Hi! Uh, I know you got a lot of awful anons, and I really don't want to be one of those people, but I have a question that's been really worrying me. So ever since I started paying attention to Tumblr SJ, I think I've actually gotten less tolerant. Whenever I see people with a different background, I keep thinking about all their privileges and oppressions and how we can never relate to each other because we obviously see the world differently. [cont]
I just get so worried that I’m hurting people who are black and gay and Muslim and stuff when I’m around them. So I just kind of… Avoid them? I know. It’s really terrible. But I just don’t know what to do. I could be hurting them in ways that wouldn’t even occur to me due to my privilege. So I’m just scared all the time that I’m awful. I know that I have no reason to be scared, because my pain is nothing compared to the pain of people who are actually marginalized, but it still happens. [cont]
Of course I never tried to talk about it with someone before because I don’t want to be the type of person who goes up to black people who are actually hurting and asks them to reassure her that she’s a good ally. That would be really crappy of me to do. But then I’ve been reading you’re blog and you are super duper marginalized but you seem to not be very into SJ? You have a really different perspective and you seem to invite people to not be perfectly PC with you. [cont]
So I was wondering: Do you think there’s a way to become more comfortable around marginalized people without being oppressive? I think it must be possible. I feel less scared talking to you than I would expect for someone as marginalized as you are but it might be that I think you’re less likely to call me out if I’m oppressive? It would be really bad if that’s the reason why. IDK any more. I’m rambling. I’m sorry and I understand if you don’t answer or don’t understand or can’t help. [fin]
Firstly, you probably need a hug.
Your description of being really scared that you’re going to accidentally hurt marginalised people sounds like it might be scrupulosity-related. Scrupulosity is an anxiety problem where you’re constantly worried that you’ve done something wrong. Even if you have no particular reason to believe you have, you worry and worry and worry that maybe you missed something, maybe there’s more to it, maybe there are rules you don’t know yet, maybe the rules are insufficiently precise, etc.
Scrupulosity isn’t good for you. Being anxious all the time isn’t good for you. It also isn’t good for social justice. You said it yourself: It makes it harder for you to be an ally. For all these reasons, I would like to give you unconditional permission to not worry. Stress and guilt and pain don’t make you a better person. If you haven’t been trying to deal the scrupulosity directly because you thought you needed it to be moral, I hope you now understand that that’s not the case. I hope this will give you the support you need to make your happiness a priority here. If so, here are some good tips.
wrt becoming more comfortable around marginalised people, I’m not entirely sure what you can do. The best possible thing here would be for you to spend a lot of time around marginalised people who don’t mind if you slip up in good faith. I don’t actually believe you’re at much risk of a hurtful slip up, but you clearly feel like you are. As such, you would probably feel safest around people who you can be confident won’t be worried by it.
Over time, after you’ve been around them long enough, you’ll probably start feeling like they’re just like everyone else. You won’t see oppression lists floating over people’s heads when you try interacting with them. Instead of “Ahmed, the gay Muslim immigrant” you’ll see “Ahmed, the guy who likes slow jazz and makes excellent brownies”. Over time, I would expect this to generalise, until marginalised people just seem like people. I would be happy to be one such safe person to practice with, to whatever extent this can be achieved via the internet.
However, I understand if you’re hesitant to ask people outright if they can be wont-be-offended practice partners. Sorry. I’m not sure what other methods there are for dealing with this, other than gentle, gradual exposure. At the very least, I can offer some reassurance:
You aren’t a bad person for not being able to follow every rule of social justice. You aren’t a bad person if you accidentally offend someone. You aren’t a bad person if you’re scared to be around marginalised people. You are way less likely to slip up and hurt someone than you think you are. Anxiety disorders lie to you. You are a decent person who is being fed a bunch of rotten propaganda by your brain. What’s important is that it isn’t true.
But maybe those reassurances didn’t make you any more comfortable around marginalised people. Maybe the soft landing approach didn’t work for you, or you can’t actually try it. That’s OK. If interacting with marginalised people is making you stressed out and unhappy, then don’t do it. You have every right to avoid people who make you miserable, to the extent that you are capable of doing so.
No, it doesn’t mean marginalised people are bad or are doing anything wrong. No, it doesn’t mean you’re bad or you’re doing anything wrong. Sometimes people just can’t be around each other, and it’s no one’s fault, and that’s OK. You may feel like it’s *ist or *phobic of you to do this, but that doesn’t matter. You need your space. You need your comfort zone. No one - not a single person in the world - has a right to make you miserable. You always have a right to distance yourself from anything or anyone that’s hurting you. The sacredness of your boundaries, and everyone else’s, is the hill that I die on.
So, as the Empress of Oppression, I hereby absolve you of any and all responsibility to interact with me or anyone else who might make you uncomfortable. Go forth with joy and peace of mind.