It’s a luxury and a privilege to live your life expecting to always win. It’s brave to live a life expecting to continue to stand up and fight for what you believe in, regardless of chances of success. Last night I went to a play with Diana called “Along the Line: A Rapid Fired Theatrical Response to a Specific Time in History.” The play was an intensive hour and a half of about 100 short little skits to make sense of the current political climate. I’ve never been a particular fan of theater, but the show was exactly what I needed. It was a collective sigh from a country, a collective questioning and a collective fear along with a collective call for hope from a diverse array of American voices.
I left the theater with a feeling of solidarity and commitment to try my best in the new world order we are entering into . Diana explained to me that this was the point of theater from the very beginning, to make people feel things in a safe and public space together. The play is not where your commitment culminates, the play is where you begin your thought processes that you turn into action after you leave the theater.
Earlier that day, I had attended the local Refugee and Immigrant Forum. I was unsure if I should go to the meeting, now that I am no longer working in refugee resettlement. I didn’t want to answer people’s questions about my organizational affiliation, I didn’t want to be that “weird” person who was showing up at a meeting just because they cared. But I showed up, because I realized I would regret it if I didn’t go, and also that my minimal discomfort is nothing compared to actually facing xenophobia as a new immigrant to America. Why should I worry about being judged, when I am one of the least judged people in America right now?
Usually half of the attendants at the Forum are refugee community leaders, and half are social service providers. The meeting generally feels like a small United Nations conference, to discuss local issues within the international community. This meeting however was almost completely social service providers, and the refugee community was noticeably missing.
One refugee attending was a Somali woman who arrived from a refugee camp only last night. She was very worried that her refugee ticket to America was going to be jeopardized due to the Executive Order. She had been waiting 20 years to be reunited with her mother, who came to America without her when she was just a baby. In a tragic full circle story, this Somali woman had to leave her three small children at the refugee camp in order to come to America today. She is here now, she is safe, but she doesn’t know the next time she will see her kids. It could be longer than the 20 years she waited to be reunited with her mother.
There were not many uplifting moments in the meeting, though the speakers tried to aim for hope. You could tell that most of the people there were hoping they would come back with answers about the current political climate. But no one had answers. The refugee agencies only have refugees booked to come until next week, and then after that there is apparently a big question mark. I spoke to a friend later about the future of refugee resettlement, and he said there are no predictions when you are dealing with a madman.
Today was the national “Day Without Immigrants,” and immigrants closed their shops, and showed up at rallies instead of work. There was a rally in Kansas City at City Hall, and I wasn’t sure if I should show up. I ended up just going, because deep down I knew it was just my own fear that was holding me back. I showed up, and the rally was ending, so I stood across the street, listened, and took pictures. I’m still not sure if I had a place at that rally, or if it was supposed to just be immigrant communities standing in solidarity together. But this is something that I can ask real people, instead of questioning alone in my apartment.
That is intersectionality. Showing up, and a desire and actions to learn. Constant learning, collaboration and support. Realizing that no one person has all the ideas, we all need one another to find the solutions. We need to learn when to listen, and when to speak up. On my drive home, right outside of the rally I passed a big white SUV with “Homeland Security” logo plastered on it’s side. I was reminded of the very real risk that the immigrant community took by standing out there, and was glad I arrived in solidarity, even if at the end.
Life is about doing the hard work. About getting over your own fears, in the realization that others have fears as well, and most of the time lives much more complicated than your own. Life is about seeking out those different perspectives, so that you can learn about the world, and how you can best fit into it. Life is about smiling at the stranger sitting on the tree stump on your block, where you have passed her without a smile all winter because you were focused on your own shivering body.
I’m not bringing up my fears because I want you to think my life is hard, I’m bringing up these fears because I want to acknowledge that they are there. Fears in our diverse society are positive and negative. Fears make us a little more hesitant, and may make us listen a little harder, realizing that we don’t have all the answers. But fear can also make us simply not show up, or not communicate with people different from us because we are worried we don’t have the right things to say.
The only way you continue to improve the way you think and talk about things is to put yourself out there and face that fear. Hold onto that fear that takes you down a few notches and urges you to learn from other’s perspectives because you can’t fully trust your own, but let go of the fear that keeps us separated.
If you are a privileged American citizen that cares about immigrants, but doesn’t actively engage with the immigrant community because you don’t want to be caught saying the wrong thing, or have your own unconscious bias before your eyes, you are really no better than those wanting to build a wall with Mexico and create a Muslim ban.
I’m saying this to myself as well, because I think it’s something that I forget. Growing up as a shy person, I’ve always leaned toward the opinion that not talking to someone is better than talking to them and screwing it up. As I got older, I realized this was completely untrue, but I still need help to get over my own fears and self consciousness a lot of the time. I need to have someone tell me to “check my privilege” every once in awhile, to see that it’s not earth shattering to be told that. In contrast, it can help you become a better and more understanding person and build relationships with others who have a lot to share with you.
The most important thing about intersectionality is not being defensive. You need to try to go to the immigrant rally, but you need to be humble and learn if you are told this is not a space for you right now. You need to respect the authority of identity led movements, but you also need to realize that people that belong to those identities should not be the only one’s fighting for their rights.
Life is about the promise of spring. Life is about change. And life is about sometimes letting loose a little bit and feeling some afternoon buzz. Life is about taking responsibility for your own life, but it’s also about taking responsibility for understanding other people’s lives. It’s about holding your own ground, but it’s also about learning to grow and expand as other people give you more information of the world.
I can talk to a man about feminism and what it is like being a white woman in America, but I cannot describe what it is like being a woman of color in America. That’s when I need to raise my sisters up, and hear their story and ask others to listen as well. I need to listen when she tells me why she feels that white women’s feminism does not represent her. I need to recognize that I can speak on my experience, but I cannot speak on others’. And others’ experiences are completely essential to finding answers in our diverse world. We can’t solve my problems without solving your problems because they all come from the same root. And even if we could, we wouldn’t want to. We want to treat everyone’s struggles as important in our unequal society, and find answers together.
This is intersectionality. Recognizing that we are stronger together, and hearing from and learning to view the world as a diverse array of perspectives is the only way to create sustainable solutions. We cannot come up for solutions to sexism until we tackle racism, and we can’t tackle racism without tacking poverty, and we can’t tackle poverty without tackling addiction, and we can’t tackle addiction without tackling domestic violence, that we can’t tackle domestic violence without tackling xenophobia, and we can’t tackle xenophobia without tacking homophobia, and everything is connected, and to find sustainable solutions, you must realize this.
We cannot find the solutions alone. We must seek to understand our diverse world by bringing different perspectives into the movement, so that the movement is not missing these crucial voices. We need to realize that even though it doesn’t seem like our skin’s in the game regarding that one issue, it intimately still is, because all the issues are connected. If you are not helping with all social justice movements, you’re not helping with any.
None of us have to be perfect champions of every cause, but we must continue to learn and grow and talk to people, and become allies to these other causes. Therefore you will show up for causes close to others’ hearts, knowing that they play a part in the causes close to your heart as well. And in turn, others will show up and be allies for the causes close to your heart, because they realize that it is all interconnected as well. That is how we grow community, understanding, beauty and a sustainable movement toward change.
How can you make it something if it’s trying to be everything?
Being an ally to other groups isn’t about assuming that everyone in that group is the same, it’s about learning and listening to the people within the group. Thus, women’s issues don’t have to mean one thing, it needs to mean listening to women in general, and recognizing that we need to raise their voices up, along with their concerns. Just the same, all Muslims don’t have to think the same. We learn that they are all different, but want to be respected for their identity as Muslim, as well as all their other identities within society. Intersectionality is not about doing everything for everyone, it’s about learning when to stand up, and when to step back.
Allyship is aligning with people who are different than you. Allyship is going to a mosque to learn more about a religion, allyship is showing up at an immigrant rally, allyship is smiling at your neighbor who doesn’t look like you. Allyship is the willingness to learn. Let’s support each other. Let’s smile. Let’s learn where we fit in into different activist circles, and let’s never not show up because we’re not sure if we should. Let’s also not be offended if we are told to sit down and listen instead of speak. Let’s ask questions, let’s show up and observe, let’s be there.
I end my afternooon with a three dollar PBR pounder at Thou Mayest. It’s 70 degrees out, and I’m beginning to see the world open up again. The winter is only in how we perceive it. We don’t have to live with four years of winter. We need to grab back our confidence and our power within ourselves, and then share that with others and support other’s ideas, identities and causes.