it seems to basically say “oppressed/marginalised people can be treated as property” (to be “borrowed”, something must be “owned”), and simultaneously that an explanation of difference is something that the “normal” have a right to demand at will from the “different” (a term commonly used in the autistic liberation movement is “self-narrating zoo exhibit”).
Thanks to Questioning Transphobia for drawing my attention to this discussion. Go over to Bird of Paradox for the original context, or Questioning Transphobia for additional ruminations from a specifically trans angle.
I find the phrase “self-narrating zoo exhibit” both powerful and useful. Many of us who have, shall we say, non-mainstream identities, whether identities as queer, trans, Muslim, disabled, Native, Jewish any combo thereof and etc, know exactly what this phrase means.
We know what it feels like for others with some sort of privilege we lack to expect, nay demand explanations for our very personhood, or our right to membership in humanity.
When I worked with the refugee community, I fielded a lot of requests from grad students who wanted to interview refugees for their theses. Their plan:
1. The refugee service agency gives them the private contact information of their clients.
2. They set up interviews with these clients to compel them to relive some of the most horrific moments of their lives.
3. Grad student success! They write up a compelling, moving theses, get published, and land an amazing position at a prestigious university.
What’s missing here? Oh yeah, the fact that refugees are PEOPLE, not exhibits to be researched. Not only that, but the recently-arrived refugees who my agency worked with were in incredibly vulnerable situations. New to the country, little or no English ability, few financial resources, survivors of unimaginable trauma, often suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues. Did the grad students really think we’d just give out their contact info and let them milk refugees for all the juicy details of how they watched their fathers die, their mothers get raped, their houses burned?
What were the refugees supposed to get out of this little exchange? Oh, nothing. The students never even gave a second thought about that, they just assumed the refugees would be honored to get attention from them. The students never considered volunteering, developing real relationships and trust, donations of any kind. It was to be a one-way transaction for them, and the understaffed, underfunded service agency was to facilitate it, and the refugees themselves were TO LIKE IT, GODDAMN IT!
America was giving them shelter, so the refugees should be expected to explain themselves. Again. And again. And by themselves, we all know that we mean: the juicy violent horrible stuff, not their personalities and their likes and dislikes.
Whew, sorry, the anger is coming back. Well, belately I now know what I would have said to those annoying grad students. Refugees are not your self-narrating zoo exhibits, bitches! So shove your thesis where the sun don’t shine!