privilege

Trans* Day of Remembrance 2012

by Tash Wolfe

This blog entry uses an asterisk after the prefix trans- as a way to include all non-cisgender gender identities.

November 20th is the Trans* Day of Remembrance, a day that was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as trans*, each was a victim of violence based on bias against trans* people.

As a trans* identified person who works in social services, I am often asked to speak, write, or facilitate about trans* identities and the ways that trans* people can experience oppression. November is a time when many people ask if I am going to organize or attend a vigil on the 20th. Often, I am asked questions about my personal narrative and how I feel about my personal safety and the increased risk that I must experience not being cisgender.

I often choose to attend Trans* Day of Remembrance events, but not because of my own gender identity. I recognize that I hold many privileges; privileges that were not granted to many of the people whose names are read each year at vigils around the world. Many of these victims experienced multiple forms of oppression including class, race, and gender. Many of these victims were women of colour.

I am white and working class. My wife and I are both university students. Although, I am a survivor of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and survival sexual exploitation, I have many privileges that allow me to now live without fear of having my name read out at the annual vigils. Read more

Posted on by Tash Wolfe in Can-Con, LGBT 2 Comments

FFFF: Sh*t Canadians Say to Aboriginal Women

A group of Canadian feminists in a Women’s Studies class put together this addition to the Sh*t People Say meme after watching a documentary by Stolen Sisters.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, FFFF, Racism 1 Comment

Yet More Sh*t People Say

It’s the meme that keeps on giving. Here’s part II of some of the more progressive, clever, and illuminating Sh*t People Say videos. (See the first part here).

Sh*t White People Say to Asian People:

Sh*t Straight Girls Say… to Lesbians:

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism 2 Comments

More Sh*t People Say

When I first say the Sh*t Girls Say video, which ended up launching a still ongoing meme, I wasn’t impressed. I fully agreed with Bitch Blogs’ Kelsey Wallace, who wrote a post on the video called  “I seriously don’t get it”. The Sh*t Girls Say video and many of the ones that have come out of it have been more interested with reinforcing stereotypes than telling us anything about our culture or the stereotypes we live with.

But the meme has also sparked some more subversive responses, such as Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People and Sh*t Girls Say to Gay Guys. As Renee at Womanist Musings points out: “They are all about historically marginalized people speaking their truth and talking about the everyday bigotry that they face. For those who are tempted to point out how they would never say the things mentioned in this video, can I just say, if it’s not about you, then don’t make it about you.”

Here are a couple more new ones I came across yesterday. The first is Part II of Franchesca Ramsey’s popular Sh*t White Girls Say…to Black Girls:

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture 2 Comments

Must Read: Feminism for Real

Last week I received my copy of Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Copy of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee, a  “Two Spirit multi-racial Indigenous hip hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter,” who founded the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

If you follow this blog regularly you’ll know I read a lot. But this book has been more important for changing how I think about my feminist activism than all the books I’ve read in the last year combined. You can read some preview excerpts at the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ website (they’re also the book’s publishers), but I would really encourage you to buy the book and read the whole thing for yourself.

Feminism For Real is aimed at people who “haven’t yet engaged with feminist dialogue or academia”, and also people like me: the privileged, straight, white Women’s Studies set of feminists. But as Ashley at Bitch writes: “This book does not require you to have studied feminist theory in academia, and explains to us that mainstream feminism shouldn’t either.” Yee and the book’s contributors are mostly people who have been sidelined in some way from mainstream feminism and its academic ties – through race, sexual orientation, gender expression, colonialism, and/or class. The book’s writers have different backgrounds and different views on the possibilities of academia to ever be a site of social change – some believe real feminists should just say no to the Academy and join real grassroots movements, while others believe there are feminist academics trying their best who just need to do a better job  examining the problems they often unwittingly reinforce by being part of the Academy.

It’s not a hate on of academia or feminism, but it challenges us to look at how bogus our claims of women’s empowerment sometimes are when they’re built on unexamined privilege and unquestioning acceptance of white people’s knowledge.

Reading other reviews of this book on Bitch magazine blogs and elsewhere in the feminist blogosphere, I’ve seen a lot of people respond with really defensive comments. And I’ll admit that it is hard to read the book without getting a bit defensive. It’s hard not to read examples of how people felt marginalized in their Women’s Studies classes without thinking, “Well the classes at my school weren’t like that, so this has nothing to do with me.”

But the more I read, the more I realized that I am complicit, and besides, as a straight, white, middle-class feminist with an academic background, I’m the last person who should be evaluating how inclusive the academy is, or how successful it is at breaking down inequalities. It’s up to me to take responsibility for my privilege and try to make changes and become a true ally, but it won’t be up to me to say if I’ve succeeded. One contributor in Feminism For Real talks about their “blood memory” as a First Nations person – the memory of how you and your ancestors were treated and continue to be treated under colonialism.

I don’t have “blood memory”. My Scottish grandfather was never put in a residential school. My British grandmother was never told her children would lose their legal ethnic status if she married a non-British man. My British grandfather was never forced into slavery. My Swiss grandmother was not forced to pay a head tax when she came to Canada.

Not only did my ancestors not experience these things, I continue to profit off legacies of inequality.

That’s why I needed to read this book, and why I have to try to implement the recommendations made in the last section by Krysta Williams and Ashling Ligate for “Deconstructing Dialogue in Feminist Education”. I’ve examined my privilege in previous blog posts, but it’s something I have to work on every day, and I thought Williams and Ligate had some fantastic suggestions. I won’t give them all here because I think you should get the book and check them out yourself, but I’ll end off mentioning a few in particular that are ones I need to keep working on:

  • “DO be ready to take on “menial” tasks for communities you are trying to “ally” with.”- Williams & Ligate point out that being an ally can go really wrong if you’re always trying to take ownership of the struggle or the issues.
  • “Recognize that despite everything, communities that are labelled as “oppressed” or are struggling, are still vibrant, alive and thriving in whatever ways they can.” Don’t let recognizing struggle lead you to make out these communities as victims incapable of acting for themselves.
  • “DON’T pretend that you are separate from systems of oppression.”
  • “DO acknowledge that every issue is someone’s lived experience and open yourself to empathize with their pain and struggles without being creepy. Be real.”This goes back to the desire to say, “Well that wasn’t how I experienced it” or “I didn’t see that happening so you’re wrong.” Even if you didn’t see it, the other person’s experience is real and valid.

-Jarrah

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment

Confronting Privilege

Dorcas: You were right, I have been blind. But to myself if anything else. You are…used to risk. I, on the other hand have always chosen comfort and security. My privilege has enabled that. I see now that what begins as caution may become cowardice without one realizing.

The above quote is from Lark Rise to Candleford, and while my use of it is terribly out of context, it really spoke to the way I’ve been reflecting on my own privilege (based on being white, straight, able-bodied, and middle-class) in the past week.

It started when I read an article in my local paper about a request by the Tsilhqot’in nation asking that Begbie Square in New Westminster (named for the infamous “hanging judge”) be renamed and the statue of Begbie replaced byone of Chief Ahan. Ahan is considered a Tsilhqot’in hero. He was sentenced to hanging by Judge Begbie and is believed to be buried under the Square. Now all I knew about Judge Begbie I learned in Grade 4. We learned his nickname and that was pretty much it. Seeing the story made me realize just how incomplete and biased my education had been. I realized, like Dorcas, how blinding privilege can be.

My whole life I’ve been walking around my neighbourhoods and unquestionably accepted the fact that practically every landmark is named after figures from European history. My whole life I happily took off my ancestors’ Christian holidays from school while never questioning if other people’s traditions were accorded the same recognitions. Reflecting on it I realize it’s been comfortable for me to take for granted the legitimacy accorded to my traditions and history over those of non-white communities and First Nations people.

The name of a public square might seem trivial, but I find I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to live in a society where I don’t see me reflected wherever I go. It’s the Eurocentrism – the treatment of white European-ness as normal and everything else as exotic or different - that’s the problem. It’s everywhere and I’m realizing it manifests in my blog when I ignore race. It’s not good enough for me to say the blog is “anti-racist”. By not discussing race, racism, and how policy impacts differently based on race, I’m just reinforcing the status-quo. I also don’t think I do a good enough job looking at issues of ableism or class and poverty.

Part of this is the concern that I don’t want to be “speaking for” marginalized groups. But if I don’t try to address these issues at all, is that really caution or just cowardice?

As the quote at the top points out, those who are privileged have the luxury of choosing to feel comfortable and secure. By extension, confronting privilege can and should be a bit uncomfortable. I showed my blog to a male friend and he said about the feminist content, “To be honest, it made me a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t that I didn’t agree, but it made me feel kind of like I do when I hear about things like Residential Schools.” There’s a comfort in complacency. It’s not fun to realize that even though you might not have directly caused a situation (be it Residential Schools or the gender pay gap), you have been complicit by not challenging it or even benefiting from the results.

The first time I noticed my class privilege was when I was in Toronto, studying on scholarship at York University. After tuition, my funding equalled about $500/month, and my rent was over $600. I got a part-time job canvassing on the election campaign but when I came down with mono I had to quit. Then the graduate students went on strike and my funding was even further reduced. Luckily my parents were able to give me money to help with rent and get me back to BC to get a job and get back on my feet. I made some decisions that were poorly planned out, but because of my class I wasn’t judged for them and didn’t experience real hardship in the same way as someone from a poorer background might.

In Teaching Community, bell hooks points out: “no one, no matter how intelligent and skillful at critical thinking, is protected against the subliminal suggestions that imprint themselves on our unconscious brain” (p.11). There’s no doubt this is going to be something to work on and I hope people will call me out and comment if they notice privilege-induced blindness on the blog. I’m also interested in others’ stories about recognizing privilege. Confronting privilege may be uncomfortable but that’s where the ability to make change occurs.

On a related note I wanted to direct your attention to a couple good resources for improving equality, and anti-racism in education. The Equality 101 Blog covers a broad range of topics about difference in education. Closer to home Twinkle’s Happy Place is a resource for Canadian educators to integrate anti-racist Aboriginal pedagogy into their classrooms.

-Jarrah

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment