Race, Gender, & Identity 101: Notes from the Resistance, pt. 2

Hello, friends and strangers. It’s been awhile. It’s been hard these last few months to know quite what to say. I am tempted to do a whole big re-hash of exactly why it’s been hard, but that’s not the reason I’m writing right now. I’m writing because I want to offer myself up as a resource, and I figure this is as good a space as any to articulate what I mean by that.

First, let me pose some questions, and I’m sorry for sounding like the beginning of an infomercial, but I had insomnia in the early 00’s and the language of infomercials lives on in my sad capitalist soul:

How do you feel about the United States right now?

Do you consider yourself a political person? A sometimes political person? An I’d-rather-not-thanks person?

Do you see a lot of people fighting on social media or in real life about politics, race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, religion, immigration?

Are you mad?

Are you afraid?

Are you super bummed?

Do you want to talk about politics and identity but see people getting torn to shreds for any and all comments they make on these subjects online (or even in person)?

Do you feel judged for your beliefs? Do you know what your beliefs are?

Did you go to the Women’s March? If so, how did you feel? What things did you read or see or hear that confused or upset you? If not, how did you feel? What things did you read or see or hear that confused or upset you?

Do you want to participate in politics or democracy or the resistance but aren’t sure how or don’t feel like it’s your place?

Have you made it this far in reading these questions? Cool. In January, right after the Women’s March, a dear friend of mine told me a few of her friends were upset about some of the criticism they were hearing about the march. We’re talking criticism from other people on the left, not from people who think a woman’s place is in the kitchen (or at least not people who think that overtly). She asked if I could host a discussion about these issues because she knows this is the kind of stuff I teach in college classrooms and the kind of stuff I write about as a PhD student. We had seven women and three bottles of wine over to my grandmother’s apartment in New York and we spent hours talking through concerns, questions, resources, anger, sadness, and confusion.

When I was living in the Mojave Desert this past fall, I was surrounded by people with very different values and beliefs and backgrounds from me. Many of them became my friends, even if only in passing. Most of them were people I approached with an entirely open heart and mind who slowly (or sometimes quickly) began to say very hurtful things (I mean the aggressively hurtful kind of things that the dictionary itself would come to life for just so it could stand up and point at those people’s words and say “that is the literal definition of racism”). I fought back. But as angry as I ever got, and as much I fought with them, in the end they always parted ways with me saying they hoped we’d see each other again. Or they’d ask if we could maybe get drinks sometimes. This was often confusing to me, but it also gave me a small bit of hope. Our dialogues didn’t necessarily change their minds (as far as I know), but they did not come away from those conversations with hate in their hearts.

Alternatively, when I log onto Twitter and Facebook, I see a lot of well-meaning people who would tell you they are *absolutely* not racist, but they are saying stuff that sounds kinda racist. Then I see other people aggressively attacking them and calling them racist. Ok. No one responds well to being called racist. Take it from someone who has called more than a few people racist. I’m not saying you shouldn’t call someone racist, I’m just telling you what I see online and what a lot of my friends mention when they tell me why they’re afraid to speak up about anything. No one wants to be an accidental racist.

Which brings me to my next point: We talked a lot about trans women and the problems with trans exclusionary radical feminism at the conversation I hosted in NYC in January and at some point in the conversation it occurred to me to ask, “do y’all know any trans people? Like in real life?” The answer was no. This was baffling to me. Soooooo many of my friends are trans. I’m queer. These are the communities I inhabit. I was dating someone last year who only knew like three Jewish people. We talked often about how easy it is to assume things about folks when you don’t actually don’t know anyone who identifies how the folks you’re talking about identify. I realized that part of the reason very well meaning people sometimes say things that end up hurting others is because they just don’t know any better. Many folks on the internet would say this isn’t excuse. And ok, I think that’s true, your ignorance doesn’t excuse you from bad behavior. But the good news is, ignorance is not a permanent state of being.

Here’s what I want to offer: If you have ANY questions at ANY time about ANY thing related to race, gender, sexuality, class, ability and disability, religion, or anything related to identity, my DMs are open. Message me. Text me. Email me. Call me. Come to my house. Bring friends. We’ll eat Trader Joe’s snacks. Even if we don’t know each other very well. Even if you don’t know me at all in real life. Here’s what I can promise you and here are some of my guidelines…

  1. I will not judge you. We all come from different educational backgrounds, none of us were born knowing how to talk about any of this stuff. Even if you KNOW there’s something we disagree about but you wanna talk through it anyway, I will not, in the back of my head or with my very own mouth, be thinking or saying that you are bad, racist, mean, stupid, whatever whatever. You will be safe in my heart.
  2. I do not pretend to be an expert in any of these fields. I teach this stuff and write about it as a PhD student, and it is really all I care to think and talk and read about, but there is SO MUCH I don’t know. The goal wouldn’t be for me to transmit any kind of knowledge to you. The goal would be for us to think about stuff together in a way that feels comfortable for you and for me to provide as many resources and as much support as you need. I’m still learning so much, and I learn from people who are willing to teach me. I am grateful for them and I also want to try my best to inhabit the world the way they do.
  3. I will approach this in whatever way you are most comfortable. If you wanna ask me questions, even if it’s just some random question every time you read something confusing or upsetting in the news, that’s great. If you just want resources like readings and videos, cool. If you have specific things you’ve seen or heard or read or fought with people about and you wanna hash it out, cool. If you wanna know how to deal with family members who you feel are racist, sexist, whatever, cool. I have those family members too! We can strategize.

I hope none of this comes across as condescending. I am doing this for a few reasons. First is that I feel it is my duty as an educator and an ally to educate others, because it’s super not cool to ask the oppressed to educate you about why they are oppressed. Second is that my favorite day as a teacher is the day I threw out my lesson plan and asked my students “why is it so hard to talk about race?” It was the best, most productive, most educational, most transformative discussion I’ve ever seen students have. It took all class period. It could have taken all semester. But talking to strangers in the desert and talking to acquaintances in New York City and talking to friends and family and students everywhere else has shown me just how eager people are to ask questions and to learn and to know what to say and how to say it. Third, and probably most important, I am doing this because white supremacy isn’t going to dismantle itself, so this is my work, our work, and it’s hard work, but I am certain we can do it.

My email is alirachelpearl {at} gmail {dot} com. Or if you have my phone number, call or text. If you wanna skype, shoot me your skype info. If you follow me on twitter or facebook, or instagram, message me. I’m here. I’m friendly. Hello.

 

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