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The Danger of the “Call Out” – Confessions of a Recovering Activist: Part 3

March 02, 2015 By: jaysays Category: Confessions

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Confessions of a Recovering Activist series is intended to look critically at activism and shed light on my recovery from being “that activist.” I hope when you read this, you will keep that spirit in mind.]

We Shall OvercomeOver time, the word activism has begun to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I’ve always been fairly certain in my assessment that there is a place for each style of activism, from rebel to reformer, from citizen to change agent, but that began to change as I found more and more rebels fighting against the reformers, citizens and change agents instead of against the most cruel forms of oppression. That statement isn’t intended to point the finger at the rebels, of which I consider myself, but to note a problem in the institution we’ve come to know as activism. Reformers, citizens, and change agents are all just as fallible, and I can easily note many occasions in which their faults cost social justice movements points in the political game, but they are not the focus of this confession.

I’m sure I’ve used the phrase, “We need to call them out,” on at least a hundred occasions. It’s true – we cannot let oppressive ideology go unchecked. However, “calling out” has taken on such a negative connotation in the world of rebel activism that I no longer feel any sort of connection with the phrase. I always felt that “calling out” oppressive behavior was a way to inspire change, which it certainly can be when used appropriately, but now I struggle with how to use it appropriately. More and more I saw the technique used to bully, harass and embarrass people. More and more I felt the technique lost touch with principles of non-violence. We no longer sought to change ideas and philosophies with a “call out” technique, but instead wage war against our activist counter-parts with it.

A recent example can be seen in Plano, Texas. The City of Plano recently passed a non-discrimination ordinance originally designed to prohibit discrimination against people based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. Sadly, the final ordinance, which passed the City Council, excluded sex segregated spaces, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, opening the door to discrimination in the most private settings. To be clear though, as the recent story out of San Antonio illustrated, sex segregated spaces don’t always mean a bathroom. In the case in San Antonio, high school buses were segregated so that “boys” rode one bus and “girls” rode another. Thus, a “sex segregated” space was created in which discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity could take place under the Plano ordinance.

Up until the passage of the Plano ordinance, LGBT organizations largely disavowed any language to exclude these sex segregated spaces from the ordinance. After the ordinance passed, opponents to LGBT rights began repeal efforts. The opposition found unlikely allies in the repel effort in some LGBT rights advocates. Many LGBT activists felt that in order to correct the inadequacy of the ordinance, it must be repealed and resubmitted without the exclusive language. However, several organizations which often represent the LGBT community in political matters have issued statements opposing repel of the ordinance. This is a very serious situation and a debate could circulate around the strategy behind revamping the ordinance.

Unfortunately, any policy debate that could have benefited political activists got lost in the “call out.” Plano area activists, for better or for worse, issued numerous statements claiming that Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas, which refused to support repeal efforts but instead supported amending the now existing ordinance, are supporting trans-exclusive policies. That statement is, at best, “partially true.” At its worst, it is extraordinarily misleading and reminiscent of a Fox News Headline – you know the ones “Radical Muslim Terrorizes School,” then you read the article and it’s about a young man trying to obtain prayer time between classes.

The Equality Summer - ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act)Similarly, “call out” techniques have been used for just about any activist who has supported marriage equality, whether individually promoting same or promotion of it through affiliation with an organization.  I can recall numerous episodes where, in spite of my vocal support and resources being placed behind non-discrimination policies, immigration reform and other policies, I’ve made mention of marriage equality and suddenly I’m “called out” as elitist and on occasion, “racist,” because marriage equality is a cis-gender, white person issue.  The impact of these continued attacks was significant.  I found myself becoming quieter and quieter about any issue of importance to LGBTQ people, rather than empowered to take action.

While certainly my observations and confession are mine alone, I do firmly believe that these types of issues have resulted in the collapse of what was a strong radical movement.  That movement, at its height, was a spark of revolution, but the revolution was stopped short by our own inability to look at ourselves critically while looking at others with less severity.  We, the radicals, continued to “call out” our LGBTQ family and our allies, when what we should have been doing is educating them in.

Patricia Arquette was Right – Confessions of a Recovering Activist, Part 2

February 23, 2015 By: jaysays Category: Confessions

Patricia Arquette at Heart Truth 2009Thanks to Twitter and Facebook and a world of blogs like this one where people can spout out whatever opinion they have of anyone at any given moment, you probably already heard a bit about the “controversial speech” given by Patricia Arquette at the Academy Awards.

In large part, her speech was inspiring and met with applause and acceptance. Here’s the transcript of her speech:

“Okay, Jesus. Thank you to the Academy, to my beautiful, powerful nominees. To IFC, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland, Molly Madden, David DeCamillo, our whole cast and our crew. My Boyhood family, who I love and admire. Our brilliant director Richard Linklater. The impeccable Ethan Hawke. My lovelies, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater. Thomas and Paul, thank you for giving me my beautiful children. Enzo and Harlow, you’re the deepest people that I know.

My friends who all work so hard to make this world a better place. To my parents, Rosanna, Richmond, Alexis and David. To my favorite painter in the world, Eric White, for the inspiration of living with a genius. To my heroes, volunteers and experts who have helped me bring ecological sanitation to the developing world with GiveLove.org.

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

She didn’t stop there though, and generally, this is where all the “social justice advocates” flipped the hell out:

So the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now. [emphasis added]

Many in the blogosphere and purported advocates jumped on the bandwagon to “call out” Patricia Arquette for her comments, noting that by stating that it was time for people of color to join women implied two things: (1) that people of color were not already part of the struggle for women’s equality; and (2) that somehow women of color will have to choose between their gender and their race.  The same was applied to her comment for the gays to join the women’s equality cause with a similar response.  Many noted that gays and people of color have already actively participated in the women’s equality movement and are presently actively participating in it.  But here’s where I challenge you, dear reader.  This weekend, go to the nearest “gay bar” and start picking out random strangers, particularly gay men.  After you pick out about 10 or so, go up to each of them and ask them this question, “Have you ever been to a rally in support of equal rights for women?”  My bet is you won’t find any, but certainly it will be the minority.

You see, we, as social justice advocates, assumed that Patricia Arquette was talking about us.  We added that to her words, she did not.  She didn’t play Kathy Griffin and screech, “Where my gays at?”  She DID NOT say “…and all the gay activists, and all the people of color activists that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”  She made a call to all people and her words included women, men, gay people and people of color.  In the end though, we are activists, and as activists we have an ego problem.  We’re so vain, we probably think her words were about us.

As to choosing between your race, sexual orientation and gender, I don’t believe for a moment an ultimatum to choose was given.  You see, all of those things are inherently part of us. We can no sooner choose between breathing or eating.  Without any one of the things that make the whole of us, we are no longer ourselves.  The key to intersectionality is recognizing that all of those things make up our whole selves and none of those things are mutually exclusive of the other.  Until then, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of intolerance against which we claim to be working.

Confessions of a Recovering Activist: Being That Activist

January 26, 2015 By: jaysays Category: Confessions

Trans-Anonymous for Confessions of a Recovering ActivistAs it turns out, I’m not a courageous person.  Perhaps I successfully managed to create an illusion of courage in my attempts to inspire change.  But courage that is merely illusion or which is necessary for self-preservation isn’t the type of courage needed to be an activist.  That courage exists in only the most resilient hearts. My heart wasn’t so resilient.

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

– Walt Whitman

Recently, Mason Hsieh published an op-ed on Huffington Post titled, “Is the Gay Community Scaring Away our Straight Allies.”  In that piece Mason discusses going to an LGBT meeting with a straight friend who asks, “In gay dating, who’s the girl?”  He explains that his friend was immediately and “vehemently” told to “check his straight-cis-male privilege” and told he “should be ashamed.”  Clearly, a safe space was not created for Mason’s friend and it’s unlikely such a space would be safe for a newly out LGBT person or one deprived of “urban privilege.”

In the piece, Mason goes on to suggest ways to improve our relationships with our allies.  A few years ago, I may have disagreed with Mason.  I may have been one of the 280+ commenters on his posting taking a hard-nosed stance and refusing to make room for anyone at the table who would not immediately and quickly call-out a microagression.  Instead, now I feel that Mason didn’t go far enough.  That’s not to say any remark that is oppressive should stand unchecked.  But there are undoubtedly ways in which we can address such microagressions, without being threatening and without ad hominem attacks.

And now for the confession: Mason’s article could have been more accurately titled, “Are Activists Scaring Away the Community they Claim they Represent?”

I have undoubtedly been that activist, and I started to scare myself.  It was impossible to comply with the demands of my fellow activists – don’t eat here, don’t shop there, don’t say this, don’t mention that, don’t ask … don’t tell… don’t… don’t… don’t.  And I was one of the people making even more rules, whether intentionally or not.   I began to dislike myself.  I began to dislike others.  I was at an impasse in activism and had tough choices to make.

I flailed about for a while, continuing to pretend I was somehow making a difference, even though I no longer knew the answers to give to those seeking to inspire change.  I became the person I was most horrified of becoming.  I became “that activist.”

It wasn’t until late in my work as an activist that I began to fully appreciate King’s Six Principles of Non-Violence.  I naively believed that living (or attempting to live) those principles could help me focus my work more directly and limit the “rules” to six. I began reflecting on them and discussing them in more depth with fellow activists, many of whom claimed to have adopted the principles for themselves.  One of those principles stuck out more than others as it applied to our internal and external relationships:

Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.  The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

It was then that I went from being “that activist” to feeling more like Mason’s friend must have felt.  I did not feel safe asking questions or discussing my thoughts, opinions, ideas, life experiences or even what I had for breakfast among my activist circles.  Everything, no matter how innocuous it may have seemed, somehow contributed to the oppression of some group or other, but I was so “first world” starved for a damn Starbucks Coffee.  Was my egg free range?  Did Monsato have a hand in genetically modifying my corn muffin?  Often, a quip intended to bring levity to a serious situation, a technique I used for self-preservation, was met with righteous indignation. Any opinion was almost always met with passionate monologues that rarely seemed relevant to the subject matter. I no longer cared to win the friendship and understanding of even those in my own community, so I certainly didn’t care to win the friendship and understanding of the opposition.  Simply put, I was not strong enough to abide by the principles of non-violence and without them, I felt I no longer had a guide.

So there are many things we can learn from Mason’s story and many things to which folks have already taken offense.  Why should we accommodate those who make such assumptions as gender roles in our gatherings?  The answer, I’d argue, is that we should be working to create a beloved community, not prove ourselves “right.”  Otherwise, we become the evil doer.