This is our truth, tell us yours
Learning a new word is generally a good thing. Sometimes though it is an insight you might prefer not to have. When I was 18 I learnt that coconuts were not just the horrible dry things you knocked off poles at village fetes. My best friend in my first year at university was Nigerian born, British educated, exceptionally well educated at a leading all girls public school. She had attended a meeting of the Afro Caribbean society and been told her view was not wanted because she was a “coconut”. Shaking with anger, tears in her eyes she explained to me what the word meant. I still remember her asking why she should need to apologize for having parents who put her, and her sisters education before everything, and how small and insignificant she felt when British born people accuse her of not being black enough.
There were a number of things I could have done, other than getting out a bottle of baileys and pouring us both huge glasses. Part of me of course wanted to go and confront the people who had upset my friend. But I didn’t because even at 18 I knew it was not my fight. The last thing POC needed was a nice middle class white girl telling them what was or was not acceptable behavior.
I had a similar experience, though less surprising, when I moved the next year. Another friend was half Ghanaian. He had the most stunning blonde girl friend (And yes, I would have and did suggest a 3 some, she sadly was straight.) Driving to our flat he was stopped by the police. ( This was in the days of the SUS laws and not many years after Broadwater Farm exploded with rage.) The racist abuse he got, and the crude sexist remarks she had to endure as they searched his car were bad enough to hear afterward over the phone. When he announced he would not be visiting me while I lived where I did I could have reacted a number of ways. I could, if I was a totally arrogant wanker have suggested standing up to them, making a point, putting himself on the line for the greater good. I didn’t, I can never know what is is to not be white, to not walk the streets with that privilege even when later in life I was discriminated against because of my color in Asia, I still carried that white privilege Which is why, when landlords would not rent to us because neighbours would not like our funny smelling food, or no one would sit next to me on a crowded bus, I experienced discrimination, not racism.
There is a point to this, other than a wander down memory lane, always dangerous at this time of year. Like others I encounter those who are, they say, fighting for the sex workers without a voice. The “exited ” women. The “prostituted”women. Laura Lee writes well here of the attitude and the hatred of those of us who are apparently unfeeling enough to flaunt our existance in their faces. The language of course is the first indicator of the attitude towards these “victims”. They have no power, they are prostituted, exited, their agency is denied, their very existance as humans reduced to what others, including the rescue indusrty can do to and for them. I am told that while I make my choises, these women (and it is always women) need others to speak for them.
Lets look for a moment at that. Women are, in this view too weak, to powerless to speak for themselves. They must be cosseted, protected, for their own good. Victorian patriarchy anyone? Ahhh but the rescuers cry , they have had bad experiences, and we care so much we will speak for them, about those bad experiences. I hope you can see the parallels. If someone has a bad experience you do not remove further their ability to act, nor do you tell them how to act, if you are a genuine ally you step back and support their voice. Your voice is one of privilege, your voice is speaking over and for, your voice should remain silent except to support.
There is another aspect of this, to got back to my friend who was accused of being white on the inside. I am a northern girl who grew up where non white faces were rarer than Tories. I did not have a clue about the validity or not of the accusation. When it comes to inter group splintering and accusations of authenticity the one thing those on the outside must do is remain neutral.We reblogged a letter from a sex worker which spoke powerfully of one such high profile “victim“. We might kindly call them sock puppets, more unkindly might be called Uncle Toms or even simply fakes. When sex workers as a group suggest that certain people may not be all they seem, that the “call girl” accounts all stink to high heaven, it is not the place of those on the outside to defend them, but instead to try to understand why this may be the case. It was sex workers who pointed out Sommy Mam was worrying long before Human Rights watch did. Oprah Winfrey and other stars lined up to support laws that are now being used to put women and girls in reeducation camps, because they believed it was the job of an ally to decide what was best for the poor oppressed victim, instead of asking them what they wanted.Although the racism inherent in believing because someone is not western then they cannot choose sex work, or as Nefarious claimed, do not love their children the way us nice white folk do, is a whole other blog.
Again it comes back to your view of women, all women. If those accounts are real, then they are just as capable of fighting their corner as anyone else. The very fact they do not is not about victimhood, unless you see women as weak, or unable to cope, but about a refusal to engage with people who might challenge them.
One last point, I am not saying being a sex worker is equivalent to race. It is a job, I am saying we can learn how to be allies in one situation and use it in another. That if you would not accept a group of white people speaking for POC or hetro people speaking for LGBT folk, then you should be very careful when it comes to the rescue groups who claim to speak for sex workers. Caring is the excuse used, caring should be the default position of a decent human being. The next position being, how can I support those I care about, not how can I take what little power they have away from them. No one has ever been empowered by being spoken for