June 27, 2015

Confessions of a Confused Activist: What does it Mean to be Mindful in a Cruel World?

Deviant Art

Sometimes I anguish over how to make change and how change gets made.

In myself.

In others.

In the world.

I hear some people say activists are loud and angry. It’s not untrue all of the time. Many of us are angry and loud.

Some people say that’s aggravating or off-putting to listen to.

I don’t try to argue that point.

I just don’t know what the alternative is, now or historically.

Does social justice ever come because it is fair or just? Is it implemented just because it is the “right” thing to do?


Does change always come only when people fight, complain and insist on being heard?

Does it come only when some point up, out and to injustice so loudly and frequently it can’t be ignored?

Does anyone like this process or find it comfortable? Is that even the goal?

Is there a mindful or nice way to fight for justice when inequality is mean, ugly, pervasive and alive?

We live in a racist and sexist culture. No one says, “I’m racist. I’m sexist. It’s because of me. Let me take all this privelege and divide it all up so we share it.”

I hear some black people say, “Racism won’t end ’til white people care.”

I hear some women say, “Sexism won’t end ’til men care.”

Is it cynical to doubt that that will ever happen without agitation?

Do whites care about racism?

Do men care about sexism?

How can I stay open-hearted and remain a passionate activist? I’m not sure.

As a feminist, the sentence I hate hearing most is this one:

“We’re all just people. We’re all just humans.”

It’s not that we’re not human. It’s not untrue. It’s not the content I want to argue—it’s when or how it’s said and by whom.

It’s so often said as a reply or an argument when a woman says she has experienced sexism. It’s a hostile, passive-aggressive ways of saying, “F you and shut up.”

In We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote:

“I was once talking about gender and a man said to me, ‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. Of course I am a human being, but there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman. This same man, by the way, would often talk about his experience as a black man. (To which I should probably have responded, ‘Why not your experiences as a man or as a human being?’)”

That rings true for me and makes me feel like I can breathe.

We’re not all the same, and the only way we can know that is to know people who aren’t the same. Instead, it seems we push away the parts of our experiences that make us different as if those parts don’t matter that much and can be ignored.

We do not live in a culture that treats us all equally. Our access to benefits, perks and slights and injustice shapes the way we inhabit reality and the reality we inhabit.

It’s not just perspective. Inequality is not a frown we can turn upside-down with a more cheery attitude.

As a person of privilege (white), when someone says, “That’s offensive,” can I get curious rather than defensive?

What if the next time someone says, “I’ve felt racism,” I ask, “Are you willing to tell this white woman what you mean or how that feels?”

What if when someone says, “That’s not fair,” I inquire rather than argue?

Maybe if I do that I’ll know what I can do as a white woman, instead of letting people suffer the impact of racism and tell me how I should feel better about and fix it.

“You know nothing of silence until someone who can not know your pain tells you how to fix it.”

I heard that yesterday watching Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley in a performance piece entitled Lost Voices.

As a woman, I know how it feels to be told by a man that we don’t live in a sexist world.

I feel silenced.

“I will never turn away an ally,” Darius Simpson said. “But when a man speaks on my behalf that only proves my point,” said the female Scout Bostley.

Do we all silence each other in this way, rather than being silent and listening to each other speak?

Is anyone cheery or indifferent about being mistreated, or treated unfairly, or told that we have not been?

As a feminist, the goal is not to make men comfortable about women getting paid the same salary, but to make pay rates equal.

Is the focus on how change is made a distraction, or will more change be made if we activists were less irked, irate and urgent?

The older I get the less clear I am about how to help make a better world.

How can we hear each other and share experiences we don’t share?

And what happens when we don’t?


Relephant Read:

Inspired Voices: 5 Unconventional forms of Activism.


Author: Christine “Cissy” White

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Deviant Art

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