Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On middle ground, compromise and neutrality

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.  

In addition to various buzzing about tolerating intolerance I've also been intensely irritated by the thread of "middle ground" and "compromise" that raises its ugly head on a regular basis.

There seems to be an instinct for some people, and I imagine they're usually well meaning, when they see people arguing to instantly try to create some kind of middle ground.. 

But where is the middle ground? Where is the compromise?

Marginalised people want to be treated with all the same respect and regard with all the same rights, protections, opportunities and privileges as everyone else... where's the middle ground? "You can have some rights?" "Here, we'll treat you as ALMOST human?" "How about a little more respect? Oh, not as much as privileged people, that would be silly!"

Sound good? No? C'mon guys! Compromise! Middle ground! Can't we meet the bigots halfway?
It sounds ridiculous - and it is.

And for that matter, isn't it equally ridiculous to say "hey, you're not good enough for marriage. But here's an almost-marriage with some rights"?

Isn't it ridiculous to say "Ok, we'll have some gay representation in the media - but if they touch each other we're going to treat it like hardcore porn"?

Isn't it ridiculous to say "Ok, we'll stop some people discriminating against you - but these folks get an exception because their bigotry's ok."?

We're asked to "compromise" but this is our humanity we're compromising here, our right to be treated as full people. And we're expected to compromise on that?

I'm told I'm unfair if I won't concede a legitimate reason for people to hate me. I apparently need to accept that treating me as a lesser human being is somehow justified or a moral stance and I need to find a middle ground with them. A compromise position. Maybe accept some contempt, some insults, some dehumanisation - just some! Sounds fair, right? How can I call someone prejudiced - a bigot even! - for that! Totally unreasonable. Can't I just compromise?

Yeaaaah. That would be no. Absolutely not. I don't think there is - or can be or should be - a middle ground on whether or not someone is equal.

Related to this, and championed by the Target CEO in his latest failed attempt to try and make GBLT people shut up, being "neutral" is also prejduiced arseholery. Yes, not having an opinion one way or the other about whether a marginalised group should have full rights respect and dignity does not endear them to you. Who saw THAT coming.

Really, does anyone really think that being "neutral" over equality is not a prejudiced position?  Apart from anything else, it's a gross act of privilege. Privilege means that you can decide not to care about the rights of the marginalised. Privilege, in many ways, makes activism and rights a matter of abstract thought, or conscious choice - even a hobby. Marginalised people don't have that luxury and are rarely in a position where they can afford not to care.

And, really, do you expect anyone to be impressed by "y'know, you're right to be accorded the same respect as everyone else? I kinda don't care about that. Your humanity is a total non-issue." Because nitpicky me isn't all that impressed by that. I'm curious why anyone would view "your being treated as a second class citizen is something I have no opinion" as anything less than grossly prejudiced.

Compromise is often a rarely used and often effective tool. And sometimes, yeah, it's nice to stand in the middle and see what both sides are saying. The world would, in many ways, likely be a more admirable place if there was more compromise and neutral examination. But some things you can't compromise on, some things are not open to debate and some things you most certainly should not be neutral about - and compromising or being "neutral" is just another form of prejudice - another form of privilege running amok.