When it comes to discussions relating to privilege there’s a certain dynamic that tends to pop up within circles of people who spouse themselves in some form or another as being both critical and conscious. I have seen time and again where someone in a position of relative privilege is silenced in the middle of a genuine discussion to explore the dynamics of any given system of domination. I’m not talking about, for example, simply checking a white fool for saying something ignorant. However when it comes to genuinely trying to understand what the deal is, or what they did wrong, I have seen a general tone be “Just shut up” in many cases.
I find this to be counter-productive because it erases the process of gaining understanding and compassion where there is currently too little or none. If all someone learns is “don’t say that” without an understanding of *why* then they aren’t truly grasping the matter or the importance – only that it *is* serious and important. Is this enough? I say no. Would there be any point to me making this assertion without explaining why? You decide.
In my opinion, when it comes to systems of domination and privilege, the person in the relative seat of colonial hierarchical power generally needs to shut the hell up and take the time to listen humbly to what the Oppressed have to say. I think of it as the fishbowl dynamic where we listen to the voices of those we have been conditioned to keep tuned out of our consciousness. It doesn’t end there, though.
There is also the talk-back where someone who is part of a community having a discussion reaches for understanding. This is different from denial and invalidation. It involves calling on their direct lived experience – their subjective understanding of the world – to assimilate into their being another way of seeing the world. And sometimes this is still taken as a threat, as if they are refusing to accept how things are.
I will even go as far as to say that when it comes to gaining an ever-growing understanding of systems of domination as we explore, feel, and observe them as they change throughout time, it is crucial to have a critically conscious understanding from the perspective of someone who embodies their relative place of privilege. I deeply value the White person who can give that intimate knowledge of the things white people say and do when Others are not around – especially if they once embodied such a place. I will never have that intimate understanding and cherish these insights.
I can say for myself that men (even self-proclaimed Conscious/radical ones) can say some pretty disconcerting things about women. Of my closer friends who I have related some of these experiences with, a few have told me that I need to check fools in those circumstances. And there comes a problem that I have with what I feel is a common notion of what it means to “check a fool”. It means shutting them the fuck up and letting them know what they said is messed up and why – with little to no continued discussion. In some cases I observe. In others I probe with questions and conversation. And in others I share my understanding of why I feel something is messed up. Still, there are plenty of times when I feel intimidated myself to speak out and even check some fools. Just being honest here.
This is not me saying that I am Perfect Conscious Man Who Can Do No Wrong. Of course I mess up, and am continually learning. But part of learning is speaking one’s truth with the assumption that one does not have the full picture. And when it comes to systems of domination, people who embody the Oppressor/Privileged role are part of the whole of the system – and thus have an important part to play in gaining an ever-growing understanding.
“I could be wrong… but…”
That’s what this is here. This is my opening up of that inner sense of knowing that tells me that something is wrong about these dynamics. That “shut the f**k up you privileged ________ boy” is not enough. That we can do more – and that we can do better. To me, a safe space is about knowing that things are going to get worked out – not that no one will ever say anything that is hurtful or harsh to the ears.