Diet & Weight Magazine

Activism – You’re Not Doing It Wrong

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat

DefendToday I posted a link to a piece to Facebook called “Privilege, Oppression, and Being Nice.”  In the piece she says:

When privileged people tell oppressed groups “I would listen to you, but you aren’t being very nice” they are asserting their power in a subtle, but dangerous way. They are victim blaming. They are trying to hide the fact that when others have “asked nicely,” they just ignored them. When they tell you it is up to you to convince them to treat you like a human being, they are revealing that they never thought of you as human to begin with.

There was an immediate backlash from some people on my Facebook page saying things like “If your goal is to change people’s minds, then attacking them doesn’t make sense. If your goal is to vent, then by all means vent. Just don’t expect it to change anyone’s mind.”

As an activist I spend plenty of time politely asking people to please stop oppressing me, and patiently explaining why it’s in everybody’s best interest for them to do so.  I don’t apologize for it, it’s often a reasonably pleasant experience for me, and I’ve found it to be fairly effective in many situations that I end up in. But sometimes people get confused and think that I’m obligated to do that and that if I get angry then I’ve made a tactical error, or that anger is an inappropriate response to the bs I deal with on a regular basis.

I want to be really clear here: There are two separate issues -  what oppressed people have a right to do, and what will be most effective in achieving specific goals that oppressed people might have. The thing that is most important, from my perspective, is that people who are oppressed get to choose how they deal with their oppression.

Oppressed people are not required to have a goal of changing their oppressor’s minds. They are not required to have any goal at all.  Engaging in activism to change the world, or doing what we have to do to get through the day are both completely valid life choices.  The problem is with the oppression and those who are perpetuating it, not with the oppressed person/people who are dealing with it or with their reaction to it. People who say that the problem is that the oppressed person isn’t doing a good enough job trying to convince their oppressors to stop are contributing to the oppression.

There are discussions to be had about effective tactics for reaching specific anti-oppression goals, but I feel that those discussions are for oppressed people and those who they invite to the discussion, and they should always be couched in terms of options and never obligations. I think it is seriously problematic to say that an oppressed group should do x, y, and z if they want people to stop oppressing them, and that otherwise those perpetuating oppression shouldn’t be expected to listen, or stop the behavior.  Let’s remember that the behavior is wrong in the first place.  Anti-oppression activists aren’t asking for our oppressors to grant us basic rights and respect -  we are demanding that they stop keeping those rights and that respect from us through the inappropriate use of power and privilege.  We shouldn’t have to change people minds, and if we do them (and the world) the courtesy of trying, we definitely shouldn’t be told that we are doing it wrong because the oppressors don’t like our tone of voice.

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