The sometimes serious, but generally frivolous, musings of a city girl now living in the woods.
This post is dedicated to my friend Mary, who first taught me the phrase “zero-sum game” and helped me to know that justice and liberation are not zero-sum games. There is plenty to go around.
Racism is a bitch. So is homophobia. Damn. It affects everything from employment to jail time, publishing to life expectancy. But over the past few days, I have been really noticing how they get in our heads. They have the insidious power to make us doubt ourselves, distort the truth and make us fear.
Here’s what I mean. Yesterday, immediately after I heard the DOMA and Proposition 8 rulings, I wrote this:
I am having a very strange day. I feel like I should be over the moon because the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. I should be overjoyed that my marriage is law in the eyes of the feds, and that consequently, it is going to be very hard for Alabama, say, to not recognize it. (Although exactly why I will be asking Alabama to recognize my marriage is unclear…) I know I should be thrilled at the fact that my queer brothers and sisters who are immigrating now have a slightly easier path to legal residence. I know I should be happy to know that we can visit our spouses in the hospital, and file our taxes jointly and, perhaps someday soon, share our pensions with one another.
But. I am feeling really torn up. How can I celebrate that I got a lot of affirmation today, but my brothers and sisters of color, and for that matter some white sisters like Wendy Davis, got handed a ruling that could set back civil rights to the 1950s? I don’t know how to feel about being on the receiving end of so much goodwill when others have just been screwed.
As my Dad might say—and you should know that both he and my Mom often use very colorful language—“Ain’t that a bitch!” I mean that ruling was nothing if not a victory. It was—it is—an exciting affirmation of the justice and dignity of the LGBT community and even though it was a court ruling, it was the culmination of beautiful organizing work in the community for years. Decades, even. And I was feeling guilty. (Y’all don’t want to hear about my guilt; that’s for my therapist and I to work out, I know. I am using it to illustrate a point.) Again. Ain’t that a bitch? Yesterday represented a win, a rare adding-more-people-to-the-big-tent ruling. Legally speaking, it is nothing short of breathtaking how quickly our progressive work paid off to change the hearts and minds of voters, politicians and justices alike. I should have been celebrating. But it was hard for me to do that.
When I tried to think about why, there was a lot to unpack. Marriage is, to me, not the most liberatory aim, and including us in the institution just solidifies the nuclear family as the way benefits are granted in the US. I am ambivalent about that. So, there was that. And, honestly, two-thirds of our states still don’t have marriage equality, so there’s that, too. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was a little embarrassed to have done so well. I was feeling guilty that our small little goal was being treated as the second coming and I almost didn’t’ feel as though we deserved it. It was like we hadn’t had it hard enough yet.
Holy shit. Homophobia is a bitch. Damn right we deserve this.
But the fact that I was unnerved and distressed about the Voting Rights Act decision is also evidence of the corrosive power of oppression. I am both upset about the fact that they overturned key provisions and that the response was not the outcry I was hoping for.
Small, largely condensed history lesson here: The Voting Rights Act was a small piece of legislation that came out of a shit ton of activist work by people all over the country, but certainly focused in the South. With its passage, Black voters all over the country were, at least legally, re-enfranchised and allowed to participate in the most fundamental action in our participatory democracy. The VRA has a lot of provisions, but one is that certain jurisdictions, almost all in the South, were to be continually scrutinized because historically their attempts to prevent Black voters from voting were particularly heinous. Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the US of A decided to strike down that provision because there was little evidence that they were still the worst offenders. (Well, duh. They have been being monitored. Jaysus. We know it’s working because it is working.)
So here’s the thing: perhaps we should have to re-examine disenfranchisement across this country. (Ohio, anyone? Those lines were pretty off-putting.) And we live in a different demographic society, now. Latinos are being targeted in different ways than African Americans than Asians, and frankly poor people of all colors are getting left out of the political conversation. But saying it’s all good now? Do you know how fast Texas moved to redraw district boundaries that were previously struck down as racist once the court ruled? Hours. Mere hours. (It could be argued that it is not intended to be racist, but rather intended to favor Republicans, but at this moment, the outcome of that gerrymandering is that votes of color are essentially null.)
But that is, at least for this ramble, beside the point. The ruling itself was predicated on a sense that racism is not a problem anymore, or at least not as much of a problem as it once was. And while many people would say that things are better, in certain regards, more people of color I know would say the racism has changed, but it sure as shit hasn’t gone away. To me the corollary—and unspoken—notion about the assumption that racism is not as bad is that the suffering of peoples of color is therefore, somehow, their fault. What I mean is, it feels to me that the general assumption of our dominate (mostly white, very middle class) culture, is that people of color are bringing the hardships on themselves.
Now I know that nobody has said that aloud in this national conversation. And I don’t really know if I can find evidence of this line of thinking. (Well, on Monday the court did restrict affirmative action in college admissions. Again. Which does suggest that the justices think that discrimination is not as bad as it used to be and that it will be up to people of color to work harder and be smarter. As though the bias is gone.) But just because I am not finding direct evidence does not mean I am wrong. (Just because I am paranoid, it doesn’t mean they are out to get me. Amirite?) I believe that in the US, the dominant narrative is that people of color need to get over themselves and work hard, and that they are whining and need to go ahead and let go of their anger about the past. That sounds suspiciously like the old narrative about lazy African Americans, doesn’t it?
See? Racism has gotten into our heads. It has caused us to doubt and fear. How else could so many people—at least on my Facebook wall, or whatever they are calling it now—not be outraged about that VRA decision? I think it is because we are deeply, deeply biased as a country. (Think there is no bias? Think again.) And I believe that bias affects African Americans in an untenable, unacceptable way, that we should be angry about. Outraged.
I know, you’re thinking, Sage, what is the point? I guess it’s this:
(1) Fuck Yeah, Marriage Equality! Celebrate this victory. They don’t come every day, so raise your glasses or turn up the music or kiss your spouse, or whatever. Just thank everyone you know who helped it happen and celebrate the win and the work. We SOOO deserve it.
(2) Good god, we have a long way to go on liberation and a truly equitable and just society. People of color in this country are getting the short end of the stick. They are, right at this moment, being disenfranchised, and we must find ways to rise up and fight. Call your Senator; it’s up to them to figure out how to re-certify the states that need to be scrutinized for voter fairness. Get together with leaders of color in your area and figure out what projects need your help and then, in fact, help. And check out #3.
(3) Check. Your. Bias. No seriously. Oppression gets in our very bloodstream. We experience it everyday, no matter what side of the divide we stand on. Those of us who are white and able bodied and middle class/rich, etc. get so much help in the world and learn so much that is wrong about others. Educate yourself and starting noticing when your assumptions are cruel, or illogical, or mean. That might just be the bias talking, not the facts. And also, do me a favor, ‘kay? When a person of color tells you about his or her experience of racism, listen from a position of trust. Believe what they say. It’s true.
And to those of us who experience oppression everyday: time to watch our biases, too. No one’s oppression is more important. You get to shout your anger—and your dreams and victories—aloud.
There is enough liberation and justice for all of us. As long as the oppression doesn’t get too deep in your head.