The Nature and Centrality of Settler Colonialism in the U.S.
It’s impossible to understand the nature of the social, political and economic system in the United States without grasping the settler colonial nature of the state and society. The USA is and always has been an empire. Although European settlers and their descendants are the most privileged within the Empire, it is vital to remember that in an Empire, there are no citizens, only subjects.
Imperial privilege is one of a number of enforcement and compliance mechanisms for social control; those who are privileged have no rights, only privileges that can be revoked for disobedience, insufficient loyalty, identification with the oppressed, and other transgressions.
The basis of colonialism, particularly settler colonialism, and thus of racism, white supremacy and white-skin privilege, is the conquest of land and people. The US system in its entirety is built and based on the stolen lands of indigenous people, and the imposition of a system of private property in land, the demarcation of property lines, which laid the basis for the imperial state and the national borders.
As the Declaration of Independence makes clear, US conceptions of freedom are inextricably bound up with the “freedom” of conquest and expansion. One of the settler colonists’ key disputes with the British crown was the monarchy’s insistence on following its treaties with the indigenous First Nations, reflected in a willingness to limit settler expansion into Native territories to the west of the Atlantic seaboard settlements.
Jefferson, allegedly an opponent of a strong central government, leaped at the chance to acquire Napoleon’s “Louisiana Territory,” offering the opportunity for a vast expansion of the slave system, and outfitted the Lewis and Clark expedition to seek to map and claim the territories all the way to the Pacific (into areas claimed by other European imperial powers besides the French). Similar factors of British cooperation with Native American allies were central to the so-called War of 1812, though our schools usually teach that this was provoked by British impressment of US merchant sailors.
The colonized African people, kidnapped from Africa, traded for Amerindian slaves with the West Indies plantation colonies, or bred in captivity, developed a claim to the land they worked, particularly in the US southeast; many intermarried and combined with indigenous or tribal people. Fear of a combination between African slaves and indigenous nations was always a key reason behind US military action against “Indians,” such as Andrew Jackson’s illegal actions in Florida and against the Cherokee.
There is no mystery to this history. It’s the same one we are taught in school. It’s embodied in the US flag with its ever-increasing rows of stars. It’s “Manifest Destiny.” The question is only whether we glorify and embrace these conquests, and the militarism they require — or reject and seek to overturn them.
Consider the US annexation of Texas and conquest of most of northern Mexico. These were enormous crimes against humanity. Yet they are memorialized in the “Alamo,” institutionalized in the flag, and the basis for US global dominance. Picture a basically indigenous Mexico possessing all its national territory, including the oil wealth of Texas, the copper of Colorado, silver of Nevada and gold and agricultural abundance of California! What a different world it would be!
The war with Mexico set the template for all future US aggression. It was carried out by executive fiat and manipulation, and opposition collapsed once it was a fait accompli. Lincoln, who voted against a declaration of war as a Congressman, quickly changed his tune once the war began, and voted in favor of appropriations, to “support the troops.”
It needs to be pointed out that by capturing Texas and later adding the other Mexican territories, the US reintroduced human chattel slavery into an area where it had already been abolished to realize the full depth of the crimes against humanity embodied in US expansionism.
The addition of Alaska without consultation with the Inuit, the annexation of Hawaii over the opposition of the native Hawaiians (and over the refusal of the US Senate to ratify the treaty of annexation with the plantation owners oligarchy), and the conquest of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines — accepted by Spain but rejected by the indigenous populations — complete the picture. At this very moment, US republicans and Democrats (and their neo-colonial shadow-puppets) are debating how best to rationalize and sustain U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico over 115 years after the invasion, whether as a so-called “free associated state” or by outright annexation as the 51st state (and 51st star on the flag).
The degree to which the autistic community sweeps dissent under the rug terrifies me.
I use identity first language and have no fondness for Autism Speaks. In a lot of ways, I’m a Good Movement Autistic. However, I do know autistic people who do support AS. I disagree with them.
It scares me that we’re claiming that “just ask any autistic person” is enough, because this means that either really prominent people don’t realize how heterogeneous we are, or we’re silently agreeing that some people just don’t count. Not even enough to admit their existence.
Of course, when you decide that oppressed people can’t be wrong, you have to tangle yourself in knots like this. But it’s just so obvious that when people take this advice, quite a few of them are going to end up running into autistic people who support Autism Speaks. There are so many autistics outside this particular subset of our community. That foundation’s not going to hold. We need something more solid.
We already have it, though. There are so many sound, well-established arguments. If people would just stop asking us to throw them away in favor of “trust unquestioningly anything that any oppressed person says about oppression,’ we could maybe rely on those?
Not just sweeps dissent under the rug, but cuts dissenters off from a community they might really want to be a part of. I’ve seen many instances where autistic people here on tumblr had one “wrong” opinion and were promptly bullied into silence. Then everyone promptly forgot they ever existed, at least as evidenced by “There are no autistic people who disagree with us” sorts of things.
I’ve long advocated a very different way of doing things: Instead of figuring out a large set of values that everyone is expected to agree with (and to hell with anyone who doesn’t), why not work together on things related to one value at a time so that people who share that value can join in, and people who don’t can do something else?
Want to work against cure? Work against that with people who share your values. Want to work for FC? Work for that with people who share your values. Want to work against Autism Speaks? Work against that with people who share your values. But don’t expect every single person you work with to agree with you in every single area at once. This is not only more realistic, and more inclusive, it’s far more efficient to divide these tasks up and work on them one at a time. You’ll also find the community you’ll have to work with will be much larger than that relatively small group of all-the-same-people who seem to be doing everything prominent right now (including deciding for the rest of us which views are valid and which aren’t).
But even if someone disagrees with everyone working on any of those issues, it shouldn’t mean they should be treated like they’re, at best, stupid or brainwashed. That sort of thing really pisses me off.
Note: There are reasons that people should, sometimes, be excluded from communities. But most of the reasons people are using, are not that, at all. (People should be excluded from communities when their presence in the community basically means that other people are going to be excluded. By which I mean, habitual, repeat bullies and stalkers and that kind of thing. The autistic community has a few of those who have been turning up for decades, and they manage to worm their way in every time people get too inclusive. Once they are part of a community, their victims are de facto excluded from that community, and that’s wrong.)
So true and well said! I have nothing to add but that I’m grateful to people like you, youneedacat and dendriforming, for being voices of reason and wisdom to people like me who are new to the community and can really use your advice. Thanks so very, very, very much! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 (many hearts)
I don’t really trust people who are proud of being angry. I understand that a person can come to a place where they’ve been told all their lives to be quiet, to be more polite, to smile even when they’re getting shoved down, and they’re just fed up, and they want to be free. But I’ve met a lot of people who turn being angry into a lifestyle or something, and use all that as justification for treating people like crap.
Like by all means, be proud of yourself for finding your assertiveness, for finally being able to be angry when people told you that you weren’t allowed. Just don’t treat every interaction with another human being like either you’re allowed to snap at them and lash out every time you’re angry, or you’re not allowed to be angry EVER. There is actually middle ground.
[All of your later disclaimers about not trying to manipulate people into being a certain way, when you say you “don’t trust” a certain sort of person, apply to me as well.]
Also, as someone who tried that… lashing out at people never actually solved my problem of being a doormat. It just meant I got the worst possible consequences of both worlds — people still walked all over me, and people treated me like shit for being angry all the time. I didn’t get the good consequences of being assertive, because I hadn’t become assertive, I’d just become very reactive. Flipping out at people does not, in itself, bring results or get you what you want or need. The only thing it gives, sometimes, is a sort of temporary emotional release.
But even that is temporary. And on that purely personal-emotional level… while flipping out feels better in the moment, it doesn’t actually get rid of your anger. In fact, it increases your anger. So you flip out more, which feels good but doesn’t actually diminish your anger. And it actually makes you more angry. So you flip out more. And pretty soon you’re flipping out the moment anyone does so much as look at you funny.
Uncontrolled rage like that is not good at getting things done, and it’s not good at getting rid of the anger you feel. So it’s not really that much good for anything. Except it does feel good, sometimes, but only right at the moment that you’re flipping out — it feels good to lose control and not feel like you have any responsibility for your actions, but it’s not an actual “outlet” the way people imagine it is, because it only makes the anger worse. And while carefully controlled anger chosen in really precise situations can actually get things done, this sort of situation we’re talking about isn’t a situation where someone’s in a lot of control.
Unfortunately there are a number of different mindsets that can make it easier to fall into this kind of spiral. The most seductive one to me, when I was younger, had to do with the idea that as an abuse victim, I had no responsibility for my actions, especially when my actions were a result of abuse. There’s another popular one that has to do with oppression, that’s pretty similar. And there’s others.
I started questioning that (and my own involvement in it) when I ran into someone who was consciously using that idea to manipulate people. As in, she was abusive and nasty and horrible, and she had this whole complex justification of it that was about her own history of abuse. (In her case, she’d actually pick victims and then accuse them of abusing her so that she could abuse them with impunity, among other things, and then justify the whole entire thing with “I was abused as a child in ways too horrible for you to imagine, so anything I do is understandable.” So it was much more consciously manipulative than the average abuse victim who falls into this pattern by mistake.) I realized that if she wasn’t justified in doing a lot of what she did, just because she’d been abused, then neither was I justified in doing a lot of the things I did, even if the things I did weren’t anywhere near as maliciously nasty as the things she did.
She’s the one who made me question it, because what she did was so over the top. But most of the people I’ve encountered are less similar to her, and more similar to the person you talked about who went from “I won’t quietly take things anymore” to “I will flip out at anyone who annoys me, and feel it’s justified” within a week or two. Or who started out pretty reactive and angry and used similar justifications. And I used to constantly make excuses for other people like that, just as I constantly made excuses for myself. Until I encountered that person who was so over-the-top that I questioned everything including myself.
But one thing I do see a lot of, is this idea that it’s either-or. That any questioning of any use of anger ever, is the same as questioning all use of anger, ever. That saying that certain acts of rage are actually doing people harm, is the same as saying that all rage is wrong. That questioning any anger at all, deprives all people of the ability to fight back. That confusion of any one instance with all instances. (Maybe going hand in hand with the idea that your reaction to one situation is, or should be, the same as your reaction to all situations.)
Also when people questioned my expressions of anger, I used to immediately assume that they were stereotyping me as a bitter cripple or something like that. And while I’m certain that happened sometimes, other times it was not even related to that.
Beautifully said. I went through a similar evolution in my thinking around anger.
like, EVEN if you cut nondisabled SJ types out of the picture — much of the disability ‘discourse’ on this site is run by people whose disabilities do not involve significant language impairments, who are engaging in a flavor of discussion that blatantly excludes people with language deficits (especially receptive language issues), and who are trying to control the way people use language.
to put it more clearly:
- most of the loud, visible disabled people here do not seem to have trouble with specialized and complex language.
- they talk about disability in a way that is really hard for me, and other people with significant language problems, to understand.
- and they are trying to dictate the way people talk, and the words they use, while ignoring how hard this can be for other disabled people.
And they don’t understand how like…
I can follow some of their language rules, sometimes. A tiny amount of the time. With enormous amounts of effort. But this means that…
I’m using effort and energy that I need for other tasks.
Even at times when I am not even slightly capable of doing these things, this puts an enormous amount of stress on me. Like, every time I go to write in a place where I know that lots of these people are going to be watching my every word and potentially “critiquing” me more for my language usage than for my content, this puts stress on me that then makes communication that much more difficult.
And if you have any level of communication difficulty, you know that this kind of stress and fear of scrutiny can completely screw up your ability to communicate.
And I do see this kind of double thing happening:
On the one hand, there’s a focus on words as a measure of moral purity. This means that for anyone who has difficulty with expressive language and word-finding on any level whatsoever, whether that difficulty is visible or not, then they are going to be in an extra state of stress trying (and, often, failing) to communicate adequately.
To make matters worse, they may be shunned at worst and patronized at best if they are unable to keep up with all the changes that are constantly being made in what is the acceptable way to speak and what is not the acceptable way to speak.
(And this by people who claim to be advocates for groups of people who frequently have language impairments.)
And then the second part of the double thing:
There’s a lot of really elaborate language being used. And that language can be extremely difficult for people with receptive language problems.
I don’t know how it is for every other person, but I actually get this feeling of little miniature explosions in my head when I read certain very difficult words. It’s the feeling of my brain trying hard to find a meaning and coming up blank. It’s different than just not understanding the word. It’s like a computer returning an error message.
I’ve compiled a list of words that affect me this way that are frequently used in the communities mentioned. However, I’ve rarely felt comfortable posting that list.
One reason is I’m afraid of putting the same kind of restrictions on others that they are trying to put on me. Like, I’m afraid people will assume that because I have a strong negative reaction to their language, then I am expecting them to use different language, whether they can or not. And as someone with communication problems I’m very sensitive to that.
But the other reason?
Because if you have a problem with many of these words, you are treated like utter and complete and total shit.
Like, it’s apparently okay if you’re triggered by a word like crazy, but if your brain balks at a complicated word used in SJ communities, then everyone assumes you have ulterior motives.
Like, they assume that:
- You don’t understand that the concept behind the word is actually a real thing.
- You don’t want to acknowledge that the concept behind the word is actually a real thing.
- You are oppressive and privileged and don’t want to face your privilege.
- You are actually being racist, or ableist, or *ist against whatever group of people originally invented the word (as if the origin of a word could magically make it comprehensible to everyone).
- Your problem with the overuse of academic language is actually some kind of stealthy way of saying that you secretly believe in oppressing whoever is using the academic language to describe their own oppression. Because somehow “academic language” and “fighting oppression” have become the exact same fucking concept in people’s heads, which is really messed up.
- You’re saying you don’t understand a word, because you don’t want to understand it, or the concepts behind it.
- You’re saying you don’t understand a word, because you don’t experience the oppression that the word was thought up to describe.
- You’re just an anti-SJ person looking for an excuse to bully SJ people.
And when you say that actually, overusing this kind of jargon can shut out lots of oppressed people (people with English as a second language, disabled people, people without access to a college education for any of a huge number of reasons)…
…they tell you that because some disabled people, some people without a college education, and some people whose second language is English, can use those terms with no problem, then the problem is you, and that you are the one being oppressive for “assuming they can’t” (even if that’s not what you said, at all).
Because, of course, a lot of these discussions have evolved into this complex social game where whoever can accuse the most people of oppressing other people, is the ‘winner’ of the conversation. So people have become extremely adept at accusing each other of *ism whether such accusations are appropriate or not.
Which means that when you actually need to make the point that something can harm some oppressed group of people? Often you’ll be met by a very intellectually skilled set of maneuvers where a person will find some way of saying that you yourself are harming some oppressed group of people. Not because you are, but because that’s become the way of ‘winning’ the conversation and getting a get-out-of-jail-free card as a result.
So what does this mean?
It means that, as a language-disabled person, I am afraid to communicate about my own oppression in case I accidentally use the wrong words.
It means that, as a language-disabled person, I am unable to read most of the things written by the “big names” among the people who share my disability labels and talk about disability oppression on tumblr. And when I can read them, it takes a lot of effort and is intensely stressful.
It means that, as a language-disabled person, I am afraid to even name the words that cause me the most problems. Because I’m afraid of having to defend my right to even be in the discussion.
I dare you: Jump into the middle of tumblr-SJ-land and say you don’t understand the word intersectionality. Watch what happens.
Because you will be told that you’re not a woman of color, even if you are. And that, whether you are or not, you’re oppressive to women of color, because women of color invented the term. You will have the concept behind the word patronizingly explained to you, over and over, as if this can stop the problem with the word hitting a blank spot in your head. You will be told that your problems with academic language are actually a smoke screen for your own racism. You may be presumed to be anti-SJ, even if you are, or would like to be, part of the SJ community, or are at least someone who has a deep investment in the issues discussed in said community. You will be presumed to be very privileged. You will have your privilege explained to you, even if you don’t have privilege in the areas assumed.
And all that for one word.
I have a list of dozens of words used in this community that create that blank-spot explosion in my brain.
I’ve many times been tempted to post it, and always held back. I’ve sometimes posted small parts of it, but I’ve always been afraid to post the entire thing. Because if you don’t like, or can’t handle, or can’t understand, these words, then your commitment and comprehension and all these other things are called into question.
I’ve been disturbed in recent years not just about the disability community, but about the autistic community. I keep hearing only the same names over and over and over. I would be hypocritical if I said I didn’t want to hear those names at all, because I used to be one of the names you heard over and over myself. But when I was one of those names, I was constantly trying to promote the work of people who were lesser-known than I was. I was constantly trying to get more and more names out there, more and more stories told, more and more people’s ideas out there whether they totally agreed with mine or not. This is why I was one of the first autistic people to compile a comprehensive list of books by autistic people. This is why I collected articles by autistic people back when there were still few enough to do that, and compiled a huge list of web links to as many articles as possible by as many autistic people as possible. This is why I was constantly trying (whether I always succeed or not) to promote the work of other people. This is why I used to want to edit anthologies of writing by autistic people.
And some of the big names now are doing that. But more often, what I see these days is the same small group of people, all linking back to each other’s work. And that same small group of people mostly hold the same ideas as each other, and mostly communicate in similar language to each other.
And I’ve seen vulnerable people treated like crap because they didn’t instantly hold the same ideas, or use the same language, as the people with the most clout in this community. I’ve seen people shut out of the community almost before they could reach out to the community in the fist place. And I’ve seen a lot of autistic people becoming disillusioned with this segment of the autistic community, because all they see are the same small number of people, all writing in ways that they can’t understand.
And you know… there are many ways that I agree with the autistic people who are the big names in this community. But I have trouble getting on board with a community that has become so determined to be an island of like-thinking people who can all use academic SJ buzzwords to great effect. And there’s a place for those buzzwords, in some cases, but… what’s happening here is extremely troubling for me.
And I’m saying this as someone who writes in a way that not everyone can understand. (Hell, I write in a way that even I can’t understand all the time. My expressive vocabulary is larger than my receptive vocabulary.) Nobody can write in a way that everyone can understand. The problem comes in when practically everyone is writing in a way that very few people can understand. You lose people’s interest and attention before they can even figure out whether they agree with you or not.
And the thing is… this is a community formed around a disability that is known to cause both expressive and receptive language problems in a huge proportion of people who have it.
And more and more, I see the tiny number of people in this tiny part of the autistic community, assuming they know what all other autistic people feel like. I see them saying that “autistic people feel this way” about something when actually, a lot of autistic people don’t feel this way. I see them saying that “there’s no autistic people who feel that way” when there are lots of autistic people who actually do feel that way. And when they do acknowledge that some autistic people disagree with them, they often do so in the most patronizing terms possible.
And even though I agree with many of the ideas in this community. I can’t help feeling like this approach to autistic community is setting us all up for the accusation that we’re not representative. We all hear that, all the time. We hear “You’re not like my child” and “You’re not like most autistic people”. And often that’s a political move, and a horrible one at that, and a horrible thing to say. But sometimes I find myself thinking it’s true. And I don’t think that because I want to see “the REAL autistic opinion” represented as “we all should get cured and we shouldn’t listen to the outspoken self-advocates”. I think that because lately autistic self-advocacy has started meaning something much narrower than what it used to mean.
And yes, I actually understand that many of the people who communicate this way have language issues themselves. That’s why, whenever I talk about words I can’t handle, I try to be very careful not to present them as a list of words that should never be used. But I also see a serious lack of understanding, among people who communicate this way, towards those of us who really can’t communicate that way, and/or can’t understand communication of that sort.
And if this is happening even among a group of people who are known for having language disabilities, then what hope do those of us with language disabilities have in a broader disability community where the most outspoken people don’t even have a tenuous connection to cognitive or language disability?
It’s very frustrating and upsetting to watch.
And I know, because of my status in this community, I can get away with saying more about this than a lot of people can. But even so, I’ve been accused of not caring about people who are negatively affected by certain words. In fact, I’ve been accused of not being a person who is negatively affected by certain words, because if I was affected that way, surely I would choose to deal with it by demanding that nobody, ever, say those words?
But the reality is, whether I’m negatively affected by a word or not, it’s very rare that I choose to deal with those effects by attempting to stop everyone from ever using those words. True slurs are the closest I come to that, and even there I make exceptions.
So I want to be clear… I do have a serious problem with a community where, in order to be considered able to communicate effectively about oppression at all, you have to be able to memorize a lot of academic jargon and buzzwords. My problem isn’t that some people use those words. My problem is that practically everyone with power in these communities is using them as much as they possibly can. My problem is that people who can’t, or won’t, use those words are seen as inferior. My problem is the assumptions made about people who can’t understand these words. My problem is the lack of space being made for those of us who have difficulty understanding said words. So I’m not trying to create a new list of banned words or something, but I am trying to call attention to the way these words are used, and the consequences for those of us who can’t or won’t do that.
So on the one hand, there’s all these words that are being effectively banned. Like not literally banned. But banned in a social sense — if you use these words then you are doing something bad. This makes things quite difficult for anyone who can’t avoid using those words, or finds it greatly difficult to do so. Including many people with language problems.
And, on the other hand, there’s all these words that everyone is using that are quite difficult to understand for a lot of people, including people with receptive language problems.
And the combination of socially banning everyday words that aren’t even slurs or anything (although some of them are getting elevated to that status in people’s minds, which quite disturbs me), and using a lot of academic jargon in discussions of oppression? And making both of these things necessary to discussing oppression in any serious way? Makes things extremely hard, if not impossible, for those of us with expressive or receptive language disabilities, and other cognitive disabilities.
And you can’t spot a person with expressive or receptive language disabilities or cognitive disabilities just by how they write on the Internet. You don’t know which of us are getting shut out and shut up. Many of us are afraid to speak up because of the responses we’ve gotten. Many of us get extremely vehement, hostile responses when we try to bring up these issues.
Just recently I read that there is absolutely no debate among people with developmental disabilities over whether the word stupid is bad to use — that all of us just automatically agree that it’s a horrible word that nobody should use. That’s not true. In fact, it’s not only not true, it’s covering up a truth that’s very important: Many people with developmental disabilities are unable to cut words like that out of our vocabularies even if we wanted to. And many of us have a very hard time expressing why it’s so hard. I have a better ability to communicate than a lot of people with equivalent cognitive impairments to mine, and it took me years to be able to articulate why this was a problem for me. Or even that it was a problem. This was years of difficulty, self-doubt, and shame over my inability to eliminate words that I was being socially pressured not to use. Sometimes I even agreed I shouldn’t use them and I still couldn’t eliminate them. It often put me off of even entering a lot of important conversations, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to abide by the rules. How many other people are silently dropping out of these discussions because the cognitive demands placed on them to drop very common words, or to use and understand very uncommon words, are too high?
But even with all these people not being able to communicate how hard it is for us, there’s still plenty of debate over whether it’s right to eliminate words like this. And to claim everyone in a certain group agrees with you (and by extension, anyone who doesn’t agree isn’t even worth acknowledging) is both misleading, and it shuts down the voices of a lot of people out there who really don’t agree with you at all.
Of course, there’s a huge advocacy community out there. A huge one. A huge advocacy community that isn’t hung up on everyone having to have a large academic vocabulary, or on everyone having to cut common words out of their language. A community with diverse representation and diverse opinions. And that community is making gains every day, real concrete gains, almost totally unnoticed by a lot of the people who assume that they are the end-all and be-all of the communities that fight against various kinds of oppression. And that gives me hope.
Facebook is at it again.
No critical examinations of whiteness or race allowed!
[Image description: temporary Facebook login interstitial page. This page shows up when you login again after you get forcibly logged out by Facebook due to reports and the like.
A post was removed by Facebook from Son of Baldwin’s page saying:
‘“I am not a race and neither are you.
I’m not joking when I talk about White History Week. One of the things that most afflicts this country is that white people don’t know who they are or where they come from. That’s why you think I’m a problem. I am not the problem; your history is. And as long as you pretend you don’t know your history, you’re gonna be the prisoner of it. And there’s no question of you liberating me, ‘cause you can’t liberate yourselves. We are in this together.
And finally, when white people talk about progress in relation to black people, all they are saying, and all they can possibly mean by the word ‘progress,’ is how quickly and how thoroughly I become white. I don’t want to become white; I want to grow up!
And so should you.”
- James Baldwin, 1996’]
— Image description credit goes to Kylie Brooks. Many thanks
White People Using Blackness and Anti-Black Racism Analogies For Their Experiences Is NOT Intersectionality
Who is the oppressed person that deserves to be heard? Who is the one where the seriousness of the oppression, discrimination, injustice and bigotry that they face should be centered and spoken of above all? Regularly this is posited as a White person. While those not ignorant nor willfully ignorant about race know that Whites do NOT experience racism, they know that Whites can experience other forms of oppression (i.e. homophobia, transphobia), while still having White privilege. Their Whiteness guarantees that though they may not be centered in the mainstream, they are in the margins and whenever an “example” of the margins is needed.
In my essay The Impact Of White Privilege On Womanism I mentioned:
Let’s think about who is the face of each oppressed and/or political group: Gay - cis White man, lesbian - cis White woman, queer - cis or trans White person, bi - cis White woman, usually presents femme, trans - White trans woman, atheist - White man, poor - if “reedeeming” and in need of “deserved” help - White woman, fat and body positivity - White woman with “curvy” weight distribution, disabled - White man or White woman (as on many websites and platforms), anti-classism - Whites, and ones who ignore intersectionality at that, sex workers movement - White women (I’ve seen White women who are sex workers admit this), feminist presence on any platform - White women, reproductive rights - White women; the word “woman” itself - White women.
This centering creates a dual-edged sword where Whiteness is used to infer that White people within the margins are more important than people of colour in those same margins, but that same marginal space where other forms of oppression that aren’t racism exist is then used to shield critique from how Whiteness is centering them. Then people of colour who experience some of the same oppressions AND racism are again disregarded and silenced. Worse, racism, especially anti-Black racism with a Black example then becomes the “go to” oppression to use as a rhetorical device in order to infer how “serious” another form of oppression is for a White person, or at times other non-Black people of colour. In the same aforementioned essay, I mentioned:
By co-opting knowledge that we produce and experiences that we have, Whites who are oppressed (not for race of course, but other facets of their identity) then use us to “prove” the seriousness of their oppression, because everyone is comfortable with Black people sitting at the bottom. It’s why “even Black people" type of statements are made by Whites when declaring some sort of oppression that they shouldn’t experience because "even Black people" don’t, in their view.
I recently expressed some thoughts behind this on Twitter as well because regularly "as bad as racism!" statements or analogies are used where Black people, Blackness and anti-Black racism are treated as rhetorical devices only for the purpose of emphasizing the seriousness of a different form of oppression. Regularly how Whites experience that form of oppression—not to highlight how someone Black experiences the racism and the other form of oppression—is why this comparison is made. This comparison where Black people are reduced to rhetorical devices—to “add depth” to an essay/issue etc. on a different form of oppression for non-Black people and especially for White people—is not what intersectionality is.
I recently saw a post that could not explain how fatphobia impacts someone’s perception of attraction and “preferences” without invoking "well not dating Black women is racist, so…" Why was this necessary? I mentioned on Twitter:
Why can’t people discuss fatphobia’s impact on attraction without “well not being attracted to a Black girl is racist” as a rhetorical device? Some fat women are Black but this is not why such an example gets used. It’s because Black bodies/lives are always used as ground zero for oppression-related rhetorical devices. I am sick of other types of oppression that people cannot discuss without a Black body as a reference point to “prove” the seriousness. Using “well it’s as bad as anti-Black racism!” to discuss another oppression is not intersectionality. This would be anti-Blackness actually and it’s antithetical to intersectionality since saying “___ oppression is as bad as racism!” erases the fact that some Black people deal with both.
The Daily Beast invoked Blackness as a rhetorical device ("Alec Baldwin is essentially showing up to a Civil Rights rally in blackface") when discussing Alec Baldwin’s transphobia, as if the topic alone cannot be discussed as seriousness without pretending that the racism that Black people experience ended, and now oppression of White LGBTQ people is the only real issue. Once again Blackness is just a flowery metaphor versus lived experience. I mentioned on Twitter:
Why can’t Alec Baldwin’s transphobia be discussed without Civil Rights metaphors? Some trans people are Black but that’s not why The Daily Beast did it. The bottom line is that Black bodies are used as ground zero for oppression. People think using the Civil Rights Movement or racism metaphors makes their issue “serious.” When the reality is transphobia on its face is serious. It doesn’t even require journalists going “It’s as bad as racism! Ooo extra bad!”
This racist dehumanization where Blackness and anti-Black racism are solely rhetorical devices is often dated as well, or in other words it’s written as a memory of the past as if racism ended and “new” oppressions took over. Speak of how fatphobia impacts people’s perceptions of attraction where Blackness is a rhetorical device solely to imply “seriousness” but meanwhile Black women are the ones regularly treated as scorned, unbeautiful and unfeminine, and while the face of a lot of fat positivity remains White? Where not just being a Black woman but having coarse hair, being dark and/or fat is treated with scorn? This would not be the place to add exception for Lupita Nyong’o’s fame. I’m talking oppression not exceptions. And much of beauty politics themselves is not only White supremacy but actively anti-Blackness as well where even if a woman is not White, the “at ‘least’ not Black” clause often applies. Speak of transphobia where Blackness is a rhetorical device solely to imply “seriousness” but meanwhile racism and transmisogyny let alone misgendering means the most dire poverty and violence for Black trans women? This would not be the place to add exception for Janet Mock’s and Laverne Cox’s fame. I’m talking oppression not exceptions.
This is why Blackness as a rhetorical device, as an analogy only to imply something White-centered (or non-Black centered as at times non-Black people of colour also make false equalizations to emphasize something that they experience [while excluding actual Black people] versus emphasizing that seriousness on its own) is also serious is clearly anti-intersectional and dehumanizing. While it is true that White supremacy cannot exist without a ground zero for its oppression (and the “antithesis” of Whiteness itself) and that area is regularly Black bodies and lives, that “ground zero” is a reality greater than a metaphor meant to re-center Whiteness. It is our lives as Black people.
Comparing things to anti-Black racism while purposely ignoring the intersectional experiences of Black people implies people understand racism. Many do not. Instead of a thorough explanation of the particular oppression in question, many non-Black people and especially White people rely on "it’s as bad as racism for Black people and that’s all ya gotta know" as an analysis of some other form of oppression. This not only leaves people uninformed and resentful (since many people don’t care about what Black people experience anyway) but it establishes a plethora of false equalizations that obscure the truth of intersectional experiences of Black people. Worse, some non-Black people of colour will refer to this hypervisibility for the sole purpose of dehumanization that Black people experience as “power” that Black people have instead of challenging the White supremacy and anti-Blackness that creates this highly visible dehumanization for Black people versus invisibility for them.
Black scholarship—especially Black women’s scholarship—is regularly used by non-Black people, and especially by White people, to erase Black people. This use of Black experiences to highlight Whiteness plus another form of oppression is just another example of dehumanization and eventually erasure and oppression through caricature. For how long will anti-Blackness be mistaken for intersectionality?
Why Won’t They Listen?
Why won’t they listen to me? I need time to process information, especially emotional ones. Why won’t they stop and let me process the information before demanding me to change? Why won’t they let me be me and do things the way I need to do them? I am not selfish. I am not only thinking about myself. I think about everyone else’s needs long before I think of my own needs, but there are times that I have to think of myself. I have to care for myself and do what is best for me. If the caregiver is not well, the people being cared for will not be well either.
Why don’t they have faith in me? I am fully capable to do what needs to be done, but I have to be allowed to do them. Why do I have to prove over and over again that I am capable? Is it because I don’t respond in the ways that they want me to respond? Is it because I am a very honest person? I have been told that I share too much, that I get too “hyper” over things, and that I “obsess” over things. I appear “hyper” because I get really excited about certain things. I share because I love to share new knowledge and I need to verbally process things. I don’t “obsess” over things. I have specific interests that I focus a lot of attention on, because it is calming. If I seem to talk about one thing over and over again is because I am having trouble processing and I sometimes get stuck in a feedback loop. I have to express myself in some way because I feel like I am going to burn up inside if I don’t. I have to get it out because I feel like I am either going to implode (shutdown) or explode (meltdown).
But they don’t understand. They don’t want to listen to me. They want me to be like them. So this is what I hear from the words that are said to me: Don’t talk about your feelings; keep your private life to yourself. Don’t tell people your problems; they are not really important anyway. You are so high-functioning, it can’t be that bad. Your sensory issues aren’t really a big deal. Your words are not important. You only think about yourself. You are being ridiculous. You are too sensitive. You are too emotional. You are too much. You don’t think like us so it is your fault that we can’t communicate. You are autistic, you can’t understand.
Some of the things I wrote above have actually been said to me by family members, some of them have been implied by the same people. I don’t understand why I am thought of in this manner. I am a human being with real emotions. I feel just like everyone else, sometimes more. Why are my needs not as important as others? I am willing to compromise, find middle ground, a balance where we all can live in an environment that is conducive to everyone. However, this may be naïve thinking on my part. How do you create an environment where everyone can be comfortable when someone like me is seen as less than a person or not really an adult or expected to be just like everyone else?
I know that people care about me, but they do not understand how hurtful the language they use around me is. Words are very powerful. I have lived most of my life not having a voice and doing and saying what I thought everyone else wanted me to do or say. Much of the time the words I used were not my words. I would scream in agony inside my head. Why couldn’t people see how much pain I was in, how much I struggled? I can only think that they saw what they wanted to see - a well-behaved, quiet child that had good academic standing.
I continued portraying this image as I grew into adulthood. It was only after my diagnosis and encouragement from a great advocate (who I also consider a friend) that I was finally able to find my voice through writing. What I type now are my words, my real words. Writing has helped me develop the words I use in spoken language. I am using my real words now, advocating for myself verbally and in written form, yet they still won’t listen. What do I have to do to get them to listen to me?
This ^ every word, and beautifully said!
Another stop-motion video! :D
Strange things are afoot at the ASAN WA January social… Brains that move across the floor, crayons that draw things on their own, a double-unicorn, and… Pinkie Pie?
(Photo by Rostam.)
Anthems of Hope: An Interview with QTPOC Art Activist Amir Rabiyah
Nia: How you identify?
Amir: Being hella mixed: Arab, Native (Cherokee), Irish, Spanish, German, Scottish, queer/trans/genderqueer, disabled, low-income, though I come from a mixed-class background, poet.
Nia: What do you do for a living?
Amir: I’m disabled, so I rely on a variety of resources to get by. Some help from community, state assistance, family, some independent contracting teaching gigs. It’s quite hard living with severe pain and illness, and being mostly home-bound to make ends meet.
Nia: Do you see yourself an artist?
Nia: What kind of art do you do?
Amir: I write poetry, non-fiction, and some fiction.
Nia: Do you consider your work political?
Nia: In what way?
Amir: I’m interested in writing from my own margins, in how different identities blur, press up against each other, cross other, run parallel. I’ve written a lot about war, since my family fled that, lived through it, inter-generational trauma. I write about being mixed race, disability, class, gender and sexuality. I write about the silences, silence as survival and as suppression. I also write about resilience because it takes a whole lot to survive in this world that is trying to erase you or misrepresent you. So I try and write about the beauty I see in myself too, and in my communities. Sometimes I write things that have a range of emotions, other times little anthems of hope.
Nia: Do you feel that higher education has helped you in your career as an artist?
Amir: Yes, in the sense that I got to develop a more fine-tuned skill in writing and editing. No, in the sense that there was a lot of drama, and uninterrupted oppression that went on in those classrooms that were exhausting. And student loans, seriously not worth it.
Nia: Where do consider yourself in your career as an artist?
Amir: I consider myself an emerging artist. I’ve shared my work publicly quite a bit, and had my work published in anthologies. But I haven’t published a book yet. Plus, I like the word ‘emerging’ because it allows room for growth, and I want to always be growing and challenging myself as an artist and writer and human being.
Nia: What has your journey to this point in your career been like?
Amir: I’m thankful that I have survived, that I’m alive. This journey to be where I am today hasn’t been easy. For me, my art is deeply connected to my growth and transformation as a person. So there have been times where I wasn’t writing stuff down on the page, I couldn’t write, either I was blocked or it was too painful, but things were being birthed inside of me. I think that the connections I’ve made with writers of color have given me the strength to go on, to keep writing. Places like VONA, Voices of Our Nations, a writing residency for writers of color really changed my life. People were accepting of me not only as a mixed person of color but also being queer and trans. It was one of the first times I felt that. Without those moments of acceptance, I think I’d have just given up on writing and publishing my work. I would have just thought it was impossible. So I guess my journey has been both hard and beautiful. I went through so many years in Oregon in isolation, feeling so out of place. Once I left, I found more support. I’m thankful for the spaces that have nurtured me, and told me you can do this, as well as challenged me to go deeper, and to be vulnerable. In a way, I also know that those years of isolation have made me truly appreciate the spaces where I can be whole. When you don’t have a place that you can be yourself, and then it’s given to you, it’s a shock, but an amazing feeling. It’s why I started teaching my own writing workshops hoping I can create spaces for queer and trans writers, where they can feel supported.
Nia: Where do you want to go from here?
Amir: I want to publish collections of poetry. I’m working on a few manuscripts right now. I’m also co-editing an anthology called Writing the Walls Down with Helen Klonaris and I’m really excited about that. I’d like to continue to do community-based workshops when I can, and also some low-residency teaching. I enjoy teaching creative writing, and the low-residency format would give me the opportunity to work from home, and travel a little bit. I really want to feel more financially stable, and be able to sustain myself with doing what I love, while also taking care of my health.
Nia: Do you worry that you may face identity-based challenges in getting to where you want to go?
Amir: Yes, although the worry is different than it used to be. I think about seven years ago, after moving to the Bay, I was still recovering from living in Portland, Oregon. It was really difficult living in a city that was not culturally diverse, and that I felt a great deal of hostility from just existing. On one hand, it made me not take for granted the opportunities that I did get to connect with other queer and trans people of color trying to create change with their art. On the other hand, I had internalized so much shame, and so many messages that I could not exist as a whole person, with all of my identities in relationship to my art. I thought that it would be impossible. Now that I’ve experienced rejection, hardship but also support and affirmation, I’ve realized that positive things can come out of identity-based challenges. For instance, sharing a piece of writing that is raw and vulnerable and really connecting with people, sometimes people that I would not have expected. Those moments keep me pushing forward, and worrying less about those challenges.
Nia: How do you measure your success as an artist?
Amir: That’s been a difficult and tricky issue for me. Being disabled, I can’t go out and work, or promote or push myself in the way that folks who aren’t disabled can. I see a lot of folks talking about all the things they did in a day, and all the back to back gigs, and projects, and production. I struggle because I have to create and work in a totally different way. I struggle to not compare myself to folks who aren’t sick, to capitalist models of success. These days I’m writing a lot from bed, sometimes I use talk to text technology. I try to measure myself as an artist by what did I learn today, what moved me, what transformed me. It takes me a long time to craft a poem that I feel is ready to send out into the world. I move slow. My work is accepting myself as I am. I’m always running into those voices and narratives that tell me I should have a steady job, should be producing more. But many of those ideas don’t serve me, because I’m sick. My success is that after all I’ve been through, I’m still trying towards thriving to heal my body and trauma, I mean doing some intense work, that kind of scraping at the bottom of the floor work, I see that as success. I say all of this, because I cannot separate all of that work with myself as an artist, because it all shows up on the page.
Nia: Do you feel supported as an artist here in the Bay?
Amir: Yes and no. There are ways in which I’ve felt really held here in the Bay, especially when I first moved here. There are more shows and spaces that are QTPOC-centered here in the Bay than in Portland, Oregon. And that has been exciting to be a part of. But as my illnesses have progressed, I’ve felt less supported here in the Bay because I can’t go out a whole lot, or work much outside of the house. I think that so many people are really busy here in the Bay, making ends meet. As someone who is an artist, but also disabled, I’m finding it hard to get the support I need because even in QTPOC community ableism and classism gets in the way. I can’t keep up with the pace of life here, so I’ve created my own pace and way of being. But the result of that, is some isolation from community.
Nia: What do you think it would take for more artists to be able to make a living off of their creative labor?
Amir: In order for artists to be able to make a living off their creative labor, I think that there needs to be a radical shift in what mainstream society views our work. Capitalism is very product focused, and much less process oriented. This makes it difficult for artists to make a living, because process is a huge part of creating. It could take weeks, months or years to create a body of work. I think the living in the United States and being raised primarily by Arab immigrants, who were very focused on “making it” or the perception of “making it”, that really influenced me. For a long time I felt like I had shamed my family in not being able to “make it.” Even though I have chronic health issues, and am disabled, I still push up against my own internalized ableism.
Unless we totally get rid of capitalism, which doesn’t seem possible at this moment, we first have to shift or at least engage with the messages we have internalized living in the United States as queer and trans artists of color. We have to remind ourselves and each other of our worth, and the necessity of our voices and art as cultural work and resistance. Once we start doing that, I think we have to keep supporting each other in getting funding whether applying for grants, or grassroots community fundraising, or creating our own organizations, or holding regular events. There are lots of possibilities. I think that in the arts world in the United States there is often so much competition, to the point that it is unhealthy. It’s often about who got this over who. While I think a small amount of competition is okay, it is exhausting, and it is actually not sustainable.
Winning $1,000 in a writing contest once isn’t enough. How can we work together as queer and trans artists of color to build? We need to build. Imagine if we really had a strong network. While I want mainstream society to change, and there to be more funding in the arts, I also don’t want to wait around for the government to decide our voices are worthy. We are worthy now, we have bills to pay now. We have art to share now.
Amir Rabiyah is a queer and two-spirit writer currently living in Oakland, California. Amir has been published in Mizna, Left Turn Magazine, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality, Troubling the Line: Trans and Gender Queer Poetry and Poetics and more. Amir is currently working on a collection of poetry about mixed identities, disability, survival, and rebellion. www.amirrabiyah.com.
Is Masculinity Always Privileged?: A Transman’s Experience with Intimate Partner Violence
by Mauro Sifuentes
I am a queer and trans non-profit professional of color (mixed-race) who works at an organization in the Bay Area of California that focuses on crisis intervention services for domestic violence survivors. My skills are best put to use doing prevention work; I spend a lot of time working with youth in public schools and other settings to have conversations about interpersonal and community violence, and I also do my best to open up space in collaborative agency meetings to discuss the particular issues that queer and trans youth and adults face. All of this work is important to me today because of the ways that domestic/intimate partner violence (IPV) has affected my own life.
Before getting into my own story, I would like to provide a bit of context for queer cultural and political spaces in the Bay Area. Many are putting a lot of effort into rethinking relationships to privilege and accountability, which is quite possibly one of the most difficult tasks a community can take on, especially during an era of ‘post-‘racism that also continues to ignore myriad institutionalized -isms that hugely affect people’s lives and their ability to thrive, including but not limited to ableism, immigration issues, transphobia/cissexism, homophobia/heterosexism, among others. A mantra I have seen many queer people take up, especially many masculine-of-center queer people, is that “Masculinity is privileged/femininity is denigrated,” in attempts to address institutionalized sexism.
I think that as a starting point, this can be an important realization for many who have not questioned structures of sexism and binary gender, as well as performances of gender. Being mindful of how our language, bodies, and mannerisms take up space in various settings is crucial in our efforts to support others in using their voices to speak on a variety of issues that have been silenced, both historically and in present organizing efforts. I also believe that drawing binaries like this out of context can also be very dangerous. Many progressive queer people are looking for scripts so that they can be good allies; these scripts often rely on reductive thinking that marginalizes other people still, but this marginalization is now grounded in a sense of political progressiveness and moral righteousness, making it even more difficult for the margins-of-the-margins to voice their experiences and concerns.
To illustrate the problematics of relying too heavily on the trope that “Masculinity is privileged/feminity is denigrated,” in all moments, I want to share my own story in order to continue a conversation that feels as though it is just beginning. Though I understand that trigger warnings can be helpful tools in order to let others know when content might be very difficult, if not harmful, I often experience their insertion as jilting and heavy-handed. I’m a queer, trans person of mixed-race experience who has experienced physical, verbal, and emotional violence, not only from intimate partners, but from strangers as well. I don’t want to sanitize my story with too many warnings. It is simple enough to say that the re-telling of these events might be most traumatic for me, and it is my hope that these words might be held carefully in a community invested in thinking about all forms of violence experienced by its members, difficult as that task may be.
I was in a relationship with a queer, self-identified femme woman. During the course of our relationship, there were many warning signs that I chose to ignore or push back against. Verbal mistreatment via name-calling and other insults. My hormonal transition began during this relationship – before I knew it, my body had become a battleground and a perceived betrayal. What I had not realized is that this self-proclaimed feminist partner of mine had chosen to hide from her own intense experiences of sexism by choosing queer partners, seeking solace from interactions with men in pursuit of her belief that sexism ended where her relationships with men did. What we often fail to see is that the internalized sexism we learn, as both women and trans people, comes with us wherever we go and we have the imperative to work through it in ways that don’t perpetuate cycles of violence. As my body began to change as a result of testosterone injections, I became the target of her rage. My body was beginning to scare her, in appearance and strength. As I was gaining confidence, I was able to stand up for myself in arguments in ways I had not before, which was written off as me aspiring to oppressive male privilege, ignoring that my identification with “male” was minimal and fraught. Frustrations mounted and her attacks shifted from verbal to psychological to physical, overlapping and reinforcing one another. Through this all, I refused physical retaliation.
The vulnerabilities I had expressed before I chose to transition and those I experienced early on were used against me in unfathomable ways. I was told that as a genderqueer-presenting person, I was more attractive as a partner, and that she had “the best of both worlds,” but now that I was more male-presenting, she was “doubly screwed” because she 1) could not push back against me like she would a cisgender male partner and 2) she had to take my experiences as a trans person seriously, and she did not want to have to do that. Another variable in this dynamic was race; my former parter was a white, feminist, queer, femme woman. When the physical violence and psychological abuse became too much for me to handle, I sought help from friends we shared as a couple. These friends were also a couple – a couple of color, composed of a queer woman and a mostly-straight man.
I now know that how they responded to my pleas for help are couched in reductive thinking about gender and race. These friends did not believe me, which fed into a pre-existing narrative that male or masculine people cannot be victims/survivors of IPV, a trope that proliferates in the professional literature on and responses to IPV. Additionally, within social categories, white women are often viewed as the least violent, where as men or masculine people of color are readily assumed to be the perpetrators of violence, especially violence against white women. My status as a queer and trans person did not come into the equation. These friends, rather than keeping my confidence, threatened to tell my partner that I was reaching out for help, putting me once again in harm’s way, as I feared retaliation for breaking my own isolation.
It brings me an immense sense of gratitude that I was able to reach out to other people outside of my immediate circle, acquaintances who came to my aid and helped me feel empowered to make the choices that I needed to keep myself safe, physically and psychologically. I also know that because of the particularities of my circumstances, I was very lucky to receive that support. Many male or masculine-presenting queer people and people of color rarely seek out or receive resources and support when experiencing IPV. A dominant narrative that only women and feminine-presenting people can experience this form of violence has seeped into queer and trans spaces as well; most organizations are not trained or set up to respond to these groups of people.
Here I return to my initial statement about refusing the trope of “Masculinity is privileged/Femininity is denigrated” - this understanding of gender dangerously invisibilizes the struggle of many trans masculine people, especially people of color. The ways that trans feminine people experience violence and discrimination can often look very different than the way trans masculine people experience discrimination. I also must admit the messiness of the categories, and that not all people who identify as a trans woman/MTF experience themselves as feminine, just as not an people who identify as a trans man/FTM experience themselves as masculine. Though this topic warrants its own in-depth analysis, I will say here that our cultural fixation on policing the gender of those who are male or are deemed as ‘supposed’ to be male (trans women) is so intense and violent, and this fixation also allows for increased political visibility, media attention, and support for academic inquiry. People who are on a trans masculine spectrum are largely missing from the public eye, especially trans masculine people of color. We need to cultivate much richer horizontal alliances across trans communities, where those who do not experience violent targeting speak up on behalf of those who do, just as those who receive more attention can also be sure to bring up the concerns of those community members who are less visible. These alliances must cross both lines of gender, as well as race.
It is also my hope that non-trans queers can support these relationships within trans communities without imposing binaries and hierarchies on our experiences. We all need support in thinking through the complexity of our realities, and telling marginalized communities to be silent simply because they are masculine-presenting is immensely harmful, as well as violently reductive. The ways that I have experienced myself as a masculine trans person is incredibly different from other presentations of masculinity. How I have struggled to be entitled to my gender presentation warrants thoughtful reflection instead of knee-jerk criticism. I acknowledge the ways that I move through the world in certain moments with increased ease, as my own feminist imperative; I also know that I am a short transgender man of color with no interest in engaging in certain politics of masculinity. In many contexts, masculinity is not the only vector of analysis that can account for how I will be privileged or not.
I want to thank people for reading, and to give my apologies for not writing about this topic in a way that is more beautiful or literary. It has taken me three years to find even these meager words and I’ve avoided recounting my experience in a more public forum precisely because of the way words feel inadequate and lifeless when discussing my experiences of violence. Coping looks catatonic in this moment, but is hopefully not entirely in vain. Perhaps avoiding more robust language is a retreat from expectation, a distancing of myself from the need to make an experience presentable or palatable by turning it into something beautiful. I am committed to continuing this conversation as a community member as well as a scholar – currently, I’m pursuing academic research into the ways that transgender people have been represented across time in scientific and social research in order to better understand both the current predicament we often find ourselves in, as well as the ways binary gender often goes unquestioned even through confrontations with people who defy easy categorization.
I bring forward this conversation in hopes that it can continue and to provide a framework for addressing these issues (sexism, racism, alliance, hierarchies, legitimacy, IPV, queerness, etc.) with a little more thoughtfulness and compassion, and to practice a refusal of easy directions and analysis when it comes to building alliances across difference. There are many queer communities of color grappling with these important questions of how to be in relation to one another and support one another, and I can only hope that this adds something useful to those discussions.
For questions/comments, please email me at email@example.com
Ask Culture and Guess Culture
“One of my wife’s distant friends has attempted to invite herself to stay with us, again,” writes the exasperated owner of a prime 2 bedroom apartment in New York City in this Ask MetaFilter question. “She did this last March, and we used the excuse of me starting a new job and needing to do x, y, and z as well as the “out of town” excuse for any remaining dates. This got us off scot-free, but we both knew the time would come again… and it’s here. We need a final solution.”
He goes on to list two different possibilities he can think of for getting this woman to stop asking for free room and board. The first is a little white lie, something about their keys being hard to duplicate. The other is to be vague, to say something like “Sorry, that isn’t going to work for us” and hope she doesn’t ask why.
The first few answers give this poster very direct advice: Just say no. No need to give an explanation, it’s her who’s being rude by asking. Others give him advice that was probably more like what he was expecting: other ways to be vague like claiming that it’s “One of those random `Life in NYC things.’”
Another thread of discussion popped up around whether or not the woman asking for a place to stay was being rude. Some posters couldn’t understand how simply asking to stay in someone’s apartment was rude, while another went as far to say that putting someone in the position “having to be rude and say no” was rude in and of itself.
It is into this context that user tangerine contributes this answer:
This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.
In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.
In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.
All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.
If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.
Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)
Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.
As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise. (#)
After this comment many users, including the original poster himself, began to use these terms in discussing the issue. And why wouldn’t they? Ask Culture and Guess Culture describe two valid yet opposing ways of interacting with the world with very little value judgment given to them. Framing the argument as such was a stroke of utter genius by tangerine, broadening the perspective of many who participated in the discussion and adding to the general lifebuzz.
As an Autistic, I’m firmly an ask culture person, whereas my parents (especially my Mom) and sister are guess culture people. My access need for direct communications (due to being Autistic) conflicted mightily with their sense of propriety. It was traumatizing for me because I couldn’t ever have become proficient in my own family’s guess culture, let alone become proficient in other families’ guess culture (in the same way that, being Blind (partially sighted) meant that I couldn’t ever have become proficient in driving a car). Yet they constantly expected me to conform to their way of doing things and I was always in the wrong with them because I just couldn’t.
How Ableism Creates the Idea of “Special” Needs, and Why It’s Harmful
I’m a disabled person, and I also work at the Disability Services Office at a college.
Not very long ago, a professor rushed into our office flustered and angry because
1. She had a blind student in her class.
2. She asked us how we planned to communicate graded papers to her student, since her habit was to write corrections on printed papers.
3. To which we replied, “Just send her an email instead of writing your corrections on the printed paper.”
How DARE we burden HER with so much extra work? More about how busy she is. More about how that gives an “unfair advantage”. (???) More on how could we possibly expect her to make such a drastic accommodation, which wasn’t fair to her or her other students.
How many emails do you think you send to your sighted students every semester? Dozens? Hundreds? How many classes of 25+ students do your teach every semester? How do you communicate with them?
This problem was entirely created in this professor’s mind by her own assumption that anything a disabled student could need was unacceptable, and a waste of her time.She returned to our office to complain several times over this.
She threw an actual tantrum over something she did for her non-disabled students every single day without even considering it.
Because “everyone knows” disabled people, whatever we might need, that need is too much. It’s a burden on abled people. It’s “unfair to everyone else (read: non-disabled people).
Many disability activists say things along the lines of “our needs aren’t more, just different”. Well, I have to say that even when are needs are the same, they’re still, apparently “too much”.
Omg, effing *this*!!!!! If I had a dime for every time someone has pulled that attitude on me…
Autism Speaks or Hitler #3
As stated before: these quotes have not been altered other than redacting the subject, changing the grammar/flow to match more (Nazis had a strange way of speaking), and the numbers (which are redacted). One is from the Autism Speaks website, and the other is from a Nazi. Reblog with your answer or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tally the correct amount of guesses and divide it by the total.
“As the number of [them] in this country continues to rise, now is not the time for [us] to take a great leap backward.”
"I hope to see [it] completely obliterated."
The answer will be posted tomorrow