Chp. 3: Suffering as identity and religion
There are two major concepts in social justice spaces and those are ‘privilege’ and ‘intersectionality’. Privilege, unlike intersectionality, has taken a very negative connotation; it’s not rare to see it thrown around as an accusation, and being ‘privileged’ is synonymous to being an asshole. To be exact, there are three instances where ‘privileged’ as an adjective comes up:
- when someone is thought to fail at empathizing with what a sjw says and it’s a way of cutting off a discussion that is considered futile;
- when preaching about what privilege means, while forgetting all about intersectionality, and
- when one becomes a human rights advocate and he/she is expected to admit to being better off than some groups on the base of sex, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
In all cases, there are generalizations made. Like we mentioned before, generalizations are the seeds of prejudice. Despite the fact that this type of prejudice might not have institutionalized power, it doesn’t mean it does no harm. For example, saying that all men benefit from sexism harms queer/ poor/ POC/ disabled men. Or male rape survivors who already are hard to reach and help due to societal perceptions about men and sex. On top of that, such an approach dismisses their struggles and belittles the suffering other people are going through simply on the basis of gender.
Speaking on behalf of all women is equally problematic, in that it creates dichotomies (men vs women) and it doesn’t address the need for women to reflect on their own internalized misogyny as well. Ostrich mentality won’t help anyone. I will never forget an interview of a Greek actor who said she cares about human history, not women’s history, or how our grandmothers had more fulfilling lives by focusing in the few big events. She talked like she hadn’t ever faced sexism. I also had a female middle school student telling me that when boys are jerks there’s no mean intention behind their actions in contrast to girls. And I need not count the times I’ve heard a woman slut-shaming other women or trashing them because they were “on their periods”.
These oversimplifications put the blame on every single individual, stripping them of their ‘face’. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter how well you behave towards others; your identities are enough to hold you accountable for the past, for acts you actually didn’t commit. Collective responsibility is both the norm and it’s also compulsory. This not only causes reasonable defensiveness but also minimizes the chances of gaining allies or just more people acting the way you want them to. It minimizes the chances of helping people learn. Saying that nothing better is expected from men and that they couldn’t possibly understand doesn’t promote understanding; it doesn’t challenge their values; it just causes more self-fulfilling prophecies. It is different to suggest that a child is bad than it is to say that the child has done some bad things. Don’t expect a behavior to change if you attribute it to a person’s characteristics. RAINN, a well-known American organization that helps abuse victims, said that we need to call out the rapists and not put the blame in something as abstract as rape culture. I think that’s a good point.
Besides, what is the gain if someone admits their privilege? If one helps people in need and raises awareness wherever they go, then why should they trap themselves under a label? I have the luxury to not be discriminated on the base of my skin color, but I have to put up with sexist and homophobic comments in my family environment on a daily basis. A person of color won’t have less trouble if I plaster the label ‘privileged’ on me. In a lot of ways, this demand could be a power play which attempts guilt tripping. “It’s not us who are disadvantaged; it’s you who are greedy and enjoy things we don’t, and for that you should feel guilty”. It’s a game of tagging the ‘enemy’ so as to have easier targets to hate.
On top of that, it’s not unusual to see a bad mixture of the concepts of privilege and intersections. This mixture leads to what could be called “the Oppression Olympics“. I think the quote below is an accurate description of the emphasis put in victimhood. This is not about facts and statistics but about the attitudes towards them.
People are competitive about how unfortunate they are. But the truth is, the one who loses his life is the most unfortunate. They feel as if they’ll lose, if they have pity for someone else. Maybe feeling like the most unfortunate person in the world gives you the very same pleasure as being the happiest person in the world. And when someone denies you that, it makes you angry. You don’t know why they’d say such a thing when you are already so unhappy.
~ Shoukei, 12 Kingdoms, episode 38
Abstractness, exaggeration, assimilation, guilt and martyrdom are basic ingredients of religion. Religions are sets of beliefs and practices, though, that rationalize the irrational and throughout history have been used as tools to oppress and justify discrimination. Social justice activists theoretically try to fight and break down oppression and discrimination and yet, here there are some who operate in this poisonous, religious way.