How could it happen that Trump, a man so ignorant, so bigoted and who demonstrates such vile behaviors could win a presidency? How has he garnered such support? More importantly, where do we go from here? In Sweden, where I live, we’ve watched the debates appalled and agreed in hushed tones, that it would never happen here. That this is one of the most liberal countries in the world. And yet it is happening here. Sverige Demokraterna–albeit a pale imitation of the right wing compared to that of other countries–is becoming a major political party1. Many of its members stand accused of similar racist, sexist and homophobic tactics we like to vilify in Trump and his supporters. Bolstered by the conviction that we are not like them, my friends and I once dismissed them without understanding why, as they continue to gain traction, whilst in the UK–my home country–society is on the brink of civil unrest following Brexit2
It seems that Brexit wasn’t a warning enough to the US that the approach we’ve been using–to call out misogyny, racism, and hate–aren’t working to diminish it, on the contrary we have only isolated those who demonstrate these behaviours, given power to their beliefs and fanned the flames. And yet as I read quietly through my twitter feed this morning, I see ever more injustice; this time from those people who are against Trump. There are many injustices at the moment, but the injustice I’m talking about is when we ask the oppressed–among them the LBTQIA, the PoC, the differently abled–to feel compassion and educate their oppressors. Fight harder, change your voice, change yourself… because you know, we men and women socialised by patriarchy… choose not to hear you until you do.
Maybe some of you are nodding, as you read this. Seems unfair, you might be thinking, but it’s the only way. Stop there for a minute and let’s look at it from an interpersonal level. This is like asking a rape victim to feel compassion and educate their rapist on why they shouldn’t have raped. It is in itself a vile, oppressive and thoughtless expectation. And yet in order to fight better, education is badly needed. So who can educate, in such a cycle of oppression? This is where the ring theory3 comes into play.
Developed by clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Silk for interpersonal relationships, on a micro scale the ring theory is easy enough to understand. The afflicted are at the centre of the circle. If you are not at the centre then don’t shit on the person whose been hurt – your job is to support them. If you yourself need support in order to do that, bitch to people who are less affected by it; comfort in, dump out.
On a macro scale don’t give more burdens to those who have been oppressed. Don’t expect compassion from those who have been dumped on. It is not their job to show it. It is not their place to put themselves in danger in order to feel compassion for the bigotry they face on a daily basis nor is it their job to educate the uneducated. They need their anger. They have been grossly treated. So who’s job is it? That depends which intersection of oppressions has affected you. So where are you ‘the afflicted’ and where can you do the work, i.e. where can you expect comfort and care–even if its only by protecting yourself or being angry–and where might you choose to give support?
I am white. I am privileged. I do not identify as queer. But I have experienced misogyny and sexism in its most extreme forms; abuse, rape and discrimination–too many times to count. I have tried to call out micro-aggressions of misogyny in my own inner circle. I failed. Because doing so re-awoke the trauma that I had experienced too many times and left me feeling horribly unsafe. It also rendered me incapable of speaking in language that my white cis-het male friends understood; my anger and hurt made my views easy to dismiss. My voice was not heard because I can’t speak about these things from an objective standpoint.
It is not fair, it shouldn’t be this way, but I am a pragmatist and this is reality. I am not willing to make myself feel unsafe to fight the same behaviours which once crippled me and those who demonstrate them will no longer be in my inner circle. I do not require myself to feel compassion for their position.I do not believe that anyone can justly expect others to choose to put themselves in situations where they feel in danger.
Where can I make a difference then?
I can use my white privilege to fight racism, I can use my more-or-less straight and passing privilege to fight for LGBTQ rights. I can put my money–derived from my privileged middle class education–to support those less financially stable. All of these things I can do without feeling like I am putting myself in danger.
So what am I doing–concretely– as I live on an homogeneous Swedish island in the middle of nowhere?
I use my hard-won experience and privilege to write articles in order to educate others [see: how to start using your privilege by a cis-white woman]. I contribute as much as I can spare on patreon to LGBTQ and PoC initiatives [currently around 100$ a month]. I offer budget services in my spare time to support alternative voices find a larger audience [see: Alternative Sites for Alternative People]. I talk to those I can and call in behaviours which undermine gender equality, albeit sometimes less effectively where it evokes my own trauma [see: Trump, Welschmertz and me]. I support my children’s development in ways I believe will empower them to empower others [see: The Emotional Objectification of Children]. I educate myself by reading a variety of publications outside of Facebook and also financially support sources like wikipedia. Recently, I’ve made my own ignorance transparent by employing a sensitivity editor once a month so that others know; whilst it’s part of our humanity to be ignorant, it’s not so hard to know better and do better [see: Lileth’s lair: Meet your Sensitivity Editor]. I find the ways which I can identify and which are within my personal means to effect (including my emotional capacity). And I’m committed to finding more. Above all, I remind myself every day that if I do not fight the systemic injustice, if I do not find even small ways to act, then I remain part of the problem.
Think. Think. What do you do? If your answer is… ‘I share stuff on Facebook and Twitter’, take stock. Yes, I do that too. But we have more ways we can fight better because small things done by many people make a difference. So where can you and where will you make a difference?
1. [Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_Democrats]
2. [Observer: http://observer.com/2016/06/expect-more-violence-in-the-post-brexit-uk/]
3.These are many links explaining the ring theory, but the article I reference is written by a white male from Lifehacker and which I’ve chosen as a reference specifically because of the predominantly male readership demographic. Why? Because privilege tends only to respect privileged, but we can use that unfortunate truth to better empower non-privileged folk.