Monday, 9 December 2013

Wading In

Let's start with the heart of the matter; people you are standing on do not care about appealing to you. They care about not being stood on.

When you're privileged, you'll see some attacks against the groups you're part of, from less privileged groups. Like "fuck cis people", or "kill all men", or "white people, fuuuuuuuck off". My first reaction to all those things? I was pretty hurt. They were aimed at me! These were people I loved and respected, telling me to get bent. So, like I do in these situations, I threw a twitter fit. No, wait, I mean I had a think about it, because I am not an emotionally stunted manchild.

These sort of things, these expressions of hurt and frustration, were not aimed at me personally; and even if they were, I've got to just be a big boy about it and take it on the chin, because it's completely understandable.

There's a lot said about privilege, and the best way to think of it is a world of enormous giants and tiny, tiny people. In this world, the giant has a lot of privilege that he doesn't spot. He doesn't have to worry about being attacked by tigers, for example; they're so small he can just brush them off. The idea of tiger-attack as something to worry about is frankly baffling to him. It's fun to own tigers, even, since they are so pretty. On top of that, and even harder for him to get his giant head around, is the fact that he doesn't have to worry about being stepped on by a giant.

The tiny tiny people, on the other hand, are fans of neither tigers nor giants. Tigers are a serious problem, in this world, and repeatedly maul the tiny tiny people. But the giants don't care. "Who could find tigers threatening?" they ask each other, in booming voices that drown out the small, and they come to the conclusion that tigers don't really attack anyone and the tiny tiny people are making this up. The giants also stand on the tiny tiny people, even when they don't mean to, and despite the fact their footsteps can level villages they shrug it off with a "sorry, didn't see you," no matter how badly everyone's been hurt.

In this world, you would not expect the tiny tiny people to care if the giants like them half as much as they care about the giants not stepping on them. They might set up "No-giant zones" with little spears that rise too high to hurt the tiny tiny people. The giants would complain- this situation is set up to hurt them!

Except it's not, is it? It's defensive. It's carving out a space in a world that is actively hostile to you. Privilege makes you a fumble-fingered thunderfooted giant, and you have to be more careful than you were likely being to avoid standing on people. You also maybe have to give up owning tigers, or shouting homophobic slurs you don't really mean, or quit other behaviour that's hurting people who are less privileged.

Now there's a reflex I know I have that is super, super terrible; the desire to 'fix the message'. I mean, surely less privileged groups want the straight cis white guys on side, right? Let's go back to our world of giants.
Imagine one of the giants leans down to sweep away the spears, and explains to the tiny tiny people that they need to be less aggressive.

In what world would you expect the tiny tiny people not to see that as a threat? In what way does a friendly "watch your feet!" sign actually defend the tiny tiny people? Sometimes the shortest, sharpest lesson- the "go fuck yourself"- is the only way to get a giant of privilege to leave you alone.

If you're a giant and you do want to help, learn the basics about being a tiny tiny person as well as you can and when other giants at the giant water cooler start talking giant shit, tell them they're wrong. Point them to some tiny tiny literature about it. And watch your fucking feet.

Intersectionality note: We have to consider multiverse theory for a second so bear with me here. Every person exists in many different worlds simultaneously- the world of race, the world of sexuality, the world of health, the world of sex and gender identity, and many many more. You may be a tiny tiny person in one world but a giant in another. One of the worst mistakes people can make is to assume that giants only exist in the worlds where they themselves are tiny tiny people; that just makes you an especially callous giant in the worlds where you are a giant. There's also the mistake of thinking that because you know what being a tiny tiny person is like in the world of sexuality, you fully understand what it's like to be a tiny tiny person in the world of race. You don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment