Subject: Include Me Out
Date: Wed 19 Aug 1998 - 12:03:27 BST
When we look at a system and decide that it is flawed, that it has excesses
that have hurt and oppressed people, and then we decide to opt out of that
system, what does that get us?
When we decide to use the rhetoric of exclusion to put up a wall between us
and any system, don't we justify and instutionalize our own exclusion from
that system? Isn't it exclusion from the systems of power that marginalized
people are always fighting? If we choose to live in our own world, then how
can we complain about the mainstream world excluding us, or worse, how can we
change the mainstream world to be more diverse and inclusive?
I was at a GLBT coaltion building workshop a few years ago, and the question
that we came up with to use in learning the process was "Are exclusive
organizations useful?" The president of Sisters And Brothers In The Life
(SABIL), our local organization for blacks and I ended up discussing the
Most of the group wanted exclusive organizations with the exclusions built
around identity politics. They felt that they wanted protected spaces where
birds of a feather could "feel safe." The system was bad and oppressive and
they needed empowering space.
The irony of all this was that the key reason for this workshop was that
people were complaining about the fragmentation and factionalization within
the "gay community" in town. People felt that the other groups were not
senstive enough to their issues, felt the other groups had to become more
open. Yet, even in this context, most felt that the walls that they had built
for themselves to create exclusive space, space that excluded people they saw
as responsible for the "excesses and oppressions of the system" was useful.
I spoke of the challenge of walls. We build them for defense, but they soon
become prisions where we suffer the cost of isolation to protect ourselves
from people who may well be our allies. By building walls of exclusion, we
marginalize ourselves, put ourselves in another country where we are the big
fish in the small pond, yet that small pond is always part of the bigger
For me, the comfort of "opting out of the system," of saying "I am excluded"
is illusory, simply because the walls that separate us from others are always
illusory. These walls are arbitrary and capricious. That has always been the
message of transgsender, that even the wall between men and women is an
illusion, and shamans can walk right though it like it isn't there. There are
no walls between man and nature, this world and the underworld, blacks and
whites, gays and straights, business people and concientious objectors to the
When we choose to isolate and marginalize ourselves by building a mental wall
between us and the humans who have done things we consider atrocities, we give
others permission to judge and to marginalize us. Maya Angelou says that
"nothing human is foreign to me," and if we want people to understand that
when they look at transgendered people, then we have to embrace the truth that
nothing human is foreign to us.
I can no more opt out of my human nature, my role in society and it's economic
life, my connection to all other humans than I can opt out of breathing. If I
do choose to put up walls between me and the system, I choose to abdicate my
power to someone else, someone who might make it worse.
"First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was
not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak
out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did
not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no
one left to speak for me."
When we think that the walls that we have put up between us and others,
between us and the system will protect us, we are setting ourselves up for
isolation, marginalization and pain. We lose the true strength that comes
from our human connection, both the strength to be protected in the network of
people and the strength to change the world a tiny bit so others won't be
excluded, marginalized and hurt.
When we choose to opt out of the system, to say "include me out" in the words
of Sam Goldwyn, we choose to agree to being excluded and marginalized,
surrendering our place at the table for the fleeting comfort of not having to
see our own humanity reflected in other people, for the momentary solace of
thinking that if we can't see our own complicity and flaws, they don't exist.
With the wider and wider reach of media, money and transportation, the world
becomes smaller in every minute. We can no longer live in enclaves where the
rules are bent for our comfort, always at the cost of another group of people,
but rather we have to have a global vision, seeing the networks that connect
each and every one of us. This is happening in the context of a market
economy, the trade of goods, services and ideas that must eventually benefit
all to work.
There is no doubt that we can take control of our participation in this
system, that we can make choices that we feel are more honorable and
considerate. We can choose not to support products made in China, for
example, but only at the cost of giving more of our resources for the products
we do buy.
That's one truth of a market economy, that it shakes out hypocracy quite
quickly: we are forced to put up or shut up, to pay for our choices, to choose
principles or pocketbook. To me, though, that is the lesson spirit has to
learn from a stay as human: how do we make hard choices with finite resources,
how do we learn to find consistency between thoughts and actions, how do we
learn to stay in balance? Everything has a cost and a benefit, even forest
fires, floods and death, and no one gets to live on this world except at the
cost of the lives of other creatures.
Personally, I believe that we cannot opt out of society, and if we try to, we
are only building walls of illusions, missing the truth that it is
"continuous, common humanity" that is the bane and the salvation of us all.
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