rockinlibrarian: (beaker)
It's good, in retrospect, that none of you voted for "larger social issues" when I asked social media what I should blog about next the other week, because it turns out that post wasn't ready yet after all. The winning post about "Smaller personal habits" (ie Ones Relationship with Obligation) did coincide nicely with me finishing sewing a dress. Then I did immediately start typing the second-place "hopes and dreams" post (ie an interesting recent exercise from my endless self-help work) that one person voted for, but trailed out as I hit an emotional dip as the week wore on. Me and my stupid self-help books. Me and my self-pitying funks. I couldn't write about my hopes and dreams then because it would turn into too much woe-is-me. And I REALLY, REALLY couldn't write about Larger Social Issues because I was far too self-centered at the moment. I'd come off as a total hypocrite. I'd come off like I was trying to say something Current that I didn't have any right to say, that other people had said better than I could, that whatever. It just didn't seem to be the right time. Just before I woke up yesterday morning I was in the middle of a dream about belonging to a small group of freedom fighters trying to figure out how to survive outside the Corrupt System until we could overthrow the tyrants-- "we'll probably have enough skills among ourselves, like she's an expert on growing tomatoes, so we'll be able to eat tomatoes. And I, I'm a writer, so I guess I can keep us entertained in our seclusion... oh wait. I'm a WRITER. I NEED TO WRITE THE TRUTH OF WHAT'S GOING ON AND PUT IT OUT THERE TO FURTHER THE CAUSE!"

Then I woke up, got on the computer, and witnessed the reactions to the grand jury decision in Ferguson. Part of me thought, well, now I'm REALLY unworthy to write what I was going to write, but another force was at work inside me. A Divine force, a Calling, the Holy Spirit Itself whispering forcefully NO. YOU NEED TO WRITE THIS. THIS IS EXACTLY YOUR STORY TO TELL, AND PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR IT. Write it on paper today, work it out into something for public consumption, post it tomorrow. You have a divine duty to speak up.

This is why I'm starting out by asking you to read this, no matter who you are. Read it without reacting, just let what I'm saying sink in a bit. Reflect on it. I'm not going to try to explain political issues to you. I'm not going to talk about things I don't understand. Actually THAT'S what I'm going to talk about. The State of Not Understanding. And I want everyone to think about it no matter what they already think about other things.

PRIVILEGE. It's a word that's come up a lot lately in conversations about social issues. It's really easy to misunderstand and get defensive about. But here's the thing: all "Privilege" means is "a particular problem you DON'T personally have." Everyone has Privilege. Nobody has EVERY problem known to humanity. Likewise, along with our Privileges, we all have our own problems, and no one knows exactly what anyone else may be going through. We're all Privileged, and we all have problems, and neither of these things is anything to be ashamed of.

The TROUBLE with our Privilege is when we start to think to ourselves, "THAT Problem? I don't see that Problem. Therefore the Problem must not really exist." Or "...therefore the people talking about the Problem must be exaggerating." Or worse, "...it must be the people WITH the Problem's FAULT somehow. If only they acted like ME. Then THEY wouldn't have the Problem, either."

The thing is, we don't even REALIZE how self-centered we're being. Somehow we're always able to rationalize, in our heads, how if WE and the people we interact with daily don't have a Problem then it really must not be that bad. And, yeah, by "We" I do mean "Me."

The particular issue I'd originally been going to write about was Feminism. You see for years, even as recently as a few months ago --if you go back in my posts you'll probably find me saying something to the effect of it-- my reaction to anyone's talk about sexism was the first one above. "Sure, sexism is wrong and just plain stupid, but is it really as BAD as all that? People can just do what they want, right? Who cares what some stupids have to say about it. I'm a woman and I've never felt held down by the patriarchy. Anyway I WANT to do traditionally feminine things like work with children and be a mother." To be honest I felt threatened by Feminism, afraid I was being judged and found wanting because I wanted to do traditionally feminine things. BUT IT TURNS OUT THIS IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF FEMINISM, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just secretly (or unconsciously!) reinforcing The Patriarchy even more. It's the PATRIARCHY that calls anything "feminine" demeaning. Female is not LESSER. Any kind of gender expression is valid and none is greater than any other. No one else should have any say in the matter.

My point is, I've come to understand these things much better over time, just by listening to some very wise (and some not-so-wise-but-they-still-make-some-good-points) people explain the issue online. And then a few months or so ago there's this backlash against "feminism" that springs up on social media, not from outright misogynists, but from other women: this "#Idon'tneedfeminism" thing. It took me a few months of observing this and sighing inside a little to realize, "Hey wait a minute. THAT WAS ME. I used to say that all the time myself." Why did I say that? Because sexism was not a problem I really ever encountered. I felt annoyed that people-- these "feminists"-- kept allegedly speaking for me as a woman without knowing what I ACTUALLY needed. Yes, I DO have trouble speaking my mind and standing up for myself, not going invisible or making myself small, but this isn't the patriarchy's doing or the doing of Men in my life, these are just my own psychological issues and my Type 9 tendencies.

BUT SO WHAT. So I have different issues. But there are LOTS of other women WITHOUT my issues who DO feel the oppression, and they've been saying OVER and OVER that this oppression is real. Why should I brush off what they're saying just because I'M not feeling the oppression? How self-centered can I BE? "I don't have the Problem, therefore it must not be a Problem"? It's utterly irrational, and even worse, it's utterly un-compassionate.

Here's a feminist issue that is now hitting me close to home, and eventually ties into my overall theme here: my daughter is SUCH a comedian. She's naturally funny, and she's always clowning around. And yet there are people out there who still insist women can't be funny. I don't want her growing up with that attitude in the air! I want her never to stop believing (and enjoying) that she's funny! Which, admittedly, is kind of difficult to encourage right now because she's in this phase of telling truly terrible jokes-- when she says something like (and this is one that makes more sense than some of them) "What did the pen say to the piano? 'I WILL PLAY YOU!' Get it?" and you're sitting there trying to find the balance between encouragement and constructive criticism and just trying to figure out what she said in the first place, it's hard to laugh appreciatively.* But as she told me the other day, "Just because you don't GET IT, doesn't mean it's not FUNNY."

Which is what I'm talking about here. Just because you don't GET what someone else is trying to tell you about their Problems, doesn't mean it's not TRUE.

Let's get back to the Ferguson issue. Whatever you feel about it, it's likely your impressions are shaped by where (and from whom) you're getting your information. Me, I was on Twitter when Mike Brown got murdered and the protests started and the police force there turned into a militia. I saw on the spot tweets from the journalists who went there to try to get a story and found the police trying to silence them from reporting the truth they saw, and what I saw was mind-boggling. This police force was OBVIOUSLY way out of line. There was NO WAY this story could be spun in their favor, not with this kind of evidence, not with them TURNING JOURNALISTS THEMSELVES away. And yet somehow by the time the story got to the mainstream media-- particularly the more conservative outlets-- it had become about rioting, looting thugs and the police force that had to use extreme measures to keep order, which did not reflect the truth of what had happened at the time. I mention the conservative outlets not to make this politically polarizing, but because it's these conservative outlets that are usually all about Gun Rights. My Gun Nut husband talks all the time about how the average citizen needs to be able to arm themselves in case a Police State should come to power. GUYS. GUESS WHAT. A POLICE STATE IS TOTALLY IN POWER IN FERGUSON. This is EXACTLY the scenario gun nuts fear could happen if they lost their rights to bear arms. And yet, what do these same news outlets espoused by the gun nuts (and the gun nuts following them) DO? Proclaim their support of the police.

There's a disconnect there. I think anyone who claims they need the right to bear arms against a government gone out of control and then turns around and supports the government gone out of control needs to take a really serious look at what they really believe. Do they want to stand up for citizen's rights? Or do they only want to stand up for the rights of PEOPLE LIKE THEMSELVES?

That's a tough question to ask yourself. YES, by asking that, I'm implying you may be racist. Here's the thing: before I saw what was going on in Ferguson, before I heard the other stories of other incidents in other places that came out again in the wake of it, I was more racist than I believed, too. Sure I treated everyone I met equally no matter what they looked like, but I admit that, when I heard stuff about how mostly black people get sent to prison, how cops keep shooting black kids, I did crinkle my forehead and say, "well, maybe they just commit more crime?" Ferguson was HUGELY eye-opening for me. It wasn't that I had chosen to be racist before. I was just Privileged to not have to face those sort of situations, to not know anyone personally who had to face those situations, and because those situations were so unbelievable, I allowed myself to disbelieve them.

The other day I reposted on social media a link to this essay on The Mary Sue, about the personal stories of real people who've dealt with poverty in these modern-day United States, the "Land of Opportunity." It's called "My Hunger Games." There's been a saying going around since the Hunger Games became popular enough that people could refer to them as a metaphor and other people would understand: "If you don't believe we're already living in Panem, you must live in the Capitol." One of the MAIN THEMES of the Hunger Games series is that the people in the Capitol are so completely blinded by their Privilege that they don't even REALIZE the problems out in the Districts. They accept that propaganda the government feeds them about how the people in the Districts somehow earned whatever quality of life they are living, that Life Is Good and It's All For the Best. The reason the government fears Katniss is that the people of the Capitol LIKE her, so they LISTEN to her when she points out the injustices, so gradually more and more of them GET IT. They drop their blinders and start to join the revolution.

I'm not calling for revolution today. I'm calling for self-reflection. I'm calling for each of us to really examine the way our own privileges may be clouding our ability to face the real needs of our fellow human beings around us. I'm using "us" purposely-- I'm not pointing fingers, I'm not trying to get specks of dust out of your eyes with a plank sticking out of my own. I'm showing you how I'VE grown in understanding in just these past few months, when I never even realized I had growing to do in these areas. I STILL have growing to do. There are STILL issues about which I am privileged that I still don't quite GET, that I still internally scrunch my forehead at and think "But why don't they just...?" There are still issues I feel too self-centered over to deal with properly, like the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign, which makes Reader Amy go "YAY!" and Librarian Amy go "SUPER YES!" but Writer Amy keeps INSISTING on taking the wrong way and keeps hearing "SHUT UP AMY YOU'RE TOO 'NORMAL' THIS IS JUST ANOTHER REASON WHY NO ONE NEEDS TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY" instead.

But ironically, this time, my "normalness" is EXACTLY why I NEED to write this post, why it's my GOD-GIVEN RESPONSIBILITY to write this post. Because I have been blinded by my Privileges and have found my eyes opened. That means there's hope for anybody. For ALL of us to stop and observe and grow.

For Thanksgiving it's always good to express gratitude for the things we take for granted, and our Privileges ARE all the things we take for granted. But just saying "I'm thankful for my Privileges" seems a little squicky-- it reminds me of that line in "Do They Know It's Christmas?": "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you." Ugh. THAT'S not what I mean. But what I AM most thankful for is this opportunity I've had to learn. I'm thankful for this opportunity to grow. I'm thankful for the strength to overcome the voice in my head that keeps telling me to SHUT UP instead of write, so that I COULD write this, and share this, and hope it will help others to learn and grow as I have.

---
*I brought her a joke book home from the library yesterday. I think this qualifies as both encouragement AND constructive criticism. She's very happy about it. One Mom Award for me!

Date: 2014-11-26 04:58 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] angelique (from livejournal.com)
Thank you for writing this, for sharing this. I think it's one of the hardest things to do--after you have an epiphany, have the blinders pulled off--to then go back and say, "Yeah, I was like that before." Because we all want to be evolved and right all the time and putting all this out there is contrary to that instinct/desire.

I'm also super glad that you're not letting having privilege (like you said, we all do) mean that you silence yourself. Yes, there are times and places to let other people have the stage and to amplify their voices, but it doesn't mean you have to stifle your voice all the time. There's a happy balance, somewhere. Also, part of privilege and bias is that we like to hear from people who look like us, who we feel represent us...so, sharing your struggle and growth definitely has the possibility of inspiring others to open up in the same way.

ETA: No idea why this posted under my old Twitter handle, but whatevs
Edited Date: 2014-11-26 04:59 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-12-06 07:36 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] kim aippersbach (from livejournal.com)
Arrgh! I wrote a very long comment in response to this post and Livejournal lost it! All my wise and insightful words, gone forever.

The short version: Well said, and vital that you say it. I've been going through my own learning process, and one thing I've come to understand is that it's important for white people to speak up and say we want to hear all voices; also that it particularly matters that writers do our best to be thoughtful and inclusive and accurate in our writing, even if our only audience is a small blog following or a writer's group.

Have you run across this essay (which I didn't realize was written way back in 1988):

https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf

And a great recent interview with the author:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-origins-of-privilege

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