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Notes on Social Movements and Mainstream Belonging

June 12, 2012

I want to talk some about social movements that are borne out of a direct reaction to mainstream narratives or representations of marginalized communities.

These reactions can vary from critiquing mis-representations or prejudices by offering a more “authentic” version of a marginalized identity. Or it might simply be some commentary on the absence of images or narratives by again taking on the role of providing a more “authentic” voice.

There are lots of good, that is achieved here, yes. Solidarity and a sense of belonging that might disrupt hurtful narratives. However, these reactions that constantly counter normative thoughts and opinions needs to be problematized. How about some critical narratives that do not involve educating a normative social group. It cannot always be about them.

For one thing, because it is in response to mainstream representation, it has a tendency to be for mainstream audiences. Most people who have worked with, lived with or loved people from (for example) trans communities or sex worker communities need not be schooled on respecting gender non-conformity or framing sex work as labor.

Arguments and debates develop with educating an audience who have no immediacy or need in trying to understand a particular perspective. The solutions, too often, involve an active acceptance or reliance on a normative system (whether it is legal, social or cultural).

Secondly, there’s a lot of explaining (isn’t that what wikipedia is for?). The conversation becomes “dubbed down” so that everyone who has ever developed a certain kind of progressive politics tend to agree with each other. It flattens discussion to a monolith, which is rarely what it looks like in any reality. And, there is little meaningful insight into the complexities and contradictions that make up the lives and struggles of communities from marginalized identities.

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