I'd also like to note that there's a new tag on my blog now, "Social Justice," which I'll be using for posts like this as well as ones that delve into my own marginalized identities (i.e. female/disabled/mentally ill). I figure it'd be good to make those more immediately accessible to readers.
Anyway, on to the actual post!
See, as I've learned more about the world and about the diverse experience of people, primarily through the help of Twitter, I've seen a lot more of how people mistreat each other. On my own, I've known plenty of cruelty, too, but with just my limited experience, I couldn't know how it works on a larger scale. Seeing it there, though, hearing how all kinds of people who are parts of marginalized groups are treated, I've noticed how so much of the narrative that causes cruelty and marginalization is one of silence.
People who live in groups that aren't considered the "norm" or "ideal," people of color, women, disabled/mentally ill, etc., tend to have their stories shut down or pushed aside. That's the whole idea of marginalization. That, even if society isn't saying these groups are "bad" anymore (which sometimes, of course, it still does), it is saying that they don't matter much. There's this normative concept that America, at least, works off of: the heternormative white normally abled male experience (i.e. ultimate privilege). If someone or something doesn't fit into that experience, society tends to shut them down.
In any case, people tend to think that these acts of prejudice originate from fear--and yes, largely, that's true. We're scared of what we don't know, we're scared of things being different from how we're used to them being, and, in regards of microaggressions, we're scared of being thought of as racist or otherwise prejudiced. Honestly, people fear society thinking we're racist/sexist/ableist more than we fear actually being those things.
But what I've seen most of all in these cases is pride. Ultimately, when the privileged negate or ignore the experiences of the underprivileged, what they're saying is that they don't believe (or want to face) that there's something that exists beyond what they know. And this is an extremely prideful point of view. (The underprivileged don't have as much of a problem with this, I should note, because society forces them to face the realities of the privileged experience, to fit themselves into it as much as possible, in order to find success. The privileged experience is also the one that's usually portrayed in media and is not commonly shut down by others. Now, almost everyone is privileged in some way, so those who are underprivileged in one way are often prejudiced towards people who are underprivileged in other ways. What I'm saying, though, is that people with an underprivileged experience are far more likely to understand/face up to the privileged experience as well, as opposed to the privileged who generally only understand their own.)
Not only is this problem of us thinking others can't possibly know more than us prideful, but it's really stupid. The fact is, really, truly, honestly? We know nothing. Any of us. All of us. We are excruciatingly ignorant beings living in a gigantic infinite universe. Even as a whole human race, there is no way for us to understand everything, ever. As far as science comes, there will always, always be more that we just don't know. No matter how far we get, there's always further to go. Similarly, there are infinite human experiences to be had just on this planet in this one life. There is no physically or emotionally possible way for a single human being to live all that is. There's not enough time or energy or ability. As such, in this life, there is no such thing as perfect empathy or understanding or knowledge.
I will never (at least in this life) know what it is to be black or Hispanic or autistic or raised in poverty or any thousand million other things. That's a fact. I'm very privileged in all of those ways. Likewise, many of you will never know what it is to be fibromyalgic or have OCD or even be female. But you can gain empathy, you can begin to understand my experience, by listening to me talk about it and by believing me. The same applies to everyone else with their experiences. Yes, liars exist in the world, plenty of them. Perfect trust is a terrible idea in this imperfect world. But when someone is talking about an experience they have that you don't, why would you shut them down without even giving it a chance? Listen to multiple people with the experience, sure, do your research, but stop shutting marginalized stories down. Stop distrusting and ignoring those who have information you don't. Yes, there are things you do know and can know, but there are far more that you don't. There are an infinite number of things that you don't even know you don't know.
And how else are you supposed to learn? Honestly, if you know another way, tell me, because I don't. You wouldn't want someone who had never been trained as a doctor saying that they know all about medical science. You wouldn't consider yourself an expert on theoretical physics if you'd not done plenty of (i.e. lifelong) education and research into it, and even as an "expert," you would still want to be aware of how much more there is out there to know. Otherwise, what would the point be? So why would anyone who isn't black say that they know better than a black person what the black experience is? It's prideful, it's stupid, it's naive. All of us need to accept our lack of knowledge and expertise, and turn to those who do know instead so that we can understand.
Besides facing up to our pride, we also need to stop being so afraid, it's true. That fear is tied up with our pride very deeply. We're afraid to admit our lack of knowledge. Afraid to show our weakness. Afraid of being seen as racist/sexist/ableist. But guess what? Just about everyone is going to be those things at some point, often accidentally. Even those with underprivileged experience will have prejudice against, as well as others, their own people at times because that's what society's taught them. I still constantly catch myself saying sexist things. The fact of our own limited experience, our lack of knowledge, makes us all prejudiced. We need to accept that--but that doesn't meant it's okay to continue in our ignorance.
There's the kind of ignorance that happens when you just don't know, and that's okay, mistakes happen. But then there's intentional ignorance. And that's the ignorance that comes when you ignore people correcting your unintentional mistakes, when you ignore their experiences, when, in whatever field you're in, you ignore the problems of privilege that exist therein. "Ignoring," by the way, includes trying to talk yourself out of believing others. Just because you've been prejudiced on accident doesn't mean you have a right to not be called out on it, you see? It's important for education to continue, for those who are underprivileged to be able to stand up for themselves against all kinds of ignorance. So don't get prideful or fearful about it. Admit it. Say, "Yes, I understand that that was sexist/racist/etc. I didn't know any better before, it's not an experience I've had, but I'm listening to you. I'm asking questions with the intent to learn. I don't want to remain ignorant."
That's all you have to do to keep yourself on the line of "sometimes does or says prejudiced things just like anyone else" instead of on the side of "actually a racist." And yeah, that's hard. It's hard to admit you're wrong, that you don't know things, that you've messed up. But it's true of everyone, so chill out, all right? Do what it takes to make progress and learn. I strongly believe, with all of my heart, that that's what we're here for. To become educated, to grow as individuals, and to gain empathy for others.
And if you do just want to remain ignorant? If you don't want to gain more knowledge, more empathy, or improve yourself? All I have to say is brah. What even.
Images via hargaden.com and thingssheloves on Tumblr.