|"The Garment Worker" by Judith Heller|
This is an aside, but trust me... it helps me explain my point here.
A friend of a friend has a Twitter account. I didn't know this friend-once-removed well at all, and she didn't directly share her Twitter account info with me, but she told me a story that referenced a celebrity and the response she got to a tweet she'd made, which I later looked at, and then casually explored her other tweets. I had no particular feeling about this person, not knowing her at all, but, after looking at the shrine to self absorption and profanity her Twitter account revealed, I now have a somewhat negative opinion of her. Before I explored her Twitter account, this alter-ego would have been anonymous. But now, she has a name, and a face.
But she also has the right to semi-anonymously express herself, right?
In the USA, I can say with confidence that we all pretty much assume we have a general right to privacy. But, do we also have a right to anonymity? If not, should we?
Sure we do, in my opinion, but... what is this anonymity spawning?
Anonymity creates new and imagined "people" with other agendas, lives, needs and ideas. It takes the "human being" right out of humanness. That Twitter persona you create? Is it you? Is it uncensored you? Is it just a character? Does it matter?
So here's where it all comes full circle. Last week, a family member said to me, "Oh, I bought this great sweatshirt at Old Navy. It was kinda pricey, you know, for Old Navy" She pulled it from the bag and showed me the pricey sweatshirt. It was a good-looking sweatshirt, but I too, was surprised by the price. "Where was that made?" I asked her. "Hmmm... I dunno..." she said. "Look at the tag," I pointed to it. "It will say."
"Hmmm... Don't see it..."
"Hand it to me."
"Ok. (tiny print) Cambodia."
She rolls her eyes, knowing what I am about to say.
"That's okay," I said. "You don't have to care who made your clothes, much like no one cared that your enslaved great-grandfather picked their cotton, or that your grandmother..."
Her hand goes up to me, protesting my objection.
"Listen, I care. But you don't have to. I can make a choice not to buy that sweatshirt. I can also make a sweatshirt... but the reason you don't care, is that you don't know those people, those conditions, the situation that led you to buy THAT shirt. Who knows? Maybe it was made by a Cambodian who is doing just fine, living well, and enjoying life! Or... Maybe I'm completely wrong, and that person is in tears... right now, wondering how long they can keep this up... right now."
Conversation done. Now, that sweatshirt hangs, unworn, in her closet. I think I made my point. Am I being overly dramatic? I don't think so.
But there are endless layers to this type of problem. The biggest, and most important, is that we just DON'T know what we DON'T know. Where does my fabric come from? How was it dyed? And if I expand this line of questioning to ask where my handbag came from/Where did my dinner come from?/Where/How for most things I own... There are layers and layers of anonymous labor and resources. We can cherry-pick causes until we're blue in the face... and to what end?
In the current media environment, everyone has an opinion. Often with a profit motive. Some people scream their thoughts. Loudly. Offensively. Mean-spirited thoughts people feel compelled to share. To that, I say, feel free to broadcast whatever you want to say, but you absolutely MUST OWN IT. Show us who you are. Our activism is backward. We need to work on the things that give voices to the voiceless.
If you ask me, oppressors have no right to oppress anonymously. If asked who is making the clothes, specific answers should be required. Do I mean that people should be allowed to wander up to your doorstep and confront you? Peer in your windows?
Absolutely not. That would be about privacy. But there should be space for everyone to express their thoughts, without being stifled... as well as a firmly protected right to publicly disagree with you.
"Where was that shirt made?" Like it or not, this question has an answer. "Who made that shirt?" definitely has an answer. Remember when you could open a package of underwear and see na inspector's number tag enclosed?
Frankly, I don't have time to make my whole wardrobe. Nor do I have the time to make yours. Nor do I want to. Nor do I have time to research every step my clothing has taken before arriving at the store where I buy it. The vast majority of us don't.
So what do we do about that?
Personally, for now, I plan to let my heart lead the way. I'm gonna continue to seek the stories of the long established fabric shops in the district - places where the vendors have been deeply involved in the business in a very organic and true way, for a long time. I'll share those stories. I'll let you know what I find.