How White People Ruined My Weekend, Intersectionally
This weekend was traumatic.
It was extremely hard for me physically and emotionally.
My weekend was ruined not because white people exist, but because of how they antagonized and depleted my soul in multiple ways that intersect in my oppression :)
The good news is this weekend reminded me that confidently, I am an expert on intersectionality [what degree?] through theory as well as lived experience. It agitated me to again, no longer sit in the background waiting for spaces to open up for me. In too many of our movement spaces, white people with an elementary understanding of systems of oppression and race are taking up too much space.
I’ve had three mental breakdowns in the past five days,all of which have stemmed from white people being ridiculous. And by ridiculous I mean: dismissing my voice and experiences, falsely claiming apart of my identity, and creating a space that claimed to center my experiences which actually made me feel more isolated and marginalized to others.
The trauma of this weekend was not worth the 15 hour drive.
The white people surrounding me 24/7 were not everyday on the street white folk, but people that share my identities, Queer people, Trans people, Muslim people, and Disabled people. Many of whom considered themselves organizers [false], activists, and advocates.
Meeting with Queer Muslims of Boston, I thought I would learn about different ways people like me are fighting their oppression and building community. This group of mostly scholars sustain a safer space for Queer Muslims. That is cute. But for me, the time has long passed to just have a space to exist. Our existence is a given right. I feel as though if you aren’t addressing the oppressive systems that you hate, you are complacent. In this work I have learned the infinite amount of ways in which you can combat those systems, have your voice heard, and practice your values.
That is precisely what I told this group of people asking questions about the direct service organization I sit on the board of. They shared their semi regular advocacy efforts as well as event planning. As this hours long conversation - presentation persisted, I clearly saw how community organizing is misunderstood and/or exploited in the name of clout.
My working definitions
community organizer: is someone building community power to address said community's oppression. Involves showing up for action and expertise on the subjects.
activist: shows up for action
advocate: shares information
Organizing is essentially what made college bearable for me, and ultimately what got me out of it - accepting that addressing my oppression head on was more fruitful + fun that just learning about theoretical concepts. I didn’t fully grasp what ‘organizing’ was until a few months ago. Community engagement, community outreach, event planning,etc. are a few terms/titles people have and use but describe as community organizing, which is false. It is consistent relationship building, direct action, consistent education, civic engagement [not voting], and most importantly building power and exercising it.
My first grass roots organizing experience came after a suicide attempt, local campus bullshit, creating a network, and engaging in direct action. No one asked me to do it. That was the first instance of my addressing my oppressor -American University, and claiming my power by organizing other groups to engage to an issue dear to me.
So yes, I do get a defensive about organizing because of the effort, hard work, and burnout experienced by everyone I know in it. I get defensive about organizing for the liberation of anyone and I can’t get someone to make 10 phone calls, go to an hour long protest, sit through a two hour meeting, etc. but still claim the title. Fuck out of here. My work and impact isn’t measured by the current state of the movement, by the everyday experiences of Black people in Chicago. But it feels like that, and that’s why this is not some 9-5 job that doesn’t come home. It is personal.
To hear people lie about their organizing efforts in front of an audience is damning. Organizing has empowered me and the mission of my organization is to empower people to make the change they want to see in their communities. This means that in no setting, do I sit silently and be oppressed. I speak up or get out.
I had been urged to speak in this conversation, but didn’t want to engage in a circus of what my organization actually does, what abolition actually means, and what organizing actually encompasses.
This past weekend I decided to speak up and check these ~elite~ students from wold renowned institutions. In such an epicenter of upper class, old money, white capital, there’s no chance that doctoral + divinity students can’t have an impact whether physically or financially. And when I made that challenge to them, they were pretty shook, and finally a lecture became a conversation among them about actually being intentional about sustaining their organization. I felt that I stood my ground and was not complacent to the bullshit around me.
Actual organizers would have backed me up. Most are not too keen on working with people not doing shit but being attached to the title. I say most because often white ‘organizers’ from big budget nonprofits act more like field supervisors. In this case, another board member quickly dismissed me in saying "so this is what i needed to hear when I experienced burnout” and proceeded to discount all that I had said. A student had shared she was an organizer and had just went to a big meeting that was draining and that their Queer Muslim Group should be happy with what they have done.
Once that spiel was done I left, even after the funny second hand embarrassment of others. I left because it was not in my self interest to educate culturally white people on how useless and divisive they are to the movement.tm without payment. Funny enough, on waiting on my ride home, I talked with two of the students who left. These two Queer poc lauded me in my efforts to check the space in its ridiculousness. They praised my challenge to them and accepted that they could be doing more to buildup the organization at least internally.
That validated me, but I wish they had stood up in the moment. When a Black femme decides to take up space that is majority white, poc + allies should support them. Not just because I spoke, but because I was pressured to speak more than once, and when I did was attacked and dismissed. In what world would a Black femme stand up for their beliefs and identity when that is the response? Being in Cambridge reminded me if I was even a 1/10th as mediocre as these white "organizers" I’d be hyper unemployed.
I was warned of the white delusion I may encounter over the weekend, but couldn’t imagine how deep it was. Nor, how much it would impact me
I was hype for this Disability Intersectionality Summit [DIS] which was overwhelmingly white with a .2% understanding of intersectionality. I was so taken back I left it after three sessions. After the first memorable quote I heard, that “deaf-blind people are the most marginalized people” I knew that the whole ‘intersectionality’ thing was but a word to these people, not a framework of understanding.
I had submitted a two year old proposal. I should have edited it to reflect my current work, but I didn’t, and I wasn’t chosen to present. After watching three presentations that were wholly one dimensional, poorly presented, lacked depth, and even clear reason for that people were to take away, I was over it. What did I think DIS would be about? I thought #DIS2018 would have a depth of perspectives on specific forms of oppression and how being Disabled effects us differently, not just personal storytelling. I can’t even say community building because the overwhelming white default representation talking about Disability obviously barely intersected with my experiences.
As a black femme socialized as a Black woman, I am used to being made invisible in apparently inclusive spaces. As the base of intersectionality is understanding how systems of oppression effect people differently, not individual identities, my experience at #DIS2018 was lacking…Then i went to a conference on it that I was hype about and suddenly I’m not sure if anyone except Black people really have a grasp on intersectionality beyond theory and essays. This event was the first space I thought I could be Black and Disabled and be seen. Physically, emotionally, socially, financially, my disabilities effect my everyday life most. I literally went to the hospital today for the same skin disease I have had since I was in middle school, the same one I self diagnosed long ago, and JUST got an *official* diagnosis for. This Summit showed me while Disability effects me most, I have found no community yet that focuses on my intersections and/or has that analysis.
After these three sessions with no analysis of intersectionality or mention of race, I lost it. I told myself I should just explore Boston and enjoy myself. I tried finding museums nearby but the tailbone pain I was experiencing was too much to walk around. I broke down once I got to my hotel thinking about how I’ve many times white people have dismissed and disrespected me this year. Not simply everyday nonsense, not just the microaggression of bluegrass at 9am, but in this very social justice work where they feel entitled to take up space for those directly impacted. This has been evident in more than one of my networks or coalitions. The fact of the matter is I don’t organize for white impact, consumption, or approval, nor is that the base I am building to empower. And most importantly, I white person will never tell me what I can and cannot do. What I can say and cannot say. What my oppression is and is not. I am not the one to appease or coddle white tears either.
Being in Cambridge and talking to those elite people validated me in the sense of wanting to be there in the past so bad and now knowing I couldn't survive there [Yes, the Matrix is real!!]. That I’m both, more intelligent and smart, on all this identity politic and social justice shit than anyone I met over the weekend. People with has 3 more degrees that I ever will, generational wealth I will never access, and decision making tables I will never sit at. I deserve to be paid for the emotional labour I had to endure this weekend from the non black poc and cultural whites that organized that shit show. My presentations on anti whiteness, intersectionality, my storytelling, and my organizing should be expensive if accessible to white people and non black poc cultural white people.