“I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” ~ Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches)
You may have noticed that I’ve begun each post of this series with a quote from Audre Lorde. The depth of her insights astounds me. In her life, she was an African-American, lesbian woman. I share that because I am aware that I have no idea, no sense at all, of the major amount of oppression she must have faced in her life.
Her words cut my heart open. Wide.
My anger, my rage has been hidden most of my life. Hidden way down. She knew her anger like the beat of her heart and the taste of her spit.
When I read these lines, my heart stopped at ‘the threatening universe of whiteness’.
It would be really easy for me to write something here about Lorde’s quote and how it affected me. I could leave it at that, but I can’t.
Let me take a moment to share something else.
In the comments
of part one of this series, a woman named Kierra D. Foster-Ba shared this:
Both a scratch and a gaping wound share some commonalities. This does not mean they are the same or that the only difference is the degree or severity. This is how I feel when people of privilege talk about oppression. Yes, everyone experiences being treated unfairly but this does not mean that they are oppressed. There are various statistics that reveal that white women have overwhelmingly (at least statistically) benefited from affirmative action, something that people of color have been demonized for. So while, I would not challenge your feelings, your feelings are yours. I think in 2011 oppression is a strong word for a middle class, educated white woman to use. To me oppression is when 97% of the images of people you share several identity groups with (race; gender; complexion; body size; shape) are buffoons; belligerent; and unbelievable ignorant. A recent commercial for bounce comes to mind. It is a series about different people and the way they use bounce. The large black woman announces â€œAh put emâ€¦Ah put em in my shoes; Ah put in my drawersâ€¦.Ah put em; Ah bin put em for years.â€ This is oppression. These images of the angry; unattractive; ignorant and large black woman have not changed from the antebellum period to now, but the images of priveledged white women have changed from fainting women too fragile to work to smart; competative; atheletic women who are equal to men.
When I first read Kierra’s comment, I was taken aback. In my experience, the oppression I have suffered has been very painful. And, I don’t think it helps to judge who’s pain is more.
Kierra’s comment has stayed with me. I’ve promised myself to really be ruthless with my own bullshit. Her words pull at me, telling me to stop, listen, feel.
Just before I posted part two of this series, my article, The Courage to Sin, was unexpectedly posted on the Huffington Post. I didn’t expect this, because I submitted the post a while ago, and the post is long. The team at HP told me it was too long. They asked me to cut it down and I chose not to. Suddenly, as I found myself knee-deep in this series, it appeared, and I received this comment:
I guess it depends on who’s doing the ‘sinning’, since all women aren’t held to the same standard.
For example, myself being black,for me and a white woman to commit the same ‘sin’ isn’t the same. I will always be looked at and judged more harshly, and the worst motives will always be attributed to my actions. It’s not fun, free or innocent when I do it, it’s seen as evidence of an inherent lowliness.
Her words, “inherent lowliness” caused my heart to hurt, again. Those words are a direct hit to the hierarchical bigotry of patriarchy.
I responded saying none of this is fun, free or innocent for me, either…AND, “I hear the pain in your words. I want to know your story.”
I know of my own experience, of friend’s and client’s experiences with oppression. There are experiences of personal oppression, group oppression, systemic oppression and god knows what other kinds. Yes, there are degrees of oppression. And, there are very loud and obvious forms, and there are some very silent, very hidden forms.
I do know, after 54 years of living on this planet, that I will never really know your experience, or Kierra’s, or this other woman who courageously shared herself. I can only know mine. And, I do know that I want to hear their stories, hear your story, while at the same time have you hear mine.
Somewhere it could be easy to slip into silence again, a silence that comes from believing my story shouldn’t be told aloud because I was born white. No one has said that. I just know me, the old me. A while ago, I did believe that. I didn’t speak of it. As I read these words of women of color and their experiences, I know all our stories hold something another woman needs to hear.
The privilege I have enjoyed,
has given me things other women have not had. Some who have read this series have wondered if I’m attempting to speak of privilege as something to feel guilt about. I’m not. What I am wanting to share, here, is my process of investigating into the story I tell myself about silence, privilege and oppression in my life.
I truly want to know where I am not telling myself the truth, where I keep myself separate, where my own consciousness is stuck, holding on to something that I think is serving, but that really is not.
Guilt isn’t going to help anyone. Ruthless truth-telling will. Compassion for myself and my fellow sisters will. A genuine hunger to know what will break the barriers of separation with my sisters, so we can join hands to voice our collective “Enough is enough!” will.
Going back to Audre Lorde’s quote, I was shaken by the realization that an extremely intelligent, insightful, beautiful woman saw whiteness as a “threatening universe”. I am of this universe. I am a part of this threatening universe. I am of this whiteness.
When I read this, “It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” my eyes light on the words, “worth wanting each other”. I don’t know the exact context that led to Lorde’s words, yet I am deeply touched by the depth of her heart. I do know that when I read them, I realized all women, no matter what complexion, race, socio-economic background, religion, nationality, age, sexual orientation, are worth wanting.
I know I am worth you wanting me, and I know you are worth my wanting you.
I now so clearly see that one of the most important ways I give up my power when I continue the deceit of privilege, is the power of connected women. When I speak of power, here, it’s not power over, but power with, and I know I am most powerful when my voice is joined in Sisterhood.
The old way is of hierarchy, the new way is not yet known.
And, the way of the Feminine is connectedness, relationship, weaving and circles. I can’t stand together with other women when I hold onto privilege out of fear of what might come if I lose it.
These past days of living this series of posts have brought many moments of synchronicity. I know, when we are doing what we’re here to do, symbols and offerings show up directly in one’s lived experience. I discovered this poem on Louise Rooney’s blog. The poem speaks to what is happening right now in our world. It speaks to the power that privilege and silence robs us of, the power of women united, voices rising and heard.
This World (by Rose Flint)
In Sudan, a Muslim woman journalist
faces 40 lashes for wearing trousers in a restaurant.
In Afghanistan, the family of Nadia the Poet
who wrote of love and beauty, said she shamed them –
she may have died with her scholar husbandâ€™s hands
around her throat. Sometimes lipstick is a crime
And Shakespeare, maths, and the desire to dance.
And still a womanâ€™s unbound hair incites a man
to sexual violence – she must be covered up
in darkness, top to toe, to keep her safe.
So. In America, loving mothers give their daughters
breast implants for graduation. Thirty-two thousand
women seek breast surgery every month.
And in Africa, mothers, grandmothers, take the little girls
to the rusty knives of genital mutilation.
All this is fear and desperation,
the last acts of Old Order who is dying on his feet
and punching blind. This is when it changes.
The Goddess wakes. Everywhere, there are women
finding courage, taking action, speaking out, risking
their own lives for other women, refusing to collude.
This is Feminism now: becoming Sisterhood –
politician, priestess and protester working together,
sharing what it means to be Woman, everywhere.
Our linked hands and strong hearts are a power;
the Goddess is returning through each one of us
and we are bringing deep changes. We are dreaming in
a future that gives hope to the World, we are
womenâ€™s voices rising: strident, beautiful – and heard.
(c) Rose Flint 2009, published in Weâ€™Moon Diary 2011
This post is written in honor of International Women’s Day, 2011. I would love to know your reactions, experiences, insights or anything else you feel you would like to share.
I want to know your story.
This post is part of Heather Plett’s 100 Years :: 100 People :: 100 Changes project. Today, she is offering a free ebook, Sophia Rising, with contributions of 20 people from all over the world. I am honored to be a contributor to Heather’s book.
This post is the third in a series of posts on Silence, Privilege and Oppression. You’ll find part one and part two an important prelude to this post.
26 Replies to “So Many Silences – part three”
I am left with few words after this post. The words that rise to the surface seem trite and unnecessary.
I know the guilt of privilege. I also know the deep wrenching pain of wanting to stand by my more oppressed sisters in our shared power, but not quite knowing how to do that without making the power imbalance seem even more evident. When I was in Africa, for example, it made me cry to think that everywhere I went, I had the word “privilege” written all over me. All I wanted was to have the word “woman” written on me.
your comment has caused me to pause and think. what i hear is that privilege, and the accompanying feelings it engenders, cause you, and us, to stop from voicing, acting from our hearts.
thank you for sharing, here.
many blessings to you,
I think that owning privilege is something that mainstream feminist movement has been very reluctant to do. I think we all must be careful about essentializing the female experience because class/race /gender/sexual orientation/mobility all play such a big role in our experience as women. That said, I feel like we still need people speaking out about their experience. Still as person of color, I deplore when people ad hoc a few tidbits about people of color in the conversation. I don’t think it has to be that complicated really. When I write- I write as a woman(but out of my experiences) and I write to women who have similar interests. I would never assume that you are speaking for me or vice versa! It should always be a conversation. However, to many times certain experiences have been held up as model experience of the feminist movement. These experiences are lead to speak for all women’s experiences. Often, not taking into account other women’s lived reality. OK, it is complicated but let’s continue talking about it….
Thank you for your comment.
I so agree…we can’t essentialize experience at all, for anyone. The female experience is what you, what I, and what any one woman experiences. We can’t even really ever know anyone’s experience. All we can do is share, talk, converse, and listen, really listen.
The whole reason I started this site is because I want to know what it is to be female, to ask the question for myself, and to invite others to ask it, because we are inundated with so many ways we should be, or how it should be.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, yet it is complex.
Going back to the first post, there are so many silences. There is so much unsaid, and when we begin to say the things we haven’t said, it will most likely be messy. I know it has been for me. It’s been messy to write this from my own experience, knowing I may piss people off, but hopefully begin a very necessary conversation between women.
Privilege is something we are born into, but when we come to see it for what it is, we have a choice about how to be with it.
Again, I am excited and hopeful about this burgeoning conversation.
I understand, to the degree I can, the pain you’ve felt in birthing this series, Julie. Privilege, class and race as they relate to womanhood is such a charged subject, and I respect you for your courage to explore it with a wide open heart. Thank you.
My hope is that the conversation you’ve begun will bring us closer in our shared experience of being women, not so much in our pain as in our power.
Thank you, Rupa. Yes, that is my hope, as well. To bring us closer as women in our power. And, it is very clear, that much of the pain we hold inside is stuck, keeping consciousness, life force, stuck, as well. This is where our power is, in my mind. Our life force. It must be set free for us to know our power.
Many blessings to you,
First of all, I have to thank you for putting your heart, your self out there so openly. It is not easy and it is much appreciated. Clearly, it is sparking thought and reflection and conversation and that is a gift to us all.
There is a Buddhist saying – I think it may be Thich Nhat Hanh who is credited – that is simple but powerful. It is, roughly, “Darling, I care about your pain”. It can be said to others, of course, but is perhaps most valuable when said to ourselves first.
I am, currently, a wealthy, privileged, white woman with access to much of the world. I have been a beaten, abused, poor child. I have been a molested, depressed, unseen teenage girl. I was a very ill, undiagnosed, mistreated patient for many years, despite my access to medical insurance and care. It took a long time and the help of some extraordinary individuals to heal, to know my own story and to find ways to use my experience for good.
It is hard, in any given moment, to look at any one person and know who they are. Who they have been, and who they will be, are impossible to know without a great deal of trust, honesty and communication. It is through articles like yours and those of others who care to do their own work that we will all heal each other.
Darling, I care about your pain…
Julie, this three-part series has been great to read. I admire your courage and your fortitude, especially your willingness to include criticisms of language used in the previous posts and the whole question of privilege, the thorns of gender privilege and racial privilege and oppression. You are honest about how you grew up and what was expected of you, what you perceived, what was subtle and not so subtle and what you have in common with your sisters. And knowing and saying that you are more than that, from insight and experience and movement, and that you are using your experience of privilege for truth telling and moving towards connectedness. This is a brilliant expression: “”I know I am worth you wanting me, and I know you are worth my wanting you.” The courage you display in your willingness to examine your thoughts (especially when confronted with criticism,) talk about your relationships, as you say “see through your bullshit,” is remarkable and exemplary. Thank you.
Wow… THANKS so much for sharing this!
There is so much in this post to speak to but the thing that feels urgent to me is this…
How dare ANYONE presume to know ANYTHING about me based on my skin color.
Which happens to be white.
Which happens to house a lesbian in an increasingly homophobic world.
Which houses a Catholic in a wold that becomes more and more anti-religious.
Which houses a Lesbian Catholic who feels uninvited to the very table at which everyone belongs.
Which houses a three year old who heard her father threaten the life of her sister.
Which houses a girl who heard those threats all her life and learned that the world, though it may APPEAR shiny on the outside and to outsiders, is dangerous and scary and unsafe and never to be trusted.
Which is my point then about APPEARANCE — it is deceiving.
All pain, all oppression, all experience is relative to the person having it and NO ONE’S is greater or worse or better or any of those awful adjectives that simply separate us further and further apart.
A few years ago a woman with cerebral palsy backed me up against the wall in a bathroom, screaming at me, “You have no idea how much I’ve suffered. You don’t have any idea what it’s like to suffer. You have everything and I have nothing. You’ve never known anyone who has suffered like I have.”
Terrified, shaking and weeping, I freed myself from her grip, wiped her spit and rage off my face and made my way out to my car. I felt guilty because I could walk and talk with ease. I felt guilty because I had so many privileges, but then I wanted to scream back at her, “My handicaps don’t show and you have no idea what I’ve had to do to learn how to function in the world in spite of it. No, I don’t know what it is like to have your suffering, but I know what it is like to have mine and have to hide it.”
Indeed, appearance is deceiving and there are a zillion ways human beings hurt and, seemingly, more than a zillion ways we hurt each other. That any human being is oppressed — that any human hurts at all can be a starting point for reaching out to each other with compassion, can’t it?
I want to acknowledge all of the richness in the comments above and echo the sentiments of Christa that to be human is to experience both suffering and joy, both fear and love. As a fellow human being I care about easing the pain of others regardless of its origin and increasing the feelings of love and belonging to all members of the human family. And although this assertion sounds simple enough the realization of this vision is not nearly as simple.
Another key element that struck me from your post and the accompanied comments is the complex reality of “white shame”. As someone who identifies as white it is something that I have always felt yet was never able to name what it was I was experiencing let alone speak of (it is part of a vast silence) until recently. Through my own investigations I have learned it is an extremely complex, deeply rooted, and very damaging dynamic that for most of white society remains in the unconscious. For anyone interested in exploring more about the topic and impacts of white shame I found the book “Learning To Be White” by Thandeka to be very enlightening and well researched.
Thank you Julie for continuing to speak your unabashed truth with courage and grace!
This is such an amazing piece and an amazing series. Your courage , vulnerability and willingness to grapple honestly with this issue is just stunning. I bow down in gratitude for your clear and passionate woman’s voice.
I have also worked as a psychotherapist for a large number of years and one of the biggest struggles I witnessed in my clients was the ability to validate their own pain. More often than not my many clients would devalue and diminish their pain… saying that it really wasn’t so bad, or that someone else had it worse than they did so they had no right to complain.
And the thing that I learned and would always try to communicate to my clients is that your pain and your experience is VALID no matter what, because it is yours and it is what you have been given to deal with and heal.
Now sure, there are certainly wounds and experiences that are more devastating than others. And I can’t even begin to know what it’s like to live as a person of color in this culture and to experience the kind of disenfranchisement and fear and even hatred that is part of a black woman’s daily experience.
But I HAVE been oppressed as a woman and as a human being. And it hurts. A lot. And it is something that I am daily struggling to heal within myself.
I resent being told that because I’m white I don’t have a right to feel what I feel. And I don’t WANT to feel resentful. I want to feel connected to my sisters … WHATEVER color they are …. and not have to struggle through a layer of bullshit that has nothing to do with me.
I am not the problem. My pain is not the problem. I am very open to hearing someone else’s experience and opening my heart with compassion and my mind to understanding.
But I will no longer accept blame for the fact that I was born into circumstances that I had no control over. I refuse to feel guilty for whatever privilege I do have because that guilt does not help anyone and doesn’t further the necessary process of healing.
I want to listen. I want to help. I want my heart to be connected to your heart. I want to cry with you over the pain that you have experienced. And I want you to cry with me.
That’s the only way that we are ever going to get through this mess … which is together.
Aho Julie. My heart sings to hear you and hears the ties of silence loosening. Thank you x
i am moving – and i mean that in a variety of ways. i have no time to linger over things like oppression and silence today – at least that’s what the deeply conditioned part of me says. the rising me says simply “bunk”. so here i am, weighing in in all my muddled glory . . .
though i have perfectly good reasons for not having commented yet (moving takes time, especially . . . well, never mind), the reality is i am loathe to speak up because i am white and i am middle class, and therefore i am unworthy. okay, the real reality is that i’ve been conditioned to think like that, it’s a silencing technique of the most insidious sort.
i am woman. i have been silenced, but the worst thing about it is that i have silenced myself. i have applied my own muzzle, and i have kept it on.
i raised a daughter who’s an admirable young woman – strong and still vulnerable. i wouldn’t have it any other way. and yet that’s not enough. it is no longer okay for me to shove her out into the space in front of me and say “you tell ’em, moxie.”
i thank you for cracking this conversation wide open, for making room for everybody regardless of skin color, economic status, or any other label that wants to stick and separate.
we are women.
we have been silenced far too long.
we will no longer be quiet.
nothing else matters.
So much beauty spoken here dear Julie. Bless your courage to listen deeply between the lines, tears, pain and defenses that block the truth from emerging.
Big YES. Love the safe space you create. Love you.
I am leaving a comment here, myself, not to anyone in particular, but to all of you. I have read your comments and they’ve touched me deeply. Since beginning this series, I’ve been feeling so many things, some of which are more difficult to site with than others.
I want you to know how much I honor the words you have shared here. I will respond soon to each of you. In the meantime, many blessings to each of you.
julie, darlin’, i’ve said it before and i’m saying it again: thank you for cracking this conversation wide open for all of us.
I’m frustrated by the divisive undercurrents of guilt and blame that distract us
From getting down to the crux:
It is necessary for us
To dispell the silence as One.
This us and them mentality,
Their divide and conquer legacy…
This is it isn’t it?
This is what keeps us
Too factioned and fragmented to effectively rise up;
Conditioned for infighting,
We are easily quieted or confounded to remain stuck;
The silenced majority remains
so with you, niki. so beautifully expressed.
a man from sierra lione, when giving a talk about rape as a weapon of war, said this:
a scar on the heart of one, is a scar on the heart of all humanity.
yes. that. this. us. we are all suffering. we are all healing. we need each other. complexities, and all. healing isn’t always disney-like. so it goes. i want painstakingly true. i want truth, because that’s where love & acceptance & presence live. and sometimes that means ache & terror & absolute remorse. i want it all.
i also need to admit my terror. my terror to really see how bad it is for some. because then, it would also be that bad for me. no, not in experience. not in memory. but spiritually. truthfully… my heart breaks for the ways we are made to feel broken. wholly. but still, i have a terror, which is rooted in the UNTRUE belief that i am not equipped to deal with the moment, to be present, to show up and be with what’s really right in front of me. that terror looks something like loss, like death, like silence, like pain. and like julie said–that silence is the privilege that keeps us from our power.
it sucks. it’s not for me.
i choose pain & i choose power.
i choose truth & i choose clarity.
i choose listening & i choose speaking.
i choose tears & i choose laughter.
i choose breathing, not holding my breath.
I am not sure why you used my words in your post without my permission and why you imply that my words negate your pain which is not what I wrote. I note that pain is pain. I also give my opinion about using the word oppressed.
Kierra, You clearly left your words in a comment with your name attached. It sounded like you were speaking clearly and confidently about your experience, something I valued very much, as it caused me to look deeper at my own complicity in this whole thing. Your words were very much part of my process as I moved through these posts. You do note that pain is pain, and you also, in my reading of your words, established clearly that you see anything I could experience as minimal compared to what you experience. You may be very right in that statement, yet what I was striving to articulate is that it is hard to really know the level each of us has suffered, and at least for me, in writing here about my own process, I have opened myself to where I continue this legacy that hurts other women.
Again, my intention was not to quantify pain (my own or anyone else’s). My comments refer specifically to the use of the word oppression. I make a distinction between the words discrimination and oppression. Although multiple peoples have experienced genocide or practices that amounted to genocide, we reserve the word holocaust to what took place during WWII because of the magnitude. So again, pain does seem to be part of the human condition in that it is something few of us can escape, but this does not mean that discrimination and oppression are synonymous. People with severe acne are sometimes discriminated against, but most would agree they are not an oppressed group.
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