When I spoke to Mikki Kendall on August 14, just two days after she started the nationally trending Twitter hashtag#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, she was tired. The discussion started on Twitter had spurred much-needed and long-ignored conversations about the treatment of women of color by Big Name Feminism.
This post is about exclusion and the ethics of disagreement. Not exclusion by a dominant society of marginalized populations, but rather the selective practices of alliance and exclusion in anti-oppressive political circles. The theme I want to use to think through these questions is one of maintaining family ties (chosen family, birth family, or otherwise). I wonder if the idea of "unconditional care" (not to say this is the actual experience of all or many families!) or the practice of making a distinction between thinking critically and being critical/making ethical judgments versus being judgmental might help to foster an ethics of disagreement within social justice communities prone to being divided by political differences. I'm thinking of examples from school-based groups, to civic community organizations, to online commenter communities like the ever-changing group drawn into conversation by Bitch.
People with various forms of mental health conditions have been talking back to stereotypes and stigma for a long time, but this Mad People's History and these mad people's words tend to be overlooked by mainstream society and pop culture. Occasionally glimmers of our actual experience will work their way through to small presses and independent bookstores, and at other times bits of reality will creep their way into mainstream movies or television, but for the most part, stories are told about us by others, the same way kids will tell scary stories around a campfire. Be afraid of the dark, the crazy man in the woods will get you.
However, more of us are banding together in order to talk back. We're forming blog carnivals and group blogs to talk about our experiences both inside and outside the mental health system. We're writing graphic novels and web comics that talk about our lives. We're making films and taking comedy shows on the road and writing books. We're forming societies, supporting each other through our difficulties, and celebrating our successes. We're getting proud.
The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is next week.
Having not grown up in North America and having taken a fairly circuitous route to feminism, the first time I ever heard of Michfest was about seven years ago in the Inga Muscio book Cunt, where Muscio talks about what a transformative experience it was to be completely surrounded by only women for a week. Then, a few years later, while I was attending a writing retreat for women of colour at the Leaven Centre in Michigan, one of the women began to talk about Michfest, and their womyn-born-womyn policy (WBW), i.e. the fact that only cisgendered women could attend Michfest. I was stunned.