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.