As more of us are getting engaged in deconstructing and dismantling “whiteness” (colonizer culture) and engaging more actively in anti-racism, we are learning that we need to do a bit more in terms of speaking up to the people in our circles when we hear them say certain kinds of things. (Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, poor-shaming, occupational elitism — to name a few.)
Whiteness has many features that make it hard to speak up. Conformity; aversion to confrontation and so on. But, we can get better. Every day we can think of as practice.
Regardless of the extent to which we manage to speak up verbally, it struck me that there is a very simple way that we can speak up nonverbally, and that is by simply showing up as ourselves. Not in an in-your-face kind of way, not with the defiant T-shirt or whatever, just in a way like matter-of-factly going about being ourselves. Not trying to hide our differentness, so to speak.
There is a wide terrain of grey area here. Sometimes I feel like I’m being myself and I realize later that I was being kind of in-your-face. It’s something we can all play with.
Oh and without thinking I just sort of found myself veering out of the original topic what was really about political and social justice type stuff. I do find, though, that it becomes easier to express different views if people basically feel like we can trust each other.
Ways of expression include how we dress, and how openly we talk about our “non-middle-class-acceptable” occupations, living arrangements, old-age planning, and other life stuff.
There is a reason why the emotional/social consequences of failure to conform can feel like death. Being the “weird one(s)” in your group can be very uncomfortable and in some cases catastrophic even if no actual immediate physical danger is involved. (This post does not apply to actual dangerous/abusive situations, seek help and escape if you’ve got one of those.)
There was a period of my life when I seriously felt like I was in the closet to my family. (In my case it was in terms of financial choices and occupational path.) And it shouldn’t have been that way, but I noticed it and things can be different. I shouldn’t have been such a wuss, considering how much other people have to go through. I could’ve had it pretty easy if I had just been willing to endure some mild disapproval or maybe even just questioning.
This “matter-of-factly being ourselves” definitely applies to our environmental activism too. As environmentalists in society, one of the approaches we often took was to tone things down so we wouldn’t seem too weird or extreme. We thought that would help popularize eco stuff. But it kind of had the opposite effect. We didn’t push the envelope enough.
Happy end-of-year holidays everyone! May you find and/or create lots of joy and love for yourself and your family (however you define family), work group, social group, or other people you spend time with.
• “Five tips on talking politics with family without falling out — from a conflict resolution expert” (Majbritt Lyck-Bowen; theconversation.com). She brings up the concept of “brave spaces”: “… I suggest instead that we turn our family gatherings into ‘brave spaces’, where discussion of controversial issues is welcomed and respectful. The concept of brave spaces was proposed by education researchers Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens in 2013 as an approach to discussing diversity in educational settings. … Conversations can quickly turn into arguments. But they can also be opportunities to build trust, challenge the biases, stereotypes and prejudices that we hold, and to repair and deepen relationships. Instead of shying away from difficult topics, here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you discuss them.”