on writing

it’s been a week of colliding themes… stuff from all sorts of places overlapping and interlocking.

i’m reading about restorative justice at the moment – a large collection of articles and book excerpts given to me by jenny on monday. In the midst of them this evening, on the train home, i came to an article called The Age of Revenge, by Alberto Manguel. The following quote is taken out of context – he takes it another step further, and ends up in a different place – but i think i need to just absorb this bit first.

Even though a text itself allows for any number of readings, it is apparent that the groups in power, defined in contrast to the groups they exploit, largely determine the accepted reading. Male over female, white over black, straight over gay, have been the norms for … millenia. In recent times, it has been suggested that the texts are to blame. That the creation of texts by other hands, in other voices, will shift the emphasis, and that certain voices, which have been speaking about matters that directly concern the oppressed groups, should voluntarily keep quiet for a while and provide room to those who, among the oppressed, have been denied access.
This is the American writer Alice Walker:

What can the white man say to the black woman?
Only one thing that the black woman might hear.
I will remove myself as an obstacle in the path that your children,
against all odds,
are making towards the light. I will not assassinate them
for dreaming dreams and
offering new visions of how to live. I will cease trying to
lead your children,
for I
can see I have never understood where I was going
i will agree to sit quietly for a
century or so, and meditate on this.

This is what the white man can say to the black woman.
We are listening.

it’s pretty easy for me to see where i think others should shut up. but if i’m honest i also have to wonder, who does my voice stop from speaking? what space does my voice take up that could be taken by another? what is my privileged space that i need to relinquish in order for another to be able to speak for themselves?


  1. I’m reminded of the Anointing at Bethany, where the men indignantly tut tut the woman’s anointing of Jesus. He replies:

    “Let her alone; why do you trouble her?” – Mark 14:6

    Get out of the way, men!

  2. bec

    I’m a young, white, Western woman, working in a non-White, non-Western context in which I have power as a white, educated person, but can also be marginalised (when it suits people) as a young person and a woman. I am still figuring out when it is right for me to speak up and say things which local people cannot – too often I find myself hesitant to speak up because of my cultural background and skin colour. I would prefer to err on the side of caution, but at what point does this become a cop-out? At what point am I in danger of remaining silent because I am confusing culture with injustice?

  3. Cheryl

    power is such a dynamic thing – fluctuates from moment to moment, context to context. maybe it’s an issue of knowing that, rather than assuming that it’s static [that i either have power or don’t have power].

    though maybe none of that makes sense to anyone but me!

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