Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Who You Calling Radical? Conversations Between WOC and RWOC, Part II of Infinity

Dear Firefly,

I've been thinking about your words, your anger, and the message lying underneath it; about how people cannot come together at the table and discuss if not everyone can attend.

At first, I thought we were just looking past each other. And I thought it was about not being explicit about this "space" on my blog and in the Allied Media Conference. I thought, "Maybe I just didn't clarify the fact that no one can make it to both spaces and so opening it up in various locations makes it more inclusive." The table, so to speak, is moved from one place to the next and if folks can't be there at some moments, well, you have another opportunity to join in later.

I see what you're saying about moving something online to offline. My first thought process was to spread it out, make it as open, transparent, and accessible as possible. When you expressed your disagreement, I thought it was a conflict of models, a difference of HOW a "series" of conversations should be done.

In retrospect, that's just kind of half-assing it. Throwing up my hands and shrugging my shoulders when it is not enough for those like you who DO want to be there and CANNOT make it to the table is not, as I wanted, radical. At all. My reply shouldn't have been, "Well, you can be at SOME of the the talks, just like others who can't be here online and will be at the AMC." It should have been more thoughtful, considering where your anger was coming from. I should have bravery to face the legitimate place of where your reaction sprouted and how I threw more dead hay, more of the same, than what was needed - water.

If radical organizing and breaking through old concepts of inclusion and communication is our agenda, than what I proposed is not good enough. And saying, "Well, it's going to suck, no matter what, let's just try and build from what we have," is strikingly similar to tunes I've heard from, as you called it, elite white feminists. Once I stopped and listened, I could hear myself humming that same tune. That tune of, "Well, it's just an idea, stop getting so hot and bothered about it," mixed in with, "This is the best I can think of right now, " with a little bit of, "That's not what I meant," with a whole lot of confusion, reciprocating anger, and frustration.

As long as it was coming from the insides of a good ol' radical women of color identified feminist, like myself, then it wasn't wrong. The idea wasn't excluding as soon as I explained MY side of it. Your anger was YOUR reaction, not anything I did or am accountable.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Blackamazon (who I need to thank in truckloads) fed me a pool of good questions and thoughts to swim through and I am understanding that "radical" to me is about finding the root. I'm seeing that if what I say, propose, cuts blood on the arm of who I *claim* to want to work with, I shouldn't hand you a band aid, I need to look at how what I put out there managed to cut you and not me and look down the path so we can steer clear of either of us bleeding. I shouldn't be there to lament with you, cut my own arm to be in solidarity with you, but, get rid of whatever cut you in the first place.

If I proposed something that didn't work for you, the response after your feedback should be, "how do WE make it better so this works?" Not, "Well, what do I do about it so I can fix it?"
There's a difference between collaborating to make something work and solely fixing it so there's a solution.

It's not about making everyone happy, I realize. It's about working to create an environment where everyone feels invested in each other, in each idea that moves toward action. If it illicits anger, particularly from a WOC whom I trust, then the fit isn't right.

It isn't right. Period.

In my mind, the big picture conversation is a "series" and "for those who can," and I see now and how that is not radical. Not in the least. If I was to turn this space into a profound and shifting conversation about how women of color and radical women of color communicate with one another each other, I would have clarified, specified a few questions. I may have delved into the deep-cutting factors that influence HOW we talk to each other and how that will impact our conversation. Like

How does our anger function in our activism?

How does our own internalized racism, classism, ethnocentrism, superiority and inferiority affect our perceptions of one another?
What are we willing to do when we run into it,
when we run into ourselves?

What constitutes "liberation" and/or "revolution" and how might that be different in a midwestern town in the United States from a spot somewhere, say, in Sydney, Australia?

And instead of casual-izing the agenda, a more radical writer might be willing to look Deeper than what she thought was possible and look past the defensiveness and scope of her own peripheral vision.

I see not only your anger, but the Why of it.

I see how patterns of privileged organizing are re-birthed into the places where we say they are not allowed. The intention to do or build "something else" does not necessarily mean we will succeed right away in our efforts. Just because I say I want to "de-centralize" or dilute the US-centrism in our conversation doesn't change the reality I am standing on US soil and that will reflect that in all that I propose unless I dismantle my own US/ego-centrism.

Your Australian view of what US-centrism looks like will probably be clearer than my standing in the middle of the road in Cleveland, Ohio. Your view may not be perfect, nor is mine, but how we see each other, and how we discuss that difference may be one critical step is forging a space that works for both of us. Maybe if we both look upward, away from our respective countries and try to shoot the sky with the fireworks of our ideas, maybe we find a space that belongs neither here nor there, but is accessible to us both, to all who wish to be part of it. Maybe that's the blogosphere. Maybe not. I don't know.

The necessity to be specific, to state what we can and cannot do, cannot be overstated.

I CAN try. I CANNOT do this alone.

I CAN open up a idea, but I CANNOT expect for it to stay the same after it is offered to others.

I CAN take feedback, but I CANNOT be defensive.

I CAN write about what being a woc means to me, how my US citizenship affects it, how my definitions desire to be widened but, despite that good intention, still CANNOT grasp the entire conflicts and hardships of radical international/transnational effort.

I can try to understand, but I must be willing to take time to process when things get hairy.

This thread was created to discuss how we, women of color, talk to each other. It is a space where we must be able to find an exchange of difference and respect, but must be willing to look at ourselves, run into ourselves, and not run away from this process when we look like assholes.

This is how I am trying to move forward and if it's not enough, I'll dig deeper again.

I will continue to do so and return to my digging spot as many times as necessary until we all sense we're heading in a good direction, until we're all heard, and want to invest our words and time.



  1. Anonymous11:39 PM



  2. i've been thinking about this a lot. a lot a lot. guerrilla mama medicine's post helped me clarify a lot-- (specifically point #6)

  3. Hi. This doesn't really have anything to do with this post, but I just wanted to say that your writing, especially the post on "kyriarchy" but really this blog as a whole, has helped me to grow both as a person and an activist. A lot. So I wanted to thank you for that.

  4. I realize this is a conversation that isn't mine to be an active participant in, but I just wanted to say I'm getting a lot out of reading these exchanges. And particularly value this for personal application:

    I'm seeing that if what I say, propose, cuts blood on the arm of who I *claim* to want to work with, I shouldn't hand you a band aid, I need to look at how what I put out there managed to cut you and not me and look down the path so we can steer clear of either of us bleeding. I shouldn't be there to lament with you, cut my own arm to be in solidarity with you, but, get rid of whatever cut you in the first place."

    really crystallizes it well, thank you.

    I think the hard part for people at a fundamental level is getting past the overriding ego defensiveness, which that would be a part of ("what do you MEAN my project isn't going to work? how dare you criticize me! but I worked so hard! I AM my project") to, okay, right, this was about community building and relationships.

    partly I do think it's the culture and values we're all steeped in, as GMM is saying here:

    "and the funny thing about culture, is that culture provides us with a set of assumptions that we dont have to verbalize internally or externally in order to act those assumptions out. and one of those assumptions in white culture/eurocentric culture is an isolationist, individualistic sense of success and failure. the: i gots to get mine. you gots to get yours."

    ...and how -any- language that's used can in this framework be used toward those means. she's talking specifically about anti-racist "ally" tools, but I think it can well also apply to any sort of "radical" framework/language, as is suggested here: (Lisa at Questioning Transphobia alerted me to this piece recently)

    "There is a lot more to say about this particular racist, capitalist model of diversity trainings. Their problems are extensive and clear. Instead, though, I want to shift back to talking about antioppression workshops. Within my anarchist political organizing circles, we’d all agree that diversity trainings are absurd and vapid. Instead, we’ve prided ourselves on pushing forward workshops that systematically forgrounded issues of power - with lengthy, central attention paid to white privilege and institutionalized white supremacy. By doing so we clearly marked our difference with contemporary capitalism’s celebratory inclusion of difference, arguing instead for a revolutionary politics of personal and social decolonization.

    Unfortunately, things are not so easy or simple. In the course of this section, I’m going to try to argue that these more politicized versions of antioppression workshops can too easily replay all the same problems of diversity trainings - validating and obscuring privilege, power and oppression. Obviously, such a trick requires significantly more sophisticated means of deception than corporate america has yet developed. White anarchists are way ahead of the game in the degree of sophistication of our racism..."

    and so on, and so on, and so on.

    anyway, thanks for the thinky foodstuffs.


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