I feel a need right now to discuss privilege. It is a complex issue, and I have a lot to say about it, so this may end up being more than one post. This is me attempting to rationally approach something that from time to time ambushes my life and hijacks my attention and emotional energy. It is my attempt to articulate what I am unable to say when I am angry.
When it comes to friendships, some things are deal-breakers. For me, it’s bigotry. Can’t stop trash talking homosexuals? No soup for you. Hate and mock transgendered people? No soup for you. Sexist? Ha ha a sandwich joke…no freaking soup for you.
That’s not a definitive list either. The kind of person who treats someone disrespectfully because of a disability or illness (mental or physical) or is great in every other way except for a rabid hatred of Ukrainians…I consider these serious character flaws, and when I discover them, I definitely reconsider whether I can continue to be friends with someone like that.
It’s not as clear cut as it sounds though. Sometimes you can know someone for a while before you see this side of them. Or you believe that because they are admirable and intelligent in so many other ways, they must be saying those things sarcastically, mocking the stereotypes rather than perpetuating them. You have to decide whether or not you can handle talking to your friend about what they did or said or apparently believe. This can be particularly hard to do that when you are part of the group in question. The added sense of betrayal can make it feel even worse than if a random stranger walked up to you and said or did something similar.
Because contrary to popular bigot belief, most ‘minorities’ (how I hate the term, but trotting out a series of descriptors so that I can be inclusive invariably leaves me winded) don’t ‘pull the race/gender/whatever’ card out at the drop of a hat. Nope. Sorry. There is so much actual crap hurled our way constantly, that if we called out ever instance of it, we’d get nothing else done. And making up extra heaps of it? No time folks, busy living over here. For reals.
People who aren’t targets of bigotry don’t really grasp this. I am a fair skinned Métis. I do not get targeted for my skin colour the way darker skinned people (native and non) do. I don’t get pulled over for Driving While Indian, and when both my daughters cracked their heads open in the kitchen one day apart from one another, no one at the hospital accused me of child abuse as a default. That is my fair-skinned privilege, and a lot of people don’t have it.
Thus it would be very easy for me to minimise the frequency of discrimination based on skin colour, if I were to compare other’s experiences to my own. And to some extent, I am certain I do this. It is not always there in my mind as a gnawing worry when I go out into the world. My preparations are based on other characteristics I have which to some, render me less capable, less worthy of respect…less. Always less. Yet my experiences do not mean other people’s experiences are ‘exaggerations’.
When we do call someone on their bigotry, the proverbial shitstorm is unleashed. Is there anything more offensive to a person’s sense of who they are than being called a bigot? I mean this seriously. Think about it. We all of us have ways of rationalising our behaviours, good or bad. Bigotry isn’t a socially-accepted character trait. Oh, the practice of bigotry is all around us regardless, but being labelled a bigot is a big social no-no. It often doesn’t matter if what you really said was, “that thing you just did or said was discriminatory in this way…”, because what the person is often hearing is “YOU BIG JERKY BIGOT CREEPFACE!”
So it’s not a situation where ‘the card’ gets pulled too often. Most of us don’t call people on their bigotry enough because we don’t want to deal with the long drawn out fallout.
Because when you call someone on their bigotry, in action or thought, suddenly it is your job to:
- prove that the action or thought was actually bigoted which requires you to:
- explain how it was bigoted, which requires you to:
- go into a long historical exploration of socio-political structures which requires you to:
- take a long freaking time deconstructing shit for someone else.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a number of friends who don’t make you do this. Who don’t go on the defensive, and who will think about it and figure out for themselves what wasn’t okay about that thing they said or did. And if they still aren’t 100% sure about it, they’ll ask in a way that doesn’t demand you discuss it western-style debate form, bang bang someone’s a winner and someone’s a loser. Oh Great Freaking Frybread of Awesome, I love you people for this.
The bulk of my experiences with identifying bigotry is much less pleasant. In fact, it’s exhausting. I didn’t sign up to be a professor in Decolonisation 101, here to give lessons in under 10 minutes at the drop of the hat, while being aggressively ‘debated’ and yes, even sometimes called a racist for bringing it up.
Now I’m going to flesh this out more in another post, because otherwise this is going to turn into a novel, but I want to end this post with a bit of a suggestion. If someone tells you that what you did was disrespectful, please don’t immediately get your back up. Yes yes, you have the right to be disrespectful if that’s really what you want to do and go you, exercising your freedom and all that…just state for the record you don’t give a shit about how other people feel and move on if that’s your thing.
For those of us who aren’t so silly, it can be jarring to have someone call you out on your behaviour, because it’s embarassing. We don’t generally go around trying to be jerks, and when it happens and we honestly didn’t intend it, having it pointed out may trigger your fight or flight response. But if I can get over the ‘shame’ of being lectured by an 8 year old about letting the nasty term ‘retard’ slip, you can get over your ego enough too. None of us are perfect, and we can all work at being better people, every day.
Good post. (As with everything I’ve read here so far.)
Great Freaking Frybread of Awesome
Can I use that?
The Great Frybread is for all peoples.
Because you write with impact and because you discuss important issues, I am compelled to read your work as soon as I get the email notification…..!!
I Love Love Love this blog… These are words that state what my White colonial inside voice is often trying to figure out …The reality check and translation is Very Much Appreciated!
You ROCK! A bunch of people got into a very long discussion on Facebook the other day about our MP’s recent “train the sheeple” mass flyer which wanted us to applaud the idea of “forc[ing] Indian chiefs to be accountable”, and my partner, for one, got forced into that very list you describe above — and it was indeed was very frustrating and exhausting for him even though there were only one or two people who persisted with the Us(Smart Hardworking Virtuous Correct People)/Them(Dumb Wasteful Lazy Savages) framework. The discussion seemed to have helped everybody, though, so I applaud those who had the patience to stick with it, especially the one or two on “the other side”. (There is no “other side”, folks; it’s not a hockey game.)
Your last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. You are so needed. If you were food, I’d be cutting you up into little tiny pieces and making sure everybody got a piece of you. 🙂
Cutting me up into little pieces…definitely creepy!
If you were FOOD, I said! 🙂 We definitely need you in one piece!!
I’d be frybread I tell ya…
If you wrote a book I would buy it for all my friends
also, with respect to the term “minority”, demographically, by 2030 most major cities in Canada (and likely Canada as a whole) will have noticeably more non-white people than people of anglo-saxon descent, making Caucasian a “visible minority” by definition. Thus making most uses of the term “minority” inaccurate.
Not to mention that women often get tossed into the ‘minority’ pile too. The term bugs me for a lot of reasons, hence the scare quotes:)
Another excellent post, I have to say.
What I find interesting, as a non-Aboriginal person, is when I call someone out on bigotry, they are often dumbfounded. I guess they figure if it’s not in your direct self interest, why would you even bother worrying about it.
But challenging people’s worldview is hard. When I went to school, we often used words out of context to demean others. For instance, “retard” was a word teenagers would use to refer to someone who was being a goof. Looking back it’s easy to see what it really meant, and how inappropriate it was.
I had the bad luck to encounter some 9 yr olds using this same phrase the other day. Once I explained what it meant, most of them seemed upset. But one was resistant, and said one of their parents used it all the time. I think the one understood it was wrong to use it, and I didn’t hear it again — but what is the parent thinking, knowing that children often repeat what they hear at home?
The bright side is that at least a few of these kids hadn’t ever heard the term before that day. Let’s hope in the next generation it’s only addressed in high school history books.
Fifty years ago, John Howard Griffin dyed his skin black and went down south. His book about the experience, Black Like Me, is now a classic.
This is the thing. If people could be a “retard for a day” or a “[insert derogatory racial epithet] for a day” and experience what so many live with 24/7, the dread of even confronting a new day, of going outside, of approaching a job interview, a strange salesperson or, God forbid, the new cop on the beat, then maybe some of them would see the light. Discrimination is a cardinal sin against our fellow human beings and if we could only feel, even for a moment, the weight of despair carried on the shoulders of its victims, it would be a revelation.
Griffin felt it. Would there were some magic wand we could wave at these bigots to griffinize the lot of them.
excellent post Comment on Frybread for some reason whenever I hear about Frybread (I’ve never eat it, where can I get some, I ‘m just down the highway from your home ground :)) I think the flavor has the same tantilising (sp?) smell/flavour of true french vanilla scented candles, I want to eat the smell but can never quite grasp the ‘flavour’ and am left with this great longing.. If that makes any sense what so ever! One of my most satisfying flavours/textures in my multicultural family is Roti and chicken curry, it satisfies all those senses true french vanilla scented candles never can 🙂 I really really really hope Frybread lives up to the hype when I finally try it!
The one thing I really appreciate blogs and social media sites for is having my prejudices, and bigotry highlighted. Too often I really really am unaware that I have prejudices and am guilty of bigotry. rooted in ignorance, carelessness,
Thanks for your blog, which is such a steady, smart, and often funny modern perspective.
Your voice is strong, particularly on Native rights issues. Please consider taking a few moments to look at our story – for many people, for these four men right now, very violent active persecution continues.