social justice

Allyship does not mean seeing yourself as worthless

There are people who like to make others feel worthless. Some of them use the language of social justice to get away with it. 

Often, this comes in the form of proclaiming to hate allies and then demanding unbounded deference from allies. This is typically conflated with accountability, but it’s not the same thing at all. 

Hatred and accountability are different things. Accountability as an ally means, among other things:

  • Listening to the people you’re trying to support instead of talking over them.
  • Making good-faith efforts to understand the issues involved and to act on what you learn.
  • Understanding that you’re going to make big mistakes, and that sometimes people you’re trying to support will be justifiably angry with you.
  • Accepting that your privilege and power matter, not expecting others to overlook either, and taking responsibility for how you use both.
  • Facing things that are uncomfortable to think about, and handling your own feelings about them rather than dumping on marginalized people.
  • Being careful about exploitation and reciprocity, including paying people for their time when you’re asking them to do work for you.
  • Understanding that marginalized people have good reason to be cautious about trusting you, and refraining from demanding trust on the grounds that you see yourself as on their side.

When people use the language of social justice to make others feel worthless, it’s more like this:

  • Telling allies explicitly or implicitly, that they are worthless and harming others by existing.
  • Expecting allies to constantly prove that they’re not terrible people, even when they’ve been involved with the community for years and have a long track record of trustworthiness. 
  • Berating allies about how terrible allies are, in ways that have no connection to their actual actions or their actual attitudes.
  • Giving people instructions that are self-contradictory or impossible to act on, then berating them for not following them.
  • Eg: Saying “Go f**ing google it” about things that are not actually possible to google in a meaningful way
  • Eg: saying “ shut up and listen to marginalized people” about issues that significant organized groups of marginalized people disagree about. https://www.realsocialskills.org/blog/the-rules-about-responding-to-call-outs-arent
  • Eg: Simultaneously telling allies that they need to speak up about an issue and that they need to shut up about the same issue. Putting them in a position in which if they speak or write about something, they will be seen as taking up space that belongs to marginalized people, and if they don’t, they will be seen as making marginalized people do all the work.
  • Giving allies instructions, then berating them for following them:
  • Eg: Inviting allies to ask questions about good allyship, then telling them off for centering themselves whenever they actually ask relevant questions. 
  • Eg: Teaching a workshop on oppression or a related issue, and saying “it’s not my job to educate you” to invited workshop participants who ask questions that people uninformed about the issue typically can be expected to ask.
  • More generally speaking: setting things up so that no matter what an ally does, it will be seen as a morally corrupt act of oppression.

Holding allies accountable means insisting that they do the right thing. Ally hate undermines accountability by saying that it’s inherently impossible for allies to do anything right. If we want to hold people accountable in a meaningful, we have to believe that accountability is possible. 

Someone who believes that it’s impossible for allies to do anything right isn’t going to be able to hold you accountable. If someone has no allies who they respect, you’re probably not going to be their exception — they will almost certainly end up hating you too. If someone demands that you assume you’re worthless and prove your worth in an ongoing way, working with them is unlikely to end well.  

If you want to hold yourself accountable, you need to develop good judgement about who to listen to and who to collaborate with. Part of that is learning to be receptive to criticism from people who want you to do the right thing, even when the criticism is hard to hear. Another part is learning to be wary of people who see you as a revenge object and want you to hate yourself. You will encounter both attitudes frequently, and it’s important to learn to tell the difference. Self-hatred isn’t accountability.

Tl;dr If we want to hold allies accountable in a meaningful, we have to believe that accountability is possible. Hatred of allies makes this much harder.

Image description: A sign with text "allyship does not mean seeing yourself as worthless".

The rules about responding to call outs aren’t working

Privileged people rarely take the voices of marginalized people seriously. Social justices spaces attempt to fix this with rules about how to respond to when marginalized people tell you that you’ve done something wrong. Like most formal descriptions of social skills, the rules don’t quite match reality. This is causing some problems that I think we could fix with a more honest conversation about how to respond to criticism.

The formal social justice rules say something like this:

  • You should listen to marginalized people.
  • When a marginalized person calls you out, don’t argue.
  • Believe them, apologize, and don’t do it again.
  • When you see others doing what you were called out for doing, call them out.

Those rules are a good approximation of some things, but they don’t actually work. It is impossible to follow them literally, in part because:

  • Marginalized people are not a monolith. 
  • Marginalized people have the same range of opinions as privileged people.
  • When two marginalized people tell you logically incompatible things, it is impossible to act on both sets of instructions.
  • For instance, some women believe that abortion is a human right foundational human right for women. Some women believe that abortion is murder and an attack on women and girls.
  • “Listen to women” doesn’t tell you who to believe, what policy to support, or how to talk about abortion. 
  • For instance, some women believe that religious rules about clothing liberate women from sexual objectification, other women believe that religious rules about clothing sexually objectify women. 
  • “Listen to women” doesn’t tell you what to believe about modesty rules. 
  • Narrowing it to “listen to women of minority faiths” doesn’t help, because women disagree about this within every faith.
  • When “listen to marginalized people” means “adopt a particular position”, marginalized people are treated as rhetorical props rather than real people.
  • Objectifying marginalized people does not create justice.

Since the rule is literally impossible to follow, no one is actually succeeding at following it. What usually ends up happening when people try is that:

  • One opinion gets lifted up as “the position of marginalized people” 
  • Agreeing with that opinion is called “listen to marginalized people”
  • Disagreeing with that opinion is called “talking over marginalized people”
  • Marginalized people who disagree with that opinion are called out by privileged people for “talking over marginalized people”.
  • This results in a lot of fights over who is the true voice of the marginalized people.
  • We need an approach that is more conducive to real listening and learning.

This version of the rule also leaves us open to sabotage:

  • There are a lot of people who don’t want us to be able to talk to each other and build effective coalitions.
  • Some of them are using the language of call-outs to undermine everyone who emerges as an effective progressive leader. 
  • They say that they are marginalized people, and make up lies about leaders.
  • Or they say things that are technically true, but taken out of context in deliberately misleading ways.
  • The rules about shutting up and listening to marginalized people make it very difficult to contradict these lies and distortions. 
  • (Sometimes they really are members of the marginalized groups they claim to speak for. Sometimes they’re outright lying about who they are).
  • (For instance, Russian intelligence agents have used social media to pretend to be marginalized Americans and spread lies about Hillary Clinton.)

The formal rule is also easily exploited by abusive people, along these lines:

  • An abusive person convinces their victim that they are the voice of marginalized people.
  • The abuser uses the rules about “when people tell you that you’re being oppressive, don’t argue” to control the victim.
  • Whenever the victim tries to stand up for themself, the abuser tells the victim that they’re being oppressive.
  • That can be a powerfully effective way to make victims in our communities feel that they have no right to resist abuse. 
  • This can also prevent victims from getting support in basic ways.
  • Abusers can send victims into depression spirals by convincing them that everything that brings them pleasure is oppressive and immoral. 
  • The abuser may also isolate the victim by telling them that it would be oppressive for them to spend time with their friends and family, try to access victim services, or call the police. 
  • The abuser may also separate the victim from their community and natural allies by spreading baseless rumors about their supposed oppressive behavior. (Or threatening to do so).
  • When there are rules against questioning call outs, there are also implicit rules against taking the side of a victim when the abuser uses the language of calling out.
  • Rules that say some people should unconditionally defer to others are always dangerous.

The rule also lacks intersectionality:

  • No one experiences every form of oppression or every form of privilege.
  • Call-outs often involve people who are marginalized in different ways. 
  • Often, both sides in the conflict have a point.
  • For instance, black men have male privilege and white women have white privilege.
  • If a white woman calls a black man out for sexism and he responds by calling her out for racism (or vice versa), “listened to marginalized people” isn’t a very helpful rule because they’re both marginalized.
  • These conversations tend to degenerate into an argument about which form of marginalization is most significant.
  • This prevents people involved from actually listening to each other.
  • In conflicts like this, it’s often the case that both sides have a legitimate point. (In ways that are often not immediately obvious.)
  • We need to be able to work through these conflicts without expecting simplistic rules to resolve them in advance.

This rule also tends to prevent groups centered around one form of marginalized from coming to engage with other forms of marginalization:

  • For instance, in some spaces, racism and sexism are known to be issues, but ableism is not.
  • (This can occur in any combination. Eg: There are also spaces that get ableism and sexism but not racism, and spaces that get economic justice and racism but not antisemitism, or any number of other things.)
  • When disabled people raise the issue of ableism in any context (social justice or otherwise), they’re likely to be shouted down and told that it’s not important.
  • In social justice spaces, this shouting down is often done in the name of “listening to marginalized people”.
  • For instance, disabled people may be told ‘you need to listen to marginalized people and de-center your issues’, carrying the implication that ableism is less important than other forms of oppression.
  • (This happens to *every* marginalized group in some context or other.)
  • If we want real intersectional solidarity, we need to have space for ongoing conflicts that are not simple to resolve.

Tl;dr “Shut up and listen to marginalized people” isn’t quite the right rule, because it objectifies marginalized people, leaves us open to sabotage, enables abuse, and prevents us from working through conflicts in a substantive way. We need to do better by each other, and start listening for real.

You can’t fight evil with bullshit

Donald Trump has spent years telling outrageous lies. He’s continued to do so since assuming office, even lying about obviously verifiable things like what he’s tweeted about or the size of his inauguration crowd.

He is attacking the idea that truth matters, and trying to make people give up on telling the difference between the truth and a lie. This is dangerously disoriented.

In order to stay oriented, we need to care what’s true. This is easier said than done. In the short term, bullshit is often much more politically convenient than the truth. In the long term, if we create a world in which the truth doesn’t matter, we will end up defenseless. 

We need to keep in mind that being on the right side doesn’t make everything someone might say true. Good people can tell lies. Good people can get things wrong. Their goodness doesn’t make the lie true. 

Being marginalized doesn’t mean that someone always knows what they’re talking about. Being oppressed doesn’t make people infallible; being wrong doesn’t make someone privileged. 

Similarly, not every rumor about a bad person is accurate. Lies told about a bad person are still lies. (And not everyone who has a bad reputation is actually a bad person.)

Be careful about spreading rumors. Learn to recognize fake news, and avoid spreading it. If something doesn’t sound true to you, ask for citations or investigate. Everyone can be wrong, and you don’t have to believe anyone without being persuaded that they are right. Evidence matters, arguments matter. (And being a good person isn’t a substitute for either.)

You can’t fight evil with bullshit. In order to fight evil, we have to care what’s true. 

your problematic is fave

Something to keep in mind in social criticism of media:

On Tumblr, we talk a lot about how everything is problematic. That’s true, as far as it goes. And it’s a conversation that needs to happen.

But, it’s also problematic. Because sometimes that conversation happens in a way that suggests that the only real parts of a thing are the awful parts.

And it can end up sounding like this:

  • You know that thing you like?
  • The thing that you quote all the time?
  • The one you learned tremendously important things from?
  • The one you keep reading to learn new things?
  • The thing that got you through awful times?
  • The thing that’s getting you through hard times now?
  • You know, that awesome thing you see as part of who you are?
  • It’s oppressive, it’s killing people, and you’re a horrible person for not thinking that it’s worthless trash with no value

And that can progress into:

  • “It’s ok that you liked it before. We all have to unlearn things.”
  • “We all have internalized oppression. It’s ok that you didn’t know that the story you care about is worthless”
  • (with the implication that you’d better not see any positive now that you have been ~educated~ and told to hate it)

And that can progress into:

  • You know how we told you not to watch that thing you used to love?
  • And how we told you to watch the new thing instead?
  • The new thing we said good people have to like because it has such important representation?
  • That thing’s problematic too. You’re oppressive and bad for liking it.
  • You should like this new thing instead. Or else. (Even though the same thing will happen again.) 
  • On second thought, don’t like anything. Your fave is problematic. You should hate it. 

It’s really bad when this happens. Talking about the problems with stories shouldn’t turn into teaching people that they’re not allowed to like anything. 

And it’s important to remember that saying “if you like this story you’re human garbage”, will be heard by people who used that story to climb out as, “You aren’t good enough to have deserved to climb out. Go back in there until you can climb out using only pure and unproblematic stories.”

That is not something to say lightly.

The point is to build

Your last post mentioned “coming to terms with how awful the world is.” When recognize that injustice is everywhere, and that you personally benefit from it, is it ok to find joy in the world even though it’s awful? Things like (in the US) visiting a national park and having a fun hike, when the land was taken a long time ago from Native Americans; or watching a good movie that’s problematic; or enjoying sledding after a snowstorm that was responsible for a few deaths?
 For me it is impossible to keep injustice in mind all the time. So whenever I have fun, or feel happy, I feel guilty later because that fun indirectly came out of injustice, and instead of fighting that injustice I was enjoying it. How can you keep in mind that the world is a horrible place without neglecting your right (is it a right even?) to joy?
realsocialskills said:
 
The world contains much, much more than pain and injustice. It’s important to acknowledge and fight evil. It’s also important not to become so consumed by the fight that you can only see the horrible things.
  
The point is to build and to love. (And, sometimes, to fight battles that need fighting.)
   
Sometimes, people try to seek out some sort of purity by cutting out everything tainted by injustice. That doesn’t work, because everything is tainted in some way. If you go down that road seeking purity, you get stuck cutting out more and more things and not being able to find anything pure enough to like without shame. That doesn’t help. Everything is connected to something destructive. Sometimes particular kinds of destructiveness are dealbreaking, but it can’t be everything that has any connection to something bad. You can’t become pure that way, but you can do a lot of harm to yourself and others trying.
 
Liking things is good. Misery isn’t a moral accomplishment. If you want to make the world a better place, treat people right and build something good. The point is not to be miserable at the horrors of the world. The point is to build.
  
This is not about attaining moral purity through abstinence and misery. It’s about doing the work of making things better and building worthwhile things, and loving others more than our culture hates them. Your purity will not help anyone. Your work can.
   
To use some of the examples you gave:
  
Regarding the snow: it didn’t snow so that you could sled. Enjoying the sledding will not hurt anyone. Just don’t brag about sledding to people who are really upset about the snow. People who have been harmed by the snow might not want to hear how much you’re enjoying the snow, but that doesn’t mean that enjoying it is wicked, it just means it’s important to be considerate.
   
Watching a good movie that’s problematic: All movies have horrible aspects to one degree or another. It’s ok to ignore them and like something; *that’s the only way anyone ever gets to like anything in the media*. 
      
But it’s also important to be willing to acknowledge that the problems are there and not be obnoxious about other people not wanting to hear about the thing you like. Everyone’s patterns of what’s deal-breaking are different. If the ableism in a movie is dealbreaking for someone, respect that, and don’t talk to them about how great you think it is. If someone got badly injured in the snow, don’t talk to them about how wonderful the snow is. Being considerate of other people’s boundaries, and their right to decide what is and is not personally dealbreaking, goes a long way.
 
You are allowed to be happy. It’s good to be happy. There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world, really really wrong, even. But…
  
The point is not to be constantly miserable about it. The point is not to wallow in shame. The point is to build. 
  
Some building is activism and advocacy and fighting injustice. Some of it is just… building. All of it involves identifying situations in which you have the power to act, and finding things you can do that make good things more possible.
  
You can like things; you can love; it is good to like things and enjoy life. Refusing to ever like anything impure will not make the world better; your work can.

About anger and social violence

Those of us who experience routine social violence can’t afford to become enraged about it every single time. We also can’t afford to fight it every single time.

If you don’t experience social violence, this can be hard to understand. It can be easy to think we’re under-reacting and that we ought to be flying into a rage and reporting it. You might want to get furious on our behalf.

As furious as you think you’d be if that happened to you. The thing is, when it happens to you multiple times every day, you can’t always afford to make a big deal of it. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. It’s important to fight sometimes, but not always. There are other things to be getting on with.

So telling someone “wow, you should report that!” is not necessarily a helpful response.

Similarly, it also isn’t helpful to try to calm someone down or come up with lots of ways to interpret what happened as just an innocent misunderstanding. 

Misunderstandings aren’t so benign when they happen to you several times a day and prevent you from doing what you need to do. Particularly when people become hostile when you tell them that they’re creating a problem, no matter how polite you are about it. Sometimes things really are that bad, and sometimes you’re not in a position to fix them.

Sometimes we don’t need help adjusting our perspective, or help filing a complaint. Sometimes what we need is to know that you are willing to listen to something that happened to us, and that you will believe us and understand.

Sometimes, you can’t make it better in that moment. Sometimes, we can’t make it better, and all we can do is survive it. We can’t fight every battle. And sometimes, the battles we don’t fight can take as heavy a toll on us as the battles we do fight. It is not easy to let things go when they are unjust and in which we’d really like to fix things. But, the only thing to do is see it as unjust *and* go on without fighting a battle then and there.

Just as no one should ever have to fight these battles alone, no one should have to be alone when they decide to sit out a particular battle. We need support every time this kind of thing happens, not only in instances in which we’re directly fighting.

If you want to be a good ally, don’t pressure people to fight every battle. Instead, stand with them consistently, when they chose to fight, and when they regard discretion as the better part of valor. Presume that they are capable of making those calls, listen respectfully, and offer support that is appropriate to the situation and consistent with the choice they are making about it.

Sometimes, in a situation, all you can do is listen, understand, and be someone who understands that they are being treated unjustly and that it isn’t their fault. It hurts not to be able to do more, but it’s important not to let that pain get in the way of offering the support, respect, and listening that can help some in that situation.

You can’t always fix things, either by fighting or by explaining things away. Sometimes there is no ready solution. But, you *can* always be a respectful ally.

Thoughts on listening to marginalized people

chavisory:

realsocialskills:

Marginalized people are, first and foremost, people.

Marginalized people are not a hive mind. Not as a whole, and not by group, either.

Listening to marginalized people means listening to actual people who you encounter.

That means listening to what people tell you, even if it’s not what social justice theory or any other ideology told you that they should think. Listening means listening. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. In fact, you *can’t* always agree since people who experience the same category of oppression believe contradictory things about it).

What listening means is understanding what they are actually saying, without talking over them with your theories about what their life means. Talking over people with social justice ideology is just as bad as any other form of talking over people.

It means, also, acknolwedging that margianlized people don’t all agree with one another, even on really important things. And that, sometimes, you have to take a position. And you have to evaluate what you think, sometimes. But, you never have to be a jerk about it.

And it starts with listening to the person who is actually before you, and assuming that they understand their life better than you do.

chavisory said:

Also, just because individuals or different factions within marginalized groups often believe contradictory things, doesn’t mean you can just pick the side that buoys whatever you already want to believe and stop there and say “I listened!”

“Well some [autistic/black/gay] people agree with me!”

Yes, yes they do.

What are their reasons?

Do you think those are good reasons, or are they reasons that happen to accord with whatever assumptions you already hold?

What are the common criticisms of those lines of reasoning?  What are the consequences not just to the individuals who hold those opinions, but of their broader application or acceptance?

There’s not just a group of people you can choose to listen to in order to be able to stop self-examining or thinking about cause and effect in the world.

Listening is continuous.  It’s not just picking a side.  It doesn’t just give you the right answers.

realsocialskills

Yes. And that’s true no matter which side matches your assumptions. 

People who are deeply and fundamentally dedicated to justice and support for marginalized people also buoy our assumptions by convincing ourselves that every member of our group who actually counts agrees with us. And all the more so, when we’re talking about groups we’re *not* part of.

Some examples of this happening:

  • White Christians taking a position on an issue that’s controversial between Muslims of color, calling the Muslims of color they disagree with racist, and refusing to listen to them
  • A man holding a “no uterus, no opinion” sign at a protest responding to a pro-life rally in which many women participate because they oppose abortion
  • Anti-cure autistic people saying “autistic people don’t want a cure”, as though autistic people who want a cure are somehow not really autistic (I’m an anti-cure autistic, and I used to be guilty of this)

It’s ok to take a position. It’s ok to decide that there are particular people you’re not going to engage with. It’s actually, by and large *necessary* to do that (except sometimes on issues that don’t really concern you).

It’s not ok to pretend that everyone who really counts as a member of whatever group agrees with your position, or to call your decision to disregard what they’re saying “listening to marginalized people”.

Keeping perspective in a world that tries to take it away

When you’re marginalized:

  • No matter how nice you are, people will call you mean
  • No matter how justified your anger is, people will tell you that you’re overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing
  • No matter how polite you are, people will call you rude
  • No matter how well you explain yourself, people will accuse you of speaking without thinking
  • No matter how closely you stick to the facts, people will accuse you of letting your emotions make you irrational

This post is not about that, exactly. It’s about one consequence of living in a world where people treat you this way. You have to grow a fairly thick skin, and learn to disregard a lot of mean-spirited and unwarranted attacks on you.

The need to protect yourself this way comes at a price. The thick skin you have to develop to function at all can make it hard to tell when you actually *are* doing something wrong. And sometimes you will be. Because everyone is mean sometimes, Everyone overreacts some of the time. Everyone is rude sometimes, Everyone sometimes believes things based on what they emotionally desire to be true rather than the facts of the situation. Everyone gets outraged at things that don’t warrant it. Everyone is cruel sometimes.

And when everyone tells you that you’re doing awful things whether or not it’s true, it’s really hard to tell when you actually are doing wrong.

It’s important to cultivate friendships with people you can trust to care whether or not you are doing the right thing. Who share your values and won’t use false accusations of being cruel to shut you up, and won’t try to undermine your struggles against marginalization. Who will genuinely care about both the success of your work, and whether or not you are treating yourself and others well.

And to have friends who can trust you to do the same. It doesn’t mean that you always have to agree, or that you can’t ever do something your friend thinks is wrong. But it does mean that you listen, and take into account what one another thinks.

One of the awful things oppressors do to us is to make examining our actions difficult by flooding us with a lot of mean-spirited false criticism. It’s important that we find a way to counter that.

Real situations are complicated

I don’t think allies /ever/ need more support than the marginalized group? Yes, allies need support sometimes. But not as much as the people actually dealing with the oppression.
realsocialskills said:
In a general sense, I agree with you. As a group, marginalized people need more support, and justice efforts should be centered around them.
But real situations aren’t just made of groups. They’re also made of people.
For instance, a particular specific ally who just got fired over their activism might need more support in that particular moment than a particular member of a marginalized group who is having a good week and just got a promotion.
If all you know about a situation is which group people are in, you don’t really know what’s going on.

About being an ally

When you’re an ally, it will cost you some of your privilege.

Racists, homophobic people, misogynists, folks committed to disability hate, etc – all of those people will start turning some of their hate on you. And you will lose some of what you’ve spent your life feeling entitled to and taking for granted.

And, this can be traumatic.

But… keep in mind that people you’re aligning yourself with experience this all the time, and that they bore a much heavier burden long before you’d started thinking about any of this. And that, for them, it’s unavoidable. You can walk away; they can’t. And, even as it stands, they bear the brunt of it and are hurt by it far more than you are.

Don’t expect your trauma over losing some access to privilege to be at the center of their conversations. It matters, but it’s not the most important thing at stake.

It’s ok to need support. It’s not ok to be a drain on those you’re allying with. Seek out support in dealing with these things from other allies.

Treating people well is a skill

Sometimes, people go into various fields thinking that they are inherently safe people because they know certain things from experience. For instance, people with disabilities go into the field of service provision thinking that they will know how to avoid abuse of power. Or people who have had bad experiences in school and think that they would never use their power in ways that hurt kids.

Sometimes people think that they are safe people because of their political values, or other values. For instance, people sometimes think that reading a lot of disability rights theory makes them ideal staff. Men sometimes think that reading a lot of feminist theory means that they’re immune to gendered power dynamics. White people often think that reading things about diversity and tolerance makes them immune to white supremacist attitudes and hurting people of color with their privilege. But it doesn’t actually work that way.

Your politics do not make you a safe person. Treating people well is a skill, and it goes far beyond knowing what’s at stake. It also goes far beyond knowing the right words and being able to deploy them. It also goes beyond being angry at the world or objecting when other people do blatantly awful things. There is a component of action, too. You also have to know how to act right towards others, and this is something you have to work on continually. No amount of radical conceptual knowledge will replace the need to work on the actual skills involved in treating people well.

And to state it somewhat more simply - knowing that there are power dynamics doesn’t make you immune from abusing power. Neither does identifying them when you see them. Having spent a lot of time thinking about it doesn’t make you immune, either. No one is immune. You have to constantly watch yourself, listen to feedback from people you have power over, and work continuously to improve your ability to treat people right and use your power the right way.

No one is ever, ever beyond the need to keep working on the practical skills involved in treating people well.

It’s not about what kind of person you are; it is never possible to make yourself into a kind of person who is too good to abuse power. It is possible to continually work to improve your actual actions.

Make sure you’re doing that work. It’s important.

Boundaries in social justice learning

oh-kaity:

Educational conversations aren’t necessarily directed at you

realsocialskills:

Marginalized people often are prevented from knowing really important things. Things that they need to know in order to live in the world.

Some conversations about things like privilege and oppression are primarily conversations between marginalized people about how to notice what’s going on and…

oh-kaity said:

Very, very important, and I wish more people understood this and learned through listening and doing their own research rather than asking “well meaning” questions. The internet is a vast resource, and usually if you see a conversation you don’t understand or want to know more about, you can research it on your own, or continue listening to the people in question instead of derailing the conversation at hand with your own stuff.

realsocialskills said:

I think it can be and often is legitimate to ask for help.

Not everyone can learn all of the important things by googling and watching conversations. Some people really do need to ask questions and have people explain stuff in order to understand it properly.

The important thing to realize is that needing to ask questions in order to understand doesn’t mean other people are obligated to spend their own time explaining stuff to you just because they are marginalized people who exist in public. It’s great that you’ve realized there’s something important that you don’t understand, and that you need help understanding it - and that means it’s important to identify someone who is *willing* to explain things to you, and to respect the boundaries of people who don’t want to spend their time that way.

It’s important to remember that the overwhelming majority of marginalized people aren’t going to want to spend their time explaining painful things to you. And it’s important to understand that, no matter how sincerely you want to understand, being a marginalized person who talks about things in public does not obligate anyone to be your teacher.

Writing in public doesn’t mean that a marginalized person has agreed to be your teacher; it just means they’ve written something in public. Do not assume that it goes further than that, especially if they’ve said clearly that it does not, or that their intended audience is other people facing the thing they’re talking about.

All of that is important to keep in mind - but it’s also important to keep in mind that you may not be able to understand everything just by googling it. Needing help doesn’t make you a bad person. Being unable to learn what you need to by googling isn’t a moral flaw and it doesn’t in itself suggest that you’re just not sincere enough about wanting to do right by others. It’s ok to need help understanding. And it’s important to seek out that help in a way that is consensual and respectful.

Being aware of privilege only helps if you do something

Talking about how privileged you are and how much you acknowledge your privilege doesn’t do much, on its own.

It has to actually change what you do.

It can actually make things worse, if all you do is mention it.

Because then the implication is “yeah, I know I’m privileged and have all kinds of unwarranted power over others, but I don’t really care and it’s not going to change what I do. Please to be praising me for noticing this. I’m pretty great.”

And people you have power over can come under a lot of pressure to give you the praise you want, and to help you feel ok about the discrimination you participate in. Don’t do this to people.

When you have privilege, you have obligations that go along with it. You have unwarranted power that you can’t renounce, and the obligation to learn what to do with it. If you’re not willing to think about your power and examine what you do with it, you’re not going to be able to avoid abusing it.

There are any number of other implications too. And there are things it’s not ok to participate in even if it would benefit you, and even if it’s hard-to-impossible to get those things otherwise.

Don’t expect noticing and naming your privilege categories to be enough.

feliscorvus:

Social skills for autonomous people: Don’t hang your identity on being counter-cultural.

realsocialskills:

It’s better when good things become mainstream.

If something is good and right, it’s best when everyone knows this and it’s not substantially controversial.

Opposing things hurts. 

There is a lot that is horribly wrong with the world, and a lot of fights that have to be fought. There are many lives in the balance (and other things). But the point isn’t the fight, and it’s not being outside the mainstream.

The point is the values and the people.

Serve your values, and your people. Fighting is a means. It is necessary. But it is not an end in itself. And you can serve your values and people best by looking for ways to serve them - and when that is fighting, to fight, and when that is building, to build.

When people make the fighting an end in itself, bad things happen.

YES. This is so very very true. There is nothing wrong with finding it satisfying to fight for what is right. But it is important to remember WHY it is so important to fight for what is right, and that is because the world and the very fact of existence have so much potential to be awesome and not full of suffering and injustice.

In other words…hinging one’s identity on The Fight without having a constant background sense of what is being fought for and appreciated and loved – will invariably lead to what I can only describe as a “core of emptiness”. Working for a better world does not go hand in hand with existential despair at the idea of no longer having stuff to fight for. The ultimate goal is to not be fighting someday. Establishing a situation of respect, access, liberty, and security for all is a necessary and worthy activity, but all of us still need real hobbies too.

Yes. It is so important to perceive the fight as something that can and should be won.

unicornismforever:

Social skills for autonomous people: Don’t assume marginalized people are safe

realsocialskills:

youneedacat:

realsocialskills:

Sometimes people who are marginalized assume that other marginalized people are safe by definition. This is really dangerous, and it sets people up for a lot of gaslighting. We need to make sure not to encourage this in activist and otherwise pro-human spaces.

For example, some people do things…

Moreover, don’t assume that someone is safe or that their actions are acceptable just because they are, or appear, or pretend to be, more marginalized or more of a victim than you are.

My primary stalker loves to play on the sympathy she gets as an ultra-marginalized victim in order to do her best to destroy people’s lives. She only gets away with some of the things she has done because she claims to be ultra-marginalized and ultra-victimized and plays on people’s stereotypes to seem always the innocent victim when she actually is the most full-of-hate person I’ve ever met, who goes around finding the easiest targets she can come up with, to express that hate towards. All the way manipulating people’s images and stereotypes of good vs. bad oppressed people to make herself look good and her victims look bad (even when the things she picks on are rather ordinary, she has the capacity to twist them into looking menacing or wrong). It’s very complex and she relies on these stereotypes to get people to hate the people she wants them to hate.

She’d have a much harder time getting away with things if she weren’t able to claim an ultra-marginalized status and get sympathy and absolution that way.

Yes, this. 

This is also why I think the rule that says “If someone from a marginalized group says you did something oppressive, then you did and you should apologize and fix it” is really dangerous.

Because there’s nothing about that rule that prevents it from being used by abusers to attack others.

(And nothing about this rule prevents it from being used by socially powerful people to silence people with far less power, either. Someone being good at manipulating these images is *not* the same as being the most vulnerable person in the room.)

I do a lot of angry about men, but women are dangerous too, and while one would hope we’d keep each other safe, we don’t as we’re socialized to hurt other people as well. Just differently.

Yes, and sometimes the same ways, too.

There isn’t any way of hurting people that is only done by men.