by Zachary Pullin -
Special to the SGN
Each week at my office, we spend Monday or Tuesday morning in reflection before we start our staff meeting. One person brings in an article or a question that we all explore. It's our way of growing as people and a community. Now, I've been known to bring in stories or prompts that invite meaningful dialogue. But, then again, I've been known to play a song when someone has accidentally quoted a song lyric. Just last week, my executive director said, 'Let's keep that on our radar!' Whereupon I immediately played 'Radar' by Britney Spears. But I digress.
This week, Stacy brought to our attention a concept she wrestled with during our attendance at the White Privilege Conference in Seattle last weekend. The title of the conference is a bit prickly. It sounds more stark than it is, but it's meant to. You'll ask questions about it. And I'll get to tell you that the conference is, in fact, an anti-racism and anti-oppression conference meant to encourage tough dialogue around the roots of racism and oppression. It's an intense weekend but it equips people - more than 2,200 of them this year - with skills to recognize, confront, and dismantle racism in our communities.
WITH US OR FOR US?
Stacy led us in a conversation that was instigated by the movie The English Patient and how the main character struggles with an important decision: Leave his dying lover to get help, or be present with her as she slowly dies. It's a beautiful story, but the most compelling part is found in the analysis - namely, the concept of being with or for. Now, the English Patient chose to find help for his lover - a three-day journey from their secluded location. Whereas, he could have chosen to stay by her side and be with her as she lay dying from her injuries after a horrific plane crash - and sit with the emotions and struggle of mortality. But he leaves for help, and she dies alone while he's away.
What this anecdote and concurrent dialogue was meant to evoke was an analysis of how we are in community with one another. And, especially in intersectional justice work, how we can go beyond allyship and be in real solidarity. This weekend, the White Privilege Conference, affirmed my fundamental belief in intersectional justice as a model for equality. As a Chippewa Cree tribal member from the Rocky Boy reservation in Montana, my identity as a person of color is inextricably linked with my other identities as a Gay, cisgendered, middle-class man.
By and large, when individuals are trying to be in solidarity with other oppressed communities they tend to be for them. They do not fully enter the understanding and into the visceral experience of the oppression. An example of someone being for me as a Gay person of color is merely going to the White Privilege Conference. Meeting new people, hearing stories, learning concepts, enjoying hotel food, and returning home doing nothing further. People who do this are for me. They are for us. They are for anti-oppression work. But they don't move from educating their own community to engaging in solidarity with us against racism and oppression. The character from The English Patient was absolutely for his lover. He believed running for help - being for her - was what she most needed. Sometimes, what is required is being with someone through the struggle to better grasp the experience.
A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE
An example of someone being with me is hearing my stories about oppression and deciding to speak out on my behalf. During the White Privilege Conference, each evening we had a People of Color (POC) caucus where we could be in community and talk about our experience. On the first day, I stood up - loud and proud - and said I'm a Gay Native American, and I hope we talk about LGBTQ people as people of color. By the third day, the elephant in the room was a homophobic incident as part of a keynote speaker's presentation. Duke, a straight POC, stood in front of the group and said, 'As a straight man, I can't sit here anymore without people mentioning the blatant homophobia we witnessed yesterday. We must speak out against it and proclaim our affirmation of our LGBTQ POC individuals!' This moment - the precisely poignant moment - was an example of someone with the Queer community.
See, as a straight, male POC, Duke has a certain level of privilege. He can navigate the world a bit more easily than Gay POCs. He chose to 'spend' some of that privilege to address homophobia. For the first time, I wasn't the Queer person of color in the room raising my hand when I saw homophobia. That to me is someone with us because he heard our struggle and understood a bit more about our experience. He tuned his ear to the homophobia embedded within the coded language we all use. And he chose to say something about it and to literally risk standing with us. I asked him afterward why he felt compelled to speak out, and he said, 'As a person of color, I pray every day that a white person will choose to speak out against racism because I'm tired of always bringing it up. So, when I had an opportunity to speak out against homophobia, I knew it was my chance to do what I expected of white people in regards to racism.'
As a Gay, Native male, I've got to be better at speaking out against racism, and homophobia - but it would be nice if straight, white people would do some of that work. As a young man with a younger sister, I am a hypocrite because I don't do enough to speak out against sexism. Or Transphobia. Or ageism. Or sizeism. Or xenophobia. I want to be with all of our communities. And, that starts with educating myself and speaking up (and out) for others. If you want to challenge yourself and imagine more than marriage, join us at our April 30th INTERSECTIONS event as we discuss body diversity and its intersection with LGBTQ justice. We'll explore sizeism and body image, and feature an incredible photo exhibit! The location is yet to be determined - watch SOSea's website and Facebook page for details.
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