Affirming Difference, Embracing Unity
White people, men, and able-bodied cisgender heterosexual people need listen to the experiences of others – this is non-negotiable. To even begin to understand the impact of systemic racism and patriarchy in our society, we must listen to those most deeply impacted, personally and collectively, by these systems of injustice. Only the oppressed can tell their stories and speak about their fears, sorrows, anger, and truth. There certainly has not been enough listening. As a first step in building a movement to transform our society, we need to build listening circles. Simply listening. Eventually, after marginalized people have a sense of being heard and understood, we also need to create space to listen to those deemed to have more power in society to hear their experiences and to see how systems of injustice keep us all disempowered, beholden to the powerful, and separated from one another. What we need to understand is that patriarchy, racism, and all forms of hatred and violence require that we first learn to hate and detach from ourselves. As bell hooks so powerfully has written, “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
I “get” on a visceral level the righteous indignation that one feels when she is dismissed and discounted simply for (one of) her identity(ies). I have experienced the injustice of being treated in this way. When this occurs, I see men as the “other” and have been ready to castigate all men as evil-doers and oppressors. In these instances, I have been unable to see their humanity or the ways in which patriarchy also undermines their ability to be their fullest selves. When I feel this way, I am deeply steeped in my identity as a woman and as a victim. And from that place, all I care about is how patriarchal structures harm women. My experiences of pain from times when I have been silenced and oppressed, touched against my wishes, judged for my body, dismissed, and disrespected are real and need to be heard and honored. And, I am also aware that when I am in such pain, I cannot see beyond my hurt and thus, my ability to see my shared humanity with others is compromised. My capacity to see my way out of my oppression, choose effective strategies, reach out to others, both the oppressed and the oppressors, and join with others for the liberation of all, are severely impaired
How can we connect with our particular identity(ies) as a source of strength so we can see the suffering of others, (even those we deem to be the creators of our suffering)? How might we use identity politics as a way to move beyond identity as a place of victimhood, oppression, and separation to one of collective connection and liberation that empowers us all? This is how identity politics emerged amongst marginalized and oppressed groups in the first place.
Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 1/2:59-62