A post over at Official Shrub.com, via Ally Work, on "how to be a genuinely nice [person]." Specifically, how to be a genuinely respectful ally (feminist, anti-racist, gay rights, what have you--as someone who isn't a member of the discriminated-against group).
And, hmm. I'm thinking. I agree with most if not all of this. Admittedly I am more comfortable agreeing to its points when I am the member of the discriminated-against group than when I am the outsider/ally/privileged representative (surprise). But it's sound, and it's smart, and it's hugely worth reading in full.
My thing, and it's been niggling at me for a while now--
okay. First of all, everything at the above-cited makes perfect sense in the context of a discussion that is overtly about the issues of/discrimination against the discriminated-against group (DAG for short henceforth). Particularly when it is a gathering that is hosted by people who belong to the DAG; you are, it is generally understood, there as a guest, if you are invited at all. And if you're explicitly not invited but you crash anyway--well.
Somewhere, misplaced the link alas, anyway someone had posted a poem by Chrystos (I think) about this phenomenon, about a white woman who crashed a women-of-color -only meeting and ended up hijacking the whole shindig with her hurt and upset--at being excluded, at hearing nasty things said about her and hers. Yeah, it happens. And sure, we're all probably privy to the whole not-invited-to-the-party hurt; all the same...hello, don't go if you're not welcome. For all the reasons listed in the poem and in the above link, but also: seriously, why? It's a bit like reading a friend's diary or something: yes, sometimes people need to vent, and that may include talking smack about you in ways that they wouldn't want to do to your face, not just because they don't want you crashing the party, but because, quite possibly, those are not the only feelings they have about you; they just need to...vent. In private. If you don't want to be hurt by it, you probably shouldn't go there. Sometimes it's true: what you don't know won't hurt you.
Which last seems to contradict a bit the business in the link about "being able to take criticism," perhaps.
The thing is, the advice to "not take it personally?" That's terrific advice for everyone, across the boards, not just in sociopolitical contexts. Because even when it is about you, personally: it really isn't, you know, at the end of the day. We'd all do well to remember it. Terrific advice; yet I, for one, very seldom follow it. Well, sometimes. I try, you know.
But the other thing is, while it's true that people often bridle and get defensive when their privilege is named (in a matter of fact, impersonal way or otherwise) by someone who doesn't share it, there is also another phenomenon, probably more prevalent in leftie circles than elsewhere, but certainly not restricted to such (especially these days, where "political correctness" means making sure to not criticize Dear Leader or neglect to wish everyone a "Merry Christmas," happy holidays be damned).
Rather than using old, tired labels, though, I think it's more accurate to say that it's usually this, at least in part: intellectualization. That is: when people wrap large sociopolitical megillas around personal grievances, or (more often) conflate the one with the other, it tends to make everything spiral up and up and out and out, with nary a resolution in sight. Big heady "isms" and abstract structures clouding the sharp, immediate feelings, till no one can separate thought from feeling at all anymore, or indeed identify any feelings at all, although it's clear from the outside that the predominant ones are rage, shame, and hurt.
And the thing is, when this happens: it's not that the sociopolitical business is inaccurate, which is the usual line of the defense from the supposedly "politically incorrect" (tired!) It's that the personal shit, it matters, too; it doesn't need justification, if only you can address it for what it is. The personal is political, yes, but only to a point, and not always in the way people think.
At any rate, I've often thought, after yet another long agonizing process-y leftie coalition meeting which covered everything and went nowhere, it would probably save a lot of time and miscommunication if more people could say, simply and directly, "I'm feeling hurt" or "I'm angry." Of course, this is also the group therapy talking.
...addendum: still mulling. I think one situation that comes up fairly often is when a DAG member (DAGM) is "speaking from the I" about a personal experience of discrimination, and the privileged outsider (PO, henceforth) chimes in with something like, "Well, that happens to me/us, too: (follow story)."
This often tends to piss the DAGM off, because it can seem like the PO talking over the DAGM's voice (which is precisely what the DAGM is tired of). And, depending on the speaker and listener, the chiming in can come off as anywhere from well-meaning-but-clueless to hostile.
So what often happens then is, the DAGM will respond, either right there at the scene or later on after some processing, with something along the lines of "HELLO! It's NOT ABOUT YOU! Shut UP, for the love of GOD, I'M TALKING." Maybe after a number of such encounters, the thought/feeling will crystallize into something like "You know what? You just don't get it, and you never will. It's a __ thing, you wouldn't understand." And, people being what they are, the DAGM is likely to carry those experiences and feelings into his/her/hir next encounter with not just that particular PO but other PO's of that group as well; or at least more likely to do so than before.
So, well, hm. First of all, again, back to the advice in the shrub.com piece: first and best option as a PO--hell, as anyone faced with an angry person, is to go back to listening. Maybe no response is called for. Maybe addressing the feelings directly (there's that group therapy again) might be helpful, if one feels capable. If one is feeling too defensive to do either, maybe best to excuse oneself and take a walk. (Very good advice; I very seldom follow it).
I'm also thinking, though, that if one is a DAGM whose hackles rise all too easily at such encounters these days, it's worth considering (I am slowly learning this. I think): there are at least a couple different motives fuelling the PO's "well, we get that too" business. Some of it is defensiveness, yes. Sometimes it may just be the person consciously or (far more likely, not that it's an excuse) unconsciously trying to one-up the DAGM, yet again. Or, appropriation, or what you will.
But also, I think, at least with genuinely well-meant PO's, the "me too" is an attempt, however clumsy, to try to connect with the DAGM. Not always. But sometimes. And when one invokes "it's a __ thing, you just don't understand," that is a shutting-down, pushing away gesture. I'm not saying one shouldn't ever do this. Maybe that's just how one feels. Maybe it's even true, in this case, with this person. But I do think it's important to be clear about what one wants. If one just wants to speak one's piece and be heard, well, that's one thing, and that's fine. If one wants a discussion, however, then...well, it's really difficult to discuss and invoke pushing-away gestures at the same time. And I think that it's at the point where that starts to happen--the come-here-go-away--that a lot of talks break down.