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.
One of the eternal things that seems so extremely clear when battling for equality is how little we’re valued. In the arguments they make, the defences they make – and in what they care about it’s really clear how little our personhood matters.
Currently there’s been a completely pointless anti-bullying law in Michigan which actually has an exception in it that gives the bullies a step by step guide how to bully and get away with – so long as they can religiously justify their hatred it’s ok.
And I’m not surprised. We see the same fight in law after law created to try and protect us and grant us equality. From hate crimes, to marriage, to anti-discrimination clauses through to repealing laws that perpetuate anti-GBLT genocide. The same excuses and the same battles – religious freedom, the right to hatred, our holy book demands we get to hate these people.
So, I’m not surprised by it – but it is another clear indication of how much we are valued. I mean, really, what kind of priorities do you have to have when the right to religious hatred is privileged over a child’s right not to be persecuted? What kind of messed up priorities do you have to have when you think prejudice in a holy book is worth more than someone’s personhood? Or even their very existence? How can you have this priority?
Because the lives don’t matter. Because the pain doesn’t matter – because these people, these victims do not matter.
And what about when a religious institution discriminates? What about when major religious figures make truly hateful, despicable speeches? Why they’re defended, or excused or maybe no-one talks about it, looks the other way and quickly changes the subject so we can pretend it doesn’t happen. We don’t treat it like it is, we don’t treat them like the bigots they are. Because it’s faith, it’s a matter of doctrine! We can’t interfere or criticise that –it’s rude! And their bigoted faith is, again, valued more than our existence. We don’t matter, we’re a lesser priority than their hate.
And we see it in nearly every corner of social justice. From fighting against appropriation, false names and fetishisation we had the counters of “it’s just fiction” “I can write what I want” “books sell better with an ‘authentic’ name” “so long as everyone’s getting off, why does it matter?” and gods alone know how many more and worse. And again, my strongest impression is “look how little we matter”. How little value is placed on us, how dismissive they can be of us, of damage done to us, of using us of exploiting us.
And with slurs? I don’t think any celebrity, song of TV programme has managed to say F@ggot without someone leaping out to defend them. “It’s just a word”, “it’s funny”, “they didn’t mean it that way”, “they’re not a homophobic person” and, of course “ZOMG FREE SPEECH!!! ” on and on. If it’s just a word they can just as easily not say it. And ye gods no it is not funny – and why is your humour more important than our right to be safe? And free speech? The English language has one of the largest – if not the largest – vocabularies of any language and it’s impossible for you to express yourself without using that damn word? Again, the message is clear – we have no value, we don’t matter
Discrimination? Again personal faith is brought in (because faith based bigotry is, again, valued more than our existence). But also, extremely telling, we get the excuse of “your offending this straight person”. We saw this a lot in the continually spate of people GBLT people being kicked out of buses/coffee shops/pubs/hotels/trains/airplanes, gods absolutely freaking everywhere. It offends the straight people, of course the business has to worry about that. Doesn’t have to worry about offending us though, it seems. Because, again, we don’t matter, we don’t have value.
I think, at its centre, social justice is about the devaluation of people and countering that. And part of that means recognising over and over just how devaluing these arguments are, how much not just the prejudice, but the defence of prejudice, the dismissal of prejudice and the legitimising of prejudice. In some ways it’s more pernicious than the prejudice itself – after all, prejudice and hatred? Well that can just be an arsehole. There’s always going to be arseholes, there’s always going to be bigots – they’re like cockroaches like that. But it’s the defence, the protection, the excuses and the legitimacy – that isn’t just an individual arsehole, that’s a collective acceptance of arseholery, a collective belief that, yes, the arseholery matters more than our existence.
The defences and excuses devalue us. In many ways they devalue us more than the original bigotry – and we won’t have anything close to justice until we recognise this and call out not just the bigots, but the bigot enablers as well.