Society in the United States has taught us to doubt our experiences especially if we are BIPOC, women, and/ or queer. However our experiences and observations have led many of us to develop practices of figuring out if a situation is safe for us. You might call this practice ‘gut feelings’ or ‘intuition’ or ‘that feeling when something isn’t quite right.’ Often, we just ignore when these feelings come up and explain it away. What we have learned from studying disruptive and problematic behavior from people (whether they are state agents or informants or just our comrades) is that many of us have a gut feeling or intuition that something is off when we encounter this type of behavior.
Listening to this feeling and bringing it up to trusted comrades can make a huge difference in the success this type of behavior has to disrupt or divide our friend circles, organizations and movements. Sometimes these feelings come from oppression, both external and internal, such as white supremacy or homophobia or sexism or transphobia. Having a conversation with trusted comrades can help us figure out what is going on for us, if part of the issue is an oppressive power dynamic at play, as well as how to move forward if the issue is identified as something that could be problematic or disruptive. As organizations, we should create practices and a culture that allows for concerns to be raised. However, sometimes creating formal and bureaucratic processes are actually more alienating than helpful. We should balance making safety practices accessible to all members, safe for people to disclose information and also strong enough that they can take on problematic behavior when it happens.
Here are some discussion to have with your comrades or organization to develop the practice of bring up concerns and examining what is going on in the situation:
- Think about a time when you didn’t feel like you could raise a concern about someone. What did that experience feel like? What stopped you from bringing up the concern? What was the outcome of this situation? How would you deal with it now?
- Think about a time when stopped someone else from bringing up a concern. What did that experience feel like? Why did you stop that person? What was the outcome of you stopping the concern? How would you deal with it now? How could you repair the harm caused by shutting down the concern?
- Imagine you are concerned about the behavior of one of your comrades. What are some ways you could go about raising these concerns? Who would you talk to? How do you deal with the ambiguity and lack of certainty? How would you understand the oppressive power dynamics at play?
- In general, what lessons can be learned from our experiences of raising concerns about people’s behavior? How does unacknowledged power and leadership impact raising concerns?