Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When Anger Makes You Deny Privilege

"Black Friendly When We Need You" was cross posted at Feministe.  My experience blogging there has not always been the most pleasant. In fact many times I have felt down right attacked, but I have continued on because I believe that we need to have conversations openly and honestly, if a change is ever to happen.

My feelings on the blame game that resulted from the yes vote on 8 are still extremely raw, actually that may even be an understatement. When I went to read the commentary on that thread, I saw an instant vision of red. In an effort to attack the racism that I view that many are engaging in when it comes to Prop 8, I was blind to my cisgender privilege and made the following comment:

 On a post about coalition building and why it is necessary to examine privilege when it comes to assigning blame, this is the shit I get to read. You know I’m about to say some really honest shit. If you are gay and you walk down the street does anyone know for certain that you are gay? Well??? Guess what no matter where I go my blackness is available for all to see. I cannot hide it, I cannot blend in and I cannot pretend for one moment that it does not exist.

While what I said about colour is most defiantly accurate, what I ignored was the cisgender privilege in that statement. When I made the statement about visibility, I was not thinking about trans people, and the issues that come with "passing" (I hate that term but don't know another to use).  I excluded them in my effort to make a point about racism, and thereby belittled their experience. 

As conscious as I try to be, I mess up.  Now I could  say that I was prodded into that statement by some of the ignorant commentary on that thread, but really I know better. There are no excuses for "othering" anyone in any circumstance. 

My commentary on that thread is the perfect example of what I have been talking about in reference to oppressions being linked, when I accused liberals of not having the courage of their convictions due to the usage of an oppression to fight an oppression.  I wanted people to take racism seriously and I privileged my oppression as a POC to do so.

I have acknowledged my mistake, but where to go from here? As principled as I try to be in the way that I lead my life, I instantly reached for what was comfortable in my rage...hierarchy of oppression; otherwise known as oppression Olympics.  I know that I am not the only person to be guilty of such behaviour, what I am interested in is the why.

Is it because the pain of oppression is so personal?  Is it because of a need to lash out when one feels hurt?  Honestly I have no answer.  I do know that it is wrong. So my question is how do we go about unlearning privilege at times when we are challenged?  It is easy for me, or anyone, in a time of calm reflection to recognize "othering",  but doing so at a time when emotions are raw takes a different level of consciousness.  It seems that I have not reached that point yet. 

I tried to re-engage after apologizing, but my heart was no longer in the debate after realizing my mistake.  Suddenly seeing a reflection in myself of something I am ardently against spoiled my spirit for the fight.  Tomorrow I might feel differently but for now, my disappoint is deep and bitter.  The only consolation that I can give myself is that it was done in anger, and the knowledge that I never would have done that in a state of calmness.  I guess I am just sharing with you a profound sense of personal disappointment in myself.


Naomi said...

It takes courage to admit when we're wrong and start again. And each day is a new day when we try to right the wrongs of others and most importantly, ourselves. I think you're doing a great job.

Emily S said...

As always, Renée, you show how things should be done. It's completely normal to say things in anger which aren't as reasoned as when one is in a calmer mood and all I can say is thank you for your understanding and your ever present honesty.

I agree with Naomi: You're doing a great job!

whatsername said...


Everyone does it at some point, we're simply not perfect, especially when we're seeing red.

Mistakes are how we learn.

dollyspeaks said...

The important thing to remember is no one is perfect. You're a good person, Renee. Just being aware of your mistake and trying not to make it again does influence the world in a good way. Talking about it in your blog is even better. You may feel disappointed in yourself, but you will rise above this and be a better person for it. :)

Vera H. said...

I read your post at Feministe plus all the comments, and I must admit, the fallout from the passage of Prop 8 fascinates me. Despite the ugliness of some of the things that have happened, it's good these issues are "out of the closet" and people are talking.

While there always will be racists and homophobes in every group of humans, I'm hopeful that progressive people of all races, genders, and orientations will take what happened with Prop 8 as a lesson, look themselves in the mirror, dust off, and take up the "good fight" again.

polerin said...

Mmmph. Both what you said and your examination of it are problematic, though not deeply so in my opinion. Let me explain what I see in it, and get that out of the way, and look at why I'm not so sure it's a big deal. First of all, there are a number of gays and lesbians (as well as bi and straight) people who would be labeled as gay based on their appearance or other presentation factors. Even though others may not *know* if that person is really gay or not, but the reaction is the same regardless of the "truth." The comment is also exclusive of them.

Your reaction to it actually bugs me more on a personal level. Not all transpeople get read as trans walking down the street. I have no way of figuring out percentages, because we just sorta merge in, unless we are completely out. There are many who don't have that choice, and it can make their life difficult, but many do.

All that being said... I think it's understandable that even people who are doing their best to be inclusive and coalition building have moments where their life experiences come into play. The discriminatory experiences that I have being trans are not the discrimination you have faced for being a WoC. People are keyed to react from what we know and have experienced in the past to help us make quicker decisions in the present.

Personally, when I get angry or stressed, the weight of things that have happened to me in the past seems to increase. When I talk about them, the difficulty and hurt in the memories can eclipse the rest of the world and become difficult to look around and see what's going on for everyone else. It's not good for coalition building, but it's real, and its difficult.

The fact that you made a mistake means you are human. What I value more is the fact you recognize it, and have stepped back to own it and examine it. I know I make mistakes, and I'm pretty sure I don't recognize all of them. The fact that you have is what I find important. Keep on doin', and thank you for remembering us, it's more than some GLB advocates manage.

Jennifer said...

Drat. Feministe is the only feminist blog I can stand, and now this.

polerin said...

@jennifer: have you given Hoyden a read? Very nice people in general, though I'm biased on that subject.. first post I read there was tigtog calling mAndrea on her transphobia.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

Renee, I lurk and drop in from time to time to nod my head in agreement and share a comment or two. I think I've read two corrections/apologies and have to say that your honesty and humility is truly inspiring. (Hugs) Please continue with the fight.

LauraJMixon said...

I just need to say, I'm glad you post at Feministe -- I followed you here from there. I am feminist and white, and I admire your clarity and honesty about issues of gender and race. You've helped me better understand and own my white privilege.

Ojibway Migisi Bineshii said...

Renee, we are all learning, that's why we are here, I feel. Don't be so hard on yourself and allow yourself the space for growth.

I don't like nor do I read Feministe. I wrote them an email about why I don't like their blog and they never wrote me back. Why would they not want to engage in a healthy dialogue about the critiques of their blog?

harrietsdaughter said...

Love you so much - this makes me love you more.

Vera H. said...

BTW, we all make mistakes, it's part of being human. Great post.