Telling Someone Else’s Story and the White Savior Complex

One thing that has come to be my biggest pet peeves is allies trying to tell someone else’s story. While I was growing up and finding my own way as a beginning activist, I was fed the narrative to speak for those who are voiceless. But as I grew and learned, I realized that no one is inherently voiceless – people often are able and should be allowed to share their own stories, to create their own narratives.

Part of being an activist, of being an ally with any community is to listen to the people tell their own stories and lift up their voices rather than drown out them out by talking more loudly. And more often than not, if you’re not a part of the community, odds are you have no idea the extent of the issues or the solutions that could actually work. Linda Martin Alcoff wrote about the problem of speaking for others; some of her main points include listening to less privileged speakers instead of speaking over them and remain open to criticism.

For a transcript of the video, click here.

And a lot that comes with this topic is the problematic nature of white saviors because there’s this idea, this nature that as white people living in a western country (like the US), we have the answers to ending oppression and the world’s problems. Teju Cole wrote about the white savior industrial complex, highlighting some campaigns like #StopKony/#Kony2012.  Anne Theriault wrote about the white feminist savior complex, touching on some of the points that Cole wrote about particularly in the context of white western feminism. Toi Scott wrote about the problems with the white savior complex, including tokenization of people of color and erroneous assumptions. Julie Hall wrote about what really happens when white saviors try to ‘save’ Muslim women, writing specifically about an interaction she had with a white man attempting to ‘save’ Muslim women, saying that:

Not only that, but he denies women of color agency and heroizes himself and Western people who work in the developing world. “We, we, we, we, we,” he intoned. We have to take initiative.We have to go to the local authorities. We have to start these projects. We have to help them see. Because they obviously can’t fix any problems without the aid of the Great White Hero.

His condescension towards me is more than personally irritating. It is representative of how privileged people treat marginalized people. His disrespect of my work experience was evident and, regrettably, predictable. A white man arrogantly attempting to demean a woman of color is not new or shocking.

Having agency and control of your own narrative is such a unbelievably important thing, especially for marginalized communities whose stories are often removed to be told by others. Being an ally to any community and being an activist in general, to me, means listening to and uplifting the voices of those trying to speak. Highlighting the stories and narratives from marginalized and oppressed communities is a critical part of acting as an ally (particularly since a big part of being an ally also includes not having all of the focus on you).

Feminist Friday: Activism.

th (6)Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and what it means to be an activist in the current technological age. Part of this has been that not everyone is able (for a plethora of reasons) to be on the front lines and constantly present in marches and meetings. And with the change in technology and accessibility, how has activism changed? In the age of Twitter, hashtags, Facebook, and YouTube, what does it mean to be an activist?

(*Photo from this article)

I’ve written previously about being and acting as an ally and remembering the intersectionality of life and issues, which for me are both important part of being an activist. And reflecting back on my life, I’m now able to see how prevalent my depression and anxiety has been in my life. Struggling with both along with being a very shy introvert and someone who doesn’t drink has made being a very loud and proud queer activist difficult.

With my depression and anxiety, I’m not always able to get out and go to marches; phone banks and talking on the phone to strangers is a terrifying process for me. My words and writing are often all I’m able to contribute – this blog was started mostly because I realized that writing was the best way in which I could potentially contribute to different movements. But there’s a certain amount of guilt that I feel about not being able to go out and be present on the ground.

Maisha Z Johnson wrote a post for Black Girl Dangerous specifically to other QTPoC activists, talking about participating in the movement when you’re in a funk. She writes about how all the different contributions are relevant and necessary for a movement. At one point, she also references another relevant post from Black Girl Dangerous written by Michal “MJ” Jones defending the shy in the community and movement. MJ defends the shy, introverted, and socially anxious people from a community that seems to continue perpetuating some harmful messaging from the rest of society:

Non-profit, social justice organizations and workplaces value the go-getters, the energetic and enthusiastic types that can engage audiences while suggesting “speaking up more” as an area of improvement on performance evaluations for quieter types. Each of these provide the same message: “Your silence makes me uncomfortable, and is something to be cured.” The conversation about how to make spaces safer for quieter folks or those who experience social anxiety is practically absent.

Michal “MJ” Jones also wrote a fantastic piece on Everyday Feminism about how you don’t need to be leading the marches for your activism to matter, again writing about how there are so many ways in which to contribute to a movement and how assuming everyone can participate in the same way is ableist.

And over the past few months, I’ve definitely felt a lot of guilt over not being able to be on the front lines of marches or manning phone banks for fundraisers and support. But I’m definitely regularly reminding myself that everyone’s activism is going to be different. There are some aspects, like marches, rallies, and phone banks, that are incredibly important to a movement. But other aspects (and rather introverted ones) of organizing is also really important to movements as well. The entire idea of wanting everyone to participate in the same way seems so unrealistic and often problematic because not everyone has the same abilities and strengths.

Ultimately, I’m trying to unlearn the societal norm and preference of extroversion as the best and the many forms of ableism that perpetuates US culture and society. And while I do think that protests, rallies, marches, etc etc are so incredibly important, I’m also realizing how important other (and usually more introverted) aspects of activism are.

Climate Change

A few years ago while I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine mentioned that she found it odd that no one had challenged a science teacher about climate change and global warming when the topic came up in class one day. She had moved to Bellingham from Texas and explained that she had always been in a space where there were at least a couple people that would argue about the existence and impacts of climate change on the environment. To be completely honest, I’ve never been in a situation where an extremely small percentage of the room did not believe the scientific evidence of the earth’s changing climate.

So with that in mind, I do admit to fundamentally believing that the climate is changing, that global warming exists, and that man made activities are helping to speed both up. For me, the scientific facts about the changes in the global climates are supported and believable and that capitalism and large corporations have a huge hand in these man made activities. A few weeks ago, I went to go see The Wisdom to Survive, which is a documentary that addresses the connection between capitalism, community and climate change (the trailer below is for that film).

The impacts of climate change and global warming are of course taking a toll on the environment and the wild animal populations and plant species that also call this place home. Some studies and articles about this include:

  • Northwest Alaska bird, mammal species could experience habitat change from warming climate, new study finds
  • A massive study from the California Academy of Sciences is exploring historical ocean responses to abrupt climate change.
  • Climate change is threatening to kill off more Aspen forests by 2050
  • Warm waters have caused an increase in starving sea lion pups to wash up on California beaches
  • The Amazon rain forest is becoming less able to soak up excess carbon dioxide. 
  • How do trees relate to climate change?

Climate change and global warming is not just having an impact on the environment – there are also many impacts on people and politics around the world. There is an incredible link between the changing environment and on development, human health, conflicts, poverty, and many other issues. And the negative impacts of climate change (such as low water sources, ability to grow food, etc) have complicated the lives of those living in and the efforts combating poverty around the world.

  • Why #BlackLivesMatter should transform the climate debate
  • President Obama, others link climate change to public health
  • Researchers link Syrian conflict to a drought made worse by climate change
  • Climate change linked to a rise in human conflict
  • UN Report: climate change will deepen poverty, hunger
  • Climate Change to Low Income New Yorkers: Drop Dead

And all of this (like many of the things I’ve written about before) is just the tip of a quickly melting iceberg. Whenever I read or hear about the changing climate and environment, I can’t help but worry a lot and wonder what possibly can be done. The Nature Conservatory has a few ways to help, including possible ways to offset your individual carbon footprint. Recycling, composting, reducing and reusing are all potential steps to take as far as lowering the amount of materialistic stuff made and thrown away in the world. (Plastic, for example, doesn’t really break down ever. Plastic material from as early as the 1960s has been found washed up on some remote islands within the Pacific ocean.)

Planting trees seems like a go to response, but it’s also important to address other issues impacting and increasing the rates of climate change. Small scale farms are also important in the fight – but that also comes with other potential complications as well. The video below is from Fair World Project and is a 17 minute documentary about industrial farming and it’s impact on global warming.

Ultimately, I think reading more, seeing the connections between capitalism, poverty, and climate change, and finding personal ways to combat climate change is just the very very beginning step of learning more and combating climate change and its negative impacts around the world. And everyone’s ways to combat climate change is going to look different – my status as a white middle class US citizen with access to a plethora of resources is going to drastically impact the ways in which I deal with this issue.

Links, Articles, and Cartoons: Oh My!

A big part of why I wanted to start this blog was to have a place to write and learn about issues like racism, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexism, privilege, oppression, etc etc. And one of the things I have really appreciated about the past few years is having that space to share some of the important articles and resources I find about those issues. Because I am a white person, I will never be able to fully articulate and write about issues surrounding race and racism – for that, I’m particularly grateful for the amazing PoC writers and artists out there addressing these issues.

I feel like the title of this post is mildly misleading but I did want to spend some time rounding up some more links, articles, cartoons, and other resources about race that I might not have already used in previous posts:

  • Your Local Public is Failing at Addressing Racism by Jon Greenberg
  • Why We Can’t Just “Chill Out” About Racism by Alli Kirkham
  • A Cartoonist Discusses Being Told to “Lighten Up” Some Characters
  • Criminal Injustice: 5 Facts about Women of Color and the Prison Industrial Complex by Carmen Rios
  • Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Over-policed, and Underprotected
  • The Top Ten Lies That Keep Racism Alive
  • Comic Relief: When People of Color Aren’t the Punchline by Rocio Isabel Prado
  • Why Post Racial Worldviews are Just Racism in Disguise by Rebecca John
  • The White Teachers I Wish I Never Had by Mia McKenzie
  • Why Using the Dictionary Definition of Racism Just Doesn’t Work by Robot Hugs
  • Why We Don’t Need #WhiteOutDay, White History Month, or the National Association for the Advancement of White People by Maisha Z Johnson
  • On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (And Isn’t) By Mia McKenzie
  • 7 Reasons Looking Past Color Contributes to Racism instead of Solves It by Jon Greenberg

For a transcript of the video, click here.

My Favorite Journal

image1 (1)I’ve been writing in journals for most of my life – I have a stack of notebooks filled with personal thoughts from my childhood and teenage years that would be incredibly embarrassing if another person were to read them. It was and continues to be through writing and journaling that I have been able to work through many of the incredibly difficult things I’ve dealt with in my life. Writing and journaling have been an escape, which I’ve written about before, and they’ve been an amazing way in which I’ve dealt with my struggle with depression and anxiety.

image5When I was a junior in college, I stumbled across a zine about how to survive in the Pacific Northwest during the winter – a time in which we are dealing with almost constant cloud cover, regular rainfall, and rather short days for some weeks. (A 4:15pm sunset is not that much fun to be honest.) I ended up buying the zine and using it to create a journal in which I worked to remember why I love the things I do and to remember all the reasons to get out of bed each day. I also started requesting tourist guides from various states and finding old magazines to dig through photos and places I one day hope to visit.

image4And more than that, it was through this journal that I felt accomplished. I have something that I’m proud of, that is something I did. It became a way in which I positively (although rather indirectly) dealt with all the negativity that I so regularly feel. I found quotes that reminded me that I am alive, that my depression and anxiety will not control my life.

I still flip through this journal, looking at all the things I’ve glued and taped in, at all the things I’ve written in the past. And there’s a part of me that feels a certain sense of happiness and accomplish when I pick it up – I don’t quite know how to describe it.

Media Monday: Web Series and YouTubers

To be completely honestly, part of the reason I love web series is because I usually have the attention span slightly larger than a goldfish and the videos of web series tend to be the perfect amount of time before I move on to the next thing. So for this week, I thought I’d write about some of my favorite web series and regular Youtubers.

Ackee & Saltfish is a comedic web series that follows around the everyday interactions of two friends, Olivia and Rachel. There’s a short film in addition to the web series (for which the trailer is for above) that highlights more of the everyday experiences and conversations of two young black women raised in a quickly gentrified London.

Qraftish by Cristal is a (relatively) new part of the site Black Girl Dangerous and so far, only has a few episodes. But each episode takes on a different issue faced by Cristal, an 18 year old black queeringly.

The Peculiar Kind is a show I was introduced to by accident a few years ago and when I first found it, I watched all of the episodes on repeat for like two weeks. It’s a refreshing take on different aspects and issues of the LGBTQ+ community from mostly LGBTQ+ people of color.

WeHappyTrans is slightly different from the ones above but still so important. WeHappyTrans is a collection of videos of trans identified people talking about positive experiences they’ve had. And that’s exactly why I love it – the videos show a different side of the trans community, one of positivity and depth and context. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the violence faced by trans individuals (which is an important aspect to remember and fight against) so having a place of a bunch of trans individuals talking about other aspects of their lives is so great. The one above is just one of many videos that exist for WeHappyTrans!

Kina Grannis is a beautiful singer who posts original songs and covers on YouTube. The video above is just one of many that she has posted on her channel and was made using stop motion and a ton of skittles! Her voice is so beautiful and generally, I love her covers significantly more than the original version. Plus, her own songs are just wonderful.

All of these videos are a few of the many that exist from not only the same people I’ve written about but just some of the numerous creative ventures that are currently out in the world.

My Own Faith and the Struggle of Being Faithfully LGBTQ+

In my life, I’ve spent a large portion of my educational career at a Catholic school – my elementary/middle school was a tiny little Catholic school in my hometown and my oh so lovely college alma mater is a tiny Catholic university in north Portland, OR. Despite spending plenty of time at mass or in religion class or even in a Christian youth group for some time in high school, I never really felt connected to my own faith. Today is, of course, Easter Sunday, meaning that I’ve spent the last few days of Holy Week really reflecting on my own history and struggle with faith.

Particularly after coming out as queer in college, it was really hard for me to try and have faith and my identity coexist. Resources at my school never made it particularly easy for me to resolve the struggle – in fact, they usually made things worse. I spent a lot of time thinking the many negative things I faced as a queer student were my fault but soon realized I wasn’t alone in my struggle. During the last semester of my second year at the school, I decided to interview and film several friends who were LGBTQ+ or an ally. I ended up getting an incredible amount of footage and even though it has been a few years since the interviews, I doubt much has changed on many religious campuses.

In my junior year of college, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a task force at a Portland non profit looking to maintain a bridge between religious and queer communities and provide a community for those who were faithfully LGBTQ+. We met once a month in a downtown building conference room and it was through that wonderful and consistent group of people that I learned about love and forgiveness. Through these lovely people, I finally found a home and a chosen family to call my own. And it was through this group that I really got to know a diverse group of faithfully LGBTQ+ and allied folks.

Currently though, being out of school and away from the support system I built up over years means I’m spending a hell of a lot more time being religiously and faithfully ambiguous. I don’t have a church or faith community to call my own in my hometown but there is still a part of me that still feels unbelievably connected to faith.

There are a few people who are open about being faithfully LGBTQ+ that I regularly follow. Eliel Cruz is definitely one of those people – he regularly writes about being a bisexual Christian and the intersection of faith and sexual orientation for several different platforms. My first introduction to him came through a spoken word video he did a few years ago:

Another person has been J Mass III, someone I originally heard about through Nia King’s podcast We Want the Airwaves. J Mass III does some really amazing spoken word poems, writes about several issues, and also does a regular conversation on Twitter on #qfaith. Below is one of my favorite poems from J Mass III:

It has taken me a really long time to realize that the bigotry I was fed about religious homophobia is not the constant reality, that God does not hate me for being queer. There was one night in particular in which I remember opening up to the task force I mentioned earlier and ended up  breaking down in tears because I finally admitted how much it hurt to constantly hear how much God apparently hated queer people. And when I finish, there was a moment of silence before the woman across from me looked right at me and said:

God loves you. God loves you so much.

And it hadn’t been until that moment that I really believed that God loved me, that I was worthy of love and acceptance. It’s been two years since that moment but I still remember it so vividly. Ultimately, it has been a very long time since I went to church but the acceptance and love I remember from the faithful people I’ve interacted with over the past few years still makes me feel whole and worthy.

So to all those who are struggling with faith and sexual orientation/gender, believe me when I say that you are worthy, you are unbelievably wonderful, you are most certainly not broken. You are life and loved and wanted in this world.