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the answer is yes

October 15, 2011 at 12:20 am

Hey kids, I’m going to be selling prints tomorrow (Saturday October 15) at the RISD student & alumni sale! I think my table is in front of the College Building, near the corner of Benefit & College St. 10am-4pm. Come get some beautiful (or weird looking) stuff…

Also, more excitingly::::: a potentially large number of people, including myself at some point, are going to be occupying Burnside Park in downtown Providence (next to Kennedy Plaza) starting at 5pm on Saturday, ongoing into the future until we build a new society of some kind that doesn’t feel so broken, and doesn’t make us feel that we are broken. How about that? Sounds good, right? I am excited. But it’s not just about camping out & yelling at the cops and the Bank of America skyscraper… we also have to listen to each other & actually hear each other… and I think the white non-trans guys (and probably the trans guys, too) are going to have to shut up.

On Wednesday night, I was at a ‘teach-in’ (that happened at the fancy liberal arts college up on the hill), which was three.5 hours long, and overall extremely great & extremely inspiring, and which got me excited about the potential of this occupy thing happening here. A young female-bodied person of color stood up in one of the question & answer sessions and asked the question [deeply paraphrased]: “In any activism project I’ve ever been part of, my questions & my voice are never heard, my concerns are never listened to. How can this movement say it’s building something new if it’s still not listening to women / people of color / queer people / poor people / etc?”

One of the faculty speakers, also a female-bodied person of color, answered her: “Basically you have to call them on it every time it happens. Every single time. You can’t ever let that erasure of your voice go un-confronted. Because then, at least they can’t say they didn’t realize it was happening. And maybe eventually they will realize they need to change.” …. It was a pretty intense, brutally realistic answer; and the only answer given during the talk that was actually in the form of advice: ‘this is what you should do.’ I was pretty stunned by it. I wonder if anybody else heard, hidden within that answer, its converse that the professor did not state: “White people, male people, non-queer people, people with money, you need to shut up & listen. And you, too — YES, YOU — need to confront the erasure of the voices of others… every single time it happens.” Did anybody hear that? Or does the burden rest only on the shoulders of the people whose voices are already not being heard?

Here are two good essays about the potential of the “Occupy” movement, and about white people shutting up: one from the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities of LA… another by Manissa McCleave Maharawal.

I don’t have energy right now to write a lot more about this all (got a bunch more to do to get ready for the sale)… but I’ll just say that I am excited for this scenario, the occupation, to happen. However, from what people have said about the Providence general assemblies, & the occupation in New York, I have the feeling that there will be a lot of male voices & male privilege in effect there… as there is usually in an activist context… which is why I have avoided many activist contexts in the past. And I know that I won’t be able to be part of this occupation for long, unless that privilege is confronted whenever it becomes apparent.


I am very intimidated by speaking up against white male privilege, as a female-bodied & female-raised person who now is in this weird place of being accorded some aspects of male privilege & camaraderie, while still not actually being listened to or taken seriously in many ways. I still find myself wanting to be polite & not say things that will insult or offend people — and especially not say things that will make people “not want to be my friend”. Hmmm. I also am worried, as someone who has always been a person who talks a lot, & has opinions & a certain amount of confidence, about becoming or already being “that guy”, who dominates conversations and silences other voices.

I’ve had a bunch of run-ins lately with unseen & denied privilege… the very strong phenomenon of people not being aware of the ways they are privileged, and then “people getting defensive when they are shown evidence of structural inequalities which benefit them” (as my housemate Chris & I wrote about in the print we made recently… more on that later…). I’ve been trying to find conversational strategies to bring these things up to people in a way that allows them to think about it instead of reacting defensively. But there is a little ambiguously-gendered faerie sitting on my shoulder saying “it’s not your responsibility to educate these assholes…..!”

Well I don’t know what’s going to happen, we might make a ‘faerie camp’ as part of the occupation (inspired by Sean Minteh)… we might just end up being “those obnoxious queers/feminists/women who call everybody out on stuff” or we might end up bailing & realizing that something that is dominated by white non-trans men doesn’t have a chance of building a society that has a radically different structure. We’ll see. I don’t want to be pessimistic. Hells, I spent the last two days working on making a poster for this darn thing! But I want to put my energy where it can be used… I want to support my friends, and support people whose voices are not being heard… but I don’t know if I have the stamina to continually be trying to educate people who should be educating themselves about privilege.

oh and on a less serious note, remember:


  1. I think you get more amazing to me every day. I feel honored to know you.

    Comment by derek — October 17, 2011 @ 8:48 pm
  2. I am totally aware of the “structural inequalities” which benefit me….As a white, 6′-4″ blond hair, blue eye male I know that I have been judged on appearance alone and afforded certain privileges. At the same time, as crazy as it may seem, I have been the object of scorn, prejudice and gross generalization about who I am and what I think, believe, feel and want.
    I lived in Oakland for a time and I was on more than one occasion called out as a “narc” and “po’ po'”.
    I have been accused of being a “white hat” frat boy by hipsters, lesbians, gays, trans-sexuals and others , solely because I’m white and tall. I’ve never been in a frat or worn a baseball cap. I’ve never been on a sports team or watched football.
    I grew up as one of three boys in a working class family. My father is a Vietnam Vet who suffers from PTSD and has held well over thirty jobs in thirty years.
    There were times when it was either food on the table or heating oil in the tank.
    I began working at nine. I’m thirty four now and have never not worked. I put myself through college and then went to RISD for grad school. I’m $124,000 in debt and work my ass off to pay bills and student loans.
    I understand your argument but not all white males are stupid, privileged, morons. I am part of the 1% as well.
    I can make the same generalizations about queers and trans.
    I know queers and trans who are incredibly privileged, yet still cant get out of their own way and want to play the victim card constantly.
    I guess for me its more about the person. I try to ask, What do you do? What is your work? What are you about?
    Generalizations lead nowhere.

    Comment by T Brown — October 24, 2011 @ 7:48 pm
  3. to T Brown: you’ve shared your experience, but why do you assume that your own pain would be in any way ‘crazy’ or invalidated by the struggles of others just because they seem to be on the level where you might have a benefit, when you know fully well that there are many levels, and this is just one? About ‘victim card’, I think you’re talking about manipulation, which is something to watch out for on an individual basis, and if you mean people making an excuse for bad behavior – what does that mean, exactly? but then, you’re also talking about your own struggles and have a need to do so. Everyone does, but that’s NOT what this is post is about, and its worth re-reading. Ian is talking about empowering other people more than himself, for one thing.

    I have a friend whose father had PTSD and committed a violent crime while in its throes, never supported the family, is completely gone, always was. My father left the military before Vietnam, since he’d served nearly ten years and didn’t like what it was about. I’m luckier than you on this count, you’re luckier than him as well. There are so many counts that trying to improve the lives of anyone on any one of them takes a lot of energy, even within a friendship. My first love was not white and by 18 he was already done with talking about racism, it was a given. When something happened, when someone made a comment about him, even ‘meant well’ or just stupid, which happened quite often, he just let it go. Another friend of mine is biracial and his mother makes comments about color, although her children are not white.

    You’re generalizing quite a bit though you say it leads nowhere – the shorthand. It’s a way of thinking our brain does just to take notes and move along. Everyone does this, but it’s what else you do that matters, where else you want to go.

    I think that you read this post with a kind of reverse shorthand. It was NOT about trans/queer oppression, though I’m sorry but that is still a huge force in mass although some individuals have relatively easier lives than others, or 30 years ago, but that’s an individual judgment based on impressions. Instead of on listening.

    Comment by cybele — October 25, 2011 @ 9:26 am
  4. here are some thoughts:

    I think your right that the greatest challenge to the Occupy Movement (and more broadly) is finding ways to have inclusive conversations about privilege and oppression and creating space where each individual is given equal space.

    Being a white male does not equal being stupid or a moron. Being a white male does afford a level of privilege that non-white males do not receive, irregardless of class or background. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a white male, it is the structure/ system of inequality (built on white privilege) that is wrong.

    T-Brown: As white males totally aware of the structural inequalities we have to actively resist undue privilege and create space for others to speak, to be heard, and to act. At times we may risk our ego’s being bruised as our assumptions are challenged, but we may also realize the shared experiences we have. this is where we can meet, on common ground. Once we can meet as individual equal beings,in solidarity, we can then start to build the foundations for a new society that does away with privilege, inequality and injustice.

    Comment by neal — October 25, 2011 @ 12:28 pm
  5. T-Brown: I think you’re right to look at people as individuals as apposed to generalizing by race, gender, creed, etc. I also think Ian understands this too. He demonstrated in his post that he is confronting *individuals* who are being defensive to the idea that they are privileged. And that he wants to find better ways of confronting them. His only generalization was that white men are privileged… which is as you confirmed, fact.

    I don’t know why you turned the conversations so negatively towards people who were obviously ignorant to their own prejudices when you were being called names in you past/present? Their ignorance is what Ian is trying to communicate in a peaceful and open manner… specifically to white men and their privilege. Ignorance spans the spectrum of people on this planet. No one if free of prejudice. Neal was right; we need to go face to face with each other and break down these walls by being honest. If we can start to listen to one another we might start to care about other people who cross our paths… and then we just might end these social barriers.

    I am also a white male who is very privileged. I have also been judged. Everyone is judged and generalized. It’s what humans do to understand who they are and how they fit into this crazy world. All Ian wants to do is to stop the momentum of obliviousness that white males tend to have when it comes to their privilege. And on top of that he wants to do it in a way that isn’t hostile… he wants to create awareness. And that my friend I think is NO generalization.

    It sucks that those people (who where not white men) where oblivious to their own prejudices towards a white privileged man as yourself. But we’re talking about how privilege silences the voices of the “others”. We want everyone to be heard and understood. We all need to have an equal say, otherwise we are marginalized. We are only saying that white men tend to lead the way when it comes to what’s being seen and heard.

    Ok I’m done now… please feel free to comment and argue with me.

    peace and love

    Comment by derek — October 26, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

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