Like a Tsurezuregusa for a philosophy grad student.
Great post by ninjaruski. Building off of what he’s written here, I’m going to take this in a slightly different direction by focusing on space, power, and how that affects individual and community identity.
Space can be thought of as a measure of power. Those who have space are those who have power, and those who are in power are the ones with the most space and the ability to determine who else has space. So when thinking about the space of a community, the relations between individuals and the dynamics of power come into mind.
Both individual identity and community identity are not static; they are fluid depending on the interactions that cause the boundaries of identity to surface. Another way of thinking about this is that we (individually) are the intersection of multiple identities. This gets more complicated at the community level because certain identities within the community become the defining identities of that community. Those specific identities become the reference for that space, and other identities that intersect in different ways stand out against that background.
Safety is a funny concept in terms of the space of a community because it hinges on power. If a safe space is “where we are not only comfortable, but our embodiment is reinforced, validated, and enriched by dwelling within that space” and “[o]ur lives are given additional meaning through inhabiting a ‘safe space’,” then there is a trust needed that those in power will not use their power to marginalize. Those with the most power occupy the most space within safe spaces; rather ironic given that safe spaces are meant to give power, to empower, individuals of marginalized backgrounds. Within marginalized communities, those with the most power and therefore the most space within said communities are those whose intersection of identities are most aligned with the dominant culture’s.
Exclusion of individuals from communities comes about when those in power utilize the space they occupy to set a reference for that space so that others stand out. My question here is now that given the relationship between space and power, is it possible for the space of a community to ever be a safe space? To use a metaphor: think of those fill-in-the-number paintings. Every color occupies a certain space with a certain shape. A coherent painting emerges from all the puzzle pieces fitting together. Safe space exists in this sense. But communities are dynamic and ever-changing, and power changes the space and shape given colors occupy. What checks and balances exist in a community so that one color does not overwhelm all the others, especially given our internalized capitalistic values that imbue so many of us with an idea of the relation between the individual and the community that is more akin to “weakest link of a chain” than “no puzzle is complete without every piece?”
I think I’d like to start with your statement, "Within marginalized communities, those with the most power and therefore the most space within said communities are those whose intersection of identities are most aligned with the dominant culture’s." I don’t think that this is necessarily true: the dominant culture may demonize, reject, appropriate, or consume the culture of the marginalized community, but that does not mean that those who fall in line with the dominant culture are those who have the most space and power within that community. Put another way, the very concept of an “oreo,” as an epithet, or “talking white” as socially undesirable exists because alignment with the dominant culture and its modes of embodiment is taken as a bad thing due to the history of colonization and racism.
Instead, I would argue that those who possess the most space within the marginalized culture are those who represent, in some way, the ideals privileged by the culture itself. This might connect to a post you made about “black excellence” some time ago, and the forms that it takes: I am willing to argue that those who are taken to embody “black excellence” are not necessarily those who manage to attain the heights of the dominant culture. They are those who embody the cultural ideals of the culture in question, both in embodiment, and how those ideals are actualized. To this end, one can have “success,” measured in reference to the dominant culture, and still not represent “black excellence,” by virtue of appearing to have given up “authenticity” for an illusory seat at the table of whiteness. It’s not simply that one achieve what the dominant culture possesses, but how one achieves it is tantamount to the concept of “excellence.” Condi Rice, by virtue of her successes in the political arena, is “excellent,” but her service in the Bush Regime would strip her of that title.
We might also consider socio-economics, culture, sexuality, any number of intersecting axis as determining who has the most space. In my experience, as long as the axis of oppression aligns with the dominant or most visible axis of oppression within the marginalized space, a body can take up more space than another body. One of my professors used a concept (and the source escapes me) of “voice as space” in the classroom where some voices came to dominate other voices. The same metaphor can be deployed here: those voices that are given space (or take space, or create space) within a marginalized community, as those voices that emerge from bodies that align with the ideals of the community, or those bodies engaged in policing the boundaries set up by that community. This is why, at least in black philosophy, we hear the same kinds of voices, as if they are the only voices available. Because it aligns with the ideological orientation of the space, a Cornel West will carry more weight than a Eugene Robinson, or someone like myself. They produce a certain narrative that is “at home” within the space, without realizing the way in which it pushes others out of the space.
Here, I think, I’ve come to the rest of your piece: in some ways, there is an intentional “pushing out” of bodies that disrupt the “line” of the space, in order to preserve the integrity of the space. This intentional pushing out can be in the guise of preserving “traditional values,” and here we can see how non-marginalized spaces can be unsafe for those with privilege, or “community integrity,” or simply because someone does not appear “like” the bodies that the space was designed for. Whether that be by presenting an embodiment that does not conform with the ideological narrative supplied by the community and those within the space, or their voices are contra to some element within the space, these bodies unseat other bodies from the table and are taken to be disruptive by their very presence.They are silenced for the sake of the larger goals (and here, we can see the arguments of black feminists), or simply ignored for being “inauthentic.”
To conclude, I think there is a both/and in terms of the “weakest link” and “puzzle piece:” a piece that does not fit is one whose embodiment cannot be subsumed into, or openly defies, the narrative or the orientation of the community. To this end, I would say that adherence to the “line” of the community limits the horizons of that community: it cannot see that it may be incomplete without this group of bodies, given the narrowness of the vision of the community. Chains can be weak where they connect to other chains, but we must be sensitive to how the “links” in the chain connect to other links, and where: communities are interconnected and interdependent, but how they are interconnected and interdependent is a matter that should be looked into.
men who are like that (via richgaaaang)
Every man, ever.
One of the first thoughts that popped into my mind while reading this was Warsan Shire’s line about how we can’t make homes out of people. Another thought that popped into my head was that one line about how for Asian-Americans and children of diaspora, home is in our migranthood. If you think about it, to pin home to a specific location is just as nonsensical as pinning home to a person: people and places are constantly changing. Shifting. Evolving. When we pin home to our migranthood, we are acknowledging movement. But the problem with movement is that because of motion, when we fall the platform that breaks our fall might be there or might have moved elsewhere.
So then where does that leave us? ” [I]f the world is too chaotic to cohere into a whole, there can be no development of a sense of self.” If we do not have something to orient towards, if we don’t have a sense of self because the chaos keeps our world pulled into bits, then what are we? Perhaps that is the constant pain that we people whose bodies don’t belong here or there feel.
I am actually in disagreement with the first paragraph, because that implies a sense of stasis with the concept of “home,” which is in opposition to the very concept of a “generative phenomenology,” or the brand of “naturalistic” philosophy, the philosophy of process and becoming, that I have subscribed to. Places, like people and things, change in response to their environments: in so far as a place, person, or organism responds to it’s environment and the environment responds to it, that thing is alive. Home, on this view, is a living,breathing “object” whose continued ability to be “home” to us is entirely dependent upon it’s ability to continue to provide the elements that I described earlier even as we change.
If we put this in the context of a human relationship, we are often told that the best partners are the ones who grow with us, rather than try to hold us static in the phase of our lives that we met them. The best relationships are those that continue to provide us with the support and affirmation that is necessary for the development of a self, as that self develops. To this end, “home,” whatever shape that it takes, must be in constant motion with the person who calls it home. This is why I have some difficulty with the concept of “place,” because our western concepts imply something that is static, unmoving, unchanging even as the natural world denies this as a possibility.
This notion of home as changing with us also implies the possibility of leaving home. When home becomes a strange place, a place that does not fit the definitions that I supplied, we pack our bags and leave home. When we have grown beyond the confines of the place we call home, and relationships with parents and friends that you’ve outgrown are good examples, we go out looking for a new place to call home. The experience of “outgrowing” friends, family, and things is the end result of those things not growing with us, or growing in a different direction. So it is entirely possible that something which we once called home no long suffices for that purpose.
Warsan’s quote, in particular, is of question because I am not willing to accept that we make homes out of people: people become homes to us as we grow together with them. The person you call your best friend, the one who you call when you have lost your sense of self, was not always the person they are now: the pair of you had to grow into that relationship, and that growth is an act of becoming. The same, I believe, can be said of our favorite books, television shows, so on: these things become our favorites over time, and they inevitably change as we grow. Aliens and Ellen Ripley mean something to the 29 year old me that they did not to the 18 year old me, as does Steakley’s Armor, and the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana. These are all home, but they’ve changed as I’ve changed.
I agree with the second bit, though for both the same and different reasons: on the one hand I cannot know the migrant experience except through second hand knowledge, so I would say your assessment of attempting to root home in something that is unstable to begin with risks danger. On the other hand, there is the sense that migrants, and those whose embodiments transgress the boundaries of the communal home that their race/ethnicity/sexuality should occupy, have difficulty generating a sense of self because they have been told, constantly, "you do not belong in our home," or "this is not the place for you," even when the bodies that inhabit that home look like yours.
In light of all this, I stand firm on the need for everyone to have a “home” or a “safe space:” without either of these things, the world is too chaotic for a sense of self to form. If we consider this phenomenological point in light of the social realities of oppression and even the reality of micro-aggressions, and in the light of forced conformity to a neurotypical standard it becomes clear to me that, for some bodies, the world is never safe, and they never come home, because there is no place for their embodiment to come home to.
I love philosophy, but I don’t know if I want to do it anymore. I’m not frustrated with my project, I’m just tired. Maybe it’s the prospect of facing my department’s bullshit.
Maybe it’s just everything going on in my life.