Derailing is a Privilege

Heaven help all of you, but being so taken with the concept of privilege, I have made it a theme for the month.

If you are a person with marginalized group status (pwmgs), then I am certain you have approached a person with privilege (pwp) that corresponds to your oppression status in order to correct some misconception they have. Instead of a discourse between two intelligent people who show mutual respect, you find yourself trying to swim up Niagara Falls while wearing concrete boots. Whether intentional or not, the pwp utilizes certain tactics to prove you are wrong. Today I want to mention some of my “favorites” culled from Derailing for Dummies as well as my own experience.

Educator without Borders
Some pwp are willing to admit their ignorance which seemingly indicates a chance for true discourse conversation until the crucial phrase, “So educate me” is uttered. At this point, the pwmgs is drafted to “teach” the pwp, whether they want to or not. As if this weren’t enough, the questions they are expected to answer would not be considered appropriate in any other context. “How do you take a shower?” “Can you have sex?” “Who takes care of you?”

Should the pwmgs object, the pwp counters with “If you won’t educate me, how can I learn?” Dispelling ignorance is offered as the means to rid the world of the prejudice faced by the pwmgs and failure to do so is tantamount to agreeing to be oppressed.

Take this example. Pwmgs says, “Excuse me, but as a wheelchair user I can tell you that your assumption that we can’t have sex is misguided.” Pwp counters with, “Oh, yeah. So how do you have sex?” Simply saying you have sex isn’t enough. Unless the pwp knows how, they aren’t going to believe you. Refusal to answer becomes admission that the pwp is right.

Please don’t misunderstand, I do believe education plays a crucial role in changing our social structure, but that does not mean each and every disabled person has been endowed with the duty to answer invasive questions at the drop of a hat. Hasn’t anyone heard of books, the internet, or the thousands of blogs just like mine? Plenty of disabled people have volunteered to have their personal lives and feelings plumbed by anyone, so leave the rest of the disabled people alone, please. I think they have enough to do what with the whole living in a world not designed with them in mind.

If I had a dime for each time a pwp has accused me of being “overly sensitive,” I’d be independently wealthy. As a technique to highjack a dialogue, its power rests on the assumption that displays of emotionality are proof of wrongness. There is a pervasive perception that logic and rationality go hand in hand with superior thinking. in fact, rational is considered a compliment under most circumstances.

The irony here is that a pwmgs is engaged in a conversation that directly impacts their every day life. By its nature, it is not a subject that can be discussed devoid of emotion. On the other hand, the pwp has no vested interest in the subject. Should a man walk away from a conversation about rape still believing it is a woman’s fault if she wears skimpy clothing, it will impact his life not at all. The woman, on the other hand, walks away knowing a man could decide she’s dressed suggestively, harm her in a very personal way, and not be punished because of her wardrobe choice. Being upset about this automatically puts her in the wrong.

I Can Prove Your Lifetime of Experience is Wrong because….
These methods are particularly annoying because somehow one tiny pebble carries more weight than the stones accumulated by a pwmgs over years. Some examples include:

“That happens to me too.”
“I don’t treat people like you in that way, so I won’t believe anyone else does either.”
“Unless you can prove your experience is widespread, I won’t believe you.”
“Well, I know another person from your marginalized group and they disagree.”
“If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t feel/react that way.”

The Pragmatic Principle
Finally, my “favorite” dismissal. It goes something like this:

Pwp: “Blind people want all these special things like Braille signs, audible signal crossings at intersections, and I even had to read the entire menu to some blind guy at the restaurant where I work.””
Pwmgs: “That’s because we need them to get around, find things, and make food choices.”
Pwp: “That’s all well and good, but they are expensive, annoying, and inconvenient. It’s too much.”

Here, a pwp has decided that convenience and expense are more valuable than independence and safety. Time after time and in situation after situation, my needs have been made unimportant based on others’ preferences. I may literally be less safe, but it doesn’t inconvenience anybody so it is somehow acceptable. And people wonder why I don’t see my own worth?

To be clear, sometimes pwps are right and pwmgs are wrong, but not BECAUSE the conversation has been successfully derailed.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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