There are few things on the internet that I find more tiresome than privileged people “taking down” a movement for marginalized people because they haven’t been given enough deference.
We see it all the time. Black Lives Matter is bad because it doesn’t cater to white people’s fragility. Feminism is bad because it doesn’t centre men and give them cookies for being non-awful human beings. Queer liberation movements are mean because they don’t praise straight people for not being homophobes. And on and on ad infinitum. If these movements would just be nicer they would have allies galore!
Because, of course, your commitment to justice is predicated on how nicely you’re asked and whether your bullshit is called out or not.
Today’s example (and yesterday’s, and last Tuesday’s and the Thursday before it) is thin people getting super mad about some version of body positivity/fat acceptance/health at every size. Not just thin people, thin fitness professionals. People who a) have genetics on their side in a major way, b) are able-bodied, c) are literally paid to be thin, d) often seem offended by people who don’t similarly strive to be thin (or have accepted they will never be thin). I’m not going to link to today’s post, or last Tuesday’s, or the Thursday before that, because I really think that these types of posts are a) harmful, and b) clickbait.
I also think that the specifics don’t matter, because the pattern is the same when it comes to privileged people freaking out that they aren’t being centred and hailed for being not-totally-awful to a marginalized group. It goes something like this:
- Person (lets call them Sam) thinks of themself as a “good/progressive/liberal/feminist/etc person” because they aren’t conspicuously and loudly bigoted.
- Sam joins communities or groups made up of and dedicated to a marginalized group that Sam doesn’t belong to.
- Sam is shocked that the marginalized group doesn’t talk about their oppressors in the most glowing terms.
- Sam gets uncomfortable.
- Sam tries to point out that they are not like all those other people who share their same privileges (#notallsams)–they’re an ally!
- Group members point out that Sam is, for some reason, making their oppression about how nice a person Sam is.
- Sam freaks out and threatens to take away their allyship if group members aren’t nicer to them.
- Sam writes a public article about how mean group members are about (not even to! about!) their oppressors.
- Similarly aggrieved people with privilege hail Sam for “saying what no one else will say” (THIS FEELS FAMILIAR, COUGH COUGH CHEETO IN CHIEF COUGH COUGH).
- The cycle repeats with a new Sam.
Here’s the thing. Context matters. And the context is that people with systemic power cannot be oppressed by those who are systemically marginalized along that axis. Can marginalized people be mean? Sure, anyone can be an asshole. But even that is not what we’re talking about. The issue, rather, is that people with privilege take that privilege for granted. I take the way that the world caters to and privileges my whiteness for granted. I take the safety and access of being cisgender for granted. And so on and so forth. And so going into a space where those things aren’t praised, normalized, and centred, can be shocking. It can be painful. It can feel like my very identity is being threatened. But that is how power works.
Power works by being invisible. By being reinforced at every turn. By being unspeakable. We cannot strip something of power if we cannot even name it. If we can’t identify it and how it works. If we cannot point to it in action.
And so power engenders fragility. Because naming whiteness (aka white privilege, aka white supremacy) lays it bare, and exposes it for the fraud that it is. Because naming male privilege reveals how all men (#yesallmen) benefit from the oppression of women and femmes. Because naming thin privilege shows how the valuing and praising of thin bodies harms fat people. Because revealing it is the first step to dismantling it.
So no, there is no such thing as reverse racism. There is no such thing as misandry. There is no such thing as thin-shaming or fit-shaming. Because these things require systemic power, which marginalized groups, by definition, do not possess.
So when you write a screed against a marginalized group for not being deferential enough to you (especially in their own spaces!), what you are doing is revealing how fragile power is. What you are doing is heaping harm upon a marginalized group for not praising you. What you are doing is harming the very group you claim to be an ally to.
Knock it off.