Thursday, May 5, 2016

On bashing vs. awareness

There’s a popular post being circulated on social media which says, “You don’t need to bash skinny people to say that bigger people are beautiful. You don’t need to bash men to promote women’s rights. You don’t need to bash white people to promote racial equality. You don’t need to bash a certain genre of music to promote another. You don’t need to bash straight people to promote gay rights. You don’t need to bash anyone to promote your opinion.”

At face value, I agree with this statement. But the topic is a lot more complex than something that can be distilled down to a meme-ified soundbite.

Yes, it’s true that one doesn’t need to “bash” mainstream, privileged groups in order to empower marginalized ones. But at the same time, there are people from all those groups who will interpret any kind of empowerment campaign as a personal attack. There are white people who see pro-black statements as inherently anti-white. There are men who see feminist statements as inherently anti-male. The irony is that they are the ones conflating whiteness with racism and misogyny with maleness. Many of the more defensive members of the aforementioned groups will feel “bashed” when somebody points out that they don’t face many of the same problems as those who are more discriminated against, even though that statement in itself is not an attack. So they may think that any promotion of plus-sized people, women, non-white folks, and the LGBT community is “bashing” those who don’t belong to such categories, but their opinions should not dictate the way we express ourselves.

This isn’t to say “Bash all you want because somebody will be offended no matter what you say.” It’s obviously not wise, productive, or safe to vent about more advantaged groups in every single setting or social situation. Marginalized people are well aware of this. But I do think it can be helpful to have spaces where venting is allowed, which is not always the same as “bashing.” And even if bashing does occur, it doesn’t have the same widespread consequences as a privileged person bashing someone who is oppressed, because it’s not backed up by a long history of systemic discrimination.

“You don’t have to bash X to promote Y” could just as easily be expressed in the opposite form, with people saying, “Why can’t we have straight pride?? Pro-straight isn’t anti-gay!” But that is to completely ignore social context. That dismisses the fact that “straight pride” and its neighbors of “white pride”, “cis pride”, etc. have always been about being proud of not being gay, non-white, or transgender. Those types of pride are about reinforcing supremacy, not celebrating survival in the face of adversity.

Also, to promote women’s rights tends to mean criticizing misogyny and to promote racial minorities’ rights is to criticize racism. It doesn’t always necessitate the criticism of individuals, but those who embody that kind of bigotry will take it personally when it is called out.