Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Slow Movement and Privilege

Privilege is problematic.

It keep us divided from each other by cocooning us in invisible comfort. Inside its walls, it is easy to assume that everyone lives as we live and thinks as we think. It whispers that anyone who is Not Like Us must not be trying hard enough. It is the nice guy explaining in the comment section that men should be welcomed to the women-only bicycle ride. It is your employer not giving the woman in the next cubicle more responsibilities, because she's just going to leave the company when she gets pregnant. It is your grandparents saying that racism no longer exists because there is a black president, and your kids' school only including the pre-contact life of first nations communities in their curriculum.

If you are reading this blog post, that means that you are part of a tiny fraction of humanity who can read and have internet access. Bloggers and social media users tend to forget that we are a subculture within that tiny fraction of humanity. We are so privileged.

One of the most troubling problems in the slow movement is its lack of diversity. People who are talking about applying slow movement ideas to various disciplines - or who talk about environmentalism, or bicycle infrastructure advocacy, or any of a number of similar topics - are mostly over-educated white people like me. The slow home hashtag is used by architects and interior designers, and we tend to assume that home ownership is the norm. We need to talk about slow home for renters. Slow design is still a term mostly used by academics. The term slow travel is mostly being used by young people who travel - often college kids with the resources to travel around the world, or digital entrepreneurs who can work while travelling. The slow fashion hashtag often skews toward talk of luxury design, or things being custom-made - or on the flip side of that, being inexpensively handmade but with a huge time investment. The slow food movement is portrayed from the outside as being about expensive restaurant meals and overpriced farmers' markets and ridiculously time-consuming gardens, instead of being about good, clean, fair food that starts locally. Even minimalism, the most diverse of the related topics, is essentially a philosophy born of privilege - "too much stuff" is the ultimate first-world problem.

Even the conversation following the (brilliant) Salon post on Pollan's possible sexism and the issues of privilege in the slow food movement has tended to turn into arguments over feminism, or whether the DIY movement is actually disproportionately female, or comments pointing to worthy slow food projects being done in partnership with communities in need - instead of examining the critique that the ideas of the slow movement seem largely irrelevant if you lack the means or the time to adopt them. (Note that I said they *seem* irrelevant, not that they *are* irrelevant.)

"We Are Better Together" art print by Ello Lovey on Society6. LOVE this.
How do we broaden the reach of our conversations, and find ways to tell our stories and share our ideas outside our little subculture? How do we describe the ideas and projects of the slow movement for a different audience with different concerns? How do we answer - or acknowledge and address - charges of privilege or elitism? How do we include other cultural traditions in the mix without colonialism or cultural imperialism? How do we, to imperfectly borrow a term from feminism, create an intersectional slow movement?

There are no easy answers.

Maybe, we can make a start by acknowledging our privilege, and being mindful of it. We are lucky; we can use our privilege as a tool to help us make changes that those who haven't been as lucky might be unable to make alone. (And yes, if you dig a little deeper, 'luck' itself is a social construct that lets us feel more comfortable wearing our privilege, but that's another whole blog post.) If we create projects after careful consultation, charrettes, or co-design processes, we can make change *with* communities instead of *for* them, on their terms, with their trust and support and ingenuity. We are better together, and we can create brilliant things and elegant solutions by truly engaging with each other as equals in the design and planning process.

Also, perhaps we can make a start by taking our ideas out into the wider world. We can talk about the great things we can do on a limited budget, with limited time, with limited resources, or in different cultural contexts, but that does no good if we only end up talking to people like ourselves. We need to be engaging. We need to make our work relevant. We need to do more than academic papers and blog posts and art shows and conferences. We need to share our ideas through demonstration projects and street art and pop culture. We need to think big and scale up. We need to showcase brilliant projects and put conceptual designs into production and into peoples' hands.

Tell me: what else do you think we need to do to broaden the appeal and the usefulness of the slow movement?

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