A dear friend and activist was at a planning group for some community festival and when they did not have any Native American people present, a committee member actually suggested creating life-size images of people in ceremonial outfits, putting them on sticks, and dancing around in a circle with the stick images during the event. Ridiculous, huh? Now we use the term Crip on a Stick to describe people in the Disability Rights Movement who are brought in to meetings to be that one token crip, young person, person of color. etc.(Aside: That's hilarious!)
One of the primary perils of being the Crip on the Stick, that is to say, a token, is that you are then used to bludgeon your own kind... and that certainly AIN'T what you intended:
Obviously we NEED representation—I’m not arguing against that. My point is that this tokenized representation [a person just being a symbol] may come off as a good thing (getting X group to the table) but in reality, a tokenized person is often used first as a tactic to invalidate [cancel or take away] points made by others.— i.e. “We HAVE a woman of color on our board and she LOVES this idea. You’re wrong.” Secondly it is used as an excuse not to act on something—“Can’t you see we’re already talking about youth issues? We have a young person on our committee!”I've noticed this particular dynamic whenever ANY complaints from ANY group come up, in ANY setting at all: Well, this TV show/book/movie/thing/blog entry/situation/committee blah blah blah cannot possibly be racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/anti-semitic/ageist yada yada, because my good friend ________ sitting here beside me is black/female/gay/trans/Muslim yada yada, and they say it isn't.
What's weird about this, nobody ever reverses it. White people, males, straight people, etc. never look to other white people (for example) to validate whether something is personally offensive. By God, if it's offensive, then it is. They/we are regarded as individuals speaking for ourselves, not for "our race."
But then, if you have been BROUGHT IN precisely to speak for your group, then what? We want representation, as MissCripChick makes clear, but we don't want to invalidate other voices from our side. The idea, after all, is MORE involvement, not less. And more involvement will always mean a diversity of views.
Is there a positive way to say "This is my opinion as a _____, but I also speak only for myself." Does that take the teeth out of our involvement, when we do that? Isn't that equivocating?
And how can we support the alternative view(s), without losing our own voices?
In feminism, this has been particularly difficult. Not surprisingly, MissCripChick's post was in response to Brownfemipower's recent post about Jessica Valenti's book, Full Frontal Feminism, subject of intense feminist blogwars that I have mostly stayed out of. I don't want to get too far into that, except to say that I am largely in agreement with women of color bloggers, and their criticisms. For instance, echoing the above "crip on a stick" criticisms, Brownfemipower asks:
Would a white person’s critique of a book only count unless every single white person in the world agreed with that person? Why on earth should it make a fuck of a difference if there’s fifty or a hundred or a thousand women of color who disagree with any woman of color blogger? Is it possible that disagreement between community members is a part of any fully fledged self-actualized community?At the same time, I have to say: good for Jessica for publishing a feminist book. I wish all feminists could.
Is it possible to take both positions? I try.
What do you think?
Listening to: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - All These Blues