People recently have expressed disappointment, in some kind of slightly patronising fashion, about my inability to have a civil debate about politics. This is for a given value of ‘civil’, where it seems to mean that I shouldn’t get angry or upset about people expressing opinions that have a very real effect on my life and the lives of thousands of people in this country and the world.
I get it, guys, it’s totally possible for you to sit around in your Oxbridge clubs and academically debate politics. And the reason for this (which will surprise no one who has met me) is PRIVILEGE*
You can sit around and discuss these academic issues because for you it IS academic whether or not people get their benefits cut, lose their right to treatment for free, or don’t get the right to marry in the first place. These issues are never going to affect you, and certainly don’t affect the lives of real people, so there’s no need to be circumspect about shouting out your political discussions, or bother to find out about the statistics or reality of any of the situations you’re so calmly ‘debating.’
Recent changes in our household due to right-wing Tory politics have been:
My husband has been made redundant
My mother has been made redundant
I have been made redundant
The entire sector in which I worked (legal aid for the poorest people in the country) has been effectively made redundant, cutting off any hope of social justice for people who can’t afford to pay for it.
We have lost over £1,000 in benefits
I am unable to do an Open University degree as the tuition fees are now astronomical, and the rebate for being on a low income has been cut.
The teaching course Stu wants to do will cost us over £7,000 more and may not even exist next year.
It’s not exactly fucking academic for me. Not to mention the threats to the NHS which as both me and Stu have long-term, disabling and serious health conditions, makes it less likely that we'll get the treatment we need.
In the wider world, I also care about the war on reproductive rights in America, as it shits all over people who have been born with wombs. I care about the systemic racism which means that it’s easier for me to get a job than a person of colour. I care about the fact that gay people are not allowed to get married and in many countries are still actively legislated against for existing. It’s not academic for any of these people, and I am unable to pretend that it is, and tell any of them to ‘calm down and be nice’ about it. I am not ashamed of this.
If you are able to think of politics, feminism, racism, heteronormativity etc. as an academic subject to debate, you’re making it extremely obvious that not only are you privileged enough for these things not to affect your life, but that you’ve never even thought of them as anything other than unreal debate subjects that don’t affect peoples’ lives, and by extension, certainly if it’s pointed out to you, that you don’t have to listen to the life stories and experiences of people, or friends, who have been affected by them.
The very act of debating these issues affects people who deal with this kind of shit day after day. The constant scape-goating of people with disabilities as benefit scroungers who don’t work means that people get attacked, screamed at, and spat at in the streets for being disabled. It means that when I write things about rape jokes not being ok, or consent not being a complicated subject, I am subjected to anonymous comments from people claiming to be friends, that are creepy, insulting, and downright rapey. From people I don’t know, I have received rape threats, death threats, and general abuse. People reading these posts and comments have undoubtedly formed opinions based on this about what they can get away with and with whom.
To make it very clear, with this one example, they know who it’s ok to joke about rape with, who doesn’t take rape seriously, and who doesn’t think that, for example, raping a sleeping or drunk woman is actually rape. They know what will happen if they do this, which is nothing. They know how much credence their friends will give the woman in question, even if she is a mutual friend, which is none, and therefore how likely she is to report the rape or do anything about it. This directly enables rapists to go about raping people.
But god forbid I should get angry about any of these academic debates.
So at what point is it ok to take seriously any of these threats to my safety, my person, or my mental health? And at what point should I expect my friends, who care about me, to care about these? At what point is it reasonable to expect someone who claims to be a friend to care about something that can affect your life in such a dramatic and negative way? And to accept that actually, if they don’t care, despite you telling them again and again, then they have pretty much demonstrated that they don’t give a shit about you, or about marginalised people in other groups?
So next time you’re going to have a patronising little disappointed sigh about how uncivil and angry I am, consider how insulting it is to be constantly exposed to the fact that your friends don’t give enough of a shit about you to actually listen to how these things affect your life and those of others, and if they do listen, they don’t think it’s important enough to change their beliefs, because how comfortable they feel about themselves is much more important than real, actual consequences for oppressed peoples.
And, specifically, the idea that then saying ‘oh, well I don’t know because I haven’t done any research and won’t do any’ makes it all ok is even more insulting, because the message you get then is pretty much ‘I don’t know anything about this subject you live and have exhaustively researched, but I still think my opinion is worth more than your experiences, information, research, and life. And your life isn’t worth the time it would take me to learn about anything you’re talking about.’
So if you make it clear to me that you don’t care about me, about my life, about the lives of people (gay people, people of colour, trans people, poor people, disabled people) I care deeply about, then I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I’m going to take that personally, because I’ve considered you a friend. I’ve spent time and effort being with you. I’ve liked hanging out with you, and I guess in a way I probably feel cheated that someone I thought was a mate obviously isn’t, because if they were, they would be willing to examine their privilege, learn about a subject, and try to give a shit about how it affects their friends, at least, if not how it affects people in general.
And I guess in a way I’d like people to make a decision about what’s more ‘disappointing’ to them. To me, it’s appalling political opinions that actively discriminate against people that already have the deck stacked against them, and that actively spread unfair generalisations and promote hate. To you, I guess it might be getting angry about that and swearing at someone.
Fair enough. But don’t expect me to respect you for it.
*Yaaay, Meg’s talking about PRIVILEGE again! Or as we call it in our house, ‘dropping the P bomb.’