8.31.2011

Bigotry doesn't always announce itself

"I never said I hated fat people!"

A few weeks back I saw someone pull out this line in an argument. Variations of this remark come up a lot among people defending bigoted remarks of many stripes, and fat people certain see a good amount of this. In this case, someone had written an article suggesting fat people are unfit to serve in political office. (the original article seems to be down as a result of a site update, so no link) Calling for discrimination seems to be pretty clearly a case of bigotry to me, but not to many. After all, they never said they hated fat people.

Bigotry doesn't always announce itself. Indeed, it rarely does. Lots of bigots out there like to flatter themselves with justifications and explanations for why their calls for discrimination, stigmatization, and disempowerment aren't actually bigotry. Its an example of the entitlement that comes with privilege. They feel entitled to not have their hate labeled as such. Doing so would terribly rude and hostile. Far more rude and hostile than suggesting a class of people be barred from public office. So long as they don't label what they do and say as hate, no one else can.

Well, that's bullshit, isn't it? We can't count on hate to be self-labeled. Sure, a lot of people DO feel free to hate fat people because we live in a culture which privileges such hate. That a few do so openly, though, is a reflection of the far greater number that so less overtly. They fully believe themselves when they decry the awful treatment of themselves when called out on their privilege, too. They believe every one of their justifications for their hate. There is no "deep down" where they know they are hateful. Deep down, the just know they are right and will angrily defend their righteousness.

Fat hate has an especially potent system for denial, too. Its not hate or bigotry. Oh, no. They actually just act out of concern for fat people. This doesn't make fat the last acceptable thing to hate, of course. Indeed, this dynamic plays out precisely with hatred for women, African-Americans, gays, and so many others. There is always a culturally acceptable coat of paint slapped on the hatred so everyone can pretend its something else. You see this in the white racists so concerned about how the end of slavery has destroyed black families. You see this in the homophobes so concerned about the supposed mental instability of gays and lesbians. You see it in the misogynists who are so concerned about protecting women by infantalizing them and lionizing them as their noble protectors.

For us fatties, its always concern for health. Fat people must be barred from politics because they are so gosh darn unhealthy. We'll just go dying in the middle of our terms, leaving chaos in our wake. Sure, we keep electing 80 year old white men to office. Sure, we elect persons who have recovered from cancer. But fat people are just going to die any day now! I mean, there isn't actually anything to justify the perpetual death threat our culture puts fat people in, but why let relevance keep people from dredging up health. Dan Savage brought health in to justify his disgust with "girl love handles". No, it wasn't some arbitrary system of aesthetics that Savage was elevating to a beauty mandate. Its not that he finds it ugly (though, he totally does), its that he finds it so gosh darn unhealthy. I'm sure health concerns were paramount in the minds of those who decided to pick on a 19-year old recovering bulimic for looking slightly heavier since getting treatment for her eating disorder.

Limiting activists to calling out that has announced itself is a way of privileging the status quo and skewing the debate in its favor. Its all about making sure the culturally dominant hatreds end up looking like the moderate stance. They want to position those calling for empowerment as an extreme opposing the actual extreme of people expressing crass, direct hate. Then the status quo gets to act all above the fray for its sainted reasonableness by not hating too obviously. Compromise!

We must call out all hate. Not just the hate that makes itself plain. The hate that tries to blend into the background noise of our culture is far more insidious and far more of a threat. We will not wait for hate to make itself known before we speak out. We will seek it out and expose it.

1 comment:

biglibertyblog.com said...

Great post, especially your closing comment -- the most insidious kind of hate is of the 'confirmation bias' variety. The kind of hate that 'everyone knows' is justified because 'everyone knows' that Group X is just Bad Characteristic Y due to Bad Behavior Z.

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