This is part of a longer project that I’m working on over the course of 2019 on what I call The Politics of Imagination. As an introduction, I wrote this on the privilege of sanity and how it specifically comes to influence who is allowed to create the most freely in society, i.e. those who represent the dominant: white folks.
I’m currently working on more material that explores these concepts so that people might use this in their own work and particular realm/industry. Once I release more content on this, I’ll be sure to link it below.
You can also find this at been.media
part one: sanity
Imagination is a privilege that is directly linked to the privilege of sanity: who is taken seriously and who is seen as legitimate. Through white supremacy and patriarchy, sanism has been used – and is still today – as a tool to dehumanize and delegitimatize folks of color, especially queer, womxn, gender nonconforming, Black and/or Indigenous folks (+ and their intersections).
We’re constantly bombarded with clear definitions as to whom is considered sane and what are considered sane actions, within-the-limits-of-a-certain status-quo behaviors.
Those who decide how we interpret these actions, though, are intentionally biased; gatekeepers that have shaped our cultural imaginations and define the boundaries of what is and isn’t in news and media as general practice.
The wide-scale corruption of our collective imagination isn't limited to media, either; it seeps anywhere white supremacy can touch: in science, religion, sexuality, law, morality, gender constructs, into every aspect of colonialism. A deliberate gate keeping of sanity that ultimately serves to – first and foremost – dehumanize BIPOC.
// One of the clearest examples of this is the term terrorist – who gets the label and who doesn’t. If you need more on this, look it up. //
Sanity comes under the same logic of white supremacy as an effort to delegitimatize the experiences, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs of entire peoples. Put another way:
If you're coming from a privileged status in society – if you are seen as the norm* – you are more likely to be seen as valid and therefore so too your experiences, ideas, thoughts, and emotions. By extension, you will implicitly be seen as more sane.
More sane meaning that if you do something out of the norm, you'll still be seen as rational to a greater and more nuanced degree, i.e. you have a greater range. A key note in this discussion of sanity is that those who hold the greatest degree of this privilege (yt folx) are allowed a more varied range of experiences that will be considered okay or "normal". You are allowed to be multi-dimensional. You are not seen as crazy. Instead, you get complexity, nuance, and understanding. You also see your experiences in multitudes across media: multiple storylines, multiple endings, multiple versions of who you can be, variety on variety which thereby accentuates society's overall capacity to understand (*you).
Why is this important?
Well, who are we choosing to believe in society? When push comes to shove, who goes to prison, who is forgotten, who is erased?
Which narratives do we discard and which do we value, inherently without question? Who is seen as normal and who is seen as other?
Example: if you push on the status quo from a position of otherness you won't be lauded or even accepted as easily as if your status were already validated, seen as rational.
If you're a white, straight, able-bodied, cis man, (the closest to the norm you could be) you are more likely to be praised and lauded for doing the same things that would be seen as atypical if done by someone seen as other in society, as someone who has historically been (and still is, arguably) dehumanized. You – as someone coming from this privileged approach – might even be considered revolutionary.
Meanwhile, the emotions and experiences of those who have been dehumanized and delegitimatized for centuries are not seen as such.
First, marginalized communities need to go through a “humanization process” by those in power. Those in power choose who is sane enough – who is normal enough – and then carefully select. Those who are elected as safe are therefore seen as more humanized and valid.
And yet, selective humanization is not co-liberation, it is not freedom, it is NOT breaking the paradigm.
Neither is the fear that if you were to step out of those defined limits (in which you were accepted), you will be cast aside immediately. This happens because those considered other aren't afforded a range of accepted experiences and behaviors: only the pre-curated, pre-defined versions will be tolerated. Step out of line and you're out. We are afforded no range in our experiences or our emotions or our thoughts. If you do not fit the okay paradigm, you can't be accepted by the mainstream.
Sanism is directly linked to our humanization, or rather our de-humanization. If we can be delegitimized and discredited because we are deemed insane or invalid, then our entire humanity can be stripped away, including how our humanity is presented to the rest of the world.
Including the imagination of who we are.
Considering the politics and privilege of sanity is crucial because it informs our entire collective narrative: whom we deem as human in our world. Whom we believe.
If you can more readily be labeled as crazy or insane or irrational you are immediately discredited from the conversation, no matter what the conversation is. And some are given the most flexibility here, others none.
It is so important that we examine our biases of whom we each see as having sane, rational experiences.
It is critical that we challenge media that seeks to undermine the experiences of marginalized communities: BIPOC, LGBTQIA2+, womxn, their intersections, and others who have historically not been considered full human beings both literally and also as depicted in media and imagined in our collective imaginations.
With that in mind, we can tie the privileges of sanism to the privileges of imagination and creativity.
In order to imagine freely in society – and without limits, truly no limits – artists, activists, and creators cannot be discredited or cast aside based on normative sanism criteria. They can’t be delegitimatized based on who they are.
The degree of your sanity cannot be correlated with how deviant or how proximal you are to the norm.
That’s to say, the more deviant you are (perceived to be) from the hetero-normative, able-bodied, gender-conforming, patriarchal, and white supremacist society we live in, the more your sanity will be continually questioned and the more you will be continually required to prove your validity and your worth.
And creating, that’s to say imagining, under these pretenses is not liberation.