Y’all, it’s probably terrible form to take a rough draft of something and quote from it like it’s the complete intention of the author, but I read something from the Professor today that I wanted to share with you.
In brief background, the Professor’s work is (or I think it’s on this subject. I guess we’re about to find out if I’m understanding her when she tells me what she’s working on.) on the necessity not only of marginalized people being able to speak, but also on their ability to be heard. To be heard, she argues, is to be recognized as being a person. And so, she’s all about making people into just listeners (“just” in the “justice” sense not in the “only” sense) so that people can be heard.
Okay, so in this part, she’s talking about how there are few people left who still actively work for the exclusion of marginalized people from the public sphere, few actual white supremacists or full-blown women-as-property misogynists or whatever, but many people who still end up excluding marginalized people from the public sphere because they are not just listeners, not into, as she calls it, “epistemic openness.” Instead, because they aren’t listening to what the marginalized people need, they’re still advocating a mode of social justice along the lines of “just become like us and all your problems will be solved.”
Much of this resistance to change is not active and deliberate, not motivated by desires to continue exclusion or even segregation; or rather, it is done more by habit, or dependence on existing, unexamined ways of thinking, than by the few who actively defend practices of mainstreaming as the only acceptable method of inclusion and who fail to see mainstreaming as an active inattention to the testimonies of the people of color, poor, queer, women, and the like.–The Professor
This idea–of mainstreaming being an active inattention–is something so profound I about want to just tilt my head back and let the idea roll around in my brain for a little while.
Because, isn’t this the way we do it? We refuse to pay attention to what folks are telling us about their experiences, convinced as we are that we treat everyone the same, completely willfully unaware of how assinine that is.
People don’t want the right to be like me (or you, rather, because, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s good fun to be like me). They want the right to be respected on their own terms for being themselves.
This ties into so many conversations I’ve been having recently. Like this conversation at Sara Speaking, and this post about work and happiness that I keep trying to post at my blog (and failing, because WordPress is being a miserable git tonight).
There’s this persistent thought that “equal” means “the same,” and that just making everything (and everyone) the same is the way to solve things. But that’s silly. The kidney that might save someone else’s life isn’t going to do me a lick of good right now, and trying to give it to me under the guise of providing the same medical care to everyone would be absurd.
I always tried to get at this with my “equality of pants” argument. Equality of pants doesn’t mean that everyone has the same pants (or even that we all want the same pants, no matter how snazzy they are); it means that everyone has pants that fit. But that mostly makes people laugh and try to poke holes in my metaphor. There’s something so much more… righteous about simply saying it. It’s willfully ignorant. That’s it.
I think everyone does this sometimes, even with the best, just intentions. It reminds me of a panhandler who camped out on my college campus. He became abusive to a friend of mine who tried to give him an apple. In her mind, if she were hungry an apple would be great. Clearly not what he wanted or needed.
I think that is an excellent explanation of the thought. I understand this but I could never have expressed it like this.
Ironically, the more the folks in the mainstream actively pay attention to the folks on the margins, the more even the differences can turn into common ground. To use Mag’s metaphor, if the store has enough selection, everyone can have fun going pants shopping together.
People don’t want the right to be like me. They want the right to be respected on their own terms for being themselves.
That, too, is a very profound statement, B.
“People don’t want the right to be like me. They want the right to be respected on their own terms for being themselves.”
What Ginger said.
If i may, let me pose a question, then. Isn’t there some expectation, wait…obligation of the marginalized to tailor their arguments to fit their audience? Perhaps I don’t totally understand this post…but I think if the non marginalized have expectations on them, then too should the marginalized. This, at least a little bit, is what I am saying when i use the word shrill. To me, communication is strategy, at least in part. I can wait for my targeted audience to “evolve” or train themselves to hear me, or i can learn how to best reach them where they are now. I’m not smart enough to pick apart The Professors assertions, nor would I want to, and, I may be totally misunderstanding your analysis of her paper, but I tend to believe that advocacy is too often presented in a way that only reaches those already sympathetic.
What Mack said.
I would also add that what may be interpreted as “active inattention” may be that “the mainstream” HAS thought about the idea at hand and rejected it as a bad idea.
Not everything that “people of color, the poor, women” say is brilliant, or even productive.
Exador has somewhat of a point. If a person is a jackass, I think it would be wrong, and a little condescending of me to turn the other way from the person’s jackassery, so that he can “be respected on his own terms for being himself”.
For instance, there are portions of urban culture that deserve to be criticised.
I’m intrigued at the way that the men in this conversation are so sure that the marginalized ideas are lousy, and that the persons trying to present them must be shrill jackasses. Or say that they don’t need to hear marginalized ideas at all, because there was this marginalized idea once that was just so wrong. All without having heard the ideas. Which, i dunno, is sort of the Professor’s point, as I understand what B presented of them.
Mack’s point that the persons at the margins ought, in their own self-interest, to learn to communicate their ideas in ways that persons in the mainstream will understand is at least worthy of consideration. The problem arises when some persons in the mainstream find themselves unable to understand any ideas they aren’t already familiar with, no matter how those ideas are presented.
NM, it is precisely this reason to make a compelling argument. Sure, there is that percentage of people that will never “get it”. But those aren’t, or shouldn’t be, an advocate’s intended target. On any issue, it is never a 50-50 split. There is usually this huge pool of people that can see merit on both sides. Independent voters, for example, can decide tight races. Arguments improperly “framed” (Lakoff is right on this) don’t win those voters over.
Rush Limbaugh and the Dittoheads* no longer get my attention. Their disconnect from reality and courtesy are so complete, that anyone who echoes their words or sentiments immediately gets shut out. Richard Dawkins, who is brilliant and not entirely wrong, gets props for moving the Overton Window, but many of his arguments are flawed (especially through oversimplification) and repetitive. I don’t even hear him anymore; my background mind just files away whatever he says into the pigeon holes that they go into.
When a woman or a black person says something (TV, etc) I don’t have any pre-conceived attitude toward what they are saying. Maybe they are of Naomi Klein’s ilk (and get my full attention); maybe they are of Michelle Malkin’s ilk (worthless). I suspect that “marginalized people” are heard if their message is “acceptable”, and even “straight, white, American, males” are ignored if their message is unacceptable. It seems to me that it is all about the message.
So maybe instead of talking about “marginalized people”, we should talk about “marginalized messages”? But then, aren’t there some messages that *should* be marginalized? We just don’t all agree on which messages.
* No, that is not a good name for a band.
This is exactly why we’ll just round all the men up and shoot them, then collect their wives and children when they come to mourn over the bodies, and send them to feminist indoctrination camps.
We’ll teach you not to listen!
Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
No, listen, first of all, the Professor isn’t saying, “Shut the fuck up, losers, so we can talk now. Oh, and by the way, suck my butt.”
No one gets to get out of the obligation of talking. I believe what she’s saying is that there’s another obligation that goes with talking, and that is listening.
Mack, there you go doing that thing that both endears you to me and makes me want to kick your butt–“See me modeling the form of communication I think would be most effective for everybody and see how I do it in such a way as to act as if I’m too unsophisticated to understand what I am doing?”
Yes, I do. And I roll my eyes at you.
I have a few thoughts all jumbled. Here they are in no particular order.
1. I think there’s a difference between “we’ve heard you and we think your ideas are stupid” and “we’ve heard you and just aren’t going to do what you want.” I think the first often masks the second. The second sucks, but is, in the end, I think easier to live with.
2. No one’s going to stop listening to you, under the Professor’s model. Like I said, everybody speaks; everybody gets heard.
3. I don’t guess I see where people have not been trying to make themselves heard in kind ways as well as in other ways.
4. Slarti, I don’t see what you’re trying to get at here. No one’s saying that it’s wrong to listen and decide an idea is full of shit. No one’s also saying that you have to just accept everything you associate with a person as being of value. If a woman living in the inner city tells you there’s a problem with the police harassing her sons and neighbors’ sons, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to 50 cent on the off chance that she might.
That was quite a leap, nm. I don’t think that either I or Slarti said anything near that.
Yeah, but indifferent children, both of those women are beautiful. I just want to be heard and taken seriously (which, in all honestly, I feel like I’m fortunate enough that that happens for me most of the time). I don’t want to have to be beautiful in order for that to happen.
So, no, I don’t think you can say that there are marginalized messages, not people, when not everyone has access to the same broad mediums to get their messages across.
That’s one of the things I love about the internet. You can reach a lot of people and you do have access to the same broad medium everyone else does. And I’ll be sad when that goes away.
But even all the blogging at Tiny Cat Pants I do isn’t going to get me a minute on CNN or an op-ed in the New York Times.
And I’m just a fat white chick from a meager background.
What about people who aren’t eloquent? Who don’t have access to computers? Who can’t call up a station and get airtime?
Don’t they too deserve to be heard and considered?
Exador, so, what you’re saying is that you want to be heard and considered on your own terms, without people constantly ascribing meanings and motivations to you that you don’t intend?
> So, no, I don’t think you can say that there are marginalized messages, not people, when not everyone has access to the same broad mediums to get their messages across.
That’s an interesting point, but it is not a point about listening. It is a point about the power to get your message *heard*. The fault does not lie in the recipient for not listening to a message that they never get to hear.
> I don’t want to have to be beautiful in order for that to happen.
I guess if we consider TV to be the dominant medium (which for discussions of complex issues, I would not agree), then you could say that being non-beautiful could make one a “marginalized person”. But that doesn’t mean that women, or blacks, or gays could be called “marginalized people”. Only individuals, or groups sharing distinctly disfavored looks, would be marginalized.
The Internet, radio, and print media don’t have this bias as a marketing issue (which doesn’t mean that pretty people don’t have an edge in hiring).
Mack, your “I’m just an unfrozen caveman lawyer” routine cracks me up.
I get what you’re saying about persuasion as the essence of advocacy. We all pretty much get the idea that alienating your audience isn’t going to help the cause and so forth. However, you seem to be acting from the idea that all actors are equally capable of being persuasive and it’s all about the vision thing. In our society, there are people who lack the social power to be heard, no matter how intriguing or well-thought-out their argument is. It’s not a free market of ideas in which the best just unproblematically rise to the top if we just do a good enough job of presenting them. There are people who have no obvious talent beyond being loud and offensive who dominate conversations with their braying. You know that there are celebrity spokespeople who endorse some “little person’s” good idea to get it heard — which is why Brad Pitt is currently doing a hell of a lot better raising money to rebuild housing in New Orleans than the survivors of the 9th Ward. That’s the whole idea behind celebrity endorsements.
Even if the message is “acceptable” (that is, fits within the cognitive framework and experiential expectations of the listener), the voice in which it’s delivered matters to whether it will be valued and considered. Who gets listened to changes depending on the context. The beefy white guy in a suit might be a deprivileged speaker at a Take Back the Night planning meeting. The skinny Latina woman might be marginalized at a Metro transportation board review. The margin isn’t always the same at all times. However, if we’re talking about being heard in the public sphere or mainstream media, it’s empirically possible to conclude that the vast bulk of speaking authority (or “floor”) is held by wealthy white men. And so if that’s what the Prof is talking about, yes, there’s a huge problem with women (especially women of color) being heard.
(dragging Bridgett by her hair)
Point taken, though. FYI, I know I’m not stupid, but i swear I can’t always follow these academic discussions…
Y’all can be such eggheads. :)
Well, Ex, I don’t think it’s a leap at all. You wrote: what may be interpreted as “active inattention” may be that “the mainstream” HAS thought about the idea at hand and rejected it as a bad idea. But if the idea at hand had been listened to seriously and with respect by mainstream folks, who then thought about it and rejected it, seems to me the mainstream folks would have followed up by saying, “oh, sorry, we think that’s a lousy idea.” (They might even have explained why.) That would be interpreted as disagreement, not inattention. There’s a difference between saying no and tuning out. Slarti, OTOH, went straight from “not all marginal ideas are good” to “bad (ahem) urban culture, bad!” which is a great way to pre-emptively discount whatever other message is about to be discussed.
When I was a college freshman, I took the bus home one weekend. At the bus terminal, a well dressed young man accosted me with a tale of woe about losing his wallet, being stranded, needing to buy a bus ticket to get home to his sick wife, and could I help with ten dollars….. Well I gave him ten dollars and went on my way, feeling good about helping another member of the human race. In other words, I listened to a marginalized member of society, empathized with him, and gave him cash.
The next time I took the bus home the same fellow gave me the same sob story and I realized I had been taken for a fool. I refused to donate to his cause a second time. Oddly enough, when I asked for my previously donated ten dollars back, he ran off.
Some marginalized people are not listened to, because they are scam artists.
Not generalizing, and not providing any method of discriminating between the deserving and the undeserving, just noting that scams exist. Now I jam more selective about whose BS I will entertain with my time, my attention, my funds, and my good will.
I always go astray when I try to illustrate.
Let me give you a little background. I’m old, and culturally stuck somewhere in 1982. I am so tragically unhip, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as hiphop culture (in fact, I was afraid to even use that term, lest I be perceived as Mitt Romney).
Everything negative I know about hiphop culture was taught to me by an African American woman. She was my pastor at the time. I’ve since educated myself and confirmed much of what she told me.
How does this fit into your paradigm of white men not listening?
(BTW, I don’t disagree with this premise, I’m just saying that maybe your brush is a little too wide. And I prefer B’s softy approach to that of some of the finger-waggers. But that’s just the evangelist in me – I KNOW what works, so Mack is closer to the truth than I think he’s given credit for ).
Mike, that’s interesting. Would you have given the guy $10 if he had been dirty and scruffy, possibly smelling of alcohol or acting high? Because, if not, you weren’t dealing with a marginalized person; you were dealing with what you thought was a mainstream person who had been misplaced or lost. You were, in fact, helping him get back to his mainstream place.
And why use a scam as your example of what to expect when dealing with the marginal? The idea that what marginalized people want is your money is kind of odd.
Slarti, no one is asking you to approve of hiphop culture, if you don’t approve of it. But I have to say that when someone is pointing out the ways in which mainstream culture ignores people on the margins and you go straight to “you are asking me to accept hiphop culture,” you are ignoring most of what’s out there on the margins.
I have to admit, I find this whole thing very odd. The Professor is saying, in part, that what’s happening right now is that people are speaking, but they can’t make themselves heard, EVEN TO SOME WELL-MEANING PEOPLE, because those well-meaning people believe that they already know what the person not being listened to is going to say or going to require of them or whatever.
In other words, as the Professor says, it’s not just a matter of hearing what’s said, it’s learning to listen in a new way.
And what I see here over and over again is a bunch of folks saying “Hey, but wait, I listened in the way I usually do and I got screwed over.” or “I would listen, but not if I’m going to have to hear this bullshit.”
In other words, you’ve completely missed the point of opening yourself up to what’s actually being said instead of being closed off to it EVEN THOUGH you recognize and are hostile to when you feel that others aren’t being open to what you’re saying.
No one is saying “Be open listeners in a way that helps bring about social justice to people who aren’t actually talking with the intent of bringing about positive change.”
”See me modeling the form of communication I think would be most effective for everybody and see how I do it in such a way as to act as if I’m too unsophisticated to understand what I am doing?”
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!! Mack, my dear sweet lovable fluffy coyote, doesn’t it suck when those who love you totally “get” you? ;)
What about people who aren’t eloquent? … Don’t they too deserve to be heard and considered?
Hell, there are some days I feel so ineloquent around these parts that I’m just thankful I don’t get a Dunce Error message when I hit “Submit Comment”… I’m glad that regardless of our imperfections and idiosyncrasies, we can still come here and hash out these things.
Sorry, just got to feeling all gushy and sentimental for a moment…that’s how I roll.
Maybe I’ve misunderstood your original post about “marginalized people” (thinking that it was equivalent to traditionally disempowered groups). Can you give examples of groups (Hmong?, Furries?, Otherkin?) or individuals (Santorum?) that fit your meaning for “marginalized people”? Perhaps that would ensure that I understand what you mean.
Sorry I’m late the the party but was without Internet for awhile. I feel kinds good about this discussion because people are bringing up questions I’ve thought of and are contained in the whole project, which reinforces to me that I’m doing okay so far. Thanks.
Will it help if I clarify that I think being heard and being believed are two different things? It would be wrong for me to claim that all marginalized ideas and experiences are right qua existence. I am interested in the formation of self-hood via entry into public spheres, which entails being able to give arguments and have those claims evaluated. If someone disagrees, okay. But actually disagree – with reasons and counteroffers. To dismiss is not a fair way to disagree.
And, it would be stupid for me to think that listeners are expected to hear perfectly, even if speakers don’t speak well.
In my discipline, persuasion is ignored for the importance of truth and reason, and listening is ignored for the sake of speaking. I couldn’t do the work I’m doing if people hadn’t already done great stuff about speaking and about justice. Now I want to add a layer of analysis to improve what we already have, not to do away with it. It’s a matter of focus.
The distinction between marginalized people and marginalized messages is an interesting one, one I’ve actually been thinking about lately. Ultimately, I want both and I think they interact.
Maybe you should have pasted the part about courage and vulnerability in the formation of openness. That might help Mike and some others’ anxieties. (okay, not yet ’cause it’s still underdeveloped.)
I want to add, once again, that I agree with this premise.
And, although I find it ridiculous to speak for all white men, y’all seem to go for that sort of thing, so I’ll do it anyway:
People who are not “us” do not trust us to listen to what they are telling us, because quite frankly, we have not, as a group, earned that trust. I understand this.
Now, let me turn the question. When we do listen, when we honestly count the other person as fully human and engage him person to person, and listen to what she is telling us even when we have no frame of reference in our own experience – when we do this – how do we convince you that we have done so? Do we HAVE to vote like you? Do we have to use certain catch-phrases like “peace and justice”;does our vision of how to address the concerns spoken to us HAVE to match yours before you’ll believe we’ve really listened?
When is this game over?
See, but that’s the thing, Slarti. You’ll convince us that you have done so when we are both transformed by it. It’s not a game or an effort to get you to be like us (which would be, I think, mainstreaming, but just in the opposite direction). It’s not about making us like you or making you more like us.
It’s about making room for everybody to be themselves.
You know what’s so funny to me, Slarti? And it aggravates me as much as it has come to endear you to me. I’m making a specific kind of argument, which, to use middle school metaphors, amounts to “Hey, there are only five of you at that table that seats twelve. Scoot over so me and my friends can sit down, because, otherwise, we have to sit on the floor.” And you’re all the time hollering “No, no, but if you all sit down, the table will be crowded! ARGH! How many more people do I have to tolerate at my table before enough is enough?”
And yet, otherwise, you’re bringing folks to the table. You’re pulling up chairs so that more than twelve people can sit. You’re fretting over the people in detention, trying to sneak them to the table. You’re inviting teachers to join you.
We want more people to do what you’re doing and yet when we ask people to do what you’re doing, you get all defensive.
And I am starting to realize that it’s because you have a weird, weird, weird blind-spot to the good you do in the world and the deliberate thought you put in to doing it.
I do think that in the abstract Slarti’s question is an important one – in epistemology we ask “What counts as evidence?” That’s fair and it’s one I have to answer. But I think Aunt B. makes a good point there about when it is being asked and how it is interpreted in various contexts.
It’s kinda like the rape prevention stuff. It is good to know that walking at night alone is unsafe, to learn self-defense, to make good choices. It’s awful and insensitive to point that out right after a specific instance of rape.
I should also be fair to give credit where credit is due. The excerpt B quoted in the post comes in large part from the woman who finally drove that lesson home to me: Elizabeth Minnich. I HIGHLY recommend *Transforming Knowledge* 2nd Edition. As B says, no versions of mainstreaming are acceptable. We should ALL be transforming our thinking patterns to reflect current realities and values rather trying to make the old ones still work, those old ones that denied humanity and participation to so many people.
When we do listen, when we honestly count the other person as fully human and engage him person to person, and listen to what she is telling us even when we have no frame of reference in our own experience – when we do this – how do we convince you that we have done so?
Reeeeealllllly good question. One way showing that you have listened and heard is this: when I give you a big long song and dance about something, and you are able to say back to me, “so, you are saying Q about X, huh?” If I have indeed been saying Q about X, then you can go on and tell me 37 different ways why you think Q is wrong or X is irrelevant, but I will know that you have listened and heard. But if I was actually saying R about X, or actually talking about Y, then we haven’t been in real communication.
> We should ALL be transforming our thinking patterns to reflect current realities and values rather trying to make the old ones still work, those old ones that denied humanity and participation to so many people.
“Current realities” as perceived by whom? “Values” chosen by whom? This sounds like a dangerous program. It calls for transformation, without really defining criteria to decide which transformation is beneficial or acceptable. If we’re not careful, those with the most power, and the loudest voices, will get to effect whatever transformation they want (Facist, Corpratist, Christian Dominionist, etc.) It wouldn’t necessarily be that way, but looking at history…
Slarti, you have asked a great question. Here’s what two Christian philosophers (Lambert Zuidervaart and Henry Luttikhuizen) recently had to say about that.
They suggest that the transformation comes in what an old-fashioned
Christian might call “laboring with” someone or sharing their journey. They suggest that all parties to that “laboring with” conversation come away changed by an enduring connection: “you’re worth talking to, even if I don’t fully get you.” That attempt to keep at the work of bridging between our individual beliefs, even if it doesn’t amount to perfect agreement, will help us to come to some common notions (which in a democratic context, is that set of values by which we govern ourselves).
It’s this persistence of attempting that they suggest is the most important thing. They suggest that we can best demonstrate our desire for a just understanding and a real honor and respect for difference when we seek to stay with and if necessary, suffer with (rather than supersede, suspend, or mitigate) the complexities, difficulties, and disasters of our neighbors’ lives. Don’t solve my problems; be with me, loving me with that Golden Rule love (which is not to see me as an identical self, but to recognize that I, like you, have a self that requires ministry).
In other words, it’s the end of every odd-couple buddy movie ever made. That’s the reason that those types of movies are so popular — that’s one of the types of social intimacy that we most crave and rarely get.
I think the transformation is a way of life, a kind of openness, not a method for achieving some stated goal. That’s part of how we prevent might making right. The one value that matters to me in the most general way is equality, which isn’t a clear value anyhow (as noted by the equality of the pants by Mag above). But that’s the one I think we most need to start with, and the current reality is that most people really are in favor of equality of ALL persons but don’t think and act in ways that really do make that more likely and lasting.
It’s funny that this comes down to buddy movies and Christian marriage manuals.
nm’s equation is almost exactly what the Christian marriage books tell us men to do – repeat back what was said to us to show we’ve listened. This I can do.
Also, the process-over-single-goal thing that Professor mentions is a little hard for me. I know that the whole Mars/Venus thing probably isn’t the most popular thing around here, but I can tell you it describes my wife and I perfectly. When my wife and I converse, and she tells me about this or that problem, my first instinct is to try to “fix” the problem and move on. I swear, it’s in my wiring. But, my wife doesn’t want me to “fix” the problem, she wants to bounce it off me, to “tennis talk” with her (she serves, I hit it back and wait for her to hit the ball back again).
It sounds like that is your expectation on a societal level, as well.
You’re just going to have to believe that this is NOT in a man’s nature. And I’m no he-man. I would rather you tell me what the problem is and then let’s go try to fix it. In the man’s mind, if the problem can’t be “fixed”, then why blather on about it?
(Don’t get mad at me – I’m trying to give you an insight into the masculine mind)
I think what I’m saying is that I may not converse in the same way, but that dosn’t mean I’m not listening.
As far as what bridgett said, this fits in perfectly with my brand of Christianity. I’d like to hope I’m already living this way, although I know I have a long way to go.
99% of the world’s problems are caused when one human being sees another human being and doesn’t see him as fully human. Of course, since they are problems, my first inclination is to fix them :)
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De-lurking to say:
Good lord, Slarti! I must secretly be a man as I follow the same thought process when friends/lovers talk to me about their problems. I’ve annoyed many a boyfriend with a “must fix” mentality when they’ve just wanted to table-talk. It’s less wiring then socialization, but I’d be hard-pressed to prove it to you since there’s no vacuum-raised men & women for us to bring up as comparisons.
You could say that I’m just the exception that proves the rule about the masculine/femine mindset, but of the many people I know about half fall into the mental gender sterotype you propose above and half do not. And do you know how we talk to each other? Through listening really hard and not trying to tell other people how they feel or what they’d like to/should do unless they are asking for action/advice directly.