Othering and Representation
February 20, 2012
(Originally post over at Womanist Musings. Posting here for archival purposes)
(This is an interesting post in light of Renee's apology last week. I'd actually written this sometime a few weeks ago...)
As I still work towards decolonizing my mind and attempting to view the world through my own eyes and without the lens forced on me, I’ve begun to notice a certain bad habit that I’m guilty of. It is a bad habit that I also see many other SJ types doing. It is something continuously done to PoC by White people, to LGBTQ people by hetero and/or cis people, to disabled people by TABs, women by men, etc, and any combination of the (un)listed identities.
This is the problem of “othering” and stereotyping. We are taught from birth in this racist, cissexist, ableist, heterosexist, sexist, fatphobic, etc., world not to see the humanity of marginalized people. We are all taught this because of the dominance of the messages conveyed by a media controlled by people deeply invested in dehumanizing us. Many of us recognize this.
The problem seems to be fully and utterly eradicating this from how we perceive and interact with other marginalized people. It is especially important to do this with marginalized people who do not share your particular axis of oppression. It is also something that I have often failed at and have seen many other anti-oppression activists fail as.
In many of the disagreements, arguments, disputes, altercations, between various groups that I’ve witnessed, some of the cause for pain, hurt, and anger often stem from the fact that many of us continue to take the words, ideas, and feelings of one person as representative of the whole group. We are always generalizing, generalizing, generalizing. And often with so little data that we might as well call ourselves social or evolutionary psychologists.
Some honest talk here. How many people reading my posts have understood me as speaking for all diaspora, anti-colonial Filipinas? Of for all non-white trans* types of people? For PoC queers? I’m sure those of you further along the decolonization process will say no, and some will say yes. Saying yes isn’t a bad thing. Especially not if saying ‘yes’ in this particular context will aid you in becoming aware of this sort of activity.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m guilty of the same damn thing. I *still* do it. I have to remind myself occasionally that, for example, Renee only speaks for herself. She doesn’t speak for all womanists. For all disabled people. For all Black women. She is only one person, one voice articulating her experiences and truth. So too with me. I am only one person trying to liberate myself from colonialism and all manner of oppression. One person trying to locate myself in the world and standing up for myself.
One of the reasons I was so hesitant to start blogging when I did was because I didn’t (and still don’t) want to get involved in vast ideological battles, flame wars, blog wars, or any derivation. I don’t want my time and energy eaten away by what should amount to personal disagreements that become so much more based on community affiliations, some notion of loyalty, and this continued act of othering people.
I’m still at a loss for *how* to completely eradicate this urge to equate one voice with all voices. To make people into tokens and representatives of entire populations of people. One of my main methods is to try and follow a diversity of people in my RSS feeds, twitter, etc. But this quickly becomes a problem because there are many different sites of oppression and many great people working/writing about them (and I only have so much time).
Yet, this is only a stop gap solution. I want something more general. Something that will allow me to follow only one disabled advocacy blog/site and understand that they are only speaking of their own views and experiences. To always understand that my own views will be limited by how diverse my exposure. To really know that, if I’m only following one feminist writer, that I should understand that I’ll remain ignorant of 99.99999999% of feminism.
How do we get to the place when we are only individuals speaking to other individuals? To stop acting as if lives were theory and people nothing but educational products for consumption?