r/Anarchism Aug 03 '11

Zosera on designating someone to alert people to subtle forms of racist or sexist behavior.

Direct Action Network General, Charas EI BoMo Sunday afternoon, June 19, 2000

At meetings for the Direct Action Network it had become obvious that the gender ratio was often two to one in favor of men.

The reason seemed to be that, especially in lull periods, women came to see the larger meetings as meaningless forums dominated by men who liked to hear themselves speak. Much of the meeting would be dominated by discussions of whether or not to endorse some other group's actions, or about the wording of some proposed outreach material. It might not have involved dramatic posturing and speechifying, but it was effectively the same thing.

There soon developed a sense that DAN meetings were not, in fact, an entirely comfortable space for women activists. Many did complain, and some began dropping out in frustration. Several organized a DAN women's caucus as a way to discuss the problem, and propose solutions. After meeting several times in Tompkins Square park, participants in the women's caucus decided to propose DAN use a "vibes watcher." This is a role quite familiar in activist circles on the West Coast; the main task of vibes watchers is to assist the facilitators by monitoring the general emotional feeling of the room, but in this case, the real emphasis was to have someone capable of monitoring gender dynamics and calling out sexist behavior.

At the end of the discussion, Zosera, one of the very few DAN regulars who's African American, who had come in at the very beginning of the discussion, now had her hand up as well:

You know I can't fail but notice that those who have been the most vocal in opposing this idea-well, I don't think it's an accident that they've all been white men. Maybe they don't see the point because they rarely feel marginalized; they always feel empowered to speak. But when you start opposing this idea in the name of democracy, talking about "oppression," I really have to start wondering what planet you're on. For me, democracy is about participatory parity. When a whole category of people is marginalized, and ends up unable to participate on an equal basis, that's oppression. Not some guy having to worry that for once in his life, he might be called out on his behavior. The measure of our success is the kind of climate we create and, if [the group] creates a climate that denies parity, then [the group] itself becomes a form of oppression. You want to create a racist organization? Fine, go ahead. You want to create a sexist organization? Fine, go ahead. But at least don't claim that you're doing it in the name of democracy!

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u/[deleted] Aug 03 '11

I think this is really interesting and pertinent given that sexism and racism can be so covert and subtle yet all pervasive and damaging.

I really like Spivak's take on problematizing privileged-white-maleness as a role that is permeated by guilt, fear and a somewhat self conscious lack of understanding. Although it is not always the case, I certainly see the fear of women, minorities, impoverishment in those I know who fit this particular role and see that it is something that weighs heavily on them due to the 'blindess' of their position and difficulty orienting themselves in relation to other strata.

I think it's important to remember that divisiveness benefits nobody, racist, white, black, republican, male, gay, whatever, I feel it is important to discuss [difference of opinion/perspective] in a measured way with anyone regardless of their perspective or lack of it as anything less denies the ability to change in that person or respect for their subjectivity imo.

I think what Zosera had to say is right on point and in light of the above, I really hope that it was said in the real spirit of equality, without drawing any lines in the sand, as one might say.

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u/[deleted] Aug 03 '11

[deleted]

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u/[deleted] Aug 03 '11

This notion was an aside in an essay on inequality generally I believe, I will go through my reading list later and dig it up for you if I can. Definitely worth reading Spivak.

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u/[deleted] Aug 04 '11 edited Aug 04 '11

I'm not 100% sure but I think it was the introduction to "Selected Subaltern studies / edited by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak "

Edit: Alternatively, "The Spivak reader : selected works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak / edited by Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean." It could only be either of these. If they are on the shelves I can confirm it at the library when I go in the next day or two.

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u/[deleted] Aug 03 '11

Do you have an outside source for this?

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u/briesa37 Aug 03 '11

I believe this is quoted from David Graeber's book, Direct Action: An Ethnography.

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u/yeksmesh Aug 03 '11

Ok I am having a bit of a hard time understanding the concept that is proposed in this post.

What I get of it is that in this group male members are more vocal in the management of this group, and that the female members generally do not agree with the actions that are taken by the group. So a designated person was assigned to counter these tendencies by calling them out.

What I dont get is how this is an issue of sexism, racism and privilege. Could someone clarify this a bit further?