Friday, February 26, 2010

Ally Issues: When in Danger

Part of anti-oppression work is speaking out against it when we see it. It means pointing it out, and calling it out for what it is. It means, as much as possible, stepping in and intervening if we are capable. It means coming up with ways to prevent oppression in the first place (which often entails an attitude-change on the scale of epic). 


And of course, part of the problem tends to be saviour tropes. Most of us involved in media analysis are aware of the "white saviour" complex. It's the kind of fantasy that gets played out very often - who doesn't want to be the hero that steps in to save the day? The hero does something remarkably brave, above and beyond what is asked of them, and is deeply respected for it as a result? 

I personally don't think this narrative is limited only to white people. In fact, I think many of us have these moments where we think of what we would do, or should have done, in certain situations, which would give us such pwnage points that our lives are raised to the level of Epic Awesome. Even I would to do heroic things. I would like to save people, put my life at risk, throw myself into the fray, play significant roles in missions prevent apocalypses. I'm not arrogant enough to think I'm so special, I'm the only one having such fantasies. 

Come on, this is why comics and Mary Sues are so popular. 

The thing about it is that, it never really works out in real life, does it? Not everyone instinctually has that courage in them to stand up to horrible things. From what I can tell in my limited experience, the dream to stand up and face horrible horrible things is a dream of the privileged who likely will never have to.

So the other night, I had this pretty terrifying dream in which I had to rescue a friend from this guy who lived in a penthouse apartment. He was, as I recall, a Very Dangerous Person, not-incidentally white, and sneaking to his place was hard enough. One of his henchmen, an Asian guy, decided to help me, for reasons I didn't question, but felt (you know how in these dreams, you always feel these sorts of things), that it would was of solidarity since I was Asian. So, while we were searching the penthouse for a way to help my friend, the Very Dangerous Person came home.

I was passed off as a hired prostitute, but while Very Dangerous Person allowed the subterfuge to let me leave, he clearly didn't buy it. I walked past him feeling extremely nervous, and behind me, he had started becoming verbally and emotionally abusive, the kind of yelling one hears from a jealous, possessive bully of a boss, who also assaults, sexually.

So when I finally closed the front door of the apartment, I wasn't surprised to hear beatings and screaming. Although I can't remember the exact words, I know they were words of abuse, reminding my ally of his place. I also know they were word of hateful bigotry, because he was denigrating the choice of me as sexual partner, and my ally should be grateful he wasn't sullied by lower classes.

If I had been in lucid dreaming, I would have probably tried to do something heroic, to turn around and go back inside to get my ally out. He didn't deserve it. But he was screaming so loudly, so desperately and he was in so much pain, I was paralyzed outside the door, and too scared to go back in, because the chances of having a gun pulled on me, or having that same violence dealt to me, was really high.

So I went downstairs, terrified, and at the front desk of the building, I demanded the porters at reception why didn't they do anything, couldn't they hear what was going on? And no one met my eye. And I was still too afraid to go back upstairs.

I woke up utterly uncomfortable, wondering why I didn't do anything, asking myself what I could have done. I'd never had a nightmare before which left me feeling residual helplessness like that.

And most uncomfortable of all is the realization, that I am so damn lucky to only have to contemplate it, rather than live it.

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