting aside your interests and understanding the ways in which you benefit from an unbalanced system.  In truth POC can tell you over and over again the ways in which we have been marginalized, but until whiteness makes a conscious decision that equality, means equality for all, these movements are doomed to failure. You cannot fight one oppression by sustaining another.


space said...

The tricky thing about being a member of a dominant group is that we're taught to feel like NOT dominating is bending over backwards - i.e., that leveling the playing field is giving an unfair advantage. I can use men and women as an example: men will feel like they're doing "half" the chores when they're doing a quarter, or that women are "talking too much" when they talk the same amount as men. I think it's the same kind of thing when it comes to race relations. Affirmative action is nowhere near leveling the playing field yet, but lots of white people feel it gives an unfair advantage to minorities. When non-white people - especially black people - speak out about racism, they're seen as "angry" when a white person doing the same would be seen as fair and reasonable.

Something needs to be done to make culturally dominant people realize how uneven things really are. Maybe we should all spend a month or so in some kind of reversal mode, being treated the way a non-dominant group is typically treated. And somehow people have to be convinced that it really is like that, and not an exaggeration.

Queers United said...

I enjoy reading things from your perspective because as a white guy myself I don't and can't ever truly understand what POC are going through. It must be very frustrating when voices aren't heard or ideas are stolen only to whiten them up so to speak. So keep speaking out, keep up the fight, one day hopefully we will truly be color blind, we aren't even close yet.

polerin said...

I don't want to be color blind, I like the textures and richness that comes from people that are different from myself. I think colorblindness in a way is an example of exactly what Renee is talking about, though if I'm wrong I apologize. In viewing everyone as "the same" we are ignoring the fact that people are different, have different challenges, and different cultural experiences. This means that we erase who and what they are, replacing their concerns with ours.

I could see this also leading to other problems, as when they suddenly say something that doesn't match what the (likely white) power structure sees as important, their ability to get anything heard at all diminishes.

Transitioning was a reality check for me. It showed me some of the privilege I had enjoyed prior, at times very clearly. As I was leaving the company I had transitioned in my supervisor (white middle aged guy), told me that he had recently realized he was disregarding technical advice and analysis from me at a much higher rate after I went full time.

I have my own blind spots like this, and race issues are most definitely one of them.

Sam said...

Good post. Insightful as all-get-out.

One thing that I would like to maybe add to that (and hopefully tie-in with your central thesis) is the role in which media-manipulation, or at least rhetoric tailored to a mass audience, plays a part in the predominantly white representation of "othered" multiracial groups such as the disabled, LGBT, etc.

There is an idea that, as a disadvantaged minority group, you have to rhetorically appeal to the majority (in this case, White America) and thus get them to "put themselves in your shoes" to have them (as the power-holders) institute the changes that you want implemented. Because of this, anything that can tacitly encourage the majority to identify WITH you instead of othering you is desirable, and putting a white face to go with your arguments is seen to be a good way of getting the sympathies of White America on your side, encouraging the whole "it could have happened to ME!" line of thinking. Tragically and ironically enough, the best way to "un-other" oneself in this way is through the tacit supporting of another form of othering, that of the racial other. Thus, in attempting to identify themselves with the majority of White America, these groups will often implicitly devalue the agendas of their own members of colour; a sad situation, but one emblematic of working within the Belly of the Beast.

I'm actually trying to write a story with this theme, incidentally.

jadedjabber said...

I often tell people that white privilege (or male, or cis, etc) is like alcoholism, or an addiction. It is seductive, acknowledging it only the beginning, and it takes a lifetime of deconstruction and working on it. It is not something you are going to be able to "get" or "get over" because of the way in which the system evolves and reshuffles to ensure it's own survival. Like being a recovering addict it is a day by day work which isn't easy.

Many people don't like this analogy. Some say its too depressing, or it turns people off. But I think it tells a truth about privilege. Privilege is addicting and we all love to live in denial or pretend that there is a quick fix.

Danny said...

Reminds me of one of my first posts.

nia said...

I realize some people understand how privilege works and that is good, but by and large it seems most people will just prefer to believe only what makes them feel comfortable. So I think it is better to instead focus one's efforts and energy on things that will bring about real effective change, no matter how small.
In an earlier post I attempted to engage with a white person who thought they were so 'liberal', they were rambling on about black stereotypes, and claiming that they knew so much about black culture and behaviour etc., They felt it was somehow their right to condescend and teach black people about what is wrong with them and so on.
Instead of trying to debate with this person, I should have been engaging in more positive micro-activism and ally work on the actual groups that need it.
Telling people to check their privilege is off my list of to-do's for the time being. It's a waste of time. Let them think what they want, and instead focus on allying with those that truly need it.

Renee said...

I have been following your interaction with the bigot in question. I refused to engage with a white person who will tell me that they no more about being black than I do.
I think you tell someone once that their being a racist asshat maybe drop a pearl of wisdom and then move on. It's like arguing with an MRA about sexism no matter what you see that person steadfastly refuses to see the truth.

Speaking about privilege will always be important though. I think we should try and reach those that want to learn. Those that are there to thwart the message should just be ignored for the trolls that they are.

professorwhatif said...

Great post, Renee. I too am so frustrated about hearing all this "post-racial society" bs. I agree with you that racism is much like "the white elephant in the room" as you put it and that many social justice movements put race/racism under erasure. However, I would like to defend my beloved F word, feminism. I agree that certain feminists and certain parts of the movement ignore white privilege and don't grapple with racism enough, however, I don't agree that feminism "is all about women, and you better be white, and privileged." I certainly see where this criticism is coming from, and too many feminists have not moved beyond some of the "first wave" mentality. However, even way back, women and men of color were important to the movement -- though curriculum has erased their achievements and contributions. Feminism has never been a white only movement, but has been framed as such by CERTAIN feminists as well as by many feminist texts. To me, a feminism that does not take on all forms of social inequality is not being true to the tenets of social justice and equality for all. Sorry for the long rant, but the F word is near and dear to my heart, and I hope we can change people's understanding of feminism -- to make those "white feminists" who deny white privilege or ignore all other issues but their own see that feminism must be based on an intersectional perspective...

Renee said...


Though I have adopted many feminist principles I identify as a womanist because of the history of betrayals of feminism as it relates not only to WOC but to the poor.
As feminism has left the streets and moved into the academy it has become even more elitist and exclusionary. While it is nice to say that not all feminism is racist when we look at the ones that aren't what we will see is that it a form of feminism led particularly by WOC. Why is that? If feminism is dedicated to advancing the causes of all women why is it that it is WOC must create our own branches to be recognized?
In terms of feminism not being all about women with the exception of eco-feminism and anti-racist feminism which specifically looks at men of color due to their relation to woc there is not a lot of discussion beyond the cursory comment sexism hurts men to. Even recently some feminist were complaining about black women speaking up about police brutality against black men.