Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thoughts on the Privilege of Employment

There was a long gap on this blog where I wasn’t posting (I’m sure you noticed) for almost the entirety of December. There were many reasons for this – most pertinently my job search. My previous job at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was a contract position that ended in December. As the economy got worse and worse I decided to kick my job search into overdrive at the end of November and felt too guilty to write until my job search was over.

I’m incredibly happy to report that after four months – which in this economy I know is nothing – I have found a position as the Transgender Services Coordinator for the Long Island GLBT Services Network. As I live in Brooklyn the commute is definitely a big change for me, but I’m excited to be working one-on-one with transgender folks again. Generally I would go for months at GLAAD without physically encountering a transgender person beyond the few at work, which sometimes made me feel incredibly lonely. Sure, I saw all my transgender and genderqueer friends, but I was never really allowed to just go out and meet with someone whose story needed to be told. So I’m excited to be back in a grassroots small change position.

Job hunting opened for me multiple issues surrounding ideas of race, class, and safety. I realized I had a lot of desires generally classified as “bourgeois”, although I think they are standard desires that have been reclassified as bourgeois due to the persistent desire of class-privileged people to embrace the “romance” of poverty. I didn’t want to work multiple jobs, I wanted at least the possibility of a normative week, and I needed to make enough money to pay off my student loan and credit card debts and I’d like to move into a neighborhood that has a sense of identity to it…The expense of living a comfortable existence is absurd and directly related to our capitalist values system.

While I was job-searching though I, I’m sure like many people in similar positions, began to have an employment crisis. The more time went on the less sure I was of what my skills were, what kind of job I was looking for, and what I really wanted to do with my life. To exemplify the entirety of this crisis, days before I heard back about my new job I began to work on an application for the TransJustice Coordinator for the Audre Lorde Project . The Audre Lorde Project is an amazing initiative that is staffed by folks of color to serve folks of color in the NYC area. Everything from political rallies to anti police violence is housed out of the ALP offices, and their performances, gatherings, marches, are an amazing vision of solidarity. ALP is exactly the kind of place wherein I knew I would flourish. Committed not only to populations of indigenous, immigrant, and of color communities, but also to low income folks, they value the voices that are “too complicated” for most other LGBT organization. Moreover, they are organized in non-hierarchical formations where individuals of all backgrounds and educational levels are welcomed.

I know that ALP serves the people I want to work with in ways that I find affirming and encouraging. However, in order to do their work – in order to reach out to communities of color they need to be staffed by folks of color. White folks, even those whose commitments to anti-racism are as clear as Tim Wise’s (although I have some issues with his understanding of sexism), disrupt a lot of the balance in the office. I'm not saying that folks of color and white folks can't work together in communities of color, but paid full-time staff jobs shouldn't go to those whose ties in the communities aren't as pervasive as others. Here I think of Malcolm X’s statement that white folks can raise consciousness in their own communities, but they cannot come into communities of color and patronize the people with their knowledge of oppression. I desire to work with organizations like ALP deeply, but I know that I have too much to learn and too much baggage to truly be of assistance in any of their efforts. So instead I volunteer, donate, and attend events in order to be as active and a s informed as I can possibly be.

When I realized this – that while I was qualified I simply could not apply to the organizations I most admired – I was at first incredibly embittered by my position of despising the agonizing whiteness of non-poc specific organizations while being unable to leave them. Finally, though, it dawned on me that my work was not only to advocate for transgender people, but also to encourage more complicated understandings of whiteness among my white colleagues, and to reposition the way we view work specific to communities of color.

My time at GLAAD taught me that while an individual department’s work may be fulfilling and positive (I believe I, and many of my colleagues, did do important work at GLAAD) the overall organization needs to be invested in the same – or at least similar – ideals as you. GLAAD did not integrate what was deemed “cultural” programs well, meaning that programs specific to communities of color were treated as untouchable by people not entirely identifying with that community. Moreover they were perpetually understaffed and not integrated into general work, all of which solidified the assumption that lgbt folks are defacto white. There were amazing exceptions among GLAAD’s staff, folks who continually bucked the system in order to do the best possible work. Those co-workers are going to be my examples as I try and take the lessons about whiteness into my work.


nixwilliams said...

thoughtful post as usual - i'm really enjoying catching up on the last couple of months of your blog! thank you.

Mik Danger said...

Thanks, Nix!

You know how much i love your blog - I'm slowly coming out of hiding and catching up on all my favorite writers!

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