This spring, a lot of people were very angry when I wrote this article:
While the jist of the piece is something like: “Hey, sometimes white people have something they’d like to share about a race related issue, sometimes men have something they’d like to share about feminism or the treatment of women, and sometimes straight people have something they’d like to share about LGBTQA issues, and just in case they might have something worth hearing, we ought to hear them out before dismissing them, because who they are doesn’t invalidate ideas they might have stumbled upon,”
the responses sounded something like: “Are you ignorant or stupid, read a book, no one cares or wants to hear from you because you’re white and we all already know what all white people have to say [because all white people think the same exact things, don’t you know], sit down, shut up, and listen, we don’t want you to share because the only thing that matters is what people with first hand experience have to say, so why don’t you listen to them for once.”
While that was frustrating, primarily because I worry that someone might stumble upon something interesting despite who they are, and also on a moral level because we ought not to categorically dismiss people based on something they have no control over, that discussion got tired and old and people gave up on converting me so that I might see the light, and I gave up on trying to convince them that I might be on to something.
But then Ferguson happened/is happening.
And because of Ferguson, people have been wondering things like this: “Why the fuck aren’t all the white people talking about this race issue, it’s like they’re scared or don’t care! They should show support and talk about it and be outraged and do something about it! In fact, here’s a pre-approved list of ways I find acceptable for them to contribute!” (specifically, here: http://qz.com/250701/12-things-white-people-can-do-now-because-ferguson/)
Now this creates a bit of a problem. More or less a contradiction actually.
And that’s because the following two things don’t fit together:
1. “We don’t want to hear from you, because we don’t care what you have to say, because we already know what you have to say because you’re white [again, because all white people think the same exact things so if we’ve heard from a couple dozen white people we’ve heard from them all]. So don’t talk. Just sit and listen to what people of color have to say because they don’t get enough of a chance to talk (which is totally true and a problem that needs to be addressed).”
2. “Any time there’s a race issue, we expect you to be outraged and post on social media about it and champion our cause and shout to the world that you support us and that you won’t stand for this and you should make people listen and help us enact change.”
Because quite simply: I can’t both shut up and shout, you have to pick one.
More importantly, I’m not your fucking cheerleader; I’m not your fucking puppet; and I’m not your fucking lapdog that you can give commands to, scold when it misbehaves, and give treats when it does what you want it to.
You can’t demand restrictions on how and when I contribute to social discourse, if you want me to contribute. There are two very simple options here:
1. I speak up when I think I have something worth speaking up about, and if I don’t, I don’t say anything, because I have no interest in having you pat me on the back for being a slacktivist who bemoans the thing everyone else is currently bemoaning. I contribute to social discourse on my own terms, because I’m a fucking autonomous human being, and you don’t get to choose what I’m allowed to say, when I am obligated to say something, and when I’m not permitted to speak. Maybe sometimes you don’t like or don’t agree with something I say, and maybe sometimes I accidentally say something ignorant because I’m not aware of something that someone who has had that personal experience is aware of, in which case you tell me, and I adjust or retract what I’ve said to reflect that new information. And together, through discourse and communication, we work towards correcting the problems we ALREADY FUCKING AGREE ARE PROBLEMS in society.
2. I do shut up. And I don’t contribute to issues that I apparently COULDN’T POSSIBLY know anything about when I lack the personal experience that others have. You happy with that? Good, because it also means I don’t have to/am not physically able to help support any social movement that doesn’t directly relate to me, eg feminism, racism, LGBTQA issues, et cetera. And since I’m not allowed to share, you can’t demand that I share when you want me to support and help. Good luck changing society now that you’ve isolated the majority of it from being involved in the change.
PICK ONE. If I were you, given the choice, I’d pick #1, but that’s just me.