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Struggle: Discussing Marginalization with the Marginalized

It is always extremely awkward and full of landmines to be a person with a boatload of privilege arguing with a member of a marginalized group about whether or not that group experiences discrimination. There are plenty of posts, if you know where to look, about how to do this, as a person with privilege. The advice is usually: shut up, listen, learn. This is excellent advice.

However, it is especially awkward to argue that they do get discriminated against, when the other person is arguing, as a member of that group, that they do not. I haven’t been able to find much advice on this. There is no graceful way to either continue or to end such a conversation. Your privilege gets thrown in your face, especially if you venture to point out that your interlocutor’s experience is not the experience of all members of that group (and obviously, if you have listened to others on the internet talk about their marginalization in this area, well, we all know what whiners and complainers the denizens of the internetz are…). At any rate, there is very little point, I think, in discussing such things if the other person denies that privilege exists at all.

I should have not been as shocked as I was, I suppose, when a university friend of mine (who exists at the intersections of a truckload of marginalized identities) argued that everyone was equally oppressed and oppressive, and Intent is Magic. A good cautionary tale about extrapolating from reified identities to belief systems, for sure.

Zie can live hir life however zie wants. It’s not for me to tell or convince hir that zie is oppressed. This does, however, throw two large rocks into the innards of our relationship. First, if zie denies marginalizations that directly affect hir, how with zie react if I tell hir about a marginalization that affects me? Can I trust hir with honest expressions of my experiences, knowing that zie feels that people are simply “too sensitive” and one “can’t get mad” at people who have good intentions?

The other is more complex: what, if anything, do I do if zie denies the experience of someone with whom zie shares an identity and attempts to silence this person in my presence? If zie tells this person “you are too sensitive,” can I step in? Should I step in?

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Discussion

One thought on “Struggle: Discussing Marginalization with the Marginalized

  1. Regarding point 2 – silencing is douchebaggery, so I would say that you would be entirely in the right (if not entirely in your comfort zone) to point that out. Have you pointed out to your friend that oppression also comes from within, and that hir denial of certain experiences does nothing to help any marginalized groups? (Not, I imagine, that that argument would work with someone who believes that such marginalized groups need no helping at all.)

    I know this friend means a lot to you so I don’t really have any genuine words of help – it’s kind of happening to me with a friend who no longer means as much, and I am slowly withdrawing from the friendship. Maybe that could one day be an option for you. In the meantime, I hope your friend’s receptiveness increases!

    Posted by Francesca | January 4, 2012, 06:22

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