Perhaps you are familiar with T.R Xands of Adventures of the TV Addict, the Wannabe Writer, and the Should-Be Famous? Perhaps you thought we were in fact the same person, both being nineteen years old, not white and English-majorin’ women. We are not. This similarity is due to our each individually being half of CHALXANDS, a mighty robot from the future who will one day rule the planet and, for now, takes great joy in denying white people toast. Now that we’ve cleared that up, it is my duty to inform you that this here post is a joint effort between Xands and I, Chally. Be prepared for glorious glory.
One day, in the not-too-distant past, Xands was watching Jurassic Park…
Xands: it is genuinely funny at parts
and kind of cheesy
but I’m just lol’ing at raptors
you and I
should do a joint post
Xands: :imitates raptor growl:
…on raptors right
Chally: … no.
Chally: I don’t know anything about raptors
I dunno what on!
Xands: me…teaching you about raptors?
…okay in all seriousness though
I’m down with that
Thusly was this post born. There will be raptors.
Chally: Why, Xands! I am so pleased to be posting with you on navigating life with identities such as we both share. Would you care for some toast?
Xands: Why, hallo thar ChaTOOOAST.
Xands: Excuse my unpolished thoughts here a moment… we tend to think of dinosaurs, in concept, as something old & simple-minded (most of all, le dead) like we think of racism as something of the past and no longer alive; but, racism is very much alive, and like dinosaurs has merely mutated into something we wouldn’t readily recognize unless you know what you’re looking for. (Birds. I mean birds. Did I just blow your mind.)
…Now I said that just to get my whole raptor obsession out the way, I’d like to actually be serious. Or as serious as I can stand to be!
Chally: That is a cogent point! I am amazed you actually managed to use raptors to back up an argument about racism, but perhaps I shouldn’t be. Racism tends to be viewed as something simple and easily identifiable. That is, it’s seen as a matter of the big and the obvious. But, of course, even the big and the obvious, loud insults, beatings, murders, get explained away as not really being about racism. And, with that being the case, things like who gets to be in the room, the subtle underlying discomfort, the way conversations run, can hardly get a look in. Racism gets framed as being about certain less-common things so that white people get to not get down to the bits of grit. It’s like finding the dinosaur skeleton and retrospectively not rearranging the bones in the right way, which undermines the integrity of the full construction. Not only that, but it’s white folks who get to sit in judgement as to where the bones go or whether they fit at all. I can say I experienced something as racist, but it’s apparently still okay to question and hem and haw and doubt it. Or doubt whether it was racist enough, or as racist as some other thing, or meriting whatever response I gave. That very attitude of supposed impartiality, an ability to sit in judgement, is informed by privilege. Not that I think impartiality is that important – it’s the emotions, the subjective perspective of the victim, that matters to me in experiences of racism – it’s a case of it being both impossible and informed by some pretty messed-up thinking. All in all, it’s an insistence on framing dinosaurs as dinosaurs – a thing of the past, something to be studied and get wide-eyed at – that means dinosaurs don’t get examined as something relevant to our lives in this day and age. And where dinosaurs are relevant, they’re only relevant in small, policed ways, on the terms of the powers that be, the right-thinking (curiously always the privileged!) people. I think we should drop the English majors and become palaentologists, don’t you? By which I mean… I have not really sustained this metaphor. Anyway, moving right along to how that whole WE WILL DECIDE HOW YOU OUGHT TO FEEL thing ties in with gender and youthfulness. I think these are also areas where the idea comes through of the Ultimate Impartial Arbiter who also TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY happens to be the privileged party. You know, the silly woman who doesn’t know what she’s talking about and needs even her work towards not being harmed approved of and commented on by a man. The young person who needs to have the world explained to them because they sure haven’t been in it. And these experiences, when combined, bounce off each other and amplify… like the cry of a raptor coming to EAT YOUR BRAIN! (This raptor thing is totally working for me.) I suppose we’ll get to our personal experiences pretty shortly, but until then, what do you think?
Xands: I love that you love raptors. And the whole dinosaur thing. Again like racism (or really any -ism or phobia), there’s so many branches that people just think are the same and never recognize! So! I dunno Chally, I mean, I guess I do need some nice person to hold my hand and explain the big wide world to me like I’m forever a child or something. I mean, clearly. I love the condescending tone they take on… there’s a certain smile that I completely hate, and I see it in my head and it smothers me and I just totally go off on people–wait I’m sorry, I’m acting all overly aggressive again. And don’t even get me started on having your lived experiences questioned. Or, why don’t you further explain how this is _____ because I, the privileged party, am not seeing it. And if I don’t see it it doesn’t exist. Right.
Chally: Oh, that smile. I know that smile. It is one of the most hateful expressions ever devised. And I think it’s a perfect representation of how privilege sees itself and how it treats those who are not privileged: it sees itself as beneficient but it is really full of – and somewhere the person wearing the smile knows this – it is really full of harm.
Yes, even on explaining, however thoroughly, there’s always room for doubt, always a hole that can be picked, isn’t there? If you’re not willing to accept something, you’re never going to see it. Moreover, if you’re coming from a particular history and someone else is coming from there’s, you’re not always going to be able to understand, and you can certainly never experience something in quite the same way. It is always the privileged party that gets the benefit of the doubt in these situations. Which I guess reflects not only their power, but the fact that it’s expected that their experiences are universal. Because everyone else is expected to learn the culture, the experiences, the ideas and perspectives of dominant groups. You know what I mean?
Anyway, look at me, centreing dominant groups when we are meant to be talking about intersections of race, youth and gender! I think it’s not just a case of the tangle of marginalisations in and of itself, it’s about how we’re, as you’d put it, unicorns, impossible creatures! Young, non-white women are pretty invisible and the interaction of those identities doesn’t really get explored. Even now I’m struggling a bit to lay those intersections out in concrete ways even though they are my experiences. Because I don’t get them reflected back at me, I’m not really presented with avenues for thinking about how this all works, I just go and live my life, really. Narratives like mine aren’t dominant ones by a long shot. I would rather be a raptor than a unicorn!
This combination of identities – and, really, any marginalised identity – places a sheen of illegitimacy over us; our thoughts and arguments and experiences, particularly as regards those identities, don’t get taken very seriously by some.
Xands: I totally agree–and I’m going to try to tone down my radical surfer language I hope. I do that to be taken seriously–oh wait, no, I can’t be taken seriously because apparently being under 25 or whatever arbitrary age (I never figure out the age I start to actually matter, but I know what ages I DON’T), I don’t have enough ~life experience~ to be taken seriously when I talk about, wait a minute, women’s issues and racism! And when I talk about them TOGETHER damn people’s minds get blown.
Chally: Ugh, like, I know, right? (Ahem.) I remember when I was in high school, my mother and I had a meeting with a member of staff. I nodded in response to something my mother said and the staff member started telling me how rude I was. So, she didn’t like something (perfectly polite) my mother said, and directed her frustration at me, because there’s that mechanism there: because there is that image of the rude young person, she got to manipulate that to take out her anger on someone in her power. Because there are those dominant memes about the way young people can be, it’s held as perfectly legitimate to treat us in accordant bad ways, and we’ve not the voices to speak up because even in speaking up we’re perpetuating the idea that we speak out of place! I suppose you probably get this a lot with the angry black woman stereotype? Ways of speaking, ways of presenting, are held up as some kind of indicator as to whether the ideas themselves are legitimate, or how worthy the person presenting them is of being heard. Which is pretty disgusting, and something we’re all familiar with: if only you hadn’t been so angry, if only you’d watched your tone, you would have been heard. Except, the thing is, even when you present an objection to being marginalised very politely, people still react badly, still react defensively, still react to what they think they’re hearing or want to hear rather than what’s being said. It doesn’t make a difference. Not to mention that it takes a really bizarre set of priorities to value someone’s “objectively”-evaluated tone over their pain, their experience, what they’re trying to get across. I and lots of other non-white people have modified our ways of speaking – with me, my accent, my word choice and so forth – in order to fit in better with what a white-dominant society expects, be more acceptable, which is, you know, pretty harmful. I used to do my drama exams in an English accent so that the English examiners would think better of me, I kid you not. Anyway, I won’t get into all that in detail.
Yeah, on life experience. If you have lived as a marginalised person, you’ve got enough life experience to know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand how this is up for debate. I mean, at whatever age you are, people will tell you that your experiences of marginalisation in whichever areas are not legitimate, but with age in particular there’s that amplifying effect I was talking about. There’s a trump card, ‘you’re too young to know!’ To know what, one’s one life? Of course one knows what one’s talking about, how absolutely ridiculous to say otherwise. Sure, the older one gets, the more experience one has and perspectives will change. But that’s true at any age. And one’s particular age doesn’t necessarily correspond to a particular level of experience; it’s not as though we each get an allotment of marginalisation fed out to us at a certain rate. (We don’t, do we?!) And also people will say things like, ‘oh, racism and misogyny were so much worse before you were born, don’t complain because you have it easy’. Which may be relatively true, and certainly is in some respects. But that doesn’t take away the legitimacy of your experience and mine, here and now, and it’s not as though the struggle’s over by any stretch of the imagination.
Could you expand on what happens when you talk about that combination of identities together, for I am curious?
Xands: Aver… I suppose not much happens. Besides getting ignored. You actually touched on a lot that happens–such as the excellent, “Oh but racism was so much worse in the old days!” which I get from folks my age & older people, none of them seem to realize that’s totally besides the point. And of course, I’m always too young to know what I’m talking about. I’m imagining once I finally hit 20-something it’ll just be trendy for me to talk about intersectionality or something.
Re: your story up top. That’s disturbing and kind of baffling. But I don’t pretend like anything discriminatory isn’t inherently baffling. I love that she found you easier to lash out at because of your age (and status as a student of course). I also love tone arguments. Because, you know, oppressed groups are somehow inherently ~savage~ and should just calm down! No one seems to think of where that anger comes from or anything. Hmm, it’s interesting that you mentioned what I just like to call “masking” (I don’t know if that’s an official term) since while I don’t necessary pore over my word choice or anything I often mask my voice in public so as not to be treated as uneducated (because, you know, I’m black AND Southern oh ho ho don’t get me started). I mean, it doesn’t HELP but I do it.
Speaking of the angry black lady stereotype, I actually just get hit with the “angry minority” general stereotype because no one seems to realize I’m black. Over the internet anyway. And in real life I’m more often painted as a safe negro because I just repress my anger until I’m drinking the Revengewater. Oh, internalization, you got me good. It’s funny you should even mention that because I can only think of a few times in my life I’ve ever been explicitly labeled “angry black woman” and at least some of those were affectionate, the others….white folks not liking to be threatened. Or hell other black folks. Or other people of color. Sometimes, folks that look like you or even like you aren’t necessarily on your side.
Chally: Oh, what was really hilarious (full disclosure: it was not hilarious) was when she told the principal how rude I was. What I also find… intriguing is how even when one is being quite calm, one can be viewed as angry or upset because that’s what folks expect? We’re irrational beings, us savages.
Xands: At least we can aspire to safe minority status, or be credits to our race or… what have you.
Chally: Indeed. And yes, that’s just it, changing your way of speaking doesn’t even work or help that much if at all! But, say with race, we’re still expected to fit in. Immigrants are expected to integrate. But white people just look past whatever efforts you might go to and just… read whatever they want in you. We’re expected to do it anyway. Eventually I got sickened by trying to assimilate, so I stopped, but there are still reminders of trying, like the way I speak, habits like that. And of course being able to speak as I do helps people identify me as a Magical Token Polite Young Lady.
It’s funny how… this isn’t quite what you were saying about people not realising you’re black, but jumping off from it, but how in particular spaces certain types of people are expected, and when you point out you’re not one, the following ensues: ‘oh, yeah, but most people in such and such a space are of such and such an identity, isn’t that bad?’ But… the person saying that is perpetuating that hirself? As in, it’s the difference between pointing out that a dominant group dominates an arena and how bad that is, and erasing the non-dominant people in that space. I find that I fall between that crack a lot and it hurts very much.
Alright, wince at the logical!fail. So the moral of that little story is self labeling is important. Now, back to labels making groups monolithic… well, I guess that’s what happens when you’re part of the minority class. Obviously you’re no longer an individual anymore, and you’re constantly going to be called on to represent all of Group X hmmm?
Chally: Would you like a bucket of lulz with your toast? Mmmm. Look, I don’t think sticking with feminism and trying to fix it is more brave than leaving. At the end of the day, it’s not about trying to save the movement, it’s about trying to save people. So whatever label you put to yourself in your social justice-y stuff, or whether, like bell hooks, you’re thinking it might be a better idea to think in terms of tools rather than making an identity out of doing social justice, it’s the work itself that matters, in my opinion. I’m not being brave sticking with “feminist” as a label, I think I’m just being really stubborn. I kind of understand the investment in trying to build up a singular feminist identity and a singular feminist movement, but when that results in the various horribleness we’ve all seen, particularly the attempt to make feminism united by presenting the white, cis, straight, etc, etc woman as the essential person we can all rally around, I can’t say I’m that invested in the label in and of itself. Not where what it represents leaves out so many, not where it says some people aren’t the proper people, but their issues are tacked on the end. Sometimes. When it suits. When people’s lives aren’t too much of an imposition.
So there’s that. Oh, yes, the question as to who gets to label! I find it incredibly bizarre that some people will try to police people’s own labels, which I talk about in On identifying identities.
Yes, you are no longer an individual anymore, and not only do you represent all of Group X – can we touch your hair, we love hair like yours? why aren’t the other young people like you? so what do women think about this? – you cannot simultaneously be called upon to represent any other group you belong to! You’re not held to be your own person. And then, of course, you get adopted as a friend for Minority Points… hey, Xands, will you be my black friend so I can tell everyone how I’m a good person because I have a black friend?
Xands: I wasn’t serious about being brave haha, that’s something for another day. But I’ll be your black friend as long as you’ll be my token foreign friend (you’re close enough) so I can finally attain cultured negro status. Yes! This reminds me that I’ve also had excellent moments where because I espouse certain view points people start making assumptions about me, like “well what do feminists think about….” and when I tell them I not, “Oh.” Useless again! Thanks society.
Chally: Let’s help marginalise each other! I’m also thinking about how much of one’s identity is built around marginalised/privileged ones, and how much stuff that’s out of that scope: you like playing frizbee, for instance, or wear clothing with stripes, or love the night sky. That is, obviously those things are connected to social justice: who made the frizbee or the clothes, can you see the stars from where you are? What I mean is, from where I’m coming from at any rate, people tend to get framed as, in our cases, ‘young non-white woman’. For me, and for you I gather, those are pretty fundamental parts of our identities, but I guess for some people that construction must be kind of strange. And I think about how different my life would be if things were otherwise. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, for some people it must be rather strange to get lumped in like that, and there’s hardly a monolithic way of experiencing particular marginalisations or relating to parts of one’s identity.
Xands: Makes sense. It is weird for me actually, the construct of “young non white woman” and what that’s even supposed to entail. I guess because I haven’t identified myself as such for very long (how did I avoid it? Denial. DENIAL). I have to get away from that identity sometimes…
Chally: It’s all a bit much, all there at once!
Xands: Tell me about it. I love identity clashes like I love being overwhelmed. If you’re playing at home, so far all of my references to “love” have been sarcastic. I changed my mind, actually, even though it’s probably just Ragejuice & Revengewater talking but most of the time I’m just exhausted with being handed convenient labels with pre-attached notions already, that’s the overwhelming part in case I didn’t make myself clear.
Now let’s talk about something close to both our hearts, the denial of our identities.
Chally: For a start, I was interested in your thoughts on this: do you find that people might acknowledge one of your identities and use that as an excuse to not recognise another, as though one cannot have both?
Xands: Oh this happens all the time. Once people realize I’m black suddenly I’m male. When they realize I’m black and female, I can’t possibly be atheist, for example. Or queer. Spoiler: I’M ALL OF THOSE THINGS. Why? It’s usually because, “Oh I just didn’t think that” or “well I’ve never seen something of your ilk” coz I’m a real life unicorn. Although sometimes I’m afraid to even disclose my identities to people because I know they’ll just use me as a “well I have a ____ friend and she doesn’t find it offensive”. Which puts me back in the position I tried to describe up top about people not realizing my… ehh fuck it. Not worth the time and/or effort.
Chally: Would you like some unicorn treats to go along with your lulz and toast? I suppose it’s like on TV: the queer character has to be a white man. You have filled your minority component, now move along! It’s like, one of your identities gets acknowledged, then people shut you down with ‘but you’re just one person and other people think different okay?!’ But you can’t even get your intersections acknowledged; it’s like there’s a block to thinking about people in more than one way, as whole people with teeming and full lives and beings. And this is true in the world at large, in feminism, in all manner of situations. It’s like a course or something is necessary for people to be able to work with people as… people.
Xands: I don’t want anything with my lulz & toast because I don’t want lulz & toast at this point. I’m starting to wonder. Are people so in love with their boxes they neglect being open minded? Even if they claim they are ~open minded~ (sup progressives). People love boxes I tell you. When you comfortably fit inside one box, why, they’re not going to assign you to another box! Get back in that box damnit! Why can’t you fit my perceptions of reality?! I’m so full of Ragejuice right now.
Chally: It’s either ‘you’re not really that’ or ‘sure, you are that, just on our very narrow terms’. Also, you are young! You might change your mind! Can we win, Xands? No, we cannot.
Xands: No, no we can’t win. And this inability to win is why winning can no longer be the goal I suppose. What is the goal… And speaking of mind changing it’s always you (general you) that must change YOUR mind, not the…oppressive party. Or being told you have to change their mind. I don’t know, I have so much pent up bitterness you don’t even know. I don’t even know.
But unless there’s anymore remarks to make I reckon this is the end of our Super Awesome Guest Post Spectacular Special. I’ve learned a lot of things and I’ve totally enjoyed collaborating and making myself the center of attention with “Oh! Wise non-white person please teach me!”
Chally: I concur! Thank you, Xands. And thank you, readers.