Friday, 2 August 2013
"context", the new "Intent", intersectional fail.
Or how to fail at intersectionality. The following responses to "er, please don't do that, it's problematic" are not appropriate:
1. Arguing that context matters and that you didn't say anything oppressive and that others didn't understand the "context".
Seriously, things like say the usage of disabilist slurs as insults can never ever have context that renders them non-oppressive. Context is not magic, much like intent is not magic. Even if you think your context neutralises the problematic elements of a term or idea, if a member of the minority who is affected says otherwise, you should listen.
2. Pulling a full on guilt trip, and trying to frame "hey, this is a problem" as saying you totally fail at intersectionality.
Seriously, I shouldn't have to reassure you that I value your other opinions when I feel the need to ask you not to do something that hurts me or anyone else. Any social justice advocate can write amazing essays that we want to read but still make mistakes that result in a "could you not?".
The world is not divided into perfect social justice advocates and total assholes. You are allowed to fall in the middle and you probably will. We will all fail at some point, it doesn't mean we're bad people, just that we made a mistake and need to rethink such actions in future. When I ask you not to do something and tell you why it hurts, all that is required is that you listen and absorb the information, not that you reach for the hair shirt.
3. Arguing that because you were talking about your oppression when you used whatever problematic phrase or word, that criticising it is derailing and bigoted.
Derailing means attempts to distract attention or to complete hijack the discussion. When I say to you that X is a problem and explain why it's a problem, I don't need a huge long discussion or you to focus solely on that. Not doing it again will suffice. All you are required to do when an intersection in what you said is pointed out is to listen and adjust accordingly. People should not feel obliged to tolerate oppressive comments about their minority just because you're talking about your oppression.
Being asked to consider the harm you're doing to oppressed people, especially in areas where you're privilege is not a derail just because you did the harm while tackling your own oppression.
More intersectional fail is in the propensity of some people to make sweeping comments about the experiences of groups they aren't part of. People do not get to decide the experience of oppressions experienced by others. For example white people do not get to decide how People of color experience racism. Not only does this apply to all oppressions? It also applies to the experience of where privilege intersects with oppression.
From my own perspective sometimes I see People of color try to define the experiences of white minorities. This is especially painful when People of color who are Straight/Rich/Not disabled/Cis/male individuals decide to define how GLBTQ/Poor/Disabled/People seen as women who are also white experience their oppressions.
The sweeping comments made by the small group of people of color who do try to define the experiences of white minorities are usually based on what appears to be an idea that white skin gets us treated as straight, rich, able bodied, cis men automatically. It doesn't work that way quite frankly, oppressions stack, and privilege is never a free automatic negation of any and all oppressions.
A poor white person is still seen as a poor person and treated as such, we still have to deal with the scrounger rhetoric, we just don't have to shoulder racism along with it,though we may have to shoulder multiple other oppressions that affect all racial groups. White privilege is not and never will be a free pass from other oppressions, it simply means you're not oppressed racially. Having white privilege means as a poor person I won't be racially profiled, but I will still be subject to class profiling. I've never been and never will be followed around a shop because of my skin color, I have however been physically picked up and thrown out of one simply because I was known to be poor. (Which makes me wonder how that shop treated impoverished PoC if they treated me that badly).
A white disabled person is still subject to disabilism. They won't be refused a job because of their skin color, but will be refused one because of their disability. Having white skin won't grant them the job automatically any more than being able bodied would get a person of color a job automatically.
Regardless of what group you belong to remember that privilege is not a free pass to the land of candy and unicorns for people who are also minorities. The only people who are entirely free of oppression are Straight, Christian, Rich, Able bodied, White, Cis Men.