“Bringing it Back Down to Reality” on person-first perspectives to social justice
The following article from Feministe outlines the radical shift that needs to occur in social justice movements and in the minds of helping professionals. In the work that I have done and seen being done by others in our island home, I’m happy to say that our philosophy is generally in line with a person first approach, meeting people where they are and not where we think they should be. It never hurts to reiterate how important it is to work in a way that authenticates the experiences of (mostly) women who are seeking services, to assist them in self-empowerment (because let’s be real – we cannot empower other people), not just help them achieve safety from abusive relationships.
And yet. I still see the same worrisome perspective. We’ll help, if you accept drug treatment. We’ll help, if you seek counseling. We’ll help, if you choose to leave your abusive partner. We’ll help, if you go back to stay with a blood relative. There are conditions on giving people access to the bare necessities of life and those conditions are connected to what the privileged people in charge think are *best* for those in dire need.
In post last week,Jadey quoted Rachel Naomi Remen’s notion of “fixing” from In the Service of Life:
When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them…There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment.
I don’t think we are seeking justice and equality when we attempt to *fix* one another. Instead, I think we need to radically alter our institutions of social justice to listen to people who are asking for assistance, to meet their needs as they define them, and to meet those needs in the way that respects their perspective.
Failing to listen. Believing we *know* what people are asking for can be oppressive. My first DV case as a lawyer is illustrative of the damage you can cause. A woman came into the clinic covered in obvious bruises with a broken arm. When she told me what had happened I was full of righteous anger. I had internally begun to outline the case for a TRO, divorce, and custody hearing in my head. But that wasn’t what she wanted. She wasn’t ready to leave her partner. She almost walked out of my office without receiving the help she *needed* because I was too much of an ass to stop and listen.
Meeting needs as they define them. She needed a bank account that was not traceable to her. She’d spoken with several other people at the legal clinic and a few people at a couple of different banks, but everyone had tried to convince her that it didn’t *need* to be untraceable – there were bank privacy laws. They failed to respect her understanding of her own needs.
Respecting their perspective. This to me is the most radical shift in how most organizations do social justice.