Monday, June 29, 2009


I am a racist.

That declaration is the sort of thing that usually brings friends sputtering to your defense. "But Cat, you've dated people of color, some of your best friends, and you voted for Obama!" Which is true, but doesn't do a whole lot to defeat my original point.

Which is that, I am a racist.

I'm also an imperialist. A colonialist. Certainly a classist and probably a capitalist.

I'm not generally cognizant of any of this. But occasionally an incident throws this into focus. For me, it was this comment I wrote. You can go follow the link to find it; I have just enough vanity to not put it on the front page.

But the fact is, I wrote something that was racist and imperialist and I need to own up to that, and to own the privilege that let me think something like that was in any way appropriate. And own up to the fact that the only reason I've become chagrined enough to write about this incident is that I pissed off somebody who'd had this blog recommended to her. Only to be completely and finally turned away by what I wrote.

In other words, I was so blind to my privilege that it took that kind of embarrassment to make me notice it.

It seems useless to deny the fact of my racism. Every day I walk through the streets of the Great American Metropolis and I see the color of the skin of the people in suits heading downtown and the color of the skin of the people who are making deliveries or running deli counters, and I can see the relative worth placed on each. And every day I accept that, buy my paper at the deli, and move on to more important things, like who won the baseball game.

Likewise it is useless to deny the fact of my imperialism, not when I wear clothes made halfway around the world by impoverished people, people who had their wealth and resources stripped away by the wealthier countries, people locked into a cycle of poverty and slavery in all but name by the continued exploitation of them by those nations. I see this every day but am content to pay $8 for my tee shirts and move on to the comics section.

Sure, I try to be a good progressive. I try to speak out against open expressions of racism. I have been fortunate enough to know many people of color in my life, which leaves me less sheltered than most people of my (suburban, white, middle-class) background. I believe in all the Right Causes and critique all sorts of forms of oppression.

None of that changes the fact that I am part of a vast web of privileges that systematically elevates me by virtue of a few accidents of birth while at the same time debasing billions who don't share those features.

That I am trapped in the system as much as they are does not change one whit the fact that I have much the better position.

I write a lot here about feminism and sexism, and transness and transphobia. This is because these are the things that are important to me; sexism and transphobia are the prejudices that single me out. So it's fitting that I should be loudest in my opposition to them.

But what I have learned as I've been writing this blog, as I have grappled with the issues raised both here and in my life, as I've struggled to learn and understand more about feminism and how I can live a life that is concordant with it, is that my personal oppressions are not enough. That it is the whole system of oppressions that needs to be fought against.

There is a reason I prefer to use the term kyriarchy over patriarchy, cisarchy, or any number of other dominations. That's because I see them all as part of the same system: that kyriarchy describes the multivalent oppressive nature of human society. We are locked into it by the relative comfort of our privileges over others, which palliates our own lack of privilege compared to some. To confront real liberation would mean to seek to destroy the whole system of privilege itself, to voluntarily renounce and repudiate one's own privilege--to rip down the whole structure of oppression that has dominated human society since the Agricultural Revolution.

Too much to ask? Maybe. But it would seem to me that at the very least this process can begin with digging into my own privileges, to expose them to the light so that they stop being the invisible shackles that keep me tied to the ediface of oppression; that by recognizing them, I can find a way to be less invested in the struggle to maintain my own place. Because make no mistake: ultimately this system leads only to tyranny, the constant struggle of all against all that maintains the majority of the human race in suffering.

And it's a small thing, oh such a small and insignificant thing to do. If I weren't such a coward, if I weren't so deeply co-opted by kyriarchy, I could do more. I have to trust that it might help, though. I have to trust that in time greater things can become available to me.

But what I can't do is not keep pressing forward. Because anything is better than remaining a racist.


In the spirit of making some feeble amends, some links Google Reader served up to me on some uplifiting things happening in India recently: » Gay community stages rally in Bhubaneswar

Riot of colours at Delhi's second gay pride march

India's transgender strive for rights | GlobalPost

Chennai turns up to support gay march


  1. You know, the links I've followed off Tigerbeat led me to Racialicious, and the more I read this stuff, the more I feel the same way - that there are times, many times when I am a fucking white lady racist, no matter how much I am theoretically on the side of "racism is wrong."

    Like, when I read an angry blog by an angry woman who says, "white ladies, when someone of colour tells you to examine your own racism, DON'T start to try and shut her down instead of listening!" and I get angry and defensive and that's exactly what I want to do - shut down being told, being the object of a black woman's anger.

    (Mind you, I have issues around women being angry and yelling at me, but still.)

    Like, when someone I know and have some kind of business relationship with busted out a comment so racist it was staggering to me that human beings out there said stuff like that, let alone human beings I personally knew and interacted with... Did I challenge her? Did I risk a fight? No. And that was racist.

    And all those other myriads of ways where I choose the privileged way because it's so much easier than choosing the side of the people getting shat on. It's painful to look at this part of yourself. I hate it. It fucking sucks.

    But then I can see where I can change. Where next time I can say to a business associate, "I don't think I can do business with you from this point on until and unless you make a sizable donation to a charity supporting people of colour. No? Bye."

    I can look at the poor folks on the LA bus - of which I am one, for fuck's sake - and not see them as people to get away from, but people who need a better transit system just as much as I do. I can look at ghetto kids and see their worth and strength and potential and what crap they are up against, instead of getting angry at the way they are different from me.

    And I am so with you, Cat, in that oppression take so many forms, but in essence it's the same fucking evil, and if you don't fight it, you help it.

    There is just so much work to do. It's important not to be an asshole. It's amazing how easy it is to be an asshole.

  2. Spatula,

    "There is just so much work to do. It's important not to be an asshole. It's amazing how easy it is to be an asshole."