Of late, I’ve been thinking about how we reproduce knowledge, and how very often privilege, especially in terms of education, socioeconomic status, nationality and race intersect with perceptions of legitimacy, in regards to these sources of information. Kim Katrin Milan, a queer, afro-Latina grassroots activist, speaks on the importance of looking at peers as sources of knowledge. She queries why we see academics as the sole authorities on race, sex misogyny, capitalist exploitation, homophobia etc., when these things constitute our lived experiences. Why can’t we be walking bodies of legitimate knowledge?
For me, listening to Oree speak today really materialized Milan’s thoughts. Here was a woman who had been trafficked between the ages of 11 and 15, who was speaking on her experiences being born into a broken family, later running away from her adopted mother, being trafficked by two pimps and eventually leaving The Life. Here was a woman who, regardless of her lack of objectivity (why is this even a measure used to validate knowledge?) was giving us the most profound knowledge we had received all day. Her story is even more important in the context of human trafficking because awareness and research are still in their infancy which makes her story even more tangibly useful not only in discourse surrounding human trafficking, but also law enforcement and rescue. Human Trafficking puts us in a position in which it is mandatory to confront the rawness and uncomfortable nature of personal stories and experiences in order to attain some knowledge on the issue, instead of having research, intense statistics and journals of history to fall back on; it forces us to confront Oree and women like her whose experiences are the visible manifestations of society’s negligence of their plight.
Oree’s talk also materialized the intersections between different oppressions. She spoke of how she had a branding tattoo on her neck at the age of 12 and all those civil servants involved in her case, from doctors and teachers to law enforcement officers, did not acknowledge the fact that she had a tattoo on her neck; the fact that there was a 12 year old child with a tattoo on her neck. Today she queries why no one asked her about this tattoo and she attributed it to her race and socioeconomic status. To me this highlighted the way in which stereotypes are dangerous at best and life threatening at worse. There is a sense of laziness in the way we approach our peers in society – the fact that we are so quick to fall back on stereotypes instead of actively seeking out stories and experiential knowledge is telling of the lack of empathy and compassion we have developed. The fact that we would assume a child with a tattoo is suspicious rather than troubled exhibits the internalized prejudices that dominate the way we view life and injustices.