Prioritising our selves

[This is a joint post by Secondwaver and Maia.]

We have been talking.

We’ve been finding it pretty hard, trying to fight white male supremacy within the ranks of feminism. We’re not surprised it’s hard, but DAMN! it is hard, for us both.

We started this blog as a way to confront white privilege, our own white privilege, and yet we’ve been finding it very easy to focus instead on other people’s white privilege, on other people’s racism. We have been feeling more comfortable as liberals, as nice white women (thanks, Amy, and thanks, Dark Daughta), so-called feminists whose first instinct is to say that racial injustice and institutional racism are problems over there, somewhere else, somewhere far away from us. We’ve been glossing over the fact that it is also a problem over here, right inside us, even as we claim to be doing radical feminist ant-iracist work. Both are important, yet we’ve very much been struggling with how to find and become conscious of our own location within all this.

We’re drawing inspiration from feminist bloggers we respect, radical feminists with a solid race analysis such as Justice Walks, Feminist Reprise, Dark Daughta, and Fire Witch Rising, who take no prisoners, who speak right out.

Why is this so hard?

Is it a matter of not honouring our feelings and emotions, as Dark Daughta observes?

Wimmin’s primary “work” even in feminist circles is still to stifle, to remain silent, to deny emotion and to live with the effects of this gruelling contructed role […]

My experience is one of observing how distanced the majority of wimmin are still from our own emotions, not just from our rage, but also from a host of whole other feelings that have the potential to ground us, to make us clear, to crystalize not just our analysis, but to revolutionize our interior as well as our exterior lives…holistically, organically making full revolution manifest.

The understanding that emotion is an uncontrollable beast a woman can’t let loose, that she should be disturbed to experience, that she should try to put back in a box, is a hallmark of our domination under a patriarchal system of dominance that counts on us not feeling anything too extreme about the oppression in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. That we won’t wake up to a realization of our place in the Matrix and start resisting on all possible personal and political fronts, in every fucking aspect of our lives.

Maia has been digging inside herself, to find some reasons for her personal struggle to honor, to even recognise and express her emotions. Maia, you’ve named what so many of us have inside. Fear.

Does it come down to a fear of dying? Are we afraid that if we become conscious, we’ll die? Is that absurd? But no, it’s not absurd at all, because it’s what we were taught, effectively: and whether the death in question is physical or metaphorical it is still real. And now, even decades later, it’s so hard to throw off.

From reading the bloggers mentioned above, we learn that once we do it, we find out we didn’t die, and we continue–if we only will.

What does it take to break through the fear?

It takes women together, knowing that we all were inculcated with the same expectations of niceness, i. e. prioritising others, not our selves. It’s hard for us all–and most especially when we are new at it.

Making our selves a priority means we must stop bowing and scraping to power. Prioritising our selves means giving legitimacy to our own perceptions. It means breaking new ground by allowing our selves the right to feel, to recognise the feelings for what they are, to speak up. It means not having to “be nice.” Realising that self-respect and “being nice” cannot always co-exist.

Making our selves a priority also means that we must stop locating the problem as somewhere else. It means exploring our own indoctrination, our own journey from where we were to where we are. It means letting those newly acknowledged feelings come up and out, not just as something we recognise but as something we analyse. It means loving our selves enough that we don’t have to “be nice,” even when we talk about who we are, and how we came to be that way. Realising that self-love and self-approval are not the same thing.

So this is where we’ve got to, our renewed commitment to prioritising our selves.

We want to engage openly and honestly, to work on abandoning the “nice white lady” so-called safety net, which instead offers only a furtherance of our privilege on the backs of, on the necks and heads of, women of colour.

We would love any interested feminists to join us.

Skating over surfaces

First, a little awareness.

There are two little-girl fears that drive me. In truth, you cannot understand the first thing about me as a human being without knowing these two fears. I don’t pretend that they are unique – far from it – but they are mine and I own them. They have much to do with the things that are not pretty in my internal landscape.

One is the fear of a little girl trying to please her perfectionist male parent, the underground fear of a little girl so used to performing perfection in the pursuit of love that she barely notices how afraid she feels every single day, afraid of being found out, afraid of falling down, afraid of being caught out in a mistake.

Another is a fear of conflict (as in war, not as in disagreement) – conflict to me is difficult, destructive, painful. If people must scream at one another, if people must hate one another, hurt one another, why must they draw me in? This is the pain and fear of a little girl hearing people scream through closed doors, out of control; of feeling responsible for the screaming and the loss of control; of knowing that it cannot be stopped and that it will be followed by days of silence and then – mysteriously, confusingly, mercifully – it will Not Have Happened.

Tears now for that little girl. She is still bleeding and confused, somewhere. In me.

Where does all that fear let itself out?

It keeps me tentative about what I do not understand, hesitant to step into the unknown, deeply wary of anything I cannot control, of anything that I fear may leave me in freefall. I stick to performances I can “do”, limit myself to roles and facades that I understand or feel at least capable of understanding – so I feel I can present myself and understand myself as competent. So I skirt around the edges, cherrypicking what I think I know about or can find out about or understand about – shying away from what is too difficult, too messy, too uncontrolled. I don’t forge ahead with things in the hope that they will come clear – I wait until they are already starting to come clear, I wait until my ability to understand has already at least begun to show itself. I skate over surfaces, celebrating that I can (sometimes anyway) see the surfaces, but avoiding the work of breaking through them, moving over and under and around them, to find out why they are there and what they are hiding.

It keeps me in a place of wanting and not wanting attention, popularity. I don’t want popularity. I assume that popular people experience it as validating, at least if they are popular through seeking and choice. For me, I see popularity as terrifying, as a whole lot of pressure / expectation that would require me to keep up performance at a level I could not bear – not here, not where for once in my life I am trying to be me. Not just that, but doesn’t popularity bring a whole lot of conflict risk?… hell yeah. Where are the blog wars slogged out? Between the popular blogs: the little fish like me are not worth flaming and this is the way I like it. Maybe some get a kick out of being at the centre of controversy, of other people’s blogosphere violence, but not me. For me it would be emotionally draining, soul-destroying, it would have me running for the hills.

It would be nice to be respected, perhaps it would be nice to be widely respected except that “widely” can never be wide enough to avoid conflict risk while at the same time being narrow enough to avoid bland universality of the kind that is Not A Compliment. But popularity is something else, isn’t it?

So when I get comments, links, hat-tips, traffic and all that on my personal blog – or when I don’t, which happens far more often – it is with mixed feelings. One feeling is “why do I bother if nobody will come and validate me by expressing their approval?” Another is “this is lonely, isn’t there anyone who wants to talk?” But when the people do come I feel – invaded. Exposed and vulnerable. When they come with unexamined privilege, reeking of entitlement, pouring themselves over my personal words, I fear that the doors between me and the screaming might open at any moment. I watch for the conflict, worried about what these people are bringing to my party.

Which all leads up to the following questions: why has this blog become a soft’n’cosy liberal white feminist place? Why am I performing nice white lady? Why am I avoiding the questions that implicate myself, the questions that implicate you?

Is it because I think that is what the other nice white ladies will like / respect / learn from / applaud / validate? Is it because this is easier and I am lazy? Is it because the superficial is something that seems much more within my sphere of (potential) competence, much less fraught with danger, than the complexity and depth of mess that I should have been bringing to this party? Is it because – setting out on a project that was always intended to be not a personal space (where the whole point is for me to be myself, where it’s supposed to be all about me) but a shared one – I fear the pain and exposure that real personal honesty might bring?

At various levels, all of those things.

I have been holding out and holding back here on white noise.
I apologise – not just to anyone who gives a damn, but to me, and to that little girl whose confusion I should be clearing, not perpetuating.

It’s not that I won’t be skating over surfaces, ever. Talking about what is basic and superficial is a way into what is deeper, more profound. Those of us still waking up need to do both. Talking about what is uncomplicated, writing the easy posts, is not radical but nevertheless I will still be doing it when I need to. I will still be grounding myself and taking rests by retreating back into what I already know I can do, to give myself the comfort and strength I need to walk out into what I fear I can’t.

However.
I can promise that I will try hard to stop the holding-out and the holding-back.
Starting now.

Secondwaver and I are working on a joint post, a renewed commitment. Watch for that because once it’s done I think you are going to see the start of some real work.

This must be right because it feels like truth.

Last call for the carnival!

We’re working on the first carnival of white noise this weekend, with a Black History theme marking the end of the February 2008 edition of Black History Month. If you have a post you would like to submit (yours or someone else’s) this is your last chance!

If you would like to submit, the form is on the Carnival of white noise page here!

Thank you.

Welcome to white noise!

First, BIG thanks to Maia for the idea of this blog as a place where white radical feminists can talk about our white privilege and its implications (oppression and racism). As radical feminists, we are in a great position to do this work, since race privilege/race oppression fits neatly into the corresponding template of sex privilege/sex oppression that we strive so fiercely to suvbert and usurp. There are many white-privileged feminists who have paved the way for us, but we haven’t been attending to them, in a focused way, as we have needed to. Hence, this space.

When women of color have a problem with Gloria Steinem’s recent op-ed, which white feminists are praising, it highlights the huge divide among us, among feminists. Though this divide has been largely invisible to white women, no highlighting is needed for women of color, because they say they have been experiencing it almost every time they interact with us–white feminists. This (I think) is why some have started identifying as womanists, and not feminists.

I hope that we will be able to come to a more accurate understanding of what’s happening among us, and in the larger world, too, insofar as our privilege goes–and its flip side, oppression. Understanding should lead to action. We already understand how power works; we can support each other as we move toward justice.

So, let’s talk!

Introducing white noise

Secondwaver and I (Maia) decided to set up this site a couple of days ago, and all of a sudden – here it is!

We’re hoping to make this a discussion space and a place where feminist writers or bloggers from all over the world can share their thoughts and experiences. Please, get in touch if you feel that you have some suggestions, ideas, writing or anything else to offer. There is a contact form on the About page if you wish to contact us privately.

Meanwhile, watch this space. Real blogging will start soon!