Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Look at the tokens, don’t look at the bigot behind the curtain

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.

Time to look at another annoying derail that the powers of privilege constantly raise in order to give me endless grey hairs.

“Not all X…” “Look, this X isn’t prejudiced! So all is wonderful!”

Oh, yes, the exceptions waved like a flag. Isn’t it the most common of derails? Whenever you criticise a huge societal force – like Whiteness or straightness – there is bound to be someone rushing forward to say “oh how very dare you!!!” and have little conniption fits because not all white/straight/men are like that!

It ignores the societal powers of these –  of a society that constantly upholds privilege, of a society that encourages entitlement of privilege, of a society that says that privileged people are more important, have more valid opinions, are more worthy of listening to, are more deserving, of a society that constantly frames anyone who doesn’t hold these privileges as less worthy of attention, less worthy of regard and less worthy in general.

And it ignores the gazillion ways that privileged people benefit from their privilege and uphold the system of privilege without even realising it – even when they actively do not want to. It ignores that said privilege cannot be cast aside and it ignores that said privilege is upheld and encouraged since birth.

It ignores that, even when speaking of a vast privileged force you are a part of, the discussion is NOT ABOUT YOU as an individual (albeit, there are definitely things to learn that you can do, be aware of and improve upon and there are very likely individual things you do do that are part of that societal force).


Of course, the “not all X!” argument shows this as much as anything else – after all, in a discussion about marginalised people facing the many problems that the privileged impose on them here we have one of the privileged or their champions dropping in to make it all about them – again. To put themselves central, claim their ally cookies, to demand validation  of their ally credentials or whatever – anything but actually discuss the actual point.

But there’s also a separate element to the “not all!” cry – organisations and groups that are champions of bigotry. Political parties, lobbyists, churches – over and over we see the mass organisations screaming bigotry, fighting rights, making speeches that should have them pelted from the stage/pulpit with a hail of rotten tomatoes. And when we say “this organisation is bigoted” “this organisation is causing harm” “this organisation is ruining lives!” what do we get?

We get the exceptions?

Look, this Catholic church is accepting! It even has gay speakers! (Never mind the unrelenting hatred from the Catholic church)

Look, this Bishop doesn’t hate you! (Never mind that he’s outnumbered a gazillion times over)

Look, this Republican candidate is actually gay! (Never mind that all the other candidates have been trying to win gold in the homophobe Olympics).

Apparently we need to talk about them. We need to focus on them. They need more attention, they need more news lines (the mere fact they are newsworthy is telling), we need to keep looking at them, keep talking about them and gods forbid we ever have a discussion about the organisation without including them. Look at the tokens, don’t look at the bigot behind the curtain.

Why should we talk about them? Why do these exceptions deserve more attention than the overwhelming bigotry of the organisation as a whole? Why does this one merit more attention than the gazillion more that are unwavering in their hate? Why should we spend more time looking at the colluder willing to throw the rest of us under the bus for a pat on the head, than the countless victims that organisation leaves in its wake?

You’ve found one of them that isn’t a bigot? You’ve found some of us in the organisation for whatever reason? Great – and? It doesn’t change the organisation, doesn’t change its effect, doesn’t change its policy, its goals, its rhetoric or its actions. The exception doesn’t change the rule. Worse – that exception is often used an excuse to prevent actual change or a cover for the most virulent and vile of bigots.

So don’t put your exceptions on a pedestal and act like this suddenly destroys criticisms of bigotry. Your “progressive shields” don’t hide the hatred you peddle and your insistence on using them rather than acknowledge the actual bigotry you perpetuate just makes you yet another part of the problem – and someone more interested in their privilege than in combating prejudice.

And if you ARE that exception, for whatever reason you are part of that organisation, don’t let yourself be used this way. Don’t let yourself be the Token Gay Tory, don’t let yourself be the one bishop who Doesn’t Hate Us. Don’t’ let yourself be the whitewash, then rainbow wash, the coverup, the distraction. If you do then you are part of the problem; if you let yourself be used that way, it just shows how hostile your organisation is.