Instead of being offended, one should put in the work to make it so these statements no longer ring true.
I was on Twitter during the early morning hours the other day (as I always am, of course), and esteemed best-selling author Roxane Gay quote-replied to a tweet by Will Saletan (see both below).
One woman in the replies section said it was possible to teach men what consent was, saying that she raised a young man who respects women and knows what consent means. Under her tweet (of course), another person replied that it didn’t matter to some (read: feminists) because he would get lumped into the “all men are evil” category whether he is a good man or not. I found this person reply funny, because this seems to be a real concern for men, being lumped into the category of #MenAreTrash. They become defensive and start screeching “#NOTALLMEN” one every post they can find. Because I had the time that night and this person’s snarky response bothered me, I replied, saying: “And I’m sure he won’t be offended since he knows he’s not evil and he’ll work to create a society where women no longer feel like this.” I of course added the passive-aggressive smiley face for my own personal touch.
Part of me didn’t expect anyone to respond to my reply, considering it was well around eleven o’clock at night when I was tweeting, but of course some dude did. They responded in a surprisingly new way, however, by posing a hypothetical question that forced me to talk about my personal experience. They asked: “If that how it works? Are YOU blasé when someone assumes bad things about you because of your (unchosen) membership in a particular group?” The short answer: no, I’m not. The long answer: well, I’m about to get into that right now.
The thing about blanket or general statements about oppressive groups is that the people saying them know that it’s not every single person within that group. They know that there are allies who work tirelessly to protect their rights and humanity.
But blanket statements about historically oppressive groups (men, straight people, white people, etc.) are very much necessary.
If my “group” has a history of doing harmful things to others and society supports these harmful behaviors, then I must do some soul-searching, realize this, and work to fix it. The example I used in the series of tweet replies I sent to him was straight people. As a straight person, I realize that straight people have a history of oppressing non-straight people. History supports this and even current times supports this. Because I realize this hate-filled history, I’m not offended when people make blanket statements, mostly because I realize that it is usually coming from both a place supported by historical fact but also from a place of intense emotion. Instead of pitching a fit and screeching “NOT ALL STRAIGHT PEOPLE,” I try to be an ally who counters the harmful behavior. If you’re truly an ally, a blanket statement about the oppressive group you are part of should not offend you; it should motivate you to work to create a space where the oppressed no longer feel like that statement is true.
As someone working towards being an ally, you should also not be motivated by whether or not a few members of an oppressed or marginalized group of people is nice to you. You should be motivated by the fact that you truly believe that their humanity and rights should be protected. Marginalized people have every right to not trust those who benefit from the oppressive society, and that’s also another thing those who sit in oppressive groups must realize. As someone trying to be an ally, how can you truly expect to just be trusted without first showing that you are indeed an ally? You must put in the work. When you’re a member of the oppressive group, you are used to automatically be trusted and taken at face value. That is a privilege that society has afforded you. When you’re a member of the oppressed group, however, you soon realize that trusting or opening up to those of oppressive groups can get you anywhere from the debasement of your humanity to being killed. Allies must realize and reconcile with this. Then, they must move forward.
Plus, and this is probably the most important part, when you start saying “some [insert oppressive group]…” you allow people who are complicit to excuse themselves. General statements hold everyone within the oppressive group accountable. Those who are doing the work to counter realize this and keep it moving. If you know that you are not actively contributing to oppressive culture (or even if you may be doing this and you’re working on rectifying that), then these statements shouldn’t bother you. Like I said before, when oppressed people make blanket statements like “men are…,” “straight people…,” or “white people are..,” they fully recognize that it is of course not every single individual person within that group. But it was enough to make them feel like their statement is true. They’ve had enough experiences that backup their statement. And when your first response is to make the situation about you because your feelings are hurt or you get defensive, you need to do some soul searching. You need to take a step back and realize that you are trying to center the issue around your feelings and not their humanity. Harmful societal attitudes that get people assaulted and killed and have their rights denied or taken away will always be more important than individual feelings.
I used to bristle when people made general statements about straight and/or cisgender people. It can be hard, especially when you feel as if you’re not actively contributing to a harmful society. You wanna raise your hand and say “not me, not me, I don’t do that!” But the thing is, it’s not about the people in oppressive groups. It took me analyzing why black people make similar statements about white people to truly get it and to truly realize that I have an identity that allows me to be part of both an oppressive group and an oppressed group at the same time. Maybe that’s why, once explained to me, I was willing to realize that, in some instances, I have to combat my privilege.
Lemme know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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