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Jan 17 2012

Not on Their Behalf

When your objection to a particular argument hinges on that argument being parallel to racism, expect the black folks in the room to notice. More than that, expect them to have something to say on the matter. Crommunist decided yesterday was a good day to have his say, in “Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist.”

As much as I hate it when white people use anti-black racism as a cudgel with which to beat other people, I can understand the conundrum as it is expressed. The problem with it (and the reason why it’s so bothersome to hear white people talk about anti-black racism) is that it fails to address the question in a meaningful way. To demonstrate what I mean, I’d like to share a couple of personal anecdotes from my own life. I’ve never shared these stories with anyone before, and I’m not sure why because there’s nothing particularly embarrassing about them, and they’re extremely useful in this context.

When I was in high school, I was the de facto manager of my string quartet. We were gaining a bit of a reputation – we were pretty good, and young people are a novelty – and had picked up a lot of gigs playing weddings. One particular evening, I was supposed to meet the bride-to-be at her church. I had been hanging out at my friend’s house, and was walking from his place to the church. Unhappily, I realized that I was running a bit late – very unprofessional – so I decided to pick up my pace. It was cool outside, so I had my hoodie up.

You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out what happened and what he did about it. And those of you who like the “just like racism” defense against the Schroedinger’s Rapist argument should understand that Crommunist’s post is going to get linked every time you make the defense from here on out in these discussions. You might as well deal with it now.

When Daniel at Camels With Hammers wrote a linking post on the topic, someone in the comments tried to change the subject. Schroedinger’s Rapist was no longer just racism. Now it was just like the fear of allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms because it might increase a woman’s fear of rape. Luckily, Natalie Reed, who will be joining FtB very soon, was on hand to answer that.

The point is that “schrodinger’s rapist” is based on a rational, substantiated and legitimate risk assessment.

The belief that permitting trans women into women’s spaces poses some kind of threat is not a legitimate assessment of risk. It is motivated by irrational fears. You know what they call irrational fear of trans people? Transphobia.

Furthermore, the supposed hypothetical risk posed to cis women in this situation needs to be weighed against the very REAL risk, threat, harassment and so on of trans women. If I go into a men’s room, I’m putting myself at VERY direct, real risk of being attacked, beaten or sexually assaulted. And even if that doesn’t happen, the attendant discomfort far outweighs whatever discomfort a cis woman can claim to have with my presence in the women’s room.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so important to include diverse voices in conversations like these, here is your answer. I can tell you why the statistics don’t support comparing associating crime with race to associating rape with gender. Plenty of people can explain–and have explained repeatedly and at length–why power differentials make it unreasonable to compare the situations of the people making judgments in each of these cases. However, only people who live these experiences can fully capture what is missed when people say, “Well, isn’t this just like that?”

And now that you’ve been told, if you were one of the people making these comparisons, it’s time to knock it off. You have no reason to speak for people who are perfectly happy to speak for themselves. You’ve definitely got no excuse now to continue to get it wrong.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Pteryxx

    Excellent post. Though, I think you write such well-reasoned, comprehensive, and water-tight arguments that you often miss out on the huge wrangling pet-fight filled comment threads that other FTBers tend to enjoy. Controversialist fail! ♥

  2. 2
    D. C. Sessions

    The very first thing wrong with “X is just like Y” arguments is that the only time X is just like Y is when X is Y. Ignoring that is either sloppy thinking (the benign interpretation) or attempting to trick the audience into sloppy thinking (the malign interpretation.)

    At best, we can say that X and Y have aspects in common that allow us, sometimes, draw lessons from our experience with X to give us a leg up in reasoning about Y (for which we have less experience to guide us.)

    Which, please note, is a statement that you almost never see explicitly made. I won’t say “never,” because I have seen it — maybe three or four times in the last 45 years.

  3. 3
    Pteryxx

    @ DC: I dunno, the disproportionate response and failures of empathy look extremely similar when used to dismiss either observed injustice X or Y. ~;>

  4. 4
    D. C. Sessions

    the disproportionate response and failures of empathy look extremely similar when used to dismiss either observed injustice X or Y.

    And indeed, that’s a perfectly valid comparison. “X and Y have very similar degrees of property Gamma.” Which doesn’t imply that they are also similar in Property Delta, even if it does suggest a potentially fruitful line of inquiry.

  5. 5
    Stephanie Zvan

    I have been told, Pteryxx, that I am sometimes a much better writer than I am a blogger. :)

  6. 6
    Pteryxx

    @Stephanie: I’d concur with that. I’ve saved far more of your posts and comments than I’ve commented on.

  7. 7
    julian

    What pteryxx said. Doubly so for your Saturday Storytime segment (which I guess aren’t really comment posts…) but in my defense, I’ve only learned about your blog in the last year.

  8. 8
    freemage

    I enjoyed this piece, but the part that made me squee in delight was this: “Luckily, Natalie Reed, who will be joining FtB very soon…”.

    Natalie’s writing ROCKS. She’ll make a kick-ass addition to FTB.

  9. 9
    robertbaden

    I’ve been quite happy to see Cromunist and the Black Skeptics here on FTB. Hopefully Crommunist will be the first of many to comment on these subjects.

  10. 10
    Natalie

    I hope the future is filled with many Crommunist / Natalie team-ups. The dynamic duo of Vancouver-based-under-represented-minority-skeptic-bloggers. :p

  11. 11
    Stephanie Zvan

    Eh, why specialize? ;)

  1. 12
    Getting by with a little help from my friends | Crommunist

    […] Stephanie Zvan summarizes her reactions (and the reactions of a couple of others) to my piece and explains why diversity is of value […]

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