Ive been reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
This is a good book!
In the book, the author, Robin DiAngelo refers to Marilyn Frye’s birdcage metaphor. Today I took a side trip from White Fragility and dove into discovering Marilyn Frye. I read all about her lovely birdcage metaphor and how it relates to oppression and racism.
Marilyn Frye (born 1941 in Tulsa, Oklahoma) is an American philosopher and radical feminist theorist. She is known for her theories on sexism, racism, oppression, and sexuality. (from Marilyn Frye – Wikipedia)
Marilyn Frye talks about a bird in a cage and how when one looks at it from the outside with myopic focus (close up, examining the bars one by one) one can’t understand how the bird cannot just fly out. When one stands back and widens their view to macroscopic ( examines the cage as an entire system you are able to see the whole cage, in which the butterfly is contained. This, according to Frye, explains why oppression can be hard to see and recognize.
The bird (or the butterfly in my painting) cannot escape the cage when we simply remove one bar. It is contained inside an entire network of forces and barriers which are all connected to one another. Releasing only one bar will in fact, cause further oppression. It’s good to want to help but to create real change we need to be able to stand back to see that all the bars of the cage are held connected together.
To create change, we need to dismantle the entire cage and to do that we need to understand and look at the entire system that is containing the butterfly. Everything is connected.
Here is the article I found online (click on Marilyn Frye) Marilyn Frye and here are some of Frye’s words from the birdcage of sexism.
“Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.
It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can be hard to see and recognize. One can study the elements of an oppressive structure with great care and good will without seeing the structure as a whole, and hence without seeing or being able to understand that one is looking at a cage and that there are people there who are caged, whose motion and mobility are restricted, whose lives are shaped and reduced…
As the cage-ness of the birdcage is a macroscopic phenomenon, the oppressiveness of the situations in which women live our various and different lives is a macroscopic phenomenon. Neither can be seen from a microscopic perspective. But when you look macroscopically you can see it – a network of forces and barriers which are systematically related and which conspire to the immobilization, reduction and molding of women and the lives we live.”
There is a lot to learn about racism. To be able to understand this will take a life time and I realize that I am just at the beginning of all of it.
As I read through Marilyn’s metaphor article on the birdcage, I kept seeing an image of a beautiful monarch butterfly in a golden cage.
“While I was painting the monarch, I could feel her beauty. I know her, I have been her a few times during different stages of my life. Painting her was easy. Putting her behind bars was difficult. I became very emotional, especially when I began to put her delicate wings behind the bars of a cage.”Emerging Thoughts – Mary Ann Burrows
When I took my thoughts to my art studio and they became my own creative work, it helped me to feel things on a deeper level. Painting the cage over the butterfly helped me to see that I am part of the culture that has put the cage around the butterfly. It forced me to take a closer look at my own whiteness and be able to see that and understand that, first. In order to change things that we are passionate about we need to first dismantle parts of ourselves, understand where our views came from and take them apart, if we can. We need to see racism as the entire cage, and look at all the systems that are keeping the butterfly contained. It cannot be done one bar at a time.
If you are white – We all have places that we need to reckon but it is our responsibility to help out here. Its the things we do when no-one is looking that matter.
Once you know better, do better. It is also important to go back and apologize to people you have hurt by your unconscious racism please listen to how it made them feel. This will help both of you more than you realize.
- Are you raising your children as colour blind?
- Telling them that colour isn’t important?
- Talk to them about colour.
- Explain how the world works.
- Do you speak up when you see discrimination?
- Do you talk about race and oppression with your friends?
- It’s time to find your inner ‘Karen’ and complain about the lack of diversity in schools, in programs, in workplaces.
- Its time to speak up for others that are being hurt by racism and discrimination.
- See something? Say something.
- If you have a social media platform use it for change and to help the cause but Please don’t use it make yourself feel better.
We need to be in this conversation. – It is time for us to listen with an undefended heart, it’s time for us to learn and to follow. We have a lot of catching up to do. My hope is that you also continue to walk forward through the topic of racism and oppression and expand yourself and your views. Look at the whole picture and all the pieces and layers so that you can also help to dismantle and break down the system. Look at your whiteness. Look at your views, your language, your thoughts. Just because you are friends with a black person or post a black square, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a racist. Take the responsibility to educate yourself. Work on changing yourself, donate money to organizations that are helping to change the system. Act. See my growing (list below) resources that I am currently using. These are books that I have read or are reading and movies or documentaries that I have seen that have helped me to see more clearly.
As white women we need to look at our life, look at our power, look at our unearned advantage. Look at our womanhood and see how it is different from that of a black woman. Understanding how our own life has been shaped by our whiteness is step one. Stop trying to achieve unity with black women, instead build solidarity. SEEING our differences allow us to see that we are all different, because we are, and in that we can find our common thread. This is hard work, you will screw up, you will say the wrong thing, but still show up. Apologize and sincerely show up again.
If you are not white – I am not looking for a cookie. I want to say though that I am listening. I am learning more about myself, my culture, my upbringing, my thoughts and others. I recognize that just by being white I have had an unearned privilege. I am consciously wading through, finding the right information, reading the books recommended by the teachers that I know are on the right track. I know that I can make changes inside of myself and direct my resources to places that hopefully will help change the system. I am sorry for being unconscious about racism. I am standing up with you and am very thankful to be here, now and apart of this.
On the path to your higher self? Use your own creativity to help you work through your new levels of understanding. Working with our hands to help us through our thoughts is a reflective practice; a slow methodical way of using our hands together with our hearts to help manifest what lays just below the surface, deepening meaning and understanding.
Here are a few resources that I have discovered are really GOOD. I will be updating this list as I find things, read things, see things, hear things that I feel help.
People that I FOLLOW on INSTAGRAM:
- Liz Gilbert
- Sophie Roe
- White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Eloquent Rage A black feminist finds her super power by Dr. Brittany Cooper ” Are black girls even worth fighting for? What will it take to put them at the centre and keep them safe?”
- SULU by Tony Morrison