See How Their Agonies Catch The Light
May 11, 2016
I’m an artist first. But I decided long ago that my art would be in the service of fighting oppression.
Oh dear. I think you can probably guess where this is going. The creative juggernaut in question is Hari Ziyad, “a black non-binary artist and writer whose work centres on creating through the arts alternative ways of living outside of systems of oppression.” And hence being published in Everyday Feminism, where readers and contributors are so varied and diverse, so daringly different.
Since then, I’ve waded more deeply into social justice spaces, and I find myself surrounded more and more by people professing these same aspirations... It’s comforting not to have to constantly explain yourself and your work. It’s beautiful to learn from and be around folks who understand ideas like microaggressions, gaslighting, white fragility, and all the other odd terms that describe the myriad, important, and insidious ways oppression operates.
And being around other, eerily similar people with similar educations, all begging eerily similar questions, saves so much time and potential aggravation. Instead, the group can bask in its mutual gloriousness as it hovers high above the herd and any unsophisticated objections.
But wait, even paradise has its vipers:
Being in these spaces for a while now, I’ve noticed that I’ve been increasingly receiving feedback that my writing is inaccessible. I dismissed a lot of this critique on the basis that I am, at my core, a big idea and theory girl. My way of communicating isn’t supposed to be meant for everyone.
Well, obviously. After all, “social justice spaces” are for beings who are lofty and deluxe, and who, like our Everyday Feminist author, a theory girl with a beard, find “academic jargon comforting.” Which is to say, people who are enlightened, piously fretful, ostentatiously egalitarian, and therefore superior. The kinds of people who, unironically, write things like this:
I’d been frustrated by the workings of neoliberalism for the longest,
When I wrote one of my first pieces on my gender journey, I naturally used a quote from Judith Butler about gender realities. Regarded as one of the foremost queer theorists, it made sense to use her words to explore my queer complexities.
Rise up, ye proletariat! Judith Butler will set you free!
There is, however, some flickering of awareness:
Using newly learned language immediately to demonize others may indicate a desire to use knowledge to prove superiority, rather than to grow in your work.
Cynical readers may wonder if that’s actually the unspoken goal of almost everyone huddled in those “social justice spaces.” Piety is status, and as we’ve seen many times, “social justice” signalling is a competitive business. Such that gatherings of the pious often call to mind crab buckets more than kumbaya.
But we mustn’t linger on such details, there’s fretting to be done. Not least regarding the hierarchies of victimhood that inevitably emerge when victimhood is both currency and a short-cut to righteousness. And so our non-binary narrator notes that “race and gender conversations dominate so many activist spaces” at the expense of those even more exquisitely oppressed,
like gender non-conforming Indigenous people with disabilities, for example.
And then of course there’s fretting about how even the pious must soil their hands, their very souls, with that dirty neoliberal commerce:
Writing and other activist pursuits takes time, skill, and is emotionally expensive…
Sometimes for the reader too.
We should all be compensated for labour,
Rather depends on its value to others, no? Or is blathering about “microaggressions” and “white fragility” inherently deserving of some other bugger’s earnings?
but if we’re serious about addressing the ills of capitalism, we need to also look at less capitalistic forms of assessing compensation. It might be worth it to parse out those who deserve to give us financial compensation (capitalist institutions) from those who may not (everyday economically disenfranchised people), and see what else, if anything, might be more appropriate payment… Compensation doesn’t have to look like money.
Hoover my stair carpet and I’ll tell you all about Judith Butler.
There’s more to poke at, but this life is finite and the clock is ticking. We should, though, give thanks that The Enlightened Ones are showing us the way, steering us towards “alternative ways of living,” and away from stereotypes, clichés and in-group conformity:
Hari Ziyad is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and a Brooklyn-based storyteller. They are the Editor in Chief of RaceBaitR, a space dedicated to imagining and working toward a world outside of the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal capitalistic gaze… You can find them (mostly) ignoring racists on Twitter and Facebook.
But of course.