Do Marginalized People Need to Turn the Other Cheek?

Guest post from Renee of Womanist Musings who is all that and four bags of ketchup flavored potato chips.  

Last year, I wrote a piece about Destruction’s thoughts on Disney’s Peter Pan.
He was incredibly disturbed by the movie, because of the racism in it. 
Yesterday, it received a new comment and since the piece is now buried
in the archives, I have decided to elevate the comment for the purposes
of discussion.

Your kid has the capacity for common sense
that has eluded the world for centuries. However, is it not just as bad
to return racism like that with hate as it is to be racist in the
first place? He recognizes the need to stop the racism, but it’s your
job now to teach him how to deal with it. Taking a militant standpoint
only makes things worse. Nonviolence. Kill ignorance with kindness.

Hir
comments were restricted to race, because the post itself was about
race; however, I think that this conversation can and should be made
broader.  The suggestion that Destruction not become militant is
an exhortation that is constantly aimed at historically marginalized
people. Think about how the GLBT community has routinely been charged
with pushing a militant gay agenda by homophobes. The gay agenda has
been constructed as actually threatening to heterosexual people.
Consider for a moment how the fight for gay marriage has been responded
to with the suggestion that it will somehow harm heterosexual marriage.
The women’s movement continues to be subject to the exact same sort of
discourse, even as they tell us they we are over reacting to things like
rape culture.  Rush Limbaugh has made quite a living for himself
attacking women’s activists and suggesting that they are militant. When
Disabled people protested the ableist, Jerry Lewis, they were called a
militant angry fringe.  Whenever historically marginalized people
respond with anger, they are accused of working an agenda or of being
overly militant.

With any marginalization there comes a point when one comes to awareness
of where exactly one stands.  For POC, we begin in an environment of
love with our parents and over time, as we venture into the world, we
become aware of what it is to be a person of colour in a White
supremacist world.  For gays and lesbians, they begin to notice that
something is different about them, and once they realize what their
sexuality is, the awareness of what it means to be gay or lesbian in a
homophobic culture quickly takes hold, as they deal with the issue of
coming out or not, or negotiating the various oppressions aimed at
them.  For trans people, there is the dawning awareness of realizing
one’s internal gender, does not match the outward gender, and what it
means to be trans in a world in which cis bodies are privileged.  With
this comes of course the consideration of coming out as trans, whether
or not to transition, and of course all of the oppression that comes
with being trans. With disabled people, there is the realization that
the disability itself exists, and then negotiating a world that is not
built with us in mind. No matter the ism, there is a point of coming to
awareness with it, and a decision of what to do next.  The next step
will be different each group, but what they all have in common is that
any fight for inclusion, equal rights, or freedom from oppression will
inevitably be viewed as militant, and quickly dismissed by the ruling
classes.

Destruction is almost 11 years old, and in his short time on
earth, he has been subjected to a ton of racism, though he is bi-racial.
He understands that within his home that he is loved and valued, but
the innocence has long since been cast from childhood, due to the racist
attacks he has had to negotiate. Whatever feelings he develops about
Whiteness, are a direct consequence of living in a White supremacist
world. The idea that I should again thwart his agency by telling him how
he is too feel, or react is problematic, and denies him one of the few
areas of agency in regard to the oppression that he faces.

Much has been made of kumbaya approach to reacting to oppression. Turn
the other cheek has become the expected response, even as marginalized
people are on the receiving end of violence on a daily basis through
either a physical action or hate speech. The arrogance it takes to
believe that gays and lebsians should not hate a group like The
Westboro Baptist Church, or Focus on the Family, or that POC should not
hate groups like Stormfront, or the KKK is ridiculous.  Hating the
people who wish us death and actively work to oppress us is not only
human, but natural.  The very idea that hating our oppressors is the
same thing as the oppression itself, speaks to a complete denial of the
humanity of marginalized people, and an attempt to once again control
us. 

Hate, while it isn’t pleasant, isn’t always as counter
productive as it is made to seem.  Sometimes, hate can be the
inspiration to demand change, and sometimes it helps to embolden self
worth – thus a negative emotion can become a creative force. Hate should
not always be the preserve of the most privileged people.  Hate, like
it or not is part of the human experience;  it is an emotion like any
other.  Telling marginalized people not to hate, is to deny them a
common experience.  It is particularly problematic when the hate is
aimed at someone intent on causing them harm.  If ze had said not to
become consumed by hate then, and only then — would ze have had a
point.

Militant does not have to mean violence.  I have often described myself
is militantly Black with pride.  For me, it means embracing my Blackness
and loving myself in spite of all of the negative connotations
inscribed to my Black, female, disabled body.  Militant can and should
be an expression of self. The only reason militant has historically been
seen as problematic, is because privileged people far prefer
marginalized people to be passive and silent.

I am not going to tell anyone how to negotiate their oppression, because
to do so would embolden my various privileges, while removing their
agency. Though Destruction and I share the same racial
oppression, telling him how to feel, would send the message that he
should sensor himself, or that he is not entitled to his feelings, which
is exactly what Whiteness has invested so heavily in teaching him.  It
is one thing to abjure violence, and another thing entirely to suggest
that marginalized people have to avoid feelings of anger and hatred to
those who do them harm.  In the end, whatever emotions he develops
towards Whiteness, will be because of his lived experience, and it is
not for me or anyone else to tell him how to feel. 

1 thought on “Do Marginalized People Need to Turn the Other Cheek?”

  1. I recently watched Black Power Mix Tape and I thought it did a great job of hammering home that "militant" can mean "I will defend myself against violence" which then looks like violence to the oppressors who are expecting marginalized people to roll over and take it.

    "You ask me, you know, whether I approve of violence […] I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. […] when the bombing occurred, […] after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night, because they did not want that to happen again. I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just — I just find it incredible, because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country, since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa." – Angela Davis

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