Yesterday night, in the middle of writing my 10-week follow-up to anti-misogynist action, I created the following image macro from the original photo (which is in yesterday’s blog post), and posted it to Facebook:
I have since been asked why I felt it necessary to identify my friend and myself as white, while a minority of people insist that this information isn’t relevant. This blog post concerns the answer to that question.
1) All Of Us There Were White
It is relevant that all of us there were white. All of my friends who showed up to stand in solidarity and offer their support were white, and this demonstration did not exist within a vacuum free of systemic white supremacy. I can’t speak for anyone else who was there, but I could feel how much our collective and individual racial privileges play into this event (before and after all the gay-bashing, trans-misogyny, and threats of violence). I know that the majority of us are made more comfortable showing up there every week and taking that space because there are fewer systemic barriers working against our public presence. I know that the majority of us don’t secretly shit our pants, in fear of being arrested without cause and beaten, when a white cop shows up to the scene after a pro-life demonstrator punched someone in the kidney. I know that none of us that day have ever had trouble with the law for Walking While Brown (we are all white — this just doesn’t happen to us). I know that the majority of us are prepared to call strangers out on their racist shit, whenever one of us is told something blatantly racist by someone who thinks that because they are talking to a white person, it’s okay to say that. And I know that because it’s already happened.
2) This Man Isn’t White (Duhh…)
The picture speaks for itself. I can only begin to imagine what kinds of frustration this man experiences on a daily basis, and what degree of resentment and automatic distrust he harbours towards complete strangers who happen to be white and taking up space in public to stand up for the collective rights of a marginalized group. I can imagine that he gets something out of trying to goad someone like me or my friend (who are both white) into a violation of his inalienable rights. I can imagine he expects a fight when he starts one with us. And I understand that he may or may not have been fully conscious of all of these frustrations and perceptions by the time he walked up behind my friend and started calling him a faggot and a pansy. This brings me to my next point.
3) Whites Like Us Aren’t Vulnerable To Systemic Racism
I don’t know my friend’s entire ethnic make-up, but I know my own, and I know that no matter how much I can share about my heritage and the effect of having much of it withheld and brain-washed out of me as a child, I still pass for a typical whitey on sight alone. I know that this man didn’t start calling us white trash because it just doesn’t cut the same way (or even remotely as deep) as attacking us where it really hurts. I know this man must have attended school at some point in his life, or socialized in mixed company, and seen how much it hurts someone who is otherwise invulnerable, to have their sexual orientation and gender identity brought into question with the imminent threat of hostility towards a non-normative identity in either department. I have little doubt that it has happened to him (so he knows how it feels), or that he’s been able to avoid the news so effectively that he hasn’t heard anything at all about how hard gays are fighting for the right to love who they want (how they want), or how hard trans* people have to fight just for the right to live. I know that the only way this man could have so immediately shaken the ground on which we both stood, was to gay-bash and trans-bash. We’re white. It just doesn’t pierce all the way through our privileges to be called anti-white racial slurs (and really, other than in foreign languages, what anti-white racial slurs exist?)
I’ve also decided, since I could see how rapidly and widely the photo circulated within a mere couple of hours (he was recognized and arrested within a few hours), to keep the original photo, and the entire conversation that has sprung out of it, on my Facebook page. I was careful to limit the text attached to the photo to just the details of what took place, and who was involved. I am not expressing any judgment or recommendation beyond that, apart from sharing the lesson I’ve learned about strategy for safety in numbers (if anyone is easily isolated, as my friend was at the time, safety in numbers stops working). I am not suggesting that there is some sort of radical anti-white movement among racialized people as a collective — which I’m sure is the sentiment implicit in asking me why my racial identity is relevant to the details of what happened — but I am holding this individual accountable for gay-bashing and trans-misogyny, because he needs to be held accountable for it. That was completely unacceptable behaviour, even if I can understand the very probable motivations behind it.
My friend who was gay-bashed isn’t gay himself, but he has been gay-bashed for years of his life, and this has deeply affected him. When he was being gay-bashed, all of his previous experiences of being gay-bashed were aroused from his memory at once, and he fell victim to a subsequent anxiety attack. I felt a similar cognitive process when the gay-bashing was directed towards me (and I actually am queer), when he began trans-bashing me (and I actually am trans), and when he finally threatened to smash my head in if I touch him (I am a survivor of a lifetime of physical and sexualized violence). If I hadn’t begun to work through all of this in the privacy of a psychiatrist’s office 2 years ago, I might not have had the strength and resolve to phone 9-1-1 or even stay in that conversation until the police arrived. There are many more stories like mine that may never be brought to light, simply because gays, lesbians, queers, bisexuals, trans* people, and people who live with crippling anxiety, are all brain-washed through daily social interactions to live in constant fear of being made visible as a marginalized person; and to believe that they won’t be heard or that if they do speak, no one will believe them anyway. A lot of people in my position (and in my friend’s position) wouldn’t have even phoned 9-1-1, or told anyone else. And a lot more people can’t speak for themselves, because they didn’t survive the assault.
Lest we forget.