The follow-up: on privilege.

So it’s a month later. The mail volume has finally slowed down, which is good, because I have a book to write. I’m glad I’m no longer getting hate mail, though possibly it’s because I’ve set up a pretty comprehensive set of filters. I’m not looking in the trash to check. At this point, I have some things to talk about, mostly behaviors that people may not even realize are an -ism. (An -ism is where you are actively part of the problem).

1) “I know people of your group who never had this happen.”
Your experience / observation (or those of your acquaintances) does not define the universal truth. If I have never seen a pumpkin in real life, does that mean pumpkins don’t exist? Of course not. Your argument is silly, so shut up.

2) “I know him, and he’s actually a really nice guy.”
Then our experiences differ. Maybe he’s only nice to people he perceives as belonging to his same social subset. Maybe he thinks you could be useful to him in some fashion. Regardless of “niceness”, that’s not an excuse (or a defense) for bad behavior.

3) “I’m sure they didn’t intend to make you feel bad.”
Intent doesn’t govern injury. It’s possible to offer sincere apologies for things you didn’t realize were hurtful, after the fact. But at the time of this writing, only one of the parties involved in the many incidents I wrote about has contacted me. Therefore, I can only surmise that the guilty parties don’t think they did anything wrong and that I’m (insert classic derailing argument here).

4) “You’re too emotional / sensitive / search for reasons to be offended.”
This is a classic. With any of these statements, the blame is deflected. The offending party is not responsible or liable for outcomes resulting from his behavior! This is patently a ridiculous allegation. But if you say something like this, you’re part of the problem. No, I’m not kidding.

5) “You’re alienating supporters by using foul language / being so angry.”
Really? You said / typed that with a straight face? This is generally insisted upon by those who don’t really care about an issue; they just don’t want to be guilted about it either. People who can flounce away from a discussion just because their feathers were ruffled? Guess what? That’s privilege. I can’t walk away from being a woman. I’m a woman, no matter what I do or how I do it.

There are more derailing tactics; you may not be aware that you’re using them. Why? Maybe because you don’t want to admit you have a bias. There’s a more comprehensive list here.

I’ve heard all of the above, sometimes by people who thought they were posting / sending me a supportive message. Guess what? In the past, I’ve made the mistake of saying some of those things–about other issues. Then someone smacked me on the nose and said, “Look, you’re being a privileged asshole.” And she was right. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is one. When people say, “Oh, I’m (color / gender / religion/ creed) blind, I don’t see what the big deal is,” I narrow my eyes at them. Because claiming that and having it be true? Are two wildly different things. When people say that, they are refusing to acknowledge that the world is a fucked up place that badly needs sorting out.

So don’t be part of the problem, okay? Don’t be an -ism.

Posted in about me, opinion, peeves, privilege, sexism in SFF

6 Responses to The follow-up: on privilege.

  1. Nice follow-up post. I see a lot of #5 going around as in “We need to be civil to one another. You’re all being too negative.” It definitely seems to go hand in hand with #3. “I didn’t intend anything mean by this. It’s your fault for getting upset and not realizing my super nice/awesome intentions.”

  2. Ha! “I didn’t mean anything by it” is not a defense or an excuse for an -ism. It’s like thinking you can mitigate the harm of any offensive remark by tagging on, “Just kidding!” afterward.

  3. Esther MacCallum-Stewart says:

    Hi Ann,

    Great reply. The issues you have experienced are, as I’m sure you’re aware, currently a big part of the inclusiveness and diversity issue in gaming and other geek subcultures at the moment (such as cosplay). It’s wrong that anyone should experience them and I’m glad you’ve spoken out, and addressed some of the ‘defences’ that arose as a result. I’m also doubly glad you did because on an entirely personal note, I have finally got a chance to start reading Grimspace, which I bought as a result of your post and which has been on the top of my holiday list (everything else I read usually has to be related to work in a more serious context). Four chapters in and I’m kicking myself for not ordering all of them. Thank-you so much; not only for your post, but for your fiction.

  4. Regina says:

    Ann – thank you for taking a stand on this and writing so eloquently on this subject. Well done.

  5. Sunny says:

    As someone who worked in the training/diversity field for 15 years, I’ve heard a lot of “interesting” things in the classroom including – “Slavery was not a such a bad thing for blacks. Look at how many stayed on the plantation after the Civil War”, “Hitler was right”, “Gays deserve every punishment they get from God”, and one for the road, “We are a post-racial society. Afterall, we have a black President and thus, we no longer have racial issues”.

    It has only been 59 years since the Brown vs. Board of Education struck down state sanctioned segregation. Prior to that we had almost 300 years of racism in the form of slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, voting rights restrictions, misogynist policies, etc. 300 years is long time for -isms to invade and institutionalize into our structures and every day lives. Some of it has become so natural that it is hardly noticed, unless you experience it as a member of the out-group.

    Part of the solution is to recognize your implicit biases (and explicit ones too) by seeking to expand your perspective. Be intentional because it is much easier to sit in the comfort zone of privilege.

  6. CC says:

    Thank you for wading through the additional shit that rains down on those who’ve gotten tired of wading through -ism shit all their lives and have spoken out about it. It’s a brave thing to do, and it’s very much appreciated. After finding (just today) and reading your post about how you and your stories have been dissed by male writers and readers, I ordered a copy of the first Grimspace book for myself and another for my SF-loving son-in-law. I look forward to reading it and then to discussing it with him. Rock on with your legit SF-writing self.

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