I thought about two things I often think about in new ways this year:
This was on top of the things I usually think about:
- My Family (in that order, sorry, I have a massive ego)
- THE IMPENDING CLIMATE APOCALYPSE
I’m not sure it’s making me a cool guy to hang out with. This morning my older daughter said of me: “All he does is sit in the shed reading books and listening to weird, sad music”.
Yeah, so that’s pretty accurate and I’m (marginally) better than that so I stopped drinking yesterday and went for a two kilometre run this morning. Consequently I feel worse, but I will start feeling better in about a week if I carry on. I will carry on.
I’m writing this post because I finished reading Why I’ve Stopped Talking to White People About Race yesterday and it reminded me about all the things I have learned about race and gender this year, and it made me focus.
One of the great gifts of being a teacher in a state school that draws on a diverse area is that you meet a lot of interesting people that you would never normally meet, and you spend a lot of time with them. Because I am a Social Studies teacher we also often talk about “issues”. One thing that I keep getting reminded is that (a) yeah, being a certain age I do know a lot of stuff, but (b) my students know a lot of stuff too and I still need to shut up and listen sometimes.
Take the issue of racism. This year there was a social media blow up within the school about white people experiencing racism. Is that a thing? Yes! (most of) the white people said. Including me. It took a group of students of colour about one hour to patiently explain to me why that was bullshit. Reni Eddo-Lodge does the same thing.
There is a difference between racism and prejudice. There is an unattributed definition of racism that defines it as prejudice plus power…. Everyone has the capacity to be nasty to other people, to judge them before you get to know them. But there simply aren’t enough black people in positions of power to enact racism against white people on the kind of grand scale it currently operates at against black people.
Racism = prejudice + power. It’s key.
When I was defending the idea that people could be racist to white people I thought of the few times people in Japan had been racist towards me. It was very rare, but it happened. Those students helped me look at those incidents again and think about power. What happened was unpleasant, and insulting, but I had: money, a passport, a home to go to in a country where I would be welcome and safe, a secure job, good health, a clean criminal record, and (this is a big and) I lived in a world that would tend to take my word for it, and tend to think of me as right in any given situation because I was a white, straight, English-speaking man and in the world of historically, and media-shaped perceptions that was the best card to play to the jury. I had the invisible power of that cloaking me.
Another student taught me something very, very simple that I’m ashamed I didn’t know. She taught me that being colour-blind is racist. That colour is so powerful (white is a colour) that not seeing it is not just being blind, it is denying identity, history and power. It is assimilation on the basis of the culture (white) which talks about being colour-blind as good.
So, I was wrong about racism and I need to keep working.
I read this early in the year:
You should read it (or this if comics aren’t your thing). I am a male feminist and this made me feel bad because despite everything I do – and I do a lot – I am guilty of some of this.
When men become parents they are exposed to a whole new realm of feminist issues that they need to engage with. Firstly, let me say to the men here, that if you are in a long term relationship, and both of you are working or studying or whatever, then it is on BOTH OF YOU to do the day to day shit in life. To equally distribute the cleaning and cooking and bill paying and life planning. Men, often with complex jobs, who have complex hobbies, who say “I don’t know how to [cook/clean/whatever]” are full of shit and need to be called on it every single time. What they are actually saying is: “I don’t want to”, and “isn’t that sort of your job?”. Remember that cloak of “he must be right he’s a white man” we all have to deal with? Same deal, but a different context. This one is the cloak of “woman = household/family; man = work/power”.
Here is Reni Eddo-Lodge in one of my favourite passages in the book:
Feminism will have won when we have ended poverty. It will have won when women are no longer expected to work two jobs (the care and emotional labour for their families as well as their day jobs) by default. The mess we are living is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people, and it can be rebuilt in a way that serves all.
And then this, which opened up my thinking:
The question is: who do we want to be equal to? …. It’s clear that equality doesn’t cut it. Asking for a sliver of disproportional power is too polite a request…. I want to question who created the standard in the first place…. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different…. There is a difference between saying “we want to be included” and saying “we want to reconstruct your exclusive system”. The former is more readily accepted into the mainstream.
pp. 183, 184-5
So, I was wrong about feminism and I need to keep working.
What does this mean? Eddo-Lodge’s book ends like this (I changed it so she seems like she’s talking about Aotearoa which she is, but actually she says British in the original):
We need to change narratives. We need to change the frames. We need to claim the entirety of the history of Aotearoa. We need to let it be known that black is Kiwi, that brown is Kiwi, and that we are not going away. We can’t wait for a hero to swoop in and make things better. Rather than be forced to react to biased agendas, we should outright reject them and set our own. Most importantly, we must survive in this mess, and we do that any way we can.
I am lucky enough to have worked with a bunch of students from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds. Backgrounds that are often not seen as Kiwi. Those students are very smart and funny and engaging and I want to give them a platform. If I can convince them to step on the platform then that will be my project next year. I will put this site on hold for 2018.
Aotearoa needs their voices. Urgently. It’s not just that we need their voices, I think Eddo-Lodge is right: we need to change the narratives and the frames. I have learned a huge amount from them and they need a bigger audience. Some people might point out, rightly, that this would be another white man running things. Firstly, running things is the wrong phrase, and secondly I can’t change my objective identity but I can change its influence in the world. All I want to be is the platform for these students to stand on for a time. They are disorganised and bone idle half the time (sorry) and if I need to make things as easy as possible for them by driving them to the gig, rarking them up, and giving them a microphone then so be it.
Right. Time to go and rark them up.