Diversity, Shmiversity: Clarifying A Point

By | May 29, 2009

In comments to Etana’s post of last week, Dreamy, many-worded Commenter Extraordinaire, made the following statement, which I thought beautifully concise and accessible enough that it was worth my extrapolating upon into some meandering bloggery musings of my own:

Inclusivity is valuable not because it makes a pretty picture or checks a box, but because drawing on the very diverse experiences of the entire population strengthens a movement by providing a more complete solution to a deep social problem. The more a person is privileged, the more that person is closed off to the intersections of oppression. Inclusion of differing perspectives– especially those which are routinely ignored– like a rising tide, helps lift all ships.

I’m going to break this down into a few component parts here, for easy (I hope) digestibility.

Privilege does not make you a bad person. On the contrary, in many cases whether or not you have privilege is largely out of your control. Privilege isn’t about you being evil or mean or selfish or cruel or even racist. Privilege is the fact that, as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered girl, as I’ve written on here before, I have the luxury of walking around most days not having to think about race or about disability or about transphobia, for example, or when I do, my relationship to these concepts can be purely academic. I, individually, am not personally responsible for the systems under which I live; I am only responsible for how I respond to them. Thus, I can choose: I can choose to go about my life unaware of my situation and the privileges I get. I can choose to be aware of my circumstances on an intellectual level, without doing a whole hell of a lot to challenge them. I can choose to both be aware of my privilege and consciously, fiercely, committedly address my privilege and the privilege of others like me, to try to educate folks who have chosen the first path.

All of these are choices. I tend to fall in between the second and third choices most of the time, and that in itself is a position of privilege – that I have the option to pick the battles that are convenient for me. If I had any number of other marginalizing factors at play, I might not always have the alternative of just not making it a big deal. If there’s no disabled-access to an event venue, in my current state, I can simply furrow my brow, shake my head disgustedly, or even give the event’s organizers or the building’s managers a strongly-worded piece of my mind, but then I can also walk right the fuck into the building and attend the event. If I were disabled and the venue had no access for me, I could also furrow my brow, shake my head disgustedly, yell at anyone who would listen… and then I’d have to go home. It would cease to be a mild academic annoyance, and would instead become a very real obstacle.

To highlight another of Dreamy’s comments:

I believe there is a reason (as speculated at SP) that most [women of color]’s fat-related blogs don’t seem like FA blogs (but rather fashion blogs) to white women. Not because WOC are somehow more fashion-obsessed or less affected by fatphobia, but because, again… The fewer oppressions that affect you, the more likely you are to hyperfocus on the one (maybe one of two) that really stick in your craw, and– not to beat my favorite dead horse– not integrate anti-oppression into your positionality in a truly intersectional way. I know tons of bloggers OC who write about fatphobia. Just, perhaps, not in a way white folks in general would recognize as such. And not so much as a singular focus, or a unifying flag to rally around. It just doesn’t… make sense to divide things that way, for most folks.

The vast majority of my friends of color are fat, and pro-FA, in the purely anti-fatphobia sense. Well-informed and “getting it” on a visceral level and everything. They’re just not into the mainstream FA movement. [Emphasis added.]

The focus on fat by many white, able-bodied, not-poor, and/or cisgendered, etc., fat-acceptance bloggers is largely one that is manufactured and even amplified by our preexisting privilege. Those of us who are used to our privilege are, well, used to our privilege. We’re particularly aghast when somebody takes it away because we’re not accustomed to being denied what we think are inexorable rights. Thus our attention tends to get overly microscopic and centered on the one thing that affects us most directly.

As self-accepting fatasses, we all talk about wanting to see people like us represented in popular culture, as a valid, normative state of being. We want to read articles about how fat people are not moral degenerates, about how standards of health can be different for everybody; we want to see amalgams of ourselves as characters on television or film, in smart, attractive, likeable leading roles. We want to be included. We want our experiences, our realness, our voices to be recognized and acknowledged and shared.

In fat activism, we are, very often, already talking about inclusivity, even if we don’t know it. We’re asking that our unique experiences as non-self-hating fat people be included in mainstream discourse and be considered culturally legitimate, not as out-there insanity, stubborn denial, or as a curious anomaly. What we, as self-accepting fat people, are asking for from society is not that different from what self-accepting fat folks with other, intersecting identities (i.e., folks who are fat AND Black AND queer, or fat AND biracial AND disabled, or fat AND poor AND transgender AND first-generation American, etc.) are asking from US. They are asking that we challenge ourselves to embrace and include THEIR unique differences and identities in the same way we are asking mainstream culture to embrace and include OUR difference and identity.

Being inclusive is hard work – it requires we cultivate an awareness of aspects of other folks’ lives and identities with which we cannot personally immediately relate. For example, will I ever understand what it is to experience racism? Nope. Never. I have to work my tail off to even try, and I still fuck it up with impressive frequency. But how can fat activists righteously demand that the world changes to include us, different as we are, when we can’t manage to include other marginalized folks in our own damn movement?

You see that? Petty bickering aside, we actually all mostly agree. We’ve all got at least one foot standing on the same common ground. All it takes is a tiny little mental adjustment to see it, and then a bigger commitment to dealing with ALL those different perspectives, for the betterment of all of us. I love when that happens.

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