It's challenging for me because the values motivating these complaints are completely in-line with both my personal politics as well as my professional passion for catering to niche markets and semi-marginalized cultures.(This post was republished in the Guardian.*)
...This is where this kind of conversation begins to feel more like liberal bullying, where the only correct response is agreeing and acquiescing. Any other response is seen as ignorant at best, hateful at worst.
My priorities with online discourse are dialogue and respect. In my little corner of the online world, I keep my focus on constructive critique and articulate, compassionate communication. Shouting down people who disagree with you (even if I agree with your argument!) simply doesn't feel productive or helpful. If I had a dollar for every time we have to delete a blog comment that I personally agreed with because it was stated as an attack… I could get rid of those in-image ads...
So, here are the contradictions as I see them. As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on. This is what I consider The Unicorn Ally phenomenon. The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression. The latter relies on a process I think of as Oppression Top Trumps..."Boldly Go - "Liberal Bullying" Nonsense (and also You Don’t Need Oreos, You’re The Baker’s Son)
Every time I bother to mention to someone that something they’ve said is problematic, believe me, I’d LOVE to have a discussion about it. But unfortunately, the other people have to be interested in a discussion. This enforcement of “discussion” and “respect” is something that almost always comes up when people tell me that it’s my responsibility to educate them. I have no idea when I engage someone in a discussion about social issues if they will listen to me at all. And if you’re someone that DOES engage people very frequently, you learn pretty damn quick that 90% of the people you engage in discussions with you about this are not interested in learning or addressing their privilege in any way, shape, or form. But no, I must always be the one to educate someone politely and kindly. I must slap on my smile and become a tour guide through the Museum of Bigotry. And if I can’t say anything nice, I should never say anything at all.*Fatihah Iman - What we expect from allies, and the view from both sides of that fence
The problem with that? If people went by that rule I would literally know nothing about white privilege. Nothing. The only reason I know anything about it is because someone got pissed off because of something I said... as a white person who refused to recognise my own privilege, I was not interested in any discussion that didn’t make me a good guy or part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. I was not interested in any interpretation of life that would in any way paint me as any type of racist, unintentional or otherwise. So being nice about calling me out would not work. Because I had been called out before in very nice ways for saying very racist things by my friends...
The thing that pisses me off about this is that we’re willing to acknowledge the good intentions of allies and people who fuck up, but the marginalised person or someone getting angry about something doesn’t really get the same support or acknowledgement. Yes, I have witnessed cases where I’ve felt that someone was being angry and sarcastic at someone who didn’t mean any harm. But that angry and sarcastic person is also a person. You want compassion for people who fuck up but people who get angry and have a bad reaction to something are supposed to smile and take it. And if they don’t they’re not being true to their ULTIMATE GOAL, gaise. Just like you can’t expect yourself to never fuck up, you also can’t expect everyone to be nice all of the time. The nature of privilege and marginaliations, of microaggressions and oppression is that it causes a lot [of] emotions. A lot of anger. A lot of hatred. A lot of shit that’s not so easy to cope with and deal with 100% of the time. So how about for once we extend a bit of compassion towards people?
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