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More things that need saying. - Convenient Self-Indulgence [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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More things that need saying. [Nov. 11th, 2016|11:51 am]
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[mood |productiveproductive]

I would like to post more of a particular conversation that happened in comments. This is not to complain about anyone, nor to gain recognition. Some of the things I said there will certainly have to be said again, to others, and I would like you to have the option to save yourself some trouble by copying and pasting those things from this post if you want. Good wishes to you all. (And yes, I moved my first response here from my earlier post, to put it in better context and to provide context for what followed.)

Originally, my friend had posted to observe that people saying things like "Calm down," "It'll be okay," and "You're overreacting" were overwhelmingly white males, and then postulated that the willingness to say such things correlated with white men still failing to understand experiences other than their own (i.e., privilege).

Another person, M., commented that, while he intended to just give these emotions some space for a few days, those white males in question simply honestly feel that "You'll be fine" is correct, and that platitudes are appropriate for a medium that uses "like" to show support. He referred to the invokation of privilege as insulting and trolling, with an "I understand you were distressed, but..." (and cue the admonitions to better tend to the precious feelings of the poor, innocent, well-meaning, put-upon white males).

Thus, my first response:

M., I understand that you're trying to be respectful and understanding, and I thank you for that. But you're missing something. It's something that often happens in conversations between people with different experiences. Person A has had something really bad happen to them, and is quite upset. Person B doesn't share person A's lived experience with systemic oppression, and so isn't nearly as bothered by the event. Person B thinks that person A is overreacting. Person B then feels like they're the calm, rational one, while person A is the emotional, irrational one who needs to calm down. But in actuality, the difference is that person A understands the full gravity of the situation (and would thus have to be evil or emotionally numb to NOT be upset), while person B has had the privilege to be able to ignore how bad the situation is. No matter how clearly person A articulates the problem, person B's mind is already made up and closed through a combination of consistency pressure, confirmation bias, identity politics, and an unwillingness to believe that the world could possibly be as horrifyingly unjust as it really is (because believing in a just world makes person B feel safe as long as they don't do anything out of line). This ability, to willingly stay ignorant of how bad the situation is, is only possible because of privilege. Person A lacks that privilege, and so doesn't have the option of burying their head in the sand: The unjustness of the world kicks them in the head every day.

When person A points out person B's privilege, that's not an insult or an attack. It's an attempt to communicate that yes, the world can be different from the way that person B thinks it is, even if person B is intelligent and well-adjusted, because person B's privilege allows them to keep the blinders on.

M. then politely challenged me to show as much empathy for upset conservatives in 2008 as I do for upset liberals in 2016. He described McCain as a "change candidate" and Obama as a "big government candidate". He referred to popular disapproval of public disappointment in the result as oppression, on a level with North Korea and 1984. He questioned how measuring privilege could have worked when deciding between Clinton and Obama in the primaries. He attacked the use of the word "privilege" as "otherism," and objected to its implication of racism and sexism as applied to himself.

(Those who have seen the thread in question: If I have in any way misrepresented M.'s comments, please call me out on it. I also want to stress, since I am summarizing here, that he kept his tone indignant but not abusive.)

My comment:

M., your response does not give me much hope that we will get through to each other, so I'm going to limit the energy I spend in replying, as I really don't have enough to go around for things like this. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I also won't have the energy to phrase blunt things as tactfully as would likely be useful when trying to communicate across this divide, and for that I apologize.

Those two elections are comparable in that the people backing the losing side were upset. They are not comparable in that those who are upset by Trump's victory have their fears grounded in the real experiences of being oppressed in their everyday lives, and by the numerous, dire threats that Trump himself has made toward them/us. Those who were upset by Obama's election had their fears (and their perceptions of who represented change) based on easily debunked misinformation spread by Fox News. While the 2008 conservative fears were deeply upsetting -- and I empathize with that -- the 2016 liberal fears are viscerally terrifying, because they mesh perfectly with real life experiences; because pattern recognition said that minorities were about to suffer a large increase in violence, and that is exactly what has already happened; and because those of us who have absorbed the lessons of history know that those of you who haven't are in the midst of repeating it, and that road ends in an ocean of blood. (Not just ours; nobody is in every "in" group, and the violent fascists that Trump has incited may eventually set their sights on you. History says that too: Look up the Brown Shirts.)

So yes, I feel sorry for people who were upset about Obama, but the comparison you make is insultingly dismissive toward current fears of widespread violence and human rights violations.

"Opponents had the same intellectual freedom that people have in North Korea." This is so absurd that it makes me suspect you're being deliberately disingenuous. Political oppression is when saying politically unpopular things gets you arrested and executed, not when it gets you dirty looks from your neighbor.

Nobody used a measurement of privilege to choose Obama over Clinton. Obama's policies and positions were more progressive than Clinton's. (Admittedly, that wasn't enough for Bernie, which as you may have noticed, is a bit of a sore point among progressives. But that's a different discussion.) You're still not getting that privilege is not an insult, and to say that someone has privilege is not to call them evil. I have privilege, and nobody is giving me flak for it. It's really not the loaded word you think it is, and you don't have to get defensive about it. But privilege, like other powers, comes with responsibility to use it only for good and to never lord it over others. Responsibility is scary -- I get that -- and it's easier for you to pretend that scary things don't exist, but it's also awfully childish. Frankly, as difficult as it is to live with the responsibility of one's own privilege, it is thousands of times more difficult to live with the obstacles and risk of NOT having privilege. And if all of our loved ones with less privilege can live their lives on Hard Mode, what sort of whiny crybabies would we have to be to complain that we don't want to deal with the responsibilities of playing in Normal Mode? It's time for you to step up and take care of your friends who are hurting, not belittle them.

A couple of other friends have also pointed out that nobody should ever say "Calm down," regardless of the circumstances, because it never works: It only comes across as dismissive, showing an utter lack of empathy.

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/42964.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)