November 10, 2010
It’s been some months since last I participated in a synchroblog. But the topic was impossible to ignore! Marginalization remain one of the most important questions in our globalized, capitalist, McWorld. But I am not marginilized. I am white and male. Educated. I speak a language which in a country of 11 official languages receive a lot of special attention. I was part of the privilaged few who could have 12 years of school education and 6 years of university education while always having a teacher of lecturer in class that was able to speak my home language. I have internet access, in a country with quite a low internet penetration. I am Christian, in a country where in many ways on a popular level it is just assumed that everyone is Christian, at least when you are white and Afrikaans. Yes, I am from the South, and I live in South Africa, that does take me out of at certain dominant narratives, and I am 26, which in the world in which I work could be argued that to make me somewhat marginalized.
In many ways I am the example of normality.
But yet white people are only 11% of South Africa.
The world is majority female, the worlds labour force is majority female, and Africa specifically is being carried on the backs of the mothers and grandmothers.
This is a country of second languages. Where children are being taught in languages other then their home language.
Although I’m the example of normality, I’m not normal at all, if normal is defined as the place where “most people” are. But the normalized position it not selected democratically. The normalized position is the position never being questioned. We talk about “female perspectives” or “black perspectives”, but assume the “male perspective” or “white perspective” to be… well, normal. The perspective, all other being a deviation from this normalized position. And this is not limited to popular culture, as academics until recently also weren’t putting any emphasis on white people as a “race like any other“, assuming whiteness to be the position from which others is being studies, and interestingly, this report points out how the behavioral sciences continue to universalize Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic people (specifically young Americans at universities).
Concerning race, South African sociologist Melissa Steyn writes:
As the privileged group, whites have tended to take their identity as the standard bywhich everyone else is measured. This makes white identity invisible, “even to theextent that many whites do not consciously think about the profound effect being whitehas on their everyday lives”. In sum, because the racialness of their own lives is editedout, white people have been able to ignore the manner in which the notion of race has structured people’s life opportunities in society as a whole.
When seeing through the eyes of the marginalized, their might be something more important than recognizing the absolute horrors of life on the fringes of society, the suffering and oppression. If we are serious about racism, sexism, and all other phenomenons which create the marginalized in society (for economic reasons?), as systemic problems, and not simply the evil actions of individuals, then I would need to recognized my own non-normal normalized position. I would need to recognize my own indebtedness to this system of privilege. Yes, simply recognizing privilege is not solving the problem, but at least the privileged position of race (as Shannon Sullivan points out in Revealing Whiteness), and I believe the same can be said about other systems of privilege, has ways to keep itself in place, habits which manifest also among those who claim to be a voice in favour of the marginalized.
Our first task might then be to see ourselves through the eyes of the normalized. Recognizing our participation in different systems of privilege and power, so that we in turn can work for the transformation of systems which is continuing to create marginalized groups on so many different levels.
* * * * *
this part of the monthly synchroblog i enjoy being a part of, bloggers writing on the same topic on the same day. november’s is a topic near & dear to my heart, seeing through the eyes of the marginalized. i encourage you to check out some of the other writers who participated, the early link list is at the bottom of this post & i’ll add to it as new ones come in over the course of today. if you’re a blogger & want to be part of future synchroblogs, you can join on facebook or go to our newsynchroblog site and subscribe.
- George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt
- Arthur Stewart – The Bank
- Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate
- Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins
- Christine Sine – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized
- Margaret Boehlman – Just Out of Sight
- Liz Dyer – Step Away from the Keyhole
- John O’Keefe – Viewing the World in Different Ways
- Steve Hayes – Ministry to Refugees–Synchroblog on Marginalised People
- Kathy Escobar – sitting at the rickety-card-table-in-the-family room at thanksgiving dinner
- Andries Louw – The South African Squatter Problem
- Drew Tatusko – Invisible Margins of a White Male Body
- K.W. Leslie – Who’s the Man? We Christians Are
- Jacob Boelman – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Peter Walker – Through the Eyes of the Marginalized
November 5, 2010
OK, I think I’m tired of blogging about Amway now, so I’ll finish up with this post as conclusion.
As the “creating wealth” tract was turned to the last page, it had an image which contained two empty blocks. My evangelist filled in “Amway” and “NW21” into these blocks. Now the secret was out. It was revealed what this guy was selling all along! And somewhere deep down I remembered hearing about these two companies, and what I heard wasn’t good. So I understood why he was hiding the company he was presenting up to now. First had to convince me how poor I was and how quickly I can make money.
There was a second part, however: I could immediately call up the wikipage on Amway, note the recent court cases against them, note the sociological work comparing Amway to religious cults. Had I knew before the appointment what company I’ll be speaking to, I could have prepared for this. When he finished, I asked about some of this. Answers focused on how legal this company are, and on their 90-day money back guarantee.
I was told about the 8 couples in South Africa who made it to diamond level, which meant a R1.6 million a year income. This sound like a lot, but since they work with couples, it’s R800000 per person, and then you still need to deduct all your business expenses from this, since the R1.6 million isn’t profit, it’s income for the business. Suddenly the riches doesn’t even seem to be that much riches anyhow. Well, R1.6 is a lot of money, and probably more than I’d even earn, or really care to earn, but in the business world your not really noteworthy. Also, if only 8 couples could actually make it, then I can be sure that with my low commitment to marketing I will never make it. This is like telling a worker the CEO’s salary then he apply for a job. He know he’s never gonna get that salary, so why should this even motivate him?
The last thing that I found really really strange was the gender issues in the approach. The man invited only me, alone. But the whole interview was about how me and my wife can make this huge amount of money. No thought for the possibility that maybe we like to be independent people doing different stuff, and not even considering that if you want the both of us to buy into a business idea, then both need to be invited. And all the examples he used was about married couples running this Amway thing together. Some of my friends who attended similar events in the past confirm that this is always the case, and the Amway South Africa wiki also confirm this.
So with this I’d like to conclude: I have questions about the ethics, and I can understand that people would run businesses which is ethically questionable. I believe a time will come when Amway, as with similar schemes in the past, will be found illegal and end, but I can understand that people would want to make as much as possible from the scheme while it’s still possible. However, not even in the church do we still work with the idea of “pastoring couples”. What is behind this strong emphasis on couples selling Amway? Forget the money. The feminist in me becomes a skeptic…
October 15, 2010
Zizek says: “This is what you must be conscious of, that when you fight for your position, you at the same time fight for the universal frame of how your position will be perceived within this universal frame. This is for me, as every good feminist will tell you, the greatness of modern feminism. It’s not just we women want more. It’s we women want to redefine the very universality of what it means to be human. This is for me this modern notion of political struggle” – Marcus Pound
And we have to add that this is the case in every place where a dominant position which has become normalized (meaning that it is never in the position of being studies, being discussed, but always the position from which studies, discussions, and I dare say jokes, are being done) is being challenged.
Writing from a white, male, Afrikaner position, I am only too aware of how easy those in the normalized and/or dominant position translate the quest for liberation into a quest for “getting more stuff”. This, however, is an easy copout, a way of the easily identifiable examples which can be thrown into the face of those who are in the normalized position, without losing the privileged position of being “the most human”.
If we assume that the rich white male European (or is it American nowadays) position is the normal position of what it means to be “human”, and that all struggles are simply about the redistribution of “stuff”, we miss the deep critique against the assumption of normality which woman, homosexuals, black and coloured, African (yes, I differentiate between black and African), previously colonized, voices bring onto the table. More than stuff, and more than simply another perspective which is but a variation on the normalized position (working from the idea that whatever the normalized group says is mostly universalizable, and others can simply change a few details to fit their views). It is a radical challenge against the normalized position, taking it from the throne of normality, challenging not merely the stuff, not merely a few details, but redefining what it means to be human.
And me, the white Afrikaner male? I can only find my own humanity if it is redefined by the voices which challenge my normality. To do this I would need to go through the hell of giving up this narrow perception of being human which I hold to. Lose my humanity so that I can truly find it. Die in order to live.