Activism – You’re Not Doing It Wrong

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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13 thoughts on “Activism – You’re Not Doing It Wrong

  1. Amen, amen! Preach it! Especially that those not in the target group don’t get to tell the target group how to do it!

  2. I frankly reject the idea that there is one, single path that fixes oppression. There are people who respond only to honey and those who respond only to a fire fight, so we have to have options and each of us gets to choose which path we feel will get us farther, which path allows us to sleep at night, and which path we feel is more authentic to ourselves.

    And no, those leading the war of oppression on us do NOT get a vote in which tactics any of us choose to use to protect ourselves.

  3. What is wrong with getting angry? I do not understand those that think we all need to play nice in the sandbox even when the opposing party is acting like an asshole. Being nice to these people doesn’t do anyone any favors except for the oppressor. Then you have people that say if you get angry then you give that other person the satisfaction of getting to you. Again I don’t agree. Not fighting back, not getting angry about being oppressed is, in my opinion, allowing the oppressor to get away with it. Anger can be a very appropriate and healthy reaction if dealt with properly, and I think being nice or ignoring it is disrespectful of yourself or others going through that situation. Of course to each his own and getting angry isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they should tell others that getting angry isn’t a good or valid response.

  4. You’ve mentioned Facebook a few times in your blog but I can’t seem to find you on Facebook. Is that on purpose? I’d like another way to connect to you and your activism. Thanks!

  5. Turns out oppressors/abusers don’t believe they are doing anything wrong and have no desire to change.

    Being nice, being angry, being reasonable even using the law won’t get these people to change the way they think.

    But maybe, just maybe, you can shut them up for a little while.

    Clueless people who are doing what they have always done, those you might be able to change. Getting angry at them will put them on the defensive, but if they aren’t full of hate, they will eventually learn better.

    Get angry when you need to. Be nice (but firm) when you can. If you are up to educating people do it. If not, maybe you can support those who can educate.

    Things will eventually change. Look at all the states that are finally legalizing marriage.

    It’s Christmas Eve and I have lovely plans with friends later and some food to make. I hope all of you enjoy today, whatever you are doing.

  6. What’s sad is how many people understand this when it comes to issues they face, but then turn around and play that card when it comes to their own privileges. You wouldn’t believe how many people in the FA community defend their right to get angry over size discrimination, but will discredit fat people of color who get angry at race issues in the FA community and elsewhere. It makes my blood boil… so much hypocrisy.

  7. ah, the “tone” argument, one of the perennial favourites on oppression bingo cards. and it always, always comes from people who didn’t say a peep before somebody gets angry, but now they feel moved to share that one isn’t reaching them with one’s anger. i especially enjoy the ones who pretend they would have listened if only the oppressed hadn’t taken such an aggressive tone. right. don’t let the door hit your privileged ass on the way while you’re flouncing out. maybe that would make a difference if you had actually behaved supportive before, but those people never were.

    fuckwits. anger is a perfectly appropriate response to oppression. frankly, i wonder why i didn’t get angry about this particular issue much sooner, considering i have been angry at racism, sexism, and homophobia for decades. internalized hatred is much worse for you than outspoken anger, i think.

  8. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    The times in my life when I have gone bats**t crazy, off the walls, ranting with steam coming out of my ears, are those times when I have in many different ways tried to express myself calmly and nobody listened, and I finally lost it.
    I really don’t like to lose it, so at this point, I’m kind of cranky all the time and I speak my mind from the get-go. I may not be yelling, but I’m not smiling or begging either.

  9. I agree fully. Its not about convincing your oppressors or pleasing them in any way, it is about asserting force so as to regain a balance of power and make the act of oppression have consequences that the oppressor will not like. Oppressors will always try to use mental manipulation using false moral principles to further weaken the oppressed group.

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