Friday, May 1, 2015

Passing and Privilege

Who I write for, in this blog, is something that has shifted over time.

At first I was writing to the younger "me"s: engineering students, and high school girls interested in engineering. People facing economic difficulties going into college. Occasionally to other parents, although this is not primarily a "Mommy Blog," not focused on my child.

As my own diversity journey has progressed, as other things in life have happened, my "probable audience" has shifted. This year, I've been trying to write more to smart professsionals, primarily in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics fields, and often (but not always) young adults.

People interested in or curious about diversity efforts, but not necessarily knowledgeable on the subject. Usually white, or otherwise unfamiliar with intersectional discourse / critical race studies.

I wrote about the Thirty-Meter Telescope last week, in part to share with my audience the issues, and in part to process my own thoughts and feelings about it. At the end, I asked people to listen.

I actually didn't promote that post. I was not sure that I said the right things at all. I posted it once, which right now automatically goes to Google+. Then I sent it to three people on Twitter, open to feedback if they had time to review.

One of the things I have learned in the years of following the literature on diversity, is that often diversity efforts are placed on the shoulders of oppressed peoples. Requests to be on Diversity Councils, requests to join committees addressing Diversity. The committees and councils need adequate representation in order to be successful, and yet because minorities People of Color are so under-represented, there may be an over-demand for their time.

So I left the matter alone. I didn't ping again for feedback. I didn't re-share the post on Google+, I didn't Tweet it out as a general message. I didn't promote my awkward, self-reflective post. On Twitter, I re-tweeted more of the kanaka maoli voices, re-tweeted more of the voices that people I trust in this were promoting, and tried to keep myself out of the conversation.

It is perhaps an indication of the controversy surrounding the topic, that this post I promoted so little, currently ties for my 7th most-viewed posts ever. I hope that my writing reaches the pro-science TMT supporters, and encourages them to think a little bit deeper about the situation.

The day after my post, Doug Herman published a post on Smithsonian Magazine online, that I think did an even better job of explaining what I had wanted to say.

Yesterday, I saw a tweet of frustration over people of color so often being the ones asked to listen. Yesterday I updated my TMT post to ask "us," specifically the STEM professional pro-TMT, predominantly white people, to listen.

Yesterday evening, I participated in a We Need Diverse Books chat focused on minority religions in Young Adult literature. Except that somehow, over the course of the conversation, it morphed into a general discussion of religion in Young Adult literature... and some of the non-Christian voices felt overrun.

It was enough that I went back to "covering," to talking about my childhood experiences as a devout Catholic... in part as a way to not discuss my current faith practices.

I pass as Christian. Twelve years of Catholic schools, ~22 years of Catholic practice, ~9 years in and out of Unitarian Universalist spaces, and now 2 years with the United Church. In a world with 2.2 billion Christians, and a country that is 78.7% Christian, it is easy for people to assume that everyone is Christian.

It is easy for me to let them assume, to not discuss my own difference. Passing gives me privilege, allows me to take advantage of Christian privilege.

But that, too, has repercussions:

  1. First of all, it avoids some of the deeper conversations, topics that came up after the chat was over, starting with this person's contributions.
  2. Secondly, by passing as Christian and by discussing my experiences within Christianity, I contributed to the oppression that minority religious practitioners were experiencing. I am truly, deeply sorry for my behavior.
  3. I'm still processing. I'm quite certain that there are more repercussions. You are welcome to comment, tweet, or DM me for additions to this list.