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“Re-centering” Rather than “Diversifying”

SLLAWsies as Honeybees by Aladeen Stoll

Each member of SLLAW brings a unique social location, a vantage point from which they may see what others in the group may not. The benefits of this in an environment that fosters discussion and validation are innumerable. Feminism in St. Louis had a crummy vacant lot, and the Lady Arm Wrestlers showed up with compost and castings.

The results of our TLC are evident: we know one another; we watch movies, sip drinks, and fight racism together independent of arm wrestling; we raise solid chunks of cash; and we hold our own in the entertainment arena that is the St. Louis night life. Significant gains for an organization that is barely a year old. I am excited to be a part of SLLAW moving forward.

But what does moving forward look like? It has become more common in discussions concerning feminism to critically acknowledge the race/class/sexuality/gender identity of the group doing the discussing. I’ve heard consideration in our meetings, heartening in the face of a mainstream feminist movement that arguably still centers the needs/desires of affluent white women.

This is my social location: due to a series of fortunate events, I work in the Gender Studies department at the University of Missouri St. Louis. In no way does college status elevate what I have to say, but I do have access to a body of feminist theory and my livelihood depends on studying it. I would like to share what I am paid to learn, as an acknowledgment of my privilege. Here is what I have gathered on this subject in particular:

Diversity isn’t necessarily something a group can “do.” We, as individuals, must center the needs of those who are in more “dangerous intersections;” members of target groups who bare the weight of the violence dealt by the status quo. An example would be: women are often victims of violence but for every intersection of race, class, ability and gender-nonconformity an individual has, violence increases disproportionately. We must become active allies who read, reach, and learn about the humans in our immediate vicinity. **

This is not a command. A person cannot singlehandedly be involved in every group in the St. Louis area. Follow your heart, look for what is sustainable for you and do so with self-care in mind. You are important. Due to the fact that ally-ship can--and often is--a painful process, many shy away from the good work they could be achieving within. In this instance, self-care isn’t about running from unpleasant emotions; it is about acknowledging that what you’re doing is hard and that you are going to mess up. Self-care means letting yourself off the hook when/if you make a mistake and allowing yourself to feel proud when what you’re doing hurts but you’re still trying.

Essentially, I believe that if we continue to nurture the soil—if we work internally, in our communities, and we keep our word—diversity will follow. Which isn’t to say we should not be mindful of who we cannot hear. I believe that a group comprised of solid allies will help build a community garden on SLLAW’s little feminist lot.

These are my thoughts, but I would love to hear what you have to say. I value your voice(or email). **

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