My Reaction to “40 Things People Need to Stop Saying”

23:18 Thu 28 Apr 2011. Updated: 18:16 29 Apr 2011
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In my Twitter feed yesterday I found a link to “Privileged Musings: 40 Things People Need to Stop Saying”, an article at Womanist Musings. The intent of the piece is narrower than the title suggests, in that it’s primarily concerned with discussion in that community rather than more generally, but I was interested in it anyway since it concerns regulation of expression.

Overall the list is concerned with statements defending or perpetuating prejudice, arguments that have been addressed numerous times before (or are just inane). However, it doesn’t explain what’s wrong with them, even briefly, which is a mistake for two reasons: one, it would make the list much more useful and effective; two, writing such explanations would have made clear which things on the list were questionable, as some of them certainly are.

My contribution is my own reaction to each list item.

  1. How come there is a Black History month and no White History month?

    Presumably this comes from people who think this is some kind of evidence of widespread anti-White “discrimination”. The reason, of course, is that this culture’s mainstream history is white history—more precisely, the history of the dominant groups. The very fact that special effort has to be made in order to get a month of consideration for Black History is evidence of the imbalance. (Note that I’m not at all convinced that the idea of “Black History Month” is a great way to address this imbalance, but that’s another issue.)

  2. It’s racist to have a station called Black Entertainment Television, without having a White Entertainment

    Wow, do people actually argue this? The same answer as to #1 applies, but also, it’s just another channel, owned by Viacom, and it’s arguable that the name is meaningless.

  3. How come straight people don’t get to have straight pride parades?

    The same principle applies here: because they don’t need them; then entire cultural landscape apart from gay pride events could be seen as promoting “straight pride”. Being heterosexually inclined has never been regarded as a negative thing in our culture, so why would movements to counter that nonexistent shame be necessary?

  4. How come straight people don’t get safe spaces?

    Same answer: they don’t need them in the same way. However, women’s safe spaces do exist, so the questioner might be asking why straight men don’t get safe spaces; the answer is still that they don’t need them in the same way, but there are definitely circumstances in which any set of people, even straight men, need safe spaces, and in a sense there’s a glimmering of a legitimate question here—any attempt to really overcome sexism has to allow and account for male weakness, fear, and vulnerability, and encouraging safe spaces along those lines rather than simply pointing out that they’re not needed might be a better answer.

  5. Whenever there’s real danger, men’s lives always get sacrificed for women – titanic anyone

    This is an overstatement, and while it’s presumably used as an attempt to refute the notion of endemic sexism, there is an important point to it. The paternalism that lumps women and children together as people requiring protection does in some cases hurt men, and the best response to this is not to dismiss it but to point out that it’s evidence of how prejudice and patriarchy hurt everyone and are inherently unjust.

  6. I don’t want to be called cisgender and while we are at it, what does cisgender mean?

    This is trickier than the others; there is a difference between a set of people suffering prejudice asserting their right to name themselves, and a set of people suffering prejudice asserting their right to name themselves and everyone else. However, it’s problematic not to, because using other terms in this context (e.g. “gender normative”) supports the idea of a certain kind of “normality”, which is precisely what’s under dispute. While I understand how being called this raises the hackles of some people, I think that ultimately being forced to consider the concept is probably beneficial. This seems more like a question that people should be able to research for themselves rather than something that’s really dumb like the first two.

  7. If you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman

    Nonsensical on its face, as it disqualifies from womanhood all women past childbearing age. Even after routing around that issue, it’s ridiculous, and tying female identity entirely to motherhood (either actual or potential) is irredeemably sexist. Update: and, as I clearly should have stated in the first place, irredeemably cissexist; given that this statement is clearly directed at trans women, it is the cissexism that is more relevant.

  8. Tell me about your genital configuration in detail and if you have had surgery what was it like

    I have to assume that this is something that people request around transgender/cisgender discussions? I don’t see why it’s a question people expect to get an answer to, and its assault on privacy should be pretty clear, and isn’t it just rude?

  9. It really is deceitful if trans and or gay people don’t declare who they really are

    It’s true, if one of my gay friends turned out to be Lord Lucan, I would consider their actions up to this point to have been really deceitful. Of course that’s not what this is referring to; this argument is that gay or trans people should always be very public about their sexuality and/or gender (perhaps a system of colored stars?). Apart from the Catch-22 this forms when combined with demands from many that they do the opposite and keep quiet about their sexuality and/or gender, it’s clearly unacceptable in that it totally disrupts individual privacy and further asserts the “normality” of some sets of people (the people who don’t have to “declare”), which obviously contributes to prejudice.

  10. Oh, my gaydar is going off and I can always tell when someone is gay or lesbian

    It’s bizarre to see this as something that comes up a lot online. It must be admitted that there are some people who are very good at this. However, it seems irrelevant in situations I can think of, because individuals are free to define their own sexual identity, and this seems like something a person would say when arguing with them. Arguing with someone else about what their sexual identity is seems like a pretty dumb thing to do in any public forum (and perhaps anywhere). If it’s being used otherwise, however, I’m not so clear on what the problem with it is, apart from the assertion of infallibility.

  11. Bisexuals are just selfish and greedy, they can’t stick with just one

    Obviously ridiculous. Note that it can be generalized to “[set of people] are [adjective]”, a formulation that is always wrong unless it’s as universal as “all men are mortal”.

  12. Are you a dot Indian or a woo-woo Indian?

    It should be obvious that reducing vast cultural groupings to signifiers like these is unacceptable.

  13. Those [insert Asian group here] are very nice, not like [insert other Asian group here].

    Again, this can be generalized to “[set 1] are [characteristic] unlike [set 2]”, and this is almost guaranteed to be wrong. Making broad statements about large groups of people is just not a good or smart thing to do, particularly since it’s basically guaranteed that a counterexample exists (and it only takes one to disprove the assertion).

  14. Muslim men don’t know how to treat their women

    See above. This will also rapidly turn into “no true Scotsman”, where any counterexample is dismissed as not being a “real Muslim”.

  15. Why are people of colour always playing the race card?

    Because they and we are in a deeply racist society, so they’re confronted with all kinds of prejudice against them very often?

  16. They aren’t free unless we tell them how to be free

    I don’t understand this one. I really don’t get where it would come up or how someone would use it. The interpretation that “they” aren’t free unless under “our” direction makes no sense, so I’m guessing it’s supposed to mean [set X] won’t get true freedom until [set Y] set things up for them. Since this supposes a class of people who are intrinsically unable to grasp freedom without direction from another class (who presumably have this ability innately), it’s deeply ridiculous.

  17. Reverse racism is real

    I find this one’s inclusion on the list quite problematic. Assuming “reverse racism” means prejudice on the part of people in discriminated-against groups against people in usually-doing-the-discriminating groups, well, it clearly does exist. That doesn’t justify anything, and it doesn’t somehow demonstrate that racism isn’t alive and powerful, and it’s hardly an argument that things are somehow “balanced”. If the meaning of including is here is to state “we know it exists, but it doesn’t change what you think it does”, then that’s fair enough, but given the rest of the statements here I doubt it, and it would clearly need some kind of explanation. “Reverse racism exists” and “if you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman” are just not in the same class of statement.

  18. All Asian languages sound the same

    This just seems like a dumb thing to say. I suppose a good response would be to look both impressed and fascinated and say, “wow, you’ve heard every Asian language?”

  19. You don’t look disabled

    I guess this must be said confrontationally… this one just seems weird to me, but the big problem with it is the assumption that there’s a “disabled look”.

  20. You’re not REALLY [insert racial/ethnic group] because I can speak your/their language better than you can.

    Who would say something like this? Really? “My ability with language is so amazing I can strip people of racial/ethnic identity with it”?

  21. Blacks are uniquely homophobic

    “[set of people] are [adjective]” again—unless the claim is that while individual Black people vary in their homophobia like any other group, as a group they exhibit more homophobia than any other group of people; the latter is still objectionable and would need really good studies to back it up (and I can’t see them showing up, somehow), but could theoretically perhaps be defended.

  22. Why are Black people always angry?

    Obviously indefensible if taken literally; one fleeting moment of non-anger from any Black person at any point destroys the premise. If narrowed down to “why are the Black people I interact with always angry?”, well, I think that’s what’s called “a teachable moment”.

  23. I’m not gay, but I’ll kiss a girl to get a guy’s attention.

    This doesn’t belong on the list. What’s the problem with this on an individual level? Is it the person’s assertion that they’re “not gay” despite a willingness to engage in (presumably) lesbian activity? People get to define their own sexual identities, regardless of attitudes of others, so they have every right to assert that they’re “not gay”, even if that assertion has some overtones of there being something wrong with being gay (which overtones are not necessarily there; it’s a complex area). Or is the objection to the willingness to act in such a way to gain male attention? Again, despite how problematic the trend might be, individuals get to decide on their own sexual behavior, and if a girl decides to kiss another girl as part of sexual courtship, and all parties are consenting, then it’s her decision. Furthermore, the inclusion of this on the list suggests that it’s not the statement but the behavior itself that’s being castigated. I regard such castigation as condescending and wrong.

  24. When did you decide that you were gay or trans?

    Many people would regard this as a very personal question, so context is everything here, making it a little strange as an inclusion on this list. Unless the objection is to the word “decide”, but if it is, I’m unsympathetic; while for some people these issues may be genetic, for others they are decisions, and it’s important not to get too caught up in the very US-centric approach that defining them as genetic is the key to equality—that’s an artifact of US anti-discrimination law, and not some kind of philosophical or scientific cornerstone. The framework that these things are slots people fall into, and that placement in the slots is determined before birth, is in many ways a very limiting one, and not one that I think should be embraced.

  25. No, what’s your REAL name? Like the name on your I.D?

    This just seems rude. I’m not sure whether this is racism or prejudice against the transgendered transgender people, or what, but in any case I don’t see where saying this to someone would be acceptable.

  26. What are you really?

    This, on the other hand, is profound, is perhaps the question. Do any of use truly know what we are? Do we know our innermost selves, can we define those selves, can we even glimpse them, or are we trapped inside forever unable to glean more than those distorted reflections glimpsed in the eyes of others? Is this not one of the best questions true friends can ask us?

    Oh, wait. They mean “what [race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/other facet of identity] are you really?” How depressing. And inane, and rude.

  27. I can say this because I dated a [insert group here]

    P = NP. I can say this because I dated an Anglo-Irish girl.

    Of course, what this ridiculous statement means is “I have more permission to say things about [set X] because I dated someone from [set X].” It should be clear that this doesn’t magically remove the stain of prejudice from obviously prejudiced remarks; moreover, it cannot be stressed enough that the plural of anecdote is not data.

  28. I’m not racist my best friend was Black when I was kid

    Again, not a magical racist stain remover. However, when I refer to the stain of racism, I mean as it applies to actions or statements—not to people. Attitudinal racism is extremely difficult to shake off, or prove, or disprove, and the focus of debate should be on whether actions or words are racist—not on whether or not people are racist. Accusing individuals of being racist, or not being clear that you’re stating that some of their actions/statements are racist, lead to such bizarre defenses as the above. Even the most clueless should have trouble claiming that their racist statement cannot possibly have been racist because its utterer had a Black best friend.

  29. White people have no culture

    Indefensible whether intended as a critique of the Western canon or a bizarre whine from someone who thinks that White culture is invisible because it is the mainstream. Potentially defensible, however, if intended to mean that there is no monolithic single “White culture” but rather an agglomeration of the cultures of many subgroups.

  30. The confederate flag is part of MY culture! I’m celebrating history – heritage not hate

    The first part of this is entirely reasonable; anyone from the South should be free to acknowledge the importance of the Confederacy to their cultural history. However, the fact that it’s part of their cultural history doesn’t somehow mean that it’s not a symbol bound up with racism and slavery; the argument they seem to be making here is that they deserve to have a rich history complete with a cool symbol that’s entirely unencumbered by inconvenient facts and therefore the flag in question magically is one of these.

  31. Slavery was a long time ago and Blacks need to stop whining about it

    I haven’t encountered a lot of “Black whining” about slavery, myself, and so suspect this to is meant as “slavery was a long time ago and Blacks need to stop whining about racism even if it’s rampant”. If meant literally, it’s still pretty dumb, and I happen to think that plenty of reminders about slavery are entirely warranted as additional bulwarks against our or any other society taking up a similar institution at any point.

  32. Why should I be punished, I never owned a slave?

    I’m not sure what “punishment” is referred to here. Is it affirmative action? If so, it’s not about punishment for slavery, it’s an attempt to increase diversity and to overcome present-day inequalities.

  33. Stop over eating and watch what you eat and you won’t be fat

    Tricky. After all, if you define “fat” as “overweight for that individual” then this is true in most cases, isn’t it? Is including it in this list meant to assert that there is no correlation between obesity and diet? That’s not really a defensible position. On the other hand, if it’s unsolicited advice and the problem is that people feel strangely free to dispense it to others based on their weight, then I can see why it’s here.

  34. Make me a sandwich

    Clearly wrong; the correct form is “sudo make me a sandwich”. More seriously, despite my familiarity with that comic, I was largely unaware of this as a trope; is it meant as “get into the kitchen where you belong, woman”?

  35. Blacks owned slaves too

    Presumably stated as a refutation of something? The characterization of slavery as an entirely White institution, perhaps? Technically true, but so what? In the parts of the globe dominated by Western powers, slavery was controlled by those powers, and was codified on racial grounds, laying the framework for a lot of today’s still-present racism. So what does it matter if some Blacks owned slaves too?

  36. She must be on her period she’s crabby today

    Yes, people do need to stop using this one. Reducing women to their hormonal cycles is clearly wrong—of course, this is usually even worse as it’s used to excuse sexist behavior by denigrating a protest of it as “PMS”.

  37. She was asking for it

    That seems unlikely, or else it wouldn’t be up for discussion. What this really means is “my interpretation of her clothes or attitude overrides her lack of explicit consent or even explicit lack of consent”, and if you can’t see what’s wrong with that I can’t help you.

  38. If you dress like a hooker, you’re going to be treated like one

    Indefensible. I read this as meaning “my arbitrary interpretation of your clothes justifies your being treated horribly and your transgression of my arbitrary sexual norms justifies sexual aggression against you”.

  39. Today, White men are the most discriminated against minority.

    … As any cursory examination of the distribution of wealth and power will show. Is it really possible for anyone to actually believe this?

  40. All fat people are just unhealthy slobs.

    “[set of people] are [adjective]” again, and again all that’s needed is a single counterexample

65 Responses to “My Reaction to “40 Things People Need to Stop Saying””

  1. Rose Says:

    The list is much better with a little commentary. Now make me a sandwich.

  2. Tadhg Says:

    See, I even included the correct form in the article and you still didn’t use it…

  3. Dan Waters Says:

    Pro-tip: Next time you want to school some people with 101 by copying a list that was compiled together, try not to use the word “transgendered” so much. The cissexism is showing.

  4. Dan Waters Says:

    Pro-tip #2: Telling how a whole bunch of POC people did it wrong? Also not the best method.

  5. Dan Waters Says:

    “but there are definitely circumstances in which any set of people, even straight men, need safe spaces”

    REALLY? In WHAT situation EVER could that happen?

  6. Tadhg Says:

    Dan: thanks for tip #1; duly changed to “transgender people”.

    You might have wanted to strike “so much” from your comment given that I used the term once.

    Best method for what? I think the list is more interesting with commentary. I think some of the items on the list don’t belong on it. I felt like writing about my reactions to it on my blog. Once written, it seemed rude to not comment on the original post.

    As for “whole bunch”, I was under the impression that the post was singly-authored, while the items were, sadly, compiled from actual examples.

  7. Tadhg Says:

    Hmm. I’m having trouble parsing your “safe spaces” comment; I assume it’s sarcasm, but are you laughing at my pointing out the obvious?

    I am, of course, pointing out the obvious, but am addressing that to the people who apparently write stuff like “how come straight people don’t get safe spaces”, not to the author of the compiled list; your reaction makes me wonder if that was somehow unclear.

  8. Dan Waters Says:

    You aren’t pointing out the obvious. You’re giving yourself cookies for white-man-splainin’.

    You are saying that it was wrong for some POC’s to not give nice neat commentary. And that you are doing such, which must mean you are ~*magically so much better at bloggiiiiiing*~. Also, your commentary was pretty much NOT NEEDED. We don’t need ANOTHER WHITE DUDE telling us what those experiences mean. BECAUSE WE EXPERIENCE THEM.

    P.s: Your whole little attempt at sexpositive bit with question 23? It’s problematic when straight people can make “gay things” and no get discriminated because it’s considered “hot” and thus more acceptable because they aren’t really gay.

    P.s.s: You really don’t get how ridiculous it sounds that even straight men need safe spaces? Really? Go back to 101 instead of preachin’ it then.

  9. Ann Says:

    Re 30 – One of the strangest aspects of going to a Cork hurling match is the inevitable handful of Confederate flags that show up in the stands. It just doesn’t mean the same thing over here. But having grown up in the States, it’s hard to see it and not think really uncharitable things about the holders.

    And the next time I see you, I might just have to say that all Asian languages sound alike. :)

  10. Tadhg Says:

    Dan: I am, in fact, pointing out the obvious. You suggest my motivations for doing so are to give myself cookies, but whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t alter the fact that I do point out things that should be obvious in that post. As for the cookies thing, that’s not my understanding of my own motivation.

    I felt it was a mistake to not give commentary; however, I admit that this is just because I think such commentary is useful, and “useful” is a question of perspective. In the context of a post directed inward (i.e. at the community there), it’s not a mistake because it would be unnecessary repetition. That wasn’t my context in coming across the piece, however.

    You say my commentary was unnecessary. Unnecessary for whom? For the community where the piece originated? Yes, my commentary was mostly unnecessary for that community, sure. What about a wider context?

    I wasn’t telling “you” (who I don’t know, or any wider “you”) what “those experiences” mean. I was writing what my response to encountering such remarks would be, and those remarks are certainly things I also encounter, because they’re sadly widespread. My experience in hearing them is clearly different from yours because my context is different, but it’s my experience that I’m writing; I made and make no claim to writing anyone else’s.

    Even if it is problematic that “straight” people can do “gay things”, the answer to this is not to constrain people’s sexual behavior, nor to impose upon them definitions of their sexuality they reject, nor to tell them that they can’t talk about their sexual behavior because you find it offensive. Regardless of how common and/or annoying that trope is, it’s quite different from the other things on the list.

    Even at this point, I cannot tell whether you mean:
    - It’s ridiculous to point out that some straight men might under some circumstances need safe spaces because it’s obvious that they might; or
    - It’s ridiculous to claim that straight men might ever find themselves in circumstances where they need safe spaces.

    If it’s the latter, you need to think it over. If the straight men are also part of some group who are discriminated against and whose ability to gather is circumscribed by their social surroundings, as has happened to plenty of groups throughout history, they clearly have a need for places where they can be in a group, talk freely, feel unthreatened, and so on. That this need isn’t because of the fact that they’re straight men doesn’t change the fact that they might need such spaces.

    I’m pretty surprised that anyone would argue against “there are circumstances in which any set of people need safe spaces”.

  11. Tadhg Says:

    Ann: Wow, in Cork, really? How’d that come about? Simple appropriation of the concept of “The South”?

  12. Dan Waters Says:

    You don’t exactly seem to be listening. You will never be able to respond to those things BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAPPEN TO (as in, directed towards) YOU. Because they do not and WILL NOT happen to you, your commentary therefore is MOOT.

    You took a list that was OUR intellectual property and asked readers to EXPAND on with their own experiences. Instead, you took it, and expanded on WHAT YOU PRESUME THE QUESTION AND EXPERIENCE ENTAILS.

    And AGAIN, are you REALLY SAYING that straight men are somehow marginalized and discriminated against? REALLY?

  13. Tadhg Says:

    Dan: I am of course able to respond to hearing someone say, for example, “Muslim men don’t know how to treat their women”. I did so above. The fact that I’m not a Muslim man does not in any way invalidate my response, as you seem to be suggesting. The notion that commentary is “moot” because of the identity of its author is one I absolutely reject; the content is what’s most important, and questions of its origin can be informative but not definitive.

    I responded to the list with my own reactions. You appear to be arguing that, because of various of my personal characteristics, either I had no right to make such a response or my response cannot be relevant/worthwhile. I consider both of those arguments to be appalling.

    I am not in the least saying that straight men are marginalized and discriminated against. I am saying that it’s not very difficult to imagine circumstances in which a set of straight men could be marginalized and discriminated against (for reasons that might have nothing to do with their straightness/maleness).

  14. Dan Waters Says:

    Okay, white boy. I’m done. You clearly like your look soap box, all shiny and pretty, but realize that when POC people are telling you the truth, you seem quick to engage in silly dismissives.

    Yes, your responses are moot, and not relevant. Because you are straight, white, able bodied, cisgender, YOUR VOICE IN THESE EXPERIENCES OF OPPRESSION are moot.

    It is very difficult to imagine circumstances where straight men are somehow marginalized and discriminated against. That’s why they don’t need safe spaces, BECAUSE THEY OCCUPY THE GREATEST SPACE OF THEMALL which is society.

    Again, I’m done. Don’t be surprised about the backlash that’ll probably be done by noon.

  15. Tadhg Says:

    “Silly dismissives” is an interesting characterization of my responses.

    I try pretty hard to recognize truth; I don’t worry much about the messenger. I don’t see it here, though, in an assertion that my identity (which in this model defines/is defined by my place in society) precludes me from being able to meaningfully respond to prejudiced statements.

    Strictly speaking, if you want to argue that my voice has no place in a specific community discussion about personal experiences of oppression—fine. If the community in question chooses to exclude voices like mine, that is its prerogative. That’s very different from arguing that my responses are irrelevant in any larger context—a larger context that I clearly place them in, since they are on my blog, which isn’t part of that community. What’s more, the original post can be read as being about experiences of oppression or about expressions of oppression, and it’s quite clear that my post deals with the latter.

    I don’t know how to be any clearer: I was referring to sets—i.e. subsets—of straight men. I am entirely aware that most of society is set up as a “safe space” for straight men. But subsets of straight men—again, not necessarily based on their straightness/maleness—do experience oppression, and hence might have a need for different safe spaces of their own.

  16. Dan Waters Says:

    The fact that you aren’t part of that community, and try to pretend you’re anti-racist? Laughable. Very, very, lulzy. Check your privilege, fucker.

  17. womanistmusings Says:

    This list did not need to be expanded and from many of your comments, clearly not by you. This piece was an expression of frustration by marginalized bodies, and it is solely an expression of your privilege hat made you believe that your additional commentary was warranted.

    For example: What are you really?

    This, on the other hand, is profound, is perhaps the question. Do any of use truly know what we are? Do we know our innermost selves, can we define those selves, can we even glimpse them, or are we trapped inside forever unable to glean more than those distorted reflections glimpsed in the eyes of others? Is this not one of the best questions true friends can ask us?

    What are you really is about marginalized bodies always being forced to confess their essential beings to privileged bodies. It occurs in conversations about race and sexuality.

    And then there is this: If you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman

    Nonsensical on its face, as it disqualifies from womanhood all women past childbearing age. Even after routing around that issue, it’s ridiculous, and tying female identity entirely to motherhood (either actual or potential) is irredeemably sexist.

    If you were actually aware, you would have realized that this is something that is often said to trans women to argue that they aren’t really women. The fact that you only saw sexism, instead of cissexism proves that you in are no way prepared to comment on this list.

    And this: Reverse racism is real

    I find this one’s inclusion on the list quite problematic. Assuming “reverse racism” means prejudice on the part of people in discriminated-against groups against people in usually-doing-the-discriminating groups, well, it clearly does exist. That doesn’t justify anything, and it doesn’t somehow demonstrate that racism isn’t alive and powerful, and it’s hardly an argument that things are somehow “balanced”. If the meaning of including is here is to state “we know it exists, but it doesn’t change what you think it does”, then that’s fair enough, but given the rest of the statements here I doubt it, and it would clearly need some kind of explanation. “Reverse racism exists” and “if you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman” are just not in the same class of statement.

    The term reverse racism is problematic in that it implies that racism is something that should only be directed at people of colour, rather than suggesting that racism is evil and needs to end. It further negates the fact that racism equals privilege plus systemic power, which btw is something POC do not possess. It is possible for individual people of colour to be prejudice against Whiteness, but because of the lack of power, racism is simply an impossibility.

    There are several more throughout your response that are extremely faulty and filled with privilege. This is precisely why dominant bodies need to be quiet and learn before speaking. As I mentioned earlier, this list was compiled by people that are oppressed and therefore, there is nothing that you could possibly add of substance to the conversation and in fact, many of your responses amount to outright silencing.

  18. womanistmusings Says:

    Oops I just noticed this one:

    One of the tags for your post is feminism. You do realize that Womanist Musings is a Womanist blog. Womanist is not feminism and you completely erased an entire group of women in an effort to explain to us about our marginalization. Back to the drawing board for you.

  19. Eva Says:

    I’m with Dan; you have some privilege to check, dude. I’m not entirely sure what the point of posting this was, it definitely feels like you just needing to chime in after people who are of greater authority on these issues have advised you on this. In effect, a lot of these you just did. There are no shades of gray on any of these, and yet you’re rationalizing aspects of them. You can’t just cherry-pick what is and isn’t reasonable when you’re in the position of privilege you’re in, particularly when receiving wisdom from marginalized people. You need to do some serious work if you’re interested in being a valuable ally, if that’s your intention.

  20. Tadhg Says:

    Dan: “Try to pretend you’re anti-racist”? It’s not clear to me what this means. I’m not an anti-racism activist, certainly; but then I’m not an activist at all, I’m someone with a blog. I would certainly regard myself as “anti-racism”, both in the broader sense of being against racism and in the narrower sense of believing that the society in which I live is profoundly racist and that its power structures are inherently unjust (both for that reason and others). While it’s possible that the term “anti-racist” has certain criteria that I as an individual do not possess in your opinion, it’s a significant overreach from there to imputing “pretense” to me.

  21. RVCBard Says:

    Dude you really don’t see how badly you’re fucking up do you? I’m just gonna leave this right here: http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

    Scroll on down to #5, and also add: Do not appropriate the work of POCs then try to “correct” them for not doing what they never set out to do.

  22. Tadhg Says:

    womanistmusings: It was a mistake on my part to characterize the list’s unexpanded form as a mistake; I encountered it as something being held up as a broader discussion of privilege, and reacted to it as such, rather than as a piece intended for internal community discussion.

    That being said, it still exists in a larger context, i.e. more generally as a suggestion that people should not say the things on the list. In that context I regard it as something that I, or anyone else, can comment on.

    Why did you elide the last sentence of my reaction to “what are you really”? It’s rather crucial, and without it the rest of my response to that question is entirely different: when I read that this was a common question my reaction was one of despair, and the two-part response was intended to try to communicate that despair by displaying a naive hopefulness for what such a question would mean in a better society and then bringing that back to reality.

    Regardign “if you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman”, you are correct that my response displays cissexism. While I understood the intent of the statement, I nevertheless did privilege considerations of sexism over cissexism with my response, and this is unacceptable.

    I’m not convinced that the term “reverse racism” is inherently implies that racism isn’t an evil that needs to end. Further, I do not accept that the term “racism” means only “institutional racism”.

    While I accept that there may be many faulty and privilege-filled pieces in my response, I do not accept that any of this means I should have held silent in my own space—however, I probably shouldn’t have commented on your site to let you know I had written my response.

    When you state that I could add nothing of substance to the conversation, I accept this where “conversation” means “the conversation at your site”; I don’t accept this in terms of a larger context.

    I disagree with you entirely about my application of the feminist tag; the tags are part of where I place the post in terms of personal organization, and the notion that not accepting your framework of Womanism in how I organize my own site constitutes erasure is a stretch. The statements in the list are clearly related to feminist issues as well as Womanist issues.

    Further, I don’t accept your characterization of my post as an effort to explain your marginalization to you.

  23. Xiphias Says:

    Tadhg the best lesson you could take away from all this is that you need to spend more time listening to people who aren’t like you and less time explaining what people who aren’t like you mean when they say things.

  24. Tadhg Says:

    Eva: The point of the post was to write my reactions to the list.

    I disagree, clearly, about there being no shades of grey on any of them; this disagreement probably constitutes some of the reason I wrote the post. When you write that I can’t cherry-pick what’s reasonable and what’s not, that strikes me as very bizarre, because it seems a bedrock function of my (or anyone’s) self-expression to do precisely that: state our take on what makes sense to use and what doesn’t. Questions of privilege are relevant here, but my answers to those questions don’t lead me to restrict my writing.

    That being said, it was definitely a mistake on my part to characterize the list as being mistaken in its lack of expansion.

  25. Tadhg Says:

    RVCBard: I suspect that I do not, in the sense that you mean it, see how badly I’m fucking up.

    Thank you for that link. I agree that my commenting uninvited at Womanist Musings was uninvited entry into a minority space and something I should have considered a lot more carefully before doing.

    I also agree that I should not have stated that the list’s lack of expansion was a mistake. That was a mistake on my part, definitely.

    The charge of appropriation is one I’ll have to think over.

  26. Tadhg Says:

    Xiphias: Good advice; more time listening to people who aren’t like me would doubtless be beneficial.

    However, I did not write this piece to explain what they meant when they said things, either to them or more broadly. I wrote it to express my own take on the items on the list.

  27. RVCBard Says:

    That “larger context” you keep talking about is not about your individual opinions, but your place within a framework that privileged people like you above those of us who are on the receiving end of “discourse” which, once again, assumes straight White men are ultimate arbiters of what is good, beautiful, and true. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to systems of oppression, it is the oppressed who are the authorities on their own experiences.

    Your refusal to acknowledge that (and act on that knowledge) is just the same old shit we deal with everyday. You’re not adding anything beneficial. Thus far, your participation has been nothing but yet another demonstration of why dealing with privileged people is such an exhausting, frustrating, often hopeless mess. The fact that you have taken the work of marginalized groups then contorted it and critiqued it without so much as examining and checking how your privilege plays into that is exactly why your words and decisions play into the same harmful dynamics many of us are trying to change.

    The staggering presumption, willful ignorance, the outright hubris you’ve displayed here is flat-out sickening to many of us who keep at this despite all signs that it may be ultimately futile. Check out Stuff White People Do and see if you recognize yourself in some of them (like this and this and this – oh, and this and this and this – ah, and this . . . and that’s NOT all you are doing). And that’s just about race.

    As a matter of fact, you’ve just proven why people who think, speak, and behave as you do are more of a problem than the outright bigots.

  28. mollydot Says:

    Reverse racism: In discussions of privilege, etc, racism is usually defined as racial prejudice + power. In that sense, reverse racism does not exist. As anti-white prejudice, or any anti-oppressive-group prejudice, lacks power, both in the normal sense and in the sense of the weight of history and culture, it lacks the same ability to hurt. So, while reverse racial prejudice exists, as far as I’m concerned, it just doesn’t matter as much as prejudice against a minoritised group.

    White safe spaces: (On re-reading the list, I see it’s actually straight safe spaces, but people also need to stop saying “how come there’s no white safe spaces?”) I wonder what the people who ask that are thinking? Do they actually want white safe spaces? If so, what is it about safe spaces they want? Exclusion? Freedom to be a bigot without being judged? Such spaces do exist, eg the KKK. Bet they’d deny wanting to be in that particular space.

    (disclaimer: white woman)

  29. Ayden Says:

    If you step in shit, you’re going to leave footprints on the carpet. Looks like there is no graceful exit strategy

  30. Sparky Says:

    *sigh* you kind of missed the point of that article. That article was a list of things people who work in activist fields and who . If anything it was more of a “vent here so we can ruefully laugh at the cleulessness that gives us migraines” post than anything – akin to bingo-cards. Bingo-cards mocking the eternally repeated tropes don’t need a detailed explanation on each entry – because it’s laughing/crying at the frequency of the fails

    There are explanations to all those things and the ideas behind them and why they’re wrong, on that blog in other places. Usually in muhc more depth because none of them can be adequately summed up in a paragraph – as can be seen by your missteps here (straight safe spaces? Your frank DISBELIEF (the fact you are shocked and surprised by these is, itself, a privilege) that many of these insulting things are said, reverse racism, inability to see how comparing the odd same-sex kiss to systematic oppression of GBLT people is appropriative and insulting, reading many of the entires in complete isolation to to context)

    Or, to be brutally frank, perhaps reading this list would be better after getting some more 101 learning in. Perhaps reading more posts that explore all the issues above in great depth rather than trying for a paragraph summation would help

  31. mollydot Says:

    And I’ve just realised I missed the point too. Whether it’s true or not, “reverse racism is real” is a derailing statement, or at least tends to get used that way.

  32. jeffliveshere Says:

    RVCBard: “You’re not adding anything beneficial.”
    Dan Waters: “Also, your commentary was pretty much NOT NEEDED.”

    Leaving aside some of the multiple threads of disagreement above, I would like to respectfully disagree with the idea that Tadhg’s extrapolations aren’t helpful–as yet another white, cisgendered, as-of-yet-able-bodied, het man, I sometimes run into other white, cisgendered, as-of-yet-able-bodied het men who say things like “Why are people of colour always playing the race card?” So, while I don’t have to deal with this in a way that is directly harmful to me, it’s really helpful for me to think through what to say to people who say things like that (other than “STFU!”, that is), and it is helpful to hear others’ opinions on it. One thing to do, of course, is to point them to blogs like Womanist Musings. But that isn’t enough; I’m a bell hooks feminist–for me, part of privilege-checking has to do with white folks calling bs on white folks (and men calling bs on men, hets calling bs on hets, etc.).

    None of which means that there weren’t better ways to go about this analysis, perhaps–but if those of us who have multiple intersections of identity toward the “privileged” part of the spectrums are to be part of some solutions (again, I know this is controversial, but I’m with hooks on this), we need to be doing work, including work that builds on the work of others–and it seems to me that (in part) Tadhg was doing that work here, in this space. He may have not done so in the most respectful and careful way, but I think saying he shouldn’t be trying this analysis at all, as RVCBard and Dan Waters are saying. This analysis may not be needed in some spaces, but it is needed in some others (i.e. in my day-to-day life when people say stupid shit to me).

  33. RVCBard Says:

    Jeff, you also need to check your privilege.

  34. RVCBard Says:

    Click here to check privilege. Then follow up here. And remember: it’s two ears and one mouth for a reason.

    I just think it’s funny that, for all privileged good intentions, those same privileged people are doing a shit job of actually listening to the people they’re apparently in solidarity with.

  35. jeffliveshere Says:

    @RVCBard: “Check your privilege” is always good advice, for those of us who have some privilege; given you haven’t said anything more to me about what I said, I guess I can’t respond except to say thanks for the reminder…

  36. RVCBard Says:

    Well, it seems that some enlightened souls have mastered social justice and anti-oppression, so they don’t need to listen to us marginalized folks anymore. Since my knowledge and experience are neither needed nor wanted, I think I’ll be off now and do things more appropriate for my walnut-sized Negress brain.

  37. Dan Waters Says:


    Your tone policing is so trumping lulzy. Guess what? We don’t have to educate you. That’s why your momma made you with a brain, and you can go use it. We gave the resources, it’s up to y’all to do the fucking work. But not like this Trumpa like here.

  38. Uhh Says:

    “Leaving aside some of the multiple threads of disagreement above, I would like to respectfully disagree with the idea that Tadhg’s extrapolations aren’t helpful–as yet another white, cisgendered, as-of-yet-able-bodied, het man…”

    And that’s when I stopped reading…

  39. adam Says:

    I think the point that Dan and others are making is that straight men don’t need access to closed spaces based on their sexuality, ie. based on an attribute that puts them in a position of social power. “Straight man” thus becomes shorthand for a particular constellation of privilege, one that is powerful but also quite limited in that it emphasizes sexuality and sex over race, class, trans status, citizenship, dis/ability, incarceration status etc. I’m sure Dan would agree that there are many straight men who despite being heterosexual and male lack social power in comparison to people who aren’t straight men; the first example that comes to my mind is the loss of privilege that Black trans men experience upon transitioning, but there are many others. The “straight man” shorthand is inherently reductive in that sense.

  40. Cathy Says:

    Tadhg, thanks for the great commentary. Your comments were insightful and gave a me few things to chew on.

    That said, it’s a shame you had to endure so many attempts to quell a free exchange of ideas under the guise of “privilege-checking.” As a former activist myself, I understand how easy it is to form an us-vs-them mentality, but it was still shocking to see it on such vivid display here.

    I’m concerned that no one here has yet acknowledged that straight men need safe spaces from abusive domestic partners. While woman-on-man abuse is a minority occurrence, it happens with enough regularity that it should be acknowledged.

  41. adam Says:

    The difference is that straight men who have abusive partners presumably aren’t being abused because they’re straight; their heterosexuality is incidental.

  42. wait what Says:

    Adam: So when gay men have abusive partners, they abuse them because they’re gay? Your implication makes no sense at all. In a domestic abuse situation, arguably ALL sexual preference is incidental.

  43. adam Says:

    That was not my implication. I agree that all sexual preference is incidental in such situations. Gay men, however, might desire an exclusive space so that they don’t need to deal with homophobia and heterosexism in addition to the trauma of experiencing abuse.

  44. MartinX Says:

    This is not going to be popular, but I call it like I see it: a man having his penis and testicles removed and pumping himself full of hormones makes him a woman no more than having huge ears and a trunk surgically attached makes him an elephant. I can call myself an elephant if I want. That’s my right, I guess? I can consider myself an elephant deep in the core of my being. I might even be able to find sympathetic souls to surround myself with who will support my delusion, but none of that will make me an elephant, really. If I REALLY want to be an elephant, I’ll just have to hope that there is such a thing as reincarnation, because for this life I’m stuck with being a man. The same applies if I want to be a woman. It can’t happen; not in THIS lifetime. Cisgender? Cischmender!

  45. Dan Waters Says:

    @Cathy LOLOLOLOLOL. I don’t know what’s more hilarious. The fact that he’s not an anti-racist activist, making anti-racist commentary, or that you, a “former activist” patting him on the back.

    White people, you’re doing it wrong.

  46. Dan Waters Says:

    Since you did this on our blog, I’ll just leave this right here.

    http://www.womanist-musings.com/2011/04/white-guys-who-miss-it-point.html My response to your response.

  47. Cathy Says:

    Dan, I don’t understand your hostility. I belonged to ACT-UP for several years in my youth, but have since stopped participating. Why do you put \former activist\ in quotes when it’s simply an accurate description of part of my life? Also, why are you so intent on squelching a free exchange of ideas with someone who may disagree with you?

    And since you pointedly didn’t address the other part of my comments, are you denying that straight men who are victims of domestic abuse need safe space?

  48. mollydot Says:

    @MartinX: And if this “man” has XX genes? Or hormone levels more typical of a woman? Why privilege genitalia over all the other sex differences (eg chromosomal, identity, hormonal, internal organs)? And if genitalia are the only things that matter to you, why does changing them not make a difference?

    There are a number of sex aspects, and while they match for most people, they don’t always. Some people assigned as female at birth (from a look at their genitalia) have XY genes. Some people assigned as male have wombs that show up with ultrasound or breasts that grow at puberty. And then there’s all the people who don’t match the standard pattern in one or more of these aspects, eg XXY chromosomes, intersex genitalia.

    So, which aspect should decide what sex a person “really” is? Basing it on genes isn’t going to work in the real world. Genitalia can be changed. So why not go by gender identity?

  49. MartinX Says:

    I’m prepared to wager that most individuals who want to be gender-reassigned are basically psychologically disturbed and have a very narrow vision of what ‘being a man’ entails. These expensive surgical procedures are really only financially attainable in the West, and these are the same ‘modern democratic societies’ that allow a broad range of sexuality-related behaviours. I am opposed to genital mutilation in principle. I see no real difference between clitorectomies in Chad or the Sudan and penectomies conducted in the West. Both are butchery of the sexual organs usually resulting in inability to experience orgasm. Just because a person want this procedure done does not make it any less of a crime. Persons requesting this procedure should be offered counselling. If you are unhappy with your body, your problems are psychiatric, not physical. And like I said, in this modern world ‘being happy in a man’s body’ doesn’t necessarily mean being a chest-beating womanizing testosterone-flooded oaf. There are any number of options that do not involve genital mutilation. Surely?

  50. Cathy Says:

    MartinX, keep your money because you’ll lose that wager. A good deal of science has been done on gender identity development, and it does not support your opinions at all. How did you even come to your opinion about what transgenderism is? Have you ever known or spoken at length with a transgender person? Try reading a few books, or better yet, taking a class on gender psychology or human sexual development. Honestly, it sounds like you’re just making things up based on your feelings about gender, with no factual basis whatsoever.

  51. Tadhg Says:

    Because it’s been a while since I could comment, it makes sense for me to summarize my response to commentary up to now before addressing further comments individually.

    1. I misread the intent and context of the original post as being outwardly directed, and was thus mistaken in criticizing it for not including an explanation. This characterization of it as being mistaken was itself a clear mistake on my part, and a presumptuous one. I should not have made that claim and I apologize for doing so.

    2. I should have considered more carefully before posting to Womanist Musings with my response. I failed to see that doing so, especially in combination with my erroneously framing the list’s lack of explanation as a mistake, could be quite rude and intrusive. I apologize for that rudeness also.

    3. Embarrassingly enough, I made errors in my own reactions to the items on the list, which I have corrected. (This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that there are further errors.)

    All that said, I do not agree with a number of the criticisms, as I understand them, that have been made of my post, most notably:

    1. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with my having commented on, or criticized, the original list. Put another way, if I had put up my reactions with an intro only of “these are my reactions”, that would have been fine (issues with individual reactions aside).

    2. I do not think that any of my characteristics or experience disqualify me from commenting on these, or any other, issues. I do not accept that my position of social privilege requires me, in any sense, to refrain from exploring these issues and discussing that exploration.

    3. I do not accept that my writing publicly about these (or any other) issues requires me to accept any theoretical framework, nor to cede any critical thinking to others. Learning from others and their work is of course necessary and important, but so is critical response.

    4. I do not agree that my having written or spoken about these issues somehow takes voice away from others; I do not believe that discussion and discourse are zero-sum games.

    5. I do not agree that my having commented on and criticized the list constitutes appropriation. Being on a public site is enough alone to make it fair game for debate, and in addition to that it was published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license, so dissemination of it is clearly encouraged; the difference between critical and uncritical dissemination does not appropriation make.

  52. Tadhg Says:

    RVCBard #27: the “larger context” is clearly more than my individual opinions, but it’s also larger than just my place in the framework of privilege. The context, more broadly, is the discussion of prejudice, and there’s no reason why I can’t add my voice to that discussion. The fact that a framework exists that gives me a privileged position does not mean that I as an individual cannot fairly retain my right to decide for myself what is true, beautiful, and virtuous, and to express myself regarding those decisions.

    Everyone is an authority on their own experiences. Nothing in my post claims authority over the experience of others. I explicitly reject the idea that criticizing ideas equates to a claim of authority over experience.

    I did critique the list without examining my own privilege, and had I first done so then I likely would not have misinterpreted the list’s purpose and made the presumptuous mistake of claiming that it needed an expansion. However, I still would have written my reactions to the items on the list, and they would have been largely unchanged.

    Thank you for the links to Stuff White People Do. I think the most important point, in terms of this discussion, is the first: “think they get to decide what’s racist”. I do not believe that white people get to define what’s racist. However, I absolutely believe that we, meaning all of humanity, each for ourselves get to decide what’s racist, or prejudicial in other ways. Nobody else gets to do that for me; nobody should let anyone else make such a determination for them.

    Your claim that people who “think, speak, and behave” as I do are more of a problem than outright bigots is frankly amazing. Since we don’t know each other, your opinion of my thoughts/speech/behavior are presumably based upon my writing, particularly this post and my own comments on it. The allegation that those actions of mine, on their own or extrapolated, make me more of a problem than an outright bigot is, to say the least, very difficult to support. You personally may find it significantly more irritating to deal with me than with an outright bigot, but claiming that this makes me (and “people like me”) more problematic generally is quite a stretch.

  53. Tadhg Says:

    mollydot #28: I’m familiar with that redefinition of “racism”, but don’t agree with it; I don’t think it’s right to strip the word of its previous “prejudice based on ‘race’” meaning, despite my agreement that institutional racism exists and that “reverse racism” is, as you state, far less powerful and/or relevant.

    An example of the kind of thing that privileged people co-opting the idea of “safe spaces” would probably try to get away with is the exclusionary, all-white, all-male, all-wealthy “social club”. Institutions of that kind are clearly highly prejudiced in all kinds of ways and don’t deserve protection; I suspect this is one of the reasons why my suggestion that there are circumstances in which some subsets of straight men might need safe spaces is met with a lot of hostility.

  54. Tadhg Says:

    Ayden #29: thank you for that finely ambiguous statement.

  55. Tadhg Says:

    Sparky #30: Yes, I missed the intent of that article. I was wrong to assert that the lack of explanations was a mistake.

    I did not make an argument for “straight safe spaces”; I argued that there are circumstances in which sets of men who are straight might need “safe spaces”, even if their reasons for needing them had nothing to do with their straightness/maleness. I stand by that argument.

    I did express disbelief (although I meant it more rhetorically than literal I-refuse-to-believe-people-say-this), and yes, that this is my reaction rather than pained familiarity is a privilege—but how is that a problem? As a rhetorical device it has the effect of ridiculing some of those statements, and they deserve ridicule; further, I did not imply that this ridicule meant that the statements themselves should not be taken as evidence of serious problems.

    My position on “reverse racism” is one that I’ve thought about fairly carefully and I do not regard as a misstep my statement that “Reverse racism exists” and “if you can’t have a baby then you are not a real woman” are just not in the same class.

    I don’t see how my reaction to “I’m not gay, but I’ll kiss a girl to get a guy’s attention” indicates my “inability to see how comparing the odd same-sex kiss to systematic oppression of GBLT people is appropriative and insulting”. The former is not a statement of comparison of a kiss to that oppression, and if it’s intended to be so, it needs to be rewritten, along the lines of “gays and lesbians aren’t discriminated against anymore because I kissed another girl in the club and everybody liked it”, or something similarly inane. Even if it’s a phrase on a bingo card.

    Which fits with the next point, that I read many of the entries in isolation from their context. This is true, I did. But if the list is intended as similar to a bingo card (which makes sense), then that’s not an unforgivable reading, and I came across the list in a way that suggested it would be or already had been passed around outside of its original context as, well, a list of things people shouldn’t say.

    More learning is always a good idea; it would also have been a good idea for me to have properly framed my reactions to make clear that they were just that, reactions, and not attempts to summarize the issues involved in one paragraph.

  56. Tadhg Says:

    RVCBard #34: “Listening to” and “agreeing with 100%” are not the same thing. If we have a difference of opinion, and I persist in differing, it is possible that I’m not listening, it’s possible that I haven’t examined my privilege (or some other aspect of the situation) sufficiently, and it’s also possible that I disagree after both listening and examining—which is the case here.

  57. Tadhg Says:

    Dan Waters #37: Disagreeing with you in suggesting that I have a right to attempt an analysis of these issues, and that some of my analysis might conceivably be useful in some circumstances, is not tone policing.

  58. Tadhg Says:

    Uhh #38: Why do you consider it a point of pride that you stopped reading upon discovering some of the author’s identity characteristics?

  59. Tadhg Says:

    adam #39: If you’re right about that being the point Dan and others were making, then they and I have been misunderstanding each other badly, because it seems awfully like the point I was trying to make. I would go slightly further, however, and say that since privilege is a social construct, changes in social conditions could bring about situations in which subsets of straight men could be discriminated against on axes we’re not even aware of (and as such, in a discriminated-against position, be in need of “safe spaces”). Regarding the shorthand you refer to, I think there’s an important distinction to be made between “the group at the apex of the privilege pyramid” and “the set of characteristics that currently grant entry to the apex of the privilege pyramid”.

  60. Tadhg Says:

    Cathy #40: I’m glad you found some of my commentary useful; that’s good to hear.

    Thank you for bringing up men who need safety from abusive domestic partners. I consider it telling that I didn’t think of them explicitly here even though I was trying to make a point about maleness not eliminating vulnerability.

  61. Tadhg Says:

    MartinX #44 & #49: Gender is not as clear as we think it is, and the notion that it’s “really” something or other tends to break down upon examination. Doesn’t it mean something rather significant that shifting away from one’s apparent birth gender has been a phenomenon for a very long time—whereas nobody really tries to become an elephant, or gets social support in so doing?

    What is and isn’t “psychological disturbance” is very difficult to determine, and isn’t a simple matter of fact. Voluntary gender reassignment surgery is not comparable to involuntary genital mutilation. Even if you were right about the rest (which I don’t think is the case), from a utilitarian perspective, if the person is going to be happier and more comfortable after surgery, why not let them do it, and not worry about questions of “realness”?

    What’s more, why make any attempt to regulate voluntary behavior in this way, or to force upon someone an identity they don’t want? If someone wants to be treated as a woman, despite the fact that you see them as a man, where is the harm in you (and everyone) treating them as a woman?

  62. Tadhg Says:

    Dan #46: Thank you for the notification.

  63. MartinX Says:

    OK, so what if someone presents to a doctor and says they want their leg off, because they’ve suddenly decided they don’t like it. A perfectly healthy, functional leg, I mean. Would you not say the problem is in their head, not in their leg, and try to talk them out of amputation? And what if a person wants to starve herself to death because her body image is so out of whack that she thinks she’s immense when she’s 45 kilos? Would you fight for her right to be so clearly wrong-headed, or would you try to dissuade her from that course of action? If a person’s body is healthy, but they hate it, why don’t we try to help them love the skin they’re in rather than mutilate it? I’m just asking.

  64. smhll Says:

    **I’m familiar with that redefinition of “racism”, but don’t agree with it; I don’t think it’s right to strip the word of its previous “prejudice based on ‘race’” meaning, despite my agreement that institutional racism exists and that “reverse racism” is, as you state, far less powerful and/or relevant.**

    I’m a white woman (with extra, bonus privileges like het, cis, class) so I could easily get this wrong (or incomplete), but I need the practice, so I’ll try.

    I think racism means a lot more than what you said above \prejudice based on race\.

    In the US, the strongest, most common meaning of \racism\ is \racial oppression\ or \systematic racial oppression\. Black people, or more generally people of color, aren’t doing this to white people where I live. The huge institutional racism in the US has not been inverted and used against white folks.

    However, on a small scale, there are some areas where personal discrimintation swings both ways. People of color can feel racially motivated dislike or have racially prejudiced attitudes towards white people, but they can not racially oppress them.

    \Racism\ is a big word that encompasses a lot, and it implies more than thinking about people in simplistic racial categories and treating them a bit differently based on race. (Which is what I see in so called \reverse racism\ complaints that come from white people.). Putting someone in a category based on ancestry or appearance is something that we can all do to each other. Enforcing special punitive and oppressive rules on people because of racial categorization is something that generally only the majority group can do.

  65. Tadhg Says:

    Martin: What if someone presents a perfectly healthy nose to a doctor and says they want plastic surgery? What about a cleft lip? There’s a continuum of body modification procedures, some of which are past a threshold of what we regard as “healthy” and some of which are not. A variety of factors come into play regarding how we treat these issues, and I don’t see an argument to treat the kind of gender issues you’re talking about as pathological.

    smhll: I agree with just about everything in your comment. My argument is not that “racism” cannot also mean racial oppression, or systematic racial oppression. I’m arguing only that those additional meanings do not remove the simpler meaning of “prejudice based on ‘race’”. In the context of “reverse racism is real”, as specious as that argument may be, it is highly unlikely that its utterer means “systematic racial oppression is real”—they mean that racial prejudice can go in multiple directions. While this is irrelevant to the larger systematic oppression in our society, probably irrelevant to the discussion they bring it up in, demonstrative of a lack of understanding of the depth of racism in our society, and perhaps even a deliberate attempt to derail a discussion, that doesn’t stop it from being, strictly speaking, valid as they mean it (although what they probably think it entails is not valid).

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