Yesterday, I tweeted this:
Just so we’re clear, there is never a good time to open a comment with “I’m not homophobic, but…”
and got this agreement in reply:
the same applies to ‘I’m not racist/sexist but…’ and ‘I’m not being funny/rude but…’
There really isn’t a good excuse for starting a sentence that way. It is invariably followed by something that ranges from merely ignorant to blatantly racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. If you feel you need to justify your words by trying to explain them away, then please, for the love of all things holy, just keep your mouth shut.
I tend to push back when I see the above. My reactions depend on both how the person phrased it and on whether the sentiment is expressed unthinkingly or deliberately. The response I get is usually immediate and defensive. I’ve heard everything from “you’re a complete idiot” to “you misread my [anti-whatever] remark! I actually meant this [anti-whatever] sentiment instead!” It absolutely never seems to make any difference whether I call out privilege and/or hate speech nicely or whether I do it in ALL CAPITALS LIKE I’M SHOUTING.
I hear all the freakin’ time that the only way to change anyone’s mind on an issue is to be polite, nice, grace-filled, understanding, and kind. I’ve heard the phrase “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” more times than I care to count. You know what I say to that?
Who the hell wants to catch flies?
What I mean by that is that I don’t want to merely make people stop saying hateful things. Extending grace and being polite might momentarily make a person reconsider their words or their joke or the picture they put on Facebook (though not usually, in my experience). It does nothing to change the underlying attitude that caused the person’s initial action. If a person is unwilling to step aside and acknowledge their own privilege, fear, ignorance, or distrust, then it doesn’t matter at all how I phrase things.
There’s a genuine belief that if we are just gracious enough, eventually people will see the error of their ways and come around. I’m putting this here for all to see: That is a lie. I don’t think it’s a deliberate misleading. I think that people with naturally “nice” personalities tell themselves (and often others) that in order to justify their approach. The truth is, it doesn’t work any better than yelling and being angry.
But yelling and being angry don’t really work either.
Because the problem is not in our approach to confronting privilege, ignorance, and hate. The problem lies exclusively with those who are intolerant. It isn’t my job–or yours–to change someone else’s heart. That change must come from the inside. But if we want to see any genuine progress, we need to stop tolerating intolerance, particularly in the name of “friendship.”
There’s an attitude on both more liberal and more conservative sides that says if we liberals/progressives don’t put up with hate speech, then we are guilty of “intolerance” ourselves. It’s the same stupidity behind “reverse racism,” “misandry,” “and “heterophobia.” There are no such institutions, but the minute we call someone out on their words we get an earful of how we’re hypocrites.
I’m done with that. I’m done listening to white, straight, cisgender people (particularly men, but lots of women, too) moan about how they are somehow losing out and how they’re not allowed to have their “opinions” anymore. Because you know what? If your opinion includes believing that someone else is in any way less than you, you are absolutely not entitled to your opinion. If your opinion includes ignorance of basic facts, you are absolutely not entitled to your opinion. If your opinion includes the attitude that you are marginalized despite your obvious privilege, you are absolutely not entitled to your opinion. There are still some things that are wrong at their core.
What I’d like to see is real, deep change in the fabric of our society as a whole. I want more than figuring out what approach to take when confronting privilege. I want to stop putting out both the honey and the vinegar.
I want to stop catching flies.