I recently posted an article to my Facebook about an ignorant shop clerk who accused a mother of child abuse for buying her daughter the suit she wanted. The mother responded by walking out without buying anything. Someone commented on my Facebook to accuse the mother of wasting an opportunity to educate. Noooooo. No. No. No. No. World of no. Galaxy of no. No.
I see this a lot when people discuss a situation where they faced bulling, stigmatizing, shaming etc. and they talk about how they dealt with it. People are quick to let them know that’s not how they would have done it. Often, as was the case on my Facebook page, it’s done in accusatory tones.
I find this really troubling. First we are the victim of oppression/stigma/bullying, then people add to our victimization by suggesting that we didn’t handle it “right” and/or that we had some obligation to respond to bullshit behavior in the way they would do it, with the goals that they would have had.
It should be (but sadly isn’t always) obviously that it’s not ok to respond to oppression by oppressing other people (like responding to fat shaming with healthism, or ableism, or an inappropriate comparison to the oppression of another group.) and that is something that is definitely worthy of comment. Outside of that, we have every right to respond to the oppressive bullshit that comes at us in whatever way we choose.
Sometimes people get confused and think that we have some obligation to help our bigots and bullies become better people who are less bigoted and do less bullying. We have the option to try that, but never the obligation – in fact we don’t have any obligation to choose educating or bridge building or any other goal as the basis for how we deal with oppression.
We might choose educating the person and trying to build a bridge as a goal, or we might choose expressing our anger as a goal. It’s ok to try to start a dialog, to say something snarky, or to say nothing at all and just walk away. It’s ok to not address the issue at all. Our choice of reaction might change with each different exchange, based on everything from our current mood, to our relationship with the person committing the oppression, to the balance of power between us and our oppressor, or any other circumstances. And all of that is completely ok.
How about we keep our eye on the ball here: when someone is being oppressed, the problem is the oppression and the oppressor, not the way that the victim dealt with them. A really good first step to supporting people who are dealing with oppression is to not make it worse, and avoiding criticism of their reaction because it’s not what you would have done is an excellent step in the right direction.
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