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But That Happens To Me Too!
In attempting to communicate with you, the marginalized person may bring up examples of the sorts of daily manifestations of discrimination they face. Many of these examples seem trivial to privileged people but clearly reflect the way the marginalized person has been “othered” by society. “Othering” is a system of social markers that defines “Us” and “them”, neatly and conveniently categorizing people into their appropriate places within society. It’s a way of defining a secured and positive position in the world by stigmatizing “others”. In other words, it’s the process of dehumanizing anyone different to the Chosen Privileged.The marginalized person you’re dealing with has been subjected to this “othering”.This means that their body is viewed as public property and the personal, intricate details of their lives and being are perceived as free information.You must nod patiently as the marginalized person tries to gain your understanding of the many complicated and subtle ways this othering impacts their lives until they come across a point that seems particularly grating for them. Then you must say “oh, but I experience that too!”For example, people of African descent often express outrage and irritation at the fact many white people believe they can freely touch their hair. This invasion of their personal space is dressed up as flattery – “oh, what beautiful hair you have!” and permission is not sought or granted before the action is taken. “That happens to everyone!” you must exclaim. “My child has beautiful white-blonde hair and people are always touching it!”
Sex workers, as another example, often endure highly intimate questions regarding all aspects of their lives, sexual habits and client interactions. When they gripe about how invasive this is, you must equate it to your own work: “Oh, I know, I’m a lawyer and people always want to know what goes on in court!” “Totally, I’m a doctor and people are always asking about gross conditions I see!”
With a trans person, many people expect all the details of the transition process should be made available to them, including details of how they “transform“. When they talk about how frustrating this is, you must commiserate: “Yeah, don’t you hate the way men always want you to explain the mysteries of make-up and skin care!” you should blithely exclaim.
If you are speaking to a fat person who is complaining about the lack of fashion-forward and beautiful clothing made in their size, try something like: “The fashion industry sucks! They just do not make clothes for real bodies – I mean, just because I am a size four doesn’t mean I’m short! Jeans are always too short on me!”
Without a doubt, one of the most powerful tactics to use here is comparing male circumcision to female genital mutilation. In any discussion around FGM, make sure you quickly leap in and say: “But why is it OK for little boys to be mutilated? Why isn’t anyone talking about that?” Because the removal of a tiny flap of skin is entirely comparable to the crippling mutilation many young girls are subjected to.
What this demonstrates is your total lack of understanding of what “othering” means in a practical sense. You’re ignoring the way your life is otherwise entirely immersed in a state of absolute privilege and revealing the fact you fail to comprehend the process of objectification and marginalizing they go through all the time. When you are privileged, “similar” experiences simply do not happen on an equal footing because they do not otherwise reflect marginalization. This obliviousness is highly insensitive and trivializing and will definitely cause them to grind their teeth!
But it’s also an important step in affirming your privilege: privileged people are accustomed, after all, to it being “all about them”. Not used to simply sitting back and listening to othered people‘s issues, privileged people like to be the center of attention at all times. It reminds them that they are important. By doing this, you will feel good about yourself and send a crucial message to the marginalized person (yes you really can diminish their experience by making it all about you, all the time!).
But If It’s Okay For Marginalized People To Use Those Words, Why Can’t I?
As a privileged person, it is natural that you would feel excluded and frustrated by the recent spate of marginalized person ”reclaiming” historically negative words to refer to themselves. Not only do these marginalized person kick up a great big ole stink by making it “politically incorrect” for privileged people to use these words – even going so far as to have some of them defined under ‘hate crime’ legislation! – they take the insult one step further and use them freely among themselves!This is very perplexing and annoying for privileged people, who can only stand on the outside, gazing wistfully in, wishing it were a simpler time when it was totally okay for everyone to call women whores, Mexicans spics, Trans* folk trannies, gay men faggots and people of African descent the n-word. After all, who do those marginalized person think they are, taking ownership of language traditionally used to oppress them! That just isn’t playing fair!But take heart, because there is a way you can worm around this one – where there’s privilege, there’s always a way!
First of all, you must feign utter cluelessness about the ins & outs of reclamation and behave as though you were under the impression that in these ‘post race/sex/sexuality/gender/etc times’ that we had all evolved into a new era where ‘words don’t mean anything’ and it’s totally okay for everyone to use offensive slurs and then… well: use them.
When a marginalized person calls you out on it, become indignant. Express confusion. Demand an explanation. Say that you just don’t understand – if you people use those words to refer to each other, why can’t I?!
You see, you’re implying that they’re being hypocritical. That if they are going to use abusive & oppressionist language amongst each other, they simply have to accept that they’re employing a ‘double standard’ by preventing the privileged from using them.
What this enables you to ignore is the reality of the power dynamic involved. Language reclamation is a means by which marginalized people gain back some power they are traditionally denied by taking control of words used to demean and discriminate against them. When these words come from privileged people, there is a long and very serious negative history behind them that cannot be divorced from the words themselves. Thus, when privileged people employ these words, they are perpetuating that history and the psychology behind the word. They are exercising oppressive power that have become inherent to those words – a power marginalized people seek to subvert and dismantle when they use them.
Pretend not to understand this. Just continue to imply hypocrisy and pout that it isn’t fair. It also ignores the fact that, from within marginalized groups, discourses around abusive language are actually not simple and there are many divided and varied opinions on the subject. Treating marginalized people like a hive mind is always a great way to further subtly insult them and since the point of this entire debacle is to come out with as many notches on your belt as possible, you want to make sure you slip in as many knocks below their belt as you can manage.
“It’s A Conspiracy!”
Rather than deal with the actual issues on the table or stop and listen and take into consideration what the marginalized person is saying, just whip this out instead!Essentially, what you are doing is claiming that any endeavor by marginalized people to improve their standing within society and the treatment they experience is a “conspiracy” “against” the privileged and that the ultimate objective of this fearsome “conspiracy” is to ultimately oppress the Privileged. It is a common misconception of the Privileged to believe that any effort by the marginalized to gain equity undermines the privileged and their lives.
It is a very unique and special trait to personalize something like Black History Month, for example, as being an effort to make the history and accomplishments of white people invisible. Although this is obviously ridiculous when white history is so prominently covered in every aspect of culture from film, books, monuments and education, it is a great way to once again make the dialogue about the privileged and the privileged’s perceived ill-treatment, imaginary though this may be. This way you manage to keep the focus off the topic at hand and on your own sense of wounded comfort – a lovely way to remind the marginalized their issues are thoroughly devalued.Naturally, it is of extreme frustration to marginalized person, when all they are attempting to do is draw attention to the extreme discrimination they are obliged to face, to have it characterized as a calculated attack on the rights of the privileged.You can further underscore and intensify this frustration by accusing them of a conspiracy, the ultimate objective of which is to make your life as a Privileged Person a living hell! Go so far as to suggest they intend to turn the tables – that if given an inch they will simply take a mile and if the Privileged budge or relent, in the blink of an eye the marginalized will overthrow and oppress the oppressors! After all, how dare they think they are entitled to the same human rights you enjoy automatically by virtue of your privilege!
Anything You Can Do
If a marginalized person should remark that many marginalized people report overwhelmingly similar experiences of discrimination and silencing from the Privileged, do not despair: this is a unique opportunity to turn one of their own arguments back on them!Tell them they are making “generalizations.” Salt with “unwarranted” as necessary and if you can work “stereotyping” in there too (playing on that guilt that THEY may be doing what they accuse others of), and you’re golden. You have still managed to entirely undermine their voice as well as insinuate they’re hypocrites – all the while presenting yourself as being blissfully unaware that stereotypes of the privileged rarely, if ever, actively work to disadvantage them in life.They’ll inevitably retreat to a YMMV, IMHO multi-disclaimered “Lived Experience” (don’t forget, as discussed in You’re Arguing With Opinions, Not Fact, this is worthless) at which point you can tell them that’s “anecdotal” and proves nothing. Slam dunk. BOOYAH!
But I’m Not Like That – Stop Stereotying!
Personalizing anything the marginalized person may say is a great way of distracting attention from the issue at hand, forcing the marginalized person to soothe your wounded feelings or sense of indignation rather than concentrating on the argument they were making.Rather than simply listening to criticism of a group of Privileged People with respect and consideration for the marginalized person, you must immediately take offence and leap in to defend yourself.For example, when queer people are criticizing the tendencies of some straight people, jump in and say something like:“Not all of us are like that – you’re prejudiced against straight people! You’re judging straight people the same way that they judge you, and it’s hateful! We need to not categorize people and make assumptions about them based on their identity! I resent feeling like I’m part of a group that oppresses you!” – even though the criticism was very explicitly leveled at a specified behavior. (ie.:, “I don’t like straight people who do ________.”)
But of course, this can work in many different situations where Privileged behavior is being deconstructed or criticized Its resonance is in its lack of acknowledgement of the balance of power by suggesting that reasonable criticism of oppressive or discriminatory behavior is equivalent to the oppressive and discriminatory behavior itself. Remember that while the marginalized person’s criticism can never adversely affect your life in significant ways, you must rank the discrimination they face – which does significantly affect them – as equal to the discomfort of your wounded feelings, to demonstrate how highly you rank yourself and how lowly you rank them.
Who Wins Gold in the Oppression Olympics?
Following on from this, if you are a member of another marginalized groups, you can also exploit it to indicate to the marginalized person how absolutely disdainful you are of their concerns and issues by making out that yours are far more important and imperative.You can even suggest that your issues are more valuable than theirs, implying a hierarchy of oppression in which you always win.You see, as a marginalized person yourself, it is all the more infuriating to another marginalized person that you’re exercising the exact same prejudices and discrimination that privileged people exercise against you! The marginalized person will be tearing their hair out at your obliviousness and lack of perception and this will weaken their defenses