Today we have yet another dispatch from my Political Ideologies class. Fortunately, this is not a rant.
In the discussion about Liberation Movements the issue of homogenization came up. If you believe yourself to be a part of an oppressed group of people, be you Black, Latino, Gay, a Feminist, or any other group, you must ask yourself this question: is it better to be more mainstream or to abandon that and embrace your own unique culture? To use the example of Black Liberation, do you try to be more “white” or do you embrace your own Black culture? For women, do you embrace traditionally feminine roles and/or your own sexuality, or do you reject the norm?
Its a fair question. But, as usual, I take the middle road on this issue.
On the one hand, embracing the unique aspects of your group is the best way to empower the group and build a community. From that community and empowerment, you can begin a movement. Allowing people to embrace their non-mainstream (which arguably is white, male, and protestant) culture can be extremely powerful and is quite necessary for getting a group-consciousness in the first place. Take, for example, atheists (or agnostics, non-believers, et cetera). Atheists and agnostics make up a large part of the population, but they are unrepresented to a large degree. Atheists are only beginning to embrace their own culture (see the Skeptic movement). Until then, they will be divided and unrepresented.
Yet, if you embrace your own culture you run the risk of becoming a stereotype and spreading ignorance. You may undermine your own culture.
Being more mainstream may not have the same empowerment, but it will get you taken seriously. People were far more willing to listen to Dr King than they were to Huey Newton. I am a fan of both, but I recognize that separating yourself from the mainstream runs the risk of alienating yourself. The sad fact is, you have to find acceptance within the mainstream if you are going to get anywhere. Notice, for example, how separatist movements have never gotten anywhere.
Its a fine line, a tight-rope, that you have to walk. Would you rather be recognized and accepted at the risk of losing your unique identity, or would you rather embrace that uniqueness while running the risk of alienation and ignorance?
I believe that both must be done, but with care. To demonstrate this, I’ll run with the previous atheist example a bit:
I’m an atheist. A nonbeliever. I come from a Mormon household. When I first “converted”, I was all sorts of fire and brimstone (of the rational, materialist variety of course). I openly questioned any questionable thing I saw at church. I made a lot of people angry. I kind of liked it, to be honest. After a while, though, I realized how fruitless my efforts were. My father (a strong believer, and an excellent example to believers of any faith) explained to me very patiently that I’ll gather more flies with honey than with vinegar. He was right. When I look around at politics today, everyone seems to be shouting at each other. No one is listening. I tried to apply his advice and found that sitting down and actually listening to the other side meant they actually listened to me too. I learned a lot. I think I taught a lot, too. I now realize that religion (when applied in the right way) can be a powerful force for change. I may not agree with religion in a lot of ways, but I respect the core ideals.
Ok, enough of making myself look good. I’ll use another example:
Some one very close to me is beginning to realize that she is a feminist. She loves it (and she should). Yet, she is far from the modern stereotype of a feminist. (I realize that this stereotype is far from the truth, but I’ll get into that in a later post about feminism. However, this view is unfortunately what people think of when they see a feminist) She is not “butch” or a man-hater. She has a woman’s figure and is beautiful. She can get a date. Hell, she could get anyone she wanted. She loves to cook and care for people. She enjoys and embraces her sexuality, but dislikes pornography and its effects on our society. Yet, she is quite passionate about her views and fighting against patriarchy while still remaining approachable, logical, and pragmatic.
To put it shortly: don’t ever forget your culture, what makes you unique, but make sure you are approachable. Yes, that may mean quieting things down, but in the end you will change more minds by talking with them than arguing at them. If you attack the views of others, they will instantly become defensive and unwilling to listen. Creating divides only breeds hate. Yet, abandoning your culture is giving up. Celebrate your history, your culture, but always be inclusive.
Have confidence in your culture. You don’t need to wave it in the faces of others. Let it simply be. Let it speak for itself. If it is right, it will not need to prove anything.
Stay classy, little revolutionaries, but don’t ever let that cause you to forget what you are fighting for.