If it isn’t readily apparent, we write a whole lot about oppression, sexism, and discrimination here at DDP. That talking involves a lot of reading, a lot of introspection and a fair amount of arguing.
The more you read and argue, the more likely you’ll find something you struggle to reconcile. For me, it’s the following line of thinking:
It is not my job to be your personal sexism, racism, homophobia, or oppression tutor.
The idea behind this is that it’s not the responsibility of an oppressed person to explain why a behavior, comment, idea, or action is offensive. If people are curious about social justice issues, then they should do their own research before asking questions. Lindy West spoke vehemently about this, and we’ve had our own discussions about this on and off the blog. To be honest, I mostly agree. Including your one black/gay/trans friend or acquaintance in a conversation doesn’t make your offensive statements less offensive. Tokenism is always crappy, even (and especially!) if it’s for educational purposes.
Here’s the thing though:
1. While the internet is a wonderful resource, there’s a lot of bullshit out there. Seriously, this is why people believe in blue waffles(DON’T google it). And that Obama is a terrorist. And that Planned Parenthood opened an $8 billion Abortionplex. When people don’t know where to get credible information, there’s a risk that they’re going to come up with a lot of nonsense, and spout it as fact. This can be extremely damaging, causing harmful biases and misconceptions to spread.
2. Having a conversation offers a much more accessible entry point into understanding the lived realities of a group or individual. I’ve had some really amazing people in my life call me out on my bullshit and make me unpack biases I didn’t even know I had. In my work as a community health educator, I’ve seen how giving people a nonjudgemental space in which to ask questions about sexuality can be extremely powerful. In my personal life, I try to keep myself open to sincere questions about sexuality and my own orientation out of mission — I believe in visibility and challenging preconceptions wherever possible about sexuality. Most importantly, I think education and dialogue are essential tools to create positive change.
On the other hand, as Dominique so brilliantly argued, when one person’s willingness to educate the masses gets misinterpreted as a carte blanche to ask invasive, offensive questions to everyone else, this approach needs to be reconsidered.
Ultimately, it boils down to consent and an understanding of boundaries. Even the most committed, outspoken activist has times when they’re just not in the mood to answer your questions. As Sebastian of XX Boy smartly wrote about trans etiquette:
Ask permission to ask questions. Even if you think you know they are comfortable answering, they may actually not be or maybe not in that setting, and it is just rude and pretty off-putting to not ask. Say, ‘Hey do you mind if I ask you some things about your transition? I’ve been a little curious – feel free to not answer or say no.’
If someone says no to questions or flags something you say as offensive, that needs to be respected — no explanations needed. If someone DOES take the time to share their thoughts with you, that is not the time to have an abstract philosophical debate or quote statistics that contradict their lived experiences. They are a human being, not your sociology term paper. I firmly believe in education, and I know educators (both professional and informal peer educators) have the capacity to make a huge impact in their communities. More people should contribute their voices and their experiences to the issues they’re passionate about. However, I want them to do it on their own terms. Never because another person decided for them.