Monday, November 18, 2013

In it, but also against it.

Recently in the zine Moonroutes I found this passage by Jackie Wang:

As a white, lower-middle class, gender-and-otherwise-queer, I'm struggling with how to remember to "Live in it but also: against it". As I fill out my applications for grad school part of me hungers for legitimacy; to be let into and recognized by the system. For an artist/writer such recognition is often crucial to financial survival.

But I will to work to ensure that my hunger for "success" is equaled by my hunger to understand "the hidden brutality" that my life depends on. I know that my ability to further my craft has been enabled by the resources I've personally been afforded. Such resources have not been given to others (who have creative and critical capacities just like I do) as a means of systematic silencing/erasure. I don't want to forget that I am lucky to have the chance to TRY and be heard. If I forget I will become more complicit in the oppression that I am living in.

Part of being "in it but also against"  for me it means remembering to trust that the people dehumanized by our culture are no less capable of creating incredible artistic and literary content than I am.

It's arrogant of me with all my privilege to assume I'm above oppression just by knowing that it exists. I need to actively talk about who we are leaving out and who has been left out historically.

When we leave out the historical and current realties of oppression the context is incomplete. Any art viewed or created without acknowledgment of how it fits into the oppressive systems of our culture is missing context. I can't always fight under the simple, safe, and vague banner of "equality". Sometimes I need to be against something. Because I am never not participating in the status quo.

There is a danger in thinking about equality for the less privileged in oversimplified terms. When those of us with a particular privilege talk about equality one of the things we are talking about is equalizing the distribution of that privilege and extending access to people without that privilege.

When those in power are afraid of sharing the privilege of deciding what is and isn't going to be part of our cultural future we/they end up replicating the current status quo. There may be a(n appropriated) veneer of marginalized culture in order to bill such efforts as progressive and "for equality", but the exclusion of oppressed voices is still happening under the surface.

Nowhere is this gatekeeping more flagrant than in the creative/artistic world. An unfortunate side effect of capitalism is the misconception that good art can only be created in environments of excess. While there is some merit to Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own in terms of people needing subsistence and access to seclusion for gaining and maintaining  mastery of artistic craft, it's foolish to think that good art is only produced the privileged.

To think that depth of experience and expression are only possible for people who's experiences include privilege further dehumanizes marginalized people and can even serve to justify the current dehumanization they suffer.

Those of us already privileged by the status quo who seek to end this and be advocates for equality need to remember that those we are advocating for aren't likely to want the exact same privileges we have. We should also remember that those we extend resources to aren't likely to use our now shared privileges in a way that is familiar or comfortable to us.

Practically advocating for people with less privilege means imagining and accepting uses of resources that differ from current or even currently imagined uses. The only way to forge a more equal world involves trusting in the creative and critical capacity of the oppressed. We must see shared privileges/resources not as a cost or even a sacrifice to the future of equality, but as a simple an necessary act of collaboration. In such sharing resources simply and freely it mean surrendering any expectations previously held about how such resources might be used. Equality won't look like what those in power think it will look like.

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