Saturday, April 21, 2007

Conversations with Rachel Corrie

So, I saw My Name is Rachel Corrie tonight. I didn't expect it to be as profound as everyone reported; after all, this girl was my age, right? What could she say that I hadn't heard before? I'm an idiot for missing the point: it's how she said it.

I'm sitting here now in front of the fire with a cat on my feet, and I feel completely frustrated. Two or three years ago, I think I could have been like Rachel -- not her, by any means, but out in the world fighting the good fight. I'm not sure what happened between then and now. Partially, I'm less comfortable with adopting the self-assigned role of a world-saver. It's a position you take only when you're priveleged enough to be able to choose to do so. Being a white, middle class American lets me think I'm special enough to make a difference -- but now, I'm a little bit older and a lot more aware of that privelege in all its problematic glory...and I just don't feel quite right storming off into Gaza or Chiapas or wherever, because I'm not sure if my presence there is helpful or hurtful. These are issues Rachel clearly considered every day, as evidenced by her journals (the source of the play). I wish she'd lived longer to enlighten us about where she went with those thoughts.

It's one thing if you-as-outsider can actually find a way to support a local movement, as it seems Rachel did, but more often a group of outsiders winds up creating a separate movement instead. Or, you come in thinking you know what it's like and projecting your sense of right and wrong into the situation, when in reality (*cough* Cuba) you don't have the slightest clue what's happening because you haven't been there; moreover, as someone who's present voluntarily, you can't ever be a part of it in the same way as someone who's "in it" without a choice. I spent most of my time in Mexicali sweating over how my identities -- as academic researcher, as higher-educated person, as white woman, as American, as young and Spanish-speaking gringa -- affected the information I gathered. I probably spent as much time analyzing and questioning my own actions as I did conducting the research itself, and I don't know if that's such a good thing. I think it's a common trap to encounter: as you become more self-aware, the awareness creates more questions about identity politics. So, what if you go abroad to "change things" and wind up doing as much harm as you do good? Is there any way to avoid that?

And then, there's the selfish side, too. The part of me that thinks nothing I do can have a big enough effect to matter. The part that gets burnt out and frustrated because I can only tutor one inmate at a time, and most aren't going to be released, or won't have any job opportunities when they are released, so what the hell good am I doing? If I can barely make an impact in my own community, why go somewhere else to try the same thing? Plus, if I did go somewhere, like Palestine or the DRC, and get killed for it, I bet the news media here would focus on me, the American. Instead of on the people living there who die every damn day. What good does that do?

It's stupid, I know. Deep down, I think I'm largely feeling inadequate because I can't do what she did. Correction: I won't. There is no way I'm going to go stand before tanks in Gaza. Knowing it makes me uneasy. At the core, it's part of my larger, growing uncertainty over what role I can play in this world -- and what role I should. Why do I feel like nothing I do will be enough?


Librocrat said...

Meh, I disagree. There is nothing wrong with realizing something is not for you. For me, it's war protests. I don't want to stand in the middle of Downtown Seattle, holding signs that say "NO IRAQ WAR!" and shouting with the masses. It's not for me. I'm still against the Iraq war, but I simply don't enjoy that scenario. To make up for it, I blog. And I blog a lot. And for me, I'm content with that, because the kind of protesting that goes on downtown is something that needs a real passion for to be successful, and I don't have those same passions, so I do what I can in the way that is most comfortable to me.

As far as I'm concerned, that's good enough.

ecogrrl said...

Thanks for stopping by!

You raise a really good point. I think my challenge is that right now, I'm not entirely sure what is "for me." I used to be quite content protesting, and then I wrote for a newspaper and blogged, and my role and contributions feel very small.