Having “The Answers”

This essay feels very familiar. You should read it all — but this section in particular struck me:

It’s hard to write “I don’t know.” I just read an interview with Spike Lee in this week’s New York Magazine that was sort of a retrospective of “Do The Right Thing.” His comment about critics who ripped the movie apart was telling: he was criticized because he didn’t have an “answer to racism” at the end of the film. Because, you know, a movie could do that. And if you’re so smart, Mr. Smarty Pants, smart enough to make this whole movie with all these complex characters, then how come you’re not smart enough to have an answer at the end?

I’ve found that most of the people participating in various parts of this discussion at the intersection of race, gender, queer, identity and radical politics just don’t have The Answers, and each of the camps are frustrated with others for was feels like an unwillingness to explore answers, to stumble and make mistakes (and have other camps accept them) along the way. Some folks are broken, tired, sick of building bridges out to people like me and beyond– and with this, I can sympathize, and I cannot fault them.

Too often, I have expected other women to have The Answers.

When feminists and women of color have criticized white feminists, I’ve expected Answers. I’ve wanted to ask, “So I get that you don’t like this, but what do you want to happen?” or “So what do you want me to do?” I’ve gotten frustrated when no one offered solutions beyond “recognize your own privilege” and “just stop being shitty.” I’ve read through comment threads where other certainly well-intentioned white people have asked things like, “I get that you want to abolish the prison system, but what do you want in its place?” and “Calling the police is an expression of privilege? So what should I do instead?”

I’m also not able to answer those questions, or a whole lot of other questions about what a truly equitable world would look like. I’m not able to find a solution to everything, even if I can identify a problem. But it never occurred to me that maybe the entire premise of the questions was unfair. It never occurred to me that asking them in the first place, and expecting an immediate answer, is problematic in its own right.

41 comments for “Having “The Answers”

  1. April 19, 2008 at 1:19 am

    despite the discomfort, it sounds like you are on the right track to me. there are a lot of things that are problematic about expecting people (especially those on the receiving end of the oppression in question) to solve oppression. Knowing that, I think, helps make everyone better able to think on solutions they would like to see in the world, to flesh them out together, and to do the heavy lifting of seeing what others are already doing and standing in solidarity with them instead of co-opting or taking over. Healing from more than 500 years of oppression is a long, hard, path.

  2. Evan
    April 19, 2008 at 2:25 am

    Very well said. It’s posts like this that make me happy I’ve started reading this blog.

    (Feel free to moderate this out, I don’t have anything substantial to add.)

  3. shah8
    April 19, 2008 at 4:22 am

    It strikes me, personally, as being very wierd that you’d have a problem understanding that point.

    All I can say is that answers are typically worthless. It’s the refined question that have value.

    In any event, the contingencies and contextualities of life forbids a prepackaged set of response. When people say be cognizent of privilege, they are asking one to percieve the prescence of prepackaged solutions as something that blocks the formation of a more natural and just formulation.

    The answer?
    we don’t know yet

    To find it?
    let’s talk about it…without preconceptions of duties

  4. April 19, 2008 at 4:54 am

    It strikes me, personally, as being very wierd that you’d have a problem understanding that point.

    How so, shah8? I’m not jabbing at you; I’m just confused by that.

    Asking questions is my first inclination. And what makes it so hard for me to unlearn that a little is, I spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to get myself comfortable with asking questions at all, ever, because the way I was brought up, the idea was that one was supposed to just know things, automatically, or by osmosis or magic or something. You can just imagine how that blew up in my face during my first adult relationships; you can’t be intimate with someone and expect ’em to just know things. Can’t live with that expectation on yourself, either.

    So it was like this terrific personal growth achievement when I let go of the need to appear perfect all the time and just started asking questions when I was confused by something. Hell, I’m asking you a question right now. It’s hard for me to reverse that ask-first tendency a bit and go, “Wait, but maybe there is such a thing as a stupid question, and maybe I shouldn’t always lead with a question anyhow. Maybe I should listen more first.”

    I think too that there are definitely questions from guys that get up my ass because Ihearthemallthetime andImsickofansweringthem, so why wouldn’t that same dynamic operate in other situations? So looking at it that way helps.

    But it seems understandable to me that Jill wouldn’t grasp that “the premise of the questions was unfair” right away (although her reasons for that may not be my reasons for that), because often, asking a question is seen as a deferential act, not an aggressive, insulting, or oppressive one. I mean, if I ask a question, I’m letting you know just by the act of so doing that I believe you know something I don’t. It ultimately depends on context and tone, I guess. There are definitely belligerent and presumptuous questions one could ask, and “tell me how to fix this problem that myself and people like me are mostly causing in the first place” is probably a presumptuous question.

  5. shah8
    April 19, 2008 at 5:52 am

    how about the classic complaint I’ve heard over and over about how when

    a woman starts talking about her hard day to her partner, and then the partner, instead of shutting up and making sympathetic noises, tries to offer solutions the complaints that spiral out. The woman gets upset, and the partner doesn’t understand…

    I’m pretty sure you’ve all heard this scenario, right?

    We all need sounding boards, and we all need to feel that the world isn’t out to get us, personally. Solutions, if there are any, can be offered at a later time, or when prompted. Offering solutions or demanding solutions during this outpouring is only an additional burden–Wait I should have done that, I’m So Stupid–Oh Hell I don’t know, go jump into the lake, I guess?!

    I was surprised because I was think this sort of thing happens to most people, on both side of the scenario, and I’ve always thought that Jill was pretty good about acknowledging the burdens of awareness, and that this would be pretty easy.

    But then, I never did *get* people (on a one to one basis), especially women, which is why I read feminist websites. Grokking stuff takes time and is unevenly applied to everyone, I guess.

    The prison thread was kind of silly in that way. It does get annoying when people are arguing how prisons enables lots of bad things, and someone else asks, well, how would we replace it? I mean, duuuuuuuuude…If I said that The Devil enables lots of bad things, would you argue that the bad guy takes all those bad souls away, and that’s a necessity, so what should a replacement Ultimate Bad Guy and Ultimate Bad Place should look like? Da fuuuuuck?

    You know…that’s how the old “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” phenomenom is created. It’s also how history repeats itself as farce.

  6. Ursula L
    April 19, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I think it is useful to distinguish between venting frustration and proposed solutions.

    “It is ridiculous and wrong that so many black men are imprisoned over trivial things, and that the legal system is unjust” is a different sort of thing than saying “abolish prisons” – the first is clearly a vent, the second seems to be a proposed solution to the vent.

    I tend to see venting as something which calls for a sympathetic/emotional response, while proposed solutions are properly taken as serious proposals, for discussion, criticism, and, if they seem to be good solutions, implementation. “Abolish prisons” is a proposed solution that naturally leads to the question of what to do instead.

    If what is meant is “It is ridiculous and wrong that so many black men are imprisoned over trivial things, and that the legal system is unjust, I wish we could just abolish the whole prison system and start over”, that’s a vent, calling for sympathy and emotional support.

    Treating someone’s proposed solution as a vent strikes me as condescending – if the problem that inspired them to come up with the solution is serious, then their solution deserves full respect and consideration.

    The tricky thing seems to be distinguishing vents and proposed solutions, particularly when a vent is shortened into a form that sounds like a proposed solution.

  7. Rosehiptea
    April 19, 2008 at 9:22 am

    On the one hand, I think it’s only human to say “OK, it may not all be about me but I need to deal with me and I want to know what to do.”

    On the other hand, you’re totally right… it isn’t up to anyone to give a solution just because they’re saying a problem is intolerable. And there is a lot of privelege involved in saying “What you see as a problem works in my life so what are you offering me instead.” So… yeah, I totally agree.

  8. April 19, 2008 at 10:20 am

    It’s hard to let go of the idea that there’s always a solution to any problem you face.

    I think it comes with the territory. You train yourself to be respectful, to listen, to consider. But it’s easy to let that become a crutch. And then you start to expect that any POC (or member of any other group) will explain everything to you, and that’s when you get smacked upside the head and told “We have no obligation to teach you — go and learn for yourself.” :)

    Similarly, it’s easy to fall past understanding that a member of [group] will have insight that you, privileged, might not see on your own, and into thinking that therefore, you stop thinking for yourself and ask members of [group] to do your thinking for you.

    And it’s even harder — and trust me, I’ve gone through this in *so* many areas of life — to learn that there aren’t always answers to everything. That not everything is easily solveable. That sometimes, there’s really nothing you can do.

    And we want that — we want to be told what to do, something easy, that makes us feel better about ourselves. But think hard about that. Think hard about whether your priority is ending oppression to [group], or whether your priority is making yourself feel like you matter.

    That’s not calling you (a general “you,” and self included here) selfish, or anything of the sort. It’s not really a conscious thought process. But it’s something “enlightened” persons fall into all the freakin’ time. They want an answer, they want an action, so they can do it, and then stop thinking about it. Stop being bothered by it. Stop being made uncomfortable about it.

    That’s the height of privilege right there: thinking that YOU can escape it. People living that oppression, no matter what they do, can never escape it. Why should you get to?

  9. nonskanse
    April 19, 2008 at 10:33 am

    It is a fairly natural turn of conversation, when people are explaining in details the badness of the way things are now, to ask “so what would make it better”.
    BUT in the case of huge social issues, it is nearly impossible to say, and people should respect that. I don’t think the questions are a problem, but one should be allowed to say “I don’t know”.
    If the question being asked is unfair, say so, but I don’t know that the entire premise of asking is unfair.
    Its not any better to say “I don’t know the solution, you’re the one with the white privilege, fix yourself its not my job to tell you”, mostly because it wouldn’t happen.
    Ideally women should never have to do anything to teach men to treat them equally. Black people should never have to do anything to teach white people to treat them equally.
    Yet, there it is. The burden of proof and solution rests largely on the people who need the fixes until the people who have the privilege all see the light.
    So I guess I’ll change my mind – the premise of asking IS unfair because the situation in which the asking is being done is unfair. The only way to fix the situation is to eliminate the racism, and the privileged people won’t eliminate the racism without input from the suffering people…
    So yeah its unfair because it, too, is a result of racism. Same with sexism really. The women have to fight for the change they need to be equal.

  10. April 19, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Harumph. Your spam-catcher hates me.

    [shakes fist]

  11. nonskanse
    April 19, 2008 at 10:37 am

    That was very train-of-thought-like, and what I’m trying to say I guess is solving inequality is a cyclical problem, the solving of which requires a lot of bootstrapping by the people who need the solution.

  12. Renee
    April 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Reading this post really set off alot of triggers in my head. As a woman of color I have been repeatedly attacked for not having the answers to the “tough” questions. I submit that there really are no answers. Asking for a solution should not be problematic, it is the expectation that a solution is possible coming from a single person or a single point of view that is the problem. Just as it is not feasible for one person to represent their race it is similarly impossible for one person and or group to solve racism. Questioning is not the problem, expectation is….

  13. April 19, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Thank you for this, Jill. You’ve hit something important here that’s frustrating for a whole lot of us in these conversations about privilege, and it seems really hard for a lot of progressive folks to grasp.

  14. April 19, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    A couple of years ago my Italian cousin married a girl of Haitian descent and it was truly an awakening for me at how racist people can be. Gen-X and growing up in NYC, I did not even question whether it was right or wrong. The older generation of my family were extremely racist in their feelings. I found myself listening to older relatives make statements about how difficult their life would be – inferencing that people do not accept interracial relationships. As if we were living down south in 1950s. Oddly this is the same type of comments I hear when discussing gay marriage. My opinion is that the burden of creating solutions lie with the racists/oppressors and it is called acceptance.

  15. April 19, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    This post really illuminates some dark corners where conversations often get stuck, that in the past I definitely haven’t been able to figure out how to address. Nice work.

    On the flip side, when someone asks you “so what is the answer” of course there’s a tendency to want to be able to say SOMETHING, hold out some hope and an alternative vision, something positive. But that isn’t even necessarily a good idea, if people are looking for “answers” instead of recognizing that it’s going to take a lot of work to find those.

    On top of that, it seems like people don’t even want answers like “what is the desired outcome.” There’s often a demand for answers as in, what can we do right now that will make a difference right now? But not all problems are like that. And some that are, it only ends up as a band-aid.

  16. ripley
    April 19, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    this is a great point, thank you for making it. there really IS some problem with pressing a critic for the right answer (in order to justify the criticism)

    I can’t put my finger on why exactly it’s so frustrating when someone presses me for an answer when I’ve pointed out a problem with the status quo.. the closest I can get is the idea that by changing the way we go about things now (i.e. reducing the racist and sexist effects of our own behaviors through accepting criticism) we make space for answers to develop that we cannot even imagine now because we are embedded in the current system.

    but beyond that, I agree that it _is_ unfair to put the responsibility for solving the problem back on the people who are suffering because of it.

  17. April 19, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    “Do the Right Thing” was about the complexity of race relations, and Lee’s genius was to understand and sympathize with all the characters, and to explain how they reach a crisis point. Essentially, the point is that race is a complicated problem that is not amenable to simple solutions.

    By contrast, prison abolition is a simplification of a complicated problem. “Abolish Prisons” is not a problem without an answer, it is itself a solution, which creates a whole host of new problems. Personally, I think “prison abolition” couldn’t come from any position except one of privilege, because wealthy whites have means to protect themselves, and wouldn’t be the ones to bear the consequences of a deluge of poorly socialized, violence-prone criminals into their neighborhoods.

    Protection from violence is a fundamental purpose of social organization. You can’t fix crime with universal peace, love and understanding. Some people will always be mean, some people will always be dumb, some people will always be impulsive, and some people will never live with less if they can get more by taking it from somewhere else. If the criminal justice system fails to protect some people, then it needs to be expanded to make sure that those people are protected.

    I think the high rate of re-offense, the high cost of incarceration and the increasingly skewed racial makeup of the prison population dictate that reform is necessary. We need to improve schools, improve treatment options for drug addicts, and come up with alternative sentencing for the kinds of crimes that carry sentences below three years. If these reforms are effective at lowering the rate of incarceration, they’ll be self-funding in the medium-term and money-saving in the long term. That’s a solution.

    I think we need to change immigration policy to deal with the fact that we discourage illegals from coming forward and assisting in crime investigations. Deporting an illegal is a much less important social goal than locking up a killer, and we should empower state agencies like police and state prosecutors to waive immigration violations, provide papers, and fast-track citizenship process for witnesses and their immediate families. Many mayors and police officials who have created “haven cities” by refusing to allow local officials to cooperate with federal immigration policy have done so because immigrant witnesses’ fear of deportation makes it difficulty to obtain evidence for criminal prosecution. That’s a solution.

    Similarly, if certain people feel unsafe seeking protection from the police, the solution to that is better community relations by police departments, more money at the state level to relocate people who face victimization for seeking police protection, and harsher penalties for witness intimidation, and an automatic death penalty for anyone involved in a conspiracy to kill a witness in order to prevent or in retaliation for testimony. That’s a solution.

  18. April 19, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I think this is a great conversation to be having, especially for allies… It seems to me that looking to someone pointing out an expression of oppression (particularly if they are personally a target of that oppression) for “the answers” is A) another way to shift the focus back to the normative and privileged group (But what does this mean about ME?) and B) a way to dismiss the critique by insisting that since the problem doesn’t have an immediate solution that can be implemented by the normative, privileged group, the problem is unsolvable and should be ignored.

  19. denelian
    April 19, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    as (at least one of, and i think the first person) to ask what we will replace the prison system WITH…

    that was not meant as an attack, but as sort of a constructive critism (sp?). good chunk of my family has spent a lot of time in the California prison system, and in a couple of cases the thought of being returned is what kept those relative from commiting more crimes…
    which means that, to SOME extent, it works. yes, its fucked up. VERY fucked up. i have a very good friend whose younger brother was caught transporting (a small amount) of cocain, and ALL he got was 6 weeks of rehab. we all know damn well had he NOT been a WASP, it would have been the whole book thrown at him.
    i wasn’t necissarily demanding an answer at that moment in time. and i don’t think my asking it was an exercise of apple privledge, or even white privilege. if i was answering a RANT, as opposed to answering the answer to a rant, then i see where it was the wrong time/place. but it looked as if i was answer the answer… and that it seemed to be a very incomplete answer, and frankly was the sort of deconstructive answer that is frightening – tear it down, but have nothiing to replace it. leaving religion out of, prison serves a function that MUST be replaced – a deterent, a punishment, and a holding place. while it has been very corrupted, it DOES still provide those basic functions, which we as a society still need.
    sorry, this post has no framework. i’m very very ill atm.
    the point is that just because i asked something that made people uncomfortable doesn’t mean i was wrong to ask. even if other people didn’t like the question. its not always about privilege, or leaning on someone else’s work. sometimes its a synergystic effect, and constructive critism is part of that process.
    i LIKE getting rid of the prison system. its almost not repairable. but then WHAT DO WE DO WITH rapists and child molesters and manslaughters and murderer and thieves and…

  20. preying mantis
    April 19, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    “It is a fairly natural turn of conversation, when people are explaining in details the badness of the way things are now, to ask “so what would make it better”.”

    I think there’s also a difference between saying “Okay, what do you want that you’re not getting now?” and “Well, what’s your One True Solution, agreed to by every [insert group here] person out there, complete with a proposed budget, focus-group-tested PR campaign, and ten peer-reviewed studies documenting the fact that you’re not making it all up to make me feel guilty? Also, I’m not listening to you at all until you have all that.”

    If someone points in a basic direction for further research, you’re probably going to be of more help–or at least less harm–down the road than if you formulate opinions and ideas based on your own, probably woefully incomplete, ideas of what the problem is.

    “I can’t put my finger on why exactly it’s so frustrating when someone presses me for an answer when I’ve pointed out a problem with the status quo..”

    Most of the time I’ve seen someone do this, they’ve been trying, either deliberately or reflexively, to shut down the conversation. If your opponent doesn’t have an answer, you can try to shut them up and dismiss them because of it. If your opponent has an answer, you can derail the conversation by nitpicking their answer. That way you don’t ever have to actually honestly discuss the problem.

    Of course, the basic issue with not ever discussing the problem is that it doesn’t actually lead to there not being a problem. It’s like saying “The square root of 20 isn’t 5” and having someone insist that you’re wrong and should shut up because you can’t tell them what the actual square root of 20 is.

  21. FreddyBak
    April 19, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    “Calling the police is an expression of privilege? So what should I do instead?”

    And then you go on to say:

    It never occurred to me that asking them in the first place, and expecting an immediate answer, is problematic in its own right.

    Now call me an exploiter of white privilege, but if someone tells you that when you feel endangered your decision to call the cops for your own personal bodily safety is not something you should have done because it is somehow, potentially, maybe, theoretically, an expression of privilege and may make life harder for neighbors because of future police presence, I think the burden is on the questioner as to how in the hell else am I going to get protection from this potential rapist? (P.S. I realize the above quotes weren’t right next to eachother in the post so you may not have meant the first to directly apply to the second.)

  22. April 19, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Except, Freddy, that isn’t what was being said. I don’t think Jessica Hoffman (or anyone) was arguing that if you’re in danger, you should just accept it and not call the cops. She (and others) have been saying that the very ability to call the police is an expression of privilege, and the feminist movement’s reliance on police protection is an empty promise for a lot of women. See the difference?

    So no one is saying “Don’t call the cops.” They are saying, “The fact that calling the cops is a valid option for you is an indicator that you’re coming from a privileged position, and if we’re going to have an inclusive and comprehensive feminist movement, then saying ‘Just call the police’ cannot be the only solution we offer.” In other words, we need to think of other strategies. We need to offer women of all backgrounds and statuses realistic options to protect themselves. And in doing that, we need to realize that calling the police is not a realistic option for many women.

    None of that says “Don’t call the police.” It does say “Calling the police doesn’t work for all of us.”

  23. April 19, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    None of that says “Don’t call the police.” It does say “Calling the police doesn’t work for all of us.”

    But this isn’t a problem with no answer. If the people who can’t go to the cops are illegal immigrants, then there is a solution, and that solution is local police policies of not enforcing immigration laws so that people can seek protection without being referred to immigration, and immunity from immigration charges for witnesses who agree to testify in felony cases.

    And black people can and do call the cops. When Hoffmann suggests that having the police add her apartment to their patrol route would be harmful to her black neighbors, that indicates to me that she has no conception of the way things work.

    Does she think the officers interrupted their normal schedule of cruising around beating up all the black people they saw to answer her call? Actually, many black leaders complain because there aren’t enough officers walking the street in their neighborhoods. Many black people dislike having drug dealers on their street corners and in the stairwells of their apartment buildings. Many black people don’t like waking up in the night to the sound of gunfire.

    Black communities have tense relationships with police, but black people still want to be protected from criminals. The only reason a black person would feel unsafe calling the cops is because criminal gangs engage in practices of murdering civilians who seek help from the authorities. And that’s a problem with a clear solution too.

  24. FreddyBak
    April 19, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    That makes sense Jill. It did seem to me, however, that Hoffman’s post emphasized the negative consequences for those supposedly without privilege of calling the police and having them patrol the neighborhood. And if someone pruportedly with white privilege is being stalked, and someone purportedly without white privilege asserts that if that the stalkee calling the cops will make it worse for those neighbors whithout white privilege, you have to take that to it’s logical conclusion. (All of this is notwithstanding Mitchforth’s comment, above.) Although, obviously, the idea that many don’t have that option when in the same situatin is quite relevant as well.

  25. sigh
    April 19, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Ah yes, the answer of my partner’s mother whenever one of us says something negative about capitalism or the catholic church or the bush adminstration. Well, she says, “do you have a better system than capitalism?’ or “how would you organize a church? (note, i wouldn’t have one at all). It is her little way of shutting down conversation on topics that she cannot actually debate. makes me nuts

  26. April 19, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    It’s not like there needs to be just one answer, or that the only answer is the extremely long-term one. It’s also frustrating when a potential answer, our outcome, or ideal is proposed and then held up like it was proposed as the One True Path. Most often, we need a multiplicity of answers to tackle social issues — not just in the short term but in the long term as well. So batting down the pointing out of a problem, or the idea of alternatives no matter how vague as “that can’t be the only solution” is kind of a straw-man argument. There are lots of pitfalls in this.

    And right, prison abolition is a white, privileged argument? That must be why Critical Resistance is run by people of color and why Angela Davis wrote so much about it, I guess. Not to mention all those prisoners and former prisoners, who as we know are mostly white and privileged… yeah.

  27. Julia99
    April 19, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    She (and others) have been saying that the very ability to call the police is an expression of privilege, and the feminist movement’s reliance on police protection is an empty promise for a lot of women.

    Many black people dislike having drug dealers on their street corners and in the stairwells of their apartment buildings. Many black people don’t like waking up in the night to the sound of gunfire.

    I wonder if when we’re talking about “privilege”, sometimes we’re actually talking about socio-economic class. I’m guessing black middle class women have no qualms calling the police. And, I’m also guessing there are poor, white women who are afraid of calling the police.

    But, I wanted to say… I’ve read a lot of posts this past week and this – ironically – made me the post hopeful. Although you’re saying you don’t have the answer, at least you’re willing to admit it. :)

  28. April 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    I wonder if when we’re talking about “privilege”, sometimes we’re actually talking about socio-economic class. I’m guessing black middle class women have no qualms calling the police. And, I’m also guessing there are poor, white women who are afraid of calling the police.

    There are different kind of privilege. One can have racial privilege but not class privilege and vice versa.

  29. April 19, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    I think the basic problem is the inescapable co-existence of two facts: (1) privilege oppresses the unprivileged and (2) it is socially and biologically impossible for a privileged individual to “give up” or “give back” his or her privilege in the absence of wholesale collective societal change.

  30. April 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    And right, prison abolition is a white, privileged argument? That must be why Critical Resistance is run by people of color and why Angela Davis wrote so much about it, I guess. Not to mention all those prisoners and former prisoners, who as we know are mostly white and privileged… yeah.

    I believe American prisons are mostly white but disproportionately black. Crime victims are disproportionately black too, and they are not saddling up with Critical Resistance. She only favors prison abolition because she is a murderer.

    I am not going to defer to her as an authority on what’s best for disadvantaged communities. I disagree with her extremely, and I don’t have any respect for her, her work, her organization or her ideas.

  31. nonskanse
    April 20, 2008 at 2:14 am

    I think there’s also a difference between saying “Okay, what do you want that you’re not getting now?” and “Well, what’s your One True Solution, agreed to by every [insert group here] person out there, complete with a proposed budget, focus-group-tested PR campaign, and ten peer-reviewed studies documenting the fact that you’re not making it all up to make me feel guilty? Also, I’m not listening to you at all until you have all that.”

    Yeah ok that’s ridiculous. And the shutting down of conversations as well.

    I agree that it _is_ unfair to put the responsibility for solving the problem back on the people who are suffering because of it.

    Unfair but the way it usually is. You ask the people who don’t suffer socially to come up with a solution for those that do and if they even care at all they won’t come up with a good one because they aren’t in the same place.

  32. April 20, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I agree that it _is_ unfair to put the responsibility for solving the problem back on the people who are suffering because of it.

    Unfair but the way it usually is. You ask the people who don’t suffer socially to come up with a solution for those that do and if they even care at all they won’t come up with a good one because they aren’t in the same place.

    Herein lies the rub. When you offer a solution that solution has to be acceptable to those who feel (correctly or not) that they have been wronged.

    Often, because you are not like them or in their situation, you have somehow wronged them or are complicit and responsible for the situation (and/or benefit from it). You can easily end up in a vicious cycle because any suggestion you (as the privileged class) is deemed insufficient for whatever reason. Sometimes the discourse gets muddied because the person who wants the answer has a very specific idea (with a very high bar) in mind and you have not offered that solution or because whatever is suggested just doesn’t resonate with them. In other words, too often the discourse leads to more acrimony and finger pointing because people start labeling one another because they have different perspectives.

    I disagree with the notion that any suggestion I make can’t be good because I am not in the same exact situation as another just as much as I disagree with the notion that the any and all demands by the people in the situation must be met because all of those demands are, by default, rationale, practical and legitimate when the person demanding them does have a legitimate beef with the system. We need to put aside our biases, assumptions & instincts toward finger-pointing to come up with solid, workable solutions; unfortunately, we’re human and this objectivity and rationality is hard to achieve when faced with situations in which emotions/bias/personal agendas play a significant role.

  33. April 20, 2008 at 9:49 am

    crap, I hate when I get distracted while typing. In the 2nd paragraph, I meant to say there is often an implication that those who are not in the group requesting redress for wrongs are part of (or the source of) the problem. I’m not sure that is clear.

  34. nonskanse
    April 20, 2008 at 10:04 am

    “I disagree with the notion that any suggestion I make can’t be good because I am not in the same exact situation ”

    I didn’t mean always, apologies. Some people are quite capable of looking at things from another point of view and offering viable solutions to big social problems.

  35. littlem
    April 21, 2008 at 3:00 am

    *sigh*

    I don’t mind when people ask the question.

    I DO mind when
    1) they act like it’s the first time it’s been asked (scroll down about 3/8 of the way)
    2) I’ve offered a suggestion and it’s been precipitously ignored (scroll down7/8 of the way)
    3) I’m told that whatever I’ve suggested isn’t going to do any good (start 1/4 of the way down; then keep going)
    4) even when I’m offering an example of how a chorus of “majority voices” calling out one of their own on whatever behavior they’ve just condemned constitutes an emblematic gesture

    So if you’re going to ask the question, how about listening when someone respectfully suggests An Answer?

    Seriously, what almost amuses me about this — almost — is how “mainstream” feminists are acting like they haven’t been through some of the exact same crap with men who aren’t hearing them.

    (And I belong to more than one “race”, so trust me and anyone else with a similar BG; men’s *LALALALALA CAN’T HEAR YOU* behavior is THE SAME ALL OVER)

    I mean, isn’t any of it ringing a bell? At? All??

  36. heatherann
    April 23, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Questions are tricky things. The person being asked gets all the responsibility (or privilege) of giving the answer. If I’m always asking my partner what we should eat for dinner, he always gets to choose and I don’t. If I’m always asking non-white women what would “solve” racism in feminism, they have to think about it and I don’t. I give away my responsibility by asking. Of course, this isn’t always what we’re intending to do.

    I think questions are a good thing, it’s just that this particular type of question shifts all the responsibility to the person being questioned. Better questions may include inquiries like “I’m trying to understand your experience. Is X a problem because of Y? What does it feel like to be in your position?” which can open up a chance to see it from another perspective. It’s good to ask questions about your assumptions. These types of questions make us more able to think about how our situations would be experienced by the disabled, by people of other ethnicities, genders, sexualities, languages, and religions. Then we may become able to see why our environment is not welcoming to them and work together to try to change that.

  37. Tchek
    May 27, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Just so I know: does this blog suppress dissidence?

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