So Many Silences – part one

by Julie on February 25, 2011 · 39 comments

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“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.”
Audre Lorde

Privilege

Privilege, handed out at birth.

White privilege: Yes.

Gender privilege: No.

Born into color. Born into gender. Born into a system.

I am white. I am a woman. In reality, I am neither of these things. Yet, I live in a system, a system full of institutions that are insidiously laced with privilege, domination and oppression.

I don’t know…

what to do with this. I know I’ve been handed privilege. I know I’ve used this privilege and enjoyed its benefits. I know part of me would rather not talk about it.

Yet, I must.

Why must I? Because, not talking about it keeps me in a silence that needs to be broken.

Not talking about it keeps me from seeing my own humanity, keeps me tangled up in a fog of complicity and complacency that go against the nature of what I really am.

Not talking about keeps me from fully waking up to the light that is at the heart of every cell of matter.

Not talking about it keeps us from solidarity, soulful human connection that can help to break apart this system that we all uphold, both consciously and unconsciously. And I no longer want to uphold this system.

Once,

a woman told me this story. She was talking with her boyfriend about gender oppression, about what it’s like living in this culture as a woman. He replied to her that she couldn’t know oppression because she is white. He told her she couldn’t be gender oppressed because she was privileged by her skin color. He negated her experience of gender oppression because he determined that her whiteness denied her the very real and direct experience of gender oppression.

I once had a man, a white man, tell me that my whiteness automatically made me an oppressor. The first time I heard this, I was stopped short with surprise. Then anger. Then confusion.

I asked myself,

“What do I do with this?”

So, I sat with it. It churned. There were no clear answers, no short and sweet snippets of wisdom.  And then I forgot about it.

Until now. Until my deep, deep desire to see men break the silence about gender privilege invited me to break my silence about what I’ve been privileged with – racial privilege mainly, as well as financial privilege, class privilege, etc.

As a white woman, I know both privilege and oppression. And, yes, I know I experience both, that one does not negate the other.

We were all born into a system that oppresses. We didn’t’ choose it, yet it is our responsibility to see it for what it is. And, for the sake of our children and grandchildren we must come to terms with the insidious ways it keeps us doing things that I know are antithetical to our true nature.

We’ve been born into it through no choice of our own. AND, we have a choice as to whether or not we continue to uphold it, because the system doesn’t do it to us. It works through us. The system is just a collection of beliefs that we internalized. Everything that we create from these beliefs continues the system. Everything that we create from knowing that we are simply many expressions of the One source of all of life will create a new infrastructure based on the love that is  this One source.

I no longer want to know separation, because I know I am you and you are me. I know this. I see this, and it is only my internalized idea of the way the world is, and my habitual response pattern to these ideas, that keep me upholding something so painful.

I am angry about what has been done, and continues to be done, to women and children, to the earth. I am angry about the continued degradation of the feminine.

I am outraged at my own complacency.

My love for life, for this beauteous wonder that moves through me, calls me to live something greater than my habitual fear and confusion.

Am I willing to look here? Yes, I am willing to look. And, I hope you’ll look with me.

This post is part one of a series on privilege and oppression, and compliance and complacency. I don’t yet know how many parts there will be, or how and where it will end.

I hope you’ll inquire with me and leave rich comments here. Let’s begin a discussion. Let’s find a way through the fog of not wanting to see and know, so that one day we will meet in the place where there is no ‘other’.

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Bridget February 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

Julie-
I am so happy that you are writing about this. I am a white woman who currently identifies as bisexual, but who lived in a lesbian relationship for 8 years, and self-identified publicly as a lesbian during that time.
Oppression is both a inside and outside game. We self-oppress and we are oppressed by others and we oppress others.
I was always treated well by people as a lesbian. Always. And I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. I am a friendly, positive person. I’m also quite feminine.
Oppression is complicated. Did people treat me well because I was a feminine lesbian? Or because I was friendly? Or because I was lucky? How much of oppression is self-oppression?
I ask this question because I don’t know. It’s not to say or imply that oppression from others doesn’t exist. It does. It most certainly does.
I know that, as a woman, I’ve found oppression in the workplace.
I also found oppression as a femme lesbian by my butch partner. She would not let me mow the lawn, because what would the neighbors think?
I am not oppressed as a straight woman by my male partner. So I don’t think it divides along gender lines, completely.
I am sure that I’ve been an oppressor. I am born into a system that favors me as someone who is white, middle-class, educated, able, and relatively attractive.
A friend once said, “I’m tired of people thinking that my ethnicity is the most interesting part of me. It’s just one part of me.” It is just one part of her, and not the most interesting part, by far.
In trying NOT to oppress, are we still oppressing? And how do we recognize and talk about self-oppression without denying that other-people-inflicted or societal oppression exists?

Julie February 25, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Beautiful Bridget,
Thank you for joining me in this conversation. Oppression is complicated, and yes, you are so right- it is an inner and outer game. There are no definitive answers and it is murky. I know, as I sit in stillness, much becomes more clear.
I so value you sharing all of these experiences and thoughts here. These are all such important questions.
I’m so glad to know you’ve entered this conversation with me.

Many blessings,

Julie

Natalie February 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Julie, articles on oppression usually feel angry but you have managed to bring awareness and make a point in such a subtle way. As a black person I have never truly felt oppressed given that I grew up in Jamaica where we are the majority. As a woman I do not feel oppressed either because of the paths along which life has taken me. I am fortunate but I know that oppression exists and feel as though it will never end but hope that my feelings are wrong.

One Love!!!!

Julie February 26, 2011 at 9:11 am

Thank you, Natalie. Yes, One Love!

Renae C February 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

The privilege exercise we did in my Diversity class for my masters program rocked my world, blew apart everything I thought I knew, and changed the way I look at the world FOREVER. We lined up in a line and listened to a series of statements about privilege and oppression. If you had experienced a privileged statement, you took a step forward. If you had experienced an oppression, you took a step back. The physical act of stepping – forward and back – and the continuing divergence of the front and back of the line was simply astounding. I took many steps forward. And I took some backward. The emotions – shame, confusion, sorrow, anger – were simply overwhelming.

The line ended up with a young upper class white heterosexual male at the front of the line and a working class white homosexual male in the back along with one of the two black women in the class. The rest of the class challenged every notion I ever had imagined about privilege. But one of the most interesting things during the rest of the time was observing the guy who ended up at the front of the line. It was obvious that he was struggling to understand. He did not take a single step backward during the exercise. And he simply could not grasp the concept of privilege. He could not see how others suffered, because he had not experienced that suffering himself.

But the few steps I took backward, based on gender, were just enough to open the crack for me to begin to understand. Julie, I so identify with what you wrote. I have experienced both the benefits of privilege and the trauma of oppression. And so very often I sit and wonder “What do I do with this?” I’ve used that hint of feeling, in taking those backwards steps, to connect to other individuals who have experienced oppression. And to reframe the way I look at things. But so very often, the system seems too overwhelming to change.

Thank you for opening this discussion. Maybe through it, we will find some meaningful steps toward – as Natalie so aptly said – ONE LOVE.

Julie February 26, 2011 at 9:14 am

Renae, I am so moved by what you describe. How you were hit with so many emotions and could experience the real juxtaposition between privilege and oppression. I especially recognize that ‘hint of feeling’. It’s a great phrase to describe what I’ve noticed about my own privilege and how that privilege is a direct link to others’ oppression. I came to see the silence was more painful than any fears I had about opening the door to where I am complicit in all this. Thank you for sharing here, and for your continued willingness to engage in the conversation. Blessings, Julie

Niki Andre February 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I think the whole planet would be well served by a global exercise like the one you describe. Where on the continuum would those in your North American classroom fall if, included in the experiment, were men and women from China, Sudan, Sweden, Mexico etc? I wonder how that experience might change the way we relate to the rest of the world?

Julie March 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Niki, Yes. Wow. Could you imagine what that would look like? I am just beginning to see the depth of my ignorance and blindness.

Kierra D. Foster-Ba February 26, 2011 at 4:51 am

Both a scratch and a gaping wound share some commonalities. This does not mean they are the same or that the only difference is the degree or severity. This is how I feel when people of privilege talk about oppression. Yes, everyone experiences being treated unfairly but this does not mean that they are oppressed. There are various statistics that reveal that white women have overwhelmingly (at least statistically) benefitted from affirmative action, something that people of color have been demonized for. So while, I would not challenge your feelings, your feelings are yours. I think in 2011 oppression is a strong word for a middle class, educated white woman to use. To me oppression is when 97% of the images of people you share several identity groups with (race; gender; complexion; body size; shape) are buffons; belligerent; and unbelievable ignorant. A recent commercial for bounce comes to mind. It is a series about different people and the way they use bounce. The large black woman announces “Ah put em…Ah put em in my shoes; Ah put in my drawers….Ah put em; Ah bin put em for years.” This is oppression. These images of the angry; unattractive; ignorant and large black woman have not changed from the antebellum period to now, but the images of priveledged white women have changed from fainting women too fragile to work to smart; competative; atheletic women who are equal to men.

Julie February 26, 2011 at 9:20 am

Kierra, Thank your for sharing your thoughts and feelings here. You’ve opened the conversation up in ways I was hoping for. Oppression is a strong word, and I also know many white women feel it, even in the midst of their privilege. The thing I am working with is wanting to see what I haven’t seen, to know something more than I know, because all I know is what I’ve experienced and what I read and hear about others’ experiences. That is why I so welcome your insights, so I can look at the places where I am blind, and at the same time begin to trust my own self more, the places I know. I hope you come back as I write more in the series. Our experiences are so different, yet there is a place where we are one. I want to know that place, and I think it is only by questioning my blind spots, and opening to your experiences, while honoring mine, that I might know that place. Blessings, Julie

wendy chivers February 26, 2011 at 8:45 am

As a white woman in my mid fifties I understand the multitude of levels we experience oppression in this world from our families as children, to our peer groups in school, to men wanting sexual favours, to bosses wanting our labour for nominal wages, to being a mother and getting minimal support. In this priviledged western society we live in that most of the world dreams of, we are physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically starved, manipulated and have little or no support except if we seek expensive help from professionals. Just look at single moms. I don’t care how white they are that’s one oppressed group. So ok we know but evolution happens. I got older I no longer live in the drama state of woe is me. I am judged by economic institutions yes perhaps even oppressed by them. As long as I act like a productive male they like me. Humm what does this say? We are here to figure it out. Support and validate one another. Be a woman. It’s the single moms that I feel for the most. There are so many of them that need support. This is a extremely oppressed isolated group that needs what ever a person can give.
Thank you for this great blog
Blessings
Wendy

Julie February 26, 2011 at 9:23 am

Wendy, Yes. yes. Here to figure it out and to support and validate each other. To listen, to hear and to learn. I know the single mother oppression. My mother, yes white, was a single mother in the early sixties. ALthough she was lucky to have some help from her parents, something many single mothers do not have, I remember distinctly how difficult it was for her, how isolated she was, and how strong she had to be. She taught me so much. I appreciate you sharing your insights and adding to the conversation. I hope you’ll return as I explore this more. I have no idea where it is going. Blessings, Julie

Susie March 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I agree that single mothers are an oppressed group. If a single woman becomes pregnant, especially if she is young or low/middle class, there are many who deem her unworthy of being a mother and judge that she is unworthy to be a mother and should give her child up for adoption. .

While pregnant and if considering adoption, this mother is made to feel like a saint. However, once the child is no longer hers, she joins another oppressed group of people ~ natural mothers.

This is a great post, do you mind if I link to it?

Jennifer Louden February 26, 2011 at 9:33 am

Julie love what a wonderful opening and discussion you have started here. For me, the question of my life right now is around “I am outraged at my own complacency.” It has to do with oppression on a global level – I use more resources than I should, I’m part of the biggest oppression of all – creating global warming. Who is going to suffer from that – poor people all over the world – not rich people, not us, not so much. I see oppression writ planet wide now and yet I still drive my daughter 2 miles to school even though she could walk a shortcut in 12 minutes – why? Because I’m a wimpy pleasing parent – at times. So that’s the rock in my stomach these days – was it okay to take a vacation to Costa Rica and travel for 24 hours to lie on a beach? Is it okay to have almost a million copies of my books in print – how many trees was that? I eat meat – what the hell? So yes, churning – churning.

Bridget February 26, 2011 at 11:17 am

Kierra D. Foster-Ba-
I hear what you are saying about imagery as part of oppression. I haven’t seen that commercial, but I won’t buy bounce now.
How would you measure the cost and pain of oppression?
When does my experience of oppression become comparable to yours? Could it?
How do you define a person of privilege?
Could a middle class educated person of color be less oppressed than a working class, uneducated white person?
And is it okay for a black person to create oppressive media (like Big Momma’s House)? If so, why?
I am a middle-class, educated white woman. I have experienced oppression. It’s not a scratch. I can measure my experience quantitatively and qualitatively.
When does my oppression count? And how is your situation bettered by discounting my experience?

aninha livingstone February 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Thank you for once again tackling a difficult topic. I am curious what inspired you to face this?
For me the statement that we are not white or women in reality is interesting. I like to hold the two poles of reality at once. I am white, I am a woman, and I am beyond that, in my essence.
I heard a woman once say:
I want you to forget I am African American, and to never forget I am African American.
This summed it up for me. Can we hold the harsh realities of duality and the beauty of non-duality AT ONCE.

Also, for those who are interested there is a racial healing circle at the Oakland Attitudinal healing Center once a month. It is a safe and supportive environment, open to all.

In terms of gender, I do agree that white, middle class, straight…women don’t deal with the kind of oppression that most people of color do. What I do know is that we carry a deep reservoir of internalized oppression that keeps us: in abusive relationships, silent about what matters to us, afraid that our way of knowing is not intelligent, afraid to step in leadership roles as we do not see ourselves as worthy, etc. The fact that 9 million women were murdered for being women (witches) lives on in our collective memory. I believe we are only now starting to reclaim our voice, and worth as women.

Julie March 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Aninha, Yes, holding both poles is the paradox. Yes, I am a woman, and that is profoundly important as we embody awakening.
Thank you for sharing the information about the racial healing circle.
You speak eloquently about internal oppression, and yes, the experience of so many witches being burned lives on in our collective pain.
All I know, as I begin this exploration is my own experience. I know what I have experienced as oppression, and I hear what others experience. The more I ‘own’ the privilege I have in this life, the more I open to the profound pain others have gone through because of my privilege. This, in and of itself, is humbling beyond anything I’ve known before.
I am so glad you are here, sharing your knowings.
Blessings,
Julie

Angela February 27, 2011 at 7:43 am

Julie,
Thank you for opening space for this discussion. When I read the Lorde quote from the beginning, I opened to this line: “it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence.” In discussions like these (and in my experience of doing the exercise Renae C. describes) I often feel ashamed of the privilege that is mine based on my race, class, education, (and the list goes on). My response is to cringe in silence and hope for invisibility. I see that my silent invisibility combined with my privilege is a way that I passively but certainly participate in the system as an oppressor.
Yesterday I made a tiny attempt to break that silence when I “Facebook-Liked” a George Carlin video about class that a friend posted in response to the Wisconsin protest, despite my imagination that people would roll their eyes at my saying anything at all about class. I’m making another tiny attempt here, in the spirit of breaking the silence.

Julie March 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Angela, Thank you for breaking the silence by posting here. It is more important than any of us can imagine. The power of us walking this together can’t be underestimated.
Love to you, Julie

Karen Sharp February 27, 2011 at 8:11 am

I am a white woman and initially became sensitized to oppression and privilege as a white woman. Where, because there are 2 genders, there is a tendency to turn race into a binary as well, and place these two categories into a 2×2 grid, and consider this the exemplar of how oppression and privilege are structured.

But I think that is an importantly wrong simplification, and the ability to create that simplified structure is itself a privileged perspective. I try more to talk about gradients of power. That gender is a gradient of power, as is race, as are many other things. That categories sometimes dissolve into each other along that gradient: gay men end up downslope, on the gradient of gender, in spite of being men. Other useful complexities become apparent, thinking about gradients: Asians get a special kind of tokenized approval on the gradient of race which can put them upslope from African Americans but still downslope of whites. The combined gradients of social class and education makes every other gradient steeper: compare a poor and poorly-educated African American with Bill Cosby. Gradients also have different steepnesses depending on where you stand — the gradient of American and nonAmerican is an extremely steep one to Americans’ point of view, because as a country we generally think we are so powerful and wealthy. But to the rest of the world, we are a hollow bully using strength based on illusion (watching the international currency market?) and obliviousness. Yes the US is powerful, but the gradient isn’t as steep to them as it is to us.

In this regard one of the most impactful things I have ever read about oppression and privilege was from someone talking about disability, about the gradient of power in regard to able-bodiedness. And how some of that is based on physical reality — it is genuinely harder to negotiate the world from a wheelchair, say. But disabled people are themselves not a naturally unified group. There is no natural commonality between someone who is blind, say, and someone who is mentally ill. Any affinity there is an artificially-created, politicized one, created in the shadow of able-bodied privilege. Not that creating affinity there is a bad thing. But there’s nothing natural about it, not like the self-evident binary categories of gender.

For me, the most pervasive ways I have experienced oppression are as a non-Christian, and by social class. While I acknowledge that there are power-gradient categories within Christianity as well (probably Protestants are upslope from millenial Evengelicals… but maybe that’s a class gradient?) I can say as a Jew, the experience of being non-Christian is extremely salient. And like with disability, there are not necessarily natural affinities among different kinds of non-Christians. The ability to posit a unitary peak to the gradient, given there are a lot of different downslope positions, is itself a mark of privilege. The gradients are three-dimensional.

But I also know, in spite of the reality of non-Christian oppression, if I foreground it in my experience of myself as a Jew, if I conceptualize my Judaism as non-Christianity first, (which many Jews do, “don’t be like the goyim“) then I have already lost. It’s tricky.

I think the thing that sensitized me to privilege and oppression most fiercely, was sliding drastically downslope in social class. Going from Harvard University to working in a grocery store. And working in that grocery store for 5 years, trying over and over again to get the kind of job I felt my education merited, but unable to, I eventually shifted my perspective about where I belonged. Lots of different kinds of people are poor. I just took a different route to get there. A matter of personal trivia, no longer a position of privilege. And social class, like disability, is a gradient of real-life power. It’s genuinely harder to live when you cannot afford to eat. It’s not just something like how band-aids are not skin-colored, they are white-skin-colored.

And there’s an aspect of that I necessarily continue to live every day — my husband, who I met at the grocery store, was quite poorly-educated, and has always been poor. I have a degree from Harvard, I used to be quite well-off, and the immensely rich cultivation of my mind which I received is an inescapably central part of who I am, on a day-by-day basis. But I cannot live on that power gradient with my husband (and believe me, I initially tried). That gradient must be irrelevant to what to have for dinner, or how to say I love you.

Which leads me to how I have settled in myself, about oppression and privilege. I think the same things I strive to be as a decent human being, are what I must strive to do every day as I negotiate the complex multidimensional terrain of power. Power is everywhere. Whether we are conscious or complacent, whether we are an activist against (with) others in the streets (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, anyone?) or an activist with (against) one’s own self in the marriage bed, power is everywhere.

And the other piece of this I take from the fact that one of my gradients of power is based on religion. We are all sacred. Wherever we understand ourselves on this multidimensional gradient map, we are all sacred. I am sacred. You are sacred. We all are sacred. How do I best live my life, trying to keep that always in mind?

Judaism teaches that no one is free until everyone is free. Yet simultaneously, we are also all created b’tzelem Elohim in the image of God. (Literally that phrase means in the shadow of God.) And in the end, Judaism points out, as humans we are dust and will return to dust, and yet we are also little less than the angels.

How’s that for a steep power gradient?

So we all just gotta do our compassionate best.
Compassionate with others.
Compassionate with ourselves.
Not complacent or pitying, but fierce with compassion — compassion is a much more demanding source, of an entirely different kind of power.

I am sorry this comment is so long. I do not intend it as a power-grab upslope another gradient (blogger/commenter). I hope it adds to the conversation. It’s an important conversation for us, all of us, to be having.

Megan McFeely February 27, 2011 at 3:14 pm

About measuring and comparing pain…one day in April about 10 years ago my beloved killed himself. Less than three weeks later my brother’s wife and son died in a fire. The pain my family experienced in that one month was extraodinary…but what I found added insult to injury was that people in my community were comparing our pain. They were saying that my brother needed more attention because his loss was more tragic… to even had that uttered was incredibly damaging. No one knows another’s pain…. and I do not believe they can be compared. I believe everyone gets to feel what they need to feel and our jobs as compassionate individuals is to be present with their pain….just that. No one gets to corner the market on any pain in my opinion.

Things that are hidden need to come out in the open…no matter what you call them.

I think Julie you are damn brave and I am proud of you.

wholly jeanne February 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I have yet to be a part of a conversation about oppression that doesn’t quickly attract threads of comparisons, blame, anger, guilt, shame. I was born into a middle-class family as a white female. I can’t help that, and honestly, I’m tired of feeling goaded into feeling guilty about it, feeling that I should apologize for something I had no control over. And though it was never my intent, I’m sure my teenagers and others I’ve worked with would say I’ve sometimes been the oppressor.

Not that that’s out of the way . . .

I empathize with women everywhere who’ve experienced oppression from any hand(s). I am ready to listen, to bear witness – any time, anywhere – and there’s no doubt in my mind that one woman’s story of oppression in no way diminishes another woman’s story of oppression. Me, I’ve been oppressed by family members who were, I’m convinced, trying to protect me, shield me, keep me safe. I’ve been oppressed by a religion fueled by power and other vile motivations. I’ve been oppressed by a man in an abusive relationship. I’ve been oppressed on a variety of contexts sustained by patriarchal systems. I’ve been oppressed by our government. I’ve even been oppressed by my own self.

I continue to suffer, identify, and (try to) set aside the lingering effects of oppression on all fronts and take care not to repeat them or knowingly or unknowingly contribute to a culture that continues to provide rich soil for perennial, lush fields of oppression.

And when I imagine a world dressed in systems that valued inclusion more than exclusion; spectrums more than polarities; openness more than silence; lifting more than squashing, I cry tears of satisfying rightness.

Can we get there? Absolutely.

How? We live a new system into prevailing existence, each one of us embodying our deep-seated knowledge, our vision of a different way of being and relating. And while we’re at it, what say we hold a mirror up to other women, helping them see their beauty and knowledge and contribution because that begets confidence, and confidence is, well, as necessary as oxygen.

Niki Andre February 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Took a solo walk in the woods recently and was painfully struck by how vulnerable I felt as a women out in the woods alone (I usually hike with a male friend). Needed so badly to relax into the natural environ and be with my thoughts but, even in broad daylight, there was this part of me that was constantly on the lookout for potential rapists that could be lurking in the trees. How miserable is that? Nothing untoward happened. But my fear speaks volumes about our culture and how unsafe and devalued I feel as a woman in this world. Also telling, is the fact that while I did see a few solo men on the trail, I was the only woman without an “escort” (be it canine or human). The Lorde quote, your blog and the discussion it’s generating are so inspiring. I’ve been grappling and writing about the same sorts of issues lately. There can be this knee jerk denial that anything is wrong with the way things are. A “that’s all in the past” or “don’t blame me” or “I’m no victim” reaction. Acknowledging the shadow sides of our status quo is a huge step towards healing the suffering. We all (regardless of where we perceive our selves in the spectrum of societal privilege) have some response-ability to confront inequity. Traumas left in the shadows; swept under the rug fester. Those called to the surface can be healed.

Nasreen February 28, 2011 at 1:52 am

Julie, I’ve been thinking about this all week since you posted Audre Lorde’s “What’s the worst that will happen”

In fact, it inspired me to break my own silence in my own country (Bahrain) where reformists had been shot and society was dividing in ugly and hurtful ways. It really helped me to read that I was just one in a long chain of women (and men) who had felt the difficulty of the choice of silence. So, emboldened by your post, and the realization that this is a universal issue, I spoke. Yes, some people criticize, and sometimes it gets very personal, but the world did not end.

The world cannot end because we are the world, you and I, and all people.

You said, that not talking “keeps me from seeing my own humanity… keeps us from solidarity, soulful human connection that can help to break apart this system that we all uphold.”

The “it” that we are not talking about may be different for each person, but if talking serves our connection with our own humanity, then it may serve humanity as a whole.

I would add only one thing. Sometimes silence serves humanity too. By this I don’t mean the silence that upholds prejudice, tyranny or oppression, but silence which allows for space between the words, so that they may be integrated. My experience is that too much speaking out without space in between can invite unhelpful resistance.

So: Speak out. Wait. Listen. Ask a question. Listen: with both your ears and your soul. And speak again, inviting an unfolding and curious conversation.

Licia Berry February 28, 2011 at 5:49 am

Agreed, Nasreen…I find the silence that comes with observation and discernment to be very useful in navigating through a world where everyone is oppressed in some form or another.

I have been thinking about this a lot, Julie…for my whole life, since I was 3 years old and my father starting sexually abusing me in my southern white/indian home; since I was 4 years old in my Methodist preschool where I was told God was judging and vengeful (which was contrary to my direct experience); since I was a young woman with budding breasts and the black boys would feel me up as they passed me in the hall; since I was 12 years old and a black man high on crack broke into my family home, holding me at gun point and raping my mother; since I was 20 years old and dressed like a guy with a butch hair cut and was called a dyke by men passing in their cars. I have asked this question, “WHY?”, so many times. Why have I experienced these things, is it ME, is it being female, is it being in the south…WHY are they so unkind, why does it have to be so hard?

I guess I don’t find it useful to compare notes about the degrees of pain we all go through…I watch my priviledged white American teenaged sons (who have indian blood and all manner of “other” running through their veins) being oppressed in their schools because they feel their feelings, because they love the Feminine, because they refuse to buy in to the popular culture. Does it bring them pain? Absolutely. Is it more pain, relatively speaking, than others experience? How can I possibly gauge that?

I have a friend, a woman in her 60’s who was one of the first female Episcopalian priests. She fought hard to gain her position in the church, but after many years after her achievement, she got so tired of the oppression of the feminine in the church that she has left. She told me something last year, when I was speaking of my support for gay marriage, that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “There are many good causes in this world, many injustices to correct…but until women are seen and treated as equals, none of those other causes will be resolved.” I tend to agree, but would take it a step further.

The Feminine within each of us, gay or straight, indian, black, asian, white, or purple, female or male, is what has been oppressed. The part of us that is the Feeler, the Connector, the Meaning Maker, the Holder of the Space and the Silence. If She is alive and well within each of us, we will feel our connection with one another, we will understand that we are all one, and that what we do to “the other” we do to ourselves.

Thank you for this conversation!
xo
Licia

Maryse February 28, 2011 at 8:22 am

I think the only way to transformation is through ourselves. We cannot change others. But when we come to an inner place of acceptance and gratitude for who we truly are, we can move in the world with love and compassion. When we do that we give others permission to do the same. It takes moving past shame, guilt, anger at having too little or too much. It takes accepting the human condition as it is and shining one’s light. In that place, we do not oppress anymore. Especially not ourselves.
It can be done. One person at a time. Past grief and resentment. Into forgiveness and hope.

Alana February 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

When I did my MA program, the “gateway” class was one where we examined all manners of oppression and it was a huge challenge for all of us, even those well versed in speaking about it. Some of us spoke up and felt shamed and chagrined. Some of us stayed quiet. Some of us broke through and found new compassion, new understanding. It is a difficult, often scary, conversation that is dependent on the voices joining in. I find myself reluctant to step into it, though like you, I find silence is unacceptable.

Marjory March 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Wow Julie, thank you for this stunning piece sparking an amazing discussion. Oppression exists, it is the very substance of patriarchy. The moment we say, hold on, there is something terribly off with this system, and we start naming the thing that must be transformed, we are awakening in that very moment. I understand feeling guilt and shame, but dwelling in them is useless. The oppressor and the oppressed suffer in a vicious cycle. How do we step outside this wheel to transform the system and its use of power into one that honors, restores and embodies life, the feminine, the earth and each one of us as a bearer of gifts. I love, love your last line, so full of promise:
“Let’s find a way through the fog of not wanting to see and know, so that one day we will meet in the place where there is no ‘other’.” Beautiful!

rachael maddox March 4, 2011 at 7:50 am

hi julie,

i’ve been exploring these questions so deeply lately. i’ve been so hungry for people who are really wondering about the connection between systemic liberation and spiritual liberation–and you are giving words to the crux in such a beautiful, intentional way. i can’t tell you how thankful i am for these words. SO THANKFUL.

excited to read all these comments and your second post.

thank you for speaking out on these issues. it takes so much courage and core rattling. i know. thank you!

Julie March 11, 2011 at 6:38 am

Rachel,
Your words, “the connection between systemic liberation and spiritual liberation”, perked my ears up. I haven’t heard it said that way, but yes, our through structures are what keep us from freedom…and our fear of the body and death, and a few other things.
We’ve all internalized many systems based on the one big one… patriarchy.
I am honored to be looking inside, alongside you.
Blessings,
Julie

Judith Cohen March 10, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Hi Julie,
Just read this post and I love what you wrote. It takes great courage to put your process out there for all to read. And yet I’m not surprised. Your heart is big enough to hold all of your own feelings and all of the responses that you receive, cherishing each one as you let the message flow through the deepest parts of you.

A thought just passed through my mind thinking about oppression and comparing oppressions. I wonder if comparison is just another way the patriarchy tricks us into believing that there is not enough heart and compassion to go around. Patriarchy is so much about hierarchy and power. Certainly, it’s convenient and an energy saver not to have to consider those whose experiences fall lower in the hierarchy. But hierarchy doesn’t exist in support of love. It lives to support a small number of people wielding power over others. We’ve “democratized” hierarchy by letting more diverse people in at the top but hierarchy is still a system that says “NO!” to most people. It continues to poison all of our relationships by asserting that some of us are better than others or that some type of pain is more worthwhile than another.

My pain is my pain and it does no one any good for me to deny it or privilege it over anyone else’s experience of pain. I have experienced a good deal of suffering in my life. And yet whether surviving a violent sexual assault, a cancer diagnosis or losing my hearing, I have tried to make this suffering stand for something other than just my pain. I’ve learned from each experience and then helped others in similar positions do the same.

From my perspective, privilege is the freedom from having to think about your impact on another. Before I lost my hearing, I never really considered how important acoustic accessibility is to those who are hard of hearing. I didn’t have to think about it because it didn’t affect me. Now, however, it’s in the forefront of my consciousness all of the time. When I can extend my empathy and compassion to others who experience the world differently than I do, when I imagine how it might be for them and take action to rectify the inequity that I am causing people, the world will start to look a lot different to me and to those people known and unknown to me with whom I’m in constant relationship.

Julie, thank you for your words on this page and for your words in person this morning. Keep asking questions and keep writing. These conversations are so important.

Kandice October 19, 2012 at 6:56 am

Though I am reading this over a year later, I am moved. So much silence from those with privilege and those without it. Plus as you mentioned before, privilege is not a have it all or don’t have it all, as we all experience privilege and oppression simultaneously, whether gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, age, and the list goes on and on and on.

I must admit this is tough. As a Black women, I was taught to roll with the punches and basically try to get people to “forget” that you are black by being accomplished. That never sat right with me. Why do I have to some how prove that something I don’t think is unworthy is worthy in someone else’s eyes. I was taught to keep quiet because you don’t want people to see you down.

But now, I know I need to talk. My ancestors urge me to say something, do something knowing that they are watching me. Its hard in a way that is a bit difficult to really explain at this moment.

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