Emma Alberici and Identity Politics

Over the last few months posts on this blog have been focused around identity politics worked out in everyday life, in feminist discourse, with conflict and in situations of oppression.

Thinking deeply about the merits of this, I’ve come to the conclusion that to actively contribute to the project of social liberation and the dismantling of discrimination, a number of key commitments are required.

Firstly, there must be a personal commitment to an inner grappling with one’s own biases. Carter Heyward likens this to the process of wrestling with God. We must, as individuals, allow our prejudices to be shaken out of our lives and behavior. This can be confronting as it means we open ourselves to unconscious flaws and the recognition of our privilege, letting ourselves be critiqued. It is an ongoing struggle to face the voices within that harbor hatred and anger, favoritisms and a lack of understanding, but it is through this wrestling process we learn humility and come close to what it means to stop harming ourselves and others.

This project of liberation must also be lived in the light of community participation. To have understanding of the perspectives of those on the margins, we must listen deeply to complex, multi-dimensional narratives of joy and sorrow. In this way, community experiences told and retold can take one deeper than it is possible to envisage alone. There is never a settling into total knowledge of an issue but an ongoing exploration of what it means to live as a sex worker, for instance. This listening in community is meant to further the connections and alliances of those working for liberation, to build strength.

Finally is the challenge of wisdom. Reading of the masters broadens the scope of reference required to engage an issue intelligently and with a sense of historical perspective. Where would we be without Judith Butler and her breakthrough theories about gender as performance? How did Stonewall change the discourse of human rights? It’s important to know this.

When we put these three key commitments together—inner grappling with one’s own prejudices, listening respectfully to diverse narratives and examining theoretical data, the result is a rigorous broadening of perspective and a maturity in engaging with people who present other ideas.

It seemed to me that these are not the skills Emma Alberici exhibited when she interviewed Jules Kim from Scarlet Alliance on Lateline on 13/03/15. Alberici was hostile, refusing to listen to another viewpoint. She interrupted the interviewee and proffered her own unstudied opinion as journalistic fact.  Rather than open a space for Kim to reflect her knowledge about diversity of experience, Alberici objectified migrant sex workers as a homogenous, victimized group. She participated in the disempowerment of sex workers with her message that prostitution is bad and should be eliminated. To her credit, Kim refused to be silent and at every point in the conversation she attempted to open the space with creative and thoughtful interpretations.

To encounter the realities of the sex industry with some objectivity requires a willingness to question one’s own bias. Rather than a narrow view, it requires that one embrace a sense of ambiguity, without resolution. It requires that one be committed to the three-fold personal/political process outlined above.  Is this too much to expect from a journalist in a brief interview? Maybe, but it’s also a reminder of the commitments that many people make to participate in the process, working for an end to discrimination against women in the sex industry, and all women.

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