You should read these posts before going further:
So I’m thinking about all this in context of Tasha’s post over here. And how the media is used, who is using it, and why none of us colored girls ever seem to get published.
And how we’re lazy and have no gumption and stand around waiting for people to admire our beauty and dazzels. When what it really takes is good old fashioned hardworkgumption.
Shirely Sherrod got fired for saying something quite similar to what I’ve said in the past. That there is redemption and possibility and compassion even in the scariest places. That radical love–not the cheap whiny romatic love–but radical love–can and will and must bring us out of the hell we live in. She talked about her struggle to deal with this white guy–she helped him anyway, then saw he wasn’t getting the help he deserved–and made the political choice. The very political choice. That so many are refusing to talk about in this mess. Because they are so caught up in the “prejudice” and “she was wrong and then she changed” bullshit that they think is the Sherrod story.
The very political choice to ally herself with all oppressed people. The very political choice to prioritize a radical love that recognizes the humanity in another, even if that person can and did and does hurt you.
It’s no mistake that the white farmer and Sherrod are still good friends. That you saw them both on t.v. Uncomfortable as fucking shit. Squirming, hair barely combed, looking more than a bit stunned. But very clearly stating. What you all are doing is wrong.
She’s a good friend of ouren.
But her very political choice to side with other oppressed peoples–the same choice I’ve advocated for and written about for a very long time–still got her fired.
I want it to be clear that my words have strong influences. I wish I could link to little light‘s words that also helped prompt this, but she didn’t blog them. The post I did link is still influential and powerful.
The point of kyriarchy is not to just maintain oppressive systems that place us in this metaphorical pyramid relative to everyone else (and I do mean everyone – there is no outside, and you cannot voluntarily step outside when outside does not exist). It is to maintain a system that turns us against each other. It is a system that teaches us not to identify with, or empathize with, or sympathize with each other. It teaches us to look to our differences as adversarial and identify with those who have as much as or more power than we do.
This is the failure I see over and over again: People identify with the oppressor. People often do not identify with the oppressed. I am not making distinctions here between marginalized and privileged people because this does not matter. Many trans people are quite transphobic, many women are sexist, many people with disabilities carry ableism. They identify more with the dominant culture that valorizes and emblemizes cisnormativity, manhood, and being temporarily able-bodied or neurotypical over transness, womanhood and femininity, or having a disability. No one is immune to this.
This failure is a failure of empathy. When you read about parents murdering their child with a disability? People talk about how terrible it was that the parents had to live with such a burden. They construct a heroic narrative about mercy killings and how terrible it must be to be forced to live with a disability. What people do not do is stop and imagine what it must be like to be a child whose parents murdered her.
When you read about trans women being murdered by cis men, people immediately rush to construct a narrative where the trans woman obviously must have deceived the murderer and slept with him, and it’s completely understandable that a cis man would be so angered by discovering that he just had sex with a trans woman that he’d completely lose his mind and violently murder her – not just kill her, but do everything he can to obliterate her, to erase this imagined taint upon his manhood.
When you read about women – any women – being raped, you see people talk about how she shouldn’t have worn that dress, or had that drink. Or she shouldn’t go out partying if she doesn’t want to have sex. Or how women have a responsibility to take actions to defend ourselves from rapists because apparently it’s too much fucking work to ask that nobody fucking commit rape.
People seem to instinctively put themselves in the shoes of whoever has the most power. They identify with power, and not with marginalization. This is not a matter of ignorance or fucking education, this is simply a matter of who is more sympathetic to their perspective.
And kyriarchy enforces this. I am expected to see myself as having more in common with a cis white TAB NT heterosexual man because we are both white than to identify more with a trans woman of color because she is a woman of color. Even if we’re both queer women, even if we both have a disability, race is supposed to divide me from her. And this functions along every line. And this plays out constantly, in every way. White feminists constantly demand that women of color align with them and ignore race – or does anyone remember the 2008 primaries and how white feminists were implying or saying that black women were traitors to the cause because they were aligning with Obama instead of Clinton? Or how white feminists completely failed to notice that Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente – both women of color – were running on the Green ticket?
So what I say, what I want, what I ask is, when you find yourself in a position to empathize, watch where your empathy goes, who you empathize with. If you find yourself empathizing along the lines of power and oppression, rather than empathizing along the lines of marginalization, of understanding why that oppression and marginalization is wrong, whether or not it’s something you personally experience, ask yourself why?
Empathy, love, solidarity. Why is it so difficult to do these things?
Oh, and I don’t mean the other way? I don’t want anyone to take this post to mean that you should ask marginalized people why they aren’t empathizing along with social power you may possess. People of color have plenty of reason to be suspicious of, even angry with white people. Trans people have plenty of reason to be suspicious and angry of cis people. If you have the power in the equation, it’s on you to reach out to them.
Also, a reminder: The links above are to two cis women of color and a trans woman of color who have written about these concepts. My ideas are developed from theirs. I do not mind if you link back to me, but I sincerely hope you give them credit where it is absolutely due.