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Aug 20 2013

The Path of the Privileged Paternalistic Ass

Another day, another person spinning out because they insist they know better than the people who actually deal with the same shit over and over and over every fucking day of their lives. After watching a pattern of behavior unfold itself over years, I’ve come to the conclusion that JT’s decided to walk the path of the privileged paternalistic ass at an early age. Many of us do. Hopefully he’ll have the courage to realize it’s a dumbshit direction and make a course correction, before he turns into a Mark Farris.

36ca4e08-e6b4-49ea-863b-ff50fffc99e8But I’m not really here to talk about him, or to him. Said all I needed to say in a private communication. If he chooses to make his response public, I shall fisk it thoroughly then. But I won’t be doing it for him. He’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s incapable of comprehending why he’s not the ally he claims to be. There are, however, onlookers who watch the famous folk go careening off the track and realize, oh shit, that’s a slippery road. I’d better listen to the people who drive it every day before I, too, end up in the ditch, shamefacedly waiting for a tow.

I was one of those speed-demons, once. Happily, this was in the days before I could make a spectacular ass of myself in public, but I’m sure I managed to put my foot squarely in it many a time. I had that condescending attitude towards many minorities. Figured they’d be better off if they were quieter, politer, more patient, less demanding, and for fuck’s sake, why are they attacking their own allies? Sheesh, you’d think they’d be more grateful that these non-minority are trying to assist them with helpful questions and sage advice, sticking up for their rights and all (as long as they aren’t obnoxious about it). Fucking good thing I didn’t come to any sort of activism until later in life, because I would’ve been that clueless git getting it with both barrels from someone utterly fed up with JAQoffs.

I learned a few things before I had a chance to unhinge my jaw. One: STFU. Two: Listen. No, really listen, not merely allow the minority in question to jabber until they were done and I can get on with what I was splaining to them. Three: I am bloody fucking ignorant, and a lot more privileged than I’d ever realized. Four: Ignorance is no damn excuse. It’s my responsibility to educate myself, and apologize if I spout off without having done so.

Looking back, it’s not those paternalistic folks counseling calm and accommodation who changed the world. No, it was the stomped-on folk themselves, getting loud and in-your-face, who did that. Do you think Rosa Parks would’ve struck the match that lit the kindling of the Civil Rights Movement if she’d moved to the back of the bus, explaining meekly on her way why this is sort of not nice? Nope. I don’t think Martin Luther King could’ve done what he did without being loud and defiant. Not to mention, don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he wasn’t white. And those more radical folk, the ones who terrified the poor privileged white people? They helped. They made it impossible to ignore the issue. They made it impossible to return to the status quo.

Women weren’t handed their voting rights by enlightened men: they fought tooth and nail for them, enduring vicious attacks along the way.

LGBTQ folk haven’t made strides in equality by letting straight folk decide when and where they would be allowed to become equally human. They’ve done it by being loud and proud, and pulling the hetero cis people along in their wake.

I could go on and on and on, and on further still. But the point is, this paternalistic bullshit is just that: eau de cow’s arse. And it’s sadly predictable. Scratch the surface of any civil rights movement, and you’ll find plenty of people not belonging to the oppressed class who have all the advice on how to make waves without rocking the boat, and oh, you might want to make those waves barely noticeable, because otherwise someone in the status quo may become inconvenienced.

I know part of why that is, being a member of the white middle-class cis hetero contingent: it’s fucking uncomfortable.

It’s really unpleasant to watch clueless (intentionally or otherwise) people getting reamed by an outraged minority, and realizing, “Ohshit, that coulda been me, I think like that!” It’s damned uncomfortable to admit that people are pissed off for a reason, and probably would be pissed off at you, if you popped out with your privilege. It hurts to admit you are privileged, despite whatever disadvantages you may suffer. It’s painful to admit you, too, are one of the prejudiced, uncomprehending arseholes these poor folks deal with day after day after day. It’s really godsdamned difficult to change. And it’s so hard to shut the fuck up and listen.

I went through it when I starting reading Natalie Reed’s blog. Oh, the things I wanted to say… she pushed all my buttons, made me angry and uncomfortable and afraid. I wanted to tell her all about how she was turning off potential allies, how she should be kinder and gentler and so forth. But I kept my mouth shut and kept reading, and eventually, after much thought and reading in other places, realized she was right and I was wrong. I also realized that if she hadn’t hit me with a hammer, that privileged shell of mine wouldn’t have cracked. And that has been true of every other minority or disadvantaged person who’s hit me with hammers of their own. Their passion and anger broke through the comfortable fog of Being Right Because I Am White Cis Hetero Middle Class.

Hopefully, those on the path of the privileged paternalistic ass will have their own Damascus moments, and realize it might be a fantastic idea to try following instead of leading for once. To listen, learn, and accept the fact that you will never, ever know what it’s like to walk in those particular shoes, so don’t bloody pretend you know every blister. You’re going to be stumbling around, and it’s uncomfortable as hell, and sometimes you’re going to fall down and skin your knees, because it’s not so easy and smooth, this other path. You don’t know where you’re going, and you have to follow even though you liked being a leader. It’ll make you want to scream sometimes. But for all that, I’ve found it the better path. The people are more interesting, the world is full of variety I’d never known, and there’s hope that humanity will get shit figured out if enough of us walk this path together.

I’m glad for all the screaming that got me this far. Thank you, my loud and proud and demanding friends. Please continue to drop the hammer when I fuck up. I’ll appreciate it once the stinging stops. Hopefully, a few more of my fellow privileged people will join us here soon.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    cityzenjane

    This deserves more eyeballs!

  2. 2
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Dana:
    You are pretty awesome.

    I wonder why it is harder to crack some peoples’ shells than others. Prior to following FtB I knew nothing about feminism, and like everyone else, I had (and still do have) sexist opinions and beliefs. Looking back, they are easy to identify. As I came to read more about feminism I got more and more interested. It never really took a hammer to break my shell. It was almost like a few tiny cracks were provided and I wanted to break the rest of the way.

    Please do not misunderstand. I do not believe that makes me better than anyone else. I just find it curious that it is harder for some than others and I wonder why thats the case.

  3. 3
    maudell

    Seconded.

    I definitely changed a lot of racist, sexist, transphobic and ableist assumptions I had, and still have (work in progress). I think the important is to know that blind spots are inevitable, and what seems trivial to me isn’t for a different group. Worse, I had prejudices against my own group (I think many sciencey women recognize ‘being one of the boys’) Anyway, I know for a fact that I would be much more of a smug asshole without First Nations activists, black activists, trans activists and feminist activists in particular. It works. JT doesn’t get it, but I hope he does think about it (his writing is making it clear he is not even hearing his critics). I must say I have been surprised by his sudden love for social justice targeted only at criticizing in depth the group he claims to support. Using the word ‘ally’ and ‘feminist’ ain’t enough.

  4. 4
    maudell

    “First Nations activists, black activists, trans activists and feminist activists” was supposed to be followed by “giving me serious shit for being a bullshit ally looking for ‘good person’ reward points for cheap.”

  5. 5
    Kevin Schelley

    I had a similar transformation myself, except I was closer to JT back a couple years ago. Only by doing a LOT of reading at places like this while keeping my mouth closed did I finally start to get clued in. This what while I considered myself a feminist, but had no clue as to what that meant. It was a slow, uncomfortable process and it’s something that is still ongoing for me. The one thing that made it easier for me to change is the fact that I’m pretty good at listening. So that is my advice to people who consider themselves allies… listen.

  6. 6
    jenniferphillips

    If there’s a silver lining to be located in the thunderclouds of privileged asshattery that keep billowing through the movement, it’s definitely in the skilled and passionate writing from people like you, Dana (and Crom, and Jen, and Sikivu, and Greta, etc. etc.). And as much as all the awful shit has given you fine people cause to write, it’s given me cause to read. And learn. And learn some more. And help me on my journey from oblivious privileged cis white chill girl to something better. I know my journey is far from over, but I’m miles away from where I started, and you and your co-bloggers are a big part of the reason why, so thank you Dana.

    ~Danio

    1. 6.1
      Crommunist

      It may be worth noting that I only got to a position where I could help others to understand by going through my own process of growth and self-reflection. And yeah, it sucked at times. But it’s necessary.

      Kudos, Dana.

  7. 7
    Chris Clarke

    *like*

  8. 8
    A Hermit

    I’ve been smacked with those hammers from time to time to. And much as I might have resented it at the time I’m grateful now. I hope I’m a little less ignorant as a result.

  9. 9
    didgen

    Thank You

  10. 10
    morgan ?! epitheting a metaphor

    Spot on, Dana. Well done.

  11. 11
    Kengi

    I’ve been on that path for a long time. I thought I got off it several times just to find myself inadvertently following it again and again.

    I wonder if JT’s parents could talk some sense into him and explain privilege? They always seemed to be more rational than JT.

    1. 11.1
      ischemgeek

      … about that path stuff.

      Given that JT has a mental illness, talking about him being less rational in a way that has nothing to do with his mental illness is ableist, and asking for his parents to talk to him as if he’s a wayward child is infantilizing.

      There’s a long history of assuming people with disabilities (including but not limited to mental illnesses) as incompetent and treating them as non-adult permachildren. As a result, the whole get his parents to talk to him thing is also kind of ableist. He’s not a child in need of a lecture from mommy and daddy, as much as I think he’s both wrong and hypocritical on this issue.

      1. Kengi

        Okay, I’ll bite, knowing I’m probably walking in the wrong direction.

        I don’t understand the problem with the word “rational”. I’m sure you are correct, but don’t have the background to understand what is wrong with the word. Can you provide a link to where I can learn more? (I’d rather not derail this thread with a long back-and-forth with you painfully trying to teach me about this.)

        I actually chose that word carefully based upon this post:

        http://whatprivilege.com/replacing-crazy-for-ableism-and-preciseness-of-language/

        Still, somehow I screwed that up.

        Sorry about the “parents” remark. I enjoy his parents arguments (words?) more than his. I know his parents still have a tremendous influence on him. I wonder if there’s a way to suggest people who are that close to him and that influential to him talk to him about privilege without making such an implication about being a permachild?

        1. ischemgeek

          It more has to to with irrational having ableist connotations. If someones not rational, it means they’re irrational, which in my neck of the woods at least is a euphemism for crazy, which is more obviously ableist. “Reasonable” would’ve been a better choice, because “unreasonable” does not have those same connotations.

          As for good links, there are some, but none that I’ve found get everything. Autistic Hoya as a good list for avoiding developmental disability ableism, but she drops the ball a bit on cognitive disabilities and mental illness (“irrational” and “unintelligent” are both on her list of okay substitutes). The is this ableism tumblr is also a good place to look.

          In short, if it’s used to define clinical mental illness, or if it’s just a more polite way of getting at an ableist slur, it’s not okay to use as an insult, even if it sounds less slur-y than crazy or insane. Speaking as someone who was often called stupid in school by peers and teachers because of speech impediments and a then-undiagnosed developmental disability, it does not get by me that they’re just socially-acceptable ways of saying the slurs.

          1. Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

            To me, “reasonable” and “unreasonable” are coded for gender (i.e. men are reasonable because they don’t have their reason clouded by those pesky emotions that make women literally un-reason-able). I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m just saying that they carry their own baggage.

      2. nathanaelnerode

        Mmm. Regarding the question of ableist language.

        I use the word “crazy” for stuff which is seriously, well, crazy, thinking, and I’m not going to stop using it, fo reasons I’ve mentioned elsewehere — in short, there is NO appropriate replacement synonym, and nobody has suggested one. And I’m going to pull the “yes I have mental illness” card here, because it is frequently necessary in discussions like this in order to avoid being dismissed with ad-homs. And yes, sometimes I act genuinely crazy (“Why did you do that?” “In retrospect, I have no idea; it certainly didn’t make sense. I was acting crazy.”)

        But JT’s behavior/writing which is being criticized right now seems like it simply does not fit any normal definition of crazy. And it most certainly does not fit the definition of “irrational” — it’s long strings of reasoning, just based on bad premises. And these are premises which are popular, and also bad in a relatively subtle way — as opposed to premises which seem crazy on the face of it to nearly everyone These are not “well, we all know about the lizard people” premises or “everyone loves being beaten half to death” premises, which *are* crazy IMNSHO.

        JT’s behavior/writing fits the profile of ignorant, unwilling to listen, and in-denial. It does not fit the profile of “seriously broken thinking process” / craziness.

        I will say that I have never known it to be possible for anyone to “talk sense into” anyone whatsoever. Perhaps someone has found an exception. Often it seems like one just has to speak to the peanut gallery and wait for affected person to come ’round on their own. Sigh.

  12. 12
    Martha

    What a terrific piece, Dana. This and so many others you’ve written on this topic. Thank you.

  13. 13
    smhll

    I think the important is to know that blind spots are inevitable, and what seems trivial to me isn’t for a different group.

    Very important point.

    And, Dana, great piece.

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