discussion starter: anti-oppression work
|I’m passionate about changing the world – the kind of big change which involves ending division between people. I want us to move past ludicrous notions like it being okay for some people to have way more resources than others, and a greater say about how the world operates. I want us to act with real agency and to have full access to our minds, without the fog of confusing and hurtful messages about ourselves and each other.|
I think this work starts right now. What would it take to have activist groups and social change organisations which genuinely reflect the diversity in the broader community? To be actively inclusive of difference?
I love activists, and I love how hard we try. But I do notice that we frequently create cultures which are exclusive and alienating. We’re not always very welcoming. Our cultures can be self-perpetuating – for example, if we start out as a few white middle class university aged people, that’s who we tend to retain as we grow. It can take challenging work to shift this.
I’m excited to see people out there making a commitment to anti-oppression practices. This takes courage and results in much learning. More of it, I say! One of the great ways we learn is through trying bold things, making (big, small, hurtful, embarrassing, silly, damaging) mistakes and reflecting on them. I’d like to make some space for discussion and reflection on our ideas and our mistakes.
A risk I see is that practices aimed at challenging oppression can actually be part of perpetuating an exclusive activist culture. Doesn’t seem right, does it? But if involvement in a group requires adhering to a set of norms, this privileges those in the group who share those norms, or can do a better job of faking it. I’ve noticed that a high consciousness of oppression in a group can look like a lot of very careful people policing each other, without creating an environment that is necessarily more attractive or inclusive for those who are outside the group’s majority demographic.
A no-shame, no-blame approach helps here – recognising that all people have been impacted by racism, classism, sexism, gender oppression, homophobia, ageism, ableism (etc), and that it would be a miracle if we didn’t take on any of this conditioning. It doesn’t help us to clean it up by pretending we don’t have issues – although, of course we still need to be mindful of not hurting others.
Another useful perspective is ‘mainstream and margin’ (thanks Training for Change). Every group has a mainstream and margin, and it often shifts depending on what’s going on. The margin is not always how we would think of marginality or oppression in a systemic way. For example in many of the groups the Change Agency facilitates women are in the majority, and men are a margin in the group. The mainstream sets the norms for the group.
I’d love to start discussion around this juicy topic with those of you who are struggling to address this in your work in activist groups. My plan is to include an anti-oppression article or resource, which I’ve personally found illuminating, in each edition of the tCA enews over following months. Please let me know if you’d like to join me in a small discussion group, to meet each month either face-to-face, over the phone, or on-line. If you’ve got resources you’d like to add to the mix, the more the merrier.
In the meantime, here are some questions to reflect on. If you’d like to email me your feedback, that would be wonderful. Of course, it's important to recognise that many of us can simultaneously fit into both of the two categories below - just to make things even more interesting!
If you are a member of a ‘minority’ or oppressed constituency…
How do you find it in activist groups? What gets hard? Have you ever stopped or avoided involvement in a group due to cluelessness about diversity/oppression? What makes someone a good ally? If you’ve felt central, engaged and respected in a group what has made this possible? If this hasn’t happened – what do you think it would look like?
If you carry a lot of privilege…
How do you find it in activist groups? What gets hard? When have you been pleased with yourself as an ally to others? What have been your biggest mistakes? Have you ever been ‘called out’ for being oppressive? What was that like? What have you found helpful?
To participate in the anti-oppression discussion group, or as I prefer to call it, the Liberation Book Club, get in touch with me on 0421 508 446 or via email.
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