Why Do You Have To Go And Make Things So Complicated?
Written by Freyr A. Marie (They/Them/Theirs)
In (my) dream of a liberatory future, white cis identifying women need to recognize that they are powerful and dangerous. We need to be real about the historically constructed sanctity of cisgender white womanhood, how it has and does get mobilized as a means to assert white heteropatriarchal settler power over indigenous peoples and lands, people of African descent and people of color. (Insert manifest destiny portraiture) It is a mechanism that has been internalized, not only institutionally but interpersonally. A mechanism that has literally ended the lives of people of color--at the forefront, the lives of black men in cases like Emmit Till, which horrifically, was not unique.
White tears or even white defensiveness, centers white cis women as the most highly sensing and feeling personalities (in addition to the moral assumption of least violent), over non-white and gender-non-conforming and trans individuals. Simultaneously, on a continental level, there is a gross ignorance about the settler colonial extractive violence and land acquisition that creates the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis. There is an ignorance of the historical trauma in indigenous, black and people of color communities due to settler colonialism. In addition, the high rate of violence and marginalization that trans/queer people of color face, in particular trans women of color, is not acknowledged. This violence is created through the intersections of transphobia, femmephobia and racism which, in 2018, has resulted in the reported violent death of 25 of trans people, almost entirely trans women in the USA. The trauma, resilience, and complexity experienced in communities impacted by this sort of oppression and violence is belittled and left largely unrecognized.
White cis women need to address that their sense of safety and wellbeing is constructed through the settler colonial state, social practices and moralities. And that white tears and defensiveness is a means of gate-keeping the social conditioning and institutions of settler colonialism. I do not want to discount that white cis women are impacted by patriarchal violence and biases, and it is important to realize that all people are impacted by heteropatriarchal violence (capitalism and white supremacy--its fellows). In doing so, we need to be honest about the constructs and mechanisms of white settler power that has created the white cis women identity, to not only uphold colonial violence but further imbed the white-settler constructs of race, gender and class, both institutionally but through social interaction and morality politics, that are acted out in ways that can seem benign, or in ways that take the form of social policing and also literal police. Examples include instances like the one linked here: 911 call, lapel video of Native American teens pulled from campus tour released
All of these components place a respectability politic that shifts and moves in order to serve who is deemed most human, most virtuous and most believable under settler colonial, capitalism, heteropatriarchal power. White cis women are strategically placed to protect settler dominance and patriarchal power.
It can be unsettling to learn about how intricately those buy-ins function. White- cis- even queer progressive or radically identified white women, are too complicit.
Institutionally white cis women control an exceptional amount of resources, and carry leadership positions where they not only oversee but also control or deny the accesses of QTBIPOC people (ei the non-profit industrial complex.) This has real impacts as many times people of color and queer/trans people of color are fired, gaslighted or demonized when they challenge the power and ownership of white cis women. Meanwhile, cis white women’s monetary access and quality of life is not impacted. This is privilege.
Oftentimes, white privilege and cis privilege allow white cis women to conflate their emotional experience of being challenged, with their good character or safety being attacked, when in fact they are experiencing sensations that mark the recognition of privilege (or being asked to step back from privilege) and the harm it causes. They are not actually in danger, but it feels like it. The threat they experience is not a loss of true safety, but to their position power and privilege, the same power and privilege that creates impossibilities for others to experience safety. QTBIPOC people have developed a high level of resilience around these behaviors and are faced with continual micro and macro aggressions of social and institutional oppression that centers the white cis experience. QTBIPOC are not trusted in those very same leadership positions, nor are allowed to be authors of their own experiences.
Instead of dismantling the core settler colonial foundations of these institutions, there is a focus on inclusivity: “we are one”, “one tribe”, “equality”. Often times these use cultural appropriation or assimilation tactics couched in “good intentions” and the concept of togetherness. Sadly, inclusion predominantly centers the white cis lens, often times marking anyone outside of it “the other” or a token. Something that must be addressed as a legacy of the sense of rightness and immovability, even nativism that these institutions afford themselves, when in fact they are relatively new to this land and should be de-centered and dismantled.
I am not an outsider to the experiences of white cis gender women. Growing up, I saw my broke, working, white cis mother experience violence as she struggled through trauma and cycles of substance use. I grew up experiencing it with her. And I also had, in retrospect, to think “wow, if my mom wasn't white, might she be dead or in jail?” I honor and love her resilience, wit and crass truth telling, and am deeply thankful for her. Simultaneously, I question my need to vye for support and recognition in my stance that these systems of power which I describe are real, not just conspiracy or personal prejudice. And it just exemplifies the construct-- that I must appeal to the white cis heteropatriarchal sensibility to humanize it further, make it digestible, reveal compassion, and expose myself strategically for accountability purposes and to exemplify my right to make these statements.
QTBIPOC people have to perform exceptionality, be visionary, be ultra-capable to be seen in a similar way as their white and cis counterparts. While authentic brilliance, QTBIPOC vision and experience being centered, literally Indigenous people centering their experience in their traditional territories, is threatening (insert Standing Rock). We need to address constructs of settler power as ableism and the disposability of those who are not able to perform based on these constructs..
I see the way that white cis women are protected, particularly white cis women who conform to middle and upper middle class moralities especially. They are kept alive, are able to remain in communities, and are empathized with. (Generally this is under the stipulation that they abide by the moral standards that white gendered and classed moralities dictate, while broke women, people of color, trans and queer people of color and people of marginalized identities, disabled people, neuro-divergent people, and elders, are pushed out by those institutions, ideologies, social conditioning and implicit biases.) Implicit bias is something that often manifests without its actor realizing, and it is common in the centering of white cis women and the emotional and political power that is afforded that identity (again referencing the emotional fighting style that is white tears or white defensiveness.) Defensiveness is a human tool of self preservation, it is valid, but please be real about what you are helping to preserve, and ask yourself, “is this what I’m about?” ESP While people who do not conform to the implicit white heteropatriarchal standards (sometimes called normativity) are criminalized and shamed, denied access to basic needs, harmed, incarcerated, their morality judged, murdered, through racialized, transphobic, qUeer phobic and culturally minoritizing moralities of capitalist settler and white heteronormative dominant society.
Dr. Christine Ford came forward this year against her sexual abuser and was dubbed as "class traitor" because she is one of the first white women to betray white silence. I think about how difficult that was and how important for her to be a race and a class traitor by not staying silent within the white wealthy class privileged heteropatriarchy. I want more people who occupy the white cis women identity to ride like that, with honesty and vulnerability, with realness. Then take it even further. Ride on the terms of Indigenous peoples and QTBIPOC communities. I want people to do their own work to delve into the ideologies and constructs of settler colonial practices and sciences that justify the construct and dominance of whiteness and the gender binary. I want this to be an act of investment in liberation and agency. An act of partnership, but also of reclamation. I also want white queer and transgender people to do so as well, by linking the responsibility to challenge gender constructs on the grounds of their connection with the constructs of race, and the erasures of indigenous lifeways, culture, kinship and ecological practice. THIS MEANS IN THE SCHOOL OF LIFE not just in theory.
I want to feel safe with people who occupy the white cis woman identity and to feel like they will hold it down and break it apart. I've been exploited but also demonized a lot by white cis women and the sympathy they are able to cushion their experience with, at times maybe not intentionally. This is simply because the gaze and emotionality of whiteness and cis gendered experience is conditioned, and also for those who exist outside of it. It is compulsory to navigate strategically, in order to maintain livelihoods and reputations. These are constructs that place exceptionality, tokenism, and exotification on those outside of that construct who are able to interface with it. Usually that exceptionalism relies on diplomas, high performance, mixed white or white passingness, access to certain language, class privilege, ect.
I'm so game and ready for that to change. I'm also so ready for things to shift away from US colonizer racialized thinking, for people to understand white privilege, understand the histories of how current understandings of gender and race were created in concert as part of settler colonialism (look into settler land ownership laws, and gendered and racialized marriage laws). How can you destroy white supremacy, unlearn internalized patterns of settler violence, rematriate lands to indigenous nations and naturalize into indigenous systems while maintaining ancestral relationships? Phew like that feels tricky and impossible at times, but I can dream!
I want people to do this not by culturally appropriating, exotifying themselves or others, without attempting to build an extractive coolness, to unlearn cultural appropriation, exotification of queer/trans/black/indigenous people of color rather than ornamenting oneself with diverse friends and experiences while claiming to dismantle these systems. Instead I want this to happen by building partnership, kinship and relationship that takes into account the deep need to invest time and energy because the health of this planet depends on it. And relationships are not simple. I am not interested in white cis women martyring themselves, as I believe this is a codependent behavior that can then result in resentment or justifying of gaslighting behavior. I want something better, that is based on personal agency, healing and moving into radical care and action. The work of unpacking these conditionings is not easy. You have to choose it and live it’s unruly complexity. You will be a messy human in this process. We are all fallible. But get real.Y ou have to fail and continue because you believe in its importance.
You have to work to know these concepts in your body. It will be unsettling at the very least. It means sitting in the shit, and the shit isn’t pretty. It isn’t virtuous. It isn't socially acceptable, and doing the work doesn't make you look good most of the time. It is human, it is real. Not every space if for you, but there are ways to still be in partnership. It takes investment in the continual challenge of building a deep resiliency, personal self worth outside of capitalist, racialized, gendered, settler constructs while being continually impacted, defined or privileged by it. It is scary when that is what forms one's sense of reality, history, time and space, in a nation that is in a continual cycle of theft and exploitations on indigenous lands and bodies, black, brown and queer, trans and two spirit bodies. But it is powerful to engage with. There are many things that can exist simultaneously and it is important to grow accustomed to being about giving care to that. I want people to invest in healing, in unlearning and connecting their liberation to addressing global climate change, addressing oppression by becoming partners with indigenous issues, recognizing that indigenous people are not just a racialized category of Colonialism’s making (as Native Americans), but that indigenous peoples are humans; more than humans, plants, animals and minerals who exist in kinship with a place relationship (or a displacement from that) and as such are many varied peoples and cultural place based practices who have their own names and languages. I repeat if you can only see indigenous peoples through a human, US centered racialized lens (as Native Americans) and not through a lens of interspecies relationship, land and culture, created through place-based kinship and society, you still have much work to do in unpacking the constructs and mentalities of settler colonial white and cisgender privilege. This can be hard for people educated into settler colonial practices and ideologies to immediately grasp. It is something I too have to unpack.
I say all this not to be ridiculous or mean. I say this because it is my responsibility to say this stuff in different ways all the time because again my mother is cis and white and because of the history of assimilation and white passingness on my father's side despite how unstable or difficult feeling that inheritance is. I benefit from that and simultaneously have experienced harm with in that. It is important to unsettle it because I owe it to the love of my chosen family, home, communities and place. I have felt that it only takes one person acting out settler colonial white cis privilege and entitlement to derail the work and conversations being built by QTBIPOC people. I have tried from my position as a queer/trans and non-binary person- in some ways created good impacts and in others, failed to shift power in the small areas of influence I have. I have tried and in some ways brought people into these conversation and in others failed to bring people into these conversations, but it is important to keep trying. The time is always urgent for white cis privilege cooptation to stop and for there to be an interpersonal and ideological change.
I have a friend who says that we are doing work that we will not reap the benefits of, but we need to do it anyways...so that others will.
Dare I dream.
In the name of the practice of acknowledging the knowledge system lineages and who offers us those gifts. Thank you Keioshiah Peters, Antoinette Chen See, Cannupa Hanska, Rose B. Simpson, Karen Rencountre, Erin Aja GRANT, Kathy Elkwoman Whitman, Amaryllis De Jesus Moleski, Roxanne Swentzell, Autumn Rose Billy, Ginger Dunnill, Renae Swope, Christina M. Castro, Patricia Trujilloif, Rafa Tarin, Allesandra Ogren, and SOOOO MANY MORE. Thanks to Anistacio Wrobel, Sarah Sidewalk, Rose B. Simpson and Ginger Dunnill for editing. Acknowledgement to qUeer and trans community, in particular qUeer and trans people of color, indigenous and two-spirit people. Also online resources, books and human interactions, ect.
Written by: Freyr A. Marie