Tuesday, July 3, 2012

There's doing, and there's doing


There's doing and there's doing.

One of my favourite stories about Haunani Kay Trask, was at yet another gathering where well meaning white liberals had congregated to engage on the topics of indigenous rights, white privilege and what else have you. The liberals, were then wringing their hands saying things along the lines of “Oh, it's so bad, that's just terrible, what can we do?! We just don't know what can be done, what can we do?!”.

Haunani Kay Trask replied with “Do you have a house? Well give it to us. Do you have a car? Well give it to us? Do you have a job? Well give it to us. Do you have money in your bank account? Well give it to us”.

Not quite the answer they were expecting. Because it was a rhetorical question. Or at least one where they wanted a theoretical, intellectual or philosphical answer. Nothing tangible, nothing practical, nothing that actually involves you, situates you, locates you, gets your hands dirty.

Haunani Kay Trask, was not, of course, suggesting that the effects of colonisation could be solved merely by guilty white liberals giving indigenous Hawaiians their things. She was, well I like to think, challenging their inaction, their willingness to only engage on these issues on an esoteric level, as intellectual exercise.

And here's the other side to the pendulum. And on the pendulum is not where we want to be, not on either side. And this other side is also dangerous, so I'll share two stories, so we can try and get off the pendulum.

A friend of mine was rung up one day by a well meaning white womens' health group. Well that wasn't its name, it was a womens' health group that only had white women in it. Anyhow, they rung my friend up and told her that it was soon breast feeding celebration day (or something like that) and they felt it was an international issue, so, as my friend had lots of connections with refugee women, could she gather a bunch of them to wear their ethnic clothes, and cook their ethnic food for everyone attending.

My friend told the well meaning group, that it was pretty offensive to ask such a thing in that fashion and not think about those dynamics, let alone the practicalities of lost wages, child care, and cost of transport. And that if their group was interested in cultivating a meaningful relationship that didn't involve simply trucking ethnic women along to their events to dress up and cook for them, she might be able to assist.

The womemns' group canned their idea and didn't get back in touch with my friend.


The other story I've been told, is one where well intentioned development workers went to some “developing” country, and felt aghast that the women of the village had to walk a mile or so down the road to wash their clothes. So the good intentioned development workers, got their tools together, and after some digging, channeling, rediverting etc, popped a tap into the centre of the village.

The development workers, expecting wonderful thanks and gratitude from the village, instead got an earful from the women. The women were very annoyed, as the trip to the river to wash clothes everyday, provided them with an important opportunity to meet with each other, away from their menfolk, to discuss issues, problems, and support each other. The arrival of the tap, took away that opportunity, and they were now expected to do more chores.


One part of the problem, is privileged people in dominant groups like to talk about stuff, decrying the woes of things, outlining the myriad of ways things are so screwed up, and what structural things need to change, and why they won't change. All over a hotel banquet, conference drinks, or vegan gluten free shepherds pie. No one actually wants to do anything that will put themselves out in any way. They just want to look good, like they are well meaning, well intentioned, and by discussing these difficult issues, are proving their willingness and worth. All while not really doing anything.

Another part of the problem, is privileged people in dominant groups like to get in there and fix things. They have to be “doing” something – or feel like their doing something, or look like they're doing something. And often, it has been their “doing” that has messed things up in the first place. One of the big problems here is that they're not doing what has been asked of them, because they often haven't asked what they should do, or if they have, they've not listened to the answer. They “do” things out of an entitled feeling of “I know what need to happen”, or out of figety habit and guilt. Not unalike workers when when their boss walks in and everybody tries to look busy. It's that dynamic internalised.

I'd volunteer that that meaningless unengaged “doing” (meddling) is merely a distraction, a procrastination. A short circuit that skips the required praxis part of listening, reflecting, knowing, knowing what you aren't knowing, then doing, then listening, reflecting.. so on and so forth.
Quite paradoxical, but there you have it. Doing and doing.