Marginalized folks shouldn’t always have to be “the bigger persons”

originally published September 2009 on What Tami Said

Teaching moments are wonderful, but I think that no marginalized person is obligated to swallow justified hurt and anger to better “teach” the privileged or “squash” the mess or racism. That people of color are nearly always asked to do so in the face of prejudice is spiritually wearying and a tyranny.

I wrote this over on Love Isn’t Enough in response to a parent who wondered how to address the impact of his aunt’s racism on his mixed-race family. But, you know, it’s not just people of color who are constantly expected to show extraordinary compassion when faced with bias. It is women, gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. It is the disabled, the obese, immigrants and the poor. Ask any marginalized person and it is a safe bet that they have been told “have a sense a humor,” “don’t be so PC,” “that’s just how so-and-so was raised,” “here’s a great teaching moment, “you have to understand some people won’t be comfortable with x, y, z,” “he didn’t really mean it.”
Today, when an “ism” shows its face, too much public sympathy rests with the offender and not the offended. As I’ve written before, in these times, hearing someone branded a racist is likely to upset more folks than encountered racism. Stick any bias in there–sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia…and the result is the same. It is, I think, the way the status quo defends itself when it gets tired of treating certain people equally.
Certainly, the point of calling out bias is to make people more aware of it and to reduce it. And, as the old adage goes, one catches more flies with honey than vinegar. Cajoling and gentle prodding is often more effective than angry shouting. And women, people of color and other groups learn early to pick their battles, lest they be branded bitter, angry or over-sensitive. There are just some dull aches that have to be swallowed. We try to pick our battles strategically, but it is stressful and ultimately soul-destroying to have to work so hard to ignore so much–to constantly be forced to show benevolence in the face of rude and dehumanizing treatment.
This notion of “being the bigger person” and handling bias gently has popped up around my Google Reader this week. In a response to the ARP post, one commenter suggested the man whose white aunt had forwarded a racist “joke” to his Puerto Rican/black wife respond as follows:

I’d say, “Aunt Mary, I know you didn’t mean that the way it came across, but that e-mail hurt my wife’s feelings and she felt it was kind of derogatory. I’d like you to meet my wife and son and be a part of our lives, but do you think you could not send us jokes like that or make comments like that?” The end. Give her the benefit of the doubt. She doesn’t know better, she didn’t mean to hurt you, and she is part of your family. If she keeps doing it, you can always limit contact.

I responded to this commenter that statements like “kind of derogatory,” “do you think you could…” soften what was an ugly offense. And she said:

In this situation, I’d give her a graceful way to save face while also letting her know that it offended the wife and would probably be offensive to other people. “I know you didn’t mean it that way, but this is the way my wife saw it …” If Aunt Mary has any sensitivity, that’s enough to make her think, “Boy. Maybe I SHOULDN’T make jokes like that. I’m so embarrassed.

See, it is important that the offender be able to “save face” even if it means implying that the person of color took the joke in the wrong spirit or maybe is extra sensitive and maybe it wasn’t all that bad, but hey other people might find it offensive, so…
Over on Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, Liz is wrestling with how we discuss racism productively online. In a response to “No, You Cannot Touch My Hair,” about a woman who went on a racist tirade after Liz refused to let her touch her hair, a commenter suggested that Liz show some consideration:

She may have mental health problems and bad issues? Who knows? Suppose this interaction made her relapse or slip into depression?

It is our calling and duty to educate the ignorant on matters of race and history, she probably was sent as a potential angel that was looking for direction and love- this was probably her only way of establishing connection and conversation? Supposing she had never spoken to a “black” person before and this is her only contact. Perhaps a lesson was missed, she could have been enlightened with love and understanding?

We all possess amazing powers of compassion, fairness, judgement and forgiveness.” Read more…

It is the duty of marginalized people to educate. The duty sounds almost spiritual–God-given–in this comment. No word on what this commenter believes God says about people who arrogantly dehumanize others by attempting to paw them like a petting zoo resident.
Anna N. at Jezebel analyzes an article by Janet Turner in the London Times and writes about silence in the face of misogyny–the idea that women should “lighten up” and hold their tongues, lest they be seen as humorless “ranty-pants.”

…It’s a lot more fun to be the person uttering snide jabs (i.e. “So – Harriet Harman, then. Would you? I mean after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober.”) than the one getting mad about them, and the allegation of humorlessness is a pretty hard one to defend against. Saying, “I do too have a sense of humor, just not about this” is pretty unfunny, and in my experience tends to prove my opponent’s point. Making feminism even harder to sell is the fact that it often attacks things that men are supposed to find hot — the pursuit of ever-younger partners, for instance, or surgically enhanced breasts, or mainstream pornography. I’ve had more than one depressing conversation with a man in which it’s clear that he thinks I’m “against” anything sexy. I turn into the fun police, and whatever I’m supposedly forbidding becomes taboo — and thus even more exciting.

In elementary school, I learned that the best way to deal with someone who’s bothering you is to ignore them. And indeed, some feminist-baiters, especially on the vast fringes of the Internet, are best left alone. But as Turner points out, silence is also implicit permission. And since many of the engines of misogyny aren’t individual people who depend on reactions for their continued existence, but big corporations with a stake in female insecurity, this is a big problem. Read more…

I am all for humor and compassion, but I reject the notion that, as a woman and a black person, I need be extra compassionate and jovial in a society that often affords people like me neither of those things. I reject the notion that we ought to spare more empathy for the homophobe than the gay men and women her bias hurts. I believe in using the most effective means to change, but I also believe in calling “isms” for what they are and not coating them in equivocations and wishy-washy language that lets oppressors feel good about themselves.
Sometimes, someone else needs to be the “bigger person.”

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71 Responses

  1. Heather Aurelia
    Heather Aurelia August 27, 2010 at 8:41 am |

    I am so glad you wrote this post, because I feel the same way. Whenever I tell someone that I am bisexual or pagan I have to explain it to them all-the-time. I have to be really nice and respectful even though that person isn’t respectful to me. I have to shut up and listen to them squak about why my religion should be against GLBT or whatever. It’s annoying. That’s why I have a blog to explain these things.

  2. Jadey
    Jadey August 27, 2010 at 9:14 am |

    Grargh, I hate the “you don’t have a sense of humour” bit so fricking much. Of course I have a sense of humour, hypothetical offensive person – it’s how I can sense that you aren’t funny.

    And as for “teaching moments”, well, I like to see more talk about “learning moments.”

    I think I read this post when it was originally put up on your blog, but sadly the message seems to be timeless. Thanks for re-posting.

  3. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers August 27, 2010 at 9:15 am |

    I think it’s ridiculous that the person who did something offensive should be the one whose feelings are of primary concern, or that the person who probably puts up with racist/sexist insults all day long has to be super-compassionate about it.

    But I do think that for the whole “humorless feminist”/snide jab issue, it’s better to handle that with humor yourself — the most sarcastic, belittling humor you can muster up. For instance, in the case of the Harriet Harman thing, “Oh, and whether you’d do Harriet Harman or not is such a *vastly* important question, because of *course* a rich, powerful woman who could probably have any boytoy she wants is going to want to do *you*!… Or were you thinking of auditioning for the role of her, mm, ‘personal companion’? Because I don’t think you’re quite attractive enough to make the cut, yourself. No offense.” And you do it smiling, mockingly, and then if they get all offended *you* get to play the “Oh, snookums can’t take a joke?” card.

    I mock sexism, either by openly (but humorously, so I can always pull the “I was just kidding, can’t you take a little ribbing?” thing) mocking the intelligence of the person who made the sexist remark, or implying that they think they’re better than they are and should be mocked for that, or else I play straight woman and go into things like deadpan rants about how Stephen Pinker’s theory that men evolved artistic talent to attract women suggests that only women can actually appreciate art, so the only *true* artists who do it for the love of aesthetics rather than the desire to get laid would be female artists.

    I realize this isn’t always possible to do either. You have a headache, you’ve had a bad day, and the comment just got on your last nerve. But, in general, responding to sexism couched in “humor” with mockery couched in “humor” works better, at least in my experience, than trying to directly challenge the sexism without using humor as a shield.

    This is not to say that I think it’s *ever* appropriate to tell people that they *should* have responded to an insulting remark with humor — people honestly have the right to respond to offensive remarks by getting offended! (And actually, I might point *that* out — “Oh, jeez, I am so totally sorry that my offense at your incredibly offensive remark offended you! I totally forgot that you’re so much more important than I am, and you being offended that I’m offended is so much more important than my being offended that you just said something offensive! Shall I punch myself in the nose for you? Will that satisfy your Great White Manly Ego?”) But from the perspective of the person who doesn’t want to come across as “the humorless feminist”, primarily because being the “humorless feminist” allows others to dismiss your remarks, I find the strategy of using humor as a weapon oneself to be effective.

  4. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 27, 2010 at 9:38 am |

    Ah yes…particularly relevant given Dr. Laura’s recent comments.

  5. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 27, 2010 at 9:59 am |

    Fuck yeah. And seriously, I hate the tone argument. Even if it’s cloaked in that rather self-righteous language of “compassion and forgiveness” (WTF??). I never see these oh-so-righteous folks calling other people out on their shit, but they’re happy to wag their fingers at people who deal with this crap every day. They are welcome to fuck right off.

  6. shah8
    shah8 August 27, 2010 at 10:11 am |

    “The Bigger You” phenomenon in this context is fundamentally about repression, in my mind. The other party is *secure* or trying to reassure herself as being psychologically secure and is asking you to assert your social inferiority–”Be Big About Your Losing Ass And Let’s All Get Along”. It’s always nice to look at someone and see a friendly smile.–snerk

    Of course, I simply don’t do that sort of thing too often. I’ll be “big” about it when it’s genuinely not about shoving yourself into my psychic space. I don’t otherwise. Soooo… I have fewer friends and fewer work opportunities. Not willing to be political means you don’t get dough and company! As a result, I don’t blame anyone for making the choices that they make, one way or another. Just own up to them and their consequences.

  7. lovepeaceohana
    lovepeaceohana August 27, 2010 at 10:26 am |

    THIS. A million times this. Thank you!

  8. Any
    Any August 27, 2010 at 10:39 am |

    Heather- I have the same problems, and get damned tired of being the one to ‘educate” people about my belief system having nothing whatsoever to do with the Cristian devil or what not.

    And sadly, I resonate with this article because I remember back in college talking about the SAME topic; namely that the burden of educating the oppressor always falls on the oppressed.

  9. Kaz
    Kaz August 27, 2010 at 10:39 am |

    In addition to my agreeing with the entire post, this makes me furious for an entirely different reason:

    She may have mental health problems and bad issues?

    Because it’s not as if people with mental illnesses have ENOUGH stigma already. We clearly have to blame all bigotry on them as well.

  10. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 27, 2010 at 10:40 am |

    I agreed with everything in this post until the last line about ‘someone else should be the bigger person…’

    First of all, the ‘bigger person’ is the person who manages to maintain their principles, not the person who remains silent.

    I also think you should always treat people the way you want to be treated (not because Jesus said so, I’m an atheist of Jewish heritage, just because it seems to me the right way to go about things.) It just seems like a simple thing to me.

    This doesn’t mean just be silent when someone is being racist. If I am talking absolute hateful stupid shit, I want someone to call me on it. Therefore I will call people on their racist comments.

    I found your comment “I reject the notion that we ought to spare more empathy for the homophobe than the gay men and women her bias hurts.” very interesting. I almost never hear people referring to racist remarks as hurtful, which is such a more powerful emotion than the idiotic ‘offensive.’

  11. Jadey
    Jadey August 27, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    Fat Steve: I also think you should always treat people the way you want to be treated (not because Jesus said so, I’m an atheist of Jewish heritage, just because it seems to me the right way to go about things.) It just seems like a simple thing to me.  

    I disagree with this; I think that we should treat people the way they want to be treated, because not everyone wants to be treated the same way. I understand that the former version is a way of emphasizing shared humanity and promoting empathy, but I think shared humanity needs to learn to take into account human diversity and difference as well.

  12. Ellie O
    Ellie O August 27, 2010 at 11:13 am |

    I recently attended a lecture by two professors from George Mason University (I totally cannot remember their names, sorry!) about how to deal with bias and prejudice. They basically taught us that, while it is definitely easier to call out an ism when you see one, that isn’t effective. People come to you with their racist jokes and sexist perceptions because they want help. They are calling out for you to correct them, but if you handle it indelicately by saying “That offended me, please don’t say that again” you embarrass them; they may not say it around you anymore, but they still harbor those beliefs. I agree that marginalized groups shouldn’t have to take the high road, but when they choose not to, they should be carefuller about how they confront these issues when they do. The professors at the lecture I attended said that you should sort of break down their stereotypes and Socratic-ly dissect them. For example:
    Person 1: hahaha (insert racist joke)!
    Person 2: I don’t get it.
    Person 1: You know, because of (racist stereotype)?
    Person 2: So what you’re saying is that all people of X race are like Y stereotype
    Person 1: (Now realizes the implications of their joke) Well, I never thought of it that way…

    Obviously this is a very simplistic version of how it would go, but you get the gist. It allows the offending person the opportunity to reconsider their actions and save face. You might disagree that they don’t have the right to save face, but I think that the majority of people who make biased or prejudiced comments just don’t know any better. This method provides them the opportunity to learn better without excusing their actions.

  13. Tami
    Tami August 27, 2010 at 11:43 am |

    Ellie,

    I’m not sure I agree with the professors you mention. Marginalized people already carry the burden of being marginalized, this approach now asks the “victims” to be responsible for the education and emotional well-being of the “victimizers.”

    This is not to say that when folks say biased things to me, i always react with shouting and fist-waving. But, for example, to use the Dr. Laura example someone mentioned up-thread: To pretend that it is a black woman’s responsibility to tip-toe around and coddle her racist in-laws, lest she appear too sensitive or hurt their feelings is outrageous. I imagine the psychological pain that woman must endure in that sort of family situation and it makes me shake with rage that her feeling count for less than a bigot’s need to “save face.”

  14. Marcus
    Marcus August 27, 2010 at 11:53 am |

    One possible response to the “you can’t take a joke” claim is , “The question isn’t whether I have a sense of humor but why you need to take pot shots at to try to sound funny.”

    Also, I agree with the general point here, but I think there needs to be recognition that many things people of privilege say or do in their interactions with non-privileged people, or generally on issues of oppression, is done out of ignorance and not from malice or moral shortcomings. If these cases are spotted correctly, the task becomes one of educating and clarifying rather than chastising and reproaching. That may take the form of clearly saying, “I don’t know your intentions, but I have to tell you, your joke was offensive and racist in nature, and that’s a problem, and I need to you to know that.” But it leaves space for the offender to grow (which is the goal, fair or not) without, in my opinion, forcing the receiver to “be the bigger person” or just take it.

  15. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac August 27, 2010 at 12:39 pm |

    Marcus, I’d hate to say that carefully explaining why a joke is offensive and hurtful never works. It does, sometimes, when the person who made the joke feels genuine goodwill towards you, and really doesn’t want to hurt you.

    But quite often, the person who made the joke cares more that they just made a joke and you not only didn’t laugh, you actually claimed it was a bad joke, than they do about not hurting you.

    I say this as someone who likes to make people laugh. I have my own reasons for wanting to make people laugh, I should think everyone does, but whatever your motivation, wanting to make the audience laugh is a big deal.

    Me, I am a pragmatic kind of person from several different unprivileged groups – I’m fat, I’m a lesbian, I’m a feminist – and I actively prefer not to tell jokes where the “funny” is making people laugh at other unprivileged groups.

    It would be wrong to say I prefer not to tell hurtful jokes. I just prefer to direct the hurt upwards instead of downwards – which I explain to straight white men as “It’s funny when the pupil puts a tack on the headmaster’s chair: it’s not funny when the headmaster does the same thing to the pupil.”

    It’s funny when women make fun of men. When black people make fun of white people. When gay people make fun of straight people. When disprivilege makes fun of privilege.

    Trying to explain why that particular joke was hurtful may meet with contempt, anger, disbelief, anger, outrage, disbelief, anger, or any combination.

  16. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm |

    You know folks, I’ve done the things that have been suggested here, and I’ve gotten a variety of responses–either defensiveness, accusations of me being an oversensitive PC meanie-butt, or an increase of the behavior (because the fucking douchenozzle thought it would be fun to push buttons). However, a very curt “Cut the shit” or “Stop acting like a fucking Xanadouche” did the trick.

    Yes, we can talk about nice ways to deescalate and educate. But the point remains: It is not anyone’s fucking job to school you about their oppression. It just isn’t. When you don’t have privilege, you’ve got enough on your plate navigating life sometimes. I don’t expect my Black friends to take time out of their day to educate the unfortunate White people who are just crying out for help. These Black friends have enough shit to deal with, such as yet another stop and search because they were Driving While Black; being harassed by curbcrawlers because one of them was Walking in Public While Female and Black; or tailed by store detectives because they were Shopping While Black.

    And you know, I am sometimes not. in. the. fucking. mood. to be nice and sweet and forgiving and Magic Wise Sage Mama to some sexist-acting dudebro. Not when I’ve had to deal with some asshole follow me and threaten me because I had the nerve to ignore him/turn him down when he catcalled or tried to hit on me. Not when I’ve had to figure out the safest way to get home lest I get attacked (since if I don’t take every precaution it’s my fault since sexual violence is a Fact Of Life for the wommenfolk but heaven forbid I am outspoken about that or I am a paranoid man-hater). Not when I’ve had to deal with someone rolling their eyes at my irritation over something (that had nothing to do with sexism) and dismiss me as shrill or hysterical.

    You know? Not for nothing, but sometimes I am fucking tired. It’s beyond arrogant and entitled to expect me or anyone else to go out of my way to be nice in my response to a joke or comment that makes light of the shit we deal with. What makes you so fucking special? Where’s the consideration for the people that these unfunny and fucking boring ass jokes attack? Why are WE expected to be the better person, but it’s okay for the more privileged to be the shittier person? Why do we have to show consideration and kindness to people who do not show it to us? What the fuck makes you so goddamn special?

    I mean seriously? Fuck you. Really. Fuck you.

    For all of you folks who think we should serve these assholes tea and crumpets, who think that we should swallow more shit yet again and school grown adults who fucking know better, I have a suggestion: YOU DO IT. Go on. You take the time and the energy to point this shit out to people. You be nice. You engage nicely. Especially if you come from a position of relative privilege–you should be stepping up to the plate more anyway and stop acting so goddamn self-righteous to people who have less privilege than you. But don’t you DARE wag your fingers at Tami or me or anyone else about how we should show “forgiveness” or “compassion.” It’s pretty fucking rich to sit there on your goddamn high horse and preach to people who have less privilege than you to be nice. Somehow, I doubt you’d be doing it if the shoe was on the other foot.

  17. Jadey
    Jadey August 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm |

    What is so hard for some commenters to understand “educating about bigotry should be a CHOICE, not an obligation, especially when it’s educating about bigotry directed against you”? The point of the post is not “educating is bad!”, but that educating is hard, time-consuming, and emotionally and physically exhausting, *especially for the person whose marginalized identity is the one being targeted*.

    When people around me fuck up about queerness, sometimes, if I am *really* invested in them as people, I will take my time and emotional energy to educate them. Occasionally, I have been forced to educate, such as when I had a therapist ask me to explain bisexuality to her because she was so damned curious (uh, excuse me? Here to talk about my uncontrollable crying jags, which have abso-fricking-lutely NOTHING to do with my sexual orientation and your curiosity!!), and that is no picnic. Educating can be hard even when it isn’t about you, but IT IS HARDER WHEN IT IS. So educating in these kinds of really basic but infuriating 101 situations is one of the ways in which allies can actually be helpful. (Keeping in mind that allies can also fall into many traps, like being wrong, appropriating, and being inauthentic, among others.)

    So when it isn’t about me? And when I have the resources to do it? I generally make the effort to wade in there, and say, “No, Gran, Muslims aren’t the devil. Here’s why.” “Actually, guy I’m on a date with, no homo jokes aren’t funny. Also, cheque please.” “Hey, FB spammer friend, here’s some links to real information about immigration laws. Enjoy.” “Just as an FYI, guy in class who denies colonialism was ‘that bad’, let me read some choice passages from surprisingly recent Canadian law to you.” But even then, it’s a choice.

    Look, I’m not a punitive person. I work in corrections and I’m dedicated to getting people to give up the idea that hardline punitive methods ever work in changing anyone’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviours, because they really really really really don’t. But neither does gently asking a person to maybe consider possibly being a bit nicer in the future. Changing problematic thought patterns and belief systems (and I’m talking about methods with meaningful success rates, because they do exist) involves *challenging* those thought patterns, and getting people to change their own damned minds, rather than have someone else do it for them. Bolstering someone’s self-image without any motivation for change or awareness for the necessity of change is pretty much useless.

    There’s a false dichotomy I encounter frequently in two different ways. In corrections, it’s the idea that anything other than “get tough” means “go easy”. In activism, it’s the same old tone argument – anything other than being deferential and soft-spoken is MEAN. Feh to both.

  18. Heather
    Heather August 27, 2010 at 12:55 pm |

    While I mostly disagree with the idea that people who act offensively “not knowing any better,” I think that even when that does happen there is no need to help that person “save face.” If I accidentally say something offensive, I want to be called out on it. And if that happens in front of other people, I’ll probably be embarrassed, but a) that’s my fault, not the person who corrects me, and b) others can learn from it. If someone seemingly gets away with offensive behavior, other people who see that might think “Oh, it’s okay if I tell racist jokes/use slurs/whatever because when they did it no one was upset.”

  19. scrumby
    scrumby August 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm |

    Jesurgislac:
    It would be wrong to say I prefer not to tell hurtful jokes. I just prefer to direct the hurt upwards instead of downwards – which I explain to straight white men as “It’s funny when the pupil puts a tack on the headmaster’s chair: it’s not funny when the headmaster does the same thing to the pupil.”
    It’s funny when women make fun of men. When black people make fun of white people. When gay people make fun of straight people. When disprivilege makes fun of privilege.
    Trying to explain why that particular joke was hurtful may meet with contempt, anger, disbelief, anger, outrage, disbelief, anger, or any combination.  

    And this is why White Males are the last group it’s O.K. to insult, demean, and discriminate against! Anyone got a clever response to that bit of nonsense cause the best I can come up with is inarticulate screaming…

  20. Emeryn
    Emeryn August 27, 2010 at 1:11 pm |

    I’ve only ever had being polite and explaining things work once. Ever. And it was in regards to someone using the word “gay” as a synonym for stupid/bad/irritating/et cetera. I explained it as politely as I could. He had always been surrounded by people that used the term that way and hadn’t realized it was derogatory. He was appalled when I explained it to him. He took it so seriously that he actively corrects and educates people when they use it in the context that he had on that occasion.

    I married him four years later, oddly enough.

    But that is the ONLY time it’s ever worked for me. The rest of the time, I end up in more mental pain when I try to explain to someone why the -isms hurt so much. Especially when I get dismissed as hypersensitive about the issues, because I happen to be an agnostic bisexual Japanese/Quebecois woman. It is incredibly painful. It feels incredibly futile.

    So sometimes I can’t muster the strength to be polite and educate. Sometimes I lash out. Sometimes I just move on.

    It isn’t anyone’s fucking choice. Except MINE.

  21. Jigae
    Jigae August 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm |

    It’s so hard, as many people above me have said, because what is often most productive/pragmatic (educating, turning the other cheek, meeting -isms with tolerance) is unfair to the marginalized person in question. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to educate and then I feel guilty for not defending my tribe. Sometimes I strike back and realize later I’ve ruined a teachable moment even though it felt good at the time. It’s hard: I wish I had better answers.

  22. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm |

    And this is why White Males are the last group it’s O.K. to insult, demean, and discriminate against!

    Indeed. The discrimination is off the hook! The majority of CEO and executive positions in Fortune 500 companies, the pay gap in their favor, the majority of congressional seats. . .oh, wait. . .

  23. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm |

    I’m torn on this issue. I’m usually proactive in explaining, but expecting people to do their homework is kind of like expecting people to obey the speed limit, vote regularly, and clean up after their pet. Some just aren’t going to do it.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic, but I’d rather just tell people than be perceived wrongly.

  24. Sunset
    Sunset August 27, 2010 at 2:27 pm |

    I’ve been known to tell people to look up “kyriarchy” on the internet. Yes, I will spell it for you. Other than that, use google.

  25. privilege « my fat life
    privilege « my fat life August 27, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    [...] Here is exactly what I was trying to say last night: Today, when an “ism” shows its face, too much public sympathy rests with the offender and not the offended, Tami says. …I think that no marginalized person is obligated to swallow justified hurt and anger to better “teach” the privileged or “squash” the mess or racism. That people of color are nearly always asked to do so in the face of prejudice is spiritually wearying and a tyranny. [...]

  26. RenKiss
    RenKiss August 27, 2010 at 3:04 pm |

    “You can’t take a joke” claim is just one of the ways in which the privileged person avoids responsibility. I’ve also gotten to the point where if I choose to explain to someone why a particular joke or comment is offensive, it doesn’t matter how polite you are, they’re usually going to get defensive. I’m not saying don’t be polite, but the thing is some people don’t like it when they’re called on their shit.

    It’s so hard, as many people above me have said, because what is often most productive/pragmatic (educating, turning the other cheek, meeting -isms with tolerance) is unfair to the marginalized person in question. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to educate and then I feel guilty for not defending my tribe. Sometimes I strike back and realize later I’ve ruined a teachable moment even though it felt good at the time. It’s hard: I wish I had better answers.

    I really understand this. Educating people does really get tiresome. Especially since many people these days are so resistant to it. They’ll say things like “don’t you think you’re being too PC?”

  27. RenKiss
    RenKiss August 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm |

    Woops, I messed up that quote tag >_<

  28. renniejoy
    renniejoy August 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm |

    OMG Sheelzebub – please say it’s okay to use “stop acting like a such a fucking Xanadouche.” Best Shutdown ever!!

  29. BHuesca
    BHuesca August 27, 2010 at 3:22 pm |

    So- I am just getting the hang of this but
    1. People’s lived experience trumps all, right? As in, a * can’t tell a # what the experience of being a # is, right? And in fact, the * has to be careful in intersectionality that they don’t misrepresent or steamroller the # – even unintentionally?
    2. Given that lived experiences (I am ÷ so I know what ÷s feel/are/live, on average, more than a non-÷: Logically, who COULD possibly do the authentic educating than the # or * or ÷ to whom the subject/joke/assertion pertains?

    I’m asking this seriously, and sincerely apologize if it is derailing- but to be reducible, YES, #s is/are TIRED, and marginalized, and the last thing a # needs is this shit– but if not the #, WHO?

  30. Randomosity
    Randomosity August 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm |

    “Be the bigger person” so many times means “suck it up and let them have their fun” and yes, it pisses me off.

    Nobody respects the “bigger person”. Look at the US government for a real world, public example. On one side of the aisle you have grown adults behaving like four-year-olds adhering to the toddler rules of acquisition*

    On the other side of the aisle, you have people being the bigger person and trying to hammer out a consensus.

    Guess who ends up getting their way more often than not.
    Guess who ends up giving up things they promise to protect. Guess who are the ones accused of lacking spines.

    All that being said, I am a firm believer in fighting every battle. If you don’t nip the little things in the bud, they turn into big things.

    *If I want it, it’s mine. If you’re playing with it, it’s mine. If no one’s playing with it, I don’t want it. NOOOO! Don’t make me share!

  31. Jennifer
    Jennifer August 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm |

    Definitely not your job to be bigger. In my experience, the gentle, educating approach is not effective against people who are really racist anyway, and I’m not sure what would be other than knowing that a majority of people disagree with them when they say/do racist sh*t and that they will suffer social consequences for their views. I have known many racist people. I’m white–people know I’m liberal but will still make comments in front of me. My reactions have varied. Sometimes I’m able to do the calm educational approach, though the results have generally left me wanting to gouge out my eyeballs. Half an hour of painful conversation and no minds changed at the end (abridged sample version: didn’t I think that race could be related to intelligence given that it is related to hair/skin color–no, lack of agreement on how to measure intelligence, multidimensional and thus couldn’t be a “gene” for it; didn’t it seem to me that black people were more athletic–no, health of black people is poorer on average, not represented across the board in sports). I think this person would be inclined to bring up the same topics with others and if they agreed with him, this would confirm his views. Other times I’ve gotten visibly upset–my mother made a racist comment that shocked me (equating black vernacular with being stupid among people who had proved themselves otherwise). I instantly lost a great deal of respect for her, and I rushed to the bathroom and cried. When I came out, I pointed out that the people in question had proved themselves intelligent; she was immediately contrite–more, I think, because she saw how upset I was than because she was persuaded by my logic.

    [Side rant--you never hear anyone impugn white New Englanders like the Kennedys, John Kerry, or Howard Dean for saying "idear" instead of "idea," yet "aks" in place of "ask" is somehow indicative of all kinds of negative things. WTF?]

    Many if not most people make their decisions about how to think and behave based on what they think others will think of them as a result, not based on logical evidence or moral rightness (unless these things are held up by those who are important to them). So, I think the only thing that’s key is some expression of disapproval, and it needs to come from people whose views matter to them.

    A lot of people think racism or other isms are just simple ignorance. I think it’s worse than that–it’s willful ignorance–stubborn, hateful, ingrained beliefs. A few years ago I learned that an uncle of mine not only disapproved of my cousin’s (his niece’s) marriage to a black man 30+ years ago but never accepted him or their children–never were/are they welcome in his house. They are all model individuals in terms of behavior and achievements, so I have no idea why he’d persist in those beliefs–even if he’d never known black people before, he did now. I’m not sure to what extent the black relatives knew about this–they sometimes came anyway and were accepted by other people and he didn’t ask them to leave, but he didn’t change his mind. His daughter knew how he felt and was willing to tell me (despite not knowing me well) with only minor embarrassment that this was why my black cousins would probably not be coming to their house that day (one did, and I had played with them at the house a couple of times when I was younger, with no idea that they were unwelcome there). It was not clear to me to what extent others shared his views as opposed to just not wanting to challenge him. I asked my parents about it later and they made all kinds of excuses about how he was just curmudgeonly in general, was an old man, etc. I think the only thing that would change this guy’s mind (or at least get him to say he had) would be the prospect of being ostracized by the family for his views as opposed to being allowed to “save face.” In my opinion, he should be ostracized–I’m not sure to what extent they’re aware, but there must be pain in this for my black relatives, which should be more important than his prejudice. However, I’m not at all close to any of these folks and will probably never see or talk to them again, so I haven’t done anything to make this happen.

    So, my point is that there is no way for the marginalized people in my examples to educate or change those prejudiced against them because they won’t be taken seriously–they are in the “other” category and can/will be disregarded. It has to come from the privileged people who matter to the prejudiced person, and it may be more effective if pain is communicated and/or loss of face is involved than some attempt at logical reasoning or education.

  32. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers August 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm |

    I disagree with this; I think that we should treat people the way they want to be treated, because not everyone wants to be treated the same way. I understand that the former version is a way of emphasizing shared humanity and promoting empathy, but I think shared humanity needs to learn to take into account human diversity and difference as well.

    I agree; I’ve always wondered how exactly to phrase this.

    The *principle* is “treat people as you wish you were treated”, but it’s in the end result, not the exact specifics. For instance, if Elly the Extrovert wants people to notice when she’s sad and come cheer her up, and Irene the Introvert wants people to leave her alone when she’s sad so that she can have quiet time to process her feelings, both of them want the same thing in the fundamentals: both of them want other people to treat them in the way that makes it easiest for them to handle their sadness. In the specifics, of course, what they want is the exact opposite. So if Elly tries to cheer Irene up because it’s what she would want in Irene’s place, she’s failing to recognize Irene’s specific needs, and if Irene gives Elly her space because it’s what she would want in Elly’s place, she’s failing to recognize Elly’s needs. Neither of them are *actually* treating the other as they would want to be treated in general principle; they are following the letter of the rule, the specifics of the method they want to be treated by, rather than the general principle “the way that makes me feel better.”

    So let’s say this. Do unto others as they feel they need you to do, as you would have others do unto you what you need.

    We need to keep up the idea of reciprocity and shared humanity, while at the same time leaving the space for human diversity. I honestly think that *many* of the problems that men who aren’t themselves misogynistic, but have been trained by our society not to try to understand womens’ world, have in understanding women come from the thought “Well, if someone did that to me I’d really enjoy it,” without recognizing that they are surrounded by completely different circumstances that change the nature of the act.

    (For example, I have many times heard it said by men that they would love it if random women hit on them the way random men hit on women all the time… because random women almost *never* hit on them. But, of course, if random women hit on them as often as random men hit on women, with the same potential for violence if they reject the women, they’d have the same opinion of it that the women do. A guy who’s been deprived of chocolate cake for 10 years even though he really loves it is going to have a completely different opinion of a piece of chocolate cake than a person who used to love cake but has had nothing to eat but chocolate cake for the last six months.)

  33. Ellie O
    Ellie O August 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm |

    @Tami, I understand where you’re coming from and I agree to a degree, but for me respecting “the bigot’s need to save face” isn’t about saving face for their precious little ego, it’s about not embarrassing them so that they can learn the error of their ways. If you call someone out for being racist, their first response is a defensive one (like the ‘get a sense of humor’ example) and they then block out all reasonable things you say. As tiresome as it may be to dance around a bigots ego, in the end your response is more effective.

    I agree that marginalized groups should not have the burden of defense. The approach I mentioned is not only for use by so called “victims” but for anyone who encounters biased and prejudiced sentiments anywhere. I have used it effectively when I come across statements against a marginalized group that is not my own. I have also used the other method- calling it as you see it- and it really only worked once and not very well. I convinced someone not to use the word “slut” and the person stopped saying it, but “only because Ellie told me off.” I’m sure that he still uses the phrase when I’m not around.

  34. Alison
    Alison August 27, 2010 at 4:23 pm |

    Sheelzebub – fucking right on. Seriously. I am at the point in my life where I do not feel the need to be nice and careful when telling people that they’re being raging privileged assholes, and if they get upset about it, tough shit. I’m upset too. Join the club, or stop being a jerk and we can both be happy.

  35. Jim
    Jim August 27, 2010 at 5:38 pm |

    “When gay people make fun of straight people. ”

    This one not so much, because it’s too easy and we’re too good at it. Maybe you mean lesbians, maybe that would be a different case. My son has turned out to be straight, and so I finally started to look at how pathetic and pitiful straight men make themselves running after women. It’s inherently pitiful.

    Before I was just playing the game from the inside and couldn’t see how pitiful it was – huge degrading effort for a worthless prize – at least for me, maybe obviously. I’m down off that cross now, for myself, but I can’t bring myself to make light of it.

  36. Ostien
    Ostien August 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm |

    I can only speak for myself, but I have said some pretty fucked up things in the past (much of it resulting from my, now internalized, transphobia; I’ve since have come to terms with a lot of my gender identity issues) and have been called out on it. When I was called out on it I realized, even then, it was fucked up and appreciated those who called me out on it and said I was being an asshole (I was). The ones who called me out were not the targets of my largely transphobic comments (though femininity policing folded into it and the people who called me out were ciswomen and were thus also marginalized by my comments). So now I really don’t know what the point of this is because I was going to say that it should not be the responsibility of those who are marginalized to “be the bigger person” but others who are not marginalized should call people out and perhaps educate them if they see it. However, looking back at my example the ones who called me out were also marginalized by my comments in some way, so my idea really does not apply there at all.

    I wasin’t really called out nicely, allowed to “save face,” there was some educating language, but mostly I was told off as an asshole. So telling someone off does work sometimes, you don’t have to “be the bigger person” you can just call the person an asshole and move on, if you are rightfully sick and tired of educating, and it might have an effect. But I agree that it should not be the responsibility of those who are marginalized to educate and rather just expressing your anger is perfectly valid; hey even then it can sometimes have an impact. You should not be expected to be silent or nice when so someone further marginalizes you; you can be, and probably should be, quite pissed.

  37. William
    William August 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm |

    I’ve never understood the whole “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” schtick, especially in the absence of a belief system which sells the idea that the most beaten down people are somehow going to come out on top at the end (way to incentivize the toleration of oppression, primitive patriarchal tribesmen!).

    We all like to think that *ists are going to be persuaded by logic and care and education, but experience simply doesn’t bear that out. If logic swayed hateful scared people we wouldn’t still be hearing about Obama’s birth certificate. Isms are a meme. They get traction because the give people a certain amount of comfort and allow them to project their fears and inadequacies on convenient scape goats, but really once they get going they continue because they continue. Put one racist white guy in a room full of less racist white guys and the number of racist comments is going to gradually increase until it sounds like Thanksgiving at Jesse Helms’ place.

    Because isms are largely self replicating, I can’t really be bothered to give two shits about the offender’s feelings unless I am personally invested in their well being. Thats why I like Sheelzebub’s tactic. I don’t care if they learn anything, I don’t care if they like me or not, I don’t care if I look like an asshole, I just want them to shut the fuck up and think twice before they say something like that again in public. I want to increase their anxiety so much that the next time they have something darling to say they just leave it rest. I want them to leave the experience on edge, I want them to question who they can trust opening their vile little mouths to because the fewer people say *ist things, the fewer people will think its safe to say them. More than that, I want whatever happens to be public so that all the other people in the room who were thinking the same thing go “whew, glad that wasn’t me.”

    I think one of the things that gets lost in a lot of these discussions about oppressed folks “being the bigger person” is that a great deal of the worst comments don’t happen around oppressed people, they happen around people like me. I’m a fat, middle class, white guy from Chicago. I have my own pile of oppressed statuses, but they’re largely invisible and so I have the privilege of passing. As a result I’ve stood in a grocery store and had a perfect stranger lean over with a knowing smirk and tell me to “look at that faggot over there” or ask me if I’m “as disgusted by that nigger” as he is. Oppressed persons aren’t always going to be there to challenge, and even if they are they aren’t always going to have the energy. Instead, the rest of us need to stand up and say something nasty when someone thinks we’re a safe place to vent whatever ism they’re using to cover what they dislike about themselves. Most of us have some vector of oppression, we can all relate, but it takes just a little bit less energy to defend someone else than it does to defend ourselves. It probably does more good too, but we all have to do it. Otherwise the *ists can start to find new safe havens and the meme gets to spread.

  38. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla August 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm |

    Ellie O: @Tami, I understand where you’re coming from and I agree to a degree, but for me respecting “the bigot’s need to save face” isn’t about saving face for their precious little ego, it’s about not embarrassing them so that they can learn the error of their ways.

    Yeah, right. <a href="http://lezgetreal.com/2010/08/indiana-hospital-refuses-to-treat-transwoman-who-was-coughing-up-blood/"trans women coughing up blood by the pintful in the ER are being called "he-she" and "it" by ER nurses, and I’m supposed to present cis people with “teachable moments”? I’ll worry about being nice to bigoted cis people when cis people stand the fuck up and say that that kind of treatment of trans folk is unacceptable.

    You don’t know what it’s like for marginalized people to live their lives. I’m not hear to educate cis people, especially those who don’t want to be educated (which sadly is the majority of cis people).

    What you’re proposing is that people with privilege be protected from ever feeling uncomfortable, and that it’s the marginalized person’s *duty* to be nice and watch their tone. It’s as if you never read Tami’s article.

  39. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla August 27, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  40. Miss S
    Miss S August 27, 2010 at 11:59 pm |

    Late to this discussion but I agree with William. Alot of racist, sexist, and other discriminatory comments are made in the company of people who aren’t a member of that group. A white person will make a racist comment to another white person, a straight person will make a homophobic comment to another straight person, etc.

    Also, I believe in making someone feel uncomfortable, but I realize that may be more confrontational than some are comfortable with. For whatever reason, I’m more comfortable calling out men for (typically sexist/misogynistic) comments than calling out other women. But I do try. Because people remember that. And the next time they’re about to make a joke or a negative comment, they will have to stop and think about whether someone is going to call them out. And hopefully, they’ll decide against it.

  41. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 28, 2010 at 1:08 am |

    As in, a * can’t tell a # what the experience
    of being a # is, right? And in fact, the * has
    to be careful in intersectionality that they
    don ’t misrepresent or steamroller the # –
    even unintentionally?

    This isn’t as complicated as it seems. Its perfectly possible for * to explain to a bigot that hir behavior may be harmful to people who are #. That hating others and expressing that hate is inappropriate and leads to harm.

    None of those things erases the experience of a particular person who is # (each of whom has their own lived experience which may contradict each other). If a person who is a # addresses the bigot then indicating your support (perhaps even non-verbally) is not erasing either.

  42. MertvayaRuka
    MertvayaRuka August 28, 2010 at 1:21 am |

    William: Because isms are largely self replicating, I can’t really be bothered to give two shits about the offender’s feelings unless I am personally invested in their well being. Thats why I like Sheelzebub’s tactic. I don’t care if they learn anything, I don’t care if they like me or not, I don’t care if I look like an asshole, I just want them to shut the fuck up and think twice before they say something like that again in public. I want to increase their anxiety so much that the next time they have something darling to say they just leave it rest. I want them to leave the experience on edge, I want them to question who they can trust opening their vile little mouths to because the fewer people say *ist things, the fewer people will think its safe to say them. More than that, I want whatever happens to be public so that all the other people in the room who were thinking the same thing go “whew, glad that wasn’t me.”

    Absolute 100% agreement with you and Sheelzebub on this. In my own experiences, there is NOTHING that puts a stop to this crap like throwing a big glaring spotlight on the offender’s behavior. In their own way, people who do this kind of thing are bullies, and bullies don’t like it when people fight back. They expect no resistance, so when they meet resistance it scares them. It shocks them out of the safe place that allows them to bully people. Sure, if it’s someone you care about who maybe doesn’t know any better, take them aside and talk to them instead of cutting them off at the knees. But if someone’s just genuinely being malicious? Lay into them. Don’t fear doing it. Living with fear of disapproval should be for them, not you.

  43. Brianne
    Brianne August 28, 2010 at 1:26 am |

    Thankyou so much for this article.

    “And women, people of color and other groups learn early to pick their battles, lest they be branded bitter, angry or over-sensitive. There are just some dull aches that have to be swallowed. We try to pick our battles strategically, but it is stressful and ultimately soul-destroying to have to work so hard to ignore so much–to constantly be forced to show benevolence in the face of rude and dehumanizing treatment.”

    Yes!

    I have definitely been put into the “bitter and over-sensitive” box, and it’s debilitating. I’m afraid to speak up anymore for fear of being labelled “dramatic” or a “killjoy.”

  44. Shawn Struck
    Shawn Struck August 28, 2010 at 5:21 am |

    Unfortunately there are far too many people that are told to just shut up and take it when it comes to speaking out about stereotypes.

  45. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 28, 2010 at 5:23 am |

    @Galling Galla: OMFG. That’s just. . .that’s just. . .holy fucking shit, would it kill people to do their jobs and not be sacks of maggot pus?

    And that’s the thing. I don’t much think people who’d leave someone to suffer–when it is their JOB TO HELP THEM, deserve much in the way of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, or face-saving.

  46. Sunatic
    Sunatic August 28, 2010 at 5:32 am |

    I’ve been attending one etiquette-related forum for some time and I’ve come to cringe when I come across the term “be the better person”. Which often seems to mean doing as much as possible to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings by using white lies, avoiding arguements at any cost and dedicating a lot of time and effort into serving the comfort of others.

    While I do agree that sinking to the level of throwing insults and slamming doors is no way to go, I just don’t get why I should go above and beyond to not hurt the feelings of those who are actively hurting me. In my view, I’m already the better person by not being a bigot. How much of a doormat would I have to be before I was considered “good” enough a person to deserve respect?

    To take this to its logical conclusion in the extreme: those who say that the marginalized should always be the better people are saying that assholes don’t deserve human rights.

  47. Teressa
    Teressa August 28, 2010 at 6:23 am |

    I have never, ever, not once, thought of it this way. I have been annoyed, tired, not in the mood, angry, etc etc at people’s isms, but never considered that I had the right to NOT be the oh-so-wise one with infinite patience. (Which I DON’T have.)

    Thank you for writing this, and thank you to all the commentators. This has been liberating and eye-opening.

  48. Sarah J.
    Sarah J. August 28, 2010 at 10:25 am |

    @Jesurgislac. Bullshit. Jokes like that just further social divides. If it’s not ok for men to make fun of women, it’s not ok for women to make fun of men. It’s still sexism and it’s not ok, and it makes us look like hypocrites.

    As to whether or not marginalized people have a “duty” to educate, no, I don’t think it’s always a duty. But if someone makes an ignorant comment about one of the disabilities I have, I do see it as an excellent opportunity to educate them. They can take it or leave it. I actually had a conversation about this with a friend the other day. We’re both from marginalized statuses; me due to gender and disability, he due to race. And we both agreed that privilege is so rampant in society that most people honestly don’t realize that they are being privileged. They usually don’t realize they’re being racist, sexist or ableist. If it’s a case of true ignorance, not hate, then we should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity to correct the ignorance.

  49. Mark W. Schumann
    Mark W. Schumann August 28, 2010 at 11:54 am |

    As a white, educated, yadda yadda male, I’ve had many opportunities to be educated by marginalized folks. Usually they were the “bigger people” about things. I like to think I had enough intelligence, empathy, and imagination to understand my education and benefit from it.

    But.

    Some of the most illuminating education experiences were when a woman or person of color has basically called me a privileged asshole to my face and didn’t bother to spare my feelings.

    As a result, I’m with Tami on this. Not only are marginalized people not obligated to coddle us happy privileged folks, sometimes the coddling is not the most constructive way to make a point. Sometimes privileged people are idiots and need to be set right quite plainly or we won’t get it.

    Which also isn’t your job, but I’m just saying that “being the bigger person” is often not even effective in its own right.

  50. syndella
    syndella August 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm |

    Well, I’m a member of several groups that you guys would consider marginalized, and I agree with Ellie O.

    And isn’t it a little bit presumptuous to assume that she doesn’t know what life is like for marginalized groups?

  51. Jadey
    Jadey August 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm |

    I’m feeling compelled to link to Kinsey Hope’s, Activist Modus Operandi: Methods of Communication, because it seems to me like the conversation has gotten around to how different people do activism differently, which I think is diverging from the original post’s topic – marginalized people are not obligated to educate – but is nonetheless an important issue. Kinsey lays out 4 different activist archetypes and talks about the strengths and flaws of each. Major take-home message? There’s no one right way and everyone’s strategies *can* work together. Seriously, it’s a fantastic post that goes into a lot of depth and detail.

  52. g_whiz
    g_whiz August 28, 2010 at 5:45 pm |

    Thank you a myriad times for posting this. Before I page through all of the comments, I have to say at this point in my adulthood, I’ve experienced more “spokesman for my race/orientation” moments this year than I ever have. I don’t know that its something in the wind, but having to stop and explain myself to my so-called friends and neighbors after having to explain myself to the bigot douchenozzle in question doesn’t exactly win any confidence.

    I had a night where this concept of forced “teachable moments” one night when I met a girlfriend of mine for a drink. She sidled up beside an unknown guy, who was youngish struck up a conversation. And at some point she angrily touched on some of the similar oblivious racism I’d experienced lately. I walked up mid conversation, in which he informed me that I was supposed to be the one informing people at all points of how…essentially not to be an accidental racist or homophobe. I turned to him, glared and told him I was off duty and for once I’d like to be in a social circumstance where I didn’t have to inform people of how to conduct themselves in public. Heaven forbid someone actually stop and think about what might be offensive without blurting the n-word out in a crowded (majority white) room. I told him in no uncertian terms where he could go, left, and amusingly he still tried to get my friend’s number.

    Its so common to either put the victim on trial (when it comes to gender issues) or in the case of Dr. Laura, question the “sensitivity” level of the caller- make the minority person defend the reasons for their being upset. Its misdirection, and it usually works. I hit the wall, emotionally, right around that point a few months ago. Where, as a adjunct sociology professor, I’m fairly used to (and welcoming) of dialouges about race, gender, and sexuality…I find it alarming how OFTEN I’m having them framed in the most ridiculous ways when not in a classroom setting.

    I don’t mind teachable moments, in fact, I welcome them. I just find it exhausting how often I’m drawn out of being a person and injected into a racialized, or sexualized disertation lecture because I happen to exist in public. Thank you for allowing me to comisserate. :)

  53. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm |

    My understanding was that Ellie’s example was between two members of a comparatively privileged group; that is, white person to white person, making a racist joke.

    The issue I have with that particular example is that it implies that there’s an AHA! moment that you can impart on the bigot, and I don’t know that this is true in that moment. Like, assuming the joke is based on a stereotype, the point of the joke is that you’re assuming that all X people are Y stereotype. They know exactly what they’re saying.

    But it leads to an interesting point though: do I, as a person with privilege in several capacities, have the responsibility to educate about y person’s oppression (that I do not face). I do it because it’s irritating to me, but is there a responsibility there?

  54. Li
    Li August 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm |

    syndella: Marginalised groups are not a homogeneous blob. Life is not all the same for all marginalised people. We don’t have to come up with consensus here. What’s being argued isn’t that being polite doesn’t work for some people, it’s that there’s normative pressure on many marginalised people to be polite at all times, and that many discussions of privilege get derailed to centre the feelings of the person who has privilege. If you and Elly can work within those restriction, and it works for you, then that’s great. But it isn’t going to work for everyone.

    And just to add my perspective, I’ve actually found that it’s pretty lose/lose when you call out privilege. If you’re angry or upset then you get put down for being sensitive or irrational, if you’re polite and calm then clearly the issue isn’t a big enough deal to actually matter, because then you’d be angry or upset. The whole “oh, if you only called out my bullshit this way” thing tends, a lot of the time, to be an effective derailing tactic rather than any kind of useful advice.

  55. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 28, 2010 at 7:17 pm |

    But it leads to an interesting point though: do I, as a person with privilege in several capacities, have the responsibility to educate about y person’s oppression (that I do not face). I do it because it’s irritating to me, but is there a responsibility there?

    Is there a “responsibility” huh… I dunno. Certainly not a legal one, maybe a moral/ethical one. I know I tend to have more spoons for other people’s problems, and I think that’s pretty universal (who hasn’t refused to talk about their painful relationships and then cheerfully spent an hour saying “what a dickface!” about someone else’s good-for-nothing boyfriend? :p)

    I try to speak up for people who are part of marginalized groups that I’m not a part of when I can, and I see it sort of as paying it forward. If my white self is willing to say “hey, cut the racist crap” maybe some guy down the line will be willing to say “stop catcalling women, asshole” or whatever. So it’s a little selfish in that respect, and also strategic; (white) people are a lot more likely to take my anti-racism seriously but men might not listen to my feminism at all, so I should swap off with people they will listen to (dudes) and fill in for people they’d ignore (POC.)

    It’s not an obligation to educate on behalf of anyone, I think, but I believe that if you want to contribute efficiently to social justice as an overarching goal then it’s best to go with your strengths. If you’re a person with relative privilege* you are in a strong position to call out crap affecting other groups, if you’re quick on your mental toes you’re a good candidate to make jokes at the expense of bigots, if you’re a muscley hulking person your silent glares will speak volumes, etc.

    So I don’t see standing up for less privileged people as a responsibility so much as a lovely opportunity. Being privileged hands you the chance to get your voice heard on a platter, and who can resist speaking up in that case? (I mean, that’s the problem in a lot of circles right? It’s so much fun for the privileged to speak up for the less privileged that the latter can’t get a word in edgewise. :p)

    On a different note, a concern I have about speaking up on behalf of other groups is: what if I eff it up? I try to stick to talking about things I have at least a little 101 in, but occasionally I’ll be trying to help but I’ll be somewhat at sea, saying stuff like “well, this building lacks …ramps? So… that’s bad…” Do y’all think it’s better to do a slightly weak-ass job educating or to just shut up if you don’t have something really solid and knowledgeable to say?

    *Can we not pretend that there’s anyone posting here with no experience being marginalized? Some groups get it really, really bad but it’s not like we need to play Olympics here…

  56. g_whiz
    g_whiz August 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm |

    I’ve often had conversations with my parents about what it was like to live during the tumultuous time of the civil rights era/jim crow South. Often having to be on their best behavior in public in one breath, and invisible in the next. The sentiment most black people carried around with them was something my mother always refered to as “marking the race”. It was something I was pretty aware of, being the “token” (or to take a Charlie Brown reference, the “Franklin”) in my sleepy suburban neighborhoods. People were always helpfully referencing my “otherness”, and I endeavered to be the nicest, most pleasant black boy on earth to combat what I quickly began to percieve as racial biases. This need to behave as though I was endearingly pleasant and pefect in order to a.) combat the idea that “all black people are X” and therefore make otherwise blameless strangers who shared my status look bad, and b.) somehow embarass my family, who were by all intents and purposes brilliant, lovely people , stuck with me and made me the civil, slightly self conscious mess you see before you.

    If I could go back and tell myself a few choice things when I was that boy of 11; I’d say “Dude, you’ve got nobody to impress but yourself, because at the end of the day, the people you’re trying to win over? They’re still not going to appreciate you.”

  57. karak
    karak August 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm |

    In a family situation, I usually offer the other person a chance to save face. Sometimes because I think they made an honest mistake, but more often because I want to give myself the chance to spend some time and consider how I want to deal with this. Do I find this upsetting enough to cut this person out of my life? Limit contact? Gloss it over?

    At least if I’m all sweet and gentle about it, I can give myself time to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the backlash when I finally say, “No, sorry, we’re done.”

  58. Linda
    Linda August 29, 2010 at 10:32 am |

    When I object to sexist remarks said in jest, I have met with, “Oh, lighten up. Have a sense of humor. It’s funny. I didn’t mean it to be anything but funny/a joke.” The worst is, “I was just trying to have a little fun.”

    My response is, “Well, maybe you would think it would be funny to poke someone/me with a stick and laugh to see the person squirm and object. But, the other person ought to be enjoying it.”

    If it is not funny to both parties, it’s just mean. Most people get very angry at my response. I am not here on earth to coddle idiots. Most people know just what they are doing and that they are being offensive. “Oh, well, I did not know that you were so sensitive.” is a good comeback, blaming it all on me. Ho, hum. I am white, not blond, and do not want to listen to jokes that are sexist, racist, or blonde jokes, and am quick to say so. A blank look works.

    Mostly, I just try to avoid the types of people who are habitual offenders. It seems I cannot just let the remarks pass. When I defend remarks about the “mexicans” in our town, people sometimes say, “But, you are not Mexican, as though they do not understand why I defend them. What I am defending is the fact that most Hispanics here are NOT from Mexico, came here on a plane, and are legal.

    “Overly-sensitive” is a term I hear often. DAMN that Women’s Studies degree I have!

  59. Tori
    Tori August 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm |

    I am not here on earth to coddle idiots.

    @Linda — I completely support the desire not to facilitate or coddle people in their -isms. On that note, it might be worth pointing out that “idiot” is an ableist term. Maybe it’s more accurate to assert that we’re not here to coddle bigots?

  60. Today’s links « Never Kept Quiet
    Today’s links « Never Kept Quiet August 29, 2010 at 6:43 pm |

    [...] restricted. Interesting. Thoughts? Coming at you from Feministe, which rocks my world all the time: Marginalized folks shouldn’t always have to be “the bigger persons” Too true. Most of the time, I try not to be a huge asshole when calling people out, I try to [...]

  61. Susy
    Susy August 29, 2010 at 6:46 pm |

    Thank you for the conversation. You’ve expressed some of what many of us have felt. Like you I sometimes just get tired of justifying people, of always having to be ‘the bigger person’ but I also think that it’s a fact that our society seems unable to deal with us or to stop othering us. On the one hand you have those people that continue to think we should walk around with life-story cards to explain ourselves and on the other you have people whose ignorance cannot comprehend anything outside what society has normalized (white, heterosexual, male, etc.).
    Having said the above I appreciate, thank you, and say AMEN to: “I am all for humor and compassion, but I reject the notion that, as a woman and a black person, I need be extra compassionate and jovial in a society that often affords people like me neither of those things…”

  62. Lynnehs
    Lynnehs August 30, 2010 at 3:28 am |

    “I really understand this. Educating people does really get tiresome. Especially since many people these days are so resistant to it. They’ll say things like “don’t you think you’re being too PC?””

    A good answer to that is to say, this isn’t about political correctness. It’s about moral correctness. Bigotry is morally bankrupt.

  63. Athenia
    Athenia August 30, 2010 at 10:11 am |

    Question. What if the folks in the situation aren’t marginalized? Do you think that person doesn’t have to be the bigger person?

    The whole situation of “don’t touch my hair” makes me think of my Dad’s teacher. My Dad’s high school science teacher (tall, white dude) went to teach in the Carribean. Many of his students were fascinated by the hair on his arms and wanted to touch his arm.

    Now obviously, he wasn’t a marginalized person in the traditional sense.

    Does not being a marginalized person remove the anger? Are situations like that no big deal because the person in question doesn’t suffer from oppression? How can tell when a situation isn’t about oppression, but ignorance?

  64. William
    William August 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm |

    How can tell when a situation isn’t about oppression, but ignorance?

    A pretty good way is to look at the difference of power. A white guy in a position of authority in a region with a history of colonialism? Probably not oppressed. He probably has the ability to say “no.” The questions he will be asked will likely not be part of a history of oppression and of his body being treated as a public object of observation, curiosity, ridicule, and possession.

  65. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 30, 2010 at 8:30 pm |

    Bagelsan: On a different note, a concern I have about speaking up on behalf of other groups is: what if I eff it up?

    Yes. It’s an excellent question I also have. For me, I hope to continue educating myself and hopefully this will be alleviated over time to some extent, but I’m never REALLY going to know what it’s like for other marginalized people. I know what it’s like for me and me alone.

    I have no answer for you, but I hope we both figure it out. It’s easy to talk about our oppressions (or, easier, anyway), but definitely not others’.

  66. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm |

    Athenia: The whole situation of “don’t touch my hair” makes me think of my Dad’s teacher. My Dad’s high school science teacher (tall, white dude) went to teach in the Carribean. Many of his students were fascinated by the hair on his arms and wanted to touch his arm.

    As William also explained…it’s all about context. I grew up in Hawaii with long blond hair. Japanese tourists regularly stopped me on the street and asked to touch my hair. It was sometimes annoying and sometimes angry making (when occasionally someone tried to yank out some of my hair) but over time it became a source of enormous amusement.

    One thing it never was…a source of racial oppression. People were curious about the texture of my hair and that curiosity was not colored by a history of the Japanese enslaving my ancestors and an ongoing culture that exotifies my hair as a result.

    Sure they may have felt less inhibited about asking because of my gender. People do generally think they are entitled to womens’ bodies and no one asked men as far as I observed, but that isn’t quite the same.

  67. Montana
    Montana August 30, 2010 at 9:08 pm |

    I am so happy that the ugly (inside and out) crazy old gym teacher reaped what she had sowed. She could have gotten her argument across by saying “N word” and not using the word and by not saying “don’t NAACP me” and “Don’t marry out of your race ” but like Michael Richards AKA “Cosmo Kramer”, she ends up the trash heap of history, a history of her own making. I am so happy that the free market AKA sponsors started to pull their ads (I guess they were exercising their free speech) and she finally realized that she was just another “run of the mill gabby” and her days were numbered. She realized that she was not as smart as she thought she was, finally! We are all adults here and we all know that we cannot control how others will respond to our comments, but it nothing to do about First Amendment rights (how exactly did the government stop her? They didn’t) and street talk and more about being held responsible for our actions and words. The first three times she used the word might not have been in anger but the last eight she was filled with hate, so good riddance.

    Palin was the one who got bent over the use of the word “Retard” (she wanted someone fired for using it once), Palin also said that the people have the right to build the Mosque in NY, but out of respect for the 9/11 families they shouldn’t, but I guess this same standard is not applicable to Laura Schlessinger. Do you see the hypocrisy? The problem with Palin is the same when she mistakenly referred to Ronald Reagan Eureka College, being in California and we all know its in Illinois, same thing, she does not fact check anything she is going to say. She is soooo Palin!

    http://vodpod.com/watch/3933949-keith-olbermann-mocks-sarah-palins-imbecility-stupidity-video

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-august-24-2010/the-hurt-talker

  68. Grafton
    Grafton August 30, 2010 at 10:52 pm |

    Kaz: In addition to my agreeing with the entire post, this makes me furious for an entirely different reason:
    Because it’s not as if people with mental illnesses have ENOUGH stigma already. We clearly have to blame all bigotry on them as well.  

    Of course. It is customary to blame bigotry on us. Look at the use of ‘phobia’ as a suffix meaning ‘bigotry against’ as in ‘transphobia’ and ‘homophobia.’

    This language strikes me as sympathetic towards those who are bigots (equating bigotry with a mental illness paints the bigot a form of victim) and hostile towards MI people (equating bigotry with a mental illness paints people with real anxiety disorders and clinical and sub-clinical phobias as hateful people.)

  69. zach barnett
    zach barnett August 31, 2010 at 3:00 am |

    as a privileged person who always tries hard to respond constructively to hurtful words, this article speaks to an issue that is important to me.

    i share the author’s belief that it is unwise, unreasonable, and unjust to expect people in marginalized groups to ‘be the bigger persons’ when responding to hurtful words or actions. sometimes, it is important and necessary to express your true feelings without aiming to be maximally diplomatic.

    at the same time, i encourage all people to respond gently and constructively when they feel comfortable doing so. and for privileged folks like myself, this happens a lot. some hurtful words don’t sting me in the same way that they might if they were aimed directly at me or my community.

    -zach

  70. Shelby
    Shelby August 31, 2010 at 6:12 pm |

    Marcus: But it leaves space for the offender to grow (which is the goal, fair or not) without, in my opinion, forcing the receiver to “be the bigger person” or just take it. Marcus

    I know this thread’s gone stale, but I just wanna say: I really hate when people try to tell me what my goal for fighting my oppression is. As if anyone gets to decide for anyone else or that there’s just one answer. In case you care, giving whiteness more space for anything is actually the *opposite* of my goal.

  71. The Bilerico Project
    The Bilerico Project September 20, 2010 at 11:00 am |

    Four facts I didn’t know about the Montgomery bus boycott…

    It seems you can’t shake a dead cat anymore without someone using Martin Luther King to prove their point. Conservatives claim he was one of them – he once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they wi…

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