Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baby, Baby You're Too Sensitive

Quite a few of you already follow me on twitter.  The other night I was hanging out and tweeting nonsense to amuse myself when I ran into MCHammer.  What should have been a pleasant conversation with a man I used to mimic quickly turned unpleasant when he decided to call me baby.

Being a woman that is not afraid of confrontation, of course I told him where to go in short order.  Any man that steps to me had better be prepared for the consequences.  If I am not sleeping with you, or have a familial relationship with you (and that doesn't necessarily make you safe), baby, sweetie, dear, honey etc are off the table. 

Of course this has been could not see the error of his ways.   Men have a tendency to turn to these terms of endearment when they wish to assert patriarchal privilege, and diminish the importance of what we are saying or doing.  It is the verbal expression of power.

There have been many that claim that women who get upset with such familiarity are simply being to sensitive.   The minute you hear a privileged person say, or imply that another is being to sensitive rest assured that they are only concerned about themselves.  What about meeeeee, what do you mean I don't exist with the right to degrade your person at will. Can't you see I'm white/male/rich/straight/able bodied etc.  Pick your privilege poison and you can be damn certain that someone will be right along to deny it.

I often try to respond to privilege denial with patience.  I usually give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have never been exposed to such ideas.  Though it is not my job, or the job of any marginalized body to teach the oppressor, I will often attempt to convey knowledge.  In most cases this involves pointing out the painfully obvious.  If I meet with resistance, the conversation is quickly ended.  As a WOC I already negotiate two stigmatizations, and honestly I am not going to hurt my head, or gain anymore gray hair over someone else's ignorance.

This is usually the point when the conversation gets sticky.  Not only does the privileged body feel entitled to belittle the marginalized body they expect us to be happy about it.  OOOOh don't be angry, that's just how things work.  Step out of line and I'll have to label you an angry black woman.  You have got to know your place in this life, and it is securely under my boot.

What I found most interesting about my exchange is not that he displayed patriarchal privilege, but those that felt that calling me baby was not offensive.  I would like to know how it is possible for another to decide what is and isn't offensive to me.   You see when you are the marginalized body others always feel that they have the right to set the rules of engagement. 

It occurs to me that what needs to happen is for those us that society has decided to construct as "other" to decide our own rules of engagement.  Let's stop pretending that these are harmless exchanges that don't cause us heartache and stress.  Let's tell these privilege deniers directly without any form of apology the true cost of their actions and their speech.  It occurs to me that speaking our truth may not win any popularity contests, but it sure as hell goes a long way to relieving some of the undue stress we are forced to live with.

Let's be honest, if they are already denying their privilege they already regard you as a person who is beneath them; and therefore I don't see the point in engaging in niceties that allow their privilege to flourish.  Seriously, why walk around with their baggage? If someone is determined to hold onto their privilege there is nothing that you can do to change that.  You might as well get your satisfaction from speaking your peace.

At this time I would like to encourage those of you who like me are negotiating marginalized identities to find your voice.  As a single person you cannot change the systemic inequality, but you can give yourself a sense of freedom by releasing some of the angst that comes with being "othered".  None of the privileged bodies are going to willingly give up their power, nor are they suddenly going to have a change of heart and redistribute their ill gotten gains, so what do you have to loose?

It seems to me that this can only be a win/win situation.  The privileged body will get exactly what they were looking for, for having the audacity to step to you with their ignorance, and you will validate your own humanity by rejecting the negativity that they wish to impose upon you.  It is almost the time for News Years resolutions, and this year I would encourage those of you who have not already done so to find your voice,

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