Category Archives: privilege

When Allies Fail, Part II

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.] Last week, in a post titled When Allies Fail – Part 1, we began a discussion about maintaining alliances in the face of failure:

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

In that post, I tackled the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege? Today, I want to talk about the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. ”Responsibilities of marginalized people”…already I am hesitant to speak about allied relationships this way.

First, marginalized people are the owners of the anti-racist and feminist/womanist movements. The outcomes of the movement are about our humanity, our treatment, our futures, our children. Our fight is based not on empathy, but lived reality. Yes, racism and sexism ultimately effect everyone, no matter their race or gender. But, for instance, women involved in the feminist movement feel the urgency for change much more strongly than our male allies. We are more invested, I think. I say this not as a slight against men. It is the rare human being who is not most invested in things that effect them directly.

Second, marginalized people, like POC, have historically been oppressed. As a result, we adapt to living in a society that does not treat us as equals and sees us as “other.” We try to conform. We code switch. We hide our culture. We change our physicality to match that of the majority culture. We hold our tongues in the face of the everyday dull aches of racism. We do this every day, both consciously and unconsciously.

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When Allies Fail, Part I

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.]

Allies are important to any equality movement. It does not help people of color if we are the only ones who understand racism and how it still exists in society. It does not help women if we are the only ones that believe we deserve equal treatment. This is especially true considering the ways that women and people of color have been kept from places of power. The battles are ours to fight, and we can win them, but we need allies.

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

And what do we do when this happens–when allies fail? How can we address mistakes, while preserving relationships and maintaining the power that comes through alliances with people outside of our group? How do I think an ally should respond when their bias or privilege is called out? How do I think marginalized groups should handle the mistakes allies make?

This is the first of two posts on maintaining alliances in the face of failure. Today, I will tackle the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege?

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Chimamanda Adichie and Single Stories

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

A writer friend of mine working on a novel about his Indian experience has lamented to me about a particular response he keeps getting to his work in progress. His non-Asian peers tell him that he can’t write his particular story, because it’s already been told by say, Rohinton Mistry, or Arundhati Roy.

I also get hopping mad when I hear about this. What about the 5 gazillion stories of middle class white family struggle that dominate libraries and schools across this country?

Centers of power who feel political pressure to include the Other in their ranks rarely make room for more than one Other. TV shows like 30 Rock and the Daily Show don’t have room for more than one or two black characters (and they are all men.) Once a publishing press has released one book by a Latin@, they won’t release another one – they’ve already done the Latin thing. And often this kind of dynamic sets up vicious competition between members of marginalised groups vying for the single position allotted to their entire demographic – and people who should be allies become opponents.

Because of all this, I love this talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie talks about the real consequences of only allowing one voice to represent thousands, and makes a very beautiful argument on how the single story impoverishes our lives.

PS For those who can’t access the audio, hit the subtitles button!

Anita Tedaldi and Guilt & Privilege

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Note: This post isn’t about Buffy Sainte-Marie, but her photo seemed like a good one to meditate on while I wrote this harrowing piece.  See my endnote for more info.

buffy

I get a little sensitive when it comes to how transracial parents represent themselves and their families.

So when reader Carleandria sent us a tip about Anita Tedaldi, the white adoptive mother who 1) terminated an adoption (i.e., after 18 months with her adopted South American son, she put him up for re-adoption) 2) wrote about it extensively for the New York Times AND 3) in early October went on the Today Show to talk about it, my stomach turned. It was like watching a car wreck. I couldn’t stop myself from following the links to ingest more and more about this woman, and the portrait she draws of herself.

A little backstory: Tedaldi was already the mother of five biological children when she took on the baby she calls D. D. had a host of physical and emotional issues, Tedaldi writes, all the result of being abandoned by the side of the road. When D. came to live with her, Tedaldi found that D. was not forming a bond with his new family. And Tedaldi’s family did not really take to him either.  So Tedaldi found a new home for D.

Now. I should make it clear that my issue here is not that Tedaldi chose to give up the baby.  She chose to adopt a special needs baby when she already had five kids and a deployed husband.  That seems like a pretty bad choice, but I’m glad that Tedaldi was able to admit to herself that she was not fit to parent D.

What really disgusts me is the way that Tedaldi is trumpeting this story all around town.  And while very little has been made of race in this story, I wonder what Tedaldi’s white lady privilege has to do with her apparent total lack of guilt.  Or let me correct that: Tedaldi doesn’t just seem remorseless.  She seems proud of herself.

Like everyone, I have some skeletons in my closet.  But I wouldn’t have Matt Lauer interview me about them. I might write an essay about the things I’d done if I wanted other people to learn from my mistakes, but I’d probably publish it anonymously. Why? Because I am ashamed of my skeletons.  Isn’t that the regular human response when you realise you’ve really messed up?

Yet in Tedaldi’s essay, she doesn’t show self-reproach.  She shows herself to be distraught, she writes extensively about how bad she feels; but she does not once use the word “sorry,” for example. Or “regret.”  Or “I was wrong.”

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