The Injustice of Enforced Equivalence

I realized after I published my last post that I didn't flesh out a particular thought about the enforcing equivilance. Rather than edit the initial post, I'll just expand on that here.

The whole idea of enforcing equivalence without regard to the dynamics of social oppression is an inequity itself. Its an especially vile one as it tries to dress itself up in the attire of justice while setting out to enforce injustice. Fat people and thin people are not treated equally in our society. Same goes for POC and white people, women and men, queer and straight, trans and cis, etc. To insist that slights against both groups be seen as "the same thing" would be to ignore the essential truth of that unequal treatment. It would deny the oppression, deny the disenfranchisement, and lift up the privileged further still. "Equal time" is a myth constructed to give the privileged further advantage.

As a fat person, I can speak to my community about resisting and responding to resent of thin people. However, as a man, it is not my place to consider myself with "misandry" as if it were a valid thing to be upset about it. Women are welcome to advocate against resentment and hostility of men, but it would be manifestly unjust for me to do so as a man. Not because resentment is right, but because whatever extent such slights might exist pale in comparison to oppression of women. I have to take responsibility for my privilege as a man first and foremost. I have to respect that any resentment I experience as a man is a consequence of that oppression. It would be incomprehensible to blame feminists for such a consequence when the true culprit is my male privilege. If "misandry" exists, its hardly worth discussing in the face of misogyny and is itself a product of misogyny.

This extends to all forms of privilege. There has been "outrage" over a pro-trans slogan "Die Cis Scum", for instance. As a cis man, I have no right to judge that, to police the anger felt by a community under oppression. White people have proven especially adept at seeing themselves as the true victims of racism, denying all oppression and discrimination of persons of color while lamenting their suffering from "reverse racism". Well, guess what, white people? We don't have the right to scold POC for being upset about white supremacy. We just don't.

Accepting this as a person with privilege is not endorsing "hate." It is acknowledging privilege. It doesn't matter if I didn't ask for it. I still have it and I still have to respect the consequences of that. It is no surprise that the privileged want to write the rules for how the disenfranchised can respond to oppression. That's what the privileged do. They seek to enforce and perpetuate their privilege by restricting the opportunities of the oppressed. Well, we don't get to do that. Hating men or whites or cis people or het people or thin people is probably not productive or useful, but that doesn't mean its unreasonable. People with privilege need to recognize this distrust and resentment and they need respect it. People in those disenfranchised communities can certainly argue for a different path, but persons with privilege can't. We are owed NOTHING by oppressed communities. Least of all kindness and patience.

The inconveniences of the privileged mean very little

The Slacktivist spotlights two recent articles, Dianna E. Anderson on Hugo Schwyzer and Chauncey DeVega on white privilege, that hit upon a very important dynamic that we see throughout countless social justice struggles: where the abused are coerced to be the better people and forgive those who abuse them. As I read, I realized how familiar this felt within fat liberation and also quickly recalled similar dynamics playing out with queer communities, discussions of ableism, and many others. There is this constant demand that we must always trust those who have a long record of hurting us. That we must unequivocally endorse any declared change of heart and to do recall their abuses would be petty of us. It is an insidious dynamic that only reinforces and entrenches our disenfranchisement and the privilege of our oppressors.

It seems to me this extends to two other dynamics common in the politics of privilege. The issue with Hugo Schwyzer is an individual who claims to have changed, but such claims aren't even necessary for the disenfranchised to be pressured to settle down. "Good intentions" are enough to erase any culpability for heinous treatment of oppressed people. This is perhaps most vivid in the racism denial that comes with white privilege. To many privileged whites, racism can only exist with the explicit and stated intention to be racist. To regard something as racist without such an explicit intention is shamed as divisive and unfair, generally by people who fret far more about being being accused of being racists than actual oppression of POC.

Fat people face the same sort of restraints on calling out fat shaming and fat hatred. Since most fat shamers feel their stigmatization of our bodies is to our advantage, we shouldn't be mad at them. We are scolded and told that they aren't the real problem. They mean well, after all. Sure, there is a whole cliche about what good intentions are used to pave, but the disenfranchised often discover that time-worn wisdom isn't really meant for us.

This further resolves itself into "But what about teh [privileged group here]" protests. Those who fuss and preen about the evils of misandry, anti-white racism, threats to heterosexuality, or thin shaming directly try to pervert equality. By insisting on an equivalence of resentment towards the privileged and the disenfranchised, they merely promote that privilege and disenfranchisement. No, this doesn't mean that "misandry" or "thin shaming" is good, but by making them "equal", they are actually elevating them above misogyny or fat shaming or the like. The power dynamics mean the two can never truly be equal. Demanding they be regarded as such places a falsehood over reality and allies with the oppression that ensures these two things could never be equal. This is why I am so frustrated at those who endorse the idea that thin shaming is the same thing as fat shaming. Its just not, and pretending it is just further privileges thinness so that their slights must be elevated at the expense of those more oppressed. I find thin shaming to be profoundly unproductive and it ought to be discouraged and condemned within fat activism communities, but that shouldn't extend to honoring thin privilege.

All of these form a very consistent pattern of putting the needs of the privileged over the needs of the oppressed which is a horrifying thing to demand of the disenfranchised. Also, its a profoundly ordinary thing to demand. I mean, that's the oppression we are fighting in the first place. Just because the framing of justice as been appropriated to fight against justice doesn't mean we are obliged to care. Maybe there will be a day when my rights as a white, heterosexual man will actually be threatened, but that day is not today. Looking at struggles of disenfranchised communities to seek justice and seeing instead an urgency to fight for justice for the powerful is predictable, but in no way valid. The privileged merit no empathy for their "plight". Yes, oppression can hurt us, too. Yes, I didn't ask for my privilege, either. Yes, actual resentment can happen and probably isn't helpful. It just doesn't really matter, either. And it never matters less than the context it is always brought up, to scold and silence calls for justice by the oppressed.

See Also:
A Spectrum of Privilege, February 2011