Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies



Speaking Up/Speaking for?

What am I doing up here, anyway?

I have to start by sincerely thanking commenter Leslie for causing me to reflect on these issues. Seriously. The last time I thanked her, I was being a smartass, but I actually mean it this time. It’s like fighting with my husband – he pisses me off, but he also makes me think things through more than I would’ve. I appreciate that.

I took this anti-bias work on knowing that I’d feel like I was banging my head against a wall a lot of the time. And honestly, I have to work very hard not to start basking in feelings of superiority regarding people who rail against my opinions and observations. I admit, I feel so confident that they don’t get it. They are so typical, so ignorant, so clueless and I’m so much more “with it.” It’s a kind of schadenfreude – feeling stronger in the face of another’s shortcomings.

Feeling superior helps nothing, advances nothing that I claim to be fighting for. It is a waste of my time, and there is more productive energy for me to harness elsewhere. It’s hard, though. Reading the angry comments on my blog, I think of dozens of snarky responses, little digs that I can use to insult, tease or frustrate the commenter. It takes an enormous effort not to say just one little thing in response – maturity is an ongoing process, I guess. I suppose I do this out of frustration, because I feel so powerless in the face of the multitudes of people who don’t think that prejudice is a huge problem, who attack the victims of oppression, and who accuse me and others of “playing the race card.” (Oh GOD that makes me mad!) But I have to remember how much I’ve learned in the past year, and how learning has changed my opinions. I would appreciate forgiveness or understanding for the prejudicial, stereotype-based, generally ignorant things I’ve certainly said and done (some more recent than others). So my challenge is to be gracious, and extend that forgiveness and understanding to others. My compromise is to address some issues that this discourse has brought up.

If you defend someone else’s humanity, is that the same as speaking for them? In standing up for those whose story you do not share, do you take something away from them?

I guess I have to start by saying I have a problem with the concept of “Every man for himself.” The idea that we must stand alone and “fight our own battles” is glorified in our stories (including what we refer to as “history”). We live in a highly individualist society. We’re taught that if we do for ourselves and make our own way, then we have succeeded. We have grown up. We have made it. On our own, we’ve truly made it.

By that logic, it would make sense that African Americans should not take a stand against injustice against other groups. After all, we’ve got enough of our own problems, right? We’ve got plenty to worry about without taking on other people’s issues, right?

But are the issues we refer to as “our own problems” really solely ours? Police brutality, job discrimination based on skin color or cultural affiliation and disregard, ridicule and misunderstanding in the educational system happen to all oppressed people, not just African Americans. These are everyone’s problems.

Racial justice is more than a black-white issue. It’s multifaceted, involving not only multiple races, but also power dynamics, which are informed by class, gender, ability and the shifting circumstances of bias and inclusion. To that reasoning, I cannot claim to agree that it’s a good idea to stand alone and fight “your own battles.” To some this may brand me as a baby or a coward, fearful and powerless. Such branding, is a very clever trick. It tricks us into doing the work of keeping ourselves and each other down, snatching crumbs from each other, instead of looking for the loaf, as it were.

If we stand alone, ruggedly individual, accepting no assistance, how many of us will actually succeed? A few. Precious few. And those few success stories often learn on their way up that they should guard what they’ve got, because goddammit, they’ve earned it, and no one else deserves it.

I think if we stand together, help each other and approach problems with each other in mind, we may go more slowly and we may not get to the same place if we’d been traveling alone. But I think more of us will have more success (instead of a small few of us having moderate-to-lots of success), and we’ll enjoy it more. Imagine if all of the people who suffered from police brutality stood together, in solidarity, and attacked the system that supports that kind of abusive behavior. Imagine what would happened if individuals stopped attacking individuals, and networks of people started attacking systems of oppression.

Which brings me to this point: If I see racial injustice being perpetrated against someone who does not share my ethnicity, culture, religion, skin color, etc., I’m going to do my best to say something against that behavior. Not because I think that others are incapable of speaking for themselves, or that I know something that the target group doesn’t know.

I just think that injustice for anyone is injustice for everyone. If something is wrong, it’s wrong whether it happens to me, my sister, my neighbor or my enemy. I can only speak for myself, and I personally find injustice worth speaking against in any situation. I think that if you justify silently watching (or participating in) others be mocked, abused, disregarded, etc. simply because it’s not happening to you, that is fear in action. Cowardice if you will. I’m trying to be stronger, to defeat the cowardice that lives in me that would stand by and say “Sorry, not my problem.”

I know my little blog is a drop in the bucket of millions of voices. As far as I know, I have more success sorting out my own mind than changing anyone else’s. This blog is a record of my personal process, and the work that I do to be a less-biased, more justice-centered human being. It is flawed and imperfect. I am doing this publicly, because my hope is that someone can look at my process, with its flaws and problems and occasional successes and possibly feel better about taking some step toward decreasing the injustice in the world, no matter how small and imperfect.

Peace,

Atena

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Comments

  1. Well I’m late to this party, and breaking my new commenting rule, but you wrote:

    “I just think that injustice for anyone is injustice for everyone.”

    Well said. That is wisdom.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 1 month ago
  2. * heather says:

    Atena,

    You make good points. Each man for himself in America is starting to fray at the edges if you ask me. We just one generation from realizing this won’t work forever.

    Nice post.

    Sincerely,
    A Reformed Individualist Wimp

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 1 month ago
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    | Reply Posted 1 year, 8 months ago


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