strategies for negotiating oppressive behaviour

the amazing oldandmoldy called me this evening, to invite me to his “gratitude potluck” this sunday. yeah, it sounds hippy, but this is the west coast… what do you expect? of course we have dinner parties centered around appreciating all the excellent things in our lives!

i’m stoked, because it reminds me of the old anarchist seders that used to happen every passover in our local activist community… we all were instructed to bring food, a bottle of wine, and something that represents freedom to us. good times, especially for goyish kids like me who don’t generally celebrate passover, anarchist or otherwise, but have often had lots of friends who do. it was a chance to share the magic, and i always left feeling like i was home.

aside from the dinner invite, oldandmoldy and i talked about other stuff, including my thoughts about calling people out on words and actions that are sexist, racist, ableist, and/or homophobic.

as a way of contextualizing this conversation, i have to tell you: oldandmoldy and i disagree almost constantly. at the same time, we love each other: not despite our disagreements, but because of them. he is one of very few people i’ve ever known who understand and appreciate the incredible value of discussing everything. he exhausts me, but in a good way, because i know that he respects and cares for me even when i’m telling him that he’s wrong. i’m pretty sure he knows that i feel the same for him. we enjoy the challenge that we bring to one another.

oldandmoldy has done a lot of work with non-violent communication and men’s groups, so has a few thoughts about conflict. we seem to agree that a successful confrontation of sexist, racist, ableist, and/or homophobic words and actions is one in which the discussion moves forward into sharing of feelings, ideas, and connections… or something like that. at the very least, it’s a discussion in which participants feel like they’ve learned something new and maybe gained a different perspective, or at least acknowledged that different perspectives exist.

actually, “confrontation” is the wrong word: i think what we want to see is more like a… negotiation.

oldandmoldy’s advice on how to have a successful negotiation of sexist, racist, ableist, and/or homophobic words and actions is as follows:

  1. own your judgments (even if you know your opinions are the truth, recognize that other people won’t see them that way, because they have their own truths; yours are based in your reality, and you need to take responsibility for this)
  2. ask questions (find out why people are saying/doing things, find out what their reasoning is, create a situation in which questioning accepted norms becomes a viable basis for conversation)
  3. speak from the heart (don’t rely on theory or logic to explain your point of view; focus on your feelings instead, and make it personal… for example, try approaching a homophobic remark with “as a queer, this makes me feel unsafe, because…”)

i think these are excellent ideas, and i’m looking forward to trying them out next time i’m engaging in this sort of discussion. obviously, they won’t all work all of the time, but hey: nothing does! it was good to talk with oldandmoldy about this, especially because i know how particularly guilty i am of going against that third item… dammit, i love logic.

for another great strategy for approaching these issues, check out Carmen Van Kerckhove’s “How to Respond to a Racist Joke”. (i’d link to the original article at new demographic, but it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment…).

anyone else got suggestions, throw them in the comments.


6 responses to “strategies for negotiating oppressive behaviour

  1. oldandmoldymatty

    I really like this, your such an inspiring friend, I enjoy how we often both leave conversations, taking in new perspectives and Ideas to apply to our lives. Its like there is two highways on the way to the liberation, of our planet and our hearts(that west coast coming out)

    My highway is paved with perfection and yours with cops trying to spike your tires……haha just kidding
    ….but really back to the two highways……..running opposite directions, we are both biking on those old burnt out highways, tired and groggy, the world has collapsed, and all that is left is bicycles, and orange sunrises, neither of us know where we are going, but are following our hearts, pedals and our personal commitments to changing our community’s in radical ways…..eventually those long endless daze riding on that highway lead us to this mirage, of ourselves, biking right at us, its almost like im riding right into me, and you into you(i guess this is the part that gets confusing, haha)
    and we decide, to just do it ride right on into that mirage of ourselves, then bam! honk honk rattle rattle crash beep beep( i stole that line) we smash into one another, getting up in a long drawn out cackle laugh, we embrace in the realization that we were going to the same place………….in a different way…

    you truly are a great friend, and gift to all, your talents are growing sharper and brighter everyday.

    Look foreward to seeing you again, someday somewhere amongst the animals(humyns)

    in your own words
    stay free

  2. your posts on this topic come at an opportune time for me and the Anti Oppression Committee at Bike Pirates here in TO. we’re adding you to our resources as we create workshops for ourselves to identify oppression, create safe spaces and craft an anti oppression policy for our organization. thanks for being a part!

  3. I’ve noticed when I feel angry as a side effect of feeling threatened, I can feel certain that my viewpoint is Euclidian truth. Then I remember that Riemann and Lobachevsky accidentally proved (in the 1800s) that you could get perfectly valid mathematical systems by starting with a different axiom set than Euclid started with.
    There’s more than one version of truth possible; that certainty we feel when we’re angry or frightened can rarely survive actually listening to another’s view.

  4. This is wonderful — thanks for the post, and for keeping the conversation going.

    • feralgeographer

      thanks! i’ve been drafting a bit of a follow-up in recent months, though it’s still in my head. in the meantime, i’m excited by how many views this post gets, and i hope more people add their thoughts.

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