April 28, 2011

Taking It Downhill

As biodork (love that handle) pointed out in the comments on my last post, the complaints about "New Atheists" being too...too are hardly any newer than the behavior of confrontational atheists.

In 1969 it was the flamboyant cross-dressers and the in-your-face gays and lesbians who changed the GBLT civil rights movement forever. 40 years later (omg - 40 years???), we're seeing opinion letters from straight-laced gays and lesbians (pun not intended when it flew from my fingers, but now I'm totally keeping it) who complain about these same people being over the top in the Pride parades with their short leather shorts, glittery, colorful costumes and their loud, effervescent personas.

In her talk at the U of MN Greta Christina touched on the mainstreaming of an identity like being gay or being an atheist. At first the leaders are courageous, spectacular, FABULOUS!, and willing to take fire from the haters. As time goes on more and more "regular joes" who just want to live their lives without making their identity the center of everything will rise up.

When this happens, I think there is a feedback loop that starts to encourage the quieting of these original noisy upstarts by the community that they originally fostered. "Shhh...we don't need that anymore. They noticed, now be quiet."

There are many more parallels than this, of course. There are those "radical" feminists who keep insisting on raising a stink because there are plenty of things still broken. They make it so tough for women who have to keep defending themselves from the title in order to go make their comfortable lives a little bit more comfortable. There are those socialists who persist in demanding that poor people be treated like people. It's so annoying that they won't just disappear for a bit so the label won't be applied to those people who want a better tax break on their kids' educational expenses.

All these pesky crusaders, who just won't shut up, who won't just go with the flow for a bit so things can get done, so the people with the keys to the kingdom will give us just a little bit more. Ugh! What is to be done with people so rude, so demanding, so mean?!?

This really shouldn't be any news to anybody, but those people at the top? The ones who are telling you it would all be okay if you could just get the noisy people to be quiet? They're not on your side. That stuff they're telling you? It's today's excuse. If you make it go away, tomorrow's excuse will just be different.

A gatekeeper's job is to keep people out, not to let them in.

No matter how much you suck up to the people with power (money, position, conformity to the rules), no matter how much you shape yourself to look like them, no matter how much you do the gatekeepers' jobs for them, you're never going to receive more than a token award. People in charge didn't get there by deferring to others. Power is shared grudgingly, if at all.

Those noisy, persistent, aggravating people? What they actually are is threatening. They are the people who have what it takes to grab and hold onto a piece of that power. They're the ones who aren't going to wait for it to be shared, not by you and not by the people above you. They don't have a lot of respect for gates, and less for gatekeepers.

Do they have a chance? That's hard to say for any given movement at any given moment, but the last couple of centuries suggest that they win in the long run. When they do have setbacks, they aren't dealt out by the people at the top, either. They come from that complacent, uncomfortable middle. They come from the people who think that getting a couple of inches closer to the gate constitutes a gain worth stepping on others to protect. But in the long run, they're winning.

So when you find yourself on edge around these people, when you find yourself thinking they're making your life harder, stop. Think.

Remember that you have a choice. You can stay a part of the gatekeepers' army, turning around and stomping on those below you. Or you can look at the gatekeepers, step to one side, and say, "These people coming up the hill behind me? I'm with them."


Tezcatlipoca said...

Hells yeah! It's the same in the Xicano movement as well. I suppose if they don't like the term "Accomodationist" then "gatekeeper" works just as well.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Stephanie.

Tezcatlipoca, I think "gatekeeper" presumes a level of power that accommodationists don't necessarily have (though some do, in some contexts)—but hells yeah, indeed.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I have to agree with Rieux on the power implicit in "gatekeeper," but thank you both.

Tezcatlipoca said...

Maybe then it should be "wannabe gatekeepers"? I agree they don't necessarily have the power but they want to be in control of anything that trickles down. Quisling doesn't seem quite right either. Opportunist? Don't know with that either. I can't say that I know the level of sincerity that they have in their position.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I think it's worth assuming they're entirely sincere. We're socialized to this sort of thing, and it has a role in making communities work. It just becomes a problem when the society in question is unjust toward some of its members.