How Do You Talk About Identity and the Experiences of Others?

How Do You Talk About Identity and the Experiences of Others?

It’s all too easy these days to change the channel or scroll past a news story about a serious issue just because it doesn’t apply to you, or you don’t feel you can sympathize. We see this all the time. White students in college don’t know why their black peers are so upset because they don’t follow the news of Baltimore, queer and trans lives lost don’t make major headlines, and feminism is disavowed by women whose largest reasoning against it is that they are not oppressed. This mindset that an issue is only important if it affects you in some way is one that is hard to get out of, but important to strive against. When we only care about issues that affect ourselves, how are we to expect anyone else who is not experiencing our hardships to care about the issues that are affecting us?

It is also important to notice where our issues and the issues of others intersect. Black women, for instance, have to deal with not only sexism and racism as separate entities, but also the specific prejudices and oppressions of being a woman of color. Their experience of sexism and racism is radically different from that of a white woman or black man, respectively. All feminists who are not actively fighting racism are inherently leaving out some women in their work; their efforts against oppression

Being queer or poor can also complicate the intersections of identity. With so many facets of who a person is and how they interact socially and politically, to concentrate on only the issues that affect ourselves is to ignore the privilege that some of the facets of our identity give us.

The writer Suzy X. of “When the Political Gets Too Personal on Rookie Magazine says, “The reason feminist literature contains so many accounts of individual experiences with sexism is that it’s simply easier to get the bigger picture when you start with yourself. But there are ways to keep the self-love in your politics in check.” She then suggests a few ways in which one can keep themselves aware and attached to issues outside of their own personal sphere:

  • Before speaking on an issue you yourself do not experience, consider if you’re the best person to speak on the issue; are you the best available to represent the issue, would anyone else be more familiar with it or better equipped to explain it?
  • Do you surround yourself with people of different backgrounds, races, socioeconomic class, genders, etc?
  • How often do you simply listen to accounts of someone from a different background than the one you possess?
  • Do you dedicate your support to political or social issues that do not directly affect your personal background?
  • Have you educated yourself with media or literary material that is made or written by someone of a different race, gender, socioeconomic class, educational background, etc.?
  • Are you examining your social and political standings to be inclusive and considerate of backgrounds that you may not come from?
  • Are you speaking up for a group instead of someone who experiences that social or political struggle, or are you amplifying their voices?

This isn’t saying that the personal is no longer important enough to be the political; however, it is critiquing why people seem to think they need to get something personally when fighting against injustice and prejudice. If we all use the privileges we do have to help others who do not share them. so much could be gained.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.