[Footage/Image Description: Alison (white signing woman wearing a black blouse. She has short brown hair) is signing against a black backdrop- only her upper torso is visible. This video is a 5:03 minute video – part 3 of 4 of a series on Social Justice]
[Video opens with white title text overlaying Alison, who has already started to sign. The text is: Social Justice Part 3, SJ Activists are Flawed]
Video Link: https://youtu.be/2lEMfBNUNq0
Social justice work- the process, the journey, the actual work- none of it is easy. Many of us expect zero oppression, perfection/flawlessness from those who do social justice work, and when we find that we, too, make mistakes- we become disappointed, disillusioned- and sometimes just want to give up/quit the work.
We forget that the issue at hand, the thing that we are passionate about and decide to show up for & work on- we show up with our experiences, baggage, and biases. We show up with our internalized beliefs and values related to different things- about white people, about men, about rich folks, and more. We also arrive with whatever problem solving skills and coping skills we’ve learned. We bring our trauma. As soon as we start doing “the work,” all of those things show up.
To give an example: growing up I always saw white cishet Deaf-Able good looking men in leadership positions in our communities- they were our presidents, our CEO’s, our principals. And how they facilitated meetings, events, and so forth usually incorporated norms of time, procedure, turn-taking, etc that benefitted those same men.
As a woman, I never felt like I could strive for those “higher” leadership positions because I internalized the idea that those were reserved for men. I would instead run for secretarial positions- now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s a “low” position or a worthless one, but that our society tends to view those positions in a hierarchy with specific leadership roles at the top.
So that internalization shows up as an organization when – for instance- folks are doing an election. Now if a person who does not “fit” privileged identities (white Deaf-Able CisHet Man) decides to run for president, most of us will not give the person a chance, will question their trustworthiness and ability in harsher ways than we would a White Man. We do this because we’re used to seeing White Deaf Able CisHet men in leadership roles. So that’s what happens.
Even in groups doing social justice work- like fighting against audism in Deaf organizations- even there, we still find oppressive acts. And in the meantime we also see that the problem solving skills we have learned- or not learned- will impact the group’s ability to work through addressing those dynamics of oppression.
We need to keep in mind that folks engaging in social justice work are also still learning and growing- they are NOT perfect. If we expect perfection, we set each other up for failure. The key is recognizing that the work starts with working on ourselves first (or at the same time as)- unpacking, developing skills, identifying ways we are oppressive and changing those thoughts/behaviors- and then working to support the growth of the groups we are working in. That has a ripple effect. If we don’t do that work then we will always experience barriers and breakdowns in the work we try to do.
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