There is a lot going on in the world right now. And in recent months I’ve stuck my head in the sand to avoid the unfolding Trump-related drama at all costs. I’ve avoided the gay marriage (or you know, marriage) plebiscite details here in Australia. I’ve stopped tuning into the hate-filled speech being sprayed by privileged white people in positions of power. You see, I’m a highly emotional person. I find other people’s pain, anger and upset to be incredibly overwhelming because I just want everyone in the world to listen, love and respect each other. Over the years I’ve become far more vocal about what I believe to be just and fair, but to be honest, I panic at the first sight of confrontation. For the last few months, I’ve felt the need to distance myself from the news reports and Facebook keyboard warriors and trolls. I’ve kept my mouth shut when political discussion, propaganda and inflammatory posts arise.
Today, I was made to realise that this act of avoidance is simply not okay. By pretending that there are no people in the world expressing racist, misogynistic, oppressive views in order to maintain their positions of power at the top of the social and cultural hierarchy, I’m doing the complete opposite of what I am passionate about in life… and what is just and fair. By not raising my voice in support of my fellow human beings being treated like, you know, human beings, I am just as bad as those using their voices to spew forth hate and fear.
My thesis paper for university explores the issues of representing the other within the creative writing discipline. I’ll break down what representing the Other means real quick (I am by no means an expert and I’m still learning as this is such an indepth and complex subject). There is, and has been for a while now, a lot of contention on people in a position of power representing (or speaking for) the Other (oppressed persons), particularly if the person in the position of power is benefiting at the expense of the oppressed. The hierarchy of the oppressor and the oppressed changes depending on the people in the equation (gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, etc). For all of the humanity, though, the people in the position of power have dictated the rules to everyone else. The group in power has decided who is to be hunted down and why they are considered evil or sub-human. Think burning witches at the stake, the Holocaust, Africans sold into slavery, and the list goes on.
A few years back, the socially acceptable way to show you were not racist was to say “I don’t see colour. We’re all the same on the inside.” While part of this statement can be considered true: biologically we are composed of the same organs, systems and skeletal structures, however, many indigenous cultures have a higher incident of illnesses and life threatening diseases, and a shorter lifespan. But colour exists. And the colour of one’s skin divides them from the other colours. By disregarding the colour of one’s skin, though, we continue to disregard the lived experience that person, or their culture throughout history, has endured at the hands of the people in power. When you come from a position of privilege (that’s us Anglo-Saxons) it’s vital we are aware of the privileges afforded us, simply for the fact that we are born with white skin. We don’t choose our skin colour at birth. It is through the divine hand of God/the universe that our soul connects with a body. And somewhere along the way hate for anything different to what we are is spread.
None of us can ever truly comprehend the lived experience of someone else. We all feel, grieve, learn and experience our lives in subtly different ways. The standard practice throughout history is for the people in power to provide a “voice” to those they oppress. However, no matter who you are, you can not give a “voice” to someone else. Speaking for someone in a powerless position ensures that they remain there. We can never truly “speak for” anyone else because regardless of skin colour, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, our lived experience is unique to us. Yes, there will be similarities, but I cannot and will not presume that my experience of domestic violence and rape is the same as another person. Coming from a country of privilege, I had access to support services that may not be accessible to a person who has experienced domestic violence or rape in say Malawi. Speaking for can be just as damaging as not speaking at all. Can we offer each other support and dignity in similar lived experiences? Of course. But how do we challenge the oppressive structures that continue to exist for people who are not in a position of privilege? How do we support our fellow human beings, no matter the colour of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their abilities, to be treated with respect, dignity and love that each of us deserves?
I will no longer ignore what is going on in the world. I will question my own privilege and listen to those around me with different experiences, so that I may learn how to support my fellow humans. Everyone deserves to live the life of their dreams, regardless of skin colour, sexual orientation, ability, or religion. I don’t know the answers. What is going on in the world right now is incredibly complex. But, start reading and researching as much as you can. Read from the point of view of persons or cultures different to your own. Understand and be aware of why the people being oppressed feel the way they do. If you’re in a position of privilege it is not up to those who have lived in oppression to ensure that the privileged are comfortable. If you stand in support of those whose lived experience is different to your own, stand strong and support them to speak out about their experience. Because every one of us has a voice and we need to be supported to use it.