Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Difference and discrimination, part I: Difference and discrimination don't exist until they're named? Wrong.

I've had a piece of writing brewing for a looong time -- for more than two years, when I go back and look at scraps and drafts of things -- about this fallacy in both American society, and the Religious Society of Friends, that equates naming or identifying something with actually creating it. 

I witness, and experience, how this inhibits discussion in two areas in particular: difference and discrimination.  With difference, the myth is that differences don't exist until we name them -- and that when we do, we threaten unity and cohesiveness, and therefore organizations or communities themselves.  With discrimination, the myth is that prejudice and discrimination don't exist until we name them -- and that when we do, we're the ones who are prejudiced bigots.

What bullshit.

What's more, this attitude goes hand-in-hand with blame-the-victim mentality, and it lets perpetrators of discrimination off the hook.

This has come back up for me during my travels in ministry this summer, as I've been confronted with things like Judeo-Christian religious and theological ethnocentrism and privilege; racism; sexism and male privilege; classism; homophobia, biphobia, and heterosexism; and ableism.  (In my fatigue, I'm sure I'm forgetting something else.)  Yeah, at least each and every one of those was dropped directly in my lap for me to cope with at least one time or another, and sometimes more than once, in the the space of five consecutive weeks.  Aieeee.

Sometimes I was able to open my mouth and do education, or advocate for myself.  Sometimes I was just rubbed too tender or too raw, or was too overwhelmed or exhausted.  Like when I tried, several times, then finally gave up on the ADA-inaccessible workshop.  Even though the facilitator pouted, saying, "But I want you here!"  (Ze was willing to pout when I pointed out the room was inaccessible to me, but ze wasn't willing to move the workshop so I could attend it.  Would ze have pouted, even jokingly, if I'd been using a wheelchair I couldn't have maneuvered into the building?)

I've been deeply, deeply grateful for spiritual community holding me while I've done this work, and for sometimes doing it with me.  Because while sometimes I've experienced this on airplanes or street corners or grocery stores, more often I've experienced it among Friends.  Sometimes, beloved Friends.  Ohh, the joys and frustrations of community.

Even so, I am just plain burned out. 

This has come up yet again over the last few weeks, after my travels.  I've been castigated and called "sexist" and "man-hating" for posting a link to the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments in another electronic forum.  (I had no idea the Declaration of Sentiments would still be controversial in quite this way, 162 years after the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention; but that would be another blog post.)  And for posting the news story that the death sentence of Gaile Owens, a (female) domestic violence survivor, has been commuted to life in prison, and for saying how glad I am she will live.  

This also came back up for me when the movie "Avatar" was released and I read this review -- "When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar?" -- followed shortly by reading an article in the Boston Globe about Black science fiction writers

In the article, Nalo Hopkinson is quoted as saying:

"[The black sci-fi community is] tiny... And it's happening in an environment in which, particularly in the US, to talk about race is to be seen as racist. You become the problem because you bring up the problem. So you find people who are hesitant to talk about it."


"To talk about race is to be seen as racist": sweeping race and racism under the Meetinghouse rug

This happens among Quakers, too.

I have a F/friend whose ministry includes helping the Religious Society of Friends become more welcoming to people of color.  For some years, we were part of the same Meeting.  While I was there, the Meeting supported her ministry, but her ministry was nonetheless controversial: a vocal minority in the Meeting was deeply concerned that supporting her ministry would contribute to the divisions among Friends.  Simply by virtue of acknowledging that the experience of Friends of color is not always the same as that of white Friends, acknowledging that racism exists in the Society of Friends today, and acknowledging that racism has existed in the Society of Friends historically.  As if those experiences, and those differences, and that racism, and that history, don't exist until my F/friend's ministry, the ministry of other Friends of color, including Friends of African descent, and the ministry of anti-racist Friends of European descent, bring them to Light.   

Yeah, right. 

Just as in the larger society, it's as if, as long as we pretend it doesn't exist, then somehow it doesn't; and as if, when we acknowledge it exists, then somehow we've created it, brought it into existence.

It disturbs me deeply when Friends buy into this lie.  

1 comment:

RantWoman said...

THANK YOU for articulating all of this.

Well it's part of many conversations, but THANK YOU for saying it all.