Animism is all about relationships, and so the idea of intersectionality gels really well with my “thing” – because intersectionality is all about how various powers, priviledges and vulnerabilities intersect, ie: relate.
The hooha about Junot Diaz this week was a big thinking point for me that highlighted the complex relationships between victim and perpetuator, oppressed and oppressor.
From an animist perspective, duality is a con.
We’re tricked into believing that there’s this push and pull of extremes: right/wrong, him/her, black/white, coffee/tea. It’s a mindset that allows us to turn anything into a battle; if I’m here, there’s got to be a there, and we’ve got to be opposed.
Duality likes straight, obvious lines. It likes rigid definitions and identities. It likes certainty and solidity.
Whereas animism values change, chaos, muddiness, paradox and yes, intersections.
So, about Junot Diaz; he’s a beautiful example of how we carve the world up into these dual categories like oppressed and oppressor, and this carving up serves to disempower not just those we feel persecuted by, but also ourselves. If to be a victim, we have to have a perfect rap sheet; when to be infallible becomes the gatekeeper of who gets to be empathized with, who gets to be wounded, we all lose.
We exist within a web of power and pain.
We all exist within it, and we all have the oppressed and the oppressor within us. We all have the ability to oppress, to be violent, to be cruel and to de-humanise others.
But when we refuse to acknowledge this, we begin the cycle of blame and shame which silences all victims and survivors, not just those we think aren’t sympathetic.
We are all losers.
I’m mixed race; within my body intertwines the DNA of collonisers and the collonised. My process of coming to terms with this has been long, and it’s been a process of exploring relationships and intersectionality. I cannot claim the identity of either, so I must embrace my ambiguity and paradox.
To do this, I’ve had to look deeply into my own violence, selfishness, greed and banal obliviousness. I’m both oppressor and oppressed; I participate in the culture that denigrates me, while attempting to undermine it. I am a paradox, and so are we all.
Before you exempt yourself – do you have no bigotry at all within you?
White women are some of the most dangerous racists. Black men oppress black women on a regular basis. People of colour are some of the most vitriolic against the LGBT+ community worldwide. Disabled people can be racist, misogynistic homophobes. How do you feel about Muslims? Jews? Immigrants?
Can you honestly say you don’t have problematic beliefs about someone?
Can you truthfully say you’ve never excused a fellow white/black/queer/disabled/etc person of their bigotry, violence or assholery?
We are none of us excused from the cruelty of being human.
Recognising this is the basis of compassion, but also of change. Because until we can relate honestly to our own perpetuation of the web of oppression that keeps us all down, that web will continue to inform and damage us.
Nothing makes the violence of Junot Diaz ok, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a victim.
People can be both – I think we’re all both.
As a society, we have to become comfortable with the paradox of that and figure out a way of dealing with it. We also have to recognise that this is hard, hard work, and that it’s harder for the most damaged and vulnerable.
It’s an asshole move to demand kindness from people getting their teeth kicked in on a daily basis; it’s cruel to refuse relief to those at the bottom of the heap until everyone gets it. We have to keep inching forward; and we have to recognise that some of us have more capacity for the work than others.
But the work has to recognise this complex paradox of intersections, not just of oppression but of perpetuation.
As a society, we have to keep a space for people to be complex and paradoxical.
As for Junot Diaz, who might he have been if he hadn’t been doubly victimised? We can’t know; many, many people are abused as children and don’t grow up to be abusers, just as many, many people aren’t abused but become abusers. Abuse doesn’t excuse abuse, ever.
But I have compassion for Junot Diaz, because I know that could have been me; there is no fundamental difference between us. We aren’t different species.
He’s one more victim of the cruel web we are all caught in, and my wish for him is the same as my wish for all of us – to be free.