Educational conversations aren’t necessarily directed at you

Marginalized people often are prevented from knowing really important things. Things that they need to know in order to live in the world.

Some conversations about things like privilege and oppression are primarily conversations between marginalized people about how to notice what’s going on and live well in a world that hates them.

These are not the same kinds of conversation as general talk about the nature of privilege or how the world works. They’re also not the same as conversations that are oriented towards getting powerful people to care about the problems of marginalized people. 

Sometimes, conversations are for peer support and work done between people who are directly affected by an issue. Sometimes they’re for people who need to understand what’s going on in a particular case, without having to explain from the beginning that the issue exists.

And often, those conversations get derailed by privileged people who assume that the conversation has space for them. (Sometimes, very well meaning privileged people who don’t understand that what they are doing is harmful.)

For instance, here’s a way it can play out:

  • Some disabled people are talking about body image or feeling physically repulsive after an instance of discrimination
  • Then someone comes and says “Hi, I’m wanting to check my able-bodied privilege here. I’ve never heard of this. Why do you feel that way?”
  • This can be really derailing and make the problem impossible to discuss, even if the person means well
  • Because sometimes you need to discuss these things with people who understand and can have insightful things to say *based on already understanding certain things*
  • And it can be really emotionally exhausting to need emotional, intellectual, and conceptual support, and then be interrupted by people who don’t understand and might be skeptical
  • Sometimes, you just want to know that you’re not alone
  • Sometimes you need to talk to people who have been there and can help you to understand it and to bear it
  • People talking about something doesn’t mean they have to be up for talking about the thing with everyone who is interested
  • It doesn’t mean that they have to be up for discussing it with every *well meaning* person who is interested, either
  • Sometimes that’s not even possible, particularly when just starting to think about and articulate the problem is terrifying and draining (which is really common, especially for people who have never had peer support before and are under attack constantly.)

It’s not always easy to tell which kind of conversation it is, but when marginalized people from a group you’re not part of are talking about something awful they’re dealing with, it’s important to be mindful of the possibility that this is not a conversation you should be participating in.

Some approaches I think help:

  • If a blog tells you that it’s for a certain group, and you’re not a member of that group, don’t weigh in on its threads
  • If someone tells you to get off their thread on Tumblr, it’s usually important to do so, particularly if it originated from a personal blog
  • If you see a conversation that looks like it might be oriented towards people personally experiencing the thing or who have back, and you want to ask a question, ask privately first
  • And ask if it’s ok to ask a question about the thing and *be prepared to take no for an answer*

Usual standard note when I’m discussing this topic: This is not that kind of blog – this is a public blog and it’s not for any group in particular. You can ask anything here that you’re sincerely interested it, and it’s ok to comment on things. I reblog things I see when I want to respond or boost; I answer asks when I feel like I have something to say. 

But group-specific blogs, spaces, and conversations very much do need to exist, and it’s important to respect that.