Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anti-Oppression Work Is Ongoing, Even If We Are In San Fran-fucking-cisco

Lately, I've been extra-sensitive and frustrated about the fact that so many radical activist circles that I work with are predominantly white - and I've been noticing quite a bit of cultural insensitivity within these spaces. As a person of color, a queerdo-genderqueer-tranny-faggot, sex worker anarcho-feminist, my identities are constantly being pulled in multiple directions in search of safe, supportive community. It is both a motivation for creation and energetically draining.

For example, to be in a sex-worker-positive space means to be in a predominantly white privileged environment. Same with most anarchist scenes, with the addition of a whopping side of patriarchy and sexism. But to be in a place where I can relate with others over the social etiquettes and struggles as a queer person of color? It means that I often have to keep sex work on the down low. Anarchism is a less common frame of reference. And sometimes, I'm not even out as queer, let alone as genderqueer. I feel perpetually caught in the middle, floating, searching, but always leaving some vital part of me neglected in the end.

I've been ranting about it to friends more than usual, and my ranting about these privileged-yet-unaware activist spaces is probably starting to make me sound like I think all white people are racist - because, well, yes, I'm going to come right out and say it - White people who have grown up in our current society are socialized to be inherently racist. Period. Of course I know that there are good people doing good work, and who happen to be white. Some of my close friends come to mind. And there are some People of Color that are the worst about sensitivity and non-judgement. And I have no illusions that POC folks can't also be racist just because they are POC. But lately, I have been getting hit on all sides with general cultural insensitivity, and its fucking frustrating.

I have come to the conclusion that it is because ironically, we are in San Francisco - the land of forward politics, green culture, and radical activists! And thats just the thing - everyone is a 'lefty' activist here. Its 'cool' to be a lefty activist here. And though there is nothing wrong with that, it seems to me that at some point, the dogma surrounding anti-oppression has become more common buzz word and less critical self-reflection. Just because a person is an activist doesn't mean that they automatically get anti-oppression cred. It's not like when someone 'turns activist', they suddenly have an epiphany about what privilege means, and they become not sexist or racist etc. forever.

It seems like 'SF activist' has developed into an identity all in itself which dangerously assumes that this means said activist must already be aware of privilege, class, race, and gender issues. This assumption leads to laziness, and all of a sudden, I am finding myself in spaces where people (but especially white people) aren't self-reflecting on these issues, and how it may affect the people and social environments around them.

It is important, not only to acknowledge one's privilege, but also to ask oneself, How does this privilege frame my experience, and how do my actions affect the people and places around me?

And what are you going to do with your answers?

Anti-oppression work is an ongoing lifetime process, both within ourselves, and the world at large. These types of conversations need to happen regularly - its like activist mental maintenance to keep that anti-oppression lense clean! People have gotten comfortable in our radical sf activist bubble, and take for granted the language that has been developed to talk about __(insert political buzz word here)__, but let's see people consistently putting action to their words, please!

hah yeah. maybe my head would explode.
i drank too much coffee and i'm gonna go off.
i can feel it.
yes. i am a fucking asshole and i have high expectations towards people who call themselves activists.
no. i don't give a fuck. we are all accountable.
im pissed off and impatient.
my cynicism bleeds from repetitive lacerations of an optimistic heart.
picking and choosing battles, i know how to compromise in the face of this reality,
but it doesn't mean i will.

Thank you for the reminders that there is still hope. Ultimately, I am thankful for the freedom of expressions that San Francisco allows. Sometimes, I do get lost. Sometimes, it just feels good to vent to an understanding, listening friend.

Then we pick it back up, and do it again.

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