The Sacrosanct Identity, Bigotry And The Enabling Of Oppression

09Nov10

Crossposted at The Spectrum Cafe

Identity.

It’s deeply personal and for the most part we go way out of our way to protect it. Not just our own but others as well. At least when identity policing and erasure isn’t going on. It’s one of those sacrosanct inviolable rules of the Alphabet Soup community (GLBTQQIAsomethingsomethingetc) that identity trumps all. Don’t police, don’t fuck with it, don’t erase, don’t demean and don’t tell people their identities are invalid.

This sacredness of identity is, for the most part, brilliant. It protects people from erasure, prevents the odious bullshit of having to explain and justify why you are who you are to every privileged piece of scumfuck who comes along. Sacrosanct identity allows us to work past the bounds of nonfunctional or bigoted language built to deny us basic self determination of who we are. It allows us to come to terms with the workings of our lives and the problems we face at our own pace and have community to fight these issues. Generally when identity is attacked, it’s attacked on bigoted bases or on derails. By treating it as sacred, that heads off those attempts at the pass, allowing identity to stay safe even when under assault from all sides. Yes, identity being sacred is helpful in many ways but it is also has one ridiculous flaw.

It doesn’t account for the fact that identity is not immune to being bigoted.

Let’s start with appropriation, both the most obvious and yet most ignored example of a bigoted identity. An identity stolen from a marginalized group by a privileged one is still an identity. For all intensive purposes, it fits the structure. Deeply personal, central to self conceptualization (who you are), defended harshly when attacked and often seen as sacred (in no small part due to the sacredness of identity in activist circles). One of the best examples of an Alphabet Soup community fuck up in the identity zone when it comes to appropriation is white people (or really anyone outside of the Native Cultures it comes from) calling themselves Two Spirit . This bigoted bullshit is defended heavily all throughout white GLBT circles, using the sacrosanct identity as the entire basis. And this defense contributes to systemic bigotry and discrimination through appropriation against the Native nations and peoples of North America from whom the concept came. It is, in fact, enabling that bigotry by allowing the damaging identity usage to persist.

There are less obvious examples, ones that are actually quite basic to the very comprehension of sexuality. For instance the sexualities within monosexuality (straight, lesbian, gay, gynephilic, androphilic, agendrephilic, androgynephilic, etc) are structured in such a way as to be mired with cissexism and binarism. The polysexual orientations are a bit more free of these issues but bisexuality is prone to similar issues in its usages more than its actual structure. These orientations, the bedrock of the Alphabet Soup community’s sexuality section, are often directly at odds with trans identities in a relationship that is undoubtedly cissexist, binarist and wholly discriminatory and bigoted. And yet, the sacredness of identity is used as a basis to enable this bigotry through strawman fallacies, oppression olympics and privileged whining not just in that example but in many others (which I’ll avoid hyperlinking since they involve radscum cissexist fuckwagons and I try not to make my readership vomit blood too often).

And that’s what it comes down to. Identity is so sacred to the community that even when one particular identity is ultimately damaging and harmful, props up systemic discrimination and even directly attacks other members of the community, those elements are ignored and people will pretend that it is a simple question of accommodation or identity policing.

Let’s be entirely clear, identity policing isn’t good. But neither is propping up bigotry. So what to do? Should we drop the sacredness of identity? Ignore bigoted identities in order to protect all the others? Luckily I’m not one to subscribe to false dilemmas. Neither option is necessary. What is required is a bit more of a thinking approach. Too often identity is treated in a kneejerk approach. It is considered the ultimate trump card and is reflexively protected with no thought as to what is actually being said, the best example being Carolyn above who utterly ignored the cissexism accusations and even admitted so:

[...]In this example, according to Ms Hope, one or the other has to redefine themselves; she prefers it to be the lesbian. (I’m sure there’s some unsupportable, emotionally heated, argument about “cis[sexual/gender] privilege” in there, somewhere.) [...]

-Carolyn Ann of CaroLINES

In fact, more often than not, the painfully awful quote above being a prime example again, the bigotry issue is ignored or dismissed entirely in the debate. This occurs with even heavier intensity and higher frequency when you’re dealing with a privileged party. If you remember the link on appropriation to http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com and simply follow their tumblr for a while you’ll notice the huge numbers of white people who ignore their white privilege involved in appropriation. Similarly, cis monosexual and polysexual individuals will immediately ignore their own cis privilege involved in the damage their identities do to trans people. Same with binary individuals and nonbinary/genderqueer folk harmed by their (the binary ones) identities.

It becomes fairly obvious that many people will use the sacrosanct status of identity as a shield to protect their own bigotry or engage in apologism for the bigotry of others. And those that don’t will still follow the reflex reaction of defending identity even when that identity is hopelessly toxic and built on a giant pile of bigotry.

But if bigotry is used as a red flag in an identity discussion, allowing for this reflex of unthinking protectiveness to cease for a moment it makes it so identity being sacred is no longer a problem. When the possibility is raised that a given identity has bigotry issues, if people step back for a second and don’t go into ID IS SACRED RAAAAAAGE mode, that one serious flaw in this method of protecting identity becomes null. It is bypassed and allows us to combat the enabling of oppression through identity fully, instead of becoming enablers ourselves in our zealous (and for the most part, positive) attempts to stop identity policing.



42 Responses to “The Sacrosanct Identity, Bigotry And The Enabling Of Oppression”

  1. I’m guilty of calling myself a twin-soul. But I wasn’t even aware of the native american twin-spirit mythology. I call myself that because I am a spontaneous human chimera, who started out as a plural pregnancy — a brother and sister in the womb who merged into one being. But I am not attached to the label particularly and would be just as happy referring to myself as a chimera since I’m not even convinced souls exist.

  2. 2 chels

    excellent post. i can’t even imagine someone calling themself two-spirit as a white person. that’s just gross.

    i do have a question though. some lesbians fuck or even date cis men but still consider themselves lesbians. would you consider this different than the example at caroLINES? because i could see there being a lesbian who considered her trans boyfriend to legitimately be a man and an exception to her lesbian-ness just like if she were dating a cis man, but then i could also see a whole lot of cissexism going on too.

    now that i’m thinking about this i have a bunch of other complex questions also but… yeah. your posts always make me think!

  3. 3 Jane

    I read this post twice through and am still confused. How, specifically, does one redefine an identity into a less bigoted identity? Does the concept of an identity change, or does the language around it change? Does willingness to discuss how identities interact and potentially harm each other automatically make them less bigoted, or are you just suggesting that as a jumping off point for other changes?

  4. @chels

    The concept of a lesbian with exceptions is just fine. If I was a cis lesbian, I’d check first with a trans boyfriend to make sure I’m not causing issues, but saying, “I’m lez and he’s my exception” generally won’t invoke cissexism or out him.

  5. @Jane:

    It depends on the identity. Some require a change in the language surrounding them (like bisexual), others simply are not accessible to certain people (like two spirit) and will never be. And some identities (tranny chaser) are always damaging and need to be restructured, redefined or destroyed.

    I’m suggesting such discussions to be a jumping off point for whatever changes are necessary for each case.

  6. Holy shit, the whinging going on in that example post is utterly astounding.

    Pondering going to try and explain to then, but I expect it’d be met with the same blank stares and whinging as you got. Still.

  7. My words are painfully awful? Have you read some of your sentences?

    I thought you, Kinsey, were going to tell me when this post was published?

    Anyway, getting the meat of your argument (you did decorate it quite well): identity is sacred, except in those cases where it isn’t. The other side of your argument is that cultures cannot, with some exceptions, influence others, because some belief or other is sacred and sacrosanct. (You don’t restrict your argument to the purely spiritual. If you did, I’d ignore it because spiritual arguments are about religious belief. But you don’t; you extend your argument to the realm of all identity.)

    As in: the “two spirit” concept is particular to native American cultures and cannot be appropriated (eg used) by others. It can’t influence thinking within the other culture, and it most certainly can’t be used to describe oneself, even if that person comes to the conclusion that this concept best describes them.

    Allow me to reduce it: If concept “A” is particular to “this” culture, then it can’t be used by others. Because concept A is sacred in some way. Being sacred, if someone uses it to influence their own thinking, or derives it independently (can you tell which is which?), they’re a bigot in your eyes. You obviously have no idea what British Druids believe; they have a concept very similar to that two-spirit thing.

    As I’m writing this, I’m beginning to wonder if your argument has any merit whatsoever. I am struggling to find the core of it; I can’t actually see one, which is why I’m not able to directly refute your argument. I don’t think it has one!

    The more I examine your argument, the less I see in it.

    I think, because I don’t really know, that what you’re saying is that you don’t like it when a white person includes the idea of having two spirits, two sides to their identity. Because they’re white, and as such must be appropriating a religious concept that is exclusive to some other group. If, for instance, someone decides that New Age spirituality makes sense to them, and they use that belief to explore spiritual ideas from other cultures, integrating the ones they like, rejecting the ones they don’t – then, by your argument, they are bigoted. Therefore, my assertion that your argument has no core (it’s based on prejudice), and that you believe that cultures should not influence each other. Applying this to Christianity, when the Americans integrated their religious practices into Catholicism, was it bigotry, influence or an effort to make sense of this new religion? Don’t forget – the Spanish tried to impose Catholicism upon the Americans they found; the Americans, in turn, reused their own concepts and incorporated them into their own Catholicism. (Refutations about how dastardly the Spanish were are obvious and discardable. It happened, let’s think about the consequences in the context of your argument.)

    According to your argument, this New Ager can’t decide that some religious idea makes sense, because they are not of the culture that came up with that explicit idea in the first place. They also cannot become an adherent of that religion because that religion is part of a culture. Ah. The core of your argument?

    Except you asked me to read some article about clothing, and fashion. It was a weak article, truth be told, with not a lot to recommend it. But I read it. In short, it contained the same argument, but with more equivocation: certain patterns and design elements have meaning within a culture, and is it right to appropriate those elements and patterns into clothing that makes nothing but a reference to the originating culture? The writer, I recall, was trying to decide if the use (“appropriation”?) was derogatory to the original culture. You assert, for one religious concept, that it is. But your assertion has no grounding, except for the idea that this two-spirit concept is part of a native belief system.

    In other words, you seek to prevent, by dint of accusation of bigotry, anyone from considering, or ultimately questioning, the two-spirit concept because, if the person doing the considering is white. In the case of the *white* transgender person, trying to figure out their identity, you simply say “stay away from this concept, it’s mine!”

    There’s the core to your argument! Small wonder I trouble finding it; it’s prejudicial! And I wasn’t looking for prejudice; I did notice it, but discarded it. I shouldn’t have.

    As you can see, I’ve not applied anything but logic. No “privilege”, no superiority, no “strawman fallacies, oppression olympics [or] privileged whining”. Nothing but examination and logic. You might not agree with the logic, and I welcome any efforts to poke holes in it. (Telling me I’m a bigot because I don’t agree with you is not poking holes in my argument.) There is a difference between attacking someone’s ideas, and attacking them personally. I do not think you’re a bigot, I just think you’ve arrived at a conclusion that is prejudicial without realizing that it actually is so! Just to be clear: I am debating your ideas, not attacking you. I do not believe, for instance, that you’re prejudiced. I do believe your argument in this post is prejudiced.

    Moving to another topic, because it is another topic, when you say “If I was a cis lesbian, I’d check first with a trans boyfriend to make sure I’m not causing issues, but saying “I’m lez and he’s my exception” generally won’t invoke cissexism or out him”, you’re assuming something I doubt you have the right to assume: how a lesbian in those circumstances would react, and an absolutely irrelevant concern about “outing” him (although it might be a concern in another context, it’s not relevant in this one). The fact is you don’t know, for sure, how you’d react in those circumstances. You’re imposing your belief in how you would react upon an entire group of people! And assuming they would react the same way. You don’t state that this is what you’re doing, though.

    As you can’t know for sure how someone else would respond in that situation, your response becomes only how you think you would respond. My original refutation stands.

  8. Never proofread your own work… The most obvious, painful?, error:

    “In other words, you seek to prevent, by dint of accusation of bigotry, anyone from considering, or ultimately questioning, the two-spirit concept because, if the person doing the considering is white” in the bit about ‘if the person doing” should read:

    “because the person doing the considering is white”

    There are some other minor errors, misplaced commas for the most part, but I don’t think they alter my meaning. If they do, I’ll be more than to apologize for the error and will be delighted to correct the record.

  9. 9 milk

    ok this is so trivial but you wrote “intensive purposes” and it should be “intents and purposes.” i swear i read the whole thing but i dont have anything say beyond “yeah!” lol

  10. What are the implications for your argument if I buy a nice dress in a traditional style and pattern in, oh, Mexico?

    How about a nice piece of jewelry from a vendor at the Four Corners?

    It really does look like you argument doesn’t have the legs it needs!

  11. Just checking in – are you alright?

    Forgive me for being a bit concerned; I was thinking of you.

  12. @Carolyn:

    That could have easily been its own post, holy crap. I appreciate you just taking the logic approach. Your previous post was awful (painfully) cuz it was wicked entitled. That’s just how it is. Try not to interpret an attack on your arguments and approach as an attack on you. I also apologize for not letting you know, it completely slipped my mind.

    First: Your logic regarding appropriation is entirely a strawman concept. There are sacred elements in many cultures that are shared quite easily without issues of appropriation. The operative issue behind appropriation is oppression and privilege.

    So basically, a USian individual and especially a white USian individual can not use two spirit because the USA oppresses Native nations (to the point of conquering and ongoing subtle genocide) and white people oppress those of the Native ethnicities (previous obvious genocides and current subtle genocide). This oppression creates an unequal playing ground. We force our culture on them (we as in our group, not necessarily you and me individually), destroy their homes, take their lands, murder their people and then start to claim their culture as our own. It’s more than just an insult, it’s an element of genocide. Removing the culture from an oppressed people, merging it into the oppressor, is the fastest and most effective way to wipe a group of people out of existence. The Romans did it constantly.

    So white people taking two spirit is a problem because we are privileged and by taking that term we contribute to further oppression and genocide of the native peoples. Kind of a big deal. Really has nothing to do with what’s sacred or not. The article I previously linked you had that same basic idea so I’m just gonna assume you catastrophically misunderstood both articles (mine and the previous)

    Second: Your statement on the cis lesbian, if I’m reading it right, is basically asserting that maybe the cis lesbian doesn’t give a shit about her boyfriend and we should honor that. I call bullshit. Some white people date black people and still hate black people. I shouldn’t have to give a single shit about their views or wants in that situation. Bigotry denies one any leeway with me and you have no basis to claim I need to give any for bigotry.

  13. @Carolyn:

    Augh, if you were gonna write it out on your own blog why didn’t you just link it? That was a monster huge comment. I already responded here so I’m not gonna repeat myself there. And don’t worry about proofreading issues. I make grammar mistakes all the time.

  14. @milk:

    This is why I need a copy editor again.

  15. @Carolyn:

    Mexico and USA have a different relationship than the Native countries and USA. It comes down to that whole oppression thing. There are actually some elements that are appropriation of Mexican culture in the US but there’s less of them because there’s a more equal ground between Mexico and the USA than USA and the Native nations. So there’s more actual diffusion.

    And yeah, I’m fine, I’ve just been out of contact for a little bit. So I haven’t been able to check my blog or anything for a few days.

  16. I wrote the comment on your blog – I decided it was better to copy it to mine. (With a link, of course! Your argument is worth considering, even if it doesn’t have a leg to stand on!)

    You’re blaming modern Americans for the crimes of their great-great-grandfathers?

    My argument is not a strawman. If it were, I wouldn’t use it. I notice you didn’t address the idea that the druids have a “two spirit” concept, also.

    Anyway, what’s so wrong with someone saying they are of two spirits, male and female, spirits? If they derived their thought independently, for starters: how can you tell, and for seconds, how does it negate the original belief? Doesn’t it affirm it?

    I must confess that arguing spirituality is a bit strange for me. I don’t understand any of those concepts. As a humanist, assuming I’m such a critter, I’d have to say your argument is absolutely discriminatory. And as you have stated, both contextual and arbitrary. This “appropriation” is okay within “this” context, but not within this other? And you specifically exclude someone from using the concept based on the color of their skin? Because of what happened 130 to 200 years ago?

    I’m not defending the egregious flaws and criminal acts of those who took native lands. I’ve read of the forced march from Georgia to the dust bowl of Oklahoma, of the Supreme Court decisions that handed stolen lands to powerful slave owners. The list of crimes is long, and surely desperate. But can’t you see the difference between immigrant groups?

    Let’s take my wife’s. They arrived in Philadelphia, somewhere in the 1880’s, escaping the pogroms of the Caucasus, and seeking a better life in the New World. They set up businesses in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. To be honest, there’s a small collection of their photographs in my desk drawer. They are my wife’s history. I look at those photographs and I see people making a go of it in a new land. One chap, he looks like an officer, was forced to serve in the Czar’s army. It’s what they did with young Jews, in Russia – put them in the army for 20 year stints. They never ventured west. My wife’s family, and her family history, is within the area around Philadelphia.

    Are such people to blame for the crimes of others?

    Your argument is about race, basically. You don’t like others, especially whites, “appropriating” the beliefs you see as your own. Not for any particular reason, you just don’t like it. You’ve constructed a strawman to justify your prejudice. If you believe that free expression is vital to a society, you cannot, absolutely cannot, object when someone sees something that inspires them within your culture. If you believe that belief should be regulated, and controlled, you can object to others taking beliefs and making them their own. You have to answer that. You don’t have to make a public statement about it, but you do have to consider it.

    (If you don’t, you’re simply avoiding the question you posed.)

    How can you argue against bigotry when you argue that someone’s skin color precludes them from a particular belief that is present in other religions?

    Your case is weak, your argument racially motivated. And I was a bit concerned about you.

    Carolyn Ann

  17. 17 Julissa

    I do not think identifying as straight, gay, or lesbian, etc. is bigoted. It a statement to whom you are attracted. If someone is not attracted to both cis/trans/genderqueer women, but men rather, they are not attracted to those women. This is implying that people have a choice on sexual orientation. While I have a few friends who identify as polysexual and pansexual, I am not one of those people and I should not be labeled a bigot because I do not feel as if that identity applies to me. I’m a heterosexual trans woman and that is what I am. I am not attracted to other women. That does not make me a bigot. Note that I do not use male/female.

  18. @Carolyn:

    Druids are actually a cultural appropriation of a concept that isn’t even a religious concept from Celtic culture. So the druid example is simply more of the same entitled theft of culture.

    Once again, you’re ignoring the exact and pinpoint issue that determines the context entirely. Oppression. And the fact is, you, as a white person, benefit from the genocide. And currently participate in it. By not aiding the First Nations/Native peoples in getting back their land, in stripping away the legal limitations on what their nations can do, in standing by while society elevates you and crushes them, you continue to allow society to do the harm that privileges you. It basically comes down to white privilege, something we both have (yes, that’s right, I’m white. So your claim that it’s personal for me is a load of bull) and how society creates systemic power differentials.

    Those power differentials are where the problem comes from. No where else. And beliefs can be flawed or bigoted as well. A person who believes that women are not human and just property has a bigoted belief. Such a belief should be fought against. It is not acceptable. So beliefs are not immune either.

    For someone who seems to be so absolutely self assured in her own rightness, telling me my argument doesn’t have a “leg to stand on” you sure do lack any real logical basis to take it apart, along with a large number of strawmen fallacies and diverting red herring fallacies. It’s a little ironic.

    I appreciate your concern though. Things have been tough lately, thanks.

  19. @Julissa: I don’t think I ever claimed that iding as straight, gay or lesbian etc is bigoted in and of itself? I believe that someone on another post claimed that any non polysexual orientation was bigoted but I argued against that.

    There are certain instances where iding as straight or gay can be bigoted, say if you use it as a way to strip a trans person’s identity from them. But that’s not inherently part of being straight or gay. That’s a contextual thing. So I don’t see where we’re in disagreement at all.

  20. Good grief, Kinsey.

    This conversation has become something else all together. Once someone who puts forth a morally dubious argument accuses me of moral crimes, it’s way past the time I should have left their conversation.

    Study leadership, Kinsey. You’ll find it’s much easier to persuade people when you act like a leader than a vague, angry, fiction. Anger flung around is nothing; anger that’s directed and turned into leadership, used to influence, is effective.

    Your accusation is ridiculous; if it were controlled, it would be offensive. But it isn’t controlled or directed, it’s flung with nary a thought of it, itself, or what it tells others of you. You hide, unwilling to reveal who you are – you eagerly point out that your nom de plume is fictional – and from your hiding place, you fling limp insults at me? I don’t hide (you can see what I look like on my Flickr stream) Tell me: why should I take you seriously, at all?

  21. @Carolyn:

    I’m not seeing a single rebuttal in there. Just a lot of personal attacks mixed with exactly one claim about what I said (that I’m accusing you of moral crimes, something I didn’t do. Merely that you are part of a system that you may or may not be aware of, likely the latter). If you have nothing to offer as counterargument beyond silly attacks on my protection of my identity or an unnecessary lecture on leadership and a little bit of tone argument then you probably should leave the conversation.

    Tell me, if you present poorly formulated arguments (or poorly targeted arguments) and failing that simply attack the person, why should I take you seriously, at all?

    Oh well, see you around, I guess.

  22. 22 Jemma

    @Carolyn

    You actually said ” If you believe that free expression is vital to a society, you cannot, absolutely cannot, object when someone sees something that inspires them within your culture.”

    What. You are being a “cultural tourist”. You sound like you actively believe and expect that the purpose of people of color is to entertain white people. You sound like you’re looking at the gorillas at the zoo. “An odd specimen, that needs to be studied in it’s natural habitat”. Disgusting. Can’t you engage with PoC on an equal level as fellow humans?

    Free expression as you describe it…basically “total vocabulary anarchy” is stupid.

    You can have two spirits….. Call yourself a bi-being, a double person, whatever… just not Two Spirit. It’s an action that actively destroys NA culture by stealing their vocabulary and redefining their terms… and stealing only the bits of their culture that a white person would notice, not knowing what you’re talking about or anything about real NA culture…. NA people who hear you will feel self conscious of their actions knowing you’re watching, taking notes, and actively appropriating their culture.

    Having two spirits/souls/whatever is one thing, calling yourself and identifying as a Two Spirit is as offensive as saying “Well the native americans believe in camping under the stars, so I’m folding an authentic Native American teepee!” “NA people like birds, so I’m wearing a traditional warbonnet!” is any of this getting through? Do you REALLY need to make excuses so you can keep appropriating culture and hurting NA people and ignoring your white privelege and your cultural tourism?

    Oh, and about being a Russian Jew….This attitude that “Hey! I have white skin, Nobody tells ME what or where I can’t do/say/go!” is really. really. really. privileged.

    You DARE complain about being excluded from a People of Color safe space because you have white skin, even with SO MUCH white privelege over them, you STILL don’t have enough power, do you? Please allow me to quote from Jane Laplain, as she explains better than I could on http://stuffwhitepeopledo.blogspot.com/2010/07/infiltrate-non-white-spaces.html
    <
    People of Color have been enduring racial oppression at the hands of White People (YOUR people) for centuries. About 400 years worth. Because of this long and STILL ACTIVE history of oppression, White people (YOUR people) still to this day wield an extroardinary amount of power to intimidate and coerce People of Color just by walking into a room filled with POC's.

    Individually you may feel you are just another person showing up to "jam" with other persons, but your white skin and your white culture and the white privilege you bring with you acts like a huge frequency jammer to people of color's ability to relax and drop their guard in the presence of your whiteness.

    YOUR whiteness.

    Is that fair? No. It's not at all fair. It's RACISM. That is what Racism makes people do and that is how Racism makes POC's feel.

    Some WP (probably most) may believe this is POC's problem not theirs, that they aren't about to be blamed for whatever bad thing somebody ELSE has been up to for the last 400 years (it's never THEM you see, always somebody else). And other WP are not about to let somebody else's silly fears about whitefolks breaking into their space just to shame and gawk stop them from enjoying a good block party! But these are the WP who don't give a f*ck how POC's feel and don't claim to.

    The WP who claim to CARE about not causing POC's further racial humiliation must take an entirely different attitude.

    You have to understand what you are walking into when you walk into a non-white space as a White Person. You are walking into a community that has endured a centuries long global campaign of color-coded disenfranchisment and exploitation. One which confers POWER and DOMINION of white bodies over brown ones. White bodies like YOURS. Over brown bodies like THEIRS.

    You will be walking into a safe space for the POC's present. And by safe I mean Safe-from-WhitePeople's-Sneering-Importuning-Harassing-Bullshit.

    Until you understand and ACCEPT that THAT legacy is what you carry around with you everywhere you go, and that THAT legacy is what POC who don't know you must respond to and negotiate with you thru, (regardless of your individual intent, regardless of your wish to be seen as just another face in the crowd), then and only then can you begin to conceive of the mindfulness required for YOU to enter into non-white spaces as a white person.

  23. Jemma: Thanks for the rant. I almost understood it.

    I’m not sure, but you seem to be upset that I place humanity and a moral and political ideal before skin color? Like Ms Hope, you seem to be annoyed that some are inspired by cultures not their own. I’m not sure, but I think you would prefer to ban such things. Also, like Ms Hope, you circumscribe what can be taken on religious grounds and skin color.

    And you’re calling me a racist?

    I really don’t understand the whole “two spirit” concept. I don’t need to – it’s religious twaddle. The Druids have a similar concept (despite Ms Hopes almost laughable incomprehension of British history), and that’s religious twaddle, too. What I do know is that if you ban someone from being inspired by something in another culture because of their skin color, you’re as much a racist as that vast, faceless, meaningless crowd of “white people”.

    You might also want to note that the example I used, my wife’s family, were escaping a systematic program of anti-Semitism. Pogroms, people forced from their homes simply because they’re Jewish, families killed because they attended a synagogue, not a Russian Orthodox Church and so on. Many left those areas because they wanted a better life; they landed on these fair shores. Applying your logical process, I have to say, you’re quite the anti-Semite, aren’t you?

    I don’t know you, you don’t know me. You, like Ms Hope, hide behind an unverifiable Internet moniker; I don’t. Why should I take you seriously? Why should anyone? You rail against me because I put forth an argument you haven’t even taken the time to think about, but you don’t like it, anyway.

    If you did know me, you’d know two things: I’m not a racist, I simply like people. And you’d also know I put people before skin color. I don’t consider skin color, culture or gender at all. I treat individuals as individuals. But you don’t know me, so you don’t know that. Instead you throw unsupportable accusations that, I suspect, you know can’t be defended against. Are you seeking to better Andrew Breitbart?

    In case you’re wondering, Kinsey, I keep a weather eye on discussions I’ve been in. I noticed Jemma’s rant, and felt it deserved as robust a riposte as her “refutation” of my ideas was quite personal in its flaccid and lazy viciousness.

  24. @Carolyn:

    Being behind a pen name really doesn’t say anything about a person. People can reveal their names and be completely off their kilter and many great authors used a pen name and still wrote brilliantly.

    Anyways, you’re wrong about the Druids and are hopelessly ignorant about Celtic history (which btw was only conquered by the Brits, not a part of their history). And a lack of understanding of the concept is really part of the problem. You’re basically proving her right, especially with this reverse racism bullshit (-ism = privilege/power + prejudice. Not just prejudice). You’re taking the “colorblindness” approach which is pretty flawed as it ignores the system of oppression that grants you subtle benefits and causes completely non subtle harm to POC. I really don’t expect you to get it, you seem to believe it’s all an issue of individuals. I suppose you think storms only happen because of localized weather too and not because of huge wind flows and large pressure changes on a global scale.

    You should look into sociology. It might help. There’s lots of online resources, that’s how I learned about it (as my background is biotech)

  25. 25 Sparrow

    @ carolyn: “You’re blaming modern Americans for the crimes of their great-great-grandfathers? ”

    American and Canadian residential schools ran well into the 1970’s, and some even a bit later (I believe the last Canadian one was closed in the early 90’s, though I might be mistaken). Hundreds of thousands of First Nations women were sterilized without their consent in the 70’s alone. Land settlement claims are still being denied or delayed via torturous legal loopholes. These are hardly the crimes of white people’s great-great-grandfathers – they are our parents’ crimes and our crimes.

  26. 26 Adam

    I was going to write a thought out response here, but then I remembered that I’m lazy and coming up with intelligent, coherent thoughts is a lot of work, so I think I’ll just quote Simone de Beauvoir. She was a lot smarter than me.

    “In regard to a work, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which in other respects has its irritating features, Dorothy Parker has written: ‘I cannot be just to books which treat of woman as woman … My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings.’ But nominalism is a rather inadequate doctrine, and the antifeminists have had no trouble in showing that women simply are not men. Surely woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, separate individual. To decline to accept such notions as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that Jews, Negroes, women exist today – this denial does not represent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality. ”

    How can you see racism if you can’t see race?

  27. @Carolyn:

    Please keep personal attacks out of your comments (your last response was trashed due to this). Everyone has been very civil with you here (and no, pointing out racism isn’t a personal attack. Just a description of a situation. Like pointing out you dropped your keys) and I’d like to avoid drawn out flame wars on my site for a few days at least.

  28. Who said I don’t see race? I said I treat people as people. From what I gather, this is a bad thing. Who knew?

    Let me see: I point out that banning someone from thinking about something (a practical impossibility, but I’ve ignored that so far) on the basis of skin color is racist. And then I’ve been told I’m a racist. And then I’m told that, because of my skin color, I’m (almost?) complicit in the crimes of others. Then I’m told that because I ignore race, gender, disability, and so on when I have a conversation with someone, or about someone – in short, I treat a person with respect and as much due consideration as I can – that this is a bad thing.

    Summing up, when I meet a fellow motorcyclist on the road, if they’re white, I can treat them as equals. If they’re not, I need to consider that person to be superior to me. Did I get that right? Personally, I like to consider them as individuals and have a nice chat.

    When did treating people as people become a bad thing? When did it become urgent for me to consider someone’s entire cultural history (which I likely won’t know) before deciding if something they say can be further considered?

    The idea of two-spirits is not unique to any one culture; it’s actually pretty common. The expression of that idea as masculine/feminine doesn’t seem to have been thought of in many cultures, however. If it has been thought of, it’s not always in the exact manner that some Native American groups thought of it. As a kid, preteen, I wondered about my identity – was I part girl, part boy? Even being as anti-spiritual as I was (am), I easily worked out the two-spirit concept. I was about 7 or 8; it occurred to me again a few years later. I did this without any knowledge of Native American cultures beyond cowboy movies. But Kinsey argues that I can’t think of this concept, because to do so is somehow “stealing” or debasing a culture. And then she dismisses the overall concept of dual spirits because the others aren’t specific enough. Heck, the Abrahamic idea of the soul is expression the concept.

    To be simple about it all: no inspiration can be precluded because of skin color.

    You don’t know if it’s derived from first principles, or that person was inspired by the original expression of the idea. You don’t know a person’s cultural background or family tree, either. So to ban a religious idea from being thought of, used or criticized, on the basis of skin color is absurd.

    ===
    Sparrow: I didn’t know that. Do such hideous acts mean that some religious idea is now off limits to anyone white? Even if the basic idea can be derived from simply thinking about a personal transgender experience?

    Before you argue that I should know the (full) history of the American peoples, I will point out that I’m arguing something different. I’m arguing that a group’s history, no matter how heinous, does not matter when it comes to inspiring someone. To be presented with (allegedly) new ideas, and then told that this, this and this idea are off limits to you because you’re white is morally dubious; it’s enacting two standards, neither one superseding the other, and yet both compete with each other. You, and others, seem to lean toward the collective, I lean toward the individual.

    Adam: I think by now it’s pretty clear that I don’t necessarily agree with Ms de Beauvoir’s statement. It should also be pretty apparent that someone’s stature is meaningless to me. I think Ms de Beauvoir’s idea is almost there; it’s not declining to accept that something intangible exists, it’s simply being careful in assuming what exists in the first place. Since I haven’t denied anything, I’m not actually sure why directed that at me.

    Kinsey: you were pretty pointed in underscoring that I’m a racist. I don’t know if you would, but I object to that sort of thing. You’re also pretty certain about my knowledge of Britons, Celts and their history.

    Racism is not like dropping your keys.

    And you’re leading the charge in telling me that treating people as people is a bad thing.

  29. @Carolyn: you’re really good at misconstruing arguments. It’s called a strawman fallacy. You are ignoring race by feeling that it is as simple as just treating people like people. Certainly treat people like people, but society grants you benefits you didn’t earn based on your race entirely. And detriments them. And your own actions contribute to this system (including your current wall of text comments). That is racism. You are racist. It is a simple fact. You should really think on this instead of having a kneejerk defensive reaction.

  30. You dislike personal attacks, huh? You’re a cheap thinker, Kinsey.

    I *know* I enjoy certain advantages. I’ve never denied it. I know I’m not a racist, but I’ve long considered you racist, Kinsey.

    Because you dislike personal attacks, I’ll simply publish this on my blog.

  31. 31 Mickey

    I see Carol using the word “inspiration” a lot here. It’s not “being inspired” that’s going on. It’s attempting to outright copy a poorly understood concept, when there are other labels that mean what the thief is trying to convey in ways that are obviously clearer and more sincere.

  32. @Carolyn:

    You need to stop seeing the word racist as an insult. It’s a situation.

  33. 33 nome

    @Carolyn

    I would like to point out here how you invoking the oppression that your wife’s family survived is an extremely offensive example of cultural appropriation right there. Firstly, her history is not YOUR history. Just like a cis person who dates a trans person does not get to call themselves trans, you do not get to try and use your wife’s history as a political weapon. People died by the hundreds. Where do you get off making such a cheap political trick out of that?

    My family survived the pogroms on my mother’s side and holocaust on my father’s. So what. Yes, I have experienced racism for being Jewish. Yes, my family has a bloody history with antisemitism. But that does not mean I get to argue that I have no white privilege. That simply means that the axis is more complicated than complete privilege-complete oppression. Binaries fail, big woop, I already knew that.

    So when you try to argue that you can “borrow” (aka, steal) from other cultures because your wife’s history (and probably your wife herself) has experienced systemic oppression? Your basically *using* appropriation as a tool to justify further appropriation.

  34. 34 B

    Too bad Race Privilege 101 had to be explained here, but I deeply appreciate the effort being put into examining intersectionalities and kyriarchy here. Makes me deeply appreciate the depth of trans struggles though I am cis. Thank you.

  35. Okay, once again, I am late, but this is some seriously frustrating shit and I felt I had to say something. genderbitch, you will get no awkwardness or rudeness from me if you see fit to delete this comment.

    @Carolyn Ann: You are just using the same tired, manipulative tactics that are always used when culture appropriation is discussed — dismissing history as though the events of the past do not matter today, calling genderbitch and Jemma bigoted *for pointing out bigotry*, accusing anyone objecting to culture-thieving of being against freedom, saying genderbitch is being too angry, expecting a cookie for “treating people like people” (when in your case that means “not accepting the reality of bigotry or privilege”), etc.

    It sure looks to me like you read what genderbitch, Jemma and Sparrow wrote and, instead of actually thinking about their words, only saw what you wanted to see. I agree with their arguments entirely, and I do not see anything bigoted in anything any of them said in this discussion.

    You, however, said this:

    “If, for instance, someone decides that New Age spirituality makes sense to them, and they use that belief to explore spiritual ideas from other cultures, integrating the ones they like, rejecting the ones they don’t – then, by your argument, they are bigoted.”

    Picking and choosing aspects you like from a culture (or cultures) not your own, especially a culture (or cultures) that your own culture has oppressed, and removing those aspects from their original context to suit your own desires? Yeah, that *is* very bigoted. That is not “free expression” — that is the behavior of a spoiled ass who thinks the whole world is one giant bowl of free candy.

    “As you can see, I’ve not applied anything but logic. No “privilege”, no superiority, no “strawman fallacies, oppression olympics [or] privileged whining”.”

    I see no logic whatsoever in any of your arguments. I do, however, see plenty of everything you claim to have avoided.

    “My argument is not a strawman. If it were, I wouldn’t use it.”

    No, you would not use an argument that *you saw* as a strawman argument. You seem to have forgotten that you are not infallible. Everybody — yes, including you — is capable of self-deception and being just plain wrong, but you clearly cannot be bothered to consider that fact.

    And I also agree with nome about it not being your right to use your wife’s family as a prop for your arguments.

  36. As I told Kinsey, I keep a weather eye on old conversations. Especially when they’re controversial.

    Nome, and Numol: If you want to tell someone what they can and cannot say about their marriage, which bits of are off limits within that marriage and so on? Go right ahead. Be critical, interfering old biddies.

    You’re both so busy being cackling old blue hairs with nothing better to do than disdain me, you don’t even stop to ask yourselves what kind of relationship I might have with my wife’s family. You don’t even stop to wonder if you should be critical of someone’s marriage! You plow right in; just as you seem to do with your arguments. Stopping and thinking is not abhorrent; it’s quite useful. Try it the next time you’re tempted to criticize someone’s marriage, or dictate what they can use from their life with their spouse.

    When I want to know what’s off-limits in my marriage, my wife will tell me. Until then, You don’t get to tell me how my wife and I should run our marriage. And you certainly do not get to tell me what’s off limits *within my own marriage*.

    Got it? An apology would not be out of place, but I’m not holding my breath for one from either of you.

    Carolyn Ann

  37. The idea of identities that are inherently oppressive to others rings true with me; I am reminded of a situation where a cismale friend of my brother’s tried to derail an argument by claiming he identified as female and thus didn’t have male privilege. I use the labels ‘cismale’ and ‘he’ because it was transparently nothing more than a distraction tactic. It was, however, a very clever distraction tactic, for the sort of reasons you outlined above; our ‘security systems’ about privilege and oppression tactics aren’t prepared for an identity-based ‘attack.’ I wish I could have had the prescience to show my brother this blog post at the time, because this is the sort of idea that can flummox one if one is not prepared.

    Anyway, I had a question. Is there a litmus test for an identity which conceals privilege and oppression? As an activist, my first responsibility is for my own actions, and I am notoriously terrible at evaluating my own beliefs; I tend to dissolve into a puddle of anxiety, uncertainty, and self-loathing, which isn’t very productive. How do I tell when my identity politics conceal privileged beliefs and behavior?

  38. That’s a tough one, Tasbard. Honestly, it really does just require the slow analysis because of how complex this whole thing is. Some good rules to follow, check to see if a given identity is held by an oppressed group that isn’t necessarily directly on the same axis as the identity seems to be. For instance, most people associate two spirit with trans but when you look into it deeper you notice an association with certain Native cultures. Racism axis suddenly comes into play. Check to see if the identity is separate from a given situation, i.e. that it stands alone on its own merits. If you’re feeling pissy about something you feel you’re denied so you adopt the identity right there, it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t stand alone as your identity. And finally, make sure that your identity doesn’t hurt other people in ways that are actually reasonable to complain about. So if someone is hurt by your identity, check to see why. If it’s a reasonable set of reasons, you may have a bigoted identity.

  39. I recently read an essay by Lois Esme Cruz. He is a trans man of Mi’cmaq, Acadian and Irish Diaspora blood. He claims Two-Spirit as his identity and yet is part white. Now, he does have Aboriginal ancestry but he also acknowledges that he can pass as white and could take advantage of white privilege if he wanted to. Are two-thirds of his background appropriating the rest?

    I do struggle with who gets to define identity. I am white and have hated that since I was young but am gradually coming to terms with it. I discovered feminism through womanist writings. Some people say that white women can never be womanist. What does that say about people who do have white ancestry also? Are they only allowed to be 1/4 womanist?

    I would never say that a male can’t identify as feminist. Although if he claims he is feminist but disrespects women I don’t believe his self-imposed identity is above critique. As a woman I ‘fail’ to have completely feminist thoughts and attitudes but expect people to call me on it BECAUSE I identify that way.

    I respect that POC would feel appropriated by pale skinned people using those terms, but isn’t that similar to women-only spaces? I understand that some women don’t feel safe in a mixed gender environment. However, I see it as an unfortunate reality or a stepping stone to get to a place where a space could be considered safe with trans or male allies there.
    ( I think trans women should be included in women-only spaces anyways.)

    This discussion reminds me of fundy Christianity and people debating who was or wasn’t a REAL Christian. A person could self-identify but if their behaviour didn’t match another’s expectations, it wasn’t accepted. No one lived up to their ideals, so did no one deserve the identity?

    Can a person be free to identify as they wish but to have their actions and attitudes critiqued? Or are there necessarily prerequirements for identity? If so, I think I make a crappy feminist as I am constantly becoming aware of prejudices. Maybe the only thing I can claim is bisexual.

  40. @PrairieNymph: Identity only becomes a problem when it invokes bigotry and privilege. Many times its clear cut, sometimes it isn’t. But in the end, I think we can all agree that one’s identity should not be boosting bigotry or appropriated from a culture one has no viable ties to from a position of privilege. A lot of the questions you asked here can be answered by that bit of logic. Think back to what you know of appropriation, think back to what you know of bigotry and privilege. Use the logic that an identity that invokes those things is not a proper identity. And suddenly you don’t need anyone to tell you what identities are what. No one gets to define identity but the identifier. But if an identity is harmful or bigoted? People do get to criticize it. The logic is all that’s needed.

  41. You assume that everything is clear to me. It is not. Bigotry and privilege are not the same. They are often linked, but not necessarily. I know men who are much more feminist than some women. The most racist people I have met did belong to a racial minority.

    Isn’t a cis-hetero-male coming from a place of privilege? What is the difference between that man identifying as a feminist and a mostly white man identifying as Two Spirit?

    Couldn’t people just find that the term Two Spirit captures something they feel about themselves? Yes, the term has ties to a culture but not all Native American cultures had the concept of Two-Spirit. Some communities did, some did not. Do all Indigenous peoples get a free pass to appropriate another Indigenous culture’s concept because some other government defined them in the same category? Perhaps. But that should be open to questioning as well.

    I agree that harmful uses of terms and identities should be critiqued, but that is different from lumping everyone into a category, say, people with a penis and then telling them they could never identify as a woman.

    We can isolate groups with privilege. In our culture, white people are privileged over Aboriginal peoples. But we cannot identify bigotry that way, that must be more individual and based on attitudes and actions.

  42. @Prairie: I did assume that. Apparently even what I wrote wasn’t clear to you either. I’ll try rephrasing it.

    The combination of privilege and bigotry is where the problems arise. Privilege grants power to the bigotry that it wouldn’t have without it. In the case of appropriation, the white person taking from a certain Native culture or cultures (say the concept of two spirit) has the power of privilege backing up this removal of something they should have no access to. So it becomes part of the overall genocidal system of white racism and American regional genocide against Native Americans, instead of a problematic and disrespectful removal.

    So for your examples, a white person who feels two spirit captures something about themselves is engaging in racism due to privilege plus bigotry (appropriation), along with American genocide. A non-Native, non white American who does it is participating in American genocide against the Native nations. So not racism but still horrific. And a Native individual from a Native culture without Two Spirit is just disrespectful. Interestingly enough, it’s generally the privileged who try to access these things. More often than not, you’re finding white people who are indignant about being told this is unethical and fucked up and trying this shit. Maybe folks who face appropriation in other areas are less likely to be bigoted privileged assholes. *shrug*

    The rest of your comment doesn’t make a lot of sense. The comparison to what I think might be trans women doesn’t follow. Anyways, I’m hoping that my rephrasing helps.


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