One part of fighting a societal problem is often convincing people that the problem is actually occurring. Often, a person who wouldn’t experience the problem due to whatever factors (race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc) must be convinced by people suffering from the problem that yes, there is a problem, and yes, it needs to be addressed. But when it comes to it, the question remains, why would someone who wouldn’t experience this problem not believe the people who are experiencing it?
This question is multilayered, but sometimes I think it merely comes down to the idea that some people can’t see outside of their own sphere of experience to grasp the idea that someone who isn’t them has a problem that they know nothing about. I find that often when a question of race is broached, it’s the white people who are quick to denounce it and claim that everyone is being overly sensitive and that there’s no real harm being done. But it’s not up to white people to decide what is offensive or harmful to people of color.
So often a white people, who has no idea what real racism is or even looks like, feels perfectly inclined to outline just how badly they have it, as a white, middle-class, straight man, and how people of color are just bring up the past and complaining because they want special privileges. Which ironically, sound a lot like the special privileges that they’re already enjoying. Because wouldn’t that be horrible? White men have their own problems, but they are better off than anyone who doesn’t fall into those specific categories.
Same thing with gender issues. People have told me that I am so privileged because on dates some people believe that men should still foot the bill. Nevermind the wage gap, the laws controlling the functions of my body, rape culture, glass ceilings, and a myriad of other issues, I get free pasta on dates! I should bow down to straight, middle-class white men for my life of exception and privilege!
Same thing with homophobia. The LGBTQIA community throw parades. Straight people don’t do that. So gay people are more privileged than straight people. Right? Wrong.
When someone comes to a group and says that they have a problem, the group needs to investigate that problem, not immediately denounce it as imaginary because the majority of the group haven’t personally suffered through the same thing, so how bad could it really be? The crux of this issue really hit home when I saw the aftermath from a woman who dressed up as a Boston bombing victim for Halloween.
Earlier in the holiday season I had read an article written by a woman of color about white people dressing in blackface and finding it comical. I can’t locate the article now (I seriously just need to bookmark everything I read), but it was in reference to a man in blackface dressed as the deceased Trayvon Martin with another friend dressed as George Zimmerman. Also, there was some controversy over Julianne Hough dressing in blackface for Halloween as well.
While the afore-linked article claims that the only person upset by this were actually white and tried to whitesplain the entire topic away, on my Facebook page, the majority of people who I saw upset were people of color. The majority of people I saw trivializing the issue and wondering why it was such a big deal anyway were white. Once again, we white people don’t get to decide what is offensive to people of color. If we want to live in a world where we help our fellow people and create a cohesive community, we need to realize that just because something is not offensive to us, it can be offensive to others and we need to respect that.
Honestly, if Hough had dressed up without adding any dark makeup, I don’t think that anyone would have cared. People would have know who she was and it would have been fine. The entire problem was that she used a style of makeup that invoked a past of horrible racism and discrimination.
But at the end of the article, the writer pointed out that so far, no one had dressed as a Sandy Hook victim or a Boston bombing victim because the majority of victims there were white. It was a white issue and white pain that people would be mocking if anyone did that and that was just something that no one wanted to do. Then a few days after Halloween, this article about the 22-year-old woman who did just that surfaced.
The reaction? Almost unanimously negative. She received death threats and abuse via Twitter and through the media it was made unquestioningly clear that this was no okay. But why not? Why is poking fun at a history of racist abuse that lead to all kind of atrocities and still does, something that we need to be okay with and just get over, when poking fun at the victims of a bombing is just crossing the line? Why was this writer almost prophetic in her observation that a tragedy that had affected mostly white people would not be viewed with the same casual shrug as blackface?
A problem for anyone is a problem. We need to be able to look past our own experiences and acknowledge that sometimes things happen that we aren’t directly affected by, but need recognize as wrong and indeed a problem. You don’t have to be gay to be against homophobia, you don’t have to be a person of color to be against racism, you don’t have to be a woman to be against sexism, you don’t have to be fat to be against fat shaming.
The fact that you can be against an issue that you don’t personally experience just means that you have enough empathy and understanding to recognize a problem when the people experiencing it are screaming out for help. A lot of people don’t seem to be very receptive to my compassion rants, but that is exactly what our society needs more of. We need everyone in our society to function to the best of their ability if we want to succeed as a nation and no one will be able to function if their problems are being trivialized and ignored.
Everyone has issues, no matter who they are or what kind of privilege they enjoy. So if you want someone to take you seriously, then take other people seriously as well and be receptive to what they have to say. In this day and age, everyone has a voice. The information is out there and people are willing to talk about their experiences. There is no secret about the problems in this country. And there are problems. Even if each one doesn’t personally affect everyone.