There are a few things I keep seeing involving discussions that seek to improve the dialogue and general understanding about privilege, the prevalence of all of the -isms and phobias, and the people who seek to dismiss or shut them down. This is the casual use of the words “offense” “offended” and “offend”. These imply that not only is the intent crucial to determine if something is damaging, but also that the largest damage that occurs is to that of the ego of the person who is “offended”.
- "The intent wasn’t to offend, so I can’t be (-ist or -phobic)"
- "Well I am sorry you are offended, but (apologist rhetoric to dismiss an impact of statement or actions."
- "Well (marginalized group) is also (-ist or -phobic)! That is equally as bad!"
- "Well someone (marginalized group) said something to me (OP is of majority group) and that hurts just as much as (slur directed towards marginalized group)."
All of these statements hinge on the misunderstanding that calling out these types of detrimental statements, propagation and/or reinforcement of harmful stereotypes, biases, and sometimes propaganda is all really about hurt feelings. That the presence of hurt feelings is what causes something to be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other type of -ist or -phobic.
That is what allows someone to think that the reason why something like “blackface” causes the same damage as “whiteface” because the thing that is wrong with “black face” is the fact that it hurts black people’s feelings. That if a black person at one time called a white person “honkey” or “cracker” that it is just as bad as when a black person is called a “ni***r” “because both words do the same thing: hurt people’s poor feelings.
This is what also leads people to believe that the way to end racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, or transphobia is to just stop getting your feelings hurt and magically all of the negative effects of those things suddenly go way. Because feelings is what determines and defines those things, right?
However the thing is, hurt feelings—being offended—are completely unnecessary to view things as racist, sexist, ableist, homophoic, transphoic, or any thing else that harm’s people in real world terms. I will admit, that most of the time my feelings aren’t the least bothered when I see something I consider racist. I am too tired, and busy, to get my feelings involved because honestly, no one has time or the emotional energy for all of that. I will repeat, my feelings are not hurt, and they never will need to be hurt to call out things that can effect and hurt people in real world terms. We can completely remove feelings from the equation.
My feelings don’t need to be hurt to say that consistently depicting men of color as thugs, criminals, unintelligent macho men with only bravado is racist and hurts men of color. No one’s feelings need to be hurt when that image and stereotype is allowed to propagate and infiltrate the subconscious of people when they are a cop and decided to “randomly” stop and frisk young black male youth, or teachers give up early on them because they will just end up being “thugs” eventually. Or when young black men internalize these messages, ultimately easily viewing themselves underachieving as opposed to leading in the board room.
These types of depictions have nothing to do with the hurt feelings of those who are affected in real world terms, and they have zero to do with the intent of the one who help propagate and/or reinforce these messages that are rampant in culture and society.
This is why no matter how you affectionately call a transwoman “shemale”, you are doing harm. Harm not because the transwoman furrowed her brow and said to not say that word, but harm because it is harmful to transwoman everywhere to continue to call them a term that is used primarily in the porn industry.
- Harm, because it subtly puts their whole being in the context of being there for men, to be used by men, to be attractive to men, and to trick men in order to have sex with them.
- Harm, because there is a dangerous narrative that trans women seek to trick straight men into homosexuality.
- Harm, because this narrative is used to justify violence against trans women by calling them perverted, predatory gay men who seek to trap straight men into homosexuality.
- Harm, because many men are fed the misconception that masculinity is hard, and needs to constantly be proven and reaffirmed, and violence is an appropriate way to do so. (Notice that I said “fed the misconception” since I do no believe that this is what masculinity is or needs to be.)
And it is mind boggling that even pointing out misconceptions and correcting people gets dismissed under the premise that some people shouldn’t get so “sensitive” or “get so offended all the time”. When was the last time you accused someone of getting their feelings hurt of offended when they corrected you when you incorrectly said that Kim Jong-Un was the leader of South Korea? Or if someone says that smoking ten cigarettes a day is healthy, when someone hops in and says “No, that is completely wrong. Don’t tell that to people,”—where are all the people accusing them of unnecessarily hurt feelings when they find something incorrect and potentially harmful to others?
I admit that many people don’t start out their criticisms clarifying that being offended is what is the least important. For most people the first thing they feelis the emotion of being offended—but even after they explain why, others focus on the offended part of the whole dialogue, as if the explanation of why it is offensive is completely irrelevant. Those people argue that if only the person offended had fewer feelings, emotional investment, or stake in the topic at hand, it wouldn’t matter! They claim that actually feeling the effects of the statement or action called into question makes someone “biased” or “irrational” and therefore unqualified to give a valid opinion of the ramifications of what is at stake, and that being unaffected and uninvested is the only valid position from which to argue.
Also, focusing on the feeling of being offended allows the conversation to recenter back to the person who propagated harmful verbiage, ignoring the fact that the other person is taking time to point that out. It gives them the excuse that their own “hurt” feelings from being called out are as important as those of the person who is pointing out harmful speech or action.
"You killed my dog!"
"Well, it is just as bad as being accused for dog murder! We’re even! Except that my situation is totally worse… so we should really keep talking about me, right now."
However, at the end of the day, feeling offended is like tasting the first bit of poison that will go beyond offending your sense of palate or smell. The diner says that the food tastes wrong, but what the server—who doesn’t know that the chef misguidedly confused the arsenic for sugar—hears is that you just don’t like the taste of the food. You try to convince them that you can tell there really is something wrong with the food because of the taste, while the server cites off all of the ingredients that comprise the dish and how the biggest problem is just that you don’t like the taste. Believing that it is all about the taste doesn’t stop the harm from happening to the body. It doesn’t dismiss the bloodwork documenting the poison, nor would it dismiss that a person died of arsenic poisoning. To add insult to injury, the server can call the whole experience even because you could hurt the reputation of their restaurant by voicing your grievances about your poisoning. Therefore everything is even between the two of you.
"A poor rating on Yelp, your dying liver, yep! Even-Steven!"
Regardless of taste, harm can and does happen. All that trying to refocus the dialogue on the immediate reaction does is continually give a pass to the poisoning chef to continue to poison others just because the servers can’t taste the food themselves, because they can’t think beyond what they can’t feel or experience.
Same exact thing about being offended. It isn’t about my feelings or the feelings of others when demographics are being thrown under the bus for whatever reason, intentional or unintentional. It is about the harm of getting your internal organs crushed under the weight of oppressive power structures while people squabble if the person really felt the pain or not.