Yesterday, I wrote an article discussing the flaws of “reverse discrimination,” wherein traditionally disadvantaged groups engage in unfair bias and hate against typically oppressive majority groups. The article used an anti-skinny t-shirt line as a relatively benign framework for discussing the kind of “acceptable” discrimination it lampooned (yes, I am clearly aware that the line’s creator is a comedian and the slogan isn’t meant to be totally serious. The article was never meant to be a heavy-handed criticism of the shirts themselves, so much as it used the example as a platform for discussing a prevalent, unhealthy mindset.) Some of the responses were thoughtful, considerate, and supportive, while a great many others were outraged personal attacks that, for the most part, accused me of being a “privileged skinny white bitch” spouting a typically privileged viewpoint of someone who couldn’t truly empathize with being part of a disadvantaged minority.
Usually I don’t feel a need to respond to attacks like this. When your job often involves putting forth controversial viewpoints, or branching out to look at issues from a new angle, backlash happens. It just does. And in this case, I intentionally left out of the article any points of personal context. I offered no details about my own personal experiences and history, because I thought that it was important that the ideas stand of their own. The key point of that article was that our choice to not discriminate against any person based on the stereotypes of a group they fall into should transcend our personal biases. We should just not be shitty to each other, and not let our past painful experiences make us feel justified in carrying out new hateful acts in retaliation.
But what’s the point in making a point if that message will be lost of your audience in the midst of their dismissal of your authority once they decide that you have none. So maybe in this case, in the spirit of some of you giving more consideration to that article’s arguments in the way they were intended, I should give a little more information about myself. Consider this me demonstrating my willingness to participate in an active conversation on this complex issue, as opposed to being a flippant issuer of mandates I’m not prepared to defend or explain. Consider this me “checking my privilege.”
I grew up poor. I was one of 4 children, bounced between rental houses by a wonderfully hard-working single mother who worked nights. I have been overweight, and felt the rage-inciting powerlessness that comes with having all of my good qualities fall away in the face of people’s perception of me as a “fat person.” I have weighed less, and felt the uncomfortable difference, the sudden unearned ease with which I moved through the world. I have hated myself for it, and hated others for it. I am a woman. I have earned less money, been sexually objectified and assaulted, been slut-shamed and victim-blamed. I have been fired from a job by a rich, white, male for having an abortion. I have been fired from a job by a rich, white, male years later for being pregnant and deciding to have a baby. I have been to jail because I was too poor to pay the necessary taxes on my car, while watching violent criminals walk free in my neighborhood, filling me with the insurmountable cynicism that comes from realizing there are powerful conditions in place that first create poor people, then criminalize them for being poor, thus keeping them poor for longer. And most recently, I have had my thoughtfully developed ideas on an important issue casually cast aside by strangers who pigeonholed me as a spoiled, skinny, white girl who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be oppressed to the point of hate.
I’m sure there are still those among you who will try to say that none of my experiences amount to a substantial enough degree of discrimination to give me the right to speak on the issue, to which I say: that’s stupid. Qualifying each other’s experiences to the point of invalidating their thoughts is pretty goddamn lame. By no means do I think I have personal insight into the full array or very worst kinds of discrimination, which is why I’m constantly seeking diverse input from people with viewpoints that might lend themselves to my ever-more-complete understanding of lots of issues, this being one. I speak from what I know with as much self-awareness as possible, and I earnestly want to know more. I pretty much don’t feel like you can be mad at anyone for that.
Which brings me to my point: if you disagree with an idea, disagree with the idea. If you have a problem with a person, have a problem with that actual person. Arbitrarily classifying a person based on limited information, deciding they are a stereotype worth hating, is exactly the kind of counterproductive engagement that keeps different people at odds with each other, rendering progress to equality impossible.
Yesterday’s article was certainly not meant to be dismissive of systematic power structures that have ruled our society for an annoyingly long time. So many prejudicial –isms stem from such deeply unfair, long-embedded social power dynamics that have suppressed entire groups of people, and there are not enough words to fully contemplate how utterly fucked up that is, nor how understandably angry people in those groups feel under the weight of generations of crushing discrimination. But that article could never have been comprehensive on this subject, so instead it addressed a single point on the issue of power, being that we all personally possess some. We each possess the power to decide that just because the origins of hate can be understood doesn’t make them right. We have the power to decide that in our own lives, in how we interact with people of all kinds, we will focus less on keeping score, less on trying to turn the tables of who has the power, and focus more on changing the game completely, and moving forward by acting with true equality. That’s not a proposition that discounts the past accumulated hurt, nor exonerates those who have inflicted it. If anything, it’s overly optimistic and idealistic. But if you want to accuse me of that, that’s something I’m willing to accept. And I never should’ve said that thing about Will Smith. God, I love him, truly.