some thoughts i’ve been having over the past few months after experiencing cyberbullying, cyberstalking, verbally violent and sexualized/racialized harassment, slut-shaming, etc. as well as continuing to engage in social justice work despite many people attempting to denigrate this kind of work within intersectional deaf/signing communities.
on call-out culture:
i have been doing a lot of thinking on call-out culture in social justice circles and the concept of “safe spaces.”
i used to be one of the most fervent call-outers. when i saw comments or behavior that were subtly or obviously oppressive to other groups, i would be the first to pounce on it. i did this because injustice enrages me. it enrages me to see a person’s experience minimized and marginalized. i lashed out, out of fierce protectiveness. i am able to deliver my thoughts in razor-sharp ways. it was not for a long time that i started realizing that it did not go any good to “cut” a person back after they “cut” others.
i now try to use a “gradient” in how i react to situations of varying injustices. because i see the reality of how love is abundant and healing, i try - and so damn hard, because it is intensely difficult to unlearn behaviors of dominance and degradation when we see it everywhere in so many forms (education, law enforcement, media, etc.)- to react with empathy and compassion, with asking questions, with pointing out what i am seeing and asking others’ thoughts on it, with sharing my reactions. if i am met with resistance in the form of defensiveness, excuses, i will be honest with saying this still upsets me, even though defensive feelings are among the most natural reactions. i am still learning how to take a breath before letting my upset feelings rush over. many people who are intensely defensive eventually, with a lot of time and some guidance from people who are willing to dive into transformative work with these persons, let their defenses shed and truly engage in critical thinking. but if i am met with ironclad defense, where a person makes a conscious decision to continue carrying out bigotry and oppression, then i revert back to the fierce protectiveness that i feel when i see people being trampled all over. but, i have added a few prior “steps” or processes before i get to that point. i do this because i do not want to allow internalized power and dominance to dicate the interactions i have with people- but i am honest with myself and others when i say it will take a long time and an uneven process to unlearn this.
i believe, that in a culture so enamored with dominance and power, it is too easy for calling-out to become another aspect of dominance and power. you start to feel good when you call out a person. you start to feel good when you see them struggle and and freak out, because you think they deserved with all their oppressive shit. they cut you/us, you cut back. but why? the vast majority of people ingested messages in how to act and behave from all the fucked-up systems that surround us- racism, sexism, genderism, classism, audism, ableism, body normalcy, etc. i’m not saying we should say “aw, it’s not their fault,” but we should think to ourselves “ok. how did this person’s life and life experiences shape their current thinking? how do i engage with this person given my own life and life experiences? where is the point of intersection for the both of us where we can have an important conversation?”
i believe these questions in such highly-charged, emotional, painful situations are necessary. all of us are complicit with power and dominance in one way or another. taking on brazen and ferocious forms of calling-out is too easy of a cross into the terrain of power and dominance. i think we need to engage in a lot of self-reflection and analysis when we find ourselves doing a lot of this kind of calling out.
on safe spaces:
Anzaldúa said that there is no such thing as safe spaces. a couple years ago, i would have shifted in my seat reading that. now i wholeheartedly agree.
i will go ahead and say it. i think “safe space” is now an over-used term in many of the circles i associate with. i’m not saying that i don’t think we should strive towards safe spaces. i think that this concept is constantly appropriated and manipulated to mean “don’t disagree with me/ don’t start a conflict with me.” i don’t think it often means “please honor my story and my experiences as part of multiple stories and experiences” as it should mean. i see people cry out “this is not a safe space for me! i am not comfortable!” rather than saying “i don’t think i am okay with what just happened and i want to process it with this group’s support.” i also think that many people freeze and are at a loss when witnessing this conflict. i also think that people who are uncomfortable with the complexity of intersectional situations will throw out this red flag in order to avoid truly processing what had happened, especially when their own privileges had contributed to the conflict. i see “safe space” be the new reaction of discomfort and guilt from people who know they contributed to a conflict. i also think that it’s used as an escape mechanism to avoid confronting and seeking resolutions with the conflict at hand.
i think many of us are uncomfortable with conflict. many of us have ingested the Anglo-American way of avoiding, bypassing, muting, stifling conflict. we were forced to ingest this through schooling, higher education, and/or in employment, because in the U.S. the Anglo-American cultural code/communication code is the dominant code. also, many deaf persons, by way of the corrupt deaf education system, have been taught to NOT be active thinkers, to not challenge dominance imparted on us, that others know what is best for us, etc. (combine that with the passivity that other -isms coerces people to take on, you have a lot of multiply-marginalized people who really do not want to engage in confrontative exchanges- it’s time for a lot of social justice activists to be more understanding and compassionate about this), which threatens the ability for many of us deaf/signing folks to engage in such conversations. ALSO, add in the fact that many of us grew up cut off from communication and had barriers to learning various social cues which inhibited our socioemotional development… this results in many of us just not knowing what the fuck to do when conflict arises.
So many of our honored thinkers, writers, artists, activists have talked about the importance of becoming comfortable within contradictions, intersections. Of being marginalized, yet privileged, of being oppressed yet oppressing. situations are so often intertwined with different vertical and horizontal experiences, enmeshed with different lines, directions, situations. so many of these thinkers, writers, artists, activists also stress empathy, on making connections, which are far greater than sustaining divides.
i think it’s time for us to really challenge ourselves and how we envision confronting injustices within our communities. i don’t think reduplicated acts of violence and escapism are methods we should continue to use. it is incredibly difficult to unlearn power, dominance, degradation in order to acquire compassion, empathy, and love, but we owe each other that.
- Elena M. Ruiz, aka Sordaradical,
multiethnic-multiracial-multilingual lightskinned mestiza-latina queer cisfemme deaf[hearspeakcan]-signing political radical.