There’s been a lot of response to Tara’s extraordinary post about race in fat activism on Fatshionista.com. Lord knows I am in no mood to court drama right now, but it comes looking for me anyway, so let me take this opportunity to state my position on an important post and an important issue.
One very familiar response I’m seeing is “but what are we supposed to do?” I empathize with this, because I know it can feel really dire and hopeless when you’re a white person and you’re asked to simultaneously acknowledge that you’ll never fully understand racism and establish a more racially welcoming environment. (Or when you’re any privileged person asked to encourage community diversity from the outside.) It’s easy to get defensive if you feel like you’re being asked to fix a problem you didn’t think you were creating and would rather think didn’t exist, and so I think it’s easy to read a post like this as “I feel marginalized, and I would like you to bend over backwards to fix this right now, while I find new things to complain about.” If that’s how you’re reading Tara’s post, I truly understand, because it’s uncomfortable and difficult to try to use your privilege to ameliorate the results of your privilege, but without being privileged about it. I’ve had the same defensive reaction. But I encourage you to look again. I think you’ll find that the message is this: “I am being marginalized, and I would like you to bend over backwards to give a shit about the fact that I am being marginalized.” And I would be ashamed to refuse that request. Nor do I want to refuse it, nor do I have to.
See, here’s the thing. My capacity for giving a shit about stuff is basically infinite. Oh, it’s not limitless on any given day — there are fluctuations due to stress levels, and then every so often something will completely eclipse my shit-giving abilities. For instance this week I’ve been busy caring about a personal tragedy and haven’t had any interest in giving a hoot about anything else. But it’s infinite in the sense that, on a daily basis, caring about one thing does not diminish my ability to care about something else. The resources I put into one cause may limit the resources I have available for another one, but my compassion for that cause remains undimmed — I am no less of a fat activist for being a feminist, or being pro-gay, or opposing racism. I have the ability to give a shit about many things simultaneously. And so do you.
And I’ll go further: as people who are interested in social justice, we have a responsibility to give a shit about causes other than our own major concerns. Any oppression diminishes us. I am lucky enough to have a skin color that people can ignore, a relationship that I can get officially recognized, and enough financial stability that I don’t have to worry about where the rent is coming from. That means that racism, homophobia, and classism don’t affect me as much as fatphobia and misogyny; it means I could ignore them if I wanted to. But I invite them into my consciousness, not because I’m a glutton for emotional stress, but because I want to live in a just society. And I believe a just society is one in which the concerns and the marginalization of others matter to us.
Nobody is asking us to give up being fat activists and be anti-racism activists instead. But these things are not mutually exclusive; even if we don’t have the resources to do active work for both (or some other additional activist issue), we can give a shit about both simultaneously. If you do have the resources, by god, keep it up, but I know I just don’t have the energy to try to address all inequities and injustices. It’s hard enough to keep talking about large-scale attempts to disenfranchise and vilify fatties. But even if this isn’t a place where every oppression is equally addressed (which I don’t think anyone expects or even really needs), it’s really crucial that it be a place where every oppression is considered and important. That means that we do not minimize or dismiss people’s concerns. Right now, it means we listen to Tara when she talks about the things that hurt or alienate her; that we believe that these things are alienating; that we take this into account in the future; and that we understand that this awareness is not an unfair onus, but part of the greater work of social activism.
This is by no means a utopian fantasy: many feminist communities have managed to do a great job of acknowledging the intersection of feminism with race, class, sexuality, ability, and even fat, and I see no reason why we can’t do the same. We are compassionate people, and we have struggles of our own outside of fatphobia. We know that other people’s oppressions matter, and that it’s egotistical — even if it’s easy and natural — to believe that our challenges are the most important, or that caring about others diminishes our ability to care about ourselves. I trust you all to be able and willing to rise to this.
I haven’t been perfect about this and I will continue to be imperfect, because it’s easy to forget about struggles other than your own. It’s not hypocrisy, but an unfortunately definitional aspect of privilege: the privileges you have are all but invisible to you, even as the ones you lack are glaring. But it matters to me and I plan to do my best. I do hope people call me on it — just as I’ll keep dinging my progressive friends for talking nonsense about fatties, or making sexist jokes. And I hope you’re all with me in my desire to make SP a conscious, welcoming place.