Return to Video

Dean Spade: Trickle-Up Social Justice

  • 0:01 - 0:06
    There's a question that maybe comes up for people about whether inclusion is an incremental step on the way to something else, right.
  • 0:06 - 0:10
    This is something that's often been said about trans people: "we'll come back for you later, we swear!"
  • 0:10 - 0:18
    Sexual orientation non-discrimination act passed in 2002 here in New York State they decided that they could leave us for later.
  • 0:18 - 0:30
    So those ideas about whether or not its an incremental step, whether an emergent inclusion opportunity is an incremental step are more or less believable in different contexts.
  • 0:30 - 0:34
    But to even ask that question, we have to do an analysis that's like
  • 0:34 - 0:38
    measuring these options against our vision, first of all
  • 0:38 - 0:42
    what is your vision about family structure and should it determine whether or not yo have health insurance
  • 0:42 - 0:45
    asking ourselves questions like that, should it determine whether or not we can immigrate
  • 0:45 - 0:50
    what's our actual vision of how we want that to look so that we can know whether or not we're going there
  • 0:50 - 0:57
    what's it an incremental step towards. Second the question of whether or not the incremental reform strengthens the oppressive system
  • 0:57 - 1:03
    and what the costs of that might be. Are we making it harder for ourselves? The organization Critical Resistance, someone from there told me once
  • 1:03 - 1:04
    that they ask themselves: in fifty years are we going to be glad we did this? And there's this thing about capitalism that makes us only want to look two to three minutes ahead.
  • 1:04 - 1:08
    So its really really interesting politically to allow ourselves ask questions like, in fifty years (of course you can never know what your gonna feel like in fifty years, or if you're gonna feel anything)
  • 1:18 - 1:27
    but we might wanna think about those sorts of timelines. I think we also have to ask ourselves does this divide our community by leaving out vulnerable people?
  • 1:27 - 1:39
    That's probably the first thing to ask. Is this incremental step conveniently eliminating the people who are easiest to eliminate. That should be a no go.
  • 1:39 - 1:48
    And also does this incremental step invite backlashes that will again harm the most vulnerable, because that's who backlashes always harm. Even though a lot of the rights people have been fighting for
  • 1:48 - 1:57
    only benefit the very few, they usually harm the people who are at the very bottom even if hey benefit the people at the very top.
  • 1:57 - 2:02
    So these questions require a politics that is more than just a single issue identity politics. Its not a politics where you vote for pro-gay politicians
  • 2:02 - 2:07
    because they have a good gay vote even though they hate people on welfare and they want to build a prison (Gavin Newsom)
  • 2:07 - 2:26
    Instead its based on a commitment (I don't know if he wants to build a prison, but he probably does and he definitely hates people on welfare). Its a commitment to an understanding that social justice doesn't trickle-down and so we should center the experiences of the most vulnerable first
  • 2:26 - 2:35
    that's how we should determine our agenda. If we deal with the problems that the rich are having with the economic crisis, like they used to have $5 million and now they have $3 million
  • 2:35 - 2:49
    Then there's no reason to believe that dealing with those problems will address the issues of the poor. We can make sure they have their bonuses back and we know that the real hit of this crisis
  • 2:49 - 2:56
    is still gonna be felt by people with the lowest income. Similarly if you address the problems of white gay people who want to marry an immigrant
  • 2:56 - 3:01
    you won't necessarily address the problems of two undocumented queer people who aren't partnered with a citizen.
  • 3:01 - 3:07
    Although if you address the problems of undocumented queer people you will address the problem of the person who wants to marry somebody who's an immigrant
  • 3:07 - 3:18
    And if you address the issues of professional white lesbians and parental rights, you won't solve the problem of low-income mothers of color or imprisoned mothers who the child welfare system
  • 3:18 - 3:24
    targets for separation from their families, but if you do the reverse if we really up-ended the child welfare system and made it about
  • 3:24 - 3:32
    retaining unification of families and communities then inevitably that would have beneficial effects on rich white gay people who want to make sure they
  • 3:32 - 3:38
    can affirm their relationships and their parental rights. It does trickle up, it doesn't trickle down. We know that.
  • 3:38 - 3:46
    We've had a while to figure that our since Reagan and before. So I'm curious about how we come to still have this politics that's based on a notion of
  • 3:46 - 4:04
    trickle-down social justice. I think that this is an exciting moment right now in the U.S. Even though we're aware that many of Obama's policy stances are not sufficiently different from the neoliberal trend, and that's a sobering reality,
  • 4:04 - 4:09
    we also see his election and the work that went in to it has mobilized a lot of people and shifted a lot of people's experience of political possibility.
  • 4:09 - 4:18
    People feel different about things and that matters, right? A lot of people are feeling like they might take up some interventions that they might not have felt
  • 4:18 - 4:26
    comfortable taking up under Bush. I think I see that, I hope, I could be making it up. And this is a really important moment for reframing and for
  • 4:26 - 4:33
    expanding our demands and our expectations and for taking up a politics that attends to the distribution of life chances
  • 4:33 - 4:39
    a politics that's often called impossible or politically unviable. I think that that's what a lot of the politics I'm thinking about are considered.
Dean Spade: Trickle-Up Social Justice

An excerpt from the lecture "Trans Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape," delivered on February 9, 2009 at Barnard College. This video was created by the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Visit for full-length audio podcasts of this event and others like it.

more » « less
Video Language:

English subtitles