"I don’t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” Andrea Dworkin
For once, I don't really know how to start this post but I have a lot of thoughts. Bear with me as I just go ahead and write them. I think about the ways in which I have to come to understand how to be articulate some of the more amorphous concepts that float around the concert experiences I have. One of those being this idea of emotional labor - both a term created/used in feminist theory, and in capitalist ideology. Emotional labor is basically a self-awareness of being able to consciously manage and process "appropriately" your emotions. I interpret it as being able to use emotions as means of doing work, often the difficult work that people need done, and that takes a toll. What I mean is that when I share my stories and experiences, particularly those of past trauma, for the benefit and education of others, there is a cost. Emotional labor is expensive, and inherently imbalanced. We as a society constantly ask certain people, namely people with subordinated identities, to do a disproportionate amount of emotional labor for the edification of those with social power and privilege. We ask those who have been victimized to not only recount their lived experiences but to also explain what they are, and why anyone should care about them. It's abusive, costly, and absurd. There have to be, and there are, other ways for people to learn rather than at the expense of others. The cost of emotional labor can be dangerous, particularly if no efforts for restocking, refilling, or reimbursing are made.
Let me explain. I, as a person of color, often have to sacrifice my own stories of past traumatic experiences dealing with physical, emotional, and pyschological abuse in the forms of racism, ethnocetnrism, colorism, and xenophobia to drive home the point that racism and white supremacy are prevalent in this country (and beyond). It's constantly retelling stories of being attacked, being terrorized, and being disregarded in blatant ways just so my audience, implied here as white folx, will take seriously, and begin to understand what is going on, and long has been. It's putting on a performance, voicing my pain, and reliving it over, and over, with actual emotion or emotionlessly (depending on how I am made to cater to the comfort of white people) so other people (again white people) will see that I'm a human being.
And as you continue to read, know that you can and should insert any two groups (namely women and men with regards to sexism and sexual misconduct; queer folx, people of low SES, people with disabilities, etc.) wherever I use person of color and white folx to make the parallels.
It's the notion that I can talk to anyone who presents as a person of color and they will have multiple stories of being discriminated against, belittled, and mistreated just for existing as a few shades past socially acceptable. It's this unspoken camaraderie that people of color have (that is not to say that sentiments of anti-blackness aren't also deep rooted but I digress) with one another. It's this look of solidarity. It's saying asking you are doing whenever you see one another just because seeing someone who looks like you is so rare, AND someone who can relate to what you have been through. It is seeing and BEING SEEN when you reminded everywhere else that you are less than, don't belong, or are invisible/hypervisible. Someone to just see you as a WHOLE PERSON if only for a few seconds. It's affinity and hope.
It's also a pastime because when people of color get together, it's sharing our traumas and #metoo's to know that we are not alone - often with humor (because what other coping mechanisms have we been armored with; if we stopped laughing the serious dehumanization we've experienced would catch up with us, and we would die). It's laughter in the face of adversity. It is love in the presence of hate. It is perseverance in the company of defeat. It's being replenished by doing emotional labor but simultaneously being refilled by others. It's rekindling that fire inside you that gets dirt kicked onto it little by little with all the overt and insidious things perpetrated against it. It is taking to heart that you're not making things up, that it's not all in your head, and that you are not overreacting. It's being built back up, after perpetually being torn down. It's a safe space to be your full self.
My point is that this cost of sacrificing pieces of yourself is that over time there is less of you to give. Just as important as it is for me to be surrounding by people who go through similar things, it's important for me to hear about the experiences, learning, and realizations of those who have a different postionality. What I'm saying is I want to hear about the experiences of white people with racism. I want to hear YOUR stories. I want to see YOUR work. I want to see YOUR emotional labor. I don't want to hear the borrowed stories of your black friend (aka stolen) from high school. I want to hear your truth. Whether it be you have barely noticed race or racism, you're vaguely aware but uncomfortable talking about race, or you've said/done some racist things and can own it. Whatever your experience is I want to hear it. I'm tired of talking. I'm tired of doing all the work because the bottom line is I am not the one who needs to do the work.
I am not the one benefitting from the oppression of other people, whether it be directly, or passively with my complicity and/or condoning silence. I am not the one who is unsure if people of color - key word people - are actual human or not, and if they deserve to live. Do you get that? Does that make sense to you? I want to hear you stumble over your words rather than sit in silence. I want to hear you contribute to the conversation instead of shutting down. I want to hear about the messed up stuff you've done or said, and how you've learned better or at the very least are striving to do better. That's it. I want to know about the hours you spend reading articles about the same damn stories I've been telling for a lifetime. I want to know about the videos, research, and how-to guides that have been well-documented for you to learn from. I want to know about the documentaries, episodes, and books you have read that tackle the very topic you keep asking me to lament about for you. I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE CONVERSATIONS YOU'RE HAVING WITH PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE YOU. Let me say that again - white people, I am literally asking you to tell me about the times you talk to other white people about your whiteness and being white. Your family, friends, and partners - I want to know. I want to know that you don't just talk about racism with people of color as if we are the only ones who exist as racialized entities in our RACIST society. I want to know that you get that racism doesn't just appear when people of color are around - it's always there; the race card is always in play. I want to know how you are holding yourself accountable, being an ally, intervening instead of being a bystander. I just want to know that you're trying. That's it. You don't even have to be good at it yet - I can't even expect that of you; you haven't had practice with it enough. I just want to know that you care, and are doing your own emotional labor, unpacking your own bullcrap, unlearning the racist ways you've been socialized, and deprogramming yourself from an indoctrination into a society that idolizes you.
Can I just take responsibility for a second that this post is meant to parallel the #metoo response that had survivors and victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape sharing their stories because like all burdens placed on people with marginalized identities, the cycle and tactics to silence, erase, and dehumanize preserve power can be similar if not the same. All oppression is connected. Arguably why we should do well to not pick and choose which "cause or issue" we are passionate about, and leave it to the ones that impact us most adversely. We would be wise to do work, self-work, and external work from our places/identities of privilege just as often as we voice our opppression because literally everyone else needs us to, and because it is our responsibility, it is our power imbalance to rectify, and our power to give up or rather redistribute equitably.
What I want to say is men, we have to do better. We have to be better. We have to check ourselves and check one another. We have to speak up. We have to show up. We have to stop looking away. We have to face the truth. We have to look at the society we both helped create, either by actively participating in rape culture, or passively by being oblivious or too afraid to act. We have to rethink the ways we talk to, for, and about women - why not with? We have to redefine our manliness not as the antithesis of femininity or womanhood but on our terms free from the restrictive confines of toxic masculinity. We have to examine how we portray women and the messages we send throughout mass and social media. We have to stop talking about people as less than human or only as woman and not whole people. We have to address the catcalling, unwarranted touching, coercion, manipulation, violence, etc. that we see all around us. We have to call out, and call in to conversation ourselves when we do or say sexist, heterosexist, misogynistic, etc. things.
We have to get our friends and families too. We are their keepers. We are ultimately responsible for ourselves and yet still we must claim those we love. We have to do our research because the facts are out there and readily available about pervasive this issue is. We have to gain our own understanding that is irrefutable and not subjective. We have to stop relying on others to do emotional labor, tap in and pull our own weight. We have to work to be better. We have to activists, allies, and advocates. We have to dismantle the system from within because we built this system or at least maintain it. We have built a world where women are made to live in endless fear, and it is no way to live. We have to stop with the situational or relational allyship to ground truths that are self-evident - we don't need moothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and the rest to care. We have to care because it is right, objectively. We have to believe survivors. We have to listen, and take it to heart. We have to stop trying to justify heinous behaviors. We have to stop undermining people most impacted by the traumas we commit. We have to stop sexually harassing, assaulting, and raping people. We. You, and me. It's on us. Never on a survivor or a victim. We have to ownership, and then commit to creating change through conversation and action. X