Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Hi pals, this is a somewhat unscheduled blog entry. But it’s something I think is important and it needed to be said as soon as possible.
My blog post “let’s talk about (biological) “sex”, baby” whitewashes history.
My intention was to try as much as possible to be brief and as uncomplicated as possible about a very in-depth and complex issue, which has a lot of different facets and intersecting issues of historical and social importance.
But what I did is show you the world through my white, trans viewpoint, and in doing so I’ve unintentionally put the emphasis and importance on trans, non binary and intersex experiences, and I’ve erased a lot of the history of colonisation, slavery, eugenics and intentional, violent white supremacy.
I could tell you that I wanted to include more context about race but I didn’t know where to start, or that I originally included more points about our medical system being based on intentional white supremacist eugenics, geared around justifying genocide and slavery, but that I removed some because I worried it would make my writing too convoluted or complex for my imagined audience, because I was assuming that my audience isn’t well versed in race politics and history—an assumption which is racist in itself, I assumed my audience to be white.
I could tell you I was worried I was speaking out of turn about something I know I don’t understand as well as I should.
But none of these excuses matter, because impact is more important than intent, and I wrote something that implied a relatively benign, unintentional conception of the theory of biological sex, being based just on scientists wanting to understand things better, but not having the tools and knowledge we have now, and that is not an accurate representation of the history.
It doesn’t matter that I acknowledged the actions of white supremacy elsewhere in that post. It doesn’t matter that I only intended to write clearly and to be digestible when writing about a complex issue, or that I didn’t want to speak out of turn.
What matters is that I contributed to a narrative that erases centuries of intentional harm enacted on Black people and other people of colour, that erases the specific, intentional violence involved in white scientists specifically looking for ways to classify and define Blackness as inferior and justify racial violence, genocide and slavery.
The way I summarised the conception of biological sex made it sound like an accidental artefact of outdated science, instead of the deliberate, intended consequence of the immoral, unethical and ideological "science" done in the name of white supremacy.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to ensure enough time and focus is invested in the history of racism—and specifically anti-Blackness—in medicine for this project; how to ensure that we’re talking about this because it’s important and plays a huge role in the discrimination people face in medicine, and because there is so much in the history of medicine to unpack—especially when we look at gynaecology and so-called “women’s” health.
How to do so without speaking over or for People of Colour, especially Black and Indigenous people; without engaging in white saviourism; and without absolving ourselves of responsibility because it's “not our place to talk about it”.
And how to do so as a team of four white people, in so-called Australia, when a lot of the accessible literature is about the US or the UK—acknowledging that this history is global and relevant, without also erasing or downplaying the history and ongoing racism experienced by Indigenous people in this unceded, colonised land. So far, we've created our Resources page, with the section "Intro to Racism in Healthcare and Chronic Pain" to make a start in acknowledging this history and how racism still affects medicine and medical care outcomes.
And in discussing the matter of accountability as a team, we've realised a need to make a statement, as a collective of accountability for our whiteness. We'll put this up more prominently on the about page when we're doing website edits next; but for now here it is; this is our statement of accountability for our whiteness:
Learning and unlearning is an ongoing process, and as a first-time project in early development we've started by including resources on medical racism to amplify Black voices and history to foster that learning, but will continue to interrogate our own whiteness and embrace accountability by inviting feedback and contact on our work in this space.
Part of this work is not pretending that we've always done the right thing, or acting like we know how to be free of racial biases, but continuing to strive for improvement and holding ourselves accountable when we do fuck up.
Because the truth is I/we still don’t know how to do it best, and in all my best efforts, I’m sure I’ll fuck up (again). But this is why I stand by the words of Ijeoma Oluo I shared in my first blog post:
[Image description: a screenshot of tweet from Ijeoma Oluo @IjeomaOluo July 15, 2019: The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it's the only way forward.]
None of this removes my culpability as a white person, for writing a thing that contributes to whitewashing and racism, but it compels and empowers me to do the work for myself to address when I have made mistakes.
The best way I can see to move forward (and I welcome input from anyone with well informed suggestions) is to amplify Black voices, rather than trying to speak on this ourselves.
This blog post, and admission of my mistake, comes to you today because this morning I serendipitously stumbled upon a perfect piece of writing to demonstrate the specific bit of history that I was erasing and whitewashing in my post.
The world doesn’t need more white voices talking about Black experiences and history, so I’ll leave you with the link and the strongest possible encouragement to read this whole article if you are white (or white adjacent in terms of how you are treated in a medical scenario).
Understanding this history is absolutely vital to the work of decolonising and deconstructing the patriarchal, white supremacist (ie, misogynistic, racist, anti-Black, ableist and queerphobic) society that we live in and forging our way towards a better world for all of us.
Authors note: I was unable to find specific information about the author of this article. The website it’s posted on is committed to radical, anti-colonial content and the blog “The Abusable Past” is specifically the work of removing the framing of white supremacy and colonisation from history, so, sounds like good praxis to me, but I thought it was worth the note that I’m not certain that the voice that I am amplifying here is that of a Black person. This article is excellent but I thought it was worth the transparency when I’ve explicitly said in this post that the world doesn’t need more white voices talking about Black history.
Authors note 31/07/2020: Okay, I've found the author with some help from a friend to verify the author's identity using Twitter (thanks Sam!—a different Sam) and based on one photo on his website (because that is all there is to go on), it seems that Kevin Henderson is white or white passing, so I'm in the process of finding better versions of this information specifically from Black sources. Watch this space, I'll get some better options of voices to amplify soon.