In my previous post, I discussed how I used to not understand why it was inappropriate for me to question others about their ‘oppressed status.” That was only the surface of my privilege taking a hold. If i was ever challenged, or felt uncomfortable about my behavior I always had a surefire way of making myself feel better: I had good intentions. I can understand how “other, racist” people might say something harmful on purpose but I was an “ally” and open-minded so even if someone “misinterpreted” what I was asking I could alleviate any guilt I felt by thinking that my intent mattered.
That’s the thing about focusing on intent. It’s designed to make the oppressor feel better and once again silence the oppressed person’s feelings and experience. As a privileged person I live in a world where I can assume intent matters in many ways. I am not used to having a person look at one tiny example of my behavior and use it fortify some time of stereotype in their head. I don’t have to worry about how, no matter how many black people someone has an interaction with, they will take the one negative experience and attribute it to all. Intent matters to ME because I’m used to being treated like an individual, not representation of my entire perceived group.
For example:Not long ago I wrote a post about rape trees and immigrant women being denied abortion access while in custody. In the post, I used the term “Hispanic”. I was unaware that this was a term that is not truly appropriate. Thankfully, I was let know in comments* that this was not an appropriate concern. I changed it immediately but I found myself, even days later, trying to justify that term in my mind. I felt myself getting defensive that only that part of my post was picked up on and if I came across the term in my daily experiences I would think: How was I supposed to know? It’s everywhere. (Another example of privilege: assuming that just because something is common therefore it must be “appropriate.”).
I knew my intent behind the post and the word but in reality it didn’t matter, it still was the incorrect term. Instead of just accepting that I used a harmful word and filing it away to remove it from my lexicon and correct others, I still struggled with being ‘corrected.’ Caring about intent is just another way of making the fight against racism, homophobia,& transphobia about myself. It’s a way of focusing the discussion around me and how “good” I am and it shows that people who get incredibly defensive about their intent are in the fight because of how it makes them feel about themselves or look to others. This is insulting considering that t others don’t have the opportunity to view these battles as a “hobby” or “good deed.” We will fuck up and I have witnessed multiple times allies fucking up on WOC blogs or posts on Trans rights and guess what: When someone gets corrected and apologizes and continues the conversation something productive happens. However, when someone refuses to allow the conversation to continue because they need people to know that THEY ARE NOT A RACIST the conversation stops and nothing productive is happening which is exactly what an ally should not want. There is nothing wrong with admitting that we do not know it all and may inadvertently hurt people’s feelings. That does not mean we are not a good person, it means we are learning.
*Disclaimer: Even while writing this post I had an attack of the privilege. I almost typed the qualifier that the commenter was “polite” when calling out my fuck up. By typing that I would have implied that POC and others must only be polite when calling out racism or other isms if they want to be listened to (Another silencing tool: See This Thread). It allows the framework to be set that I would have been justified in not changing the post if it hadn’t been polite.