Hello–how are you doing? I’ve been thinking about identity politics, stage hogging, and white guilt. What is identity politics? I’ve wondered for decades.
My identity is central to how I feel, what I experience, what I need, and what’s most important to me. How I’m treated by others is different depending on my demographics and their perception of my demographics. People differ, and I don’t understand how I should leave identity out of politics, or how I even could.
A fat, middle aged Black woman is treated in a totally different way from a thin, abled, young white man, who is treated totally differently from a child of any background, who is treated totally differently from an elder Asian woman… I see differences in so many ways.
- how people talk to us
- how we will and won’t be offered employment
- the amount of power we have socially
- health risks based on how we’re treated differently in medical contexts
- how valuable we’re considered
- what we are given
- what’s taken from us
- how we are expected to behave
- what the consequences will be if we don’t behave that way
example of me and Ming
I see on a daily basis big differences in how Ming and I are treated. A good example is asking for things over the phone.
I have a quiet, kind, fem voice and phrase things in a chill way. When I call a business or government branch and ask for something, I often hear a no. Even if I inquire further, ask for reasons, ask for something different, I will hear a no.
If I ask Ming to call and ask for the exact same thing, they say yes. It could be his deeper, masc voice–it could be his colder attitude. Not sure of the exact reason, but it’s happened countless times. His being perceived as a man over the phone means he gets what he asks for, over and over.
This is a good example of power and identity. Ming and I are both smart, direct people. If anything I have more language skills. But it doesn’t matter. His cold dudeness will win over my chill ladiness, when it comes to asking for things. A kind, curious woman with a fem voice has less power over the phone than someone with a voice and manner like Ming’s.
Phone voice injustice affects our lives in countless ways. And this is a minor example of how the world values people differently depending on our identities. Racial profiling is all over the place, differences in SAT scores, cop violence against people of color, life expectancy of transgender people, big differences in how much money women make vs how much money men make–examples are everywhere.
So why should we want to leave identity out of politics? I’ve heard the term identity politics used by white people who are upset that they have to consider the well-being of those who are different from them. They feel oppressed because of poverty or some injustice they face, and they want their problem to count just as much as the problems of people of color. They believe they’re supposed to feel white guilt and downplay their own issues, to up-play the issues of people of color. And they resent that, so they get bitter and lash out.
Feels strange. Feels racist. There are many different ways to lash out, and all of them are nasty. I won’t support that. Yes, justice is work. It’s good work–we have to do it.
A radical musician friend wrote an essay that talked about stage hogging and white guilt. So I was thinking of who he is–his mix of struggles, oppressions, needs, gifts, opportunities. Here’s a story about stage hogging.
I was at an online music event with multiple performers. The host was a charismatic, positive, charming Black woman. The point of the gathering was to sing about political topics.
My white radical musician friend was there performing. He played some songs, and his time was running out, but he wanted to play one more song. So he asked, “Is there time for one more song?”
He put the host in a position where she could say no and risk looking like a jerk. Or she could say yes, and the event could run long, or the musician could take time from other performers.
That’s a weird moment because his power is in play. His ask felt like a slight push for his own voice. The gracious host could have said no, to make room for other performers, since the event was finite. But she chose to say yes.
The musician played a song about cops killing Black people. It’s a disturbing, powerful song, and I actually know and like it. But hearing him play it live-over-zoom to an audience that included many people of color was intense.
Is everyone ok? Is the tone of this song in keeping with the goals of the event? How about the level of emotional pain? Will people be ok after the event? What aftercare will be provided?
It reminded me of the reading of the names that Ming and I were present for, at Transgender Day of Remembrance a few days ago. Aftercare is nil. Yes, you can stir up pain in people. But if there’s no way for them to process and discharge the pain, what will happen to them?
I wonder if suicide rates go up, the week after Trans Day of Remembrance. It’s good to face the truth. But the truth is so powerful. We need to care for people after disturbing them in a personal, destabilizing way.
Emotionally, our society is bankrupt. Emotional skills are nil. Having the binary options of care for ourselves, or else seek professional help, is ridiculous.
Most people are not doing super well emotionally, yet not in crisis. If the only help we’re offered is a broken mainstream mental health system, or else go it on our own with very few skills, we’re screwed. Subsisting until crisis is a very sad plan!
Making our own paths is an incredible amount of work and requires energy and creativity that most people just don’t have. Radical mental health is unknown to most people, unfortunately.
This white musician can love people of color, do anti-racism work, and speak for justice in many ways. But his pushing to play a disturbing song about violence against Black people to a lot of Black people was painful to witness.
The host seemed shaken, after the song ended. I saw her seem disturbed but try to shake it off. The musician seemed happy he had sung his powerful song and done his thing. He accomplished what he wanted to do. I saw them experiencing two very different feeling states.
I had a “wow–what just happened here?” moment. Felt like more identity politics was needed. Felt violenct, the violence of the everyday that I encounter a lot from white men in conversation. Lack of balance, lack of consideration of audience, and not being seen are big problems that make me want to avoid people and retreat.
The musician is treated in a certain way by cops, people in general, potential employers… He can pick up this issue and set it down at will. If he wants to, he can choose to do something totally different tomorrow. These are ideas to him.
As for the Black host, these are not ideas she can pick up and set down. This is her life. Cops may have recently killed people in her family. She probably feels terror in her body, pertaining to her own vulnerability in a racist society. She never gets a break from being a Black woman. For the musician to stir that terror in her body, and feel glad he did something good, was terrible to witness.
He needs to upset white people who don’t care. Good luck with that. He didn’t need to upset the host or any of the countless people of color hearing the song. Seemed like a fail in consideration of audience, at least.
As for white guilt, guilt is mostly a huge drain–a hole in the bucket. We need our energy to do good in the world.
Stage hogging and white guilt are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Both are bad, and I need neither. Someone can choose not to stage hog, not because of guilt, but because of justice.
We can consider the needs of others every day, having a good balance in promoting our own agendas, and caring for the well-being of others too. I see most people behaving in ways that are way more self-promoting than caring for others. I see a culture we’ve created of dog eat dog, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, how dare you expect a handout, I worked hard for my money, and lots of shaming and blaming.
I believe in love. That means people might see me as a den mother and call me codependent. Or they see my care as dysfunctional because they don’t understand it. I’m very different from them.
But I’m ok. We need a society with more care. I make mistakes, of course. But love as default would be a rad society. I work toward it, bit by bit.
My musician friend is not a bad person. He’s a good person wanting to help the world with music. He has good projects. But more understanding of audience, feelings and needs, and how to use his own power might help.
You know Ming is the opposite of stage hogging. It’s not because of identity politics or any kind of guilt. He just wants to use his power in other ways.
I’m grateful he uses his power to care for me, stay attuned to the well-being of others in harm reduction and street medic ways, do community, and sleepily survive.
Thank you for tabling our zines, sweetheart. I appreciate you.