13 January 2007

Teaching Each Other

Most people familiar with women of color feminist politics know that there is a strong resistance to playing the role of teacher and explainer. This is usually specific to situations where one is the sole woman of color within a group of white feminists, and one is made to defend her culture, her country, or her men against accusations that they are inherently sexist (and this sexism is always made out to be more pervasive, more inherent, and worse that it is in white/Western societies).

What is most offensive about these scenarios, in my experience, is that they are typically not about bridging cultural gaps or providing greater understanding of each other. As I see it, the aim of this form of feminist interrogation is to use individual women of color to validate racist assumptions about men of color. If the aim was, instead, to gain greater cultural understanding in order to better support women of color, I think that the reaction to it would be much different.

I use this framework to think about how I can support trans activism and trans movements. Pursuing resources and reading materials on one's own are very important, and it is wrong to expect or rely on the personal testimony of others when the topic is so deeply personal and possibly traumatic. In June of 2006 at AMWAJ, I attended a workshop on trans issues. It was during this workshop that I realized, along with learning information and reading accounts of violence and discrimination, listening to personal accounts of day to day life are essential for understanding each other and beginning to build alliances. When there is always an emphasis on the idea that oppressed people do not exist to teach their oppressors, I was so impressed and humbled by the strength and generosity of those who shared their personal experiences that day.

I felt the same way last week when I read the following at Taking Steps:
The little, real, blood-and-bones things a person who's never met one of us--or someone who has, but not intimately enough to be told--wouldn't know about, and wouldn't know to account for in their ideas about who we are and what our lives are like. Would folk want to hear more about these things, or is this enough?
I have been following the subsequent conversations at Taking Steps on the topic here and here. I recommend that everyone who is involved in trans and feminist discourse or who, like me, needs further education on the topic, visit the links above and read carefully through the posts and comments.

1 comment:

Nadia said...

I guess something that I left out of this post was that, for me, the experience made me question my reluctance to work and dialog with white feminists and women who didn't have a lot of familiarity with what life is like for non-white people. I felt like, in any case, there is only so much you can learn from reading, and not everyone in the world can share their story, not everyone can write about it or speak about it. If I can, and I do, it may not necessarily make me a token. In addition to voicing shared experiences, I might actually be opening eyes to the reality of my situation, providing specific real life examples that no one can argue with, because it's not theory, it's real life. I think this is so important, even if it makes us vulnerable, and even if the reception to it is not exactly what we expected or wanted.