Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spark of Wisdom: In Defense of Going for the Throat

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 
 
Now, I've been running across our old enemy, the tone argument, again and I want to take yet another run at it, not least in part because I have so many relatives now trying to contact me to tell me how rude I was to a certain homophobic uncle that they're now tag-teaming.

Now for those who are unaware, the tone argument goes something like this:

Privileged person: *dumps prejudice, bigotry and general badness all over marginalised person, sporking their eyes*

Marginalised person: damn it, you're sporking my eyes, cut that shit out and educate yourself, I don't need it

Privileged person: Oh my god you're SOOOO MEAAAAAN, how can you be so cruuuuuel, pass me the smelling salts I feel faint! *collapses onto the fainting couch* Oh my poor fee-fees.

Privileged people: There there. Marginalised person, couldn't you have been more polite and gentle? Did you have to be so meaaaan?

And lo, this is the tone argument. The idea that a privileged person can stomp on all kinds of sore spots and triggers while throwing sporks around willy-nilly, but the marginalised people must be on their bestest bestest behaviour (despite being angry, hurt, offended and sporked) when calling them out - if they're allowed to call them out at all. And there is a lot wrong with this. From the marginalised person constantly having to swallow their pain for the sake of the privileged's feelings. To the marginalised people taking a constant barrage of this shit all the damn time every damn day. To the idea that a marginalised person has a duty to educate privielged people who don't get it or can't be bothered to google it. And then we have the sure and certain knowledge that after an hour or so of being dragged over the coals dredging up your bad experiences, pain and general badness for the privileged person's education, it'll be forgotten/doubted/ignored and then the next in line will want a turn.

But I'm going to add another part to this. Sometimes it's GOOD to go for the throat.

No, really.

If someone steps on your foot what communicates pain better?

"Excuse me, your additional weight on top of my foot has caused an intolerable amount of pressure that is really quite painful"

or

"OW!"

Because we're not talking about academic, theoretical matters here. We're talking about actual, real pain, real hurting. And I really think that cold, academic reasoning does not communicate that. We're talking about things that are already abstract for privileged people and we're encouraging THAT tone - it's abstract, academic, theoretical - rather than here and now with actual victims and real pain.

And it feels good to go for the throat. I don't mean that in a sadistic, I want to make people cry manner. But more in a cathartic (if you'll forgive me using an extremely overused term) way.

When someone is attacked and sporked and pummeled all the damn time, isn't it reasonable for them to lash out? Isn't it even healthy for them to strike back? To tell their oppressors to sit down and shut up and back off? Isn't it wrong for them to have to continually smile at the people hurting them? Isn't it not only wrong to expect that of them, but not particularly good for their own mind body and soul to do that? Shouldn't they be able to say "you don't get to treat me like this" not calmly ignoring their pain and explaining why such treatment is problematic - but outright and furiously stating "you don't talk to me like that, you don't speak to me like that, you don't say that to me. You don't get to treat me that way"?

See, society throws privileged crap at the marginalised every single day - in fact, some days it feels likes every single waking moment. And y'know what? The marginalised are expected to take it, just swallow it, not react, just let it bombard their soul in a constant, painful barrage.

And do you know what going for the throat says to me? It says no, "I shouldn't have to take this shit". It says that this shit is not only wrong - it's grossly, outrageously wrong,. It's repellent, it's vile, it's unbelievable. Not academically theoretically problematic, let me explain it to you wrong, but kitten punting, puppy torturing wrong.

It not only dismisses the abstract - it emphasises the outrageousness of prejudice. If we saw someone drop kick a kitty we wouldn't calmly explain to them why kitten punting is a bad thing - we'd go for the throat. It's outrageous, it's unacceptable, it's disgusting and repellent.

And I think we need that. We have far too much "let's look at both sides". We have far too much considering oppression's "point of view." We have far too much considering prejudice as either an understandable but unfortunate quirk OR even as a valid and acceptable viewpoint.

And it is not. We're not debating the merits of various philosophical theories here. We're discussing oppression and pain and loss and hurt and damage and victims. And the rage and the pain and the throat leaping comes from a very real and very legitimate place - and I don't think we can dismiss and demand that stop without dismissing and diminishing the pain behind it or the depths of the wrongs being done.