The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Nothing to prove“Fat is the last acceptable prejudice.”  I see someone say something like this at least once a day either in an online forum, in person or, as happened yesterday, on this blog.  I’d like to make a case for never saying this again.  I’ll put forth two arguments.  First, that it’s not true.  Second, that even if it was true, there is nothing to be gained by saying it.

My first argument is that it’s not true.

At this moment people are trying to make an all white town in North Dakota.  A couple of years ago the Arizona legislature passed, and the governor signed, a law that allowed anyone who  the police thought looked like they might be an illegal immigrant to be forced to show proof of citizenship at any time.  The Supreme Court had to tell them that this was not ok.

As recently as July 18th of this year, the Baton Rouge police have been running a sting operation arresting gay men for setting a date to have sex in a private residence, with no money changing hands, with a police officer who started the conversation by denying that he was a police officer.  They are charging the men based on Louisiana sodomy laws that were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003. The police used justifications from the suggestion that gay people should not be allowed to ask each other out in parks, to “won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children”.

California just became the first state to pass a law giving trans students equal access to facilities and activities consistent with their gender identity.  Forty nine states do NOT have such a law.  When I posted this to my FB the first question I got was “does this mean we have to allow them in women only spaces?”  When I said that I certainly hope so since they are women, the argument I got was that we’d have to agree to disagree.  Um, no, I don’t have to agree to disagree on basic civil rights and none of us has the right to say who is and who is not a woman.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and fatphobia are just some of the prejudices that happen all the time, often in combination (intersectionality!)   They are all acceptable to some people or they wouldn’t happen.

I think that often when people say this, they mean that there aren’t a lot of legal protections for fat people.  That’s true, but it doesn’t make it the last acceptable prejudice.  In Michigan, for example, you can’t be legally fired for being fat, but you can be fired because you are gay. The citizens of a number of states have voted that consenting adults of the same sex should not be allowed to marry each other.

Sometimes when people say this they are speaking to how institutionalized fat oppression is.  That’s true, but it doesn’t make it the last acceptable prejudice.  When criticized because the vast majority of people targeted by the NYC stop and frisk policy were Black and Hispanic, Mayor Bloomberg said that it was because Black and Hispanic people were more likely to be criminals.  Prejudice against lots of groups is accepted at the institutional level in lots of ways.

My second argument is that even if it were true that fat is the last acceptable prejudice, I don’t think that there is anything to be gained by saying it, or by using our time and energy to argue for it.

It’s divisive and moves the conversation from fighting oppression to arguing about who’s being oppressed more and why.

It invalidates the experience of people in other oppressed groups who are telling us that they do experience their oppression as acceptable.  I know that I insist that I’m the best witness to my own oppression and as such I have to believe that other people are the best witness to theirs.  If people from other marginalized groups are saying that the prejudice they experience is acceptable, then I believe them.

I just don’t see any good reason to make this claim.  It seems like we can fight every facet of fat oppression without making any sweeping generalizations about the nature of it as compared to other oppressions, which also assures that we avoid negating the experiences of the members of other oppressed groups.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate to have spaces and discussions specifically about fat oppression, to me it just means that I think we are better off if these discussions focus on fighting the oppression rather than comparing it to others, and that we are best served if we also have conversations about intersectionality and how we can support other marginalized groups both within and outside of fat acceptance.

I’ve never been a fan of the Oppression Olympics – I would rather fight oppression than argue about who has it worst.

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40 thoughts on “The Last Acceptable Prejudice

  1. THANK YOU for this.

    There are something like twenty-two states where you can still lose your job if the boss discovers you’re gay, thirty-nine if you are trans. The seventy-seven cent dollar is still the standard for women in the workplace. My husband, who is biracial (white and Asian) gets stopped by cops and followed by staff in stores constantly. As an atheist, I have to sit through public prayers at many events, and have been told constantly that I have no moral code because I don’t happen to believe in a divine being that tells me what it should be. An immigrant man I knew was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit by a jury that was informed every day of his trial that he was a ‘wetback’ by the district attorney. He had entered the country legally and my father sponsored him for citizenship. He’d been an American citizen for nearly twenty years. I get catcalls and substandard medical treatment for being fat.

    It’s all bad. Every one of these things is demonstrably wrong. There are plenty more things just as bad to choose from.

    So let’s fight to make things better.

    We don’t make things better by arguing who has it worst. We make things better by standing up to be counted when bad things happen. We can stand up just for the things that directly affect us, or we can branch out.

    What we cannot, must not do is start telling ourselves or each other that one prejudice is worst of all. We cannot tell others that decades or centuries of institutionalized prejudice all wafted away the day a law was signed or a speech was made.

    We have it rough. We are treated unfairly. There’s institutionalized prejudice against us and it must be fought.

    But I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell my African-American friends or my disabled friends or my gay friends or the next trans person I meet that they have life so much better than I do because they have legal protections. Far too often, they don’t have the protections you think they do. Far more often than that, the protections in place are blithely ignored.

    Besides, a lot of them are facing the same fat hate I am in addition to those other issues.

    The day a gay, black, immigrant, disabled, fat, trans woman tells me it’s the fat that makes her life the hardest… let’s just say I’m not holding my breath. It might or might not be the thing she finds most difficult to navigate, but I would let her make that decision for herself.

    1. {{{{{HUGS}}}}}

      Thank you for saying this. Because, honestly, I can design and make clothes that would blow any fashion house’s mind wide open. I can talk back to haters and humiliate them in front of their friends thoroughly enough they keep their shit-eating grins to themselves next time. What I can’t always deal with is the amount of pain I’m in every single day, and how impossible it is for me to work, and the bipolar disorder and persistent anxiety and agoraphobia that force me to ration the number of times per week I leave the house.

      I’m okay with being fat.

      Being disabled is hell. Being bi in this political climate, and with my lesbian-phobic mother (lust lesbians, IDEK), is hell at times, and I wish my ladylove wasn’t so far away. Being female, a minority that’s really in the majority, is infuriating when we’re treated as nothing more than brood sows and domestics, and the laws that protect us, living flesh and blood, are toppled in favor of ancient mistranslations and imaginary friends. And being poor is a nightmare. Even my own dad, who watches Fox News nonstop, was fully opposed to SSI and SSDI benefits until I needed them–never mind that I’m only drawing on my retirement benefits a few years early.

  2. This. A thousand times this. Thank you for saying it. This is such an important post and I hope it illustrates to those who engage in Oppression Olympics why it is not helpful but hurtful and really just contemptible behavior.

    1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my right to breathe without having an asthma attack trumps their right to smoke.

      1. True…and I definitely appreciate smoking bans in restaurants, etc. But what about refusing to hire workers who use nicotine, like Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, because of “the leadership role Sparrow has taken in health and wellness issues in the community”? All applicants have to have a drug screening, which includes a nicotine test. On their FAQ sheet, their response to the question of whether or not the screening is legal is this: “Yes. Users of nicotine are not in a legally protected class. Nicotine-free hiring policies are legal in 20 state, including Michigan.” If discriminating against fat people (during hiring) was legal in Michigan, you can imagine where Sparrow could go with this policy.

        Click to access FAQ%20on%20Nicotine-free%20Hiring%20Policy.pdf

        Of course, you could also argue that people who use illegal drugs are discriminated against, but concern about marijuana use can at least be justified by its effect on cognition.

        1. This is exactly what I meant by discriminating against smokers. For the moment, tobacco is legal to buy and use in America if you are an adult. I do NOT condone smokers “taking a cigarette break” at work 5 times a day, while the non smokers are stuck picking up the slack.

        2. Refusing to hire nicotine users goes too far. I honestly couldn’t care less if people smoke as long as they do it downwind/in designated areas/their own homes. As long as it doesn’t actively interfere with their jobs, how does a legal drug used within legal limits in a way that doesn’t leave the user impaired in any way affect the employer?

          I actually have a friend who smokes because nicotine is the only thing she’s found that helps her pain levels, and all the alternative delivery methods she’s been able to afford to try (gum, patch, etc.) have had intolerable side effects. She hates it, but it’s necessary.

          Nicotine, for the record, is an incredibly powerful anti-inflammatory agent. It’s been and is being tested on multiple illnesses, including insulin resistance, ulcerative colitis, and Parkinson’s. I haven’t read enough papers to know why it’s never moved past the animal testing stages–its effects have been known for years, maybe decades–but I suspect it’s because the lethal dosage is so low, and withdrawal is so traumatic to the system.

  3. I want to know how you became so smart, Ragen? Where did you go to learn this kind of stuff that you can distill for us. Its true, all groups can get caught up in this sort of petty back and forth.

    Thanks for saying what I hadn’t got around to thinking. –Jen

    1. Right? I’ve heard that line used in different ways and it always made me doubtful. I wish I could have pointed those people in the direction of this blog back then.

  4. “I’ve never been a fan of the Oppression Olympics – I would rather fight oppression than argue about who has it worst.”

    Yeah – that…

    I’ve heard the “last acceptable prejudice” line from friends who mean that in their rarefied circles – unlike others – other prejudice is not acceptable – and can rattle off a collection of unacceptable prejudices. They just don’t get that the sneaky thing about prejudice is that you never think you, yourself, are prejudiced – no, you’re a rational person who just knows that all (blank) are (blank…) And, of course, you’re not prejudiced against the people you assume to be prejudiced…

    But… I see people who carefully welcome some religions and despise others. I see people who support the developmentally disabled – and look down on anyone with intelligence that is below average (within the “normal” range.) I see people who loudly support gay and actual transgender – but mock transvestite. I see people who consider themselves feminist, but assume that means that women think, react, and behave exactly like men – and if we don’t, for reasons innate, cultural or experiential, that means we’re doing it wrong. And then, the same for people of different races or ethnic backgrounds – no one could possibly reasonably react differently than I do just because they have an entirely different experience than I do…

    And every so often I trip badly over something I’ve “known” that isn’t true… and wonder what else is there, and how many people I’ve hurt without realizing my own prejudice.

    None of my friends *believe* that they are oppressing anyone. (People who did deliberately choose to oppress someone wouldn’t be my friends,) But… most of us are very invested in that idea, and incredibly resistant to any suggestion that, just maybe, there’s something we’re not noticing…

  5. Thank you for clarifying my belief and opening my eyes. I’ve often stated that fat is the last legal hate crime. I appreciate perspective.

  6. I agree! But I can see it from all sides…
    I think when people say this, they mean that if fat people are publicly humiliated, murdered, criticized and bullied for being fat no one does anything about, no one goes to jail for it or there’s no public outcry about it. I was on Tumblr and a woman of size posted pictures of her skinned legs, arms, and bloody face because some guys where calling her fat and tried to run her over with their car.

    And this coming from a black woman, when racist things are said and done to African American or minorities globally our communities are on it, and attention is brought to it. However when phataphobic things are said and done in our community or globally it doesn’t recieve the same outcry. People don’t believe sizism is an oppression because I always read and hear “Well you can lose weight so (insert warranted fat judgment)”, that’s why I believe people say fat hatred is the last accepted prejudice. No one is in our corner as fat people, so I can see the frustration and wanting to create a separate lane.

    In a perfect world I would form a group where all discriminated groups can come together and work together against a society that still treats us like we’re non-human.

  7. This is my biggest bone to pick with the Fat Acceptance community and why I find myself waxing and waning as far as participation and activism goes.

    In many ways, FA is the movement of fat, able-bodied, cis-het, middle-class white women. And this becomes blatantly obviously in a lot of the rhetoric used by the movement, such as the phrase used to title this post. The Tumblr blog This Is Thin Privilege has been a repeat offender on the issue; completely forgetting that body size and race and class intersect in a big way. So many “love your body” images and campaigns coming out of FA only feature white women. Transwomen have had a lot of less than favorable things to say about Melissa McEwan.

    For me, as a fat Black woman, it’s not enough for fat activists to acknowledge the existence of people who are additionally marginalized for something other than body size (though that’s a start!). Our experiences need to be included and considered within the mainstream fabric of the movement. How often have fat WOC, fat people with disabilities, fat people in the lgbt community attempted to share what it’s like to be fat in our respective communities and at our intersections only to be silenced because they don’t “fit” within what white, able-bodies, cis-het women want their movement to be? Incidentally, this has also been a problem the same groups of people are continually facing within mainstream feminism as well.

    What FA needs is more posts like the one above. More real, honest conversations about flaws within the movement and how these flaws are alienating the very people it claims to advocate for.

  8. Hi Ragen, This is a news article I found today on CNN. If you haven’t yet seen it I know you would want to! Talk about obscene letters. AWFUL . . . grade? ‘F’

    Carol Music

    1. And just look at the comments. One of the first basically says that since it was a fat man that wrote it, the argument is invalid.

      1. I read the article and comments… I’m so saddened by the number of hateful comments with fat shaming in them.

  9. You say it so well. For my part I don’t give a rip what you got between your legs, but if you pee on the seat or leave a mess in the little private room you’re gonna be on my shit list.

  10. I can kind of see where the idea starts, in that a lot of self-labelled progressive people who are outwardly against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. are also outspoken against fat people because eat less/exercise more/it’s a choice/other bullshit. But a) just because making overtly racist comments is taboo in your circle, doesn’t mean the rest of the world agrees, and b) just because making overtly racist comments is taboo doesn’t mean you don’t also have racist attitudes. That’s the point of institutional prejudices; society grinds them into us on a constant basis, and working them out is a constant process.

  11. Thank you so much for this, Ragen. You are truly a breath of fresh air and an admirably consistent voice of reasonableness.

    I don’t know how you manage to keep such a compassionate perspective in the face of having to endure what you go through, but I salute you for it. Thank you for your leadership and inspiration.

  12. All the prejudices are horrible. I live in Poland, where homophobia is an everyday ocurrence, transsexual people are often the objects of ridicule, and so on. Of course there are lots of people who have more empathy, but it depends on the people’s bacground, profession, religion, etc. At least fat people used to be left alone (more or less), so I was reading the horrible stories about fat people discrimination in America and said thanks to all the possible gods for living in Europe… but… lastly I have read about the court about taking a child from their grandparents because of fat. About people struggling the pressure to be thin to appear “professional” in work, taking deadly weight-loss drugs, tapeworms, and dieting, dieting, dieting… I work in a place where fat bullying is considered faux pas (I hope!), but I am starting to dread. The plague of stupidity and discrimination is crawling everywhere. Thank you for being the Sane, keep on writing!

  13. I think the key word here is “acceptable”. I don’t know about the US, ao won’t comment on that, but in the UK, the prejudices discussed above are not considered acceptable, at the level of government and legislation. This doesn’t mean that there are no individuals holding those prejudices, but they are not sanctioned or declared acceptable by the state. Prejudice against fat people, however, is state sanctioned and even committed by the state, including upon children. Not only that, but it is seen as being for our own benefit. Stigmatisation and even bullying, sanctioned because they are supposedly going to do us good. Fat is seen as a choice, and an ill one at that, and fat people are seen as deserving whatever mistreatment they get, and the mistreatment is seen not as mistreatment, but as assistance. I can’t think of any other group which has such a status in my country.

    I’m not interested in playing “more oppressed than thou” or denying anyone elses experiences of prejudice. I don’t particularly see myself as an oppressed person as a fat, somewhat disabled, non-hetero woman, although if I was attepting to return to the workplace my weight would be a significant issue. But I do think that in the UK at least, there is some usefulness in drawing the comparison with other forms of opression and prejudice and asking that fat people should have the same protection and rights as those of other minorities.

  14. I loved your post, Ragen, and most of what the commenters had to say, as well! I’ve been saying the same thing for years, but found it to be an uphill battle within the SA movement. At least half of the participants seem to buy into the idea that they are victims of the “last acceptable” prejudice. I have always said that you can gauge discimination to some degree with what jokes the comedians are making, at whose expense. There is a long list of such groups, not just fat people.

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