Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Identity politics: does who you are affect what you blog?

Our recent conversation on white privilege got me thinking about the pieces of ourselves that we can't check at the door in our work, arguments, and, yes, blog posts.  Our immutable characteristics change us while they stay constant: they impact our gut reactions, our context, our line between logic and anger.  Often, when we take a step back or a second look, we're able to move past our first reactions, and see an issue through multiple perspectives.  But that's not something that comes naturally--we have to train ourselves to do that.  That first reaction, that's us--that's our core.

In discussing the race controversies at feminist blogs, it struck me that Jill Filipovic (of Feministe) and Jessica Valenti (of feministing) are both attractive, thin, well-educated, financially secure, white women.  That's the lens through which they view the world, and it's largely unchangeable.  And that lens affects what things you understand, how deeply you feel them, and whether you're likely to write a post about them.  I will never know what it's like to be truly poor, to be an immigrant, to be from a family without college graduates dating at least one generation back.  I don't know what it's like to be old.  I don't know what it's like to be black.  I don't know what it's like to be gay.  I can educate myself about these things, and I try to, but I will always be an outsider looking in.

So what do we do?  I guess my conclusion is that to make progress, we have to be honest about our limitations.  We have to own our identities, and how they impact our opinions.  By doing this, we can try to move beyond ourselves, and reach out to other people.  (This is getting cheesy.)  So here goes--here's the baggage I bring to my posts:

1) I am multi-ethnic, but I am also white, in that I have benefited from white privilege.
2) I am a woman
3) I am a victim of sexual abuse
4) I am middle class, but grew up thinking I was poor (and was, relative to where I grew up)
5) I am Jewish

And now you know.  Of course, identity isn't all chosen for us--some of it we choose.  And those are the parts of myself I'm proud to bring to the table: I am an advocate; I am a scientist; I am a feminist; I am a government skeptic; I am an optimist.  This is me.  This is what I bring to my posts.  This is who I am, what I live with, and what I'm at the same time trying to work around.  They are my strengths and my limitations.  Over the next few days, I hope our other bloggers will be sharing some pieces about themselves, and once you know who we are, you can help us see past it.  Thanks for reading.


  1. I am black and a woman so I don't have white or male privilege but I benefit from a whole lot of other parts of my identity, including being heterosexual, able-bodied, middle class, cis-gendered, and thin.

    I had an eye-opening experience with regard to a topic of ableist language. It made me feel defensive but being that I'm not the type to start spouting off, I didn't start making ignorant comments riddled with privilege. Looking back on it, I don't know why it even made me so defensive but I'm glad that I was opened up to the process of having to shut up, take a step back, listen, and understand. It's not about trying to know what it's like to be an oppressed person but it's amazing how many people can't take a moment to just listen and process.

  2. I really understand where you're coming from, Chibi. I think when most of us first start to think critically about the way we use language, we get a little defensive. Like, oh, but I don't use that word like that. I think you're absolutely right that the best solution is to listen and contemplate before jumping in and making an argument. I don't know why people feel that their desire to use certain words or feel a certain way about their privilege is on par with the hurt these actions cause to members of oppressed groups. Even if you're not ready to make a change in your own life, there's little to be gained from going on the warpath telling people they're just being "sensitive." I wish everyone could just think about that: what do you gain from militantly taking a position and insulting those on the other side, versus asking questions, listening, and then asking again if you don't understand?


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