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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A note on Silencing

Now, certain people in the big wide world that is livejournal have protested mightily about silencing.

Silencing is a problem. Silencing is a major power in this world. Silencing is the cause of many injustices. Silencing ensures that the privileged and powerful never get countered. It ensures that the privileged message, the status quo, is not challenged or overturned. It ensures that those speaking up against injustice are dismissed and demeaned. They are loud or noisy or angry or unfair or selfish whiners or impatient or unrealistic or playing a card or enjoying playing the victim or trying to claim an unfair advantage or any number of the billions of other silencing techniques we know and loathe.

But ultimately, it allows the dominant message to stand, the privileged viewpoint to stand, while the marginalised who are hurt by it swallow their pain and stay silent.

We live in a world where, sadly, prejudices and isms are pervasive elements of society. Our society is sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and many other ists that I am sure I can’t even begin to comprehend from my place of privilege, let alone adequately surmise. This is simple reality. Our world elevates some bodies and marginalises others. Our world, our culture, our media, our politics attack, demean and marginalised some people every single day. They are disadvantages, they are neglected, they are rendered invisible, they are stereotyped, they are attacked and they are demeaned every day.

This is silencing. This is the legacy of silencing. This is the power of silencing, the context of it, the pain of it.

Nearly all of us have some kind of privilege. Yes, we do. Unless you are Dora the black, jewish, trans, poor, immigrant, disabled, elderly, lower class lesbian, then you have privilege. And I imagine Dora has privilege as well, since there’s no way I am aware of every marginalisation in the world.

And when you have privilege, you have a high chance of messing up. Privilege comes with ignorance, it is part of the nature of being privileged. And there is a good chance you will hurt someone or contribute to a situation that does hurt the marginalised.

Which is why I think we have a duty.

We have a duty to make sure our privileges hurt others as little as possible.

We have a duty to educate ourselves so that we can avoid ignorant, foolish actions and words that hurt people.

We have a duty to listen to marginalised people when we do hurt them, to apologise and make that hurt right insofar as we are able, and to learn from what they say. Their words are a gift – they do not owe you an education, they do not owe you an explanation. If you have just said a lot of privileged, painful crap, they don’t owe you anything except a slap upside the head.

When you, in privilege, in ignorance, in cluelessness, in foolishness and, frankly, out of out and out prejudice, say or do something that hurts or harms marginalised people and they protest, you are not being silenced.

When you hurt them and they turn and express their anger at that pain, they are not silencing you.

When you fear you can’t write a story that is racist because people of colour will protest angrily at the racism, you are not being silenced.

If you think that people who write racist items are shamed by protests and criticism, then that is also not silencing.

You cannot stand on someone’s foot then yell “stop silencing me!” when they demand you move.

There is certainly silencing happening there – but it’s not from the marginalised. The marginalised rarely have the power, the societal position, the privilege to silence anyone – certainly not when it is their marginalisation that is the focus.

To call marginalised people protesting against “isms” silencing shows a gross ignorance of context. Could they be nicer about it? Are they being mean and harsh? Are they dog piling? Probably because they have had this conversation before and are sick of it. Probably because you have HURT THEM Probably because you have hurt them in a way that has hurt them over and over again, countless times before. Probably because they’re sore and wounded and hurting already and you’ve come by to add yet more pain to the load. Probably because this whole society hurts them and demands they shut up and smile about it.

We live in a world that constantly tells marginalised people to shut up, in a world that constantly causes pain AND demands silence from those who are hurt. When you cause pain then complain about the protests from the marginalised, then YOU are not the one being silenced.

Let us be clear here. When you are promoting, espousing or furthering the privileged viewpoint of racism (or any other ism for that matter), a viewpoint and context that is already howled from the rooftops at deafening decibels, I might add, then you are NOT being silenced when you are criticised. Your message is the dominant one, all the power in the world seems unable to silence it, more’s the pity.

And to further note – yes there are many books and media that have moved society forwards by challenging societal and media norms. They have been transgressive, they have been heavily criticised by those seeking to support the status quo, they have cause apoplexy in the powers that be that protest in fury about challenges to the social order.

Racism – or any prejudice for that matter – is not transgressive. That is the world we live in, now. Supporting a marginalisation is not transgressive, it’s not pushing society forwards, it’s not introducing ground breaking concepts. It’s supporting the same dark stains that already blight our society, it’s not moving forward, it’s decidedly standing STILL – or moving backwards. Do not insult these books that tried to push society forwards by presuming to compare them with retrograde, racist tales.