Five Ways to Redistribute Social Capital in Activist Spaces
As people who are committed to the collective liberation of the oppressed, here are some explicit ways that we can try to disrupt the flows of social capital within our QT/BIPOC activist spaces.
“Social capital” is a term that’s been getting thrown around a lot these days within QT/BIPOC activist spaces. What is this term, and where exactly does it come from? Simply put, the term “social capital” refers to the fact that social networks have value (monetary and otherwise). Social networks – i.e. who you know, and who those people know, and who those people know, and on and on – often determines everything from your ability to find a job, your likelihood of finding an apartment, to your ability to influence public opinion.
Everyone possesses some degree of social capital, by virtue of living in society. However, the degree to which social capital affects the outcomes of their life in a positive or negative way is often determined by factors like race, class, gender, ability, size, etc. So how does this show up in queer communities and/or in activist spaces? As people who are supposedly working toward the collective liberation of Black and Indigenous people, queer, trans, disabled, incarcerated, and undocumented people, are we knowingly or unknowingly complicit in allowing social capital to accrue to body-minds that are already valued by mainstream society? (i.e. light-skinned, thin, cisgender, able bodied, extroverted, educated, class-privileged, etc.)
The answer is a resounding yes. Because QT/BIPOC activist communities still function within the parameters and value systems of modern-day racial capitalism, we cannot entirely extricate ourselves from the insidious ways in which people whose traits and appearances are already valued by capitalism tend to gravitate toward each other in social spaces. Once this happens, the value that these people already possess by virtue of their position in capitalist society magnifies many times over, simply because people tend to share their time and resources with those they already know and share community with.
This fact has already been remarked upon and articulated extensively by others. But as people who are committed to the collective liberation of the oppressed, here are some explicit ways that we can try to disrupt the flows of social capital within our spaces, and directly counteract these harmful patterns.
1. Actively Disrupt Transmisogyny and Transmisogynoir: Actively include trans women, especially Black trans women, in your organizing and event spaces by offering them compensated leadership, organizing, editorial, directorial, or writing positions. Listen to and actively include their input when making decisions about how an event, publication, or anthology will be put together. Don’t just invite trans women of color to an event when you are asking them to perform. Far too often, grassroots activist spaces and events, taking their cue from the non-profit industrial complex, capitalize on the hypervisibility of marginalized identities such as Black trans women by treating them and their work as a spectacle, rather than actually redistributing monetary and social capital to them by ceding leadership roles to them.
2. Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility: If activist spaces are not accessible to disabled bodies and bodyminds, then disabled people will not be able to contribute to the conversation. Once again, cede leadership positions to disabled people and activists (especially disabled activists of color) when organizing an event. If you have education privilege, make sure you are conducting conversations or talks in language that is accessible to people without your level of education privilege. Remember that the most revolutionary movements have been created and fueled by those without access to such education privilege, not the other way around.
3. Actively Check and Rewrite Desirability Politics in Your Activist and Personal Life: Constantly question the frequency with which thin, able-bodied, cisgender, upper-class, and light-skinned traits show up in the people you spend time around. This doesn’t mean that you should date, befriend, and/or spend time with people solely because of their race / gender/ disability / class status, as this can quickly lead down a path of fetishization and exploitation of someone’s identity for the benefit of your own education. It does, however, mean that you should constantly question how desirability politics influence where you spend your time, money, and resources.
4. Avoid Clique Mentality: Conflicts arise within activist spaces, either between certain people or groups of people and it can be easy to automatically take sides. Often these moments of conflict become about “who has more social capital” rather than: who needs the most support right now? How can community help intervene through mediation or conflict resolution? Activism is not a popularity contest. The end goal is collective liberation, not more Facebook and/or Twitter followers. Sometimes interpersonal conflicts lose their nuance when they are narrated through the grapevine, and so we need to be open to hearing the whole story, not immediately picking a side based on who we personally like more.
5. Prioritize Black / Trans / Disabled People in Housing and Job Opportunities: Housing and job opportunities often function through nepotism. That is, jobs (whether in the form of openings, promotions, or contract work) are overwhelmingly given to those that people in the firm, company, or publication already know through their own social networks. Since more privileged (i.e. class and education privileged, light-skinned, cisgender, able-bodied) people tend to have better access to jobs and housing, and since those people generally tend to spend their time with those who are privileged in a similar capacity, this creates a cycle in which job and housing opportunities are continuously given to the most privileged. It’s not that hard. Don’t just give job and housing opportunities to your friends because you like them. Give them to the people who most need them.
Featured Image: Victoria Pickering, Creative Commons