Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Color of Invisibility

I want to take a moment to address concerns that have come my way in recent days.  I don't expect everyone to hear my message.  In fact, I'm still pleasantly surprised when someone does.  I always hope folks will take the time to really listen to what I have to say and sit with any resulting discomfort for a minute or two.  Its a lot to ask, I know- but the truth is worth it.  As a primer on the racially-constructed barriers African-Americans face historically and contemporarily, I challenge you, Dear Reader, to read the following essay.  This will be no small feat.  It is equal parts long and horrific.  However, there is much to be learned from it.  Don't be put off by the title, it is much more encompassing than the title suggests. 

I also want to address the subject of labels.  I believe this simple truth: call people what they want to be called.  To refuse to do so is to marginalize that person, render them invisible.  You want to be called by your name, right?  I can't just pick another name at random and start calling you that instead, because it makes ME more comfortable.  Please provide me the same courtesy.  I want to link to a short pithy article that I think is well worth the read.  This is a great overview for those struggling with what it means to be an 'ally.' Pay particular attention to numbers 2 and 4.

I have no intension of being argumentative.  My energy will not be used that way. This is hard work and each one of us has our own burden to shoulder.  I want to engage and discuss, but I will not defend or debate.   Please do not make it my job to validate you.  Thank you to the true allies out there who truly have my back and have worked hard to support the difficult work I do.  You are true treasures and I am better for your conscious awareness and redemptive action. 


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  2. Sherry, I agree. A name is so important, it is a part of our identity. I have a friend who migrated from Greece to Australia in the 1960s and the border guards changed her name on her documents as it was too difficult for them. They erased her Greek origins and replaced them with an applied anglicised identity.

    Growing up in that climate, I didn't need a label. I was Australian - she instead was a Greek Australian (again, applied). It was only recently that I labelled myself - I am a white caucasian anglo-Australian. I didn't have to before as this was implied. White is the default setting, as is heterosexual and cisgender. It would take me over 40 years define myself, no-one is going to take that away from me!

    Some people are upset when we define ourselves; black, POC, afro-American, first nation people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer.....the number of times I have seen people protest with "we are all human, I treat everyone the same - why do you need labels?"

    My response to people who treats everyone the same, who wants to call me simply 'human' is that "the default setting has not changed. If I don't label myself, you don't see me and you assume that I am like you".

    People don't seem to want to know that some of us have vastly different quality of life, different opportunities, less rights. In in the breastfeeding field, there seems to be the assumption that we all have the same needs and the same difficulties.

    LLLI, has finally included lesbian mothers in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding - a tiny step forward, but you will still read on their website ""Lesbian mothers are aware that most of the literature is going to be written for traditional families and that they can still benefit from the suggestions in these materials" (LLLI, Adressing mothers' diversity).

    Evan Riordan (2010) states "the majority of lactating mothers are heterosexual, and there is little if any research about the sexuality of breastfeeding single and lesbian women. It is likely that much of the following discussion will apply to all women” (and we only get mentioned in the section on sexuality, nowhere else).

    These are the kinds of rare moments in any kind of literature when labels are recognised (both heterosexual and non), but then they are dropped and the discussion returns to the default setting. Is this the same for the afro-American community? I imagine it is. White culture is expected to be applicable to everyone. We whites have difficulty seeing it as white culture, it is simply ‘normal’.

    The majority of breastfeeding books that I have talk about white heterosexual American-centric culture. The only way we can change this is by naming ourselves, making ourselves seen, talking about our issues. We can't talk about our issues if we don't name them. Child sexual abuse has taught us that naming body parts and naming abuse is essential in affronting this issue. In the same way, we need to define our identities in order to mark the boundaries between ourselves and the next person . It might be as simple as a name, or it might be a complex description of our intersectional identity and social roles. When we understand who we are, who are communities are, and the difficulties we face, then we can address those issues. I have to thank you personally for this – when I began reading your work on inequities, I began to understand the issues that the LBGTIQ community face (which also intersects with your community).

    Perhaps that is why I don’t feel threatened by your labels – I am not threatened by our differences. I know I have something to learn from you. Labels do not only define differences, they also help us recognise similarities, which I can see – despite the vast differences between our backgrounds and cultures.

    Sorry for the long comment, but it is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m glad to have the opportunity to discuss it here.

  3. Your thoughts are always appreciated here, Alice.