Stepping Up and Stepping Down: Let’s Dance

Will we put our money where our mouth is?

We are living within a new articulation of social dynamics as they pertain to sexual agency and community positions. This affects more than sexual politics too. Change is hard. The #metoo conversation has started and it is not even remotely close to over. One of the more interesting conversations circling communities that like to think of themselves as progressive, is the “people of privilege should step down and let underprivileged people start serving the community and working at higher visibility/more responsibility/better paying positions” one. Obviously there is a lot of lashback from the (mostly privileged) status quo, but there is also conversation around the idea, which I think is great. Recently I read an article on Fetlife which was not disagreeing with this position, but was basically saying “if we ask people to step down, or if there are positions to be filled (especially as a result of an abuse of power), then underprivileged people need to step up”. The article’s author then sited his experience trying to fill a role on a local committee where no women, transpeople, or POC applied. His point seemed to be “why should I relinquish power if there’s no interest from someone with less privilege to take on the position I’m relinquishing?”. I’d like to examine the meat between these ideas. Yes to both of them (privileged people should step down, and underprivileged people should step up)! Let’s figure out how we do these things effectively though, by looking at what brought about this gap in action:

First, it’s important to understand the power structure that has left minority people behind in the first place, and how that influences underprivileged people’s interest and ability to step up when a leadership role is passively open for the taking. I’m speaking of socialization and business grooming practices. Consider this: White cis men in power, men, white people, cis people, straight people, able-bodied people, people with financial privilege, and other people with privileges who are in power currently, should be actively on the lookout for people without those shared privileges and directly ask them to become involved.

Why, you may ask? Most people who are minorities, especially people who have multiple minority realities in their lived experiences have never (or have rarely) been seeked out or directly asked to contribute to communities other than their own minority ones by fulfilling leadership roles. When there’s a space to fill in a community which is historically headed by people with privilege, there is frequently not an instinctual “Oh, I should go for it, I bet I’d get hired” bell which rings for the underprivileged person with interest. This is effective socialization and there are facts and figures about how that socialization works to keep “like people” in power over time and effectively separate those with differences out of the advancement equation. If that bell does ring though, it is often immediately accompanied with a “but I’m probably not qualified”, or “will I be the only ____ on the committee, how will that feel, how much education/energy/argument with my own board will I have to engage in to feel like it’s a safe and progressive space to send my attention and time into or associate my name with?”, or “I’d love to, but it doesn’t pay and I don’t make enough money to spend a ton of my time volunteering for something right now”, or any number of things which speak to the fact that most minority people are not directly supported or groomed throughout their lives within mainstream (or even underground privileged-people-running-the-show) communities to step up. Often minority people enter various community spaces feeling somewhat isolated, feeling “other”, feeling less powerful, feeling unheard, making constant accomodations for various levels of ignorance or outright bigotry they find themselves surrounded by, etc. It does actually take more energy for a person without certain privileges to hang out for any length of time in a room full of people with privilege than the other way around. I speak from the perspective of someone who has some privileges and not others. I have been the privileged person amongst others with similar privileges in many rooms, and I have been the minority person surrounded by people who didn’t understand what it was like to constantly deflect conversations, read and evaluate body language, check my safety situation, educate instead of freely converse, decipher whether or not it was safe to be out about certain conversational topics or should I remain quiet about my reality (if that was even an option)… The list goes on. It is tiring. It is hard. It is a skillbuilding opportunity. It doesn’t make me feel as though I should make my way to the head of the room and start speaking out.

In the performance art world I frequently hear people with privilege echo this same perspective: I want more ___ people at my event, why aren’t they showing up in droves?!

As a producer, director, and teacher the only answer I have is this: You haven’t literally gone to ___ spaces and let ___ people know they are a valued asset in your space. You haven’t directly gone out of your way looking to hire ___ people, or actually hired ___ people if you had a chance to. You haven’t made sure to smile at or approach ___ people when they did come to your events and make certain they felt seen, welcome, heard, valued, and safe. These are actual actions you can take to help ___ people want to be in your space. Once ___ people want to be in your space they often bring their ___ friends.

I understand that this may sound like unreasonable work to do — after all people are submitting themselves to your ad for leadership already (privileged people mostly or entirely) — so why should you have to seek out people who aren’t just applying like all those privileged folks are? Please consider that when you are one of the few ___ people in a room, the chances that you feel freely welcome to take over that room (should an opportunity arise), is much less taken for granted and is actually more personally and sense-of-communally complicated for the ___ person than for the person with privilege(s). Therefore attention to those truths is a part of this conversation.

I absolutely vote for ___ people stepping up. I also think it’s important for ___ people to be directly cultivated and warmly invited by the current privileged powers-that-be to step up when the time comes. This is how we much more quickly approach balance and do something actively to disintegrate and restructure a cis white heteronormative patriarchal hierarchy (cough *pyramid scheme* cough) which currently serves no one wholistically in reality, but we’re so used to moving within it, has started to feel like the air we breathe or the matter the universe is made up of.

I would love to be groomed for greatness and community service at an organizing level personally. I also have no idea how I would begin to feel safe, listened to, and as though people were interested enough in my thoughts for me to put my hat in most rings when I do see an ad up. Being asked by someone well respected and already involved in the power structure of that community would do a lot towards bridging that gap. These are real world complexities to consider.

In a conversation about community balancing itself through thoughtful action based in behavior modification, it’s hard to feel as a though someone who is comfortable in their position must “give up” something they value. I think of it like this: in a family when you notice someone not participating to the level they are capable of for whatever reason, you can act as a family participant and help them find their niche even if it means inviting them to do some of the jobs you enjoy doing. You don’t go on whining about how you’re both basically the same (the “we’re all human” tantrum) so that you can staunchly keep doing whatever you want to do and not contribute to the balancing of family industry. We must work together to shift the burden of a system we’ve taken for granted for too long, and change it into something which benefits us all.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

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