I feel a need right now to discuss privilege. It is a complex issue, and I have a lot to say about it, so this may end up being more than one post. This is me attempting to rationally approach something that from time to time ambushes my life and hijacks my attention and emotional energy. It is my attempt to articulate what I am unable to say when I am angry.
When it comes to friendships, some things are deal-breakers. For me, it’s bigotry. Can’t stop trash talking homosexuals? No soup for you. Hate and mock transgendered people? No soup for you. Sexist? Ha ha a sandwich joke…no freaking soup for you.
That’s not a definitive list either. The kind of person who treats someone disrespectfully because of a disability or illness (mental or physical) or is great in every other way except for a rabid hatred of Ukrainians…I consider these serious character flaws, and when I discover them, I definitely reconsider whether I can continue to be friends with someone like that.
It’s not as clear cut as it sounds though. Sometimes you can know someone for a while before you see this side of them. Or you believe that because they are admirable and intelligent in so many other ways, they must be saying those things sarcastically, mocking the stereotypes rather than perpetuating them. You have to decide whether or not you can handle talking to your friend about what they did or said or apparently believe. This can be particularly hard to do that when you are part of the group in question. The added sense of betrayal can make it feel even worse than if a random stranger walked up to you and said or did something similar.
Because contrary to popular bigot belief, most ‘minorities’ (how I hate the term, but trotting out a series of descriptors so that I can be inclusive invariably leaves me winded) don’t ‘pull the race/gender/whatever’ card out at the drop of a hat. Nope. Sorry. There is so much actual crap hurled our way constantly, that if we called out ever instance of it, we’d get nothing else done. And making up extra heaps of it? No time folks, busy living over here. For reals.
People who aren’t targets of bigotry don’t really grasp this. I am a fair skinned Métis. I do not get targeted for my skin colour the way darker skinned people (native and non) do. I don’t get pulled over for Driving While Indian, and when both my daughters cracked their heads open in the kitchen one day apart from one another, no one at the hospital accused me of child abuse as a default. That is my fair-skinned privilege, and a lot of people don’t have it.
Thus it would be very easy for me to minimise the frequency of discrimination based on skin colour, if I were to compare other’s experiences to my own. And to some extent, I am certain I do this. It is not always there in my mind as a gnawing worry when I go out into the world. My preparations are based on other characteristics I have which to some, render me less capable, less worthy of respect…less. Always less. Yet my experiences do not mean other people’s experiences are ‘exaggerations’.
When we do call someone on their bigotry, the proverbial shitstorm is unleashed. Is there anything more offensive to a person’s sense of who they are than being called a bigot? I mean this seriously. Think about it. We all of us have ways of rationalising our behaviours, good or bad. Bigotry isn’t a socially-accepted character trait. Oh, the practice of bigotry is all around us regardless, but being labelled a bigot is a big social no-no. It often doesn’t matter if what you really said was, “that thing you just did or said was discriminatory in this way…”, because what the person is often hearing is “YOU BIG JERKY BIGOT CREEPFACE!”
So it’s not a situation where ‘the card’ gets pulled too often. Most of us don’t call people on their bigotry enough because we don’t want to deal with the long drawn out fallout.
Because when you call someone on their bigotry, in action or thought, suddenly it is your job to:
- prove that the action or thought was actually bigoted which requires you to:
- explain how it was bigoted, which requires you to:
- go into a long historical exploration of socio-political structures which requires you to:
- take a long freaking time deconstructing shit for someone else.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a number of friends who don’t make you do this. Who don’t go on the defensive, and who will think about it and figure out for themselves what wasn’t okay about that thing they said or did. And if they still aren’t 100% sure about it, they’ll ask in a way that doesn’t demand you discuss it western-style debate form, bang bang someone’s a winner and someone’s a loser. Oh Great Freaking Frybread of Awesome, I love you people for this.
The bulk of my experiences with identifying bigotry is much less pleasant. In fact, it’s exhausting. I didn’t sign up to be a professor in Decolonisation 101, here to give lessons in under 10 minutes at the drop of the hat, while being aggressively ‘debated’ and yes, even sometimes called a racist for bringing it up.
Now I’m going to flesh this out more in another post, because otherwise this is going to turn into a novel, but I want to end this post with a bit of a suggestion. If someone tells you that what you did was disrespectful, please don’t immediately get your back up. Yes yes, you have the right to be disrespectful if that’s really what you want to do and go you, exercising your freedom and all that…just state for the record you don’t give a shit about how other people feel and move on if that’s your thing.
For those of us who aren’t so silly, it can be jarring to have someone call you out on your behaviour, because it’s embarassing. We don’t generally go around trying to be jerks, and when it happens and we honestly didn’t intend it, having it pointed out may trigger your fight or flight response. But if I can get over the ‘shame’ of being lectured by an 8 year old about letting the nasty term ‘retard’ slip, you can get over your ego enough too. None of us are perfect, and we can all work at being better people, every day.