Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is There A Duty To Educate?

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. 

So let’s have a poke at this whole “duty to educate” thing.

I know, I know, surely this is a basic 101. But, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what this means because I’ve seen a lot of people who normally have their head screwed on right regarding this as “unreasonable” or “overused” or “silencing”. And there’s lots of talk of it being “unhelpful”. After all, are these not wonderful concerned allies (ha) who desperately want to learn (ha) and if we’d just take the time they would understand our issues, our problems and the oppressions that affect our lives (ha!) and then they’d become passionate advocates on our behalf? (HA!)

The problem is, someone insisting that we educate them is pretty much already saying “your time is less important than mine and you’ve got to work to get me on side”.

See, here’s the thing: “I don’t have a duty to educate you” doesn’t mean you must languish in ignorance forever, eternally clueless as to why the marginalised people are so angry at you and so very very very mean.

It means I don’t have a duty to sit down, right here, right now, and spoon feed privileged people information. It means, when we do educate (note I’m not even saying “if” here) we do so on our terms. Which, since we’re the ones doing the labour here, should be pretty obvious.

Sometimes I don’t have the energy or inclination to educate, and I’m far from the only one. Especially when you have to answer these questions repeatedly every day and every day your answers are completely ignored.

And that’s aside from the fact at least two thirds of anyone asking to be educated is actually saying “silly gay, tell me why you think you’re oppressed and I shall use my brilliant straight insight to tell you why it is not so!”  Because throwing hard and mentally and emotionally taxing work to educate people to have them turn round with a big truck load o’ straightsplaining is just FUNSIES

Because that’s my utter pet hate about this whole “why won’t you teach me, I’ll never leaaaaarn?!”  whine – it’s the impression that this information is a BIG DEEP DARK SECRET

Are you kidding me?  This blog alone has a gazillion posts on a 101 issues. I and most the contributors here operate our own blogs and websites. Following the links, the forums, the exchanges – my gods the social justice blogosphere is absolutely huge?! There are literally thousands of marginalised people out there, typing away on sexuality, race, gender, religion, gender identity, poverty, class, ableism, how many of them intersect and far far far more besides. Telling me you can’t find social justice information on the internet is like telling me you can’t find snow in Canada.

I can see it now so hold before you return with the oh-so-common refrain “but if someone else tells me, how will YOU know I’m getting it right?” Uh-huh, how do YOU know you’re getting it right if I spoon feed you? Did you miss the scandal of straight men pretending to be lesbian bloggers for funsies? Or straight authors pretending to be gay men for money? But even aside from the various straight folks pretending to be gay, you shouldn’t be relying on one source ANYWAY. Take me – I hate the word “queer”, loathe it with a fiery passion, it’s a slur that triggers me as much and more than nearly any other. You call me it, We Will Have Words. Other GBLTQ people embrace it not only as their preferred label but their primary and only label. Other GBLTQ people demand on “queer” not just for them but for everyone and everyone who doesn’t embrace it is an assimilationist.

Does this mean that you need to pick the right one? No – because as a straight person you don’t get to decide that – it means you get to see that sometimes there is ZOMG COMPLEXITY about a reclaimed slur – and so many other issues - and perhaps it’s better to ask the GBLTQ person in question what terms they prefer. Behold education – and an education you can only get by checking multiple sources. And that means listening to many and recognising that there may be differences and that there may be arguments you need to stay the hell out of – not trying to find the GBLTQ person who agrees with you (and you will find one for every vile thing – every community has its quislings: hey there GOP Proud and GBLTory!) so you can play the “I have gay friends who say X” game.

Basically, if you have sufficient internet access to whine at me or any other marginalised person online about how we’re not educating you and it’s so mean and unfair and why won’t we just help you not be a bigot? Then you have sufficient internet access to hit google, hit our archives, hit our tags, hit our link spams, or hit any of the gazillion education tools we have ALREADY GIVEN YOU.

When you ask us to educate you and get mad when we say no, you are not lost and alone in the wilderness, hopelessly ignorant without any help you find your way out. You are already wallowing in all the information you need – you just can’t be bother to take the effort to read it when you can make one of us spoon feed you.

We have educated you. We have tried and tried to educate you. But we can’t make you learn if you don’t want to – and if you’re demanding we painfully explain what has already been explained ad nauseum, then you don’t want to.