I want to thank everyone who contributed to this series, who wanted to contribute, and those who read the essays and considered and discussed them. It’s been powerful to hear these women of color speak up, hasn’t it? And they’re not just speaking, they’re doing.
Neesha Meminger is doing.
Today she’s confronting us with concepts of power. Her essay reminds me of so much: of womanists who believe in equality for all, of critical librarians who teach of the power embedded in information and she reminds me not only of the women who have come before us, but those who are speaking up today (and tomorrow), engaging and taking action for our collective future.
Kelly Starlings Lyon: How Do Women Use Art As Resistance?
Zetta Elliott: Nice Is Not Enough
Traci Sorell: Why Do You Speak Out?
Justina Ireland: There is A Minefield and You Will Become a Demolitions Expert
Ambelin Kwaymullina: On Being Loud and Hopeful
Cheryl Willis Hudson: Women Lead the Independent Publishing Movement
Laura Jiménez: Static Bodies in Motion: Representations of Girls in Graphic Novels
Maya Gonzales: True Power Rises
Sujei Lugo: When Women Speak
I Want to Talk About Power
I want to talk about power. Because when we talk about equity and justice, we are talking about systems of power. Not just individual people being “mean” to one another, or about increasing “understanding” and “tolerance.”
We are talking about changing how we do power.
We are not just talking about this man and that man. We are talking about a giant system that allows pedophilia and sexual abuse to run rampant and then protects perpetrators.
It’s about systemic and institutional power.
White supremacy is upheld not just by white people i
n power, but by the IPOC who defend it as a viable system.
Patriarchy is upheld by men in power and the women who defend it as a system.
Economic inequity is upheld not just by the wealthy, but by those who believe in the myth of meritocracy. That they just need to find a way to be rich and then they will be – not that there are systems in place to keep the many indebted to the few; to keep the many working to enrich the few.
Don’t get me wrong – even though we’re talking about systems of domination, individuals benefit from these systems.
It’s the reason we haven’t had a black president in the US until this past decade. It’s the reason Brock Turner got a three-month sentence for raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. It’s the reason solid, well-paying jobs with security are so much harder to come by today than yesterday, and will be even harder to find tomorrow.
I always tell my kids, whenever assessing injustice, to ask themselves: where is the power? Who, in this scenario, is backed up and supported by a system?
All white people benefit from white supremacy, whether they actively uphold it or not.
All men benefit from patriarchy, whether they are perpetrators of violations against women or not.
All elites benefit from us believing the myth of scarcity – that there is not enough to go around – and the myth of meritocracy – that we just have to work hard enough to get ahead, and if we don’t succeed it’s our own damn fault. There’s something wrong with us.
Systems are not taken into account at all in these victim-blame scenarios. It’s easy to make false equivalencies.
In the recent Ontario college faculty strike, media, students, and parents blamed “both the sides equally.” This is because they don’t understand power. If they did, they would see, clearly, that only one side has the decision-making power. Only one side holds the purse strings.
Faculty member Jay Morris wrote a terrific analogy of the strike on his Facebook page, using a family dinner scenario to convey some of the issues of the strike. But, even on this post, there was a comment, possibly from a student, using a false equivalency where the “mom” in the scenario was given the same power as the “dad.” This is because there is no understanding of power.
If I took Jay’s analogy and added a bit to it to make it crystal clear as to who holds the power, it would look like this:
The dad in the story is the primary wage earner in the family. He tells the mom there is not enough money for food and they must make do with
what he doles out to her to feed the family. He only allows her to see the money he wants her to see.
She makes do, but keeps asking for better living conditions for herself and their children.
Dad, however, keeps throwing up his hands, shrugging, and saying that’s all there is.
Mom discovers, later, that dad has been going out to dinner at fancy restaurants with friends with money she didn’t know he had. Money that rightfully belongs to her and the kids.
If we look at the education scenario in this light – we see, very clearly, what is going on at colleges and universities in the US and Canada. This is what faculty have been fighting. This is not what the media portrays to the public.
If we taught people how power works, the population would not be so easily manipulated.
We wouldn’t have so many people so quick to make false equivalencies. To say women are just as bad as men (#notallmen), the problem is really the Colin Kaepernicks ruining everyone’s good time (#notallwhitepeople), the teachers are too money hungry to care about students – and just as bad as highly paid management with secure jobs.
These are false equivalencies. They give equal power to both sides when both sides do not have equal power. One side very clearly has economic, systemic, historical power on its side.
The question is what I tell my children to ask every single time: Who has the power here?
The only way forward is to actively and vigorously challenge abuses of power. Toactively and vigorously work to create balance in a dangerously imbalanced worldscape. The only way forward is for each of us to use our privilege and power to right this ship.
What will YOU do today and tomorrow with your power and privilege to make things right?
Every single one of us has some form of power or privilege. If you are living on land that was stolen, consuming goods that were stolen (made by overseas laborers for pennies a day), on the backs of slaves or indentured servants, and on the shoulders of colonial and imperial legacies, you are most definitely privileged.
Each one of us is being called now (and I mean NOW) to pull up everything from deep within and courageously move forward with our voices, our strengths, our talents…whatever we have – our unique gift – to offer.
What will you do today, right now, to right this ship?
We don’t have any time left for neutrality. Nazis, in the tens of thousands rallied in Poland [http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/poland-defends-weekend-rally-organized-far-right-1.4400147] the other day.
The earth is literally cracking under the weight of our ignorance [http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/letter-to-humanity-warning-climate-change-global-warming-scientists-union-concerned-a8052481.html].
The elite all over the globe are making a grab for power and resources. We are not running out of time… we have run out of time.
One of our biggest challenges is people not understanding how power works, thinking everyone is the same, and siding with the oppressor against their own best interests.
My brother once said to me, “It’s not about men and women; everyone can be an asshole.”
This is absolutely true. However, there is one critical piece missing in his analysis: not all assholes have the systemic backing to enforce their views. White supremacy, misogyny, heterosexism/homophobia, etc. are backed by judges, courts, laws, law enforcement, schools, housing policies, etc.
For example, white folks are judged by different rules than people of color – this is clear when we look at how perpetrators of mass shootings are portrayed differently in the media based on their racial/religious background. Women *still* earn less than men for the same work. Quality education is becoming increasingly available only to the wealthy. Same sex couples are still struggling to have the same access to resources that heterosexual couples have.
I always bring it back to the family dynamic. We all first learn about power within the family. So I asked my brother, “Is it the same when a parent hits their child as when a child hits their parent?”
The answer to that is clear. Of course it’s not the same. Because there is a power difference. The parent has the power. Physically, economically, emotionally…every single way possible. If you extend this to adult relationships, the power comes in the form of systems – economic, social, political.
“Instead of rooting our decisions solidly in love, we operate from fear.”
So, again, the question I always ask my children, and my students, when we talk about justice and social change, is, “Who has the power?”
Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
The biggest challenge, of course, is fear.
Challenging the oppressor is scary because there might be punishment. Harsh consequences for disobedience. Better to be liked by the oppressor; maybe they’ll go easy on you. Maybe they’ll dole out privileges and you’ll be one of the lucky few to get them. You would fare better than the trouble makers…
The opposite of love is not hate; it’s fear. Fear is what is ruining our planet. Fear of giving up what you have. Fear there won’t be enough. Fear of violence. Instead of rooting our decisions solidly in love, we operate from fear. This is a tactic used by those in power – fomenting fear. The truth is that there is nothing to fear.
What’s true is that love is winning. The reason the elite and the supremacists are freaking out is that love has been making massive headway. And when a black president was elected in one of the most powerful nations on the planet, those in favor of domination and control – the UN truth – freaked the hell out.
Love is a stronger force than fear. And when love wins, fear panics. Fear is a gaping hunger, a black hole that swallows and destroys everything in its path because it is terrified/terrorized/traumatized. It is running and eating and swallowing and destroying because it has no faith. No trust.
Remember, there are only two wolves…love and fear – which one will you feed?
The only hope is you. For each of us to find the lie/s inside – for you to find the lie inside you. Those UN truths we believe about ourselves—that you are unlovable; you are undeserving; you are not perfect; there is some fundamental flaw in your makeup; there is something wrong with you; you are unwantable… Lies. All of them.
Right now, fear is panicking. Telling us science is a lie, marching for white supremacy, putting pedophiles and sexual predators in positions of power. Insisting that women and children lie and white lives matter and rich people getting richer is what will save us.
This is what we call a backlash. A freakout by the people who have always had power. Because love is winning. Don’t stop. Keep pushing. We are still making massive headway, but we have to keep going.
What will you do today? What is one concrete thing you can do to right this ship? Here’s an example: “I will not participate in any readings or events if they are not accessible to people with disabilities.”
Comment below with one thing you can do.
Neesha Meminger is the author of six published novels: three under her own name, and three under a pseudonym. She is currently considering the best publication path for her upcoming book, Truth is My Name, a novel in free verse about healing from childhood sexual abuse at the hands of clergy in a temple. You can learn more about Neesha and her work at NeeshaMeminger.com.