hyper/visibility, poppies, and stars
October 14, 2014
Cecily’s latest post has me feeling all the feels this morning. I’ve talked about this sort of thing before1. And recent articles about social networking as social surveillance further drive home one of my oft repeated points… that I do as I do on this blog, twitter, etc. because I am human and refuse to be anything less (or more).
Interestingly, I remember the social media class I took in library school where I pointed out that it would be an interesting change of pace for me to get punished for something I said vs. who I am. This is especially ironic given my current legal predicament which is, yes, about something I said but, as I’m learning, this doesn’t mean that is isn’t also about who I am.
I’m not sure whether or not I’m the sort of person who might be perceived as a ‘tall poppy’. It is hard for me to guage as a person who has always been hyper visible to power and peers. From the racist, gendered, and homophobic bullying I experienced as a youth to the racist, gendered, transmisogynist bullying/abuse I experience as an adult, I have always felt visible. Of course, this feeling is reflected by reality because, sadly, I have always been visible. My youth (and much of my adulthood) has been spent longing to be invisible. Longing to fade into the background so I can just quietly live my life. So that I can live. When I think about these concepts of being a tall poppy, of being a ‘rockstar’, I truly can’t understand what they mean. Not on a personal, visceral level2.
Of course, given the paradoxes of oppression, I write all this as it is commonplace for my self to be erased in discourse around these topics (and most professional ones, for that matter). I exist not as an individual human being but as a token. As an abstract concept for a lot of people (if I – or people like me – ever even occur to them at all). I exist as a statistic. As one of the approximately 11% of poc in academic librarianship. My humanity is lost in what I represent…
All of this means that everything I do, regardless of intention, means that I stand out. Simply by existing within a massively homogenous profession, I stand out. But it also means that my peers and colleagues are always watching. And I’ll stand out if I ‘conform’ to stereotypical expectations for people like me, if I embody the model minority. I’ll stand out if I fail to live up to this expectation. If I’m too good, forces will endeavor to ensure that I don’t get ideas. If I’m not good enough, punishment will be swift and disproportional.
If I stand here and simply say that my ‘professionalism’ is to exist as a human being, then I’ll eventually be pushed out (my time is coming, I’ve no doubt).
And, yeah, I guess I do want to know where those of us standing in the unflattering spotlight exist within these frameworks. I want to know what we are to do if we are neither tall poppy or rockstar, but still…still so very, very visible. This kind of hypervisibility isn’t a privilege. It doesn’t bring you any advantages. Nor are my comments here an expression of paranoia. I know people are watching. I see it in the expressions of disgust every time I exist in public.
But, c’est la vie.