Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Mystical Negro and Self-flagellation," Thoughts on being an ally

A recent post from Renee (as, truth be told, many posts from Renee do) hit home with me more than usual because of a conversation I had in the last week with a long time internet acquaintance, someone whom I greatly respect and often have much in common with. The conversation was of the more taxing variety; of exclamation points, frustrations, sadness and detailed explanations.

As I mention from time to time I belong to a forum in which we discuss current events. Because of the nature of the forum we "get all kinds", well, sort of. There's rather a dearth of people of color or people of radical politics. There's quite a few Europeans and moderately liberal folk from the U.S. and vocal Christian and conservative minorities. We all post stories and articles of interest and discuss them. In many respects this is a lot of fun but it can also be incredibly frustrating.

I have always been an outspoken minority just for being a socialist and a feminist but as over the last year I have been coming to terms with and divesting myself of white privilege and coming to analyze the events of the world from an increasingly intersectional perspective I have become quite the divisive figure. As I said, there are almost no people of color, and certainly none that (to my knowledge) are posting regularly. I try to bring in marginalized voices to the articles discussed, but this is rarely met with happiness. I've had private messages both of quite a critical nature, and compliments from folks who see what I'm trying to do.

The difficult thing about the conversation I had last week, and in fact the reason it was being had, was that some of those with whom I've long been allied have felt alienated from my new analysis. And I was faced with the difficult situation of being torn between wanting to say "fuck their privileged issues" and the incredibly hurtful knowledge that people with whom I thought I was on the same page are emotionally distancing themselves from me.

At the same time, I was almost proud of it. In a weird way. I've been reading everyday of the alienation felt by people I care about, like Renee, from people who should be on her side, who say they are, but don't act it. I've seen first hand the way marginalized voices who speak their truths are treated. If I am getting a taste of that, perhaps my divestment is actually starting to work.

Yet if I alienate the people to whom my voice carries a unique kind of authority (my white as well as class privilege in action), am I mucking it up as an ally?

These are the thoughts that go through my head as I read Renee's post, and as I replay the more heart hitting parts of my conversation with my friend. Yet these are certainly my trenches, they are the everyday conversations I have and while I remain introspective about how I can communicate what I wish to impart to others more effectively I can't help retaining a bit of grim pride in the fact that at least I am living my intersectional feminist beliefs in my every day. Though even in that there is a challenge, because I am coming to a place where shutting the fuck up and listening is less and less relevant, where I need to grab myself by the ovaries and speak up, risking being called out for whatever mis-conceived notions or latent privilege I might have left. I can always do better, and that's going to be my focus for a while.