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Paradigms of Power: Recognizing Authentic Advocacy

This is a list of general approaches that people take to negotiating power in their lives. I gleaned this list from a BIWOC writing workshop in which we were trying to explain our professional and personal dilemmas from a psychological standpoint.

I’ve found this list really helpful in allowing me to clarify the uncomfortable realities of racial and ethnic power relations in this country and to more quickly recognize these onerous behaviors. Others in the reading group have said the same. I am posting this as a form of ‘self-care’ for people of color who may benefit. By extension, anyone who is subjected to subordination will likely understand some of these paradigms.

1.Action: versus feeling. Advocacy requires action. People promoting ‘feelings’ without action are expressing privilege.

ACTION expresses understanding of the fundamental dilemma of oppressed people: something must change.

2.Collective Responsibility: versus ‘individuality.’ Individuality is ONLY genuinely granted to those individuals in the powerful group. Everyone else is stereotyped. A focus on individuality indicates that the person knows he/she is in the powerful group but is not taking responsibility for that privilege.

In other words, individuals in the powerful group will either peddle ‘individuality’ OR they will admit that they have a collective responsibility to everyone else to ameliorate their own privilege. The former is much more common.

Another common tack of the powerful: ‘you’re generalizing.’ This phrase is a strategy for uplifting the concept of ‘individuality,’ which only those people are granted.

Victims are always ‘generalized’ on the basis of non-inclusion in the powerful group and are thus generalized constantly — this is called stereotyping, and members of the powerful group do it to everyone else, all the time. As a result, when individuals in the powerful group accuse others of ‘generalizing,’ they are utilizing narcissistic projection: they constantly ‘generalize’ BIPOCs on a normative basis through stereotypy.

“One Bad Apple:” this concept is related to #2 and is the way privileged individuals shirk responsibility for their collective responsibility by blaming one person in their group rather than their entire group (see policing in the US). This underlines the import of the ‘individual’ AND allows them to shirk their own responsibility.

3. ‘Faux-Unity:’ individuals in the group with power see unity where there is only GENUINE divisiveness for everyone else. UNITY is the delusion that individuals in the powerful group create so that the status quo of their violence — required to keep the rest of us below them — is framed as peaceful. Individuals in oppressed groups will NEVER feel legitimately unified with individuals in the oppressor group unless they are self-haters (internalized racism).

People who understand oppression do NOT center ‘UNITY’ because unity with oppressors does not exist for oppressed people. This is yet another failure of the individuals in the powerful group to understand that their power creates disunity for others.

Centering ‘unity’ as if current situations are acceptable is evidence of privilege.

4.‘Faux-Forgiveness’: these narratives are evidence of a guilty conscience. When people in the larger group with power center the concept of forgiveness, they are expressing their own privilege. Essentially, they are delivering a collective message to the people they’ve oppressed: forgive us. (I call this ‘Gestalt messaging’ and most individuals doing it tend to shirk responsibility — pretend they aren’t doing it).

Victims do not focus on forgiveness, generally speaking. This is not to say that forgiveness is not helpful or even necessary for some victims. This is an observation: victims focus on fixing the problem, not forgiveness. In particular, victims will not consider forgiveness if an apology has yet to be issued.

Have white people apologized yet, on a collective basis? Have they returned stolen assets, as much as possible? No, and no. Not in the US, and not worldwide.

Why then do they broach the topic of ‘forgiveness,’ ‘forgiving characters,’ and the like? Instead, they ought act in moral fashion and apologize = $$.

Focus on forgiveness is almost always implicit admission of privilege AND the abrogation of responsibility for it.

5. ‘Faux-Empathy’: this concept is peddled verbally by people with privilege, but is shown with action by people who understand oppression and subordination. True empathy is shown with action.

When people talk about empathy as if it is only a feeling, they convey privilege. In reality, they replace real work with faux-feeling, making themselves feel better about themselves than they should.

A privileged person shows empathy by acknowledging their OVER-RESOURCING at a COLLECTIVE level, regardless of their individual strife, and ACTS TO ADVOCATE AT A COLLECTIVE LEVEL SO THAT COLLECTIVE ASSETS ARE SHIFTED TO LESS PRIVILEGED GROUPS OF PEOPLE.

White women whining about (faux)-‘empathy’ illustrates her narcissism only unless it is matched by her ceding some of her power to women of color (by ‘power,’ we do not mean ‘Lean In,’ we mean allow women of color to have an actual voice instead of keeping our mouths sutured and speaking for us in ways that ultimately only benefit white women).

“Empathy with the victor invariably benefits the ruler.”

6. Stereotype: this concept is related to ‘individuality:’ those individuals in the larger powerful group stereotype all other minorities — as a subconscious edict to maintain continuous power — constantly. Continuously, to maintain their egos in the absence of authentic achievement. Thus, they abrogate responsibility for that self-deception. This allows them to accuse people in the subordinated group of stereotyping them when the expectation should be that subordinated people will view their oppressors differently than the individuals in that powerful group. We should expect subordinated individuals to stereotype and powerful individuals to avoid stereotype because the IMPACT is different.

That is, when BIPOCs stereotype white people, this EXPOSES white supremacy and fights against it.

When white people stereotype BIPOCs, they OBSCURE white supremacy, allowing it to continue.

7. IMPACT v. Intent. A focus on intent reveals a guilty conscience: the individual in the powerful group almost always focuses on INTENT. People who genuinely understand victimization focus on IMPACT.

For example, ‘forgiveness’ is an INTENT focus: please forgive me (ie, take away my shame without requiring me to do any actual work = let me have a free ride). Make me, the perpetrator, feel better about my lapse in morality.

Action is an IMPACT focus: let’s fix it so that the victim isn’t hurt anymore.

Focus on INTENT has little value to genuinely oppressed people, but much value to individuals in the powerful group, who can use it to both absolve themselves of responsibility and to garner pity (‘I didn’t mean it;’ ‘I did the best I could’). INTENT involves FEELINGS and protects the status quo through inaction.

Real victims don’t really care if the perpetrator did the best she could; we care about whether or not it will be fixed, and she will transfer her unjust enrichment to women of color. Focusing on ‘intent’ delays action: SHE MUST TRANSFER ASSETS FROM HER TO WOMEN OF COLOR. To do this, she must focus on the negative IMPACT of her constant extrinsic privileging on the women of color and perceive herself as a member of THE PERPETRATOR GROUP, not a ‘victim.’

Intent helps perpetrators avoid responsibility. IMPACT matters to people who understand subordination.

8. Equivocation: powerful people equivocate their minor problems with the major ones of the people they oppress, often through faux ‘individuality.’ They make things SIMILAR because this erases the basis of their oppression.

This quotation typifies this notion:

“Empathy with the victor invariably benefits the ruler.”

People who understand subordination underline DIFFERENCES: for example, empathy will NOT be treated the same way by victims as by people with power.

People in the group with power delete the group’s existence so that they seem the SAME as the individuals in the victimized group, because the existence of the powerful group indicates both that they are protected — that is, extrinsically rewarded, NOT achieving, NOT meritorious — AND that they are protected AT THE EXPENSE of people of color.

Equivocation is a form of abrogation of responsibility: a rhetorical approach that damages others.

EQUIVOCATION means that people are ‘equal.’ Therefore, there is no need for action.

EQUIVOCATION always supports the individuals in the powerful group.

Example: 1. White woman writes story/memoir about big ole’ meanie who made fun of her freckles. She finds empathy for that character and conveys his vulnerability. This white woman writer is depicted as big-hearted and kind, for she has empathized with her ‘oppressor.’

2. African-American woman writes story about her attempts to trace her history in America, only to find that the documentation stops at an auction block where her ancestors were separated from their infants and each sold to different white slave –owners. She doesn’t broach the topic of empathy with her oppressors. Her white characters are not drawn with empathy — they are stereotyped. This latter choice is appropriate under the actual circumstances of oppression.

Yet, these stories are treated either similarly OR as if the first is MORE valuable — ie, not ‘contaminated’ by pesky items such as politics or other bothersome features like REALITY.

This is a drastic and extreme equivocation: freckles have no relationship to larger sociopolitical issues and realities, and it is not ‘oppressive’ to be subject to this sort of jeering. On the other hand, the TransAtlantic Slave Trade represents an overt oppressor/subordinate relationship that exists on a GLOBAL stage and which specifically denigrates Black people in order to allow white people to ‘succeed,’ WORLDWIDE.

These types of stories should never be equivocated. Rather, the first should be shown to indicate a failure to grasp reality — a form of narcissism — and the second indicates deep-seated knowledge of multiple layers of reality.

Why is it the other way around?

Power is dictating ‘reality,’ and white people/’signatories’ are undergoing a mass collective hallucination. They are no longer attached to reality, as Erich Fromm noted in 1964 in The Heart of Man. This massive hallucination persists more than half a century later.

It is shameful to center oneself when everybody else around you has a more difficult time due to your ease. This should be irrelevant to anybody in the victim group: it is the individuals in the perpetrator group who should shoulder the burden of their shameful behaviors by first FEELING SHAME and then ACTING TO MOVE ASSETS FROM THEMSELVES TO EVERYONE ELSE.

Other common tricks of a privileged brain:

Non sequiturs: changing the subject. Common: racism is topic; white feminist picks up the remote and changes the channel: feminism is centered.

Fundamentally, she is asked to admit her OVER-RESOURCING as a WHITE person and, rather than take responsibility, she manufactures her ‘reality’ as ‘UNDER-RESOURCED’ (=feminism) as a WOMAN, conveniently erasing her privilege and thus keeping herself centered.

Ad Hominen: attacking the person rather than their ideas/beliefs. This is inherent in the system’s normative context: the powerful group’s ability to stereotype everyone else on a normative basis is a form of continuous ad hominem attack that white supremacy allows — constant attacks upon BIPOCs in the form of ‘micro-aggressions’ and indicates that BIPOCS are constantly subject, at baseline, to a form of ad hominem attack through stereotyping.

SUMMARY

1. ACTION v. ‘feeling’

2. COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY v. individuality/atomized experience; FAUX-‘INDIVIDUALITY’ EXPOSED: ‘one bad apple’ etc.

3. FAUX-’UNITY’ EXPOSED: divisiveness revealed

4. ‘Forgiveness’ as largely useless without action.

5. FAUX-’EMPATHY’: victims do not show empathy for oppressors until Goliath foot is MOVED. WHITE PEOPLE: MOVE YOUR COLLECTIVE FOOT, then expect empathy.

6. Stereotype: victims who stereotype oppressors REVEAL basis of oppression

7. IMPACT v. intent

8. EXPOSING QUIVOCATION/EQUIVALENCES: Emphasizing DIFFERENCE

I hope this provides some help for others as it has for me.

With thanks to my collective group….

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Mia George

She/Her: Distort lies until they amplify truth. CryBaby: As loud as necessary.