Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Education, education, education

As someone in an oppressed group, I often find myself put in a position where people want education from me, in some way, or for some reason. It's often to do with becoming a better ally - they feel like they could support whichever cause or group this is better, if they knew more. As someone who is oppressed on some axis but privileged on others, I do understand that. I'd like to work on anti-racism campaigns, and I try to do that, but at the same time I feel I don't know enough always and I could be more effective if I knew more. As a result, I try to educate myself, both by reading articles I can find online, and by having conversations when they occur, going to events and spaces which are designed for those conversations to occur, and trying to learn that way. I try not to learn about it by putting people who are already oppressed in a position where I'm expecting them to educate me, because that doesn't feel fair. I'm sure I've done it before, and I'm sure I'll do it again, and for that I'm truly sorry, and I can only do my best not to do it, because educating is tiring.

A lot of the activism I do has been around education, whether working with the media on education, educating people through formal training workshops, small group discussions, producing materials, or doing talks. More recently though, I've got tired of educating people. No, really. I think there's a lot of good information out there, and a lot of good people out there who are willing to educate, but I don't think,  any more, the trans* rights movement needs to rest on the shoulders of individual educators. I genuinely believe that it's at a point where information is freely accessible to those who want it, and campaigns are public enough that with a bit of looking, you can get involved.

This style of education has one major flaw - people often find the personal line useful. People find that hearing the same information from someone who is there, who has been there, who understands these things, helpful. I  try not to begrudge them that, I really do, and sometimes that type of education causes wonderful conversations to happen, causes people to really think and talk about stuff, causes you to learn things about other people that you never knew. Sometimes though, it's exhausting, you feel like you're left to justify your existence, and you feel like a circus freak because you're the different one that has to do this educating. That's the downside of, for example, trans* activism. In order to be able to offer the personal connection that some people find so useful, you have to put yourself in a situation where you're talking openly about something you might find is private. For me, being trans is something I'm ashamed of, and something I hate about myself. Doing education involves bringing that up, and talking about it, and that's something I find really very difficult. I do it, yes, because I have to, because someone has to. However, it isn't easy.

Remember, when you're in a position of privilege and you're looking for education from someone in an oppressed group:
For others it's political. For us it's personal.
This is the reality in which we live.
Educating can be really very painful.
Sometimes we want time off.
Nobody has a right to our energy

The last one is, in some ways, the most important - there is no obligation on members of an oppressed group to educate. Nobody has the right to expect that of them, that becomes just another form of oppression. I'll do education where I can, and where I want to, but it takes a huge toll on me in terms of mental health, and nobody has the right to demand it.

No comments:

Post a Comment