I feel a constant itch under my skin when I can’t verbalise what I feel, especially in times when my experiences are being appropriated by others. Feminist literature has always been in my rescue. Professor and author Alison Kafer begins her book, ‘Feminist, Queer, Crip‘ with,
‘I have never consulted a sheer or a psychic; I have never asked a fortune-teller for her crystal ball. No one has searched my tea leaves for answers or my stars for omens, and my palms remain unread. But people have been telling my future for years. Of fortune cookies to tarot cards they have no need: my wheelchair, burn scars, and gnarled hands apparently tell them all they need to know. My future is written on my body.’
I had also been told my future from early on. A well-intentioned class mate told me I can never have a healthy career if I continue to be queer. A teacher at school told me the only way I can envisage a future is to by securing a job through reservation, since I am Dalit. We are no good otherwise. They told me I will never be happy and accepted as a whole individual. I have to break myself into pieces to feed to the system and bury the rest forever. While growing up I realised many people like me, who live a life of precarity and marginalisation were told what they would turn out to be and where they would work in future. The future that suits their caste, gender, class and abilities. Nobody breaks the norm—that’s the norm.
But the norms are now being reimagined in the context of social justice and inclusivity.
Though we are far behind in achieving social inclusion in its truest meaning, small steps are being taken, conversations are happening. Most of such conversations concentrate on inclusion and diversity policies, being affirmative to identities and making that extra effort to encourage marginalised people to apply for jobs. Especially in start-ups, non-profit, smaller for-profit workplaces that are committed to social justice and inclusion. Most of their JD ends with, ‘We are equal opportunity employers and encourage people from marginalized castes, genders, sexualities and ability to apply.‘
But when we talk about ‘equal opportunity’, are we undermining the needed emphasis on equity?
Alison Kafer also talks about crip time in her book. She explains it,
“Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires re-imagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies. Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”
The real world doesn’t run with crip time. It demands productivity and performance of a certain manner. You are judged based on it. You are qualified based on it.
People from marginalised gender, sexuality, caste and abilities have been systematically oppressed, which eventually influences their academic/professional experience, productivity, sense of self and their aspirations in life. There is always an extra labour that they have put in, even for imagining themselves in workplaces that seemed unwelcoming for the longest time. But while selecting these people for a job role, the basis is always evaluating them on an abelest-cis-heteronormative-uppercaste scale. It appears as a process to filtrate the most privileged from the underprivileged.
When I read, ‘We encourage marginalised people to apply’, what I actually hear is, ‘We aren’t going to disqualify you for being marginalised, which is otherwise the norm, but now you have the ‘equal opportunity’ to compete with the privileged.’
What I am getting at is, ‘Is it really possible advocating for inclusion without acknowledging the history and lived experiences of marginalised people?‘
Marginalised People Don’t Exist in a Vacuum.
I belong to the Dhoba caste in West Bengal. My grandparents migrated from Bangladesh during the partition. As someone who grew up in a family where nobody spoke English, as someone who studied in a Bengali medium school, today when I speak English, you don’t see the labour in it. Most Dalit people refrain from higher studies because they are uncomfortable with English. When I speak of my experience as a queer – nonbinary person, you don’t see the emotional labour in it. Our labour is often invisibilised. Invisibilisation is the politics of people at power to avoid accountability. There is a relief in feeling we all are equal.
Only that we aren’t. Being a Dalit and Agender non-binary person, I grew up thinking aspiration is a privilege that people from a certain gender and class can only access. We spend most of our childhood being bullied and cornered. We grow up doubting our potential. Recent behavioural experiments have also shown that individuals who have long suffered from discrimination and as a result faced with social disadvantage, may also suffer from lower levels of self-esteem, lower self-efficacy, more negative self-concept.
Most Queer – trans people leave their schools at a young age or choose to study or work in spaces that wouldn’t cause them much trouble. Our aspiration centres around exploring and navigating possible spaces that would at least allow us to exist without bullying & harassment. Individuals to systems, everything contributes to our distress. People who survive and dare to aspire to a career again have to make it through the system. The system which fails to acknowledge their individuality and labour.
A Dalit friend sat for an interview which specifically marketed their JD as to hire people from Dalit, Bahujan community. She was asked if she grew reading English literature on caste, gender and marginalisation. She didn’t. Most Dalit people don’t grow up reading English literature. What she had was a rich knowledge of activism in the space of caste-based discrimination and personal lived experience. That wasn’t accounted as knowledge.
That interview got her to reflect when people from outside a marginalised community want to make spaces for the marginalised, do they see the risk of appropriation?
Do they look at candidates in a vacuum without even being cognizant of their reality?
The Hard Question is, Why Should Employers Hire ‘Undeserving’ People Anyway?
Merit is a myth. This is owing to the fact that how ‘meritorious’ an individual is, largely depends on their caste, class, gender, sexuality location which further determines their level of access to resources and opportunities. The argument isn’t who deserves what. The argument is how do we decide who is deserving. The way we look at skill, knowledge and experience need to be reimagined. Organisations have to look at the lived experiences of marginalised people—dalit, queer, disabled—as knowledge, as skills, as valid experiences. Their potential needs to be upheld and embraced.
The solution of systematic marginalisation isn’t allowing them to run for a race with all the other non-marginalised competitors. The race never starts from the same margin. Chances are either the people with privilege would win or the marginalised people would have to put extra labour to win it. As much as that labour and achievements of marginalised people should be celebrated, the emphasis on that they need to prove themselves as ‘equal’ is a façade.
While you are trying to include marginalised people, you have to make that extra effort to not only affirm their identity but also make a space that will be instrumental to their growth. Probably investing in to upskill them or being patient to let them learn. This may sound radical but this is a collective social responsibility.
Corporates often fall prey to token representation, pink washing and using social inclusion as a status quo. The faith is you will see value in this; organisations that are committed to social justice and inclusion. You have already taken that extra step to at least being vocal about inclusion. Thank you! No change is small. But that change has to be responsible, sustainable and informed.
Featured Image Source: Velivada