Season 1 - Episode 5: A return to the show's inspiration, the SWGL crew meets with activist ShiShi Rose in New York City for the most provocative episode yet, reflecting on difficult topics like white supremacy, systematic oppression, and privilege.
For the full conversation, listen to the podcast below:
Graham: So we're in New York City and we're going to meet with Shishi Rose. She's an activist. She organized a community event shortly after the presidential election that actually inspired this whole series. That made me realize that straight white men need to take more time to listen. I’m hoping that she'll be able to talk to some of the issues about how people in general can be better allies, better activists. And I'm hoping that she'll challenge me and my thinking to be a better straight white guy listening.
Graham: I would like to start kind of where I first met you. It was after the election and you wrote a beautiful e-mail, saying white people come with your palms open, not with your fists clenched. And I thought that was powerful. And of course it didn't go exactly the way I thought it would.
ShiShi: Yeah it was interesting just because I wrote that e-mail and I realize that there would be some pushback. But I mean it wasn't surprising that it was the white straight men that were obviously the ones with the most pushback in the room. And I remember during one of the arguments that happened between them and there were some women that got up and walked out too. But they did so totally quietly. The only reason I saw them was because I was facing them. But then when the guy got angry he stormed off he's like, "I guess this isn't for me" slamming the door and it was just kind of interesting and it reminded of me of how men, but also just white people in general take up space in rooms and make sure to announce themselves or to make sure that everybody knows that they're not okay with something and they just showed me that we have a lot of work to do.
Graham: That opened my eyes a lot. That we, I'm talking about straight white men, just take space. And it's hard for us to listen.
ShiShi: I mean I think understanding that and being able to find the balance between taking up space and actually doing good in the room is a hard balance to find because when you walk around the world with privilege then you don't even know what it's like to not have a privilege in an area so then it's hard to understand how you're taking up space. I mean even me being a woman and a cis gendered woman so I take up different space than other people are going to take up until I have to be very aware of that when I'm in a room with trans people and I think that we just have to start to look at these things differently and see how we can shift the weight in the room and to basically just amplify the other voices in the room even if we are also speaking. It's very easy to throw yourself in there and put on a safety pin and a Black Lives Matter pin and you know go and make a protest sign.
ShiShi: But the harder part of it is to examine how you are perpetuating these things of your own life and how your voice can stifle other people's voices. And it's harder to realize that you directly benefit from the thing that you're saying that you hate. And I think that's why when I wrote that e-mail for my event in L.A. that I said, "Come with your palms open and not with closed fists" because a lot of times people ask questions but when they ask them they already have the "but" forming in their head. So they ask me and that I answer it and they are like "well" or "but" and then I've know that I've lost them at that point because they're not going to listen to anything else that I've said because their opinion's already been formed in their head. I think that we need to take it back when we start to learn and view learning as we did when we were kids. When we were kids and somebody told us something, we asked a question. We didn't say "but" we asked the question to further understand the thing that they were telling us and then we took the information and that's why it's so important to educate children because they're sponges. But we stop being sponges. And now we're just like concrete piles of people and nothing gets absorbed anymore because we think that we know everything already and none of us know everything.
Graham: I would like to talk about privilege. Maybe you can. So part of what I want to do, is someone who's just watching or listening right now. Maybe they're finally trying to really educate themselves. Maybe they like, "Alright. I'm going to listen with an open mind" and maybe we will try to take that opportunity to really help people understand what privilege is, like what it really means. Do you think you could walk me through what that is, like if someone doesn't know what privilege is.
ShiShi: I mean first of all there is universal oppression that anybody can have. You know we could all lose our job at any moment. We could all lose somebody that we care about and have to go through loss. There's universal oppression that anybody no matter what color of your skin or what orientation or religion you are, you can experience. And that is any human being. And then there's racial oppression and all people are not experiencing racial oppression. So what people need to understand is that yes we can all have this universal oppression, and we can all be going through things but then being a person that's going through all those same human experiences. But then also facing racial oppression too or being a woman of color and facing oppression as a woman and facing racial oppression and facing universal oppression. It just adds onto the pile and having any sort of privilege doesn't negate the oppression that you're facing, you still have those things that you're going through, and you still have to live your life as whatever person you are every single day and whatever that means. But you still have to understand that if you have privilege in a certain area then your experiences with those things will be different than somebody who doesn't have your privileges. You know I am a black woman but I was also born in a first world country. I'm English speaking. I'm young. I am not trans. I'm able bodied I abuse are all privileges that I have.
ShiShi: And so when I am in a space with other people I realize that if there's other people that have any of those other oppressions then I potentially could be talking over them. So it's just about making sure that everybody's voices get heard. And I think that because for so long we have been used to only hearing the voices of white people, that that has become the norm. No matter what platform it's on or where it's at, the norm has always been to hear white voices. So any challenge to that would feel like a threat and that is the pushback that we get in conversations with White people where they instantly say "but" whenever we speak about something when the biggest thing is just to listen to other people's experiences. And I think that the problem is that a lot of times when people disagree, they don't realize it, maybe they do, that they're disagreeing with a lived experience of somebody else's. You know most of the things that people of color, other marginalized people write on-line, those are not just opinions, these are things that we live through every day. And so when people disagree with those things they're telling me that they're disagreeing with something that I've actually gone through which is not possible because they weren't there and they didn't experience it. So it's about listening to other people and then having your mind opened to the fact that their whole experiences out there that you don't go through.
Graham: It wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles that I was in the checkout line. And I realize everyone around me wasn't a white person, a white guy. I heard different languages and people of all different cultures. And that was like my first moment of, "Oh I'm just like, Standard. I feel like the feeling is like default. Like I'm just a normal person. And I think that's something that privilege does in a way. Is that you think your experience is the experience.
ShiShi: Yeah I mean even look at the way that media is represented, taking race out of the equation. Everything depicted around us is whiteness. And this is why I talk about the importance of representation in the media because it is so important to have what the world looks like reflected back to us because the media reflects the way the actual world, the way they want the actual world to look. And a lot of people think that you know TV and movies are not important but those are the things that have molded us since we had thoughts about any of these topics. So I grew up thinking that whiteness was the default as well. So it's not just white people that thought that that was the default. By four or five, I knew that I was like an anomaly.
ShiShi: So I think our society is very much lacking empathy, which is why it's so easy for people to contradict other people's experiences. So it's like if somebody tells us an experience and our first thing that we want to do is fight about it, or give it our own opinion about it. We don't have empathy for the situation of the person who is telling us about. It just reminds me of like when you're going through something and your friends don't really know how to help but sometimes they just come and they sit with you. That's what allies need to do sometimes. They need to just like sit and listen and be there for the person. Sometimes there are no words to say because you don't know what to say for other people's experiences sometimes just being there and acknowledging that what happened is messed up and that you're going to try your best to support this person is the best thing that you can possibly do. It is about everybody unpacking this. And changing the way that we're representing people in general. Because when you look at people and walk down the street, the default is not whiteness. It's everything.
This interview was transcribed using a third-party service. Please excuse any errors.