So, earlier this week, I wrote this piece about asking to know versus asking to win.
There was a whole middle section that I just… cut out. The topic didn’t just stem from being involved in debates, but, to be honest, very specific kinds of discussions around race and privilege.
Namely, that sometimes I feel that folks (especially folks with gender/race privilege) will come into a conversation about tough topics on my page with all kinds of questions. Something about some of the questions felt off, which is when I realized: they weren’t asking because they wanted to know, they were asking because they want to win. They want to push buttons or have a debate, and perhaps prove that all my rambling about privilege and power is invalid.
I shouldn’t be surprised. Learning that you might be wrong, or that you are complicit in something bad feels gross (I certainly have my share of privilege that I and others have have to check often). Feeling guilty can make people get defensive and makes them want to win, to prove that they are clever/smarter/not bad.
My issue with that, though, is that if you are the one with power already and asking all the questions, you already have the leg up in this “fair fight” of a discussion. Those who lack that privilege and power bear the burden of being oppressed on the regular. They are often tired of explaining to themselves and to others about their culture, their life, and sometimes even why their voice matters. That shit is tiring.
Now, it is way more tiring for folks other than myself– I have quite a bit of privilege in my sexuality, SES, etc. So, please know that I know that (and check myself for the below too) as I say the following:
When someone comes demanding I (again, because we have to do it all the time) explain thoughts about race/privilege/power to them, that is not a fair fight or an equal debate. That’s them racing me for a 5k section of what is the marathon of my life. I am coming into this with a ton of emotional baggage and frustration– most folks from minority groups have it– that makes these “fascinating discussions” some folks want to have sometimes feel like another frustrating bump on what is an already tiring course.
Then, at the end of the discussion it is very possible that, if whoever asked do not live that oppression, they will be able to let that conversation go. They get to finish the race, and go on with life thinking that this was an interesting intellectual detour for them.
People living that struggle will have to relive that conversation– with others and internally– over and over again with new people, each time asking themselves if they were “too harsh,” “too real,” or upset someone’s feelings. Those who come from outside dominant culture, who “constantly [juggle] the power asymmetry of the two worlds, two cultures, and two languages” don’t get to finish the race.
So yeah, we might have a lot of strong, passionate thoughts about it— we think about it a lot and some of us are kind of tired.
Then, all of a sudden, if we dare show that, it’s “why are you so mad?” and “I’m trying to talk about this with you!” and “You’re coming at this with so much anger, it’s unfair/unsavory/unprofessional.” In doing so, they show that the opinion and voice of whoever they asked don’t matter to them as much as their own need to “win” and feel good about themselves. Is it maybe possible that we’re angry with good reason?
I almost didn’t write this post because I was preemptively tired from the explaining that might come from it. I’ve had white male acquaintances tell me that it feels like I hate white people, or that my arguments make all their #notallwhitepeople feels come up. And… I get that. I clearly don’t hate all white people, and I’ve had my own privilege checked on things and it feels gross (name about sexuality, which you’ll see I’m not mentioning as much mostly because I know I have NO idea the oppression that comes that struggle, so I won’t try and speak to it).
But man, like John Stewart said, if you’re tired of hearing about privilege and oppression, imagine how tiring it is to live in that oppression. All. The. Time.
I’m generally happy to talk about these things with folks who want to have an actual discussion. I am not always right, and if you actually want to listen to what I have to say, I am more than happy to do it right back. I have no issue getting pushed or talking about these things, but I do have an issue consistently having to defend my lived experience, and the lived experiences of folks who have felt similar or worse struggles.
So, I’m not really interested in sprinting to try and “win” with folks who are not interested in making each other stronger. I hope, maybe, that they’ll just want to run with me instead.
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