The Fine Line Between Writing in Solidarity & Appropriating Struggles (That Aren’t Ours)

Hola, folks. So I had a lot of thoughts today about speaking OVER communities we’re not apart of in the process of trying to write in solidarity with them. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in general and have tons to learn. After I tweeted these thoughts, a lot of different folks jumped in to offer their two cents and a fruitful convo developed, so I’d consider checking out my TL (‘timeline’ for you non-tweeters!) for more, if you’re down. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “The Fine Line Between Writing in Solidarity & Appropriating Struggles (That Aren’t Ours)”

  1. Really great points. I do have a couple of questions/comments though, would love to hear your thoughts-

    Do these apply less to non-paid writing? I see a lot of people who write not for money, just for fun, and don’t do a whole lot of self-promo either, in all honesty. I get that them examining marginalization issues from a privileged position could be crowding the field… but is it? If this isn’t a money/competition thing? Is non-paid blogging still a zero sum game in ways? Agreed that everyone should try to lift native voices, but one could do both.

    Also, asking are you an expert in the field – important, though whether or not you consider yourself an “expert” is a tricky thing too, haha. (And here I’m thinking about more structural/policy issues like, say, foreign aid, rather than speaking of personal experience, because we know who would be the expert there!) It’s just that sometimes the people who know the most feel least confident in what they know, because they have an idea of the vast amount of things they don’t know, whereas those who know very little think they’re already experts!

    Thanks for spurring thoughts!

    1. when i say experts i’m talking about lived experience as a part of an identity i.e. straight people fancying themselves experts in queer issues, non-black people who make $ off of uncredited, unpaid Black labor, the common narrative in travel media that white foreigners are considered experts in places they visit as opposed to the people who are actually from there, etc. and nope, doesn’t apply less to non-paid writing at all, i’m talking about about privileged people taking up too much social (in addition to physical) space, and i don’t mean ‘privileged people’ as if it were one group. does that clear some stuff up?

      1. Yep, thanks for answering!

        Along the lines of those who aren’t experienced experts (nor can they ever be) speaking up on a topic though, I suppose I’m thinking that, in certain cases, it can be potentially helpful. And not really for the right reasons, but because other privileged people will tend to listen to privileged people and not those who are marginalized, unfortunately. I’m actually thinking about sexual harassment here based on recent discussions I’ve had. So where I’m going with this is that I, as a woman, understand sexual harassment in ways nearly all men cannot (though, recognizing, different women will have different harassment experiences). However, the sad truth is, when I speak up about my stories, many men flat out will not listen. But, they do listen to other men, so if a well-intentioned man, who is against sexual harassment, says “cut it out, how would you feel if (some metaphor)?” and, even though it’s not totally apt, it gets this one guy to back off, is that bad? As long as space is left for women to tell their stories too? Another example – race marginalization, a white person here can’t understand, definitely cannot, but if they tell another white person “hey imagine ___” and, super sadly, that white person will listen to the other white person but not those whose stories are their own, but still they modify their behavior, is that bad? It’s certainly not getting at the root of the problem by any means, but it’s still some tiny movement in the moment.

        Sorry for super long comments, I’m mentally grappling!

      2. I feel you Leah, but my tweets were written in the context of writing, as in journalism, reportage, memoir, even fiction. But to address what you’re talking about, I would go even further and say that it’s the responsibility of privileged people to speak up and educate other people who share their privilege on the oppression of others, but if the intent there is to do it because the people we’re speaking to don’t value the voices of the oppressed group in question, I just think that reinforces the power imbalance. When we’re trying to self-educate, I would hope that people would centralize the voices of the oppressed group in question, not those of “allies.” For instance, I’ve tried to stay away from cis people’s statements, articles, opinions, etc. on Caitlyn Jenner’s VF cover, and instead have made it a point to listen to and disseminate writings from trans women (especially of color) on the subject. I know that most folks don’t “self-educate” and it’s always good to call out people in everyday conversation, but there is only so much social space to discuss these issues, and I don’t think the majority of it should be taken up by “allies.” You feel me? It’s not about it being good or bad, but about finding a balance and respecting boundaries.

  2. Yes, I get you Bani. That all makes total sense. I agree people with privilege should use that privilege in support, when it can have a positive impact, but yes, there is a need to respect boundaries and be just that – a voice of support rather than the central voice. And yesss about self-educating. Go to the source. Thanks for the discussion! 🙂

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