Thursday, May 17, 2007


I once had an intense argument with a friend of mine about the politics of choosing. My friend was of the opinion that one should fight equally for every cause, against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ablism, lookism etc. And I maintained that, while one can be an ally on every cause, eventually you have to choose what you want to work for. And I still feel this way. And in the end I chose racism, because at least for me, it's important to be able to work to within a movement where I don't have to listen to upper class white straight women tell me what to do (feminism), or rich gay men tell me what to do (gay rights).

Plus there are things like ablism, which are not a part of my personal experience, and attempting to get involved to the point of hijacking the issue seems both dangerous and patronizing. In these situations, I think it's better and more helpful to be an ally

I read this post by Black Amazon and I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Relieved that someone else felt the same way I did about feminism, and also kind of disappointed, since I'd be hoping maybe just the self identified feminists that I had met were like that and "real" feminism was better.

Anyway, Magniloquence is righteous and everything. And said most of what I think, only better and clearer. But I have to say, I've listened to white straight girls complain about the burdens of being beautiful and thin, I've heard rich gay men say that we must all try to make ourselves inconspicuous and maybe the government will give us some civil unions (or possibly some candy.)

And then I think about Vincent Chin and somehow those things don't seem that important to me. So while I try to be an ally for other people's causes, because there are other struggles than mine that are important, and worth fighting for, I still do believe that you have to choose, in the end, where you're going to be.

You can call them pet issues if you want, but who is going to fight for us if we don't fight for ourselves. And if you won't fight for me, why should I fight for you?


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez said...

word. great post.

lovelesscynic said...


Laurel said...

I have issues that I care about more than others. I think a lot of it is based on what personally affects you the most, and I think that's okay. Like as I go through my day to day life, I experience the most bullshit because I'm gay. I would bet that race affects your day to day life the most. I don't know, I've also had people tell me that this is a wrong way to live your life, but I don't see it that way. You just have to fight the fight that's closest to you, and that winning will best change your life.

It's early and I'm incoherent :-(

Laurel said...

Also I am and will always be a feminist, but man, I really dislike a lot of self-identified feminists. I never went to an FSU meeting. Well, maybe twice. But I seriously couldn't stand them. I've often felt like feminism doesn't really want to make a place for me at the table because they're too busy deciding if having a table will make people feel ugly.

lovelesscynic said...

I guess I should qualify that right. I mean, I do think gay marriage is important, and I do think that feminism is important. Even if a lot of the people annoy me. And I can see where they intersect, and how we should work together. If we don't work together, how can we accomplish anything? But when that combining comes at the price of knuckling under to some rich white people, I really have to draw the line.

exangelena said...

I do participate in the stupid discussions about beauty culture and I resent being told that I'm not supposed to do that because of my race. I resent it being implied that I'm a race traitor because I'm a feminist. (And I have often been called flat out racist by white feminists who disagree with me.)
Although I don't think that WOC feminists HAVE to focus on beauty culture, it's not something that only affects white women. Anyone who has a TV is affected by beauty standards. I think WOC are the primary victims of them, because beauty standards are extremely racist. Sexual commodification in the media perpetuates racist, sexist stereotypes about WOC, and WOC are prostituted in disproportionate numbers.
I think that all identity politics groups have their dumb pop issues and more serious ones. With Asian-American activism, I generally deign to participate because it seems to me that it's a bunch of rich/middle class sexist, homophobic Asian men whining about white men stealing "their" women and how they're always emasculated. (Now I know that this isn't true and that there ARE important issues that you mentioned in your post, but that's what it can look like for me.) And so I want to move on to another cause, where I can work to end sexual objectification, domestic violence, rape, prostitution, etc., which I see as the "real issues". For me at least.

-you can delete this comment if it's too bitchy or if it makes you mad :(

exangelena said...

OK that first part of the comment was not about you, it was about other bloggers.

disreputable bird said...

Laurel, definitely early but not so incoherent. I think you're making sense.

lovelesscynic said...

Thank you for clarifying, I was initially rather irritated, because I didn't think that was what I was talking about at all. However, if you have issues with other bloggers, I would appreciate it if you could take that up with them rather than talking about it here. They probably stand to benefit from listening to your concerns anyway.

I also object to your characterization of Asian American activism, and Asian American men in general quite strongly. And I would also suggest that while the Asian Male Complex can get kind of tiresome at times, there are reasons for how they feel like they do. And not all Asian American dudes suffer from this Complex. You're tarring a lot of people with a rather broad brush.

disreputable bird said...

My 2 cents: Weren't there some qualifiers? ...(Now I know that this isn't true and that there ARE important issues that you mentioned in your post, but that's what it can look like for me.) Anyway, it seems like most people here could agree that fighting to end racism, sexual objectification, domestic violence, rape, prostitution, and discrimination are all causes worthy of commitment. So arguing over stereotypes of various advocates (feminists, gay rights activists, and Asian American activists) or even about which issue is more important seems like a waste of energy that would be better directed toward the real oppressors. And that's not you guys.

exangelena said...

"I also object to your characterization of Asian American activism, and Asian American men in general quite strongly."
I probably shouldn't have been as inflammatory, but that's how I felt when you characterized feminism the way that you did. There are caricatures of both movements and dumb selfish people in both of them and then there are real issues and activism.

"And I would also suggest that while the Asian Male Complex can get kind of tiresome at times, there are reasons for how they feel like they do."
Well, yes, but that does not give them any excuse to be misogynist. I'll hopelessly derail the thread if I start talking about that issue here (and perhaps attract 50000 comments from other sites) so that is for another time.

Laurel said...

I dont' like being told what to do by rich white people, either. In fact I don't like being told what to do by rich people generally. Sometimes I can't help but feel like feminism and gay rights are for people who are rich enough to have the time to worry about it.

I still feel really awkward about racism and trying to be a white ally. I still feel like I get it wrong more than I get it right. There are some things I can do (explain to other haoles why we have to care and why whether you want to accept it or not we benefit from white priveledge) and some things I can't (say anything at work when people start to talk about immigration, or "why do black people want to be called African American that is dumb" or anything like that). I guess at the end of the day, it's not really my fight, and so I feel like there are certain things that I can't really speak up about because I'll be trying to put words in someone else's mouth.

This is a little off the point, but I've been interested to follow the Obama v Clinton discussion, and how it's been structured in terms of choosing sides (especially for women of color). Politically I'm actually much more in line with Kucinich than either of them, but that's beside the point. It's like we're finally able to admit that we don't really vote based on politics, but based on personality and identity.

(And for the record, I probably would not vote for Obama, at least in the primaries. His plan for national health care? Americans should be less fat. No I'm serious. He completely lost my support with that. I guess that says a lot about what my deep triggers are. Clinton, I'm not sure. There's a part of me that wants to see a woman president within my lifetime so much that I can almost say I don't care who that woman is. Almost, but not quite. I still haven't decided on her.)

lovelesscynic said...

The Obama vs. Clinton thing, and let's not forget Richardson, please, is kinda fascinating. It's actually more interesting than watching the freak show that the Republican field has become. Not that that's not kind of gratifying.

I think you make a good point that it's finally brought to the fore that we ultimately don't vote for a candidate so much as their image. Honestly, I haven't made my mind up either.

And apparently, some members of the African American community haven't either, I don't know how to link like exangelena or magniloquence. I'm a technological fossil at 24.

As for being a white ally, damn dude, that's such a tangled knot, I'm not sure if I even want to take that one on. My general feeling is that if you're thinking about it, you're probably at least on the right track.

It's those people who seem to be living in a completely different worlds that I was writing about. People like that seem to be entirely unaware of another, less privileged existence outside their own.

magniloquence said...

Hmmm. I always framed the "ally" thing as a matter of resource allocation as much as anything else. If you know a lot about an issue and want to give your energy to it, that's what you should focus on. If you care about an issue but don't know a lot about it, or can't give it as much attention as you feel it deserves,* then you can be an ally.

I know it's not that simple, of course. Nez and Kai identify as allies (correctly if I'm wrong) not just because it (feminism) isn't their primary issue, but also because there are some ideological issues surrounding whether or not men can really claim to be feminists or can merely be feminist allies. (I, for the record, come down fully on the side of "men can be feminists too." But that's a story for another post, methinks) Most identification things have issues like that.

What I think is really interesting is the way things get claimed. The New Bedford raids, for example, were talked about by some big names, but largely came down as "part of the immigration debate," instead of "feminist issues." I, being the hopeless intersectionalist that I am, think it's both, and ought be talked about as both. It's a foreign policy issue, a domestic policy issue, a human rights issue, a feminist issue, an antiracist issue, a workers rights issue... and probably some others I haven't thought of. I don't think any one movement gets to claim "the big stuff."

(I realize that wasn't the exact claim... but the claim that 'all movements have their big things and mine does this' seems to lead to this point pretty quickly.)

Regarding stereotypes and welcome, though... I think it's disingenuous to dismiss talking about our dissatisfaction with one group or another as "a waste of energy." It's important to talk about what we're doing, and how we're doing it. It's important to talk about who said what, and what the dynamics of the group are, and how we're going to do things. And yes, it's important to talk about the "lighter issues" too. Both because life isn't one dimensional and because allegations of 'lightness' are generally used to dismiss good work. Not to mention the fact that we're not locked into one mode; I can argue for antiracist and feminist perspectives in comics and work for immigration reform and blog about how other bloggers are being dumb. And all of those things are important in their own way, and influence people's lives.

(And on a more personal level, it's a huge pet peeve of mine when someone says "let's stop talking about how we're going to do things and just get things done" or "let's stop fighting amongst ourselves and work on the real issues." Because that's not a value-neutral statement. It is an endorsement of the status quo, and a not-so-silent declaration that the speaker's chosen issues are the "real" ones, and everyone else is stupid. No, dammit, sometimes we need to talk about where we're going and how we relate to each other, and that's good in and of itself, not just because it helps us be more productive as a group.)
* Note: not "all of your attention," but "as much as you feel it deserves. Whether that's writing a post or two on the subject or going to a rally or working on a campaign. That's up to you.

lovelesscynic said...

hear hear!

Yes, those knotty problems should be connected, gender, race, class, all of it. The only problem is that once we combine everything, certain concerns, and at least according to me, somewhat lighter in hue, tend to take precedence. Ideally everything should be interconnected, however, until we approach everything on a level playing field, I'm gonna keep feeling the need to choose.