Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Curiosity is just a way to exoticise marginalized people

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.

Ok, so I'm going to chew off another of the excuses that seems to be increasingly used when privileged people are confronted with various issues they've perpetrated - this one is Curiosity.

Now, this was recently raised as an excuse in Renee's recent post about people pawing black hair (and believe me, those unabridged comment threads would have been comic if they didn't destroy your faith in humanity).

I've also seen it invoked when I've complained about personal, sexual and otherwise invasive questions being asked of GBLT people that are none of the questioner's damn business and I can't imagine in what possible universe they thought it'd be an appropriate question to ask.

So, let's poke this curiosity thing and see why, as excuses go, I find it several steps behind "I didn't intend it that way!" as being reasonable and acceptable. I don't promise this to be an exclusive list of all that annoys about this excuse, but here are some that get on my grey hairs.

Ok, problem the first - curiosity about 'what' someone is really does other, exoticise and otherwise scream "strange" and "freaky" at someone. Let's face it, lots of curiosity about someone's marginalisation, about their bodies, about their lives, about their private lives really does yell out "oh my god so weird and different and straaaaange!" Shall we get David Attenborough in to make a documentary? It feels very dehumanising and very much like marginalised people are cast as weird weird weird.

Which brings us to "but I don't know any X people!" and "I've never met any of them before!"  yeah, because being reminded that you're a minority is funsies! But even aside from that - much of this lack of experience comes from marginalised people either hiding and/or living in highly separated communities - which in itself is often a symptom of prejudice in society. The symptoms of prejudice don't really justify annoying its victims even more.

And from there, I have to say that this curiosity excuse is really really arrogant and disrespectful. Seriously, the whole argument that privileged curiosity gives them the right to touch another person, the right to access to their bodies is incredibly arrogant. The idea that curiosity is sufficient justification for a privileged question to ask for the most intimate details about someone, about their bodies, about their love life, about their lives is so amazingly arrogant. And I don't see how it cannot be disrespectful - their curiosity (which, as my grandmother would have said, when it applies to people it should be called "nosiness") is somehow more important than someone's privacy, personal space and the right not to have hands on them? Let's have a "no" there, shall we?