Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Teaching The Privileged

This afternoon, I was re-reading this post by Tasha Fierce; she was reflecting on the series of posts she'd written for Bitch Magazine about fat and pop culture.  There was one line in this post that really got me thinking; for context's sake, I should probably tell you that she was talking about the fact that because of the hostility that her subject had aroused in so many readers, she quickly realized that she'd have to also include a certain amount of "Fat Acceptance 101" just so that she could make her commentary about fat people in pop culture to an audience who couldn't claim that they didn't know what she was talking about.  She also said that she didn't feel inclined to coddle people who felt that she owed them a lot of explanation, and she says:

"As so many have said, oppressed people are not a learning opportunity and you need to take it upon yourself to become educated on a topic."

First of all, I can say that I completely agree with this.  My life is not a learning opportunity for people with types of privilege that I lack, and the lives of people who don't have the privileges that I do are definitely not learning opportunities for me.  I agree totally with the idea that it's up to privileged people to teach themselves about privilege and the way it affects people's lives, and that nobody—whether they're fat, female, LGBTQ etc., non-white, non-Christian, or anything else that deviates from this (largely imaginary) "norm" that consists basically of temporarily able-bodied white middle-aged Protestant men, should have to answer questions about their lives that they don't want to answer, nor do I think that their lives should be used in any way of which they do not approve.


Sometimes it's just a good idea to point people in the right direction, especially if they really do want to learn how to be a good, supportive and effective friend and ally.  Telling people "If you want to learn, go teach yourself about it, it's not my job!" can be pretty damn unproductive.  Say you have a five-year-old kid who wants to learn to play the violin.  The best way to go about that wouldn't be to present her with a full-sized violin and sheet music for a complicated violin solo and tell her,  "Here you go, you've got your sheet music, you've got your instrument, now go teach yourself how to play."  How can you learn if you can't even figure out where to start?  To someone who's not familiar with the idea of privilege, or of the problems that various groups of people face, it can feel an awful lot like that.  I know; I've been there myself when it comes to an issue or two, and there have been times when I've thought that a bit of extra help might have been, well, helpful.  That's a large part of the reason why I've been so open about some very personal things on this blog.

Just to be clear: I don't think that anyone has a duty to educate other people about things that they could easily look up for themselves.  But I do think that sometimes, when we're sure we've encountered someone who truly wants to be an ally, it might be helpful—to us as well as to them—to at least let them know about one or two resources that they can use to teach themselves about something that may, in time, come to mean as much to them as it does to us.  Otherwise, the constant refrain of "go teach yourself" can sound an awful lot like "go fuck yourself" instead, and that's no help to anybody. :p

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