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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Those Coddled Minorities

Whenever there is discussion of the tenets of social justice, the reactions to ideas like "safe spaces" or checking people on harmful language from those not checking their privilege is always the same. Some scoffing sneer that things have become too gentle and that people are so "coddled" lately. The real world, they point out, is much harsher.

These are many of the same people, of course, who stand up and cheer when a knife throwing karate master in a Guy Fawkes mask says that words are the keys to perspectives. Oh yes. So true. Words are so powerful! Words start revolutions.

But suggest that those SAME FUCKING WORDS have impact and power beyond merely "hurt feelings" when it comes to racism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, or that they "shape [the] perspectives" of bigotry and institutional harm, and suddenly you are a whiny baby who needs coddling if you're going to be so sensitive.

But here's the truth about coddling.

It was WE who were being coddled.

White people, men, cis people, straight people, able bodied people. It was we who were coddled.

They were always there. They were always telling us that we were being racist, misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, and more. They were always telling us that their words hurt them–not just hurt them but reinforced their dehumanization. That made treating them badly, not hiring them, not promoting them, brutalizing them...even killing them just a little bit easier since we viewed them not as fully human like the rest of us. They were always pointing out how people with privilege got empathy, benefit of the doubt, intellectual rigor, and second chances. They were always standing up and speaking out. They were writing books. They were speaking at venues. They were telling us in every way possible that what we were doing was not okay.

But we could silence them. We consumed media with gatekeepers who wouldn't let "those types" through. We could walk away when they started talking. When they stood up, we shut them down. We could invite only the ones who were "cool about that stuff" into our spaces that somehow stayed segregated despite the laws. Their books sat unread (by us). Their venues went unattended (by us). If we didn't want to hear how we were hurting people, what our words and actions were doing to real people, we could very successfully pretend they did not exist or were simply some lunatic fringe. One more and one more and one more isolated incident. We would listen if it weren't for the chip on their shoulder about everything. We might pay attention if they weren't so angry. If they would just...soften it for us, instead of being so course, we could possibly digest it (maybe). We were pampered. We were indulged. WE were coddled.

Then came a medium where all voices could project more equally. Where those who were silent in the world because of the cost of speaking out could find their voice anew in pseudonyms and anonymity. Where social networking went around the gate keepers that filtered out what we didn't want to hear and shoved those voices we ignored right into our faces. We had to read again and again about the pain and anguish and triggers and trauma that our casual inattention caused people. As they were shared over and over by women, by POC, by the LGBT+ community, by people with disablities, by allies.

They commented everywhere. They called us out. We couldn't escape their reminders that we were treating them differently. They continually told us of their humanity and our lack of acknowledging it. It became harder and harder to find places where we weren't reminded of those we harm and dehumanize. Now there are almost no spaces left that we can curate completely from their unrelenting demands for equality.

And that hurt us. It stung. We're good people, right? Good people can't ever do bad things–not things this bad. It made us feel attacked. They must be mistaken. Whole communities of them. ALL of them. They must ALL be making things up. And we decided that it was somehow because this sensitivity was a new thing and not simply that it was the first we'd heard of it. (The first we'd heard of it because we'd managed to very carefully avoid hearing anything else until now.) It's just the dawn of PC police and social justice overreach, not the dawn of the media where we can't keep ourselves sequestered away from other voices any longer. We could demand their grievances only strike the proper tone or they would not be redressed--that tone, of course, being "easily ignored."

But it's time to grow up now. White people. Men. Cishets. Able bodied. It's time to come out of our safe bubbles and our echo chambers. It's time to mature into the REAL world and look at the faces of those we've hurt and listen to their words. It's time to hear them. It's time to see their rage and pain first hand and not be protected from its adult sting by those institutions that were dedicated to insulating us from their harsh realities. It's time to stop our child-like fantasizing that our oppression ended at some point in the past and has evaporated in our own lifetime simply because we choose to ignore all those who deign say otherwise. It's time they stopped taking it easy on us. We have been indulged as little babies for far too long.

Because they were always there. They were always saying the same things they are now.

And it was WE who were being coddled.

6 comments:

  1. Generally a good piece, though I'd like to make a small point. Those of us who have disabilities generally really don't like the term 'the disabled'. It makes us into a kind of faceless monolith, defined only by our possession of a physical, intellectual, or emotional impairment. There are two camps on preferred terms - either people with disabilities (PWD) or disabled people/persons are the usual preferred terms. The split is medical vs social model. Those of us who prefer people with disabilities prefer it for much the same reason POC use that term - it emphasizes our personhood, a thing that is often forgotten or outright denied. The people who prefer disabled people/persons point out that while we all have impairments, it is the societal response that really disables us - eg, a person may need a wheelchair, but the thing that really limits them is lack of ramps and other inaccessible features. Even when there are accessible features, they're almost always an afterthought tacked on the side or back entrance instead of making the front entrance that everyone else uses accessible. It's real nice to go through life with these constant, every-day reminders that everyone thought of you last.

    ~Kali

    P.S. - I don't know who you should get in contact with about this, but your comment thing isn't allowing me to comment with my wordpress blog. I'm Kali Blaze of www.brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com.

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    1. Thanks for helping me correct course. I appreciate it. I'll make an edit to the post right away.

      Yeah, the blogger comment function is all kinds of objectionable.

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    2. Very welcome, and I thank you for your gracious response. As you've noted in your post, trying to help people understand why one prefers the language one prefers can be quite...challenging at times It really kills me when it's other social justice people responding that way, but unfortunately that's pretty common.

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    3. Kali's post is excellent and a great point. In general, person-first language is usually safer for referring to people with disabilities (people with Down syndrome, person with chronic fatigue syndrome, person with paraplegia, etc).

      One somewhat-subtle exception to what Kali said: Many autistic, Deaf and Blind people (but not all) prefer identity-first language (I am autistic, not a person with autism, for example).

      For me, and for many other Autistic people, I feel my autism cannot and should not be separated from who I am as a person and from the fact that I am a person. I am a person, and I am autistic. These are not mutually exclusive. Implying that they are is used to justify horrible abuses (don't have the space to go into them but I can provide links if you want), dehumanization (it's a modern changeling myth type thing) and eugenics (Autism Speaks' spending priorities come to mind - also Autism Speaks is a terrible charity that refuses autistic representation on its board of directors, in direct opposition to the accepted best-practices of disability charities: https://thecaffeinatedautistic.wordpress.com/new-autism-speaks-masterpost-updated-62014/).

      And there's more I could go into but the character limit won't let me but long story short - most autistic people under the age of 40ish prefer person-first language, and every autistic person I've ever met absolutely loathes both ABA and Autism Speaks.

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  2. Great piece. Great, great piece. I'm an autistic Jewish woman, but I am also white, and sometimes I need a slap in the fact that while I may or may not be a racist person, I still do racist shit sometimes and I always benefit from a racist system. While I do need people to speak up for me in some instances, I still need to speak up for those that I can speak up for.

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