accommodation vs. adaptability, or how social justice movement are their worst enemy: part 2

there have been a lot of interesting comments on this topic on my first post on this topic. a lot of folks provided their own examples of times folks have wanted to be unreasonably accommodated in radical/social justice circles. go check out the conversations & see what people are talking about.

i started thinking about this topic last week at feminist book club. i came up with the concept of “accommodation vs. adaptability” when one of the other ladies at the meeting mentioned something about crimethinc. some of the folks at the meeting had never heard of crimethinc, so we had to figure out a way to give them a quick debriefing. for any readers who are unfamiliar with crimethinc, i broke it down something like this: crimethinc is a loose & open affiliation of anarchists & anarchist sympathizers who started using the crimethinc name in the late 90s. the people who came up with the name also seemed to be able to come up with the funding to publish an anarchist primer called days of war, nights of love. if that name sounds familiar, it’s because it was ripped off wholesale from a book on latin american history written many years before by eduardo galeano. not that crimethinc credited him with the title or anything. the crimethinc book was structured as a kind of A-to-Z on various topics that may be of relevance to anarchist-y types. no authors were named in the book, & the prose style used was similar to that of the folks who write for “adbusters”. it was all pretty rhetoric-heavy & adopted many of the non-sensical slogans that were popular among situationists & their admirers in western europe in the 1960s. it was kind of a 200-page exhortation to revolution, while leaving open the concept of what revolution is or what it might look like in a highly developed western nation. i read in 1999, right after i turned 20, & it seemed kind of trite & ridiculous to me even then. i’m sure it would be completely unreadable to me now at the advanced age of almost 32.

nonetheless, many radical types liked the book quite a bit & became interested in the crimethinc concept. anarchists love the idea of a decentralized anarchist mass movement gumming up the works of empire in weird ways. crimethinc especially appealed because many of their suggestions for making “revolution” asked pretty much nothing of the participants. they came out with primers on dumpster diving & scamming. they started publishing a quarterly magazine called “rolling thunder”, which is very shiny & colorful, chock full of photos of people engaging in violent confrontations with police. these images were quickly dubbed “riot porn,” & pretty much every punk rock collective house has images like this all over the walls. crimethinc became a shorthand for “lifestyle anarchists”–which is something of a slur to someone who would prefer to think of him/herself as a “real” anarchist. a lifestyle anarchist is basically a young person who has never had any real life responsibilities, dresses out of thrift stores & free boxes, dumpsters all their meals, travels on greyhound when they’re not hopping trains, is probably vegan, is likely engaged in an open relationship, probably lives in a “collective” house, etc etc. “real” anarchists (ie, anarchists who have a passion for the political) tend to write lifestyle anarchists off as being relatively uninformed & disinterested in politics, outside of potentially protesting a summit somewhere or maybe volunteering at an anarchist bookstore or something.

i summed it up as, “crimethinc is for people who like the idea of revolution so long as they don’t actually have to divest themselves of any privileges or comforts that maintain the status quo.” there have been a few national crimethinc gatherings, which have generally been marred by out of towners spraypainting the local communities of which they are not a part, alienating resident non-anarchists, & being called out for racism. i guess it’s obvious that i have no time for crimethinc. crimethinc has been effective at getting a lot of younger folks interested in anarchism & the d.i.y. punk lifestyle, but as i was already into that stuff by the time crimethinc came along, i can’t really speak to that.

when i realized that crimethinc is basically for people who want to be accommodated without having to adapt to circumstances at all, i realized that this has historically been my main problem with pretty much everyone i’ve met through social justice movement crap that has pissed me off somehow. for example, i facilitated a meeting of the local feminist book club a few weeks back. the topic was the history of second- & third-wave american feminism. i gave a brief lecture on some of the tangible accomplishments of second- & third-wave feminism, & went into some of the critiques that folks have of the movements. when i opened up the floor for discussion, i was surprised that a few ladies at the meeting mostly wanted to complain about how unwelcome & unwanted women of color in the feminist movement make them feel. they talked a lot about having race & class privilege & whined about how it wasn’t their fault & they can’t help it. they complained about times they have been “called out” for saying or doing offensive things, & suggested that marginalized women should try not to be so angry & mean. it’s not the first time i’ve heard crap like this from privileged self-proclaimed feminists…& it probably won’t be the last time. they got a fair amount of smart, thoughtful push-back from other folks at the meeting (not just me). when the meeting broke up, i came away feeling disappointed that so much time & energy had been wasted on such a boring, elementary argument, but i was also pleasantly surprised that everyone handled their shit so well. no one flipped over any tables or started yelling. i considered that a win. i heard from quite a few folks that they had really enjoyed the meeting & had gotten a lot out of the discussion…so maybe i was the only one that was bored.

a few weeks later, one of our core book club members was cornered by a couple of folks that had been at that meeting. they had not liked the meeting at all. they had felt dismissed & silenced. i asked a few questions & figured out that these were the same folks that were saying or agreeing with some of the more offensive ideas being bandied about (stuff about how marginalized people complain about privilege too much, for example). i haven’t talked to any of these people directly, but it seems pretty obvious that they wanted or expected book club to be a safe place for their to come & say a bunch of offensive, privileged shit without brooking any dissent. i’m sure there’s a certain element of their race/class (& in the case of one dude that was complaining, gender) privileges causing them to feel entitled to say whatever they want without facing criticism. i get that it’s hard to go through your life feeling downtrodden because you are, say, a lady, & being shocked when confronted with the concept that you could possibly be oppressing someone else. it’s something that makes a lot of people feel angry & defensive. it’s also an argument that i have been having with people for well over half of my life & i could not possibly be more sick of it. i would LOVE to somehow tap into a feminist community that gets intersectionality & doesn’t feel the need to have this fight over & over & over again, so that maybe we can start raising the bar of discourse & complicating the narrative a little & actually getting something accomplished.

but i guess that is probably not going to happen overnight…at least not on a large scale. okay. i can live with that, i guess. but i am disappointed that these folks from book club, rather than sharing their feelings AT book club, are complaining all over town instead. & that they are using buzzwords like “dismissed” & “silenced”. i really have no problem whatsoever silencing & dismissing some fucked up racist commentary about how women of color need to bend over backwards to welcome white women into people of color spaces. & the other thing that really makes me feel weird is that there were several women of color at this meeting. did these white girls stop to think for two seconds about how their words may be perceived by the women of color that were present? did they not realize how stupid & selfish they sounded?

but of course, no feminist community wants to be branded as “silencing” or “dismissing” in the face of someone perhaps having concerns that could be considered legitimate. i feel like these are words that have lost almost all meaning, to the point that they are used as weapons to silence & dismiss both criticism of privilege & entitlement, as well as criticism that conflicts with whatever random point someone is trying to make (see here for examples). some folks at book club have been a little concerned because they want book club to be a welcoming space to anyone who wants to drop in & join the discussion. i have no problem with that…in theory. but in practice, i can only really welcome people who are willing to say their piece & accept the fact that book club potentially represents a diversity of opinion, including opinions that may be in direct conflict. i am not into coddling or hand-holding or doing anything to make people feel like criticism is not welcome. because i am WAY critical, & a non-critical feminist space is not one i want to be in.

i will add, in closing, that book club is generally pretty cool. the meeting i described is the only one where anything really said anything super-problematic, in my opinion. people definitely don’t always agree, people definitely don’t always make statements that i personally consider to be categorically “feminist,” but i do love the fact that i get a weekly opportunity to share the same physical space with a bunch of self-identified feminists that want to talk about what feminism means. i am definitely not talking shit on book club.

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3 responses to “accommodation vs. adaptability, or how social justice movement are their worst enemy: part 2

  1. & that they are using buzzwords like “dismissed” & “silenced”. i really have no problem whatsoever silencing & dismissing some fucked up racist commentary about how women of color need to bend over backwards to welcome white women into people of color spaces.

    Classic appropriation here.

    Historically, women of color have literally been silenced- from slavery through segregation and up into today. Examples: slaves being raped by their masters, the horrific travesty of sharecropping, being denied voting rights (and therefore any semblance of fair representation in government), and being relegated to separate schools and other facilities through segregation.

    Some annoying white girl complaining about shit like that is not “being silenced.”

    Keep ’em coming, Crabigail.

  2. It’s funny that in the more horrifying and vapid corner of the feminist blogosphere there’s a giant blow-up about the polar opposite: where people are defending their right, in the name of feminism to harangue young girls at the slightest provocation.

    But it’s two sides of the same stupid coin: People get really invested in identifying as a feminist or an anarchist and become really convinced that a political opinion is the same as an oppressed identity and so co-opt the hurt and anger people feel when they are being oppressed and act like a woman’s own internalized misogyny is so personally hurtful to them that they can’t help but scream at her. It makes me think of that ridiculous shit that Bitch said that someone linked to in the other post. She obviously really invested in the political identity of “gender activist” and can’t imagine why that political identity isn’t better or more awesome than someone’s actual gender identity. In Bitch’s eye’s actually just being a trans person is less radical and more ‘privileged’ than thinking of yourself as a gender activist.

    I see it around queer issues or fucking “quiltbag” which is, like, the worst term ever in the history of acronyms. I remember at the Trumbull there was a picture of two married gay men with the caption “racist, sexist and classist” or something like that. It kind of bugged me then and it bugs me more now in retrospect, because I *know* that the radical queers who put that up did some exceptionally racist, classist and sexist things during just the time that I knew them. And shit, that’s how it is? Anything square is a sign of how oppressive you are, and therefore if you are really into crimethinc or being a super-queer radical then you are automatically an *awesome* anti-racist, class warrior? Picking a certain kind of bohemian identity is evidently an easy way to shed all your privileges and social conditioning. And just being a lesbian is evidently way, way less authentically queer than even being a person who only has hetero relationships but can describe their sexual identity using off-brand Judith Butler buzzwords.

  3. One of the more embarrassing facts of my life is that I have not one, but two copies of that Crimethinc book in my house, I think. My partner and I both had it, for whatever reason. Neither of us remembers buying it and we both hated it, but we’re also both book hoarders. If anyone wants a copy (or maybe two!) lmk.

    but of course, no feminist community wants to be branded as “silencing” or “dismissing” in the face of someone perhaps having concerns that could be considered legitimate.

    This reminds me of that controversy I didn’t follow closely over at Pam’s House Blend about a year ago. I don’t actually frequent that blog, I mostly read references to what happened elsewhere. A blogger used the term “cis”, some cis gay dude complained about how the term was offensive and demeaning, and claimed there was some kind of double standard because “if trans people ask you not to use the term ‘tranny’, you stop using it, but if non-trans gay people find a term trans people use to refer to us objectionable, no one cares! Wah wah, reverse transphobia, or something.” I still don’t get what is demeaning about “cis”, and the only people I can think of who feel offended by it are this guy and Bitch, but said blogger not only agreed to stop using the term, but at least considered banning any commenters who used it.

    Not sure how that whole mess panned out. I’m sure it was awesome.

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