A link popped up in my twitter feed today to a fairly in depth article by Tim Wise exploring the often overlooked ways racism can manifest in progressive and liberal movements. It struck me that this could speak directly to skeptical groups as well. If we are indeed concerned with fostering a diverse community, which will enable us to reach a broader base, these are important points to consider as we strategize and plan our outreach.
Below are several excerpts I found to be particularly salient to what we’re about here at Skepchick. I would, however, encourage our audience to take the time to read the article in full.
On the issue of movement demographics:
In short, while progressive formations should almost instinctively recoil from overwhelming whiteness â€” since it likely signals serious failings in coalition-building, strategy and tactics, as well as utter obliviousness to the way in which weâ€™re going about our business and base-building â€” liberal-left colorblindness trades this critical introspection for a bland and dispassionate nonchalance. â€œOh well,â€ some will say, â€œWe put up signs and sent out e-mails, and we canâ€™t control who comes to the meetings/rallies/protests and who doesnâ€™t.â€ End of story, end of problem.
So in the case of progressive organizing, colorblindness means weâ€™ll ignore the obvious questions we should be asking when trying to ensure a more representative and diverse movement for change. Namely, questions like: When are the organizing meetings being held and where? Are people of color in on the planning at the beginning, or merely added to the agenda after the fact, as speakers at the rally or some such thing? Are we organizing mostly online (which means weâ€™ll miss a lot of folks of color who donâ€™t have regular internet access), or really building relationships across physical lines of community? Are we speaking to the immediate concerns in communities of color, and linking these to whatever issue weâ€™re organizing around?
Race as it relates to feminism:
Perhaps the classic example of how liberal-left activists can manifest white privilege is that of the white-dominated womenâ€™s movement. Although women of color have long engaged in feminist theorizing, activism and advocacy, the predominant strain of American feminism â€” and that which has been largely responsible for setting the political agenda for womenâ€™s issues for the past five decades â€” has been disproportionately white. As such, the way in which that part of the movement framed issues, and made their case to an oftentimes hostile public, reflected first and foremost the concerns of white (and, it should be noted, middle-class) women. Thus, to frame the fight for womenâ€™s liberation as a fight for the right to a career and to break free from the chains of domesticity (as was so central to the early feminist writings of women like Betty Friedan), presupposed that women were not currently working outside the home. But of course, most women of color in the United States had always worked outside the home (as well as in it) and so the struggle as articulated in books like The Feminine Mystique was implicitly white, and of little value to women of color whose lived realities were different. Even the notion of â€œsisterhoodâ€ so central to Second-Wave white feminism was largely exclusionary to women of color, who readily pointed out (and still do) how racism and white privilege limit the extent to which they have been treated as true sisters, or heard as members of the larger community of women.
On what we can do differently:
In other words, unless all of our organizing becomes antiracist in terms of outreach, messaging, strategizing, and implementation, whatever work weâ€™re doing, around whatever important issue, will be for naught. Only by building coalitions that look inward at the way racism and white privilege may be operating within those formations, and that also look outward, at the way racism and privilege affect the issue around which weâ€™re organizing (be that schools, health care, jobs, tax equity, the environment, LGBT rights, reproductive freedom, militarism or anything else), can we hope to beat back the forces of reaction against which we find ourselves arrayed. The other side has proven itself ready and willing to use racism to divide us. In response, we must commit to using antiracism as a force to unite.
I’m putting this out to our readers as a call for further discussion on the topic of race and skepticism. I don’t have much to add at this point, and look forward to participating in the ensuing conversation.
Tip o’ the feathered tri-corner to Kristjan Wager…yaaarrrrrrr…