How am I to Learn? Entering New Spaces and Unpacking Privilege

When Sept 11 happened one the things that I quickly realized is that I was basically ignorant about Middle Eastern culture, history, and the role that religion played in the conflicts that are continuously erupting.  Before that terrible day I thought that because  so much had already gone on, that it would be to cumbersome for me to wade in and educate myself about the relevant issues.  Sept 11 changed my purposeful ignorance. As much as I felt sorrow for the innocent that had died that day, I quickly realized that Muslim North Americans would quickly become a  group which would be virulently targeted.  As a body of colour who has been subject to discrimination and racism, I realized that it was my duty to learn about the issues and not hate, or be intolerant.

Slowly and with much trepidation I made my way to my local library.  I had no idea where to begin my search, but I was determined not to live in ignorance any longer. Today I am still not as informed as I would like to be about the issues, but I am educated enough not to believe the mendacious one sided commentary that regularly passes as news.  I learned about the Palestinians and discovered that yes indeed their concerns were legitimate.  I learned about the land disputes and unpacked my pre conceived ideas about Islam.  Most importantly I learned not to see the Middle East as one homogenous land mass.  Each culture has a distinct identity and history.

From there, I branched out and read the writings of feminist Middle Eastern Scholars.  I learned that viewing all Muslim women as victims was my western bias.  I began to understand that accepting the agency of women means accepting that not all women are going to make the same choices that I do.  Those choices do not need to be apologized for, they simply need to be accepted and validated as part of the human experience.

The reason I am sharing this with you is because of a post I came across at the Bilerico Project, wherein a blogger questioned how he was to learn, if he did not ask questions of the  trans community. Presuming that you have the right to question is a privileged position.  It is not the job of a marginalized body to educate you on their life’s experience.  It is not their job to inform you of the issues, facts and data that you have purposefully chosen not to explore because you previously found it irrelevant.  Of course the whine that follows that statement is, “but how am I to learn ?”

It is privilege to play the role of the helpless ignorant, when we live in the information age.  Library cards are free and  with one simple visit, a world of knowledge is instantly available.  There are documentaries, seminars and college/university classes dedicated to a myriad of subjects.  The only thing impeding your knowledge is you.  Problematize the existential situation; make the familiar strange and you will see that by truly listening as though you had never heard anything about the issue, you will learn thousands  of details.  Some will be so heartbreakingly rich in detail that you will wonder how it is that previously you had been blind to such beauty, or such evil. 

I constantly tell Destruction, my 7 year old, that life is not about the accumulation of commodities, it is about the accumulation of experiences and personal growth.  When you immediately cut yourself off from others due to privilege, laziness or ignorance not only only are you reaffirming our biased social hierarchy, you are forestalling the opportunity to grow as a person.  Life’s tapestry is so beautiful, if only we could all learn to see with the eyes of a babe; and remove ourselves from the equation.

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