Stretching the Knapsack Metaphor To Its Full Bent (And Then Some)

On my baleeted blog, I was in the process of writing an in-depth analysis tying Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack to a relevant understanding of how privilege blinds and disenfranchises using current events as examples. But since I’m a real wiseacre I decided to try this during my first year of law school.

Trust me; it was not a good look.

So the other night, I was speaking to one of my favorite Asian anglers about white progressives and privilege and the dumbassed stories they write. Stories like “Err, racism and sexism are important pet issues and diversionary projects, y’know, but can us pleasen focus on ze Eeeerawk War?”

Never mind the fact that race and sex and gender play integral parts in who fights the Iraq War, who pays the highest human cost (and the number has grown from there), who gets violated, who has a say in the direction of Iraq — NOOOOOOOOOOOO. These hobby horses can be forgotten ’cause we need to leave the kiddie pool and get rollin’ in the sandbox. Never mind that there are people out there LIVING this shit. Mired in it. Burying loved ones. Tending to the newly raped. Worried about getting caught on the Metro with a brown face and a visible knapsack. No. Side projects. We have to stay focused on the real deal like what politician is lying about what socket A got ripped out of plug B and deal 1 about bomb 2 is being put on table X and meanwhile the soldier tally (people are dying) is rising!

So I talked to my friend, and I began thinking about this white progressive cry for focus. The hierarchy of needs climbed higher and higher in my mind until I reached the privileged tip. And then I had it! I knew what was hindering me from understanding why one issue had to replace the other in terms of focus. Privilege. And I took poor Kai down a rambling metaphorical journey, and now I’m forcing all of you to follow my rambles now. I’m going to take my thoughts from the conversation and make them coherent.

You know what? White progressivism is hobby-oriented. It centers on detachment and symbolism — no body shaking, ground moving shit. Just shit like t-shirts. And what white folks consider radical is leaving the house, hitting the pavement. Because when I look at things like this…

We all have our obsessions, our bugbears, our pet causes. And we should be careful not to assume that they always pertain to whatever question’s at hand. Doubly, we ought to avoid over-specialization, over-investment, and above all avoid the tendency to make a Unified Field Theory (incorporating our obsession to the point of ludicrous aggrandizement) and apply it to everything monomaniacally.

… it’s like he’s describing people who play too many video games. Not people’s LIVES, not as if it’s tied up with your own life or is relevant to your worldview. It’s bearing the onus of a worthy cause upon your back, without looking that cause in its eyes or really even touching it. Just finding a clever, cute Awareness Backpack for it. An invisible knapsack, if you will…

Okay, you know ze famous “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” thing for having white folks question band-aids as tools of oppression and shit. Well, okay. Many white progressives do unpack that knapsack. But then, they do a quick quick inventory and then REPACK the knapsack.

They don’t sit to investigate the contents and how they work.

They don’t look for the source of what’s inside the sack.

They don’t leave the backpack off or experiment with other ways to carry things.

They just look inside, say, “Oh hey, never thought I had one of those,” and maybe dust it off a little like a hobbyist. And then put it RIGHT BACK INSIDE THE KNAPSACK. Only now since they’ve emptied it once, it’s no longer invisible. Other people who haven’t unpacked their sacks notice them more and deride them. But nevertheless, to them, at that point, they’re done.

And so, our little pale hobby horses journey out into the world, visible knapsack on back, ignoring the nuances of the things they failed to investigate inside their knapsacks. And the things they DO recognize, they pin them up with what’s on inventory and do a grand gesture of pointing to it, pointing to their list, and patting their knapsacks. (But of course they don’t bother to open the sack again because they’ve done that before…one time’s a charm — not like they miscounted…)

And then, our backpacking heroes get pissed when the people surrounded by the contents of the sack, sitting mired in it, talk about it and live it and know it like they know breathing — they get mad when these people tell them they don’t know what the shit they’re talking about.

Like mad.

And sad.

Really really mad sad.

And then they start complaining. They complain about their burdens not getting any lighter because of those whining folks in stuff they can’t remember without referring to the list. And do they even NEED a goddamned list? I mean, who’s counting all this shit anyway? Geez. Can they get a little credit for even trying to make a damned list?

…Besides, don’t you know how much their backs hurt? This fucking knapsack is HEAVY. Maybe they can take it off a little while, just a little while, and carry something lighter. Something a little less involved. Something that doesn’t cause them to sweat SO much. I mean, they’re not donkeys, y’know?

Meanwhile, the people with bridges called their backs, the people who lack the time to play around with inventory, the people who really would like those people who do have time to get a clue and talk to them like people, they’re too caught up in fighting wars, hugging victims, rebuilding lives, fighting for rights that are so wrapped up in those knapsacks that those white progressives take them for granted.

And the ones with time, they realize that the culture of white progressive politics is centered on this convenience, this grocery list of issues, and this detached and limited engagement fueled by academia to propel it along. Otherwise, there’d be no knapsacks, and all of us would be cleaning up together.

About problem chylde
"In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6

23 Responses to Stretching the Knapsack Metaphor To Its Full Bent (And Then Some)

  1. michelle says:

    Sylvia/M! I am so glad for you posting! (I used to go by askwhy/AWQ now just using my first name to comment when I do).

    You wrote: … it’s like he’s describing people who play too many video games. Not people’s LIVES, not as if it’s tied up with your own life or is relevant to your worldview.

    and: And the ones with time, they realize that the culture of white progressive politics is centered on this convenience, this grocery list of issues, and this detached and limited engagement fueled by academia to propel it along. Otherwise, there’d be no knapsacks, and all of us would be cleaning up together.

    This is so accurate IMO. There’s a distance, this disconnect that comes with privilege that turns struggle into a shopping trip for issues to choose. I have direct experience with this. I hope this comment isn’t tangential.

    I’ve been thinking about the difference between stuff I have been/am involved with because I have a CHOICE about it, and stuff that I have no choice about. For me, the second thing, what I have no choice about, isn’t in any of the categories, even areas where I am oppressed like gender or sexual orientation. But it’s there and real and it is fucking INVOLUNTARY. I don’t get a choice about whether to be affected or not, I just AM and I can’t ever just choose to opt out and go back to being protected, because — I can’t.

    On the other hand, areas that are not involuntary for me in being affected no matter what I do or want ot whatever (eg involvement in struggles against racism/white supremacy, more specifically to my life lately, migrant rights before and indigenous rights now) — these are choices of mine, and I have already stepped away from one group, chosen to be part of Y rather than X, where will I “be involved”.

    IMO where people have these choices we are by definition untrustworthy. It’s great if or when we do the right thing, but it’s an action-by-action kind of situation, because at any moment we have the choice to step away, to choose to not notice because we do have a choice. Clearly we in that position are NOT the people who should be defining anything where we hae this disconnect.

    White progressives are so limited in perspective and understanding, yet are so sure that their way of feeling and seeing the world is THE BEST way. Instead of seeing the limitations of the disconnect, they have a strong push for the center, to be the definers, the term-setters, the universal definition of activist and “those who get it,” and are into imposing this on others (it’s called “leadership development” in some contexts, but there are other approaches) — when in fact they are among the most limited in perception and experience.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Hehe, Michelle; I know who you are! I’m glad to see your face (handle?) around the blogosphere. :)

    I’ve been thinking about the difference between stuff I have been/am involved with because I have a CHOICE about it, and stuff that I have no choice about. For me, the second thing, what I have no choice about, isn’t in any of the categories, even areas where I am oppressed like gender or sexual orientation. But it’s there and real and it is fucking INVOLUNTARY. I don’t get a choice about whether to be affected or not, I just AM and I can’t ever just choose to opt out and go back to being protected, because — I can’t.

    Yes, this is EXACTLY it. The ability to “focus elsewhere” become awkward fitting if you even try to attempt it. It’s like cutting off a limb because at that point, you’re negating some of what you’ve personally experienced as valid. And even though a lot of people don’t like to talk about self-realization for these reasons except in a new agey, spiritualized way, the impact of trying to impose a choice where there is none — where some of you what makes you you does break down into a bit of essentialism — is devastating. It’s possible to recover from it, but it takes a crapload of unlearning, especially when the dominant society encourages and socializes you to deny a part of what makes you who you are.

    I’m not saying that everyone doesn’t have these blind spots in some ways — that’s the cornerstone of understanding privilege and intersectionality. I’m more inclined to prefer that theoretical framework of recognizing privilege to other frameworks of understanding oppression. For me it emphasizes a moral tenet that most people agree with, that no one is immune, and everyone has to play a vigilant role in understanding where these intersections fit into their lives. It also kinda restricts the ability to do neat categorizations of experiences — not fully, but for me it’s helped.

    IMO where people have these choices we are by definition untrustworthy. It’s great if or when we do the right thing, but it’s an action-by-action kind of situation, because at any moment we have the choice to step away, to choose to not notice because we do have a choice. Clearly we in that position are NOT the people who should be defining anything where we have this disconnect.

    White progressives are so limited in perspective and understanding, yet are so sure that their way of feeling and seeing the world is THE BEST way. Instead of seeing the limitations of the disconnect, they have a strong push for the center, to be the definers, the term-setters, the universal definition of activist and “those who get it,” and are into imposing this on others (it’s called “leadership development” in some contexts, but there are other approaches) — when in fact they are among the most limited in perception and experience.

    Okay, now, see all I have to say to this is I miss you, blog again plz. :) And from what I discovered in interacting with white progressive movements is SO MUCH of it involves neutralizing people’s experiences that go against the grain. It’s a huge part of why BFP’s discussions and materials surrounding INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence makes me so inspired and happy. Everyone can speak and shape the direction. The white prog approach says, “here’s a form letter; you can customize it but if you do you’re on your own with the responses you get; if you ride with us, you’ll be beyond reproach ’cause we framed everything for you.”

  3. michelle says:

    Oy, Sylvia, having my own blog wasn’t good for me, for real. It was disorienting somehow, decentering. Maybe I just wasn’t doing it right or for the right reasons or something, but still even now my body reacts to the memory and thought even now with *cringe – no*. Which isn’t to say I’m silent in blogland — I’m not, as you have noticed :)

    Thank you so much for what you wrote!

    Yes, this is EXACTLY it. The ability to “focus elsewhere” become awkward fitting if you even try to attempt it. It’s like cutting off a limb because at that point, you’re negating some of what you’ve personally experienced as valid. And even though a lot of people don’t like to talk about self-realization for these reasons except in a new agey, spiritualized way, the impact of trying to impose a choice where there is none — where some of you what makes you you does break down into a bit of essentialism — is devastating. It’s possible to recover from it, but it takes a crapload of unlearning, especially when the dominant society encourages and socializes you to deny a part of what makes you who you are.

    *nods* I apparently feel certain things as violence (lies, deception, attempts at reality-control and domination, I don’t really have the right words necessarily) that others don’t, or do but only sometimes. I think I’m starting to consciously understand how it works — that this is an involuntary no-choice mode of perception/experience that is normal to me, but often not-normal to other people. So like, “is it real?” is this constant question.

    My actual experience gets into this struggle over what is real. And I see it with two sets of perception — I know how I feel it AND from outside, as I have learned that other people don’t. So I question my own perception at the very same time as my experiences are very real to me. The possibility that I am actually just *crazy* is ALWAYS a real specter for me, always inside myself a possible explanation for what is happening.

    And I know that this kind of deep deep struggle is not happening for me where I have choice and privilege.

    And from what I discovered in interacting with white progressive movements is SO MUCH of it involves neutralizing people’s experiences that go against the grain. It’s a huge part of why BFP’s discussions and materials surrounding INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence makes me so inspired and happy. Everyone can speak and shape the direction. The white prog approach says, “here’s a form letter; you can customize it but if you do you’re on your own with the responses you get; if you ride with us, you’ll be beyond reproach ’cause we framed everything for you.”

    I feel that white progressive neutralizing and the attempted control through “framing” as violence. Because it is lies about reality. It is erasure of what is actually going on. It is manipulative. Or whatever the words.

    And myself, I struggle with the clash between the approach of communication as domination, and the truly collaborative and open and learning and real approach that I see from BFP and others coming from that space. I feel like lately I’ve gotten hardened and cynical in a way, like I can feel/hear/smell the bullshit from a mile away and I respond to it at the outset.

    But really my deepest organic inclination is to be more open and hopeful and look to other people to correct and enhance and enrich whatever my perception is of what’s happening. And I don’t know what to do with this part of me that really seriously wants to trust and believe that everyone is coming from a space of good will and open-ness and mutual learning or whatever the right words are, when at the same time I know from real experience and perception that this is not actually true.

  4. Lisa Harney says:

    I really like this. I was telling someone else that too many allies acknowledge their privilege, call themselves allies, and consider their work pretty much done.

    I was talking about allies to trans people, but I see it elsewhere, too.

    Anyway, this really lays that out. Not only is the job “done,” but now they also get to tell you what your priorities should be.

    And they can do this for free – it costs them nothing to say these things, do these things, and ignore those things. There’s no risk to it. Nothing of theirs is lost by ignoring these issues. :(

    Yeah, I’m still bitter about watching exactly that kind of privilege play out with regards to ENDA, where those who had nothing to lose by sacrificing trans people made such a big deal about how necessary that sacrifice was.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this.

  5. Sylvia says:

    You’re welcome, Michelle; I know the feelings you’re describing from blogging. I still experience them from time to time and they led me to delete TAEC. I’m glad you’re still speaking around the blogosphere! :)

    My actual experience gets into this struggle over what is real. And I see it with two sets of perception — I know how I feel it AND from outside, as I have learned that other people don’t. So I question my own perception at the very same time as my experiences are very real to me. The possibility that I am actually just *crazy* is ALWAYS a real specter for me, always inside myself a possible explanation for what is happening.

    And I know that this kind of deep deep struggle is not happening for me where I have choice and privilege.

    Your statement here reminds me of Yossarian from Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. And I think that’s largely what the power structure requires from the marginalized when they malign what we feel directly or indirectly malign evaluating our feelings altogether. But at least we can go crazy together, no?

    But really my deepest organic inclination is to be more open and hopeful and look to other people to correct and enhance and enrich whatever my perception is of what’s happening. And I don’t know what to do with this part of me that really seriously wants to trust and believe that everyone is coming from a space of good will and open-ness and mutual learning or whatever the right words are, when at the same time I know from real experience and perception that this is not actually true.

    I think the most fearful thing is when people are coming from goodwill and openness and mutual learning, but we all get so mired in preserving the fold that we can’t seriously engage on what’s wrong. We lose sight of the sacrifices for reaching some quick solution, and the framings of the conversations fly in the face of any relationships and commonality we can reach.

    Lisa, thanks for visiting! I enjoy reading your blog as well, and I think that the ENDA omission of transpeople does fall right along this same dynamic. It’s easy to tell people what they’re fighting for and how to fight when you’re sitting pretty on your ass, you know? It’s too much to try to understand the struggle and get your hands dirty, by facing up to this structure that slide right up to the privileged tip of society and dump them into the shit we’re all plowing through. I just…the whole thing makes me so angry when I watch it repeated for every issue that results in people being ignored or tokenized or trivialized as not being enough to give that extra effort.

    Anyway, I’m glad this entry reached out to you.

  6. michelle says:

    I think the most fearful thing is when people are coming from goodwill and openness and mutual learning, but we all get so mired in preserving the fold that we can’t seriously engage on what’s wrong. We lose sight of the sacrifices for reaching some quick solution, and the framings of the conversations fly in the face of any relationships and commonality we can reach.

    Sylvia, could you say more about this, like examples maybe? I want to be sure I understand what you mean, this is very very interesting to me!

    But at least we can go crazy together, no?

    Well, I have to be careful about this, myself personally. I have seen that I can get irresponsible in my desperation sometimes, in terms of “going crazy together.” I know I have made the mistake of assuming that my perception and struggles are nearly identical to others, especially people of color struggling against racism/white supremacy, a practice which can end up as me acting as an agent of white supremacy.

  7. Sylvia says:

    Well one example — there’s the idea of not being responsible for teaching anyone or educating anyone. There’s truth in that assertion that no one has any obligation to do so; however, I’ve seen situations where people carry this tenet too far and alienate people who they consider friends, they browbeat enemies with it, etc. I’m not sure that is where the idea of not being responsible for someone’s education came from, especially if at some point we are supposed to cooperate to fight racist frameworks. Sometimes the help can aid in that person’s individual exploration and education.

    Another example is when people try to explain something and they are convinced that the other side is only unconvinced in one small aspect, or they’re not viewing the situation through the proper lens, or they are being unreasonable when thinking about circumstances. If a true discussion will take place, the problem isn’t indoctrinating or ingratiating one side to the other side — it’s resolving the conflict. But the desire to be constant in a dynamic and evolving process of learning is damaging to making inroads.

    I have seen that I can get irresponsible in my desperation sometimes, in terms of “going crazy together.” I know I have made the mistake of assuming that my perception and struggles are nearly identical to others, especially people of color struggling against racism/white supremacy, a practice which can end up as me acting as an agent of white supremacy.

    I think you may have misunderstood me; I’m not saying that what you’re guarding against — the comparison of one oppressive experience to another — is improper. You’re right about how those behaviors can act as a tool of white supremacy, of false equalizing where a level foundation does not exist. I think it’s wholly proper to take care; I have to do the same thing when considering other forms of oppression that I have the choice of understanding.

    However, what I meant by “going crazy together” is the similarities in the oppressive framework we face, not the experiences we have as a result of that framework. We may spot different mechanisms at work through our lives, but they stem from a shared source. And the importance of noticing and challenging that framework is crucial to any understanding and debunking of oppression.

  8. michelle says:

    Hi Sylvia,

    Yes, I did misunderstand you! Or maybe more accurately, I let my own issues with this get in the way. I’ve had some actual literal conversations about being crazy together that in retrospect should have been red flags for me but weren’t … anyway, there are these things I want to keep front and center for myself and to other people, almost like a warning about one of my weaknesses, and I transposed that on top of what you were saying. I’m so sorry I imposed that on top of what you were actually saying!

    And thanks for saying more about what you mean and for the examples. I’m so confused about some of these issues right now. I feel like rigidity is death in so many ways and I love this part of what you said in particular

    But the desire to be constant in a dynamic and evolving process of learning is damaging to making inroads.

    And then at the same time, I feel like there IS a lot of bad faith out there masquerading as something benign, eg people in oppressor groups claiming to be friends and allies, “just wanting to learn” or saying “it would be ok if we could just resolve the conflict” that serve to mask a form of communication as domination and energy drain or subject change.

    I know that’s not what you’re talking about — it’s just, maybe I’m stuck, (!) but at this point it’s like almost impossible for me to think about this stuff without this confusion and maybe-over-compensating hard-assed cynic in me coming up. Which I need to look at. The whole thing is dizzying to me and I will for sure be thinking more about it.

    Oh and your first example got me to my bookshelves because the first time I encountered the oppressed/oppressor teaching thing was either from Audre Lorde or someone I knew who referenced her on this (or both). And I found this in Sister Outsider:

    Traditionally in american society, it is the members of oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as american as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection. Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes. I am responsible for educating teachers who dismiss my children’s culture in school. Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.

    From “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” in Sister Outsider, pg 114-115.

    (And IMO that essay is very nuanced and complex about the dynamics of domination and subordination of various types. And the oppressed teaching oppressors thing is a specific dynamic that is about a real and particular mode of dominance — not a prescription for every single situation — which is what it sounds like you’ve seen with people taking it too far?)

    I’m basically just rambling at this point… yes, this is an area of confusion or blurriness for me right now.

  9. Sylvia says:

    (And IMO that essay is very nuanced and complex about the dynamics of domination and subordination of various types. And the oppressed teaching oppressors thing is a specific dynamic that is about a real and particular mode of dominance — not a prescription for every single situation — which is what it sounds like you’ve seen with people taking it too far?)

    Yes, and sometimes I feel as though when that particular trope is invoked, energy is still wasted. Because the person who doesn’t want to teach spends more time being put out that the person/oppressor had the NERVE to try to learn from them! Sometimes the instances where this dynamic really plays a role in hindering conversation are rare, though — it’s similar to what you describe about being careful with saying that people share various experiences through oppression. Sometimes, people may have expectations from you that are way too high without realizing that they would not ask the same obligation from someone who looked like them, or someone closer to them.

    anyway, there are these things I want to keep front and center for myself and to other people, almost like a warning about one of my weaknesses, and I transposed that on top of what you were saying. I’m so sorry I imposed that on top of what you were actually saying!

    LOL, don’t be sorry! I think it’s a good thing, as I mentioned, because it does get easy to get carried away. I know there are times I’ve had to rein myself in from speaking too much because I think I know/understand something. (Because I always run my mouth too much.) But sometimes I have to say something really crazy (not on purpose, but it makes me step back and think, “Bwuh?!”) because it sparks me to investigate it more.

    I feel like rigidity is death in so many ways and I love this part of what you said in particular

    But the desire to be constant in a dynamic and evolving process of learning is damaging to making inroads.

    And then at the same time, I feel like there IS a lot of bad faith out there masquerading as something benign, eg people in oppressor groups claiming to be friends and allies, “just wanting to learn” or saying “it would be ok if we could just resolve the conflict” that serve to mask a form of communication as domination and energy drain or subject change.

    I know what you mean; sometimes people “walk” (can’t really walk in blogland…though I guess if I call it “blogland” it implies there’s something to walk on…ANYWAY) into a space of people saying those things. And as conversation develops, there is a lot of “I want to learn; stop the violence” lingo. It reveals some of the assumptions they have about anti-oppression work:

    1) All we’re concerned about is educating;
    2) We educate through creating (needless) confrontation;
    3) We are satisfied as we educate individual people one on one and as we confront large institutions for the same problems constantly;
    4) Problems with oppression can be solved on the individual level if one person from X group and a few people from Y group can relate to each other…

    That list could go on forever, and that is distracting. Of course, the people who invoke those assumptions through what they say and how they say it would NEVER directly admit those things, but…that’s often the distracting M.O. that gets thrown around when talking about very real problems.

  10. Lisa Harney says:

    Sylvia, thanks for your response, and sorry I didn’t get back sooner. If I talk too much about ENDA specifically, I’ll make it all about ENDA, and I need to save that for a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few days now.

    Well one example — there’s the idea of not being responsible for teaching anyone or educating anyone. There’s truth in that assertion that no one has any obligation to do so; however, I’ve seen situations where people carry this tenet too far and alienate people who they consider friends, they browbeat enemies with it, etc. I’m not sure that is where the idea of not being responsible for someone’s education came from, especially if at some point we are supposed to cooperate to fight racist frameworks. Sometimes the help can aid in that person’s individual exploration and education.

    For me (trans or lesbian, but not race), it’s more about how it’s approached. I’ve taken the time with one person who believed the special rights rhetoric and was able to explain why it was just rhetoric. But she wasn’t being hateful, just ignorant.

    In other cases, I’ve had people approach me in a tokenizing, insulting, privileged way that makes it clear that asking me why I am as I am is more about them objecting to it than it is about understanding why I do it, and I find such discussions tend to be fruitless.

    I don’t believe that I have no need to educate, or I wouldn’t be blogging. I just feel that sometimes too much of an onus is placed on me to prove that I am a person.

  11. Sylvia says:

    Lisa, I think you explained the dynamic very well. I agree with what you say; there’s a big difference between “I don’t understand why this is important/not the way to approach this dynamic” and “explain yourself (literally).” Sometimes I think the outrage is important, and sometimes I think it’s a crutch because it’s hard to draw people into the two camps hard and fast. It’s annoying to have to do it, too.

    I hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound like a bunch of whining. There’s a point in there somewhere… :-p

  12. Lisa Harney says:

    Yeah, it is too easy to just get angry and browbeat people.

    On the other hand, it’s also too easy to take any tone but submissive compliance when trying to educate, and get told your tone is wrong. Not that I’m telling you anything new. :(

  13. Sylvia says:

    Nope, not a bit new. Tone arguments, to use an expression from my grandma, make my ass ache.

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  15. Malik says:

    Whew. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I was thinking about power today, and how we often mistakenly equate power with force. I think in a way, “white progressives” (really, I think radicals and progressives of all stripes are prone to this) are trying to counter what they perceive to be power with power of their own, that is they’re trying to force an end to war through political revolution, demonstrations, boycotts, what have you. I think perhaps they see those actions as the only viable response to what seem to be overwhelmingly powerful forces of injustice. However, as I see it, force is really an expression of powerlessness. When you have to resort to force, it’s a tacit admission that you lack the moral, cultural or economic influence that is necessary to change the outcome of a situation. It’s that influence that’s the real source of power. You can’t have that influence without doing the things that you described, without binding wounds, feeding people, doing the day to day work in the trenches that affect people where they live. I think we’ve seen in the last few years how the U.S. has squandered it’s influence through the indiscriminate application of force and finds itself increasingly powerless to change outcomes even in situations where it’s vital interests are threatened, despite possessing as much wealth and weaponry as ever. There’s much talk about regaining that influence by “winning hearts and minds” but hearts and minds without food, education and ethical governance tend to be ill-disposed to all suitors.

  16. Malik says:

    P.S. It’s good to have your voice in the mix again.

  17. kactus says:

    “little pale hobby horses” is a phrase that is going to stay with me for a long, long time.

    And great post, by the way. This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while now–I’m glad you tackled it.

  18. Chris Clarke says:

    Well, because this (wonderful!) post is so far without a White Guy dropping by to talk about his own definition of who is and who isn’t a real true activist, I thought I’d better step up and represent.

    I sure wish people (myself included) wouldn’t call people like the subjects of this fine rant “progressives.” Where (and when) I grew up, progressives took intersectionality somewhat more seriously, and the people who insisted on the One Most Important Cause To The Excusion of Your Subjective Petty Issues were called either “liberals” or “Trotskyists.”

    I mean, it’s not like the 1970s was a lefty utopia, and maybe it’s because there were comparatively few of us in Buffalo and alliances were important, and those of us who were white had blinders the size of grain silos. But the people who worked to keep US troops out of El Salvador were also the people who ran benefits to keep the women’s shelter open and the same people who turned out to fight the Klan march in Buffalo in 1980 and the same people who protested the campus cops entrapping gay men in bathrooms.

    Wasn’t perfect, and there were divisions between white activists and activists of color, and justifiable accusations regarding blind privilege were made.

    But anyone who suggested that activists set aside working on school desegregation in order to stop our illegal secret war in Central America would have been shouted down by almost everyone I knew.

    One of my signal disappointments in the last few years has been learning, AGAIN AND AGAIN, that just because some blogger who couldn’t tell DuBois from Debs calls himself a progressive, it doesn’t mean he’s not to the right of Geraldine Ferraro.

    These people are not progressives. I’d love to reclaim that word.

  19. Pingback: The Opt-Out Privilege Card « A Secret Chord

  20. whatsername says:

    Seriously it’s like you creeped into my brain and saw shit that’s been frustrating me and wrote this…

    It’s been barely any time since I started feeling out and unpacking my knapsack. But now that I’ve started down the path I look around me at other white progressives who have only given it a cursory glance and I want to slap them upside the head. “Why are you always (ha! always, it was TWO discussions out of dozens) making this about RACE?!” *head beats against brick wall*

    On the one hand I know I have more work to do. On the other I have these people and trying to at LEAST get them started for gods sakes! And it’d be just so easy to back the damn thing back up and relate to them like I used to, but I can’t, I can’t and I won’t. But damn… I don’t know how you do it Sylvia, I can’t imagine how frustrating such exchanges are from your end.

  21. whatsername says:

    yah “back the damn thing back up”
    no, “PACK the damn thing back up.”

  22. Pingback: Feminism Friday: When women who advocate for women’s rights reject the label “feminist” « Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

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