by Em Flynn, 2014
Yep, it’s time for another “Race Issue” article.
One experience that we get as a system fronting from a Black body is people questioning our identities in ways we’ve never seen White systems being questioned, outside of people who are critical of all plurals wondering why there are people from different ethnicities inside systems in the first place. But the questioning that’s the most frustrating hasn’t been from detractors or clueless nonplurals who just don’t know better; it’s been from other members of plural systems. And what made it particularly challenging was that it came from friends and not just random people. This problem exists within our own community as much as it does outside of it.
Never mind that cross-ethnic system members have been recognized, even in classic DID systems, for years. But since the stereotypical plural in the classic literature is a middle-aged white American middle-class woman, I think anyone who sort of falls outside those boundaries is looked at kind of funny. (Well, nowadays people on Tumblr associate it with young teenagers – but the other demographics are the same. Just the age is different. But the association between plurality and teenagers is really new and wasn’t there when we first started getting involved in plural communities online seven years ago.)
Some of us have mentioned the incident where we were asked why we didn’t have any black people in our system. (This happened before I showed up a few years ago, so they couldn’t say that now. But even back then, we had someone here who was mixed-race, not white.) You know, we don’t pick and choose which system members we have. And we’ve seen fewer instances of white systems being asked why all their system members are white (or East Asian, or anything else). Nobody cares (or fewer people care, anyway). Never seen anyone inside our community go “hey guys, why are you all white?” Or “why do you have a lot of Japanese people in your system when your body’s white?” (Now, we’ve seen outsiders criticize white-bodied plural systems for having East Asians and other ethnic groups in their systems, but most of the stuff we’ve experienced hasn’t been from the stereotypical clueless singlet; it’s been from plurals!)
For example, a system member wanting to live in the (European) country they originally came from (and we lived in for a little while) was turned into “us missing our childhood,” even though they weren’t even fronting here when we were that age. Why the hell can’t they feel connected to where they originally came from? It’s mostly the white people here who’ve come in for criticism, whereas the East Asian, mixed-race folks, and me haven’t had as many problems.
It’s given us a lot of internalized issues about our system composition: “we have too many white people,” “we’re not enough like The Body,” “we have too many Europeans.” And I myself, as a black person, keep wondering if I’m too stereotypical, or if I’m a token my white headmates created so we could be ~*valid*~. Of course, that’s bullshit, but the kinds of things people say can affect you after a while. I’m not saying white-bodied systems don’t also have these issues, but ours are specifically because of racial issues that surround what people are “allowed” and “not allowed” to do.
Even with plurality, white (-bodied) privilege is still a thing. I’m not denying that people inside systems can be of different races and ethnicities and have different experiences from what they deal with in the outside world. But we’ve found that we tend to be judged more by “what the body should be” than white-bodied systems do, which is really unfair. If you’re from a marginalized group in any way, you’re much more likely to be pigeonholed, I think. It’s not even just with plural systems; for example, if you’re Black American and you don’t fit into certain subcultures of the community (like the hip-hop subculture, for example), you’re more likely to get ostracized by your peers for “acting white.” (“You like heavy metal! You’re not black!“) But when you do like the things that are often associated with your community, you get told you’re a stereotype and need to think for yourself. In racist systems, you can’t win. And that apples to “alternative” subcultures like ours, too.
In addition to the reactions I’ve described, the privilege can manifest in other ways, like stereotyped versions of different racial groups in systems and people not recognizing they’re stereotypes. I’m not questioning the validity of cross-ethnic system members, but I am critical of people reinforcing ethnic stereotypes. I’ve interacted with black people in white-bodied systems and I don’t think most of them are like that, but it drives me nuts when I see people showing up talking in exaggerated “hood” slang and… seeming really two-dimensional. My problem isn’t that those people are black, but they’re expressing their black identity through a bunch of hurtful stereotypes that I consider offensive. My blackness (in the Black American sense, I know it’s different for Black British people, West Indians, and other members of the international Black Diaspora) isn’t about using a bunch of “Jive Turkey” slang; it’s about connecting with a specific community of people, going through a shared struggle, finding common cause, and feeling part of a group. It’s about solidarity, history, and a sense of belongingness.
The things I do are black things because I’m black, not because there’s a set things of Things Black People Should Do that I need to follow. And black people in non-black systems need to understand that. I don’t care that you’re black; I believe you are who you say you are. I care that you’re running around turning my people into a fucking caricature. I get that you may not have been exposed to my community as a system. But you need to find out more about the community you say you belong to, in any way you think best. We have people from different communities in our system, but we don’t act like stereotypes.
I use black people as an example, because I’m black, but you can put any other oppressed ethnic/racial group in there.
(Also, because I know there are going to be some people who will misinterpret this: I don’t think “transracialism” is a thing. It’s something trolls on Tumblr were spreading around two years ago to discredit so-called Social Justice Warriors. Being a different ethnicity in a plural system is not the same thing as being transgender. It just so happens that somebody’s subjective identity in a plural system manifests as being part of a different race or ethnic group.)