February 20, 2014

DINEEN | Oy, With the Poodles Already

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In case you haven’t noticed, the Internet has offered our generation a new type of forum to engage in political discussion. For many, it is the perfect platform to share their ideas about social justice and anti-oppression. You know what I mean: If you have something you care about, or think is important for other people to know, you make that shit into a status, share an article on Facebook, forward an email to your listserv, whatever.

But, as you are also probably aware, for any opinion you post in the virtual land of fancy, you know that you have just opened the door for some other person sitting behind their computer screen to tell you all about how wrong you and your post are. And so often, that status you made about, say, why Miley Cyrus’s twerking was cultural appropriation, becomes the place for people to finally get the chance to write some lengthy explanation for why all these people “freaking out about their oppression” just need to “calm down.”

Ugh, when I read what’s going down on Facebook or the comment section of an article I just want to beat my head against a goddamn wall. In response to the most basic anti-racist, sexist, classist, etc. post, you get all of the worse types of people coming out of the woodwork. You have those pricks that we all know are relishing in the chance to post what they think is some brilliant theory for why racism doesn’t exist; but then you have the people who aren’t even blatant assholes coming out saying, “I swear I’m not sexist, I just don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

But please, don’t think you are adding anything new to the conversation. The textbook responses you post have inspired a whole library’s-worth of articles written about how to identify these tactics. Just Google, “What not to do when someone calls you a racist,” for instance, or go through all of Black Girl Dangerous’s blogs about how not to be an absolute piece of dirt and you’ll see that people have already identified and debunked your ignorant comment before you even made it. But in the meantime, I’d like to just say why I think the whole premise of these reactions is wrong.

When someone from a minority group speaks or writes about the way they experience oppression, people from a majority group are not in a position to be defensive. Frankly, they are not even in a position to weigh in as if their opinion matters on the subject — it doesn’t.

When, for instance, a woman writes a piece about how she feels uncomfortable in gaming culture because of the sexist portrayal of women in video games, I don’t want to read a slew of comments by male gamers telling me that the author is just overreacting and that the hyper-sexualized and powerless female characters shouldn’t offend women. But please, do tell, how would you even know? How could an outsider have anything new or useful to contribute to a discussion when they have no basis for understanding the experiences of women? You can’t argue with a person that they should not be uncomfortable. You can’t tell a person that they shouldn’t be offended. You can’t tell a person how they should react when you have never had to share the experience.

 Instead, you accept this reaction so that you may understand their position and your own privilege better.

But let’s just look at this defensiveness directly — what are you defending exactly? Perhaps you are trying to resist the notion that oppression has infiltrated our culture to such an extreme, foundational way? If you are really committed to a world free of oppression, which most people at least pretend to be on the surface, what harm is there in exploring all of the intricate ways that it may manifest itself? Since there is no harm, it must just be that you are defending the cozy surface-level politically correct behavior that you assume and don’t want to be burdened to delve into your privilege any more. Well I’m so sorry that people are hurting your stable position when they express discontent, but *sniff sniff* — that reeks of entitlement.

Defensiveness rooted in entitlement and privilege against those expressing their experience of oppression only serves to further delegitimize their marginalized voices. Why is it so easy to argue against these opinions? Maybe it is because you are in the entitled position where you are able to write them off without feeling obligated to listen. It is the job of privileged persons in these instances to validate the experiences of the marginalized, because invalidation of these positions is exactly the basis for discrimination to begin with.

So check yourself when you are moved to wield the power of your almighty keyboard in the defense of privilege. This is the time for you to pause, listen and learn.