“But Not All ______ Are Like That!”

25 Feb

I see this happen all the damn time.

Someone describes the actions of a privileged group of people and how these actions, purposefully or not, encourage the marginalization of a less-privileged group. Most often this description occurs within the context of trying to explain to the privileged folks how this dynamic is hurtful and oppressive. The hope is that the privileged group will listen to the marginalized person, examine their own behaviour, and try to do better in the future. The reality is that the person doing the explaining is nearly always met with a chorus of, “but not all men/white people/straight people/cis people/able-bodied people are like that!”

Look. I get it. You, whatever privileged group you happen to fall into, are a good person. You want to remind the marginalized group that you view yourself as an ally. You want them to know that not everyone is against them – the world, after all, isn’t such a grim place as all that. You want to make it clear that although you understand that your group has done some not-so-great things in the past, you are a better, more evolved person than that.

Maybe you even think you are somehow helping the marginalized group realize that you’re more than just a blank face in a group – you’re an individual person with your own thoughts and actions.

You know what, though?

You are not helping.

You are just making things worse.

In fact, you are only helping to prove the original point: that you, as a privileged person, perpetuate actions and ideas that oppress less privileged people.

See, what you’re really doing with your comment is a classic derailment tactic. In a discussion that is supposed to be about those who have frequently been silenced, you are contributing to that silencing by making it all about you. The message that you are giving out is that your feelings, your poor, hurt, privileged feelings should be taken into account no matter what the topic at hand. You are putting yourself in the centre of the discussion, and pushing the original topic off to the side. You are occupying a space that was created by and for people who don’t have many other spaces to occupy, and yet you feel entitled to be there because your privilege has taught you that you are entitled to be anywhere you want. You are telling oppressed groups that they cannot discuss the issues that affect them unless they have first considered the feelings of the oppressive group.

You are being a bad fucking ally.

I’m going to give you three pieces of advice:

1. If you don’t feel like the action attributed to the privileged group is something that you do, then assume the person is not talking about you

If you are not guilty of this particular oppressive act, then great! You are a good ally! Here’s a cookie for you! You can revel in the knowledge of your goodness without having to ask for reassurance from anyone else.

2. Take a moment to examine your past actions and ask yourself if this might, in fact, be something of which you have been guilty

The truth is that you may very well have been unconsciously participating in subtle forms of oppression without realizing it. Often our privilege is so deeply ingrained that we don’t always recognize when we are abusing it; before you decide whether or not you’re fully innocent of any wrongdoing, it’s worth taking the time to check in with yourself and see if you’re being totally honest.

3. Use this as a learning opportunity, and an opportunity to educate others

Whether or not you are guilty of involvement in some kind of oppression (and, I mean, spoiler alert: you probably are), any marginalized person relating their lived experience should be something you take seriously. Rather than just dismissing what they’re saying as something that you would never, ever, ever do, use what they are telling you as a chance to further educate yourself on the dynamics of oppression. Not only that, but use your privilege to amplify their voice – share their post, retweet their message, reblog it on your Tumblr. Instead of crying that not all ____ are like that, use your actions to show that you, personally, are not like that.

Whether or not you intend to cause harm, you, as a privileged person, have almost certainly engaged in some form of oppression or marginalization. Our culture has taught you that your skin colour or gender or sexual orientation mean that your thoughts and feelings are more valuable than those of other groups, and that is some social programming that takes a lot of hard work to undo. But if you want to consider yourself to be anti-oppression – if, instead of just saying that you’re not racist or homophobic or a misogynist, you actually want to actively not be any of those things – you need to put in the time to try to dismantle the fucked up outlook that your privilege has given you. Otherwise, you have absolutely no place in any kind of social justice movement.

And if you really want others to believe that not all men/white people/cis people/straight people/able-bodied people are total assholes, then instead of whining about how good you actually are, you need to prove it.


42 Responses to ““But Not All ______ Are Like That!””

  1. jas February 25, 2014 at 3:44 am #

    Fantastic post! I think we all should learn how not to take things personally!

    • Cathy August 9, 2014 at 5:22 am #

      Well said! Going from the particular to the universal is something they want us to believe is a logical fallacy, another example of privilege!

  2. kenishacummings February 25, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    Reblogged this on kenisha cummings.

  3. Nadia February 25, 2014 at 4:32 am #

    Well said. I think more people need to step away from their ego in order to see the full picture.

    • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 25, 2014 at 4:52 am #

      Sometimes I feel that the people who finger point do so because it gives them a god-like complex. People do not want to move on, they want to thrive on the cancers that threaten us all. The worst kind of hypocrite is the one who politicizes emptying their own trash can,

      • Alex February 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

        Indeed, because being able to shut down discussion is empowering. The ability to accuse people of ‘mansplaining’ and pointing to the most egregious examples of male behavior while attacking a strawman rather than give real life examples allows one to shut down conversation because it puts anyone with a dissenting viewpoint immediately on the defensive. It’s like calling someone a racist. The thing is, a lot of feminists have VERY different viewpoints on a lot of issues. But to say “You are not an ally of feminism if you don’t do exactly what I say #guyssuck” is just as damaging as the actions that the strawmen are being accused of. By associating “privilege” with a group, one is able to justify making monolithic, prejudiced and bigoted declarations against that group without fear, because that group is hated and simply cannot understand because of their privilege and, according to the accusers, never will. It’s the same rationale used by people who say that minorities who have benefited in any way from affirmative action are privileged. It’s a rhetorical tactic to convince others that wholesale attack on an entire group is acceptable.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 27, 2014 at 1:35 am #

        Hey I agree with all of this.

  4. Foghorn The IKonoclast February 25, 2014 at 4:49 am #

    You are doing the same thing you indict other people for. Privilege? Really? And what the fuck are you doing? Do something constructive rather that circumlocutions about the badness/goodness of other people. You have a lot of catchy terms but they are as robotic as reading a technical manual.

    • alibeesting February 25, 2014 at 5:52 am #

      Agreed. I sense an anger misplaced at hypothetical people for the sake of having something to yell at. She doesn’t have to necessarily do anything, though. Blogs are meant for expression and free speech. Let her rant.

    • Auntie Alias February 25, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      If you don’t consider yourself an ally to marginalized groups, her advice is not meant for you.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 26, 2014 at 1:48 am #

        I am part of the human race and not some imagined oppressed people. But this really is not about the truth is it? This is about arrogance…. yours.

        You see, I was homeless just a few months ago and I do not like people feeling they feel me and that kind of pain and stress, So, if I am not particularly happy, then you know why.

        Oh and I was in a soup line. A black Veteran of the Air Force was treated badly by a police officer, simply standing in line. She rudely told him to get the hell over. Durham’s Urban Ministries.

        He complained to me about this situation. I was so pissed at this treatment. Next there was a Hawaiian girl who I saw sleeping in her car for at least one month. The car being broke down.

        As to the issue of feminism a friend of mine was raped in Germany and she asked me what to do. I often got girls to open up because I care about the abuse of women in America.

        Seeing my dad verbally and probably physically abused her, she hid her car in our garage. At five I was watched as he threatened to kill her with a steak knife to her throat. It pisses me off when men and some women call each other bitches, hos and so forth.

        So please, spare the fucking soapbox because I feel a woman’s pain. I just do not like catch phrases that are pointless because they are at their core abusive. I would think about being abused by my dad also that I do get it.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 26, 2014 at 1:54 am #

        I very much am and more than you can possibly know. I am angry at people who say they care. Live on the streets and let me know or tell my mother what it. Because I bet she knows and so do all of my siblings. Rhetoric just makes stuff more difficult to change.

      • Auntie Alias February 26, 2014 at 4:58 am #

        Foghorn, I don’t understand your objection to the blog post. It boils down to giving space to marginalized people to express their feelings and opinions about their own experiences. It’s about listening to them and trying to understand their point of view without centering ourselves in the conversation.

        That’s why I wouldn’t presume to know what you experienced when you were homeless. I won’t tell you that you’re wrong to feel the way you do. It’s what I try to practice and this blog post was a good reminder to me because I do screw up, being human and all.

    • ryanfhughes February 25, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

      So stop reading. We’ll all really miss you.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 26, 2014 at 1:35 am #

        I will read what I want and when I want.

      • Foghorn The IKonoclast February 26, 2014 at 1:51 am #

        Bullspit! You are a weak man. Sucking up to a feminist viewpoint that is limited in experience and in scope. Seeking only to self-aggrandize and make themselves a victim. If you read another of my replies above you will see that I am not blowing smoke and take exception to stereotypes and trigger words. I really hate that shit.

      • ryanfhughes March 10, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

        You are so much fun.

  5. neighsayer February 25, 2014 at 5:27 am #

    true dish. Like it matters that ALL members of the dominant group aren’t participating in the beatings. Hardly the point, is it?

  6. katewanders11 February 25, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    I think it is in part a way for people to deny tier privilege and abdicate responsibility. If you are not really the problem then you have no responsibility for the solution. It’s like being an ally without the commitment.

    • barefootjakki February 25, 2014 at 9:19 am #

      I suffered from this when I was ill from a long time – I was amazed how many people’s reaction was how it impacted on them more than how it might impact me. It made it easier for me to deal with my dad’s decisions when he was ill with cancer as it was about HIM, not me.

  7. nicciattfield February 25, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    Thanks so much for writing this! Been thinking about this all week in a slightly different way. I’ve been focusing on how the ability to point out prejudice or inequality is sometimes called reverse discrimination and results in a sense of woundedness rather than reflexivity. It can be so frustrating sometimes because it blocks any sense of further conversation.

  8. roxannefrijas February 25, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Reblogged this on frijasroxanne.

  9. Bridgesburning Chris King February 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    I think you may have just marginalized the privileged?

    • Larissa Lee February 25, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      I have to agree. Part of the problem I’ve always had with privilege discussions is that they’re one-sided. You run across them when one person gets to talk to themselves (i.e. an article, a blog, etc.) about the privilege of a group, without any input or opinions from said group. [Note: I love The Belle Jar posts 99% of the time.]

      • bellejarblog February 26, 2014 at 2:16 am #

        Well, they’re one-sided because marginalized groups need their own spaces to have their own dialogue without it being derailed. It’s totally pointless to a discussion to toss in “but not all white people are like that!” – like, it literally does nothing to further what’s being said. It only serves to distract from whatever the issue at hand is. Also, saying “white people do problematic x” is not the same as saying “all white people do problematic x.”

        That being said, I am a member of several privileged groups – I’m white, straight, cis, able-bodied – so this post was written from a place of having been on both sides of the fence.

      • Larissa Lee February 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

        I agree that dialogue is important, but there’s always a danger of becoming an echo chamber. If all you ever hear/read is exactly what you already believe, you can’t sincerely change anything or gain any insights. The same thing happens with politics, religion, cultural debates, etc… which often end up insulating themselves from outside influence to the detriment of inclusion in the large-scale community/society.

        In other words, you can get to a point where you push away the acceptance (or minimally the cooperation) of outsiders while crying foul play over the way nobody accepts you as you are.

  10. Mark Aidan Bergin February 25, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Brilliant, as usual.

  11. grimachu February 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    “Boy howdy, I sure do hate them there niggers.”
    “Oh, I didn’t mean YOU, you’re a respectable negro. I mean, it’s obvious I didn’t mean you even though I broad-brushed an entire class of people. Right? If you were my friend you wouldn’t pick me up on how much of a hypocrite I’m being.”

    That’s you that is, that’s the whole ‘poisoning the well’, ‘ad hominem’, completely unhelpful nature of the whole concept of ‘privilege’.

  12. Arnaud Marchese (@MarchearDE) February 26, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    I both agree and disagree. Sometimes the “not all x people are like that” comment doesn’t necessarily add to the discussion, but it does point out something important : we often tend to generalize very easily, and therefore distort the meaning we are trying to express through words (and sometimes end up distorting our own view of the situation, because we use the wrong words). The important thing to remember is that words are never truth : they are the closest approximation that we (often clumsily) can put together to express OUR PERCEPTION of truth. Yes, this includes my own words.

    You can’t change others, but you can change yourself. If your reflex in response to this type of “not all x people are like that” comment is to flame the person for derailing, you are not only allowing the person to derail the conversation, your are actually further derailing it yourself. It is in in your power to “put the conversation back on track” by responding with something which addresses their comment and brings the focus back to your point, like : “I may be generalizing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very present phenomena” or “It may not be ill intended, but sometimes people exercise this oppression unknowingly”.

    That, and I think you should revise the tone you use towards your target audience. You’re trying to pass on a message towards a group of people, but you address them with a snarky tone. The only thing you’re going to do with that kind of language is make people who already agree with you give you a round of applause, while the people you are trying to reach towards and who you want to transmit your ideas to will most likely be completely put off.

    Please consider this as a constructive critic, hoping it is useful to you. I think that if you want your message to be heard, you should strongly revise your communication strategies and indeed, maybe you should actually pay attention to the individual you are talking to. Everyone, you and I included, centres their universe and their perceptions around them. Most people, including you and I, appreciate having our efforts acknowledged and not simply waved off with a few words. Instead of blaming the person for their perhaps limited perception, you can point out that the issues still exist, that discrimination is still a problem that is often unconsciously internalized, and that you think the person should try to stay open and perceptive to their interactions and those of others in order to witness the workings of the mechanics of privilege.

    Privilege theory is a very good tool to help analyze our social interactions and become more aware, but it should definitely not be used as a vector of judgement, blaming and so on. It should also not be confused with truth, because as with any sociological tool, it is imperfect and is based strongly on generalizations.

    • Paul.Vliem February 27, 2014 at 5:15 am #

      Thank you for this comment Arnaud. You express many of the misgivings I have with the original post. I continue to struggle with this idea that we would want to silence any group that tried to clarify their position amid a stereotype of “xyz group does this”, whether the group is a majority or a minority. I appreciate your suggestions that open up such comments into a broader conversation, one that recognizes the value of that person’s perspective while also acknowledging the deep social problems we observe in the world.

      The key is to keep the conversation going, not to silence a person who is trying to express their own experience of the situation, even if it is from a majority group lens. Thank you for bringing this point forward. It’s necessary and should not be missed.

  13. Sin City Siren February 26, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren.

  14. andreablythe February 26, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    Fantastic post. I agree completely.

  15. Lynette d'Arty-Cross February 26, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Yes! An excellent post and good reminder!

  16. petraylvasteele February 26, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    When your first response to a statement by or about a marginalized person is to say “but not all ____________ are like that,” then you aren’t listening. You are being an apologist for bad behavior.

  17. doctorzulak February 28, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on The doctor is in. and commented:
    Welp. This is about as close to the discussion I was having today is. I spent a few minutes absolving myself instead of thinking about how to fix a problem.

  18. April March 5, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this outstanding blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding
    your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and
    will talk about this blog with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

    • bellejarblog March 6, 2014 at 2:16 am #

      Oh thank you so much! That’s really kind of you 🙂

      I’ve been thinking of adding a donate button. Maybe I will one of these days!

  19. guest March 9, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Just happened across this post and thought I’d share my thought on the subject, which I wrote about something else a while back.

    One of the insidious privileges those of us who are privileged have is the privilege of being considered an individual rather than part of a group. Those of us in ‘othered’ groups know what it’s like to be asked to speak on behalf of the group, judged by the behaviour of other members of the group, ‘known’ as people because we are members of the group, etc.–we may find it uncomfortable, but we’re used to it and can recognise when it happens. Those of us with privilege aren’t used to being treated as part of a group to which we belong, and when it happens it freaks us out. I became aware of this manifestation of privilege after reading a review of Reading Lolita in Tehran; I posted the following to my then-blog at the time:

    It’s instructive, I think, to compare Keshavarz’s book to David Beers’ Blue Sky Dream…whatever criticism Beers received it was unlikely to have taken the form ‘Beers culpably misled his readers by not including perspectives other than his own’ about gender relations, ethnic conflict, the political situation or whatever else the reviewer considered signifi cant, or ‘there was another middle class white boy who grew up in the same place and time and had an entirely di fferent experience, so Beers’ book is wrong, or at least de ficient’, or ‘Beers plays up to/contradicts/ignores his readers’ preconceptions about what someone like him is like’. As a non-othered person he has the inherent right to his own personal story; he is not obliged to serve as the mouthpiece or model of a particular demographic group or criticised when someone else considers that he performs this service inadequately.

  20. Jayy May 26, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    This blog is the dumbest thing ive ever read. Ive never seen anybody work so hard to act oppressed. It’s like as a white person, If you act oppressive, you’re the problem, if you distance yourself from oppressive people, you’re still the problem, and if you just go about your day and don’t pay attention, you’re definitely the problem. Yet somehow, it’s not racist to believe this. Funny how some people believe the only way to combat racism and sexism is to be both in the name of some perceived greater good. Remember, The more just people believe their cause is, the more hateful they will become to defend it.

  21. phoenix902 May 30, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on selinahseipei's Blog and commented:


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