Intersections within Intersections Part 2 of 2

Part One Here … 

This is a fairly long post, so I split it into two parts. I ask however, that you not respond to either of them unless you have read both. There are nuances to both parts that I think are pretty essential to one another. Because this is dealing with some heavy and possibly delicate areas of theory, I’m pretty terrified of some of it being lost. 

I’ve run into similar arguments before at different times, being told that black people cannot be ableist. At the time I believed, and still do, that the statement is completely false. Not only is claiming that black people are not influenced in the same way by social prejudice as everyone else seems to me like a form of benevolent racism which is still harmful, but it is especially damaging to disabled black people. By that logic, a disabled black person who has to struggle with ableism in her community and in her family would be told that her experiences are not real.

It can be tempting to excuse a black person’s ableism towards a white person given the history of racism, but even with the racial power dynamics at play, ableism hurts black people too. A person who feels comfortable insulting someone on the basis of disability because they are white, is unlikely to treat disabled people of their own race any better. The ableism will inform their actions towards other disabled people, and even when it doesn’t, the ableism they display at disabled white people, will cause splash damaged to disabled black people.

However, in having the discussion, it is important for me to be aware of my own privilege.

I commented to a friend recently, that in these discussions the framing is always a white woman talking to a black woman, but why can’t it ever be framed as a disabled woman talking to an abled woman. This was, after all, a discussion about ableism and I was speaking as someone affected by it.

The answer of course is because it is always both.

Continue reading “Intersections within Intersections Part 2 of 2”

Intersections within Intersections Part 2 of 2
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Intersections Within Intersections Part 1 of 2

This is a fairly long post, so I split it into two parts. I ask however, that you not respond to either of them unless you have read both. There are nuances to both parts that I think are pretty essential to one another. Because this is dealing with some heavy and possibly delicate areas of theory, I’m pretty terrified of some of it being lost. 

Earlier, I participated in a bait thread on a friend’s wall that made the statement: All men who do not stop street harassment, are complicit in it. Many of us came onto the thread to agree with this statement, until someone jumped in to accuse all of us of being racist. The argument was that it is not always safe for certain men to speak up in certain circumstances. I agreed that this was true, but argues that that didn’t change their complicity. The responder then accused me of having said that all men are culpable always.

I will concede that perhaps a clarification could have been added specifying that this was referring specifically to gendered street harassment, and not other forms of hate speech that may get thrown about on the streets. While all forms of harassment on the street are bad and should be talked about, there is something unique about gendered harassment in that many people are not convinced it is a bad thing. Many respond to concerns about it saying that “It’s meant as a compliment. I wish people would yell nice things at me walking down the street.” (For the purposes of this post, when I refer to street harassment, I am specifically taking about this gendered type and not all forms of hate speech spoken on the street. )

Continue reading “Intersections Within Intersections Part 1 of 2”

Intersections Within Intersections Part 1 of 2

An Inclusive Humanist Manifesto

Humanism is shorthand. It’s a start, a summary, and a statement. In a world of ideologies that refuse to recognize my humanity or that assert that it has no value, it is a bold and clear assertion:

I matter.

I matter, because I am a person.

Continue reading “An Inclusive Humanist Manifesto”

An Inclusive Humanist Manifesto

Unpacking the Red Pill

I’m actually sort of upset that internet hate groups have managed to co-opt the matrix red pill analogy. It is actually a really good metaphor for social justice and the way that becoming aware of privilege and systemic injustice works.

It really is like suddenly opening your eyes and realizing that everything you thought you were seeing you were actually seeing incorrectly your whole life. It’s incredible. Where the analogy fails is by painting it as a single pill.

The truth is that becoming aware of social justice issues is really like swallowing a whole bunch of different red pills, each one exposing you to yet another level of interconnected systems of oppression. This is why we get some atheist activists, and other social justice activists, falling into this same trap over and over again of thinking that they couldn’t possibly be sexist, racist, transphobic, classist, etc. because they “already swallowed the red pill” so now they could see the whole truth.

There is also this idea that swallowing one red pill makes every additional one easier to see, but that’s not true. Sometimes you can swallow multiple red pills at ones at once. But the truth is that each one is painful to take. Each one produces its own side-effects, its own difficulties. Swallowing the red pill is never easy.

It’s not just one easily exposed system that once you see a part of, you essentially get an idea of the whole. It is more like a self-replicating computer virus that infects different system files. You can cut one out, but unless you get them all, it will just rebuild again.To really solve the problem, you have to root out every single individual corrupted system file. Otherwise, the program rebuilds itself, just using a different pathway, but ultimately yielding the same result.

Take the evolution of feminism throughout the years. Each wave of feminism exposed layers of patriarchal oppression, however, by failing to consider the interconnections of various issues and the level to which the system was self-replicating, rather than fixing the problem is shifted the scope of it. Such as when the response of women trying to prove that they were every bit as capable in “masculine” fields and tasks ended up reinforcing the gender binary. The focus was on showing that women can also do “masculine things” rather than on showing that the division of actions into an either or option was not based on an accurate social model of gender. The resulting surge in femmephobia reinforced a lot of harmful patriarchal concepts that are now that much more difficult to dismantle. It’s not that second-wave feminists went too far, it is that they didn’t go far enough. It failed to take into account how the system is also supported by race, by cis-centrism, by ableism. It failed to look at the matrix as a whole.

Imagine if the matrix actually existed as a series of levels. With every successive pill you see a little more of the matrix. But if you don’t realize there are more pills to take, you might be tempted to think you see the whole matrix. Agent Smith is counting on that, because as long as you believe you are outside the matrix, they can use the parts of the matrix you are still connected to to shift your perception of the world around you.  As long as you are still within levels of the matrix however, you continue to power the system.

If we take the premise of the matrix movie that human beings are being turned into a potato battery, becoming aware of different spheres of oppression is like discovering that your potato battery is charging other batteries and working to shut off those batteries so that your battery doesn’t die. Those are the first red pills you usually take.

The hard pills to take are those that reveal that even while you are struggling to unplug the connections that are causing other batteries to drain your charge, you are recharging your own battery from other people as well. These are the pills that make us choke, that stick in our throats. These are the ones that make us want to fight and reject what we are seeing, because more than anything the matrix relies on our denial that we could be harming people even if we have no intention to.

You didn’t know. The plugs were in your back and you couldn’t see them because you were in the matrix level whatever. But intentionally or not, you have been draining other people’s batteries. Whether you knew or not, you may have been the connection that added just that extra little drain needed to completely empty someone’s battery.

So now you have to make a decision, which do you pull out first?  The ones draining others or the ones draining you? Or do you try to pull them out at the same time? Do you leave others to try and pull out the ones draining them out themselves? Do you go back to pretending you never saw the ones in your back or deny that they’re there? Do you address some but not others? What makes you decide?

The choice you make is ultimately yours, but the one you make says something about you as a person.

My choice is striking a balance between pulling out both sides. I need to pull out my own because I can’t take out the system if my battery is completely dead. But I also need to work on pulling the ones that are charging me. Sometimes, when my battery is draining too fast, I need to take a break. I might need to focus on pulling out my own for a few moments, though I never forget about the ones in my back. Sometimes, I am being drained slow enough that I can forget about pulling out my own for some time in order to focus more on pulling out the ones that I benefit from. In fact, often when I am puling out my own, it is so that I have the surplus energy to spend more time pulling out the ones that charge me.

Everyone is interconnected into the system, but not everyone carries the same number of output and input energy. Some people only have maybe one or two output cabled, while being charged by several sources. Even when this happens, you might not be retaining a high charge, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are still draining others. The opposite extreme also exists with some people being almost completely output cables and none or almost no input cables.

The system is like a web and everyone is plugged into it.

It is essential that we all disconnect and break the system. When you have any system that depends on batteries basically sharing charge in a single continuous system, that leads to combustion. Just ask anyone who has had keys and batteries in their pocket, and ended up with burning pants because the two connecting created a single circuit.

The system is a path to destruction as long as it exists because either your battery gets completely drained or you combust. That’s ultimately why systems of oppression like patriarchy end up hurting even those they privilege.

Unpacking the Red Pill

The Oppressor’s Puzzle

[TW: Bouillabaisse of racist, sexist, and similar language.]

I hate the word “hate.”

It’s one of those words that’s easy to use and hard to use well.  Isn’t it obvious that Focus on the Family hates gay people?  Isn’t it obvious that David Barton hates atheists?  Isn’t it obvious that libertarians hate…anyone who’s ever asked them for anything?

But, that’s not how any of those people tell it.  What every one of those groups writes about their enemies is far more substantial than any mere “We hate.”  They enumerate an endless series of grievances as the basis for their assertions that gay people and atheists and the poor deserve whatever punitive oppressions they are advocating.  Moreover, they all assert that some beneficial end would be achieved by acting against those groups.

And it’s often just as convincing to argue that, within that delusional framework, every one of those people thinks they’re saving the world.  For if it actually were true that ending marriage discrimination might prod the omnibenevolent Alpha and Omega to explode some tectonic rifts on American soil, the case might hypothetically be made that continuing to obstruct equal rights was a matter of public safety.  Even such stereotypically hateful figures as Adolf Hitler are on record insisting that their actions served a greater good.

So why do we call them hateful?

It’s because we need to believe that we’re better than them.  It’s because we need to believe that there’s some special quality about them—their seething pathological hatred—that makes everything about them grotesque and untouchable.  It’s because we need to believe that people like that are rendered so alien, so “hateful,” that they hold no examples that the rest of us might need to notice.  It’s because far too many of us want to believe that the absence of hate means that nothing we do is harmful.

It’s because far too many of us want, when we’re called on something we’ve said that’s sexist or anti-trans, to be able to say “But I’m not a sexist!” or “But I didn’t mean to be offensive!” or “You should know me better than to think I’m anti-trans!” and have that be the end of it.

But that’s not how it works.

Oppressing other people is more than actively, consciously, “hatefully” advocating against them.  It’s more than intentionally wielding their identifiers as insults.  It’s even more than consciously holding bigoted opinions like “East Asian people are poor drivers.”  It’s about a climate of oppression.  It’s about societies that hold as implicit, subconscious givens that this or that group is abnormal, other, lesser, and treat them accordingly, often without even realizing it.

And every time we use “cunt” as an insult, or make a “dumb Polack” joke, or regard people with dwarfism as a novelty, we contribute to that climate.  Sexist, racist, anti-gay, anti-trans, ableist, and similar othering language is as surely harmful as a physical blow, and every instance thereof is a reinforcement of the targeted group’s outsider status.  For how good would you feel if a salient attribute of yours was so universally regarded as negative that other people could be insulted by being likened to or associated with it?

Here’s the thing, though:

The harm of racist, sexist, and other oppressive language and similar behavior has nothing to do with “hate” and everything to do with results.  That harm manifests every time someone’s joking remark about “girls not being good at math” undermines a promising woman’s confidence in herself.  That harm manifests every time some boss’s flippant comment about “spics” reminds his Guatemalan accountant of how his entire ethnic group is a designated political scapegoat for half of the United States.  That harm manifests every time a “midget tossing” novelty sign prods some bar patrons to ruin a little person’s evening for shits and giggles.  That harm manifests every time teenagers use “gay” as a synonym for “worthy of derision” and their closeted friend is reminded of why she doesn’t come out.  That harm is there regardless of whether anyone meant it to be.

The damage that oppressive language and similar behavior does has absolutely nothing to do with whether the person using it is “hateful.”  Whether someone’s excuse for calling women “cunts” is “Women should be second-class citizens and I’m putting them in their place” or “I’m from Europe and ‘cunt’ is practically a punctuation mark for me,” they’re still reinforcing the idea that it’s bad to be associated with vulvas. Even though they may not believe any such thing.  The harm that is bound up in words like “cunt” and “wop” and “midget” and “retard” is not magically repelled by the self-proclaimed beneficence of the person using them.

But some people would like us to think it is.  A disturbing subset of humanity seems to be convinced that the harm done by these words is somehow purely contingent on whether the person issuing forth a nonstop stream of hurtful language thinks of themselves as “a sexist” or “a racist” or “an absolute spherical bastard.”  Worse, they seem to think that anyone who experiences the hurt that is bound up in these words without such a hateful caricature being nearby is “oversensitive,” “hysterical,” “overreacting,” or “not giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.”  As though whether it fucking hurts that your identifier is the go-to slur for something inane and uninteresting somehow depended on whether or not someone was pointing that slur at you.  As though whether the person stabbing you meant to hit your aorta changes whether you’re going to need some paramedics.

As though whether someone “meant well” is relevant to an assessment of how much harm they did.

But it’s not.

The harm is NOT a property of “hateful” people, or of “oversensitive” victims.  The harm is a dictionary fact enmeshed in our society.

And it is our duty to not harm each other.

Not to insist, while we’re stabbing someone in the psyche, that it’s their fault it hurts, for not thinking well enough of the person currently stabbing them to realize they’re not “bad people.”

They’re not “bad people,” you see, so it’s okay that they insist on doing harm.

But after a while, it becomes really, pointlessly hard to tell apart someone who’s doing harm because they want to do harm, and someone who’s doing harm because they can’t be bothered not to and how dare you ask them.

Really, pointlessly, astronomer’s-puzzle hard.
The Oppressor’s Puzzle