Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Conflict, Disagreement & Oppression on the Left

Unsafe or uncomfortable? Conflict, Disagreement & Oppression on the Left By Sheila Wilmot

One of the most important concepts that came out of late 20th century feminism is “safety”. And that isn’t just to mean women being secure from invaders in our homes or attacks on the street. The concept of safety is about being free from emotional and physical violence, from any kind of oppression or abuse that undermines our dignity and sense of self, wherever any of us is working or spending our time.

In my experience, however, after a number of years of its use, this definition is not at all clear to many on the left. In fact, I find that people in what are understood to be socially progressive environments often say they feel unsafe when what they actually feel is uncomfortable. This can cause problems when the group gets re-directed into trying to deal with a personal attack that hasn’t happened instead of focusing on the source of the political disagreement to understand it better. That can lead to stalemating decision-making in the short term, or can become part of an unspoken backdrop that makes it hard to develop trust and solid political relationships. The unspoken, stagnating question in some people’s minds can be “will I be called racist/sexist/transphobic every time I disagree with her/him?”

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