As most reading this blog already know I am a black woman. Often the ways in which my words or actions are interpreted by others are based solely on my race and gender status. If someone refuses to acknowledge their privilege they will often find what I have to say confrontational and use various methods in an attempt to delegitimize what I have to say or otherwise silence me. There are some that claim ally status and as proof of their solidarity they will seek to cast me in the role of eternal victim, thus ignoring the ways in which I employ my power to create a positive change in my environment. Though the reasoning of the two aforementioned parties are vastly different, they are essentially an expression of white privilege.
Even using the term white privilege can be threatening to people in some circles. To talk critically about whiteness from the perspective of an oppressed body is to leave oneself open for criticism, as whiteness supposedly exist beyond question. When I add the gender to the issue, who is understood as inherently female becomes part of the conversation. Though there is no doubt that I am a woman, the value of my femininity is problematized by my race.
Being a WOC means that others often try to foster their interpretation of what my identity means upon me, rather than allowing me to articulate what I stand for. There are various ways to react to this form of blatant appropriation of my being, I can either resist their interpretation and attempt to define myself, or curl into a fetal position sucking my thumb in defeat.
There are those that have a tendency to want to completely own the pain inflicted upon us however, in the process they forget that they still exist with power. Whiteness has created bodies of colour as the default victim and therefore it becomes all to easy to capitulate and thereby ignore the ways in which we can be active agents. There is no doubt that racism has a very negative impact on our lives and for WOC it is experienced within a very genderized construct, however allowing whiteness to control the conversation is only an expression of the ways in which we have been mentally colonized.
While I am certainly not in the position to judge another on the coping mechanisms which they employ to survive our racist, patriarchal culture, I do know that we need to be conscious of why we take on certain labels and how the interpretations of others impacts our decisions. Allowing another to discern and control what the issues that effect our lives entail is nothing more than a form of submission in the guise of owning victimology.
We are more than what someone does to us. Each day when we wake, we make small decisions that have the potential to lead to great change. It is because we have been understood as powerless that these actions continually fail to merit the respect that they deserve. We can actively choose not to participate in conversations in which we have been declared unwelcome, or we can kick the door down and demand our voices be heard. This is not the action of a militant, but the actions of a person that refuses to be the eternal victim so that others may patronize our struggle. To be active is the difference between freedom and submission.
There is much resistance to the ideas that I have expressed in this post so far and yet I cannot help but express my frustration with those that continually refuse to acknowledge that they can be more than what society wants them to be. Yes your hurt is real, and yes living in a racist patriarchal society means that you will continue to confront the limitations of someone else’s prejudice but if you do not resist or refuse to move beyond each individual situation you risk drowning in the sorrow of your own victim status. Pull up your big girl panties ladies, there is a war to fight and there is far to much at stake for us to uniformly decide that capitulation is the best plan of action.