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News ::
Why are white activist ignoring middle eastern people?
01 Dec 2001
Modified: 03 Dec 2001
Hi, im going to post this note on a lot of different IMC sites because I really do want answers. Im half Armenian and half Iranian. Ive only lived in this country for 6 years. Im 23 years old and have been involved in activism for about 3 1/2 years now.
I have always worked hard and view myself as an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and against globalization.
After September 11 happned, in a lot of ways I was so happy to see that finally after so many years so many of you wonderful activist that I had seen work so hard before were paying so much attention to what was going on in the Middle East. I mean I know that people have paid attention to Iraq, and Palestine over the past few years, but never in such large numbers.
As I attended services at my mosque I told fellow worshipers how these amazing activist were helping us now, and letting our voices be heard. That we could work in solidarity with you, and bring not only the struggle and plight of my Afghani brothers and sisters but also the struggle of the people from Armenia, Quatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Iran, Pakistan to the fore front and that finally some of you would enter our communities and get to hear, listen and touch our culture and see where our passion for life comes from
I would have to stay that overall in the past 3 monthes I have been disappointed, at times hurt, and very secluded in this whole process. What I thought would be a wonderful chance to bring our communities together and tell you and help teach you all a bit about our cultures and way of life has in a lot of ways turned into a nightmare for me and a lot of my fellow friend and family who are also of middle eastern decent.
In many ways we feel like we have been left out in your organizing, we feel like instead of asking us our opinion or ways that our community can be helped many activist have come in and told us what we need to and how we need to give our press conference and where we need to go, what protest to show up in and what meetings to attend. Please try to understand this is one of the first times in a long time that we have had to deal with such a very sad event, that we do not understand in many ways what to do next, still it's not right to tell us what to do. It seems very selfish and coming from a very looking down to attitude.
I don't know for myself what to do. I like working with many of you, but I wish sometimes you would just listen a little bit. This situation is unlike any other, sometimes it needs to be handled that way. Sometimes we feel like many of you are not even intrested in our communities that we have already built in this country. Sometimes it seems like many of you don't want to know about our history and our people and why we are here in this country to being with.
It pains me to see this going on because I know how much I want to reach out to you and show you that we are good people, that we are not all bad and that we want to work with you but we feel we are not included but instead our name is being used for all sorts of political reasons. Both the left people in this country are doing this and so are the right. It pains me.
My country and my people come from a very rich background of land and culture. We have built and survived many hardships both in our old country and now here in this country. We would like to share a bit of that with you, but it seems like nobody is even intrested. we have invited many of you to our Islamic Centers, our cultural art shows, music events and none of these people who say they are fighting for us ever come, but instead they ask us to come to meetings and show up in a press conference. I don't think our people should be used as a sort of side show. We are not one to be used in a charity case. Yes many people in Afghanistan are hurting, starving and dying right now but the Afghan culture is a beautiful rich culture that is bountyful and very very old in history. The people are wise and have worked their land and faught for the land for so long. They are not just dirt people, they are not just charity cases, they are not just for you white people in this country to feel sorry for. They are a strong great people who have been on the earty for a very long time, and have complex forms of society and civilization.
Instead of just feeling sorry for us and only wanting to go on the street and scream that you are fighting for us. Please I beg of you to come visit some of us, talk to some of us, and if you can learn of our history, the fathers and mothers who worked so hard to get to where we are today, our traditions and our culture. Please respect us a little bit and don't make such martyrs and victims of us.
We are not victims, we are your fellow human being that needs a hand right now, and please don't allow us to be exploited just like the right wing people are doing to us.
Please let go a little bit of this very strong white western mentality that your way is the only right way, and involve us, don't fear us.
We all know your hearts are in the right place, but also realize that you have alianted many of us, and we don't want that.
thank you very much my name is Shiva and you can email me.
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white privilege and a shallow culture
03 Dec 2001
I read your posting and was saddened but not really surprise.

I'll tell you what I think is happening--you're seeing the results of white privilege in action (and I say this as a white, middle class man). White people in the US have been socialized to tell others what to do and not to listen. We've been socialized to think our way is the best way. And so we go about doing the sort of things you're talking about *without even realizing we're doing them*--because it is what's "natural" to us. I'm not simply condemning other white activists either--I could see myself doing this sort of thing. I think this sort of behavior can be at least partly unlearned--but first white folks need to become aware of it. Which means the rest of you need to call us out when we're doing this garbage. You should, however, expect a lot of resistance to your message.

White privilege is only one piece of the puzzle though. I think another part of it is that most white peace activists are middle class in background--and have no real grasp of community, a non-media based culture, vibrant religion, etc. White middle class people grow up in an alienated, fragmented "communities" that have no real sense of community; where their culture is drawn largely from the television; where church is a place you go once a week and then ignore what you learned there the rest of the week. So they don't even know there's anything to learn from other cultures because the one they grew up with is so shallow.

And just as white middle class activists bring the baggage of white privilege to their activism, they bring the baggage of this shallow socialization with them to their activist work. I have long been distressed by the lack of community and any sense of spirituality among activist groups I've worked with (all of which have had a predominantly white, middle class membership). Most, I think, don't even realize something is missing and so don't do anything about it. Community is given lip-service and spirituality is seen as a private manner. So they don't even realize there's something to be sought out and understood in Middle Eastern cultures.

I think this ignorance is compounded by another problem. There is a feeling that the problems are so great that *something* needs to be done *now*--so community-building and cross-cultural exchange is shoved to one side. White middle class activists might feel like they want to do it, but it is not at the top of their list of priorities. And this is not entirely their fault--the problems are pressing and activists, most of whom are volunteers who work forty-plus hours a week at full-time jobs, have little time to accomplish a lot in. In the end though, I feel like this mentality is self-defeating. If we want to transform the world, we also need to work at transforming our own relationships with each other--which means community-building, cross-cultural exchange, spirituality (whether affiliated with a religion or not). Otherwise so much of what we speak of becomes empty rhetoric.

The white, middle class, secular left needs to seriously rethink the way it does its work, and set more time aside for things besides organizing and agitation (important as these are). I admit, however, I am at a loss about to bring about such a change in orientation. It goes against such deeply ingrained social patterns. Then again, so does everything else we're fighting.