Tag Archives: racism

10 Reasons Feminism Might Not Be For You

18 Sep

This post originally appeared on the blog The Outlier Collective. But since that blog is now defunct, and since people have been asking for this post, I’m republishing it here.

I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for individuals who don’t subscribe to the idea of a gender binary! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.

So without any further adieu, here are ten signs that feminism might not be for you:

1. You are against victim-blaming except in the case of _____

No one is deserving of any kind of violence, sexual or otherwise, at any time, ever, full stop. I would have thought that this would be something that would be fairly well understood within the feminist community, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. I’ve heard self-professed feminists say all kinds of nasty victim-blaming shit, especially about women who have been sexually assaulted, ranging from complaints about girls giving out mixed signals (hint: there is no such thing as a mixed signal, there is only consent and lack of consent), all the way to suggesting that if a woman does not loudly and forcefully defend herself against an attack then she’s somehow complicit in it. I’ve also heard people criticize and even doubt assault victims because they’ve said something problematic or at some point in history weren’t very nice. But let me tell you something right now: there is no such thing as a perfect victim.

You guys, a victim is a victim is a victim. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve lived an exemplary life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve said things that you find disagreeable. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like them or would want to be friends with them. None of those things mean that they are deserving of violence.

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2. You think that one of the goals of the feminist movement should be to make men feel safer or more comfortable about feminism.

Someone recently shared this video with me and it made me want to throw up everywhere:

I mean, I have so many issues with this video that I could probably write an entire series of blog posts about it. Also, I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t understand that sex and gender are two different things should be telling anyone about anything, and especially not opining on feminism. But the moment that especially makes me want to claw my own eyes out is when she asks “young women” to make feminism “male-friendly.”

Look, lady, the entire world is male-friendly, for one thing. For another, feminism isn’t anti-man – it’s anti-patriarchy, which is completely different. It is really fucking toxic to the feminist movement to suggest that we need to be more open and welcoming to men. That’s like saying that the civil rights movement should have been more open and inclusive towards white people. And this isn’t to say that men can’t be involved in feminism, in the same way that white people are still able to fight against racism – it’s just that movements working to forward the rights and freedoms of the oppressed should never, ever try to make themselves more friendly to those who have been historically oppressive.

That’s just common sense.

3. You think that someone can’t be a feminist based on how they dress or present themselves.

I can’t help but think of an interview with Zooey Deschanel that Glamour ran in February of this year. In it, she said,

“We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

There’s this weird idea (even within the feminist movement) that femininity somehow takes away from feminism. And, I mean, I guess that I kind of get it? Maybe? Sort of? Like, wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup and removing your body hair definitely plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty. But you know what? Feminism is about choice, and these patriarchal ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that’s it’s nearly impossible to escape them. So you know what? You fucking wear your feminist Peter Pan collar with pride, Zooey, and I will do the same.

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Still A Feminist

4. You don’t think that feminists are funny.

We’re fucking hilarious. Deal with it.

And not only are we funny, but our jokes don’t rely on the same old tired stereotypes about women that dudes seem to find so charming. That’s right – we’re actually coming up with new material and it’s fucking fantastic and maybe you should get over yourself and read some Lindy West or Mallory Ortberg or one of the other million woman who are a riot and a half. Turn off your white dude comic show for HALF A SECOND and check out something new for once in your life. Just saying.

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5. You’re not interested in hearing how women of colour, queer women, or trans* women feel that the feminist movement has failed to recognize or address their needs and wants.

The feminist movement likes to think of itself as being anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia. And I do think that most feminists believe in these ideas in theory; unfortunately, many of them have a harder time putting these concepts into practice. There’s a tendency to ignore or even silence queer women, trans* women and women of colour, and while I don’t think that this silencing is intentional, exactly, I do think that many people, even those working within the feminist movement, don’t want to address this problem or even acknowledge that it happens.

Here’s the thing: when someone from an oppressed group speaks up, you listen. You shut your mouth and you listen. You don’t tell them that we’re all women, here, and the issues that we’re working to resolve are issues that affect all women. You don’t discount their lived experiences by countering with your own examples of being oppressed as a white woman. And finally, you most fucking do not pretend that sexism experienced by women of colour or queer women or trans women is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced. Because it’s not; it’s worse. Get off your high horse, acknowledge your privilege, and let someone else have the microphone for a while. Feminism isn’t an egalitarian movement if it’s only promoting the rights of white, educated, middle-class women.

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6. You can’t handle being called out.

Getting called out is going to happen, I can guarantee it. Pretty much any person working in any kind of social justice movement is going to fuck up at some point (or, at the very least, do something that another person views as “fucking up”), and someone is going to call them out on it. And when that happens to you, it’s important to take a moment, cool your jets, and not immediately get your back up or become defensive. Instead, actually listen to what that person is saying (especially if they’re coming from a place of oppression that hasn’t been your lived experience). Try to take what they’ve said into consideration, even if you think that you’re not, ultimately, going to agree with it. And you know what? The funny thing is that you may very well end up realizing that the person calling you out is, in fact, right.

If you do realize that you were wrong (and let’s be real, probably you are if the caller-outer is from a more marginalized group than you) and you need to apologize, try taking a few notes from the fabulous Chescaleigh:

7. You ever, ever, ever feel the need to clarify that you’re not one of those feminists.

This is code for, “But I don’t hate men! I don’t wear cargo pants! I shave my legs! I promise!” And for sure those statements are true for many feminists; in fact, none of us hate men. But by distancing yourself from those feminists, whoever those feminists are, perpetuates the idea that a) there’s something wrong with those feminists, b) those feminists are totally threatening to men and masculinity, and c) that they make up the majority of the feminist movement.

Remember how we were talking earlier about feminism being all about choice? Well, it’s a two-way street, my friend. You can choose to wear your lipstick and your Peter Pan collar, and another woman can choose to wear hiking boots and a baseball cap, and at the end of the day, both of you are awesome feminists.

8. a) You think that there might be a type of body-shaming that is acceptable.

Nope. Never ok. You don’t get to comment negatively on another woman’s body, ever. You don’t make fat-phobic comments, you don’t make divisive remarks about how real women have curves, you don’t treat “fat” as if it’s a dreadful, dirty word. Oh, and while we’re on this subject, you can also feel free to keep any remarks about plastic surgery to yourself. Recently, when the new season of Arrested Development came on the air, a ton of my friends were gleefully jumping all over the fact that Portia DeRossi appeared to have had some kind of plastic surgery.

And yes, plastic surgery typically plays right into patriarchal ideals of how women should look. And maybe these women are furthering the idea that there is only one, very narrow definition of beauty, and that the appearance of aging is to be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you get to do whatever you like with your body, and other women get to do whatever they like with their own body. End of story.

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8. b) You think that there might be a type of food-policing that is acceptable.

I once had a woman say to be that she openly judges anyone who uses margarine instead of butter, because apparently margarine is a tool of the devil or some such shit. Now listen, I am the last person to deny being judgmental. I will openly judge you if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice, mean to puppies, or any of that sort of vile shit. But when it comes to what you put in your body? I literally have zero things to say about that. No wait, I have one thing: bon apétit.

You guys, food is complicated. On the one hand, yes, you do need a certain combination of nutrients in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. On the other hand, not everyone has access to so-called healthy foods, and even if they do, they are under no obligation to eat them. In fact, no one is really under any kind of obligation to even be healthy. Bodily autonomy! You get to treat your own body however you want.

9. You are pro-choice, except in cases where _____.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you were on Jeopardy or whatever, the WRONG ANSWER buzzer would be going off right now.

The first part of this statement should never be followed up with an “except” or a “but.” You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.

Sure, you are totally free to feel uncomfortable about why someone might choose to terminate their pregnancy, but you know what? You keep those feelings to yourself.

Say it with me, now, one more time: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y

10. You think that there is one specific way to be a feminist.

I know that I’ve pointed out a ton of things that people do that are unfeminist, but the flip side of this is that there’s no one way to be a feminist.

You can be a feminist and be married. You can be a feminist and be single. You can be a feminist and have kids. You can be a feminist and be childless. You can be a feminist and take your partner’s last name. You can be a feminist and keep your last name. You can be a feminist and breastfeed. You can be a feminist and formula-feed. You can be a feminist and work outside the home. You can be a feminist and stay home with your kids.

You can be a feminist in a box. You can be a feminist with a fox. You can be a feminist in a house. You can be a feminist with a mouse. And so on. And so forth.

Seriously, you guys, I can’t believe that I have to say all of this in 2014.

And yeah, I know that I said earlier that maybe feminism isn’t for everyone, but I totally take that back. I still think that everyone can and should be feminist. But I also think that it’s super important for people, especially those already within the movement, to be able to take a step back every once in a while, re-evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves if their speech and actions actually do help to promote women’s rights and equality. Because you know what? It’s easy to fall into the trap of offering the appearance of giving a hand up to women while actually actively engaging in pushing them down. It’s easy to feel that you are working towards “equality” while still sliding back into the old patriarchal beliefs that we all grew up with, to one degree or another. And it’s especially fucking easy to find things to criticize about the ways that women dress, act or talk – in fact, I actually can’t think of anything easier than that.

But we’re not here to take the easy route, are we? So let’s all start taking the time to check in with ourselves, to make sure that the stuff that we say and do actually promotes the changes that we want to see in the world. Let’s take a long, hard look at our thoughts and beliefs, and try harder to call ourselves out before anyone else can. And let’s all try to take few moments every night to repeat bodily autonomy is a necessity five times, out loud, in front of the mirror.

Because, you guys? This is our movement. And it’s our job to continue to make it a better, safer, happier place.

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Talking To Small Children About Race

5 Sep

Hey y’all! Here‘s an article I wrote for the Washington Post about being a white parent trying to explain racism and privilege to my white kid. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, but in light of what’s happening in Ferguson it now seems incredibly urgent.

Excerpt:

“Find books, movies, television shows that feature a diverse cast of characters, and make sure that these forms of media aren’t falling into the trap of tokenism, i.e. having mainly white lead characters with a few background characters of different races or ethnicities. If you notice that some of your child’s favorite books or shows involve problematic depictions of race, talk to them about it and try to have a conversation about what you wish was done differently in this particular story.”

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The Sexualization of Willow Smith

8 May

We need to talk for a hot second about the sexualization of young girls.

Specifically, we need to talk about the sexualization of Willow Smith by the media.

In case you’ve somehow missed the whole hullaballoo, the picture below of thirteen year old Willow and twenty year old actor Moises Arias was recently posted on Instagram, and the internet subsequently exploded.

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Everyone immediately leapt to the conclusion that the photograph was somehow sexual. Hollywood Life referred to it as “compromising.” Complex Magazine said that it was “creepy.” Folks on twitter said that it was “disgusting on so many levels,” and promised that the picture would “seriously gross you out.” Even Sesali Bowen, coming to Willow’s defence in an article on Feministing, wrote, “The photo itself is sexy. I can’t deny that.” The general consensus seemed to be that, whether you thought (or cared) that the photograph was inappropriate, it was undeniably sexual in nature and indicative of some kind of romantic relationship between Willow and Moises.

And that is incredibly fucked up.

It is fucked up that people are creating this narrative about a sexual relationship between two people based on one picture in which they are not doing anything sexual. It is fucked up that news outlets are throwing a thirteen year old to the dogs in order to get page hits and retweets. And it is unbelievably fucked up how quickly and easily we sexualize young women (especially women of colour), to the point where their every look and gesture is dissected and somehow turned vulgar. Jada Pinkett Smith gets it exactly right when she calls the media “covert pedophiles.” That is exactly how they are behaving, and the fact that they are peddling this so-called “compromising” picture for their own profit is appalling.

It is an enormous leap to go from seeing a candid photograph of two people – one of them sitting, the other lying down, one of them shirtless, the other fully clothed, their bodies barely touching – to assuming that something inappropriate is going on. It says a lot about how we view girls, and especially how we view black girls, that this captured moment was immediately sexualized. As bell hooks wrote in her review of Beasts of the Southern Wild (which she uses to criticize the eroticization of the film’s protagonist and of black girls in general), “black children no matter their age are always seen as miniature adults.” The reaction to this photograph is certainly proof of that. If it had been a white girl, would we have had this reaction? If it had been a thirteen-year-old Elle Fanning or Hailee Steinfeld or Kiernan Shipka, would we have been as quick to leap to the conclusion that there was something untoward going on? Maybe, but probably not.

Had this been a picture of a young white girl with a man a few years older than her, it most likely would have been written off as totally innocent. If there had been a media narrative at all, it would have contained the facts that a) the two of them were not alone; they were hanging with Willow’s older brother Jaden and b) Moises is a family friend and particularly a close friend of Jaden’s and c) the three of them were attending Coachella (where, as is my understanding, going shirtless is pretty standard). But those details are all missing from most articles about this picture – instead, it’s presented as an intimate moment between two lovers.

Black women are so consistently devalued and dehumanized by the media that most people barely even notice it anymore. Young black girls are sexualized from the moment they hit puberty (and often even before that). Black girls are barely allowed to have a childhood before they become the object of the male gaze – especially the white male gaze. And when we share and judge and comment on pictures like this, we are contributing to that problem.

I mean, Jesus, she’s just a little kid – even if you do look at this picture and see something sexual, why would you think it was fine to attack and humiliate a kid like this? Think back to when you were thirteen, and then imagine that the entire world was passing around a humiliating picture of you and calling you all kinds of horrible names. I don’t know about you, but I would pretty much have died of shame. So why would you do that to someone else? And don’t say that as a celebrity she’s asking for it – she’s thirteen. She hasn’t asked for anything. You are the adult here, so start behaving like it.

Female bodies – especially black female bodies – do not exist purely for our voyeuristic enjoyment. We need to actively push back whenever stories like this are created by the media, and we need to work hard to protect the privacy and autonomy of young women. Most of all, we need to stop ascribing sexual intentions and desires to young girls, because doing so is dangerous and damaging. Treating a picture like this in this way says far more about us, and what we project onto black girls, than it does about anything else.

 

White People Are The Worst – Hockey Edition

2 May

Trigger warning for racist and violent language and images

Last night, Montreal Canadiens player P. K. Subban scored the winning goal against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal.

Predictably, Boston fans were outraged. In this case, though, with Subban as one of the few black players in the league, their anger took a sickeningly racist turn.

It was so bad that the n-word was briefly trending on Twitter in Boston. Seriously. Think about that for a minute. Think about how many people must have been tweeting one of the vilest, most degrading racist slurs in our language in order for it to be trending in a city the size of Boston. That is not just a few racist fans making everyone look bad – that is a whole fucking lot of people trying their hardest to make Subban (and all people of colour) aware of just how unwelcome they are among white people.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling of some of the tweets:

That stupid n—-r doesn’t belong in hockey #whitesonly.”

F*** YOU N***** SUBBAN YOU BELONG IN A F****** HOLE NOT AN ICE RINK”

Someone needs to smack PK subban across his big n***** lips. #scumbag”

F*** PK Subban. F****** n*****. Wish he got sold”

Even worse, one fan tweeted this image (the account has since been deleted):

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This is not a fluke. This isn’t even the first time Subban has experienced a slew of racist tweets – the same thing happened while he was playing for Canada’s Olympic hockey team. This is not a little blip in an otherwise decent system. This is white people telling you what they really think of people of colour. Seriously, you don’t have to scratch too deeply to find the violent, still-beating heart of racism in most white folks. All it takes is your favourite sports team losing a playoff game, and out it comes.

You know what the real kicker is? I bet the majority of the people tweeting these things would say that they’re not racist. They would tell you that they have black friends. That the n-word is just a word, and anyway how come black people can use it and they can’t? They would tell you that it was just a joke. It was all just a stupid joke. Stop being so sensitive, jeez.

I can’t believe that this needs to be spelled out for some people, but: white people using the n-word is not a joke. Making references to slavery is not a joke. And Jesus Christ tweeting a picture of a noose at a black person is not a fucking joke.

The spectre of white violence is something that black people face every day. They live in a world where knocking on a white person’s door to ask for help after a car accident can result in them being shot in the face. They live in a world where defending yourself against an attacker can result in imprisonment, but meanwhile if they are murdered, unarmed and vulnerable, their killers can get off scot-free. They live in a world where a man can shoot and kill a black teenager because their music is too loud, and then not have the jury find enough evidence to convict him of first degree murder. They live in a world where deep-seated systematic oppression hounds them at every turn. To top it all off, they live in a world where white people are taught from birth to fear everything about them.

The Boston fans tweeting slurs at P. K. Subban aren’t an isolated minority. Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, isn’t just a throwback to an earlier age where racism was acceptable. This is the racist landscape that we live in, and to which all white people, on some level or another, contribute. We need to acknowledge that every time we downplay events like this, every time we tell someone not to be so “sensitive,” every time we write stuff like this off as something other white people do, we are just making matters worse. Before any real change can take place, we, as white people, need to accept that fact that we all participate in and benefit from a system that privileges our interests above all others. And we need to understand that this same system makes life not just difficult but frightening and dangerous for people of colour.

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely issued a statement this morning, saying, “These classless, ignorant views are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.” Unfortunately, the truth is that they are a reflection of people associated with the Bruins organization –  perhaps not people employed by it, but certainly people who publicly cheer for the team and therefore contribute to how people outside of Boston perceive the Bruins. This statement is a start, but there needs to be more. We need more people calling out racism in sports – and everywhere – in order to affect change.

We need to show Subban and all other people of colour that we’ve got their back.

p.s. GO HABS GO

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An Open Letter To Tom McLaughlin And Joshua Sealy-Harrington

15 Apr

We need to talk about your recent article in the Globe and Mail.

Specifically, we need to talk about the fact that you have cast yourselves as allies and yet are doing far more to hurt the causes that you claim to believe in than you are doing to help them.

First of all, let’s get a few things straight here:

1 You are not being silenced – and the fact that you try to claim that in a column published in a nationally syndicated newspaper is sort of sublimely ridiculous

2. Not everyone’s perspective can “positively contribute” – for instance, I do not think that the KKK’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on race, nor do I think that the Westboro Baptist Church’s perspective can “positively contribute” to discussions on sexuality

3. You are being bad allies

That being said, I want to ask who, exactly, you imagine to be the target reader for your piece. Is it your hope that anti-oppression activists, specifically those who are marginalized, will read what you’ve written and realize how wrong their approach has been? Because if that’s the case, then unfortunately you’ve missed the mark by quite a bit. On the other hand, if the group you are writing for is one made up of privileged people who feel distressed by what they perceive to be deliberate silencing and disenfranchisement, then congratulations, you’ve succeeded! If your goal was to confirm what privileged people everywhere have long suspected – namely, that “equality” means that their voices should always be heard on par with everyone else’s, even though their voices have long dominated nearly all forms of discourse – then you’ve done a great job. If what you were trying to do was make sure that the oppressive status quo – you know, the one that so many of us are trying to tear down – is maintained, well, mission accomplished. You only need to read the comments on your article to know that you’ve done exactly that.

I also want to ask you how, exactly, you consider yourselves to be allies to any kind of social justice cause when your main message is that oppressed groups need to make room for the voices of traditionally oppressive groups. You write about this dynamic as if the opinions of the privileged aren’t already culturally dominant, and as if privileged groups don’t already have an excess of places to spout off about their beliefs. I mean, look at the platform you’ve been given – an enormously popular newspaper with a huge reach. And yet you have the gall to worry that your voices aren’t being heard? Because I promise you that your voices are being heard.

And yes, sometimes your opinions will be discounted because of your identity – because you know what? In the context of social justice, lived experience trumps everything else every time. When you are speaking, you are not speaking from a place of knowing or understanding, and that means that your arguments, no matter how well-crafted, do not count for as much as the arguments of someone who has experienced oppression and marginalization firsthand. Oh, and by the way, comparing an oncologist who has never had cancer to a male doctor treating a female patient is probably one of the worst pieces of rhetoric I’ve ever read. Cancer is a disease; being a woman is not. An oncologist may someday develop cancer; chances are good that a doctor who lives as a man will not experience life as a woman. People who have cancer are not marginalized by a pervasive oppressive force that systematically silences and discredits them; people who identify as women have lived with that force their entire lives.

You say:

The use of terms such as “mansplaining” (and its racial counterpart, “whitesplaining”) can cause disengagement. These labels are sometimes used to dismiss arguments when men and white people simply disagree. But if a man or white person makes a poor argument, why not just refute it? 

And somehow you don’t seem to understand that marginalized people spend so much time coming up with intelligent responses to poor arguments. In fact, sometimes it feels like that’s all we do. If I were to reply to every bad piece of logic that came my way with a lengthy and intelligent response, that is literally the only thing I would be doing, all day every day. And you know what? If I were to do that, the vast, vast majority of what I had to say would fall on deaf ears. It is both impossible and just plain not worth it to engage every person who says something problematic and thoughtfully explain to them why they are wrong.

It’s not worth it, and it’s also just plain not my job.

If you really want to be good allies, then you need to understand that your job is to amplify the voices of marginalized people. Your work here isn’t to tell traditionally oppressed groups that they need to be more open to the opinions of privileged folks like yourselves – and by the way, this isn’t exactly a new or radical message, though I get the feeling that you think it is. As an ally,  your work is in educating yourself and maintain your engagement. Your work is to help educate other privileged folk. Your work is to get to the back of the room and sit down and let someone else take the stage for a hot second. That is what an ally is supposed to do. That is what you should have used your platform to do. Instead, you used it to castigate already oppressed groups for not participating in activism in the way you think they should

And for the record, being sweet and nice and engaging has never done much for social justice activists. Making room for the thoughts and opinions of oppressive groups has never gained us anything. Women weren’t granted the right to vote because they valued the opinions of the men who didn’t think they had the mental capacity to participate in democracy – they won the right to vote by fighting for their beliefs, by being imprisoned for them and sometimes even dying for them. Their refusal to engage misogynists did not stifle progress – in fact, it hastened it. The sad truth is that it’s only when privileged groups realize that their voices can no longer fully dominate the discourse that we begin to see real change. Otherwise, if marginalized people continue to “make room” for the privileged, if they continue to stroke their egos and promise them that their thoughts are valued – in part because too much time is spent licking the master’s boots to actually get anything done, and also because if privileged voices are given free reign in a discussion about marginalizing forces, then they will almost always take over. Because that’s how privilege works.

Look, I get it. You’re both young guys, and maybe this is your first taste of not having your opinion automatically valued simply because of who you are. And I’m sure that the backlash to your article has not been a nice experience – no one, especially not someone who believes that they are an ally – wants to believe that they are hurting or oppressing other people. But you are being hurtful and oppressive, and until you sit back and listen to what we’re trying to tell you, you will continue to be so.

Also I truly believe that someday you will be deeply embarrassed by this tweet:

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“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.

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Do We Have To Be Offended By Everything

9 Jan

You are a smart person and you pride yourself on your critical thinking abilities and general good taste.

You read or hear or watch something and find yourself smiling, nodding in agreement, maybe even laughing out loud. This, whatever this happens to be, is genius. Whoever created it somehow articulated exactly what you’ve been thinking but have never been able to put into words. Nothing has ever been more perfect.

You share what you’ve just read, heard or watched with your friends, expecting that they’ll be just as blown away by the insight and hilarity as you were. And some people do get it, so you high five to celebrate your mutual intelligence and awesomeness. But then a few of your friends start to voice misgivings, and then someone comes right out and says it:

This isn’t cool.

Here’s the thing – you’re not a bad person. In fact, you would typically describe yourself as kind-hearted, open-minded and even downright liberal.  You support marriage equality, you think that the patriarchy is a Real Thing, you’re against oppression and intolerance of any kind, and you use terms like social justicewhite privilege and problematic. You are a good person. So if you think that what you shared was cool, and so many other people that you like and respect thought it was cool, then it stands to reason that it must be cool. And rather than second-guessing yourself or taking a fresh look at the video or blog post or whatever it was you shared, you let your knee-jerk self-righteousness and fear take over. Because, let’s be honest – as much as you believe that you’re in the right right, you are also afraid. Afraid that you are what you purport to hate, or at the very least unconsciously participating in a system that you hate.

And so you begin to loudly dismiss and belittle the other person’s concerns.

“Calm down, it’s just a joke.”

“You’re taking this too seriously.”

“You’re reading something into this that just isn’t there.”

“Honestly, do we have to be offended by everything now?”

“You are way too sensitive.”

“I have a black/gay/trans*/female friend, and they don’t think this is racist/homophobic/transphobic/sexist.”

You might even throw in a word or two about censorship, if you’re in the right mood.

Because of course you must be in the right. If there was any problem with the content in question, you would have been the first to see it. If the joke was offensive, you wouldn’t have laughed. If this was something likely to hurt another person, you wouldn’t have shared it.

You are a good person.

So if someone is offended, that’s their problem, not yours. Maybe they’re too sensitive, or else maybe they’re just trying to show off somehow or cause a ruckus when there doesn’t need to be one. Chances are that they don’t even really feel hurt or upset; they have some other ulterior motive for their reaction. Or maybe they just don’t get it. Maybe they don’t understand satire, or maybe the joke went right over their head.

Whatever the case is, there is no possible chance that you could be wrong.

And yet.

What if you are wrong?

And what if your defensiveness has effectively shut down an opportunity to learn something?

And what if you genuinely did hurt someone?

Because the thing is, typically if someone is telling you that something isn’t cool, they’re not doing it out of a spirit of malice or a desire to police the things that you enjoy. They’re not trying to ruin all your fun. They’re telling you that this, whatever this is, could at best hurt someone’s feelings and at worst promote a dangerous and potentially violent world view.

Our experiences obviously vary a great deal from person to person, and the lens through which we view things can very much depend on factors like race, gender, sexuality and class. So something that might strike one person as harmless has the potential to affect someone else in a very different way. And I get that it’s hard to get outside of our own heads sometimes, and it’s hard to admit that we might be wrong, and it’s especially fucking hard to examine our own privilege and the way that privilege colours our perception, but seriously – how else do you expect to learn and grow as a person?

Take a moment right now to ask yourself what you are truly saying when you tell someone that they are too easily offended. That you value your ability to post rape jokes on Facebook more than you do their friendship? That the right to free speech is a one way street, open only to you and those agree with you? That you don’t care about something so long as it doesn’t directly affect you?

So I guess it all boils down to what kind of person you want to be – do you want to be someone who is caring and compassionate, someone who takes others’ feelings into consideration? Or do you want to be someone who is always right? Because there’s no way that you can be both.

Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible.  Which is why I’m ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they’re supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes. Yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.

And while you may laugh at the ridiculousness of what some people find offensive, the fact is that one day you are going to stumble across something and it’s going to hurt you. When that day comes, you are going to want someone to listen to you and try to understand where you’re coming from. So you know what? You be that person. You be that person right now, and you listen to others, and you exercise empathy. Because one day you’re going to be on the other side of the calm-down-it’s-just-a-joke argument, and when that time comes you are going to bitterly regret every single instance in which you downplayed or ignored what someone else was trying to tell you.

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