Friday, March 4, 2016

My feelings were hurt...

and I was upset...but...I came to see my rejection and banishment from a vegan group as a gift and as motivation for more learning. Hey...when you get knocked down it's ok to lay there for awhile...yet eventually you have to get back up. But that hasn't come hasn't been a stroll in the park on a sunny day and I sure haven't whistled a happy tune during the process. 

It was just about one year ago that I objected to a member's facebook posting on the page of the vegan organization I co-founded. The post linked to a video ostensibly advocating for veganism...but it was done using racist performances by white people that "humorously" caricatured and mocked a false media created version of a small subgroup of African Americans.

My objection was seen by my four white female co-founders as problematical and unwarranted and not correct...and...while they didn't say it out was apparent they thought I was a whack job.

What played out next was not pretty...or fun. My stance was that since some African American vegans found the video offensive then that settled the question. Nope, according to the other founders they could make the call as to whether the performance was racist or not...even though they were not members of the targeted group, even though they were members of the offending group and even though members of the targeted group had identified the video as offensive and racist. That sort of arrogance is rather stunning when you run into it.

Identifying or perceiving racism is often difficult for people, especially white people. We have all been trained and taught diligently from birth to not be oblivious or to ignore to such harms...and...we white people don't experience it. In addition, we've been exposed to countless images and narratives normalizing derogatory notions about people of color...and that support and reinforce "goodness" of whiteness.

We see these fake and false and misleading tropes in all forms of national media and discourse, in movies and magazines and social media...all on a 24/7 basis. They seem "normal" and commonsensical to us instead of being clearly identified as distortions of reality which are supportive of a white supremacist worldview. We are taught, carefully and painstakingly, to take in and believe the messages and to act on them and at the same time we are taught to behave and think as if the messages themselves did not exist. The content of the messages are promoted as "reality" and the messages themselves are made invisible.

It's insidiously effective. We are told that untruths are truth, unreality is reality and that the messages selling us these distortions do not exist. We swim in and are immersed in a sea and we are told that we are not wet...and most white people believe this and even some people of color succumb to these delusions. Don't believe it? Go take an Implicit Association Test and find out for yourself. Many of the minoritized (and denigrated) groups that are targeted by these invisible messages are represented in these tests. Go learn what you've been learning but didn't realize you had learned.

For most white people, unless someone is wearing a white robe and burning a cross or unless someone uses an obvious racial slur...racism often escapes conscious notice. If it is clearly and unequivocally racist...then "good" white people and people of color condemn such doings...but if it is ambiguous or subtle...then it can get...well...ugly. Conflict can arise because people who are targeted by racist images or actions are generally much more aware of and sensitive to such awful stuff. White people tend to be much more oblivious to it or tolerant toward this crap.

The remarkable thing is that most of us white people here in North America are virtually racially illiterate...but...that doesn't stop us from thinking we know what is going on nor does our ignorance prevent our having strong opinions about race and racist behaviors. Mostly ignorant, harmful and erroneous ones.

As I watched the four of them message back and forth regarding their thinkings on this situation...I sort of felt like the cat looks in this image.

I was stunned and amazed at some of the things that were being said. The process was depressing and educational and awful all at the same time.

A decision point for me was prompted when one of the women said she thought anything but "blatant" racist postings should allowed as long as the post advocated for animals. When I saw that statement...and I saw none of the others objecting to or condemning such a stance...I sort of felt like Don Knotts looks in the photo below.

That ugly sentence with its despicable meaning, along with some others...for instance that I was too sensitive or "passionate" about racist behaviors...made me decide that I really didn't want to continue my association with these white people if this was how they were proposing to think and behave.

I wanted to sever my connection with them but I also wanted to advise all of the group members that I was leaving and why I was leaving. I wasn't interested in pointing fingers or putting anyone down (well, maybe a little) ...but I wanted the members to be advised about the difference of opinion between myself and the rest of the founders and why I was leaving the group. (Since there is only one of me and there were four of them...I figured there was little chance of their deciding to leave the group...although that would have been probably ok with me.) It seemed only fair to me for the group members to be made aware of the unspoken orientation of their group "leaders" and my disagreement with that orientation.

How to present this to the group without being divisive? My suggestion was that we craft a statement about my leaving and why but that all of us would agree to the wording of the statement before presenting it to the group. That way I figured it would be something that didn't demonize anyone or slant the situation in anyway that was objected to by the five of us...and it would be informative for the group members.

The image above, while a little dramatic, essentially captures their response to my suggestion about a mutually agreed upon statement. That absolutely was not something they were willing to do...and...they decided that I might say or do something that would subvert their stance of silence so they removed me from an administrator position in the group and then removed me from the group altogether. about "white fragility" in action. Few better examples can be found. I can only presume they were so fearful and reluctant to openly expose their viewpoints that silencing me seemed prudent to them.

It's just this kind of bizarre obliviousness that led a number of black vegans to start up the excellent website called Black Vegans Rock. It's just this kind of avoidance and silencing that websites (among others) like The Sistah Vegan Project and Aphro-ism and The Funcrunch Files and Striving with Systems work at overcoming among the community of vegan advocates.

If you step outside the sources of online vegan activism to sites that seek specifically to interrupt racism, the options expand exponentially for accessing the voices of those who strive to avoid being enclosed and defined by the destructive mentally and emotionally debilitating vacuum of whiteness.

White dominated vegan groups tend to mirror of white dominated culture...and such culture here in the U.S. is structurally white supremacist in nature. Both U.S. culture and white dominated vegan groups usually overtly disavow racist imagery, actions, stereotypes and beliefs...and also routinely invoke and make use of racist imagery, actions, stereotypes and beliefs. Welcome to denial and distortion and disconnection.

But...if you think about it...what else would you expect in a nation that declared its desire for independence with the powerful (but sexist) and eloquent statement"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." all the while enslaving human beings and continuing to do so for centuries while excusing that enslavement by maintaining the "inferiority" of those who were enslaved. We began as a nation that talked one thing while doing another. And...we haven't stopped yet.

It is confusing and misleading and damned complex and difficult to sort out...especially if you've lived in a bubble of whiteness most of your life. The problem of racism in the U.S. is a problem created by and maintained by white people...and white people have the responsibility to fix it.

Yup, being disbelieved and ejected from the group was hurtful and upsetting. served to signal me that I was onto something of significance. If bringing attention to the problematical aspects of a type of "animal advocacy" could so easily result in rejection and silencing...well...that's strongly suggestive that something is going on that many (white people) do not want to investigate and delve into. Doing so would violate some of the most powerful and ubiquitous rules that enable this white supremacist society...thou shalt not talk about it or investigate it or attempt to interrupt it. If you do you will be rejected, ejected and silenced.

So...I gotta give thanks for the gift of rejection. It has helped me to grasp that being in solidarity with all Earthlings requires struggling to recognize and to opt out of capitalistic patriarchal white supremacy in my thinking and my doing and to resist and interrupt it where and when I can.

I have to listen to the voices of people of color, of people in all marginalized groups and center their knowings and perceptions because they are the rightful experts on recognizing elements of this massive deception. Because otherwise...whether I want to or not...I will recreate oppression. And...I'm sorry to will you unless you do the hard and painful work of opting out. It is, however, definitely better that I feel discomfort or even pain trying to understand and stop this system than to be someone who causes unwarranted pain to others.

There is another benefit to this effort...besides that of becoming less hurtful/harmful...and it is a phenomenal one. Becoming acquainted with the writings and thinkings and perceptions and art and poetry of people of color and people assigned to other marginalized groups has been and continues to be an incredible and enriching experience. We white people routinely are shunted away from and aren't exposed to (or avoid) these sorts of sources...excepting celebrities and superstars. I'll write more about this later, for now I just want to alert you to the fact that, for example, there are authors who are raced as African American and Native American and Asian American and Latina/o American and and and who are phenomenally talented and excellent that...if you are white and straight and may well never have heard of. Their insights are much richer and deeper and more comprehensive than most "mainstream" white authors...partially because they usually are not laboring under the edicts to avoid noticing structural racism or capitalistic patriarchal white supremacy. It is genuinely amazing and staggering to encounter their knowings and wisdoms. Wow and double wow. 

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