Why #notall_____ is a Derailing Tactic

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Attribution is unclear, let me know if you know!

When marginalized people say [insert privileged group] do/don’t do x, they aren’t saying “every single member of that privileged group.” They are saying, as a political bloc, that (for example) straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights or people of colour, etc.. Not that you, [specific person], don’t. And we know that, again as a bloc, straight white men don’t care about women’s rights or queer rights, etc. because we know how straight white men en masse vote. And how much power they wield. And how they wield it. Continue reading “Why #notall_____ is a Derailing Tactic”

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Selling Wellness

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Photo by Crew on Unsplash

If you’ve spent any time on the internet you’ve encountered “wellness.” You can probably list off the things that “wellness” is a euphemism for: whiteness, thinness, able-bodiedness, middle/upper classness, performative consumption.

Wellness, rather than the state of being well, is an ongoing project by which certain (mostly? exclusively?) women either signal their inclusion in an exclusive strata or strive to gain entry.

As the president of Saks Fifth Avenue said,

“The wellness thing is big”…”We’re calling it ‘the new luxury.’ It used to be about fur and leather. But people just want to feel better.”

Wellness, if you were to only examine it through the lens of Instagram and lifestyle bloggers, is about $12 cold-pressed juices, yoga poses that photograph well, $50 water bottles (no, I will never get over how expensive those god damn water bottles are), and something else. What is that other thing? Oh, yes, being young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive.  Continue reading “Selling Wellness”

Getting Back to Our Animal Selves

panthere noire zoo de jurques 1012 1024x749I’ve had this pet theory, for a while, that capitalism only works if we silence and eschew the animal parts of us. Think about it, sitting at a desk for 8 or 10 hours a day is completely counter to our animal instincts to be in motion. Doing menial tasks (making widgets, if we want to get all Karl Marx up in here) that don’t directly relate to the care and feeding of ourselves or our loved ones makes no sense until we introduce the fear of poverty (and thus hunger, lack of shelter, etc) if we don’t comply.

But instincts are hard to suppress. They’re literally the most base reaction we have. In fact, they’re there whether we heed them or not. That’s how powerful they are. So how does a system that relies on quashing our animal selves counter something so powerful? With shame, perhaps the most powerful motivator there is.

I was recently interviewed by a university student writing a paper on a particular issue in my field and the topic of shame came up. This student asked if shame can ever be a force for good. Absolutely, I said. Shame is one of the ways that we moderate unacceptable and dangerous behaviour. Shame is based on losing in-group status. Humans are immensely social creatures who need acceptance and community to survive. So the threat of losing your connections and community due to hurting another, for example, is a very positive use of shame, teaching people not to hurt others until they can internalize that lesson.

But the power of shame is rarely used for the benefit of the collective in our neoliberal, late capitalistic clusterfuck. Rather, it is used to shut down all of the signals that tell us that what is going on is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that most of us do work that is not only spiritually unfulfilling but is actively harmful for the earth and for humanity. It is unacceptable that most of us live in some form of economic insecurity. It is unacceptable that many of us don’t have access to fresh, nourishing food and instead rely on hyper-palatable, low-nutrient play food for the majority of our nutrition. It is unacceptable that one in three women* and one in two trans people will experience sexualized violence in our life times.

But you can’t start with the big violations and hope they’ll stick. You have to start with the small pieces of animalia that you can tame. We wear clothes because we are shamed for our nudity (I mean, there are practical reasons for clothes as well, but if I strolled down the street naked tomorrow no one would be objecting on the grounds that I wasn’t protected from the elements). We wear deodorant and perfume because it is unacceptable to smell like the animals that we are (this, by the way, is very culturally specific). We hide our emotions at work because we aren’t supposed to “make a scene” by reacting honestly to rude customers or over-bearing bosses like the animals we are.

And when we routinely over-ride our instincts we stop trusting them. Introducing the element of doubt is an incredible tool for controlling someone. This is an issue that impacts everyone, certainly, but it is also exceptionally gendered. Think of all the ways women (and other people socialized female) are taught to ignore our instincts: we are taught to distrust our hunger, routinely. Whether that’s through extreme calorie restriction, or the mind-games so many of us play as we try to negotiate down our hunger (“Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry? Maybe I can just have some celery and hope my stomach will stop growling. Maybe I could have some gum instead. Maybe I’m just thirsty!”).How many times have you been told that “we often mistake hunger for thirst”? Ten? A hundred? Coming up on a million? Have you ever stopped to consider how ridiculous of a statement that is? If you took it out of the context of women’s continued disavowal of hunger it makes literally no sense. You’d never tell someone that has to poop that they actually need to pee and have just mistaken the two. Or that someone who is complaining of being cold is actually dehydrated. If someone is hungry they’re hungry.

We are taught to ignore our gut in favour of politeness. I tell my clients constantly, “your gut is smart. Trust it.” How often do we override that niggling feeling because we want to be “nice” (one of the most toxic words in the English language if you ask me)? On the bus, with that creepy guy who won’t get out of our space. Walking home with that dude who’s been behind us for too many blocks and turns. On a date with a cute guy or girl who keeps pushing minor boundaries? With the roommate situation we knew immediately wouldn’t work out?**

We are also taught to ignore our basic comfort, from the clothes that we wear (ever notice how many women change into sweats or pjs the second they walk in the door while their male partners are perfectly comfortable in their un-restrictive pants and shirts?), to the shoes we teeter in, to the absurd and painful lengths we go to remove the body hair that is our god-damn birthright as animals.

I’ve been doing a lot of personal work lately, including going back to therapy after almost a year break. And what I realized today is that almost all of the work I’ve been doing is allowing myself to get back to my animal self. It has been about trusting my gut, honouring my instincts, trusting my body, and seeking embodiment.

I recently had a dating situation where someone did a couple things that threw up yellow flags. Not red flags. They weren’t “DANGER WILL ROBINSON” infractions. They were “psst, hey, Will Robinson, maybe make a note of this, it’s a little hinky.” One yellow flag is something to mind but not a deal-breaker. But in quick succession there were three or four yellow flags on the field and I was suddenly flooded with anxiety. Not because I felt unsafe, but because I was at war with my gut. My gut was telling me “you know about boundaries. You literally teach workshops on boundaries. You tell your clients every day to trust their gut. You can’t talk the talk if you won’t walk the walk.”

I had a really clear signal from my gut that there were too many yellow flags on the pitch but I was fighting it because I didn’t want to “overreact” or “be rude.” Despite being in possession of the world’s best early alert system I was fighting something I champion because I’ve spent my life being subtly and overtly trained to ignore it for fear of shame–god forbid a woman “overreact” be “hysterical” or “a bitch” to a man who is over-reaching his bounds.

This personal work has also included embracing my hunger without questioning it or trying to barter it down, and listening to my body’s signals that it needs movement or rest.

Recognizing when we are safe or not, when we are hungry or not, and whether we are tired or not are literally our birthright as animals (ever seen a cat that’s feeling any of those? They don’t fuck around. They get their needs met whatever it takes), and yet we are taught from a very young age that all of those instincts are wrong (let Creepy Uncle Jerry kiss you, you don’t need seconds, go to bed even though you’re not tired). And so our work as adult humans is, in many ways, to get back to our animal selves.

*This is a contentious statistic for a whole lot of reasons I’m not going to go into here, related to disclosure, shame, measurement, etc. This statistic comes from Stats Can in 1993, the last time they did a Violence Against Women survey. The commonly cited American statistic comes from RAINN and is one in five. My instinct is that that is a low estimate.

**Oh do I have stories. And for every bad roommate story I have a matching story of ignoring my gut instinct.

The Truth(s) of Social Change

[CN: non-graphic talk of sexualized violence, talk of racism and the murders of unarmed black men]

Reality has a wellknown liberal bias.–Stephen Colbert

I don’t know how to write this piece. It’s intellectually hard and it’s spiritually hard.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about activist tactics, about narrative, about facts.

You see, for the longest time, I thought it was a case of misinformation and missing information. That if I could just tell so-and-so enough stories, enough statistics, it would work. They’d see the error of their ways. They’d drop the casual racism and misogyny. That they just didn’t have the facts. That the truth will win out. That the truth must win out.

But what I’ve realized lately is that there isn’t just one truth. And that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, there is an objective reality. One in which gendered violence and racism and transphobia are real and deadly.

But there are also huge, oppressive systems that are strongly invested in hiding that objective reality. Systems like patriarchy and white supremacy and late-stage capitalism that benefit from the ongoing oppression of Othered bodies. Systems that can only exist through the ongoing disavowal of empathy.

Because, really, isn’t that the path to justice? Not sympathy, not compassion. Empathy. The ability to recognize what another is feeling and feel it yourself. Indeed, the inability to not feel the pain of others. Which is not to say that I can understand what it is to, say, grow up as a racialized person in a racist society. But I can recognize the pain and yearning and I can feel it myself in some small measure. And, more than that, because I recognize that your liberation, my liberation, all of our liberation is tied up in each other’s. To quote Lilla Watson,

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

But there are these systems that only work so long as we don’t see that our liberations are intimately bound. Indeed, they hide, to the best of their ability, that liberation is even possible. That liberation is even necessary.

The baseline state of capitalism, if you ask Marx, is one of alienation. We are alienated from ourselves, from our work, from each other. And it is this alienation that allows not just our own subjugation, but our complicity in the subjugation of others. Because it takes a certain amount of dissociation and disembodiment to sit in a cubicle all day, ignoring our needs for movement and meaning and stimulation. And it takes that same dissociation and disembodiment to see the suffering of another and shrug, or, worse, join in the oppression of others.

We lose our own humanity through alienation, and we deny the humanity of others. Worse, we selectively grant humanity. That person who looks like me gets it, that other person doesn’t. And thus we wash our hands of the problem of empathy. Of solidarity.

So let’s go back to that idea of multiple truths. Not just the idea, but the problem of multiple truths. You see, my truth is one that recognizes the epidemic of sexualized violence, racist state violence, transphobic violence. So when I hear about a campus rape I don’t wonder what she was wearing, if it was just “sex she regretted the next day” (UGH), if she is making it up for….reasons that have never really been clear to me but reside in the fever dreams of misogynistic assholes. When I hear about a white police officer killing an unarmed black man I don’t twist myself in contortions to legitimate it, I don’t look to the domestic violence history of a dead 12 year old boys’s father to validate the murder of a child. Because these facts (and they are facts) fit into the world as I understand it.

But for those who are heavily invested in upholding the patriarchy and white supremacy, these events are aberrations if they are accepted as facts at all. You see, if you are invested in the idea that rape doesn’t happen that often and that when it does the woman was asking for it, that 1 in 3 or 6* statistic doesn’t square with your reality. And because our brains are funny things, most people will decide that the statistic must be wrong rather than that their worldview is. And if you’re a white person who has only ever experienced police officers as friendly and safe, then thousands of (mostly) people of colour rising up and protesting the ongoing racist targeting and murder of black bodies flies in the face of what you know to be the truth. And it’s a lot easier to disavow the actions of people who don’t look like you than it is to completely re-evaluate everything you know to be true about the world.

So I don’t think that we can rely on the use of statistics and facts to change the world. Because they are discounted by people whose truths don’t allow for them.

On the small scale** I think we need to focus on empathy. We need to not just insist on our own and each other’s humanity, we need to find that point in others where they can experience empathy. I can remember a conversation with my brother several years ago, where he was talking about a negative and scary experience where a large man was hitting on him, touching him, and making very graphic sexual comments to him in a situation he couldn’t easily leave. I told him that I had experienced that more times than I could count. And that working in any kind of food-service job as a woman meant multiple versions of that every week. He was visibly shaken and said something to the effect that he never realized it was that bad. He’d heard stories but didn’t know it was that bad.

When we live in a culture that so thoroughly dissuades empathy we need to seek it out and set the stage for it.

*A word on that statistic. We don’t actually know how prevalent violence is for reasons that make a lot of sense (low reporting rates, a culture which downplays violence and can cause people to spend years explaining abuse away as “a weird thing that happened”). RAINN says 1 in 6 American women will experience sexualized violence in her lifetime. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates 1 in 4 Canadian women will experience sexualized violence or domestic violence in her lifetime. The Violence Against Women Survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 1993 found that 1 in 3 women respondents reported experiencing sexualized violence at some point in their lives and 1 in 2 women had experienced sexualized or domestic violence. While we know that violence rates have decreased in Canada since then, that survey has never been repeated so we don’t actually have a reliable number. But if we go with 1 in 4 women will experience some form of sexual/intimate violence, that is still outrageously high.

**Large scale I think we need civil disobedience and to remember that no holders of power have ever granted rights out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they were mildly inconvenienced.

Why I Don’t Subscribe to “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”

The past few months have been a weird time, with the media finally having to focus on some of the issues that progressives have been talking about for a long time: violence against women; victim-blaming; police-brutality and the racist deaths of young black men at the hands of (white) cops; collusion with predators; collusion with oppressors. And you, like me, are probably inundated with stories and conversations and facebook posts (and facebook arguments) taking every angle on the issue. And no matter which angle, you are also hearing this bleated at you: “Innocent until proven guilty!! Innocent until proven guilty!” like it’s an ace in the hole. Can’t argue with that, can you? So we better just stop talking about it.

Have you ever noticed that those shouting “Innocent until proven guilty[IUPB]” use it as a way to shut down conversation? Have you ever noticed that those shouting IUPB use it to shut down conversation that is critical of the status quo? Critical of the systems that allow, enable, and collude with oppressors and abusers and victimizers?

Have you ever noticed that IUPB is used to shut down conversations that implicate not just the wrongdoer but those around him and those around you that engage in similar behaviour?

Have you ever noticed that eschewing the IUPB framework is treated like it’s worse than the offense itself? Much like how calling someone racist has become worse (in the minds of many white people) than actually being racist, talking about Jian Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby or Darren Wilson without throwing in “allegedly” and “of course we can’t really know what happened” and “INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY” is treated like more of a social faux pas than actually being a sexual predator or murderer.

There are four reasons I don’t subscribe to the IUPB framework:

1. I’m not a criminal court. They have a duty to presume innocence unless and until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t. I am free to make up my mind based on the publicly available information as well as historical context. For example, publicly available information tells me 15+ women have accused Bill Cosby of raping them, while historical context tells me that false rape allegations are made very (very, very) rarely, and that victims who come out publicly are pilloried, shamed, and blamed (so why on earth would someone come out with a rape accusation for funsies? And against a hugely rich and powerful man to boot?). In fact, I’d say taking Cosby’s side in this instance is not only ethically troublesome, but logically troublesome.

2. My refusing to grant innocence until guilt is proven of some powerful dude thousands of miles away doesn’t impact them at all. But it does impact the survivors in my life. My saying “I believe the accusers” tells survivors I am a safe person to talk to, that I will believe them too, that I understand the pressures and systems in place to prevent victims coming forward.

3. The IUPB framework is applied selectively. (Alleged) rapists are granted it, while their victims are presumed to be lying until proven innocent (in the extraordinarily rare case that sexual assault is actually convicted). Darren Wilson is presumed to be innocent while Michael Brown is presumed to have been guilty of and deserving of a death sentence for…? Indeed, Darren Wilson has been granted a permanent presumption of innocence through incredibly corrupt grand jury proceedings. The IUPB framework is applied in ways that maintain the power structures of the world that privilege men, whiteness, and wealth at the expense of people of colour, women, and the poor.

4. The criminal justice system is set up by–and for–those in power. Grand juries rarely indict police officers and the courts are simply not set up to attend to the realities of most sexualized violence. So if you are a vulnerable person (a woman, a person of colour, any number of intersecting identities), relying on the court to tell you who to stay away from, who to keep your eye on, who to warn your loved ones away from, you’re trusting a rigged system to keep you safe. And if you take a failure to indict or a failure to convict as proof of innocence, especially in situations where the accused has power and the victim has none, especially in cases where we have centuries of precedent showing that perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, you’re trusting a rigged system to keep you safe. And if you think the only way you can trust a victim is after a rigged system has found their abuser guilty, you’re collaborating with a rigged system.

I’m not saying do away with the legal presumption of innocence, I’m saying that buying into the (somehow) pervasive idea that you and I have the same responsibility, that believing victims is somehow stripping accused abusers of their right to a fair trial, is dangerous, harmful, and ethically suspect.

One Simple Trick…

I keep writing these long pieces about critical theory and systemic oppression and fear and language but they all seem to be lacking. Too many words failing to convey what I’m trying to say. So I’m going to say this in as few words as possible: a request to you, a reminder to myself.

Choose kindness.

It can be overwhelming to think about systemic racism and misogyny (and ableism, and classism, and heterosexism, and, and, and). It can hurt to feel implicated in these centuries-old power structures you didn’t ask to benefit from. So when someone points out that you are benefitting, or that your actions are hurting them, choose kindness. Maybe you can’t examine the layers behind it, maybe you can’t unpack it and analyze it and critique it right now, maybe you don’t know why that joke was offensive. But what you can do is trust them and say this: “I’m sorry. I will try to do better.”

*And yes, the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the millions of articles, websites, videos, etc. promising lightning fast weight-loss with no effort. But, really, this is one simple trick to be a better person.

On Veganism’s Race Problem, or F***ing Thug Kitchen (Updated)

This is maybe a little outside my usual wheelhouse, but I’m irritated by the lack of response from…anyone about the (not at all shocking) revelation that Thug Kitchen is written by two middle-class, pretty, white people.

I’ve been vegan for a long time (coming up on 7 years, and vegetarian for 11 before that). My foray into veganism coincides, more or less, with my feminist awakening, though I did not draw any parallels for several years. Rather, I was just trying not to be an asshole contribute to unnecessary suffering. I’d always been an animal lover and had stopped eating animals at age 9 when I realized how absurd it was that we ate cows because we didn’t consider them sufficiently cute but didn’t eat dogs because they met some arbitrary cuteness standard. Eggs followed in my mid-teens, and veganism happened just before I turned 21.

In those early days I had yet to encounter the idea of intersectionality, nor interrogated my own sites of privilege–especially racial privilege. My progressive politics were pretty rudimentary. As I ventured further into both intersectional feminism and veganism I started to see that they weren’t all that compatible in a lot of ways. I don’t want to make this post into veganism and race 101 because there are vegans of colour writing far better than I ever could on the subject. You should go read them.

What I do want to talk about, however, is mainstream, white veganism’s collusion and tacit acceptance of cultural appropriation and the overwhelming whiteness of veganism. The first time I saw something from Thug Kitchen posted on Facebook I knew it was by middle-class white people. Not just, as my friend S., pointed out, because only someone immune to the racial violence out of which “thug” emerges would use it in such a manner. But because the voice feels insincere, like some play-acting (of what the bloggers think Black people sound like, I have to assume). And because the authors were conspicuously absent. And because it has that self-congratulatory, self-perceived edginess of a white girl with a ukulele singing a Dr. Dre song in front of a whole bunch of white people. And because a whole bunch of white people on the internet loved it.

Thinking of mainstream vegan cookbook authors I can only think of three who are not white. One of whom, Bryant Terry, does incredible food justice activism alongside putting out beautiful cookbooks. Yet his name rarely comes up in conversations of veganism and vegan cookbooks. And I’ve certainly never seen anything of his passed around Facebook with the glee that Thug Kitchen, with its faux-edge indicated by “motherfucker” punctuating and accenting such groundbreaking dishes as quinoa with cranberries, garners.

Another issue is the number of books published every year that are basically some version of “White American Lady Cooks ‘Ethnic’ Food” whether themed by country or one whirlwind tour. There can be a fine line, it seems, between appreciation and appropriation, especially where food is concerned. But there are authors whose entire careers seem to be based around presenting the food of cultures they have no attachment to with a vegan spin, with no understanding or reverence for the role of food in culture and identity, the sanctity of recipes passed down generation to generation to generation using traditional foods and methods to feed and nourish families and communities, the sacred nature of commensality, of shared experience and knowledge.

Along with examining the ways in which access to food is gendered and racialized in our culture, we need to look at how the ways we talk about and think about and approach food can be alienating and exploitative by turns. We need to examine the ways we think about people who are not vegan for reasons of access or culture and recognize those as valid reasons while working towards structural changes to mitigate the damage of meat and dairy-heavy diets (for example, abolishing CAFOs while changing lobbying and subsidy laws to make the meat and dairy available to lower-income people and those living in food deserts less disastrous for the planet and the animals). And we need to vote with our dollars and our energy. We need to stop supporting twee white people borrowing a “thug” aesthetic (whatever the fuck that means beyond some racist dogwhistle) and support vegan authors of colour bringing their culture and food heritage to life in vibrant and beautiful ways.

UPDATE: When I wrote this I couldn’t find responses from anyone (aside from one not very in-depth piece on Jezebel) but since then there have been some great responses from POCs that you should read. I should also say that there may have been responses happening on Twitter but I am essentially Twitter illiterate so I may have missed them. If I did, that’s on me and I apologize. Mine shouldn’t be the loudest voice being heard on this topic though I’m glad to see it’s sparking some interesting conversations.

On the Ethics of Citing Your Work (and Reading Recommendations)

Academia is weird. On the one hand, you’re taught to cite every. single. thing. You are constantly citing the thinkers and theorists and researchers who went before you. You’re not really allowed to come up with an original thought of your own unless you can show how 18 different theorists influenced your work. Yet, at the same time, there is a premium put on expertise. On being the sole expert in this particular area. On using language that denotes your expertise and elevation from the huddled masses (e.g. the heterosexist subjugation of the Other can be understood by applying a Baktinian analysis in which the grotesque is understood as a matrix wherein the abject intersects and transcends the embodied plane. Note: this was essentially a MadLib of po-mo jargon but I bet you I could whip up a compelling paper to argue precisely this thesis).

And then when you get into feminist academe it’s even weirder. On the one hand, we talk about intersectionality and privilege and access. On the other, we use inaccessible language and carefully elide the role that privilege has played in getting us to where we are. And we play this weird game where we centre women’s voices and experiences but don’t make our research accessible to those women; we centre the voices of the marginalized but use language those without access to academia often don’t have; we use women’s experiences in pursuit of liberation but don’t stop to ask whose liberation we’re fighting for.

And then you look at the blogging world of feminists and you see a similar picture–the big names tend to be white, able-bodied women of considerable means. And they (we, though I’m not a big name, I am a white, able-bodied, middle-class woman) tend to suck on matters of intersectionality. We suck on race and trans issues and poverty and ability and citizenship/immigration issues. And we suck at citing those who have taught us how to think better, who have taught us to challenge ourselves and each other to do the work, to transcend our sites of privilege and access to work in solidarity with others. I have read too many pieces by women of colour pointing out yet another blog post by a white woman who is using their ideas, their words, without credit.

I think we need to start citing our work. It can be hard, since so much of our educations come from late night conversations with friends over wine that are challenging and funny and hard; and reading the comments (good and bad) on feminist blogs; and chatting while painting signs before a march; and blogs and books and podcasts and songs. But we need to be accountable to ourselves and to each other. To our communities and the communities with which we hope to work in solidarity. We need to lift each other up, point out the brilliant and hard work our movement kin are doing, and sing their praises. This can’t be a game about ego or clicks or page views. It needs to be about the work.

I can’t always tell you how I came to a certain idea or theory. Sometimes it’s an amalgamation of 15 different ideas and articles and books. Sometimes it’s something that is just a felt truth to me. Sometimes it is a long winding thread that started in undergrad and has continued through work and activism and grad school and writing and reading and thinking and who can I possibly cite then? But I can tell you who helped me to think about things in the way that I do. Who helped shape my politics and challenged me and pushed me. So I will. Here is a not-at-all complete list of the big works for me.

bell hooks on Postmodern Blackness:

Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary even when, having been accused of lacking concrete relevance, they call attention to and appropriate the experience of “difference” and “otherness” in order to provide themselves with oppositional political meaning, legitimacy, and immediacy. Very few African-American intellectuals have talked or written about postmodernism. Recently at a dinner party, I talked about trying to grapple with the significance of postmodernism for contemporary black experience. It was one of those social gatherings where only one other black person was present. The setting quickly became a field of contestation. I was told by the other black person that I was wasting my time, that “this stuff does not relate in any way to what’s happening with black people.” Speaking in the presence of a group of white onlookers, staring at us as though this encounter was staged for their benefit, we engaged in a passionate discussion about black experience. Apparently, no one sympathized with my insistence that racism is perpetuated when blackness is associated solely with concrete gut level experience conceived either as opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory. The idea that there is no meaningful connection between black experience and critical thinking about aesthetics or culture must be continually interrogated.

When I think of pieces that shaped how I think and how I do politics this is top of the list. It is a relatively short essay and has taught me so much. And continues to teach me so much. The concept of “yearning” was fundamental to my understanding of the sense of oppression and bleakness even the most privileged in our society feel and how it can be a point of mutual understanding and a place from which to build empathy. The danger of postmodern critique around essentialism and identity politics to those who have had to forge their own identities in the face of hundreds of years of racism telling them who they are and how they are challenged me and continues to challenge me to do better, to think better in the face of my own white privilege. If you read one thing from this list, I hope it’s this.

Colonize This: Young Women of Colour on Today’s Feminism
I had the immense privilege and luck to have a mentor, J, who taught me more about doing the work and living in a good way than I could have ever learned in my degree. She used curiosity and humour to challenge me and teach me as I was a budding feminist thinker. And she gave me truly excellent books to read. This is one of them.

Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity
This was the other. It really opened up my world and expanded how I can be and understand and perform my gender.

all about love–bell hooks

All too often women believe it is a sign of commitment, an expression of love, to endure unkindness or cruelty, to forgive and forget. In actuality, when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way.

Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous on the dangerous complacency of the “ally”

The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls–Colette Dowling
This is not a perfect book. It has major omissions around the impacts of class and race on women’s embodiment. But it was fundamental in starting my thinking about trauma and embodiment and gender.

Fit and Feminist
Caitlin is a beacon in the fog of bullshit that is fitness on the internet. She writes intelligently and honestly about gender and fitness and was a big inspiration for my own foray into blogging.

And then I am lucky and honoured to have a whole host of people in my life–friends, family, teachers, mentors–who challenge and support and teach me. Who listen to me muddle through complex ideas in halting, meandering, repetitive words. Who push me to think harder and better, to not forget the importance of laughter and joy, to think outside of myself.

These are just a few in hundreds or thousands of citations I could list. I am going to try to be more mindful in my writing of naming and honouring those whose words and work inspire my own.