Filed under: Commentary
I participated in a teach-in last week at the City-wide GA in Central Park about the Roots of Racial Oppression – based on this awesome class that I’m taking. Here are my notes – I wrote them and I like them.
Questions that I was focusing on:
• How can we work to end racism?
• Intersection of race, sex, gender, sexuality and class
• How feminists and queers of color are the living connections between struggles and movements and “put it all together.”
• How the leadership of feminists and queers of color is crucial to all the social justice movements.
• Power of working across racial divides – in the workplace and in the movements, like Occupy.
• The importance of white activists in actively fighting racism.
So now we know a little bit more about racism, how it started, and why it’s been so cyclical and pervasive. And I think we can see that there is a pretty strong correlation (or is it causation?!) between racism and classism – they support each other, and work hand in hand to further oppress already-marginalized people. The white working class relies on racism to give them an edge, consciously or not – and institutionally they are encouraged to. And then classism couples with racism to cause more struggles to already marginalized communities.
And it doesn’t end there. All these identities are wrapped up and intersectional – they feed off one another, they bounce off one another, they are messy and inextricable – some people call it the matrix of oppression. Intersectionality is the idea that these oppressions can’t be separated – we all inhabit many identities at once. Some of us can be privileged in one way, and oppressed in another. Some of us have more compound privileges or oppressions. Very few people inhabit every single oppressed class or every single privileged class. Intersectionalism recognizes difference and encourages activists to deal with it – not put it aside and assume that we are all in it together, fighting the same fight against all oppression – it’s not that simple. Even by saying we are all the 99% erases some vast differences between the different struggles we all live with and live under.
But we have to become more aware of these differences, talk about them, learn about each other, recognize privilege and respect oppression, on all fronts. And it’s not about “the oppression olympics” either – we can all learn to be better activists, of LGBT allies, or antiracist allies, or trans allies. And we all have to live under the same racism, classist, sexist system. It oppresses all of us together – but often in very different ways. Recognizing and respecting that enables us to organize more fruitfully, more understanding, more broadly.
It means that the most marginalized people don’t get left behind – we don’t want to take the revolution step by step, we don’t want anyone to be left waiting for their turn. We are tired of putting some fights on the back burner to make room for the more palatable, more broad-based fights. Because when the most marginalized get left behind, it cheapens all of our activism. If we aren’t sticking up for the “bottom rung” as some say, we’re not doing enough. The master’s tools, man. If we are going to be progressive activists, we have to go all the way.
That’s why queers and feminists of color need to be leading the revolution. Their voices need to be heard the loudest, because they are the ones who most often get left behind and told to wait their turn in the revolution. And the most marginalized are the people that understand oppression more than I can – I had to work hard to learn about racism – I still am. I had to take an antiracist class to learn more about this stuff, for christ’s sake. The most oppressed people live with their oppression every minute of every day, so clearly, they know how best to fight it.
And I recognize the irony of me and Dan standing up here and talking about all this – we are pretty privileged people. We’re white, we’re straight, we’re cisgendered, we’re from fucking westchester, for crying out loud. But that’s important too – It’s just as important for white allies to stand up for race issues and speak out against injustice. It’s important to use your privilege to incite change in your own communities, and call out bullshit when you see it. And then, better yet, bring those more oppressed groups to the front, and let them explain it, because they’re better at it. And you’ve already had your turn. Your whole life. And with that, let me turn it back to Emily, my queer woman of color friend, to wrap it up.
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