So yesterday my Feminist Club organised a discussion night about the role of men in feminism. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have some initial discomfort with this idea – for many reasons, some of them being – the way heforshe was framed, how men sometimes have a knack for taking over, that feminism is sometimes used by some men to seem ‘progressive’, the importance of safe spaces (women only) meant for sharing lived embodied experiences and for healing… the list goes on. (Click on the hyperlinks to read more about it.)
Anyway. So at this discussion, one of the things that came up was the question of ‘responsibility‘. Whose responsibility is it to ‘educate’? Some folks said that women should share more with men ( afterall how else would they know about the issues we face), some folks said men should just educate themselves first, like go read a book or something. And soon, much to my discomfort, the discussion moved to the question of race. Is it the responsibility of people of color to educate the so called priveleged white folks around them or is the white folks who should go read a book? Now I say much to my discomfort as I was one of the few ‘visibly’ colored people in the room therefore was expected to have an opinion about this, and as much as I like confrontation, all I wanted was to find a strategy to deal with my discomfort about men in feminism!
If this question had come up a year ago, I would be the first in line to share my expereinces with those who have not had them, I would be all there for making people ‘aware’, to fight! But this year has made me more cynical and I am tired, because even though people might have genuine interest and ‘good intentions to learn’ – people get defensive. Countless times I have come up against statements such as “not everything is about race ( /gender)”, “don’t be so sensitive”, ” you must learn to say things more diplomatically”, “but I’m a man ( /white person) and am not sexist (/racist).” In the end requiring me to provide assurance ( it’s not you) so that their feelings are not hurt, or give more examples ( it happened to 10 of my other friends) or even cite academic sources ( the whiter, the maler, the better)! Basically explain and explain and explain. And I am tired of explaining! Especially when my explanations are only scrutinised for points to retort back to, instead of being understood with an open heart!
An article I read earlier today by John Metta, said this – “Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence, is tiring, and saddening, and angering. Yet if we express any emotion while talking about it, we’re tone policed, told we’re being angry. In fact, a key element in any racial argument in America is the Angry Black person, and racial discussions shut down when that person speaks. The Angry Black person invalidates any arguments about racism because they are “just being overly sensitive,” or “too emotional,” or– playing the race card. Or even worse, we’re told that we are being racist. But here is the irony, here’s the thing that all the angry Black people know, and no calmly debating White people want to admit: The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings.”
And I realised – YES! This is it! I am tired of protecting other people’s feelings. I am tired of being responsible for educating the ‘unaware’ ( priveleged) folks. I am tired of being the goddamn bridge for everybody! ( Reference to poem at the end.)
Responsibility is a heavy word. It must be shared so that it’s weight becomes bearable. I realise that because of the body I inhabit, I will have certain experiences that those with other bodies may not, and that it would help everybody if I shared those. But it is also the responsibility of the person who asks to listen, really listen and not put up a wall, or to not make it about them. Because many times, it’s not. I realise that I should be more open as well, not expect people to always say the right things, or even be politically correct but to deconstruct their defensiveness and undersatnd where it comes from.
The fight is not against each other, the fight is against the patriarchy and the different systems of oppression that lead us to other each other. So yes. We need men in the fight for gender equality and we need white people in the fight against racism. However. Privelege must be acknowledged and make itself useful; speak out loud in its own circles, call out racism, sexism and injustice. But know where( when) to speak out and where ( when) to sit down and listen.
This is one of the most beautiful poems’ I know and fits this occassion like a glove. So here goes.
The Bridge Poem
I’ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody
Can talk to anybody
Without me Right?
I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks
To the Ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the
Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…
I’ve got the explain myself
I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.
I’m sick of it
I’m sick of filling in your gaps
Sick of being your insurance against
The isolation of your self-imposed limitations
Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners
Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people
Find another connection to the rest of the world
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip
I will not be the bridge to your womanhood
I’m sick of reminding you not to
Close off too tight for too long
I’m sick of mediating with your worst self
On behalf you your better selves
I am sick
Of having to remind you
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die
The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power
I must translate
My own fears
My own weaknesses
I must be the bridge to nowhere
But my true self
I will be useful
-from This Bridge Called My Back
edited by: Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua