Thoughts on listening to marginalized people



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.


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”.