I’m not angry or upset about anything in particular at the moment, but I thought I’d take a little time to write something out that had been bugging me about allies. It’s certainly not all-encompassing or totally comprehensive, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about in terms of being a good ally and a good neighbor, especially here on Tumblr.
Before you step in to help us out, I’d just like to clarify a couple things.
You and I, we may have taken the same seminars and maybe even read the same Audre Lorde excerpts or Ronald Takaki books, but know this: we learned very different things in very different ways
For students of color, for gay students, for trans* students, for the children of immigrants and refugees, these classes aren’t always about learning new concepts when it pertains to us. It’s more about learning the names of things we already knew fairly intimately. Do you understand that? You learned it another way. You went in, you got this set of key words and a list of definitions. Your learning was, in all likelihood, “Here is this word. This is what this word means.”
For you, it was “Xenophobia: a strong fear or dislike of people from other countries.”
For us, it was “Xenophobia: the time that boy in my kindergarten class spat on me because I couldn’t speak English yet. Or when I saw that clerk yell at my mom in the grocery store because her English wasn’t clear enough. Or when USCIS had us confirm our American citizenship with the same set of papers seven times over the course of sixteen years because they wanted to confirm that we were, in fact, actual American citizens.”
For you, it was, “Racism: unfair treatment of people who belong to another race; violent behavior towards them.”
For us, it was, “Racism: that one time I saw that manager tell that sales girl to follow my dad around at Kohl’s. Or that one time my neighbor’s kid got shot by the police and they tried to cover it up by convincing everyone he was in a gang because he was Hmong, but we knew he wasn’t. Or that one time my dad told me I shouldn’t rollerblade to the library because I’m not white and it’s not safe for me.”
For you, it was, “Homophobia: a strong dislike or fear of homosexual people.”
For us, it was, “Homophobia: that time in the sixth grade when Ryan shoved me against a glass door and banged my face in it while yelling, ‘faggot!’ at me until the teacher stopped him. Or when my Catholic high school’s president told me that, though he loved me as a child of God, he still believed I was sinful when I suggested that we start a GSA.”
For you, it was: “Classism: prejudice or discrimination based on social class.”
For us, it was: “Classism: that one time when my best friend came over to hang out in high school and her parents didn’t want her to come over again because they didn’t like our neighborhood. Or that one time when my friends had no idea what food stamps looked like and I was too embarrassed to explain what they were.”
So while you were learning that these academically-framed phenomena were real problems, we were just getting little figurative nametags for awful things that we already knew. Your weekly vocabulary list was, to us, just a hollow shadow of our lived experiences.
So my point is this:
If you didn’t live an experience, then step aside. Because we knew this stuff before our professors told us what to call it. We learned it from the bottom up, you learned it from the top down, and that’s not even a metaphor.
When you step out of class, you get to be like, “Oh, awesome. I am learning how to be a good ally and a better human being. This will help me.” For us, it’s more like, “Ah, so that’s what they’re calling it nowadays. When exactly did they say change was going to come for us?”
So in practice, here’s what all this theory looks like: you don’t always have to speak. I mean, certainly, you should totally call someone out on their oppressive bullshit. But if you identify as male, you don’t get to tell people what is best for women as though you have that authority. If you’re white, you shouldn’t be trying to “uplift” people of color by the grace of your intellect or your words. Nobody’s looking to be ‘rescued’ or ‘pulled up from out of their unfortunate circumstances’ as you may be tempted to believe.
All anybody’s looking for in an ally is someone who knows that “empowerment” means taking a step aside in a place where you know you have privilege. And if it is, for example, a PoC-to-PoC conversation, a woman-to-woman conversation, a queer-to-queer conversation, etc. about this stuff, and that isn’t who you are, you don’t need to be chiming in.
Just take our word for it, let us talk, and let us vent. We’d like you to give us room, and if you have to be helpful, then help make room for us by giving up some of your proverbial social girth.
Because the bottom line is that our academia has made a commodity of our lived experiences as teaching moments for you. And if you think your academic knowledge is more valid than our lived experiences, then you’re definitely not part of the solution.
OMG I’ve been looking for something that explained the way I felt when people talked about oppression that was about me in those diversity classes
The truth is, fat shamers and concern trolls are like splinters. The immediate, gut reaction to someone hating your existence is quick and sharp. But that part doesn’t last for long. After it’s wedged its way inside you, it turns into a radiating annoyance. You know it’s there, you know it’s not leaving, and you know you’re going to have to dig it out. When you finally get rid of it, the pain is mostly gone, but you can still tell that it’s not fully healed. There’s still a small part that’s sensitive to the touch.
The difference is, you don’t get splinters multiple times a day. You’re not constantly having splinters forced into your body by your friends, family, strangers, doctors, television shows, magazines, movies, and books. You’re not constantly on the lookout for splinters because you know it’s just a matter of time until you get another one.
But fat shamers and concern trolls are fucking everywhere. And you know what they have in common with splinters? They’re never fucking welcome. They’re never fucking helpful. They are annoying, they are painful, and they are invasive.
When I get messages from fat shamers and concern trolls, I always respond with a lot of sass, and I always shut them down. Because I’m used to the pain for the most part. I’m used to the abuse, and the neglect, and the violence. But I shouldn’t be. This shouldn’t be considered normal, and it sure as fuck shouldn’t be considered helpful. Saidiya Hartman calls oppression “the terror of the mundane.” That phrase has stuck with me, because oppression is constantly normalized by phrases like “well if you don’t like the way you’re treated, you should change yourself to be what people want!” Or “well, it’s your fault that you’re oppressed. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and it won’t happen!”
In other words, yes, concern trolls and fat shamers hurt me. They hurt me as individuals, and as a whole. Because these people constantly reify thin idealization. They constantly reify a culture that puts thinness on a pedestal and aims to stop fat people from existing. They hurt me because some of them honestly believe that they are helping, and some of them love the feeling of knowing that they are hurting and killing others. They hurt me because they refuse to take responsibility for the violences they commit against me and others. They hurt me because I know they are hurting others who aren’t me. I’ve been working towards loving myself and sticking up for myself for years now, and it’s paid off. Concern trolls and fat shamers don’t affect me the way they used to. But I know the same can’t be said for others, and that’s scary for me. Because I know there are people out there who hate themselves as much as I used to hate myself, and I’m worried for their safety.
But they don’t hurt me in the way they want to hurt me. They don’t make me think less of myself. They don’t make me want to change. They don’t make me feel that they are somehow more successful, attractive, or morally superior in comparison to myself. They don’t make me feel ugly. They don’t make me feel like a failure. They don’t make me feel like I shouldn’t be fat.
The difference is the pain they want to inflict and the actual pain I suffer from. I’ve stopped believing the lies they tell me, so they can’t hurt me that way. The pain I feel is from knowing that it’s going to take a lifetime of work to ensure that myself and others can work against the lies we’re told about our bodies, and that makes me sad, because it’s not something that should have to be done. But it does have to be done, and I sincerely want to be a part of that. So I will be. Because that’s how I fight that pain - by actively working against it, and by showing fat shamers and concern trolls just how fucking ignorant they’re being. That’s my way, you just gotta figure out yours!
The. Best. Ever.
Funny how when white people talk about their own “liberation” (ex. american revolution) they all like “freedom isn’t free. It requires blood and war” but when referring to PoC liberation they want people to use peaceful tactics. Tell us that using force to gain equality or freedom makes us as bad as our oppressors.
Dear Offended Former Follower:
It is not the marginalized persons’ job to speak of their experiences and truths in ways that makes their oppressors or their power structures comfortable and happy. Anger, towards oppressors, towards the shame and hatred leveled at us for simple existing while fat, towards the bullies who tear us apart and the expectation that we meet their violence with a smile and a nod, is an act of defiance. Expressing that anger is the first step for a fat person who starting to come to terms with their humanity and understanding that the injustices that the world is so happy to lay upon them are not the price of their weight but the result of living in a culture that condones bullying and assault as corrective measures.
We’re angry because we realize we have a right to be. Anger is liberating. Anger is better than the guilt we’re expected to feel for inflicting our fatness on the world by merely existing in it. Our anger is empowering, and we’re not going to set it aside just because it makes you uncomfortable.
Do you have to be downright hateful, condescending, and bitter about EVERYTHING? Seriously. You give every fatty (including myself) a bad name. You talk about breaking down unfair stereotypes, yet you perpetuate the “rule” that fat people are aggressive and bully-ish. And you’re just that, a bully. Every time someone asks a question on your blog, you call them names and treat them like degenerates of society because they aren’t kissing your ass.
That being sad, thisisthinprivilege started out as a pretty benevolent blog, in my opinion. But over the course of time, it seems as though if you’ve gotten meaner, artetolife. It feels like this blog is now your personal tool to lash out against everyone. I think you’ve lost the message of your own blog; it’s not about belittling “thin people” (or others who don’t understand a fat person’s life), it’s about sharing instances of discrimination in order to fight against it.
I just lost it after reading your hateful replies to yet another poster.
I got this in my inbox tonight, and don’t feel like crediting the contributor. It’s not really necessary, anyway.
There’s many ways I could respond to this. In my usual caustic no-bullshit manner — a ‘fucks’-laden post telling the person to stick it where the sun don’t shine, noting the obvious about tone policing marginalizing people (which has been addressed before and even several times tonight), note that me responding to a reblog or answering a question from someone coming into this space isn’t bullying, that bullying is the trollwaves that hit this blog weekly, not to mention the tumblogs and 4chan/reddit threads dedicated to trolling this blog and its followers…
…but I think I’ll actually come out and talk about my tone. Because you know what? This blog isn’t ‘losing its message.’ It’s just hitting its stride. And I think that fucking scares the shit out of privileged people who want nothing more than for marginalized people to play by their rules of decorum so they can retain a sense of control.
Privileged folks don’t want marginalized folks to speak up, and want least of all for them to get LOUD. Loud enough, y’know, to actually be heard over the din of weight loss messaging and healthistic proselytizing.
Fat folks aren’t supposed to be loud. We’re supposed to apologize for our bodies as often as possible and certainly whenever asked. We’re supposed to reassure the offended non-fat, self-loathing fat, generally hateful, and other fatphobic wonders that, yes, we are losing the weight, sir! That yes, we are terrible and personify all those bad qualities of self ascribed to us, including being (and these are all things I’ve read): lazy, smelly, stupid, food-‘users,’ emotionally broken, lacking in willpower, bad parents; good for nothing but fueling vehicles with fat carved off our bodies, or being turned into horsemeat; deserve to be sent to workcamps to be starved, to have our children taken away from us, to be charged extra for daring to ‘willfully’ exist while fat until we lose the weight; should be executed and purged from society…should I go on? Let’s stop for now.
People like me are supposed to live in a world where abuse of fat people is not only encouraged, it’s a popular national television show — and expected not to get loud about it. Don’t make waves. Watch your tone. Don’t get angry, you’re losing your message! Don’t you know you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Aren’t you worried about losing followers? Why are you so angry? Being an angry oppressed person is the same as being a hateful oppressor!
Fuck, don’t you get it? Tone policing is a tool of oppression. Setting and maintaining rules of decorum that the marginalized are expected to toe if the privileged are to deign to listen to them, even though we’re the ones getting bullied, trolled, and hated to death, is oppression. I do say ‘fuck’ a lot, and I do tell people who slime into my tiny corner of the internet to spew ignorant bullshit I’ve addressed a hundred times before to fuck off. Pretending that’s the same as nearly every article on the internet daring to mention weight being laden with comments about how fat people need to kill themselves or be killed already, is oppression.
If you come on here to tone police myself or the other mods, you are doing the work of the oppressors and I will not treat you with respect, but with the scorn you deserve.
If you come on here to ask willfully stupid ‘questions’ about why I should expect not to be oppressed because gosh, I’m fat, aren’t I? then I will not treat you with respect, but with the scorn you deserve.
If you come on here to thinsplain because your little privileged world is being challenged and, oh my, those things you thought made you superior are actually unearned and are part of a system that oppresses others, I will not treat you with respect, but with the scorn you deserve.
If you come on here to trying to water down the harsh reality of the oppression fat people face, and pretend that we are dying, suffering, watching our loved ones suffer, being financially disadvantaged, threatened, shamed, and treated as subhuman under a system of fat oppression, then I will not treat you with respect, but with the scorn you deserve.
But the Euro-American feminists, being part of the dominant culture, deal with Hispanic women - and other racial/ethnic women - differently from the way they deal with each other. They take for granted that feminism in the USA is THEIR garden, and therefore they will decide what manner of work racial/ethnic women will do there.
By the time I began to experience all this, I had learned much about the dynamics of oppression and prejudice and I could understand what was going on. However, what took me totally by surprise was the inability or unwillingness of the Euro-American feminists to acknowledge their prejudice.
Most feminists ‘believe that because they are feminists, they cannot be racists.’ Euro-American feminists, like all liberals, sooner or later, have come to the point at which they are willing to ‘acknowledge that racism exists, reluctantly of course, but nobody admits to being a racist.’
While whitewashing - pun intended - their personal sins of racism/ethnic prejudice in the restful waters of guilt, they continue to control access to power within the movement. Euro-American feminists need to understand that as long as they refuse to recognize that oppressive power-over is an intrinsic element of their racism/ethnic prejudice, they will continue to do violence to feminism.
If you are the type of person that feels like you have the right to shame another person. To participate in a violent act like the mental trauma shaming, discrimination and oppression causes. Your lack the moral fiber necessary for me to dignify you my time and makes me feel no connection to you.
It’s that simple.
There are numerous things that I need to address from your message since it is rather long but I first need to state that this blog is not a space where you should feel comfortable in your privilege. This is not a space where I am going to go easy or not challenge people to have a deeper understanding of their place in the world in relation to others. While I am happy that you enjoy my blog asking me to change the tone of it is not only an attempt to silence me but is your privilege speaking for you. Having privilege means that you are able to not even pay attention to the advantages you have from that privilege. It means that you can live in ignorance by not going into spaces that will challenge you, make you uncomfortable and make you feel bad.
Understanding privilege does not mean that you are a bad person or that you are worthless but by telling me that I am the one causing you to feel this way you are placing blame on me for how you manage your emotions. This shit isn’t rainbows and sunshine, oppression is hard. It is deadly and it changes people’s lives for the worse on a daily basis. People without privilege do not have the luxury of asking someone to stop oppressing them or to turn their computer off and ignore that they are being oppressed. It doesn’t work that way.
One of the main issues I am seeing is that you are confusing privilege with bad shit that happens. These are distinctly different and while all people have horrible things that happen to them the amount of privilege you have changes the basis for those problems in many cases. It also fuels numerous other problems that a person might face during their lifetime That doesn’t mean the issues you have are not important or do not matter but are different.
So to answer your question about taking things easy when discussing issues surrounding privilege and oppression, no I won’t. Asking me is an attempt to silence the words, lives and experiences of marginalized people. You are doing it from your place of privilege to even feel like you have the right to come into this space and ask me to change it.
Just some advice for addressing / acknowledging privilege though. You should be angry that you have more than other people. You should be angry that you get to ignore that you have privilege. You should be angry that someone else is harmed because you have privilege. Anger is far more productive than feeling hurt by people making you acknowledge the privilege you have. Anger will allow you to try and lift up more marginalized people. Anger will allow you to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I live by the belief that if talking about privilege makes someone feel comfortable you are doing it wrong. It should be uncomfortable.
(Made rebloggable by request)
To the anon who just messaged me about tone in calling out privilege.(via tough-titty)