Lately I’ve been watching as all the things I care most about get turned into bludgeons used to delineate and separate “good” and “bad” people. I feel as committed to and passionate about ending racism, sexism, and transphobia as the next person, but I’m starting to feel totally alienated by what taking on those politics can sometimes look like.
I’m a trans person, and in early May I was part of a large group of trans and non-trans people at a radical conference who confronted the environmental group Deep Green Resistance on the transphobic attitudes of Lierre Keith, one of the DGR’s founders. Keith has compared trans identities to people saying they feel “trans-black” or poor people expressing that they are “trans-wealthy”. I’m proud of standing up to Deep Green Resistance and I’m entirely in support of the interaction that occurred at the conference. But in the weeks after the conference, I was disturbed by the way that many people in the radical movement seemed eager to jump on the anti-DGR bandwagon by calling out the organization’s transphobia, as if criticizing DGR would somehow absolve all non-trans people for any past (or future) transphobic or cissexist behavior. Ummmm, no! It’s not that simple.
I’m familiar with this dynamic because I’ve repeatedly participated in it when I’ve attempted to practice anti-racism as a white person. Way too often, my anti-racism has looked like me finding other white people engaged in something I can label as problematic, calling that person out, and then desperately hoping that people of color nearby will notice how down I am—“not like all those other white people!” I’m starting to wonder if this pattern of “recognize a form of oppression; isolate it to an individual; call the person out; and walk away, guilt-free” is actually an unintended consequence of some of the common ways people think about anti-oppression politics. Do anti-oppression trainings just leave us with more-finely honed tools to call each other out? Is that satisfying, or are we actually striving for something deeper than that that?
The other thing is that I’m starting to see transformative justice ideals and practices as totally incompatible with this intense focus on searching out and exiling the oppressive “bad guy” from our lives and communities. A saying that I like a lot and that I think is useful when thinking about this need-to-blame-someone paradigm is the Mayan proverb “In Lak’ech,” which roughly translates to “you are my other me.” What if we took that phrase seriously and accepted that racism, cissexism, rape culture, etc., are always at least as embedded in us as they are in the person we’re trying to work with? And what if we started using our connections and relationships to each other as a source of strength, instead of constantly trying to distance ourselves from anyone who might ever come across as being problematic or oppressive?
As an activist and human being, I’m not working from a purely negative place where the only power I have is to reject things, ideas, and people that I think are flawed. I actually do possess an elaborate vision of the world that I hope to aid in creating. Here are some of the aspects I’d like to see be included in that world: liberatory communities that support self-determination; with guaranteed housing and food security for all people; where all physical, mental, and emotional healthcare needs are met; where there is ample green space, profound comfort, and frequent laughter.
This is the kind of world I’m trying to build. I hope you’ll share your vision of a better world with me. Can we accompany each other, with compassion and gentleness, as we move ever closer to those places?
(jed is also the EA | AE superhero transcriber! -eds)