March 20, 2017
I recently wrote a piece concerning the affirmative action policies of the University of Texas at Austin and whether the policy was congruent with the compelling interest of the nation. Robert Putman cited his own study about the Community Benchmark Survey. This study looked at inter-racial relations in newly integrated communities, and he found that initial contact between diverse populations “triggered both lower inter-racial trust and trust in people of the respondent’s own race”, but that over time the “creation of a more inclusive social identity” will be achieved. He uses the United States army as an example, affirmative action and anti-discrimination policies have created an environment where soldiers have “closer inter-racial friendships than [those of] the average American citizen” and the feminist movement should take notes. It is only through talk that the rhetoric of the past is negated into the rhetoric of the future. Jane Addams tells a story about an argument she once heard in support of segregation when a little frog was introduced to a big frog the big frog ate it. On the face of it, it appears that it is in the best interest of little frogs to keep their distance, for their own safety – WOC feminists should avoid walking through the gates of academic feminism at all costs or they are sure to be devoured and forgotten. But the allegory of the frog is not as simple as all that, “that [is] exactly what we want – to be swallowed and digested, to disappear into the bulk of the people”, we want to become one. If the rule is that “intentions never matter” becomes the new status quo then we will simply stop talking, or worse, keep talking past each other.
Trigger warnings are dangerous no matter who authorizes them; they create a zero-sum game where there are too many losers and society as a collective can’t win. By refusing to forgive those who wound with privilege we magnifying anger and weaponize it. As Audre Lorde said, “we can articulate them with precision” if we have the courage to do so by, “listening to the content of what is being said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves” it doesn’t have to kill us. This requires a willingness to understand, on both sides, not trigger warnings that make it too easy to hide from a difficult statement or word – even when it is associated with trauma. The only way to overcome trauma is to face it, not all at once with bravado and adrenaline but humbly and with patience. We cannot turn from anger, we have every right to be angry, feminism is scary sometimes and that fear is what is making us fight back, but we cannot tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools – authorization or denunciation. We must become Quixote poets, who “can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been”, using twitter, tumbler, blogs, every digital platform out there, and stop creating historians who write about history “not as it should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting from the truth” by authorizing some and denouncing others. Digital media is a key to the city the gatekeepers stand guard over. Walk right in and let it digest you, become part of the movement.