Lately, I’ve come to a bit of a dilemma regarding my presence in Fat Acceptance, or, at least, my presence as a blogger in the Fat Acceptance Movement. My dilemma, which is almost turning into writer’s block, is the result of a confluence of causes.
1. I feel like many of my observations may produce a huge “duh” from some readers. As excited as I am about civil communication — the topic I originally meant to broach in this post — I’m sure people have been working hard to communicate in such a way. It’s all over blogs and Facebook groups about Fat Acceptance, anti-racism and the POC perspective. They need less “how to argue civilly” and more “arguing civilly.”
2. As an ally, I feel like I should be doing more listening than speaking or writing. There comes a point where my thoughts about the movement are interpretations and speculations gleaned from academic articles, blog posts and videos. Yes, this is a form of listening, but I need to place myself into more dialogues (in person, on Skype, IM, Facebook, etc.). I still plan on writing, but for every paragraph I write I want hours of listening.
3. Although the personal is political, I fear getting too personal and not political enough. All we do is inherently subjective, but I fear telling “my story” too much. Personal narratives are fine, as long as one is not in a context in which he is a privileged person speaking to unprivileged people. Of course, a personal narrative from me may sometimes benefit the movement, but not always. This leads to my next concern.
4. I fear my thin privilege will seep out in unpredictably annoying ways. I can’t really talk about these ways because, well, they’re unpredictable. I’m far beyond the thin person who complains about her weight gain to a fat person. I wouldn’t tell a woman to shop at a store that does not have her size . . . because women don’t ask me stuff like that. I’m sure I can, and maybe have, said something irritating as a result of thin privilege. I want to avoid that as much as possible.
I recently watched Sharon Bridgforth’s video, “6 Rules for Allies.” Bridgforth’s presentation is intriguing and straight to the point; I agree with her and feel like I abide by these “rules.” I fashion myself a “warrior” as opposed to a soldier (according to Bridgforth, soldiers fight for institutions while warriors fight for freedom), but is that correct?
Does my ego identity match my social identity in this context? Do I exemplify Gramsci’s organic intellectual — one who works with and for people for true liberation — or an inadvertent traditional intellectual — one who finds new ways to perpetuate the status quo?
In order to be a true help, I know I have to get off my ass. My interest in diversity, rhetoric and civil rights definitely overlap with issues in Fat Acceptance, but so what? Dana Cloud, professor of communications at University of Texas-Austin, expresses a desire — an imperative — to always work with “movement intellectuals:” those dedicated activists who can think circles around academics (18). She writes that those who stigmatize and oppress “may meet resistance in the form of intellectuals making a blog, building a radical website, staging an anti-war play, or writing interpretations of television shows. But these activities — as much as I enjoy them myself — cannot make a new world” (21).
I’ve come to this simple conclusion — one I should have come to a while ago: I need to ask you all for help. I was wondering if you would do me the following favors:
1. Advise me about what to do. As a thin and male ally in a fat and predominantly female movement, I do not want to start acting like I “own the place,” so to speak. As I’ve said in prior posts, this is everyone’s movement, but it also isn’t. Those most affected by fat discrimination should be the leaders: the generals and lieutenants. (If I am a warrior of this Fat Acceptance “army,” I’m in the infantry.) What can I do while not overstepping my boundaries?
2. Call me out when I overstep my boundaries. After I finish doing what you advise me to do, please tell me if I did it incorrectly. I know I don’t have to say this to some of you, but others might think correcting me is somehow not worth it or not her responsibility. That is why I’m making this request as a favor. Do me a solid, and expose my mistakes. As I write this I get pangs of memories about having to be the resident black guy who has to teach white people about race, so I get it if you’re rolling your eyes right now. However, I neither want to waste nor taint anyone’s time.
Although I am relatively new to Fat Acceptance, I think this movement is gaining momentum. I consider myself an ally, but I need to start ACTING like one. I am at your service. Friend me on Facebook and/or follow me on twitter @lotushalo. Let’s talk.
For the record, not a single question or request asked above is rhetorical. I would love your thoughts and input on every one.
Cloud, Dana. “The Only Conceivable Thing to Do: Reflections on Academics and Activism.” Activism and Rhetoric: Theories and Contexts for Political Engagement. Ed. Seth Kahn and Jonghwa Lee. New York: Routledge, 2011. 11-23. Print.
Erec Smith holds a Ph.D. in English, with a concentration in language, literacy and rhetoric, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of the novel Creamy Nougat and currently teaches at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. His interests revolve around diversity and rhetorics of marginalization regarding race, gender, weight, or their potential confluences.