So. The transition house where i work sometimes, it’s full. Most of the women in there are Aboriginal. They are from all over, represent between them probably five or six nations (given their ancestors are, like mine, from different nations, with different customs and so on). They share in common an experience of racism that the white women do not have. But nevertheless, there are white women there, too and one of them claims to understand because she grew up the only white kid among brown people. The Other among Others.
It’s a bit hot in there sometimes. There are enough Aboriginal women that they can take more risks to confront racism, and to name it. But dominance does not give up power without a fight. And there is defensiveness among the white women. This ranges from “Please tell me when I make a mistake” (to the Aboriginal women)–to: “Racism in either direction is wrong”, to just…silence…
But. silence will not protect us, or anyone (as Audre Lorde reminded us) And the Aboriginal women can’t BE racist. Racism depends upon the power being held with the dominant group, and even when we are outnumbered, we hold the power. The Aboriginal women can be rude, or mean, or do things to cut us out or to shun us, but they can’t be ‘racist’.
“but how can you condone that?” said the woman who thinks it can go both ways, “how can you embrace racism for the Native women? It’s wrong.”
sigh. No. We don’t think it is necessarily the right thing, to be rude or mean, though sometimes it is–we are just clarifying that “racism” is a structural thing. It works to keep the power in the hands of the politically dominant group. We are dangerous toward the Aboriginal women, in a way they are not to us. Because the Powers that Be are people like us (usually male, yes, but also of European descent, like us).
“but my life was hard, I don’t have any power. I live in a transition house!”
Yes. True. But all other things being equal, it is easier for you than it is for the Aboriginal women.
She has a child. She has her child. Most Aboriginal women (yes. MOST) have lost their children to the state, or been threatened with losing their children. On the other hand, the state has looked in on her and her parenting, (scary enough, that) but left her alone, for the most part. That is just one example.
She’s thinking. She’s watching close and trying to understand. She is afraid. That’s okay. I hope we are all safe in there to work it out–to the satisfaction of those with the least power. That’s how the change has to happen…
It’s a fine balance. To call one another on racism, and be open to criticism, and to do the right thing, and to move over, but to NOT be “the good white person”.
Peggy McIntosh, in 1988, wrote “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack”. I read it, for the first time, in 1991. That back pack is still full. I started asking women at work if they’ve read it. No, none of them had.
Yet. the backpack is still full. the system benefits me in ways I am not even aware of. And when I am reminded–my reaction is sometimes shameful. Either i’m defensive, or i’m ashamed and self trashing. Neither of which will get us anywhere. Lookit. What do I want from men raised in patriarchy? I want them to take care of other men. i want them to ferret out their own sexism and that of other men. i want them to do their own fucking work so we don’t have to. If I believe that men can do this, (and I do), I have to also believe that I can do this. That I can listen with an open heart and mind, and withhold defensiveness and be grateful for the new learning and act accordingly. That I can work with other women in many ways to change the structures that keep us apart, that benefit some of us materially at the expense of others. I have to be willing to suffer and lose. But keep the vision, share the wealth, make it happen…
I also believe that we have every right (and sometimes it is necessary to our survival and health) to withdraw from men entirely. To do our own work with each other, and to leave the men to do whatever they have to do. Sometimes women need to be with each other, to rest, to let down our guard, to figure out what it means to be female, to be women together to plan to argue to give each other strength and hope. Sometimes the women of colour, too, the Aboriginal women and the African women and the Asian women, they have have to withdraw from the European women and be together — without the powerful lurking about.
In fact, comparing the racist privileges we have with the sexist privileges that men have was finally the thing that made sense to the woman who claimed Aboriginal women could be racist toward her.
It’s not “intersection”, it’s “Interwoven”, or something. Intersection implies that the meeting of racism and sexism (and classism too) only meets at one two-dimensional place. but that’s not accurate. It’s all the same stuff–the Men studied from the same book as the middle class as the white folks. Keep talking, keep listening, keep making the necessary alterations. Don’t give up. we can do better, we don’t need to settle for “equality” that means ‘sameness’ or “assimilation”.
I promised to write about what I’m learning about the Gift Economy–this is part of it–but now i gotta go–