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Posted by Philip on 11 July 2015, 12:20 pm in , , , , ,

To be or not to be included — looking beyond the paradox

Leeds_VisualParadoxReflecting this week on Helen Razer's recent article State sanctioned gay marriage is defeat by assimilationas well as being part of a civic process, about which if I told you I'd have to kill you, I've been pondering again the issue of the inclusion and representation of minority or marginalised groups in mainstream institutions and civic life.

Razer quotes US academic Yasmin Nair, asserting that the “'complicated and caring networks of friendship that exceeded the limitations of biological family or commonly understood relationships' we see developing in urban queer histories are now at risk of being forgotten and quashed."

I think this could be said of more than just queer histories. It would seem that indigenous, ethnic, disabled and other "othered" histories are at risk of decimation as the demand to be "part of mainstream life" — which really means "if you let me become part of your normal club I promise I'll play by your normal rules" — becomes the yardstick for success of every non-mainstream group.

It's a paradoxical turn of events. Decades ago marginalised groups could shout disdain from the edges of civic life because they genuinely weren't included. But these days any dissent can be quashed with one of two rebuttals: either, "We've got one of you lot on our board/committee/advisory group etc, and they're not complaining," or, "Where were you when we were inviting diversity into our club?"

I used to shout piously from the sidelines until I got invited to boards and committees, partnerships and working groups. But talk about selling my soul to the mainstream, vanilla, tortuously bureaucratic devil. These days I'd rather poke my eyes out with blunt sticks.

But opting out of these opportunities also makes hypocitical any utterance from me that I disagree with anything. I do, consciously, turn down invitations to be part of these mundane societal rituals — because not only do they bore me rigid, but I know damn well my voice is still only a token gesture. I've allowed the club to tick the diversity box and everything continues as normal with my added diverse sheen.

There's always been a didactic choice of how to lead change. Either from the inside, only to achieve assimilated, minute shifts over boringly long periods of time, then watch them get reversed once the next manager resigns and someone else arrives, sees something out of place and shifts it back.

Or from the outside you can protest, activate and whinge until you're blue in the face, only to create a bit of guilt and shame and earnest head-nodding about how things should be better and we're trying but we can't do everything, you know — we hear your concerns and we're doing the best with what we have.

I think there's a third way — let's call it active or empowered exclusion. Let's forget about changing the club that wants to be seen to be modern enough to change but doesn't want to actually change.

Let's create new clubs — collectives and groups and think tanks and coalitions that comment on but don't criticise the mainstream. Initiatives that create new cultures, not waste energy trying to convince old ones to change. It's not a new idea, they exist already, but they're all pretty much duplicates of existing models — we need more of them and they need to be way more unique.

And, as Razer and Nair say, let's rebuild intersectional Families — networks and connections that support, nurture and affirm us.

Better to feel included as the excluded, than excluded or assimilated by the included.

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