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Sep 13 2012

What’s your room number?

In the comments section of my first post on atheism+, a commenter has opened up a line of discussion about whether or not it is fair and appropriate to respond to honest and non-malicious questions with abuse and vitriol:

I think part of the issue with a lot of the discussions that happen both here and on A+ forums involve privilege, specifically those who are lacking privilege in one area or another. Many (lets say strait white guys) can often feel that they are being told that they are wrong because they are strait white guys, or that they aren’t welcome due to their status. Certainly some/most of the blame is on them, but I think it is very important not to introduce people to the concept in a manner than can be perceived as hostile or rude. It can be hard to accept “You can’t know what this is like, because you are man/white/strait/cis” when that is exactly what is understood. Nevermind if it is presented in a way that sounds more like “You are wrong, because you are a man/white/strait/cis.”

Even when it comes across perfectly, you can still feel rather dumb about the situation that caused it to arise (I did). It isn’t pleasant. It just needs to be put in a way that is non-confrontational.

I responded from a place of frustration, and to hir eternal credit, kbonn has stuck it out and tried repeatedly to further articulate hir position. I will take a stab at paraphrasing it, and kbonn is free to step in and tell me if I get something wrong.

One problem (not the problem, but a problem) in social justice conversations is that people who have some kind of privilege-related blindness will say things that come from a place of privilege without realizing the harm they may be causing, or the flawed assumptions from which they are operating. When members of oppressed groups respond to the naiveté of the privileged with personal attacks and abuse, it makes understanding and learning from the experience difficult. It is especially difficult to get anything from the experience when the privileged person is likely going to respond defensively to accusations of privilege and insensitivity.

The answer is clear – social justice advocates would be more persuasive and effective if they maintained an attitude of generous sensitivity in these kinds of interactions, and make allowances and accommodations for the fact that many of the people they are talking to are ignorant but well-meaning. It is certainly unfair to heap abuse on people for simple misunderstandings.

I am going to grant, for the sake of making my point, that it is in fact true that privileged people face abuse for merely asking well-intentioned but ignorant questions. My suspicion, based on my experience, is that the abuse comes after a pattern of insensitivity and belligerence is established, but even after granting the truth of such a claim I am not persuaded by this argument.

Walking hand-in-hand with privilege is a grossly-misplaced sense of entitlement. All spaces are assumed to be welcome and open, and your opinion is always appreciated and listened to. The fact that you lack relevant knowledge and experience is immaterial – you still deserve a place in the conversation. This is why you see creationists sneer their way through “why are there still monkeys” questions on evolution forums. It also explains why they react with butthurt whines and a cloud of scripture whenever their ignorance is revealed, and especially when it is pilloried. They have never experienced a circumstance where faith was not accepted as evidence; where sincere belief is not a substitute for fact.

There is a parallel case observed when people who have the relevant privilege (white people in anti-racist spaces, men in feminist spaces, cis people in trans spaces, able-bodied people in disabled spaces, etc.) try to participate in discussions. Oftentimes, particularly when this is their first foray into the discussion, they fail to recognize their deep ignorance of the topic and offer their opinions as though they are revelatory or hadn’t been considered and debunked countless times before.

This behavior is annoying and would be considered rude in any other circle, but we are exhorted to ignore the fact that they’re being rude and instead focus on the fact that they’re “trying” (as though effort was sufficient). It is the rough equivalent of telling someone not to be angry that you’re an hour late for a meeting because “at least I showed up!” It is an expression, however indirect, of your belief that the time and effort that others have put in to understanding the topic is less valuable than your desire to share your opinion with the room.

Those who talk without listening, demanding the time and energy of others without putting any in themselves, are being rude. Full stop. It is not unreasonable to respond with an commensurate level of rudeness. And while it might hurt some feelings, the fault does not lie with those who are reacting to the original insensitivity.

kbonn’s  argument fails in another way, borne of a misunderstanding that is common but regrettable. There are conversations in social justice that are outwardly-focused: trying to explain the issues to neophytes and helping people see past their privilege. There are also conversations of another type entirely, for those who already have a basic understanding of the relevant issues to either commiserate or organize efforts to combat prejudice and oppression. I will call these “Type I” and “Type II” conversations.

The issue is that kbonn is mistakenly assuming that all conversations in the social justice realm are of Type I. This is a common misconception, borne of the same sense of entitlement that I describe above. There are, in fact, conversations had by minorities that are not about the majority. There are even conversations that are about the majority, but are not necessarily for the majority. There are conversations that are meant to be held by, and can only be held by, people who understand the topic. These conversations are massively derailed by people who insist on having the basics explained to them at every turn.

It is incumbent upon people entering conversations they don’t understand to clearly establish whether they are in a Type I environment or a Type II. I will sympathize – it is not always clear. But if you are asking what seem like simple questions and are receiving what you perceive as an unreasonable amount of pushback, there’s a really good chance that you’re in the wrong room, and your ass needs to get back to the Type I room.

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37 comments

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    This behavior is annoying and would be considered rude in any other circle, but we are exhorted to ignore the fact that they’re being rude and instead focus on the fact that they’re “trying” (as though effort was sufficient). It is the rough equivalent of telling someone not to be angry that you’re an hour late for a meeting because “at least I showed up!” It is an expression, however indirect, of your belief that the time and effort that others have put in to understanding the topic is less valuable than your desire to share your opinion with the room.

    Well said. The whole thing, really, but this in particular.

  2. 2
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Yeah, really well said. It is something that I think a lot of us “get” on a certain level but have a hard time explaining, so it is nice to see it articulated so clearly.

  3. 3
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Excellent post.

  4. 4
    smrnda

    I’m not really sure that people from privileged backgrounds are really always operating in good faith and are just ignorant with good intentions. You can be as tactful as possible, and you’re frequently going to get some pretty hostile reactions at even suggesting that privilege ought to be dissected and examined or questioned, or that there might be things that privileged people can’t pretend to be experts on, or where their opinions might be welcome but where someone else really ought to be telling us what it’s like.

    On ‘the basics’ – if you need ‘the basics’ of any discussion of privilege or any type of prejudice explained to you in the information age, you must just not be interested in learning about it and just want to talk instead of listen.

    Something I will add though, is sometimes privileged people want to be informed and try to be, but they end up reading one or two works and then assume they know about a topic. I think this happens among people who really do want to be informed but might not know much much work there really has been done on say, racism or rape culture or some other topic.

  5. 5
    Cornelioid

    I’m not really sure that people from privileged backgrounds are really always operating in good faith and are just ignorant with good intentions.

    This seems prescient. Skeptics often discuss the hazy boundary between credulity and willful ignorance (w.r.t., e.g., cryptozoology, paranormal beliefs), or between pseudoscience and fraud (CAM, free energy machines). As a straight white cis guy, find this a helpful comparison to the hazy boundary between innocent but inconsiderate probing and malicious hyperskepticism on the part of privileged in the midst of social justice conversations. By purporting at the outset to know better than (or even just as well as) the experts, we have already taken the most contemptuous step.

  6. 6
    Ginny

    On the A+ forums (where I am a moderator) we have an Education forum which is explicitly designed to be a Type I space. What’s sad, and disheartening, is how many people refuse to go there, even when other posters have said, “Yo, this belongs in the Education forum.” People really, stubbornly think that they know everything they need to know to participate in a conversation, and even when others have told them explicitly that that’s not the case, they want to persist.

    Fortunately big meanies like me can come along and move their posts into the appropriate forum whether they accept it’s necessary or not, but it would brighten my day sooo very much to see someone respond to, “You’re asking 101-level questions, head over to the Ed forum” with “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll do that right away!” But they don’t. Overall point being, even when there are separate and clearly marked Type I and Type II rooms, people will tend to assume they belong in the Type II room no matter what.

  7. 7
    Pierce R. Butler

    General announcement: Guys, don’t start out with the title of this post in elevator conversations.

    We now return you to your regular comment stream.

  8. 8
    Dupes

    I come here, and to other FTB blogs, quite often – and have been doing so for quite awhile now (When did Pharyangula come over to FTB?), but I have never posted before. I find many of this blogs to be quite educational, especially yours, since as a white male, it gives me a glimpse at a perspective I was not fully aware of. But I don’t post because I am still learning and know that I have very little – if anything – of value to contribute to the discussion. Instead I usually just sit back, read, absorb and reflect.

    I fully understand that some people, as well meaning as they may be, might want to jump into the conversation right away – blinded by the privilege and without the background knowledge (and in our world of Facebook and Twitter, posting things quickly without much thought) So I can completely understand your frustration with these people when they are focusing on learning the basics (Type 1 conversations) when you are really trying to make a space for Type 2 conversations. And I understand that it is not your role to educate these people and, as you state, it is insensitive.

    But I’m not sure if immediate abuse is the best course of action (though it is an understandable reaction) – there may be a better way (at least from your perspective as a Blogger, not necessarily in face to face discussions). Let’s make the assumption that at least some of the people that are making these comments are ignorant, but well meaning and willing to learn (maybe that’s a big assumption, but I’ll make it anyway). Along the lines of what kbonn was stating, if someone like this is immediately presented with abuse or ridicule, the likelihood of one trying to learn more about your point of view is probably going to drop. However, I think there might be a way to both a way to deal with these types of people firmly, without spending too much time on them, but not necessarily being ‘abusive’ either.

    For example, Jason Thibeault recently had a link up about sexism in a few different skeptic communities:
    http://io9.com/5938698/the-great-geek-sexism-debate

    One of them was about a Defcon convention, and how one woman attendee there dealt with sexism by giving people red, yellow or green cards based on the level of sexism she received (green cards were given to people who weren’t sexist). I think you may be able to use a similar sort of idea for dealing with such people. You could create a number of templates (or just one) that you could easily copy and paste into any reply based on their content – such as (just an example):
    #Template Message#
    The comment that you have made shows a distinct lack of understanding when it comes to privilege. I strongly suggest that you read the following (link list, reading list, course list, etc) and think of what you just said. Feel free to comment again, but be warned that any further comments with this lack of understanding from you will not be well received.
    #End of Template message#

    ….or something like that anyway. The good ones will go off and try to gain a greater understanding of what is going on. The bad ones may comment again without thought, but it’s open season on them for rudeness.

    If anything, templates would help make sure that you are not personally responding to all of these comments ad nauseum – it would probably be just as fast to copy and paste one of these into a reply then having to rip some ones type 1 argument down for the nth time.

    Anyway that’s my thought. Back to lurking…..

  9. 9
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Haha! How sad is it, that on seeing the thread title, I had similar thoughts to yours, Pierce?

  10. 10
    Infophile

    That’s indeed frustrating. I suspect this is an extension of the Dunning-Kruger effect: Those who are most ignorant about a subject are also ignorant of just how much there is that they don’t know.

    However, the research done on this effect does provide one glimmer of hope. When people are educated/trained, they’re almost always able to recognize their own previous lack of knowledge. So, while people might initially assume they don’t belong in the educational forum, if they do get educated a bit, they’ll soon realize they did indeed need it. So I suspect that moving posts to that forum is indeed the best thing to do, even if they don’t like it at first.

  11. 11
    Infophile

    I am going to grant, for the sake of making my point, that it is in fact true that privileged people face abuse for merely asking well-intentioned but ignorant questions. My suspicion, based on my experience, is that the abuse comes after a pattern of insensitivity and belligerence is established, but even after granting the truth of such a claim I am not persuaded by this argument.

    I have seen this happen, even on someone’s first post (not on this blog, mind you). The reason stated was that the person who reacted thought the questioner was in fact a troll coming in under a new pseudonym. However, I’ll note that in the most recent incident of this I saw, the questioner immediately forgave the accuser after an explanation was given.

    One other comment on this: Whether or not a person’s intrusion with a 101-level question/misunderstanding is rude, I believe kbonn’s argument is that responding rudely won’t help to educate the questioner. Which may well be true, but as you mentioned, not every underprivileged (relatively) person feels like educating every overprivileged (*right-click, Add to Dictionary, nyeh!*) person that comes along. Sometimes you want to have a 402-level conversation. Sometimes you want to have the current conversation, and not get derailed. Sometimes you’re just worn out by all the 101-level questions you get. Education isn’t always the goal.

  12. 12
    feedmybrain

    I’ve also seen people get pounced on for asking basic questions around FtB that turn out to be genuine but that arises from exactly this scenario.

    There are people who want to learn more and instead of sitting back and listening they ask about the basics in the middle of next level discussions. They may be genuine but the frustration from those well versed is understandable.

    Then there’s the other type I see who in my opinion deserve to be pounced on. Those who display arrogance in assuming they understand a problem with only a passing familiarity with it.

  13. 13
    captainahags

    I tend to think the best solution to the 101 level questions is to direct the questioner to resources, i.e. feminism 101, before they make anymore stupid comments. If they refuse to do this, and continue to blather away in ignorance, vitriol is acceptable. Basically, one mulligan, a chance to redeem, and then open fire if necessary.

  14. 14
    jose

    Why are you so angry with God?
    Why do you hate men so much?
    You seriously believe we just popped up randomly? Oh really, then why is it still just a theory and not a theorem?
    It’s just random lines, my 2 years old nephew could make that painting, what’s so good about it?
    Just make it work on ipads and android phones too for Monday’s meeting, how hard can that be?

    Lots of questions like these and boy they’re painful. From what I’ve seen most newbies are humble and receptive (more so outside the internet) but the ones that aren’t can be exasperating.

  15. 15
    kbonn

    Hey Crom, Thank you for continuing the discussion. I am still working through my thoughts about this so bear with me.

    In the mean time, I’d like to clarify a few points that I may have left unclear before.

    1) I don’t think that any person(in this particular case, a privileged person) deserves a continued seat at any discussion that they are not prepared for. The same way someone who jumps into a thread on page 9 without reading most/all of the previous 8 pages doesn’t deserve to have everything re-iterated to them.

    2) While I do think the classroom scenario is a good one, there are a few key differences regarding the likely hood of a naive person wandering into a conversation on the internet, versus sitting down in a 400 level class at a university.

    3) I haven’t meant to imply that the veterans having the discussion are obligated to entertain the continued presence of the interloper, or that any/all conversation should come to a halt to direct said interloper to where they can find more background information, or a place to discuss basic ideas.

    4) I don’t think I’ve said explicitly that the naive majority members are actually being abused. Merely that they are going to perceive what is being said to them/the way they are handled as insulting. I don’t place the blame for this exclusively on the veterans having the discussion, in fact very little of it.

    I guess what I am getting at is the repetitive nature of it all. If the Veterans are often the same, but the naive newcomer is always different, yet often has the same reaction to what the Veterans say when they tell him/her to go to the educational forum or just to butt out entirely. Who is in a better position to change the way this exchange goes? (Again, not suggesting that the Vets are obligated to change anything, but if they want things to be changed….)

    Yet, I am sure I am falling into the trap of suggesting things that have already been tried many times. I am trying to not to present everything as if I have the only answer or the right answer. I am sure that I have failed at this at one point or another.

    I also read the post made after this one. I think one of the points you made in it is very astute. I hope you don’t mind me quoting you here:

    “… calling someone “a misogynist” will usually result in outrage and confusion on the part of the identified person, who has a very different understanding of what the word “misogynist” means …”

    I think this is a great example of what I’m trying to say right now. Using words directed at people when you have a strong suspicion that they don’t understand the term in the same way that you do. That was why I had said previously:
    ” Certainly some/most of the blame is on them, but I think it is very important not to introduce people to the concept in a manner than can be perceived as hostile or rude.”

    If people react to comments like “The educational forum is that way ” in a way that suggests they think you called them stupid, after a while, why should you expect anyone to react differently when you say it?

    I am still thinking about both this post and the next one. I’ll probably come back later.

  16. 16
    Timid Atheist

    If people react to comments like “The educational forum is that way ” in a way that suggests they think you called them stupid, after a while, why should you expect anyone to react differently when you say it?

    I don’t think most people do expect that. When dealing with people who have privilege the par for the course is that they will take offense more often than not when they are first learning. I had this happen to me many times when learning about issues that people of color deal with as well as Trans* issues. I was hurt and confused by harsh reactions to what I thought were innocuous questions. I was just trying to learn after all!

    Some people responded to me patiently, others not so much. Everyone is different and will react differently not only depending on the kinds of interactions they’ve had in the past but also according to the mood they are in that day and how much crap they’ve already dealt with by the time they get to that question or comment that suddenly triggers them.

    People get offended all the time, but it’s how you react to that offense (perceived or real) that defines you. Why are you assuming the person telling you to go to an educational forum is calling you stupid?

    This comment assumes that because everyone who takes offense to being told to go educate themselves the problem must be with the person writing and not with the person reading. Communicating ideas isn’t always easy, but if the idea is clear, “go educate yourself here, etc.” then the tone used shouldn’t matter. If you’re offended by tone, then you should step back and figure out why your offense to tone is more important than your desire to understand racism, sexism, transphobia, etc.

  17. 17
    No Light

    If people react to comments like “The educational forum is that way ” in a way that suggests they think you called them stupid, after a while, why should you expect anyone to react differently when you say it?

    If someone takes “Please take this to the education forum, so that some basic concerts can be explained” and thinks “NO! I’m not stupid!”. and decides to hang around, raising responses to questions and theories they don’t even understand, why shouldn’t people get frustrated by that?

    The problem with privilege is that it often comes hand in hand with arrogance, or a feeling of superiority.

    Marginalised people can explain things in the nicest, politestway possible, but any challenge to privilege can be taken as an insult when coming from someone considered “inferior”.

    Even simple little truths can cause outrage and denial. I’ve seen tim following statements met with howls of dissent from the privilege-owners involved:

    “Women earn less than men, on average, for the same work”

    “POC are often imprisoned for crimes that typically attract only probation or a fine in cases where the defendant is white”

    “Same-sex parenting does not harm children”

    “Able-bodied people do not have the right to speak on behalf of people with disabilities”

    “People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violent and sexual crimes, than to be the perpetrators”

    Simple verifiable statements, yet they are apt to cause anger, denial, spurious justifications, etc. Why should the fact that truth hurts the privileged person, rest on the conscience of the marginalised person?

    If truth provokes a negative reaction from you, then it’s on you to explore why that may be, what makes you hostile to that truth.

    Those simple truths could not be presented more calmly or pleasantly, but because they come from the mouths of marginalised people, and produce a bad response from the privilege-owners, it’s the marginalised people who stand accused of “hostility”. Why? We are not to blame for their feelings.

  18. 18
    No Light

    Great minds think alike, I think we both just posted the same thing!

    Wish yours was here when I started mine, because typing on my phone litters things with weird predictive text errors!

  19. 19
    No Light

    Also for kbonn – are you aware of the concept of microaggressions? If not, you may wish to look it up.

  20. 20
    Timid Atheist

    I just saw your post too. I’m not a fan of indented replies, so that may be why mine didn’t show up sooner. Glad to see my comment was echoed by someone else, as I’m still quite privileged and I’m still feeling my way through these kinds of discussions.

  21. 21
    kbonn

    “If someone takes “Please take this to the education forum, so that some basic concerts can be explained” and thinks “NO! I’m not stupid!”. and decides to hang around, raising responses to questions and theories they don’t even understand, why shouldn’t people get frustrated by that?”

    I was never suggesting that they shouldn’t be frustrated or that they should tolerate it in the least. A big part of the problem is that they think you called them stupid, not that you don’t tolerate them afterwards. I’ve merely been trying to suggest a solution that avoids the “I’m not stupid, or I’m not whatever perceived insult.” Not that they should be allowed to disrupt things as long as they wish, or that they are entitled to continued attention/educational effort.

    I made repeated attempts to clarify this, but it doesn’t seem to be coming across well =/

  22. 22
    kbonn

    I don’t mean to suggest that the blame lays with the writer, merely that (it seems to me) they are in a position to better change the typical encounter being not the ignorant party.

    I am not suggesting it is easy or that I have the solution, and I haven’t yet had to do this myself. I am frustrated myself by the large number of people who are hostile to FtB in general and more importantly some of the goals/ideals that are often discussed on it. In my mind(at least so far) most of these people shouldn’t be or wouldn’t be if they really took the time to think about it objectively. Perhaps I am too much of an optimist.

    My point is just this, If saying X to a person is going to be read as Y, why keep saying X? Is there a better way to get most of the meaning of X, without having it read as Y? Maybe there isn’t, I haven’t been involved long enough to know, I just have the feeling that there has to be.

  23. 23
    No Light

    I understand that kbonn, but my point is that no matter how sweet, and polite, and kind you are to privileged people, there’s a fairly large number of them who see any challenge at all as a wound to their feelings.

    Their is no way at all, mo tone, no phraseology, no magic thing that will engender everyone to examining their privilege, even at an incredibly basic level.

    I’ve keen living this life for 35 years and fighting for equality since I was about 14 (I’m marginalised along several axes). In real life or on the internet, there are privilege-bearers who simply can not, and will not even concede that they have those advantages.

  24. 24
    No Light

    Well FWIW Timid,I think you phrased it fabulously!

    It does sting to become aware of unearned privilege. However, while you and I eventually turn around and become upset by injustice done to marginalised people in our names. We turn it inward, and explore how we can use that knowledge to make the world better for everyone.

    Them there are the people who, instead of feeling a sense of injustice at what’s been done to other people, they perceive it as a personal slight, that they are the wounded party simply because their privilege has been pointed out.

    They turn that anger outward, and harden themselves against change as if somehow, by accepting that they have unearned advantages, they’ll be admitting that they were somehow wrong.

  25. 25
    Crommunist

    The problem isn’t that you’re not being clear. The problem is that your suggestion is based on the assumption that a) there is a way to tell someone they’re wrong without them being offended, and b) that it is our responsibility to walk on eggshells so that privileged people who have made no attempt to understand before inserting themselves into conversations don’t get hurt fee-fees.

    The problem isn’t that you’re not explaining it well. The problem is that you’re not listening well.

  26. 26
    mynameischeese

    “Fortunately big meanies like me can come along and move their posts into the appropriate forum whether they accept it’s necessary or not”

    I wish I could do this in real life off the internet, just beam someone into a 101 room like on Star Trek.

  27. 27
    Timid Atheist

    My point is just this, If saying X to a person is going to be read as Y, why keep saying X? Is there a better way to get most of the meaning of X, without having it read as Y? Maybe there isn’t, I haven’t been involved long enough to know, I just have the feeling that there has to be.

    As No Light and Crommunist have said, better than I could, it doesn’t matter, in the end, how you say some of these things. Calling out privilege is going to upset the privileged.

    If a person came into a discussion and asked questions that were very basic and easily answered elsehwere and I told that person , “I don’t have the time to answer your questions, you’ll find the answers here.” If that person was still offended by that answer, how do you propose I phrase it so that it is less offensive. Should I add an apology? Should I add more placating words? What should I do in order to make that innocuous suggestion easier to digest? Trust me, these are the kinds of mild responses that privilege people get upset over. If you’re going to get upset over that mild response, what’s the difference between me saying that and me saying, “You need to check your privilege at the door and go read racism 101 before you join this conversation.” Or we could add swearing for color. I do love the F-word.

    As Crommunist said, you’re not listening. It doesn’t matter how it’s said, someone is going to take offense. If these people really wanted to learn about how to be good allies and not stomp everyone into the ground with their privilege, they wouldn’t let tone stop them from understanding the message.

  28. 28
    kbonn

    @Crom.

    I am not trying to assume either of those points.

    I can concede that there is a certain percentage that will respond negatively, or with hostility, regardless of how things are presented. I’ve also conceded that a “better” method may not exist.

    I’ve tried not to claim that it is the underprivileged person’s responsibility, merely that if there is a better way, it is more likely to be within the underprivileged person’s ability to control. I am not certain that this ‘way’ exists, but it is hard to accept that perhaps it does not.

    Please don’t think that I am not listening to all of you. I am, and my positions/thoughts on the matter have been changing/evolving a lot over the last several weeks. As i expressed in my email to you Crom, Thank you for having this discussion with me, I do appreciate it, (same for everyone else who has responded to me so far and will in the future). Often these posts are made as I am contemplating a subject or argument, perhaps that isn’t the best way to do things.

    Lastly, I hope I have not appeared to be equating the discomfort/confusion and/or hurt feelings of the privileged person in the situation with the damage they might do initially(or subsequently) or even(especially) the situation the underprivileged are in. They are not equal. However, being less important doesn’t make them unimportant(though possibly irrelevant to a given situation), and I don’t see them as a thing to be ridiculed(IE ‘fee fees’). I haven’t tried to belittle anyone’s feelings or experiences in this discussion(and if I have, please let me know), and Crom, I think your point is made quite well without you doing so.

  29. 29
    kbonn

    I was not, but I am now! Thank you.

  30. 30
    Erin (formerly--formally?-- known as EEB)

    Walking hand-in-hand with privilege is a grossly-misplaced sense of entitlement. All spaces are assumed to be welcome and open, and your opinion is always appreciated and listened to. The fact that you lack relevant knowledge and experience is immaterial – you still deserve a place in the conversation.

    Yes, yes, yes! I have had to learn this (and, unfortunately, it took more than one time to sink in). I’m grateful to the people who the time to show me what an ass I was being in racial and especially trans discssions, but it still took way too long for me to make the connection between, “You know how irritated you get when guys come into feminist discussions with the same old questions and tired advice sure that they are bringing some fresh, much-needed perspective? YOU ARE DOING THE SAME THING. STOP.”

    I try to have some patience because I know that I was good-intentioned but clueless. However, hurt as I was at the time by the people who mocked and yelled at me when I showed my ass, I’m really glad it happened, now. (I mean, most people want to make sure their ass is covered in public, right?) I think the most important thing to do is LISTEN, and when you’re about to say something, listen some more. And when you want to bring some fresh, never-before-thought-about-or-understood perspective about what life is like for *insert privleged group here*, realize that the chance you are going to say something that no one has ever thought of before is somewhere around the chances of stumbling across a check on the sidewalk for $1,000,000 made out to you. I suppose in principle there is something that a privileged person could teach someone in another group about their lives, but I’ve never seen it happen, and I’m not holding my breath.

  31. 31
    mdevile

    My experience, if it helps at all, has been that it hurt learning that I’ve behaved like an asshole. It hurt realizing that I have hurt others in my ignorance. It hurt knowing that I have contributed to hurting others by participating in a system that normalizes abuse and oppression.

    Learning about privilege and my particular privilege is and *should be* a painful experience. It might not feel fair, because I didn’t know any better, but that’s my responsibility to own and correct.

    I’m not an asshole for having privilege. I’m can’t help that. The shitty thing about privilege is it’s decided on things that you have no control over, and there’s nothing I can do about my sex, orientation, skin colour, or what financial status my parents held when I was growing up. I would be an asshole if my response to realizing that I have privilege had been to continue causing pain by refusing to listen to the people who are telling me what I was/am doing is harmful. I would be an asshole if I refused to educate yourself and insisted it’s not *my* problem if people are offended and hurt by my actions. I would be an asshole if I thought the tone of my introduction to my privilege was too harsh and that meant I didn’t have to care about racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/etc. I would be an asshole if I thought being aware of my privilege was too much work and went back to the blissful ignorance that I have the privilege to maintain if I so choose.

    I really don’t want to be an asshole, or hurt people. Which is why I think it’s critical for me to always be open to criticism about my privilege in situations where I hold it. And, on a note that sometimes gets overlooked in discussions about privilege, being aware of my privilege also means I know where I can use it to help make things better: by answering 101 questions or calling out shitty behaviour or raising awareness by talking about it in my own spaces.

    It’s a lot of work and it requires pretty much constant vigilance and an acceptance of the fact that I’m going to fuck up and fuck up bad sometimes, but since the alternative is accepting the sickness in our systems without trying to make things better, it’s worth the headaches, the confusion, the constant struggle to understand and inform.

    (For the record: white, cis, female, able-bodied, non-NT, born working-class poor, bisexual/asexual (pending), Canadian)

  32. 32
    mdevile

    I would be an asshole if I refused to educate yourself and insisted it’s not *my* problem if people are offended and hurt by my actions.

    Should be “I would be an asshole if I refused to educate *myself*”

    Sorry!

  33. 33
    Nowhere Man

    My breakthrough in understanding my own privilege:

    Other people are allowed to have things.

    That aren’t for me, that aren’t optimized for my use, that aren’t connected to my things. That don’t concern me in any way.

    If I wish to comment on their things (spaces, experiences, etc.) it’s on me to do all the research and thinking to understand how to speak without being wrong.

  34. 34
    smhll

    I will mentally place commenters in or near the “deserve to be pounced on category” if they write something that shows a lack of factual comprehension of the original blog post on which they are posting. That much willful lack of knowledge rates an eyeroll from me. Not necessarily a comment. Sometimes I will emit a factual correction. But, after this point, if a maybe-possibly innocent person is given some links and they post the same crappy and misinformed argument for a third time, and it seems that they haven’t read the original post and someone took the time to find and format from links for them, but they can’t be bothered to read the links, then I’m pretty fucking exasperated with their selfishness and their misplaced confidence that their arguments are awesome. YMMV.

  35. 35
    smhll

    Yes, yes, yes! I have had to learn this (and, unfortunately, it took more than one time to sink in). I’m grateful to the people who the time to show me what an ass I was being in racial and especially trans discssions, but it still took way too long for me to make the connection between, “You know how irritated you get when guys come into feminist discussions with the same old questions and tired advice sure that they are bringing some fresh, much-needed perspective? YOU ARE DOING THE SAME THING. STOP.”

    Yeah. I’m a white woman, and I’m hoping that all of the utter frustration I feel when a white man is dense (about what he doesn’t know about being me)will help me recognize when I am being dense due to my privilege, because I can see/hear the frustration of people who don’t have some of the privileges I do. And if that doesn’t work, I hope to be able to emit a very shiny apology at top speed…

  36. 36
    smhll

    I was watching a melodramatic TV show yesterday, and a phrase caught my ear. Two doctors were strongly disagreeing about a diagnosis, and one said to the other “With all due respect…” before belting out “you’re wrong”. This was interesting because the phrase is much more common on military TV shows. It’s the necessary thing that a lower ranked person has to say before expressing disagreement with an officer. I have the idea that some more privileged people that post here are perturbed to have people they unconsciously feel that they ‘outrank’ dare to disagree with them without many protestations of polite respect. I could be over-magnifying this, but I think there is at least a small undercurrent of it.

  37. 37
    sharoncrawford

    You are a good example. Listen more than talk. Read more than write.

    I have been reading a couple of blogs by trans people because I knew I knew next to nothing on the subject. I don’t comment — I just read. I might comment or ask a question in future but not soon.

    The Internet is a great place to educate yourself. It’s less embarassing than the “real world” when you screw up. But listen, listen, listen.

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