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Racism? Sexism? But What’s your Politics?

July 11, 2012

When victims of sexual assault are told that they need to provide evidence that they were indeed assaulted, those of us with some sense of social justice would hopefully recognize this as more violence being done to these women. Victim-shaming and victim-blaming, we think are practices that we in spaces of the radical left, at least, would recognize as being completely inappropriate and violent. However, when the abuse is not physical or sexual, when there are no physical marks to show, often women find themselves in these left spaces where white men, women and sometimes even women of color ask questions and make statements which delegitimize our experiences of violence, shame us (again) and make us (once again) wish that we weren’t even born.

After over two years of numerous racist and sexist encounters in white-dominant Indigenous solidarity spaces, when I, a woman of color, and other white women decided to send out emails on this particular listserv asking for some accountability from men who were either directly abusive towards us, or were abusive through being silent and supporting the perpetrator(s) in their own ways, we were told that perhaps we were hallucinating and making up stories. Of course, the responses of some white men, women (white and not) wasn’t that straightforward. Elite forms of racism and sexism are like abuses that more often do not leave physical marks on our bodies. It was couched in the language of “perhaps your political framework is different,” “your worldview is different,” “why are you bringing in divisive politics now,” etc, all indicating that we were naive women with no political vision. We became the lousy shit-disturbers!  To make matters worse, there were men who had the audacity to put my experiences of racism and sexism in quotes, writing the words and erasing their significance and my histories as a racialized woman having to navigate these white spaces every day. Their excuse for putting racism and sexism against our bodies in quotes? To differentiate them as “identifiable individual behaviour” as opposed to “larger structural and interpersonal behaviors”. Are you lost? If yes, then don’t worry.  I too am lost. The fact that this blatant denial of our experiences can come down to some offensively obscene differentiation between individual’s experience of racism versus that of the ‘larger’ ones (whatever that means) is astounding. Am I not part of the system and are my perpetrators not part of the system? Are bodies not marked for violence and eventually death through racial violence in the larger structural system this man was referring to?

As for worldview and different politics, well, all we were doing was naming racism and sexism by explicitly stating what had happened to us and what was happening to us in these activist spaces. Even my grandmother had the audacity to do so when they were fighting the vulturous East India Company. But, while those East India Company officials might have gotten what a woman speaking foreign language was saying, here, for us,  it was made into this issue of our politics (rather than bodies) as being different from that of the perpetrator(s).   Some tried to be better than us petty, good-for-nothing complainants. They said cheerful things like “there are enough commonalities in our worldviews  to allow us to work together”; others reduced our ‘complaints’ to our identity-politics politics, which apparently was supposed to have died with my mother’s generation of feminists.  If only those women had also successfully dismantled white patriarchy! Then, I would have left my identity politics under my bed.

If a man raping a woman is not okay under any circumstances, then why is a white man being intensely racist/sexist okay under some ‘worldview’. Sister, unless it’s the worldview of those scary tea party folks, I can tell you that racism and sexism in anti-oppressive spaces is racism and sexism regardless of which dead white man’s  politics you adhere to (or not). Don’t get me wrong. I agree that there are enough commonalities in our worldviews to allow us to work together. We have been part of same spaces. But, right now, I need you to hold my perpetrators accountable rather than remind me of these similarities in worldviews that feels more like you telling me to “move on”.

So, what I am saying is that yes, we can work together but not until and unless you are able to understand your complicity in upholding relations of white patriarchal power. The onus of working through racist and sexist spaces should not be placed on bodies most beaten in those spaces. Ask those racist white men for accountability. Ask them why they are so racist and sexist. Ask them about their politics. Do not tell me, white woman, that I am too angry and that without me in your space, there is otherwise an affinity between the people involved. As several anti-racist feminists have explained, these affinities are based on white racial identities into which people of color are welcomed but only on conditions set out by whites. You dare to call them out on their whiteness and their alarm bells go off. I feel your anger piercing my body like daggers. Ask yourself, not that one Indigenous woman or that one racialized woman who will take your side. Ask yourself how honest you have been with yourself about what you have been doing. Then demonize me for disrupting your haven of affinities.

In The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde a powerful black feminist writes: “Looking on the bright side of things is a euphemism used for obscuring certain realities of life, the open consideration of which might prove threatening or dangerous to the status quo” (1997:76). Our political struggles cannot be about our happiness and affinities. When relationships are ethical and political, they allow us space for those ‘heavy’ conversations, they allow us space to sit with the abusive man and ask for accountability on behalf of us and those of us who can no longer be in those spaces. To threaten our world as it is for the purpose of working in some important critiques of ourselves and systems of oppressions which ground us is necessary. It is critical to our survival. Therefore, do not silence women who have been abused in political spaces that you now are a part of and of which they once tried to belong to. You owe this checking of desire to look on the “bright side” of things to them, yourselves and your future generations. Also, do not write the potentialities and transformative powers of your spaces on the backs of the most marginalized, those who you have dismissed as people without futures, while you claim to be in solidarity with people whose futures some of your ancestors had written off as non-existent.

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