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“Well, what the hell AM I supposed to do?”
This was the thought I had after reading a blog entitled, “Dear Liberal Allies“.
Read it (seriously) and then think about your own reactions to the author’s observations. You may be in a space very similar to the one I was in after I read it the first time- by the way, I felt super annoyed and alienated.
Here’s an excerpt that really struck a nerve:
All anybody’s looking for in an ally is someone who knows that “empowerment” means taking a step aside in a place where you know you have privilege. And if it is, for example, a PoC-to-PoC [person of color] conversation, a woman-to-woman conversation, a queer-to-queer conversation, etc. about this stuff, and that isn’t who you are, you don’t need to be chiming in.
“Chiming in”? So again, my thought was: “If I’m not supposed to “chime in” what the hell AM I supposed to do?”
Reader, you may not even consider yourself “liberal” and you may not be entirely sure what being an “ally” means in this context.
However, I would hazard to guess that you are a decent human being. AND I bet that you demonstrate care and concern for your neighbors, and that sometimes you feel uncomfortable when you see things that just aren’t right:
- the way a person speaks rudely to one server at a restaurant but not to another who is a different race or gender;
- when someone at work uses hateful or hurtful language about specific communities, be that people of color or those from a different country, women, people other than heterosexuals, the elderly, the disabled;
- or even how some may refuse to even interact with specific groups (the man who refuses to engage with female coworkers during meetings, the woman who won’t let her children have a playdate with a child with same-sex parents).
Maybe you’ve even called people out for being assholes or corrected someone who may not have understood how hurtful certain words can be.
When I feel brave, I correct people when they’re out of line, and I choose to shop at places that don’t discriminate against specific groups or communities.
So, as I over-internalized the blog, I wondered why this blogger was calling me out and saying that, as an ally, I’m probably doing more harm than good? Why is the author assuming that I automatically think what I’m saying is more important? Did the author really mean to imply that as a person of the majority (white, middle class) I could not possibly contribute to the conversation?
Then I read this article by by Audre Lorde. — Go read it! Mind.Blown.
This woman, who has faced systematic oppression all of her life (not only as a woman of color but also as a person who identifies as lesbian) has articulated a concept that I honestly believe I never, ever could have reached on my own:
Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression.
And then I realized why I could never have arrived at these observations on my own, why I wouldn’t even think to make such observations on my own: I don’t have the same life experiences to recognize these overlaps in oppression. I have faced one type of oppression in being a woman, and some discrimination as a woman veteran. The rest of it is pretty much a cake walk. I’m white, I have enough money, I live in a safe, suburban neighborhood, I’m employed, I have a car, etc… Ms. Lorde’s essay is something I could never have fathomed; I didn’t even realize it could exist. I had never even contemplated the overlap for someone who is a woman, a person of color, and someone who identifies as other than heterosexual. I mean, I knew it was out there. But I didn’t know what it meant.
This is when I finally understood what the Trungles blogger was pointing out: All my education about oppression means jackshit when side-by-side with someone’s actual life experience. Any subject I study that discusses the systematic oppression of minorities, LGBT individuals, the very poor– all that means diddly if I don’t shut my mouth and recognize that the very people who live through those oppressions will have the truest and most valid observations. That doesn’t mean that I can’t speak honestly from my own experiences of oppression- it means the exact opposite of that! I am entitled to speak to my own experiences and those who haven’t lived them need to shut up and listen, especially before they make suggestions about how to make things better. And when people are sharing experiences of their own, those I haven’t lived or experienced- well then, I need to shut my mouth and listen. The genius of Audre Lorde’s essay would have been lost on me had I not read the Trungles blog first. And the sense of alienation I felt from the Trungles blog would surely have lingered had I not read Audre Lorde.
My initial thought (What AM I supposed to do?) is probably a thought shared by many, many people. Allies and potential allies often feel helpless in how they can actually make a difference. And after I read the two essays discussed above, I thought to myself, “Why aren’t there more essays like Lordes’?”
I froze for a moment after I had that thought, startled by my own expectations (my own privilege). Ah. So there it is. My presumption that there weren’t more articles like this was like a flash of insight. Had I even looked? Or was I expecting to be spoon-fed by CNN or Facebook?
I did one internet search and guess what? There TOTALLY ARE more essays and articles and books and blogs out there written by people who have lived these experiences and who have amazing insights and ideas. First tool at your disposal? Google (or any search engine). Search key terms like “ally”, “oppression”, “discrimination”, and “social justice”.
And once you dig in, almost every blog you read will link to related blogs and news articles, and the more you read the deeper your understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the world around you will become.
Oh, and I don’t think there is “one answer” to my initial question (at least not one magic solution). But it does begin with being open to recognizing your own privilege and coming to terms with your own lack of expertise in all things (that was totally difficult for me). Also, don’t be like me and take shit so personally, either. Acknowledge that those who have lived the experience should be the people to whom you defer. That doesn’t mean you can’t do good work, just don’t assume that your idea is the best idea or that yours is the only opinion that counts.
So, back in the day (towards the beginning of 2013) the VA was catching a bunch of flack for a backlog in veterans claims (a backlog they were already scrambling to correct), and now this: NBC: Billions wasted on fruitless bid to create paperless vet health records
(For a detailed look at the history of the disability claims backlog, read this article by Brandon Friedman, or this one by Kayla Williams- Both are veterans of the Iraq War and each provides a nuanced and objective overview without all the political posturing (feigned outrage) found in many other stories.)
But we’re not talking about the backlog anymore. (And neither is the news since things are actually getting better.) Now there’s a new scandal at the VA: They’re wasting our money.
I read the NBC article a few days ago. The numbers they quoted were troubling, and while I have a cursory understanding of data migration and integration between systems, I know it’s not easy- AND when we’re talking about organizations as large as THE MILITARY and THE VA, we’re not talking about small amounts of data.
The overview is this:
In 2008, the VA and DOD were tasked to create a single electronic health records management system as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008.
It didn’t work.
But before they both admitted it wasn’t going to work, the VA had already started working on a different plan (as early as July 2011). So, they (we) were still paying for PLAN A (officially abandoned in February 2013) while the VA was also working on PLAN B. The cost to tax payers was over 1.3 billion dollars.
I wanted to get more information, so in keeping with my excellent research methods I asked my Facebook friends (I have very smart Facebook friends).
One of them works at the VA and very succinctly said this:
Essentially DOD doesn’t want to play. They use an arbitrary old outdated system and they don’t want to switch over to something lighter and more functional that would be able to communicate with VA seamlessly. They say it would be too expensive. VA’s point is why would we switch to your system that doesn’t work, isn’t interoperable with anyone and doesn’t have the info in it we need to use?
Th[is] article essentially says VA wants DOD to use the free system that the government already owns and is already in use for over a million patients but DOD wants to spend money on things with bells, whistles and fancy buttons.
I think VA’s point has been “Hey, look our system isn’t perfect but it is a start. Let’s get on the same system so that down the road we both know what we will need for the new system and can get one that works for both of us.”
And he’s right. The DOD submitted a Request for Information in February 2013 to explore different electronic health record management systems in the private sector, and the VA replied with a draft proposal outlining the benefits of using the already existing VA records management system.
Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who currently works for DOD, so I couldn’t get a direct response from my sources over at Facebook. However, in the same article mentioned by my VA contact, the DOD’s deputy chief management officer Beth McGrath indicated that they were looking at the VA system as well as researching other commercial health record management system options.
The commercial health IT space has made tremendous leaps in terms of modernization over the years. We want to ensure that we’re assessing all the capabilities the commercial market brings” – Beth McGrathIn
1.3 billion dollars. And thus far, the only excuse I’ve been able to find as to why it took as long as it did to discontinue funding the already abandoned PLAN A: For a while there, they weren’t quite sure PLAN A was abandoned; both organizations were focusing on what they called “quick wins” while also working toward the aforementioned single-platform goal. Two years later, they ditched PLAN A forever.
“It takes time to turn an aircraft carrier,” Former director of the Interagency Program Office, Debbie Filippi (ret. 2011)
Thanks for that, Captain Obvious of The Slowest Aircraft Carrier EVER.
Commercialization and mainstreaming of cannabis use is the first step in ending this costly prohibition that has been massively detrimental to our fiscal, domestic, and international policies. It is hurting Americans and disproportionately affecting minority communities. BRING IT.
Great post-processing app called After Focus
I helped dozens of people register to vote yesterday. It was an amazing (exasperating/ tiring/ satisfying/ frustrating/ inspiring) experience.
- Carrying a bowl of candy at Hempfest will make you a very popular person.
- This was by far the most sedate crowd I have ever encountered.Everyone was calm. And almost every person I spoke with was smiling.
- The diversity of cannabis activists and enthusiasts is astounding. This is a truly a universal issue.
- Most young people I spoke with (17-25) had little knowledge of the political process. Many were genuinely interested in learning more, though, and some of the most in-depth conversations I had were with young adults wanting more information about the voting process in Washington State.
- I just learned that in Washington state, individuals with felony convictions who are no longer under supervision by the Department of Corrections have the right to vote in State elections. _(Learn more here: http://aclu-wa.org/voting-rights-restoration-washington-state)_ One woman almost started crying when I told her about this law. She was convinced she’d never be able to vote again after receiving a felony conviction for marijuana possession in her 20s. She must have said thank you at least 10 times as she filled out her registration form.
Talking about voting seems to strip away all the pretense and all the barriers people put in place when venturing out in public- when you sit down and really engage with people, and they recognize you don’t have an agenda- you’re not angling for them to vote for anything in particular, you just want them to vote, well then, all the walls come down and they really open up. Race/ethnicity/age/gender – none of that made a difference. I connected with people regardless of demographic.
My mom is the smartest person I know, and she had this to say about the fitness standards in the military:
When you talk about women needing to meet the same standards as the men, perhaps the issue is that we sometimes confuse the standard with the means of achieving it. Take the marines and their pull-ups. Why does a female marine have to do a pull up or whatever number of pull ups will be the magic number? Does she really have to have equivalent upper body strength as a man to meet the standards of her job? Do she really have to be able to do x number of pull-ups to carry her gear and maintain stamina and fire her weapon? Is the method of measuring fitness appropriate for women or is it requiring an otherwise competent marine to be a physical anomaly just to meet an unreasonable standard of so-called fitness. Test women on the performance of their duties, not just a brute strength or running speed equivalent to a man.
“You just have to get over the wall” – Brenda “Sue” Fulton, graduate of West Point’s Class of 1980, the first Academy class to include women
“Mainstream that shit” became my go-to phrase whenever “taboo” topics (that shouldn’t be taboo) got news coverage, e.g.:
“OH MY GOD THEY SAID VAGINA.”
My theory is this: If we talk about it (the “offensive topic”), we can desensitize all the sensitive people who get offended when they hear (perfectly reasonable) things they don’t want to hear (like the medical terminology for sex organs). In other words, if we say VAGINA, VAGINA, VAGINA a billion times people will either stop thinking it’s a bad word or they’ll just get tired of claiming it is and shut up about it already.
The challenge is that institutional group-think is a sticky, self-preserving monster, and it takes a bit more effort and planning to shift popular opinion. As much as I would like to run around screaming VAGINA at the top of my lungs, I don’t think it would have the desired effect. Instead, we need to recognize that people adapt to social change in fits and starts. Reoccurring contact with the undesired element in everyday happenings (news, popular culture, the legal system) creates an inoculation effect of sorts, which eventually leads to a general acceptance by the public.
For example, say I have a core belief that the color green is wrong. It’s so wrong that, in my opinion, no one else should wear green clothing, like the color green, or talk about the color green. My belief that this color is wrong is reinforced by my friends and family. They all agree with me, and I with them. We all watch the same TV channel that validates our feelings about the color green, and we eschew any sources of information that diverge from our own established opinion.
Meanwhile, there’s a group of people who really like green stuff. Their choice in clothing is ridiculed by us anti-greens, and unfortunately for the green-lovers, the anti-greens have “strong ties to the community”, meaning we’re in charge of shit. And because we’re in charge of shit, we start establishing rules that outlaw the color green, and discriminatory practices against green-lovers become socially acceptable because it reinforces the existing opinions of the anti-green camp. I mean, hey, they could just stop wearing green and their lives would be much easier.
Because the social pressure to shun this color is so strong, those few hiding in our ranks who do like green either face becoming a social outcast by admitting their secret or they simply hide their preference from their loved ones to avoid being judged.
But wait! Someone I know admits to me that they like the color green, and then the next week another person says that their daughter wears green shoes! I don’t want to lose these people, but I can’t reconcile their choices with my own morality. I’ve lived my entire life rejecting this color. Until one day, after trying yet again to talk some sense into these people, I realize that my friends are still very much who I always thought they were, they just make different choices that have absolutely no effect on my life or my own choices. Hmm… I might not like the color green personally, but I suppose that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to think the same way I do.
So you can see that while this is a drastically simplified scenario, you can substitute a myriad of demographic classifications or lifestyle choices for the “color green”. The path toward understanding of our differences requires a shift in popular opinion that may start with rejection but evolves into ambivalence and then moves from apathy to tolerance and then finally mainstream acceptance.
This is a great resource for parents and teachers as they address issues of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination with children.