Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Yes, It’s OK To Be Offended 

What a Load of CrapThere are many ways that people who like to bully and oppress others try to justify their behavior. One of those is the notion of “political correctness” which can be easily debunked when we substitute the phrase “being politically correct” with what is actually being asked of them: “treating people with respect,” as seen in this example from Donald Trump.

Another way is to try to make it seem as if the people pointing out the inappropriate/bullying/oppressive behavior are actually the ones doing the bullying/oppressing.  This is something that fat-hate trolls try all the time with fat activists, and I saw a perfect example of this on the “era of wisdom” facebook page:

That is Offensive

A brown box with the following quote next to an outline of a person with bars (ostensibly to symbolize a jail) in front of their face. “To be offended by what someone else says is your own choice, as you don’t have to care about what other people think, and nothing has actually happened to you. Information merely passed from their mind to yours. To state that you are offended means that you wish the person hadn’t said it and won’t say anything similar again. In other words you actually want to stop certain information from being communicated. You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate not only what people can and can’t communicate, but what they can and can’t think. To be offended is to take the first step in being a totalitarian megalomaniac.”

For many people the it-would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-used-to-oppress-so-many–people nature of this is obvious, but for others it seems to make sense on it’s face, so let’s scratch below the surface a bit, shall we?

To be offended by what someone else says is your own choice, as you don’t have to care about what other people think, and nothing has actually happened to you. Information merely passed from their mind to yours.

This ignores the very real power structures that exist in our society.  “Information” is not neutral, and speech has power (which is why, even though my country’s constitution guarantees a right to free speech, I’m not allowed to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded building – because it might hurt people. I’m also not guaranteed a right to consequence-free speech which is why television networks are completely within their rights to cancel television programs of people who spout bigotry.)

Even if we consider whatever comes out of someone’s mouth – however bigoted or oppressive – to  be “information,” that doesn’t make it neutral.  That “information” can encourage people to oppress – or even harm- others.  It can help hold in place systemic oppression and perpetuate stereotyping, prejudice and bigotry.  It can be harmful, and pointing that out (by explaining that it is offensive) can help to elucidate, and in some cases mitigate, that harm, whether or not the person pointing it out is directly affected by it.

To state that you are offended means that you wish the person hadn’t said it and won’t say anything similar again.  In other words you actually want to stop certain information from being communicated. You must believe that you have some sort of right to dictate not only what people can and can’t communicate, but what they can and can’t think.

This argument rests on their claims about the other person’s reason for speaking out, and the intended outcome, both of which they have made up out of whole cloth.

This is one of the techniques that people who perpetuate ideas that are harmful to others (is: racism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ableism, healthism, and more) use to keep others from pointing out the wrongness and consequences of their behavior.

To say that something is offensive is not telling someone they can’t say it. It’s telling someone that they are hurting people with their speech/actions and to give them the opportunity to re-think their actions in case they were done out of ignorance instead of malice. ie: Did you know that the word you used is a term of derision toward a community and perpetuates prejudice against that community- did you really intend to do that? Or – did you know that the idea you are arguing for will perpetuate harm against a group of people – is that what you want to happen?

When we tell someone what they are doing is offensive, we are doing them the courtesy of assuming that they are ignorant, rather than that they are cruel and/or trying to keep in place and perpetuate ignorance and oppression. We are also also pointing out to other people who are listening – who may not be aware – what the consequences of that type of speech and actions are.

We aren’t necessarily saying “you can’t say that” what we are saying is “we won’t tolerate that harmful behavior without pushing back.”

Nobody is obligated to feel offended or to speak out if they do, But if  we cannot speak out about offensive things, then bullies and oppressors get to bully/oppress others with no push back, all the while blaming their victims (and the allies of their victims) for not allowing them to bully/oppress in peace. That’s a good situation for bullies and oppressors, but not for anyone else. Also, this isn’t a new argument – it’s been used against people fighting for civil rights for all kind of groups including People of Color, the poor, queer and trans people, disabled people/people with disabilities and more.

To be offended is to take the first step in being a totalitarian megalomaniac.

Cool story.  Too bad it’s completely full of crap.

Let’s review this person’s argument:  Someone who states their opinion is transferring information and completely within their rights to do so.  Someone who finds that opinion offensive is on their way to becoming a totalitarian megalomaniac.

Riiiiiight.

It seems pretty clear to me who the problem is here, and it’s not the people who are offended.  To support people who say things that are offensive, but denigrate those who say that they are offended puts one well on their way to being a totalitarian megalomaniac.

If you find something offensive, you have every right to speak up about that.

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