I want to do more writing about how people mix up group/society level dynamics and individual level dynamics in activism.
For example, a lot of times people with relative privilege don’t know what to do with “I deserve opportunities and space but others have even less, what do I do?”
Here’s some validation, because that’s really what I care most about writing, and those of us who are feeling this tend to already be stuck in the mindset, either from oppression or abuse or other life things, that we will always already be taking up too much space, and need to hear this.
So here it is:
It’s not wrong to take opportunities that others don’t have. It is wrong to be the person with the power and give opportunities only to people like you. It’s wrong to actively take space others are trying to carve for themselves when you’re already comfortable. It is wrong to not offer space when you are leading a group. But it is not wrong to take up space for yourself.
People aren’t required to give up their survival because other people don’t have the same chances. They are required to use actual power for good.
Not your one-person-sized space. Power. Extra space. It is reasonable, in fact vital, to take up some space. You don’t have to give it to others in an attempt to make things fair–or really, to assuage your guilt. Because really how could that make things fair?
You can take up space. The issue is when you’re given the chance to decide who gets more space and you aren’t fair with it.
The issue is when you literally talk over people or tell them about their own experiences with oppression while they’re trying to talk about it.
The issue is when you see people of certain demographics not trying to take up space in a group or forum or organization and as an organizer, don’t offer it to them.
The issue is not with privileged people (whatever that means–most of us are both privileged and oppressed) taking up one person’s worth of space. Taking up comfortable space.
You can talk about your experiences. You can write about just your experiences. If you generalize, then yeah, you need to note that you can’t really generalize the experiences of one identity to everyone with that identity–but if you’re talking about just you, you can talk about just you. Your voice is important. All of our voices are important. We have different things to say in different ways.
Your art can, and I personally think should, be for you. You aren’t required to turn your personal expression into a statement that doesn’t do anything for your heart because you feel bad that you might be listened to more.
Imagine never taking a job because it inherently means others didn’t get it? That’s kind of what this is. You are totally entitled to survival. Everyone is. You don’t have to be miserable because others are.
I’m not speaking for all activists, of course, and really I never am–but I have heard from a number of people that they don’t feel that they should talk about their trauma or experiences because they are relatively privileged. That their art should be about representation even though that doesn’t fuel them creatively. That they should generally not speak publicly because people like them (in some ways) are heard more overall, because their oppression or trauma is not the worst in the world or compounded by enough other bad experiences.
The issue with “taking up space” is stamping on others’ personal, reasonable space that they are trying to take up, or with having power and doling out survival tokens only to those who have privilege.
You don’t need 15 diverse characters who aren’t like you–your publisher should be hiring writers with different experiences.
If you are that publisher then absolutely this is your job. If you’re a writer, not so much. A white male writer, a white cis woman writer, etc cannot “represent” people with other identities anyway–write about you, and please don’t make fictional worlds where only people like you exist–but yeah, you can write about you as the focus.
If you are an activist and have the chance to advocate for people having more space in a way that doesn’t harm you, go for it. That’s important.
I think we should all be aware of social dynamics in a general sense, be aware of when others aren’t being heard, etc..
But I don’t think that means we need to make ourselves small–because that does not actually make anyone else big enough.
I think what we need to do is as organizers, carve out space for people who might be afraid to speak up and take up reasonable space. Moderate. Do our jobs. Employers need to hire fairly. Publishers need to publish fairly.
People with power need to use it well–people who organize need to make space for people who are afraid to take it.
And being oppressed is not the only reason one might be afraid to take up reasonable space. Abuse causes this too. We say that having a bad life or being abused doesn’t negate privilege and that is true–and it also has to be true in reverse–being privileged does not mean you can’t have been abused or harmed or broken down. It doesn’t mean you can’t need to work to take up reasonable space.
I value discussions about privilege/oppression immensely, I value what those discussions have done to validate people and how it has become a tool to figure out what needs to end.
But it’s not everything that exists in life. People are complex, and our lives are complex. I think that when someone is very, very marginalized they are not obligated to be super invested in the lives of people who exhaust them with privilege–but really no one is required to be invested in anyone else’s life.
I think marginalized people should feel free to not be invested in people who remind them too much of their suffering (as they are often pressured to be), I think we should be free to need a break from interacting with people privileged in some way (sometimes I need a break from dating men or from spending time with new cis people, for example). That’s a personal choice I can understand.
But that doesn’t mean that those relatively privileged people’s lives don’t deserve support and attention from someone. So if you want to say something, say it. You do deserve space and attention–others just do too. And that isn’t your personal responsibility as long as you are not actively talking over someone specific or are in charge of who gets space.
If you have the power to decide who gets heard–then it’s on you to make sure that space and opportunity gets given out equitably. Absolutely.