I've had this post in my queue with just a title for over a week. I've been trying to formulate what I want to say, and I'm going to take a stab at it...but I'm not convinced it will come out right at all.
Oh well, here goes.
In the social justice/feminist world, when we are called out for a racist/sexist/heterosexist/abelist/cissexist or otherwise bigoted remark, the gut reaction we all have is to fall back on, "but that's not what I meant."
I see it all the time, and I'm sure you have too. We view ourselves as a part of the solution, so when we mess up (as we all do time-to-time) the guilt and disappointment in ourselves can be a lot to bear. So we revert back to what we believe to be true of ourselves...we're good people. We wouldn't do or say anything to hurt others.
We didn't mean it like that.
It wasn't our intention.
We weren't thinking about it that way.
We even make these excuses for other people we like, as if we can really know their intentions. Over at Tumblr, I regularly receive posts where the submitter screencaps a friend/family member saying something sexist, but they then write a caption like, "He's not even a bad guy" or "I don't even know if he meant it that way."
The truth is...our intentions are irrelevant. What matters so much more is the cultural context in which our words and actions exist. For example, as a white person, I benefit from white privilege literally every day. And these daily privileges become almost invisible to me, as a beneficiary of them, especially if I'm not actively thinking about it. So it can be quite easy for me to not "mean" something racist...but that doesn't change the fact that when a person of color points out something they see as a problematic aspect of my writing/speech/behavior--I should give it pause and actually think about it.
Sure, my intentions might not have been to offend, but if the end result is the same (offense) does that make me any less culpable? Even if I've inadvertently invoked a stereotype, the stereotype still exists.
We have to stop thinking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and etc. as things that only bad people do. The truth is that all of us mess up time-to-time. We all exist in the kyriarchy and almost all of us carry some form of privilege.
So the real test is how you respond when you DO mess up? Will you learn from the experience? Or will you lash back---more worried about clarifying your intentions and clearing your name than caring about the person your hurt?
Ok, when I say that intentions are irrelevant, that's not entirely true. There are people who make it their business to be specifically bigoted, and that is its own special set of problems. But for those of us who really do examine society and think critically about oppression, we can't worry about getting a pass when we mess up. We just can't.
We've got to accept responsibility.
Working on Anti-Racism
Don't you DARE Call Me A Racist!
How to Enter Feminist Discussions at the 101 Level and Not Totally Mess Up
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