This whole “us versus them” mentality really gets us nowhere.
I understand the desire — the need — to have community and to not always be the “other,” the “them.” (RENT, anyone? “To being an ‘us’ for once / instead of a ‘them!'”) As someone who has been part of a “them” for as long as I can remember, I get that.
At the same time, I think we often tend to go too far with the “us versus them” mentality. When marginalized groups have this kind of mentality, it’s certainly not the same as when it comes from the dominant groups because the power dynamics are so completely different. But that doesn’t mean it’s just okay.
It’s somehow so easy to go from “let’s celebrate what we have in common, revel in our shared experiences” to “they’re nothing like us, and we’re better than them.” When I was a kid at Korean camp, I remember trying to persuade people away from the “what do white people know?” attitudes. I’m all for the “being Korean is awesome!” but when it moves to “white people are stupid and ignorant,” I draw the line.
Actually, of the people I know (and granted, that’s not a very expansive group of people), many of the fiercest anti-racism advocates and activists are white people. I’ve had more nuanced discussions, more impassioned conversations about systemic racism and what needs to be done to combat it, with white people than I’ve had with people of color. And possibly it’s because when I end up talking about race/racism with other people of color, it’s ended up being “let’s vent about our own personal issues,” not “the system is screwed up in so many ways.” Am I saying that people of color aren’t activists? Absolutely not. Am I saying that white people are better at recognizing racism than people of color? Of course not. I am, however, saying that it’s problematic to make sweeping assumptions about groups of people (like that all white people are either ignorant or aggressively protecting their white privilege).
The same goes for women — “girl power” and pseudo-feminism can veer into the “boys are stupid and insensitive” and “men are sexist jerks” very quickly. I went through six years of all-girls school (and an additional four at a women’s college). Sometimes, it seems easy for anger at the patriarchy to slide into a “men are oppressors” attitude.
Trans groups, queer groups — I think that in our joy at finding community, we sometimes forget that true allies can exist. Yes, a lot of cis people mess up our pronouns and don’t realize the innumerable forms that gender identity and presentation can take. A lot of straight people don’t understand that sexuality is not always some fixed thing with unchangeable boundaries. But that doesn’t mean that they can never learn and grow. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. And it doesn’t mean that all cis folks are gender-boring or going to be freaked out by gender diversity.
I cherish the time I spend with people of color and feminist, queer, and trans people. I deeply believe in creating community based on shared experiences and identities, and I can understand wanting to let loose with frustrations behind closed doors (and within community). But I also believe in finding balance, and it worries me how easily people divide into “us” and “them” — even in things as trivial (in the grand scheme of things) as Mac versus PC or New York pizza versus Chicago deep dish. In bigger issues, however, that kind of mentality can cause division where there should be coalition-building.