Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The problem with telling privileged people to shut up and listen to marginalized people

Whether or not you completely buy into the leftist framing and wording of this blog post, it effectively makes the case that trying to enforce a rule for privileged people of, “Shut up and listen to marginalized people,” cannot possibly work and actually prevents marginalized people from being listened to. (That quote is the blogger's paraphrase of something that's rarely said in those exact words — but is often said more euphemistically.)


The formal social justice rules say something like this:

• You should listen to marginalized people.
• When a marginalized person calls you out, don’t argue.
• Believe them, apologize, and don’t do it again.
• When you see others doing what you were called out for doing, call them out.

Those rules . . . don’t actually work. It is impossible to follow them literally, in part because:

• Marginalized people are not a monolith.
• Marginalized people have the same range of opinions as privileged people.
• When two marginalized people tell you logically incompatible things, it is impossible to act on both sets of instructions.
• For instance, some women believe that abortion is a human right foundational human right for women. Some women believe that abortion is murder and an attack on women and girls.
• “Listen to women” doesn’t tell you who to believe, what policy to support, or how to talk about abortion.
• For instance, some women believe that religious rules about clothing liberate women from sexual objectification, other women believe that religious rules about clothing sexually objectify women. . . .
• Narrowing it to “listen to women of minority faiths” doesn’t help, because women disagree about this within every faith.
• When “listen to marginalized people” means “adopt a particular position”, marginalized people are treated as rhetorical props rather than real people.
• Objectifying marginalized people does not create justice.

Since the rule is literally impossible to follow, no one is actually succeeding at following it. What usually ends up happening when people try is that:

• One opinion gets lifted up as “the position of marginalized people”
• Agreeing with that opinion is called “listen[ing] to marginalized people”
• Disagreeing with that opinion is called “talking over marginalized people”
• Marginalized people who disagree with that opinion are called out by privileged people for “talking over marginalized people”.
• This results in a lot of fights over who is the true voice of the marginalized people.
• We need an approach that is more conducive to real listening and learning. . . .

The rule also lacks intersectionality:

• No one experiences every form of oppression or every form of privilege.
• Call-outs often involve people who are marginalized in different ways. . . .
• For instance, black men have male privilege and white women have white privilege.
• If a white woman calls a black man out for sexism and he responds by calling her out for racism (or vice versa), “listened to marginalized people” isn’t a very helpful rule because they’re both marginalized.
• These conversations tend to degenerate into an argument about which form of marginalization is most significant.
• This prevents people involved from actually listening to each other.
• In conflicts like this, it’s often the case that both sides have a legitimate point. (In ways that are often not immediately obvious.)
• We need to be able to work through these conflicts without expecting simplistic rules to resolve them in advance.