“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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