TRIGGER WARNING: The nature of this post means that it will contain very triggering language for all minority groups.
I spent last Saturday at Occupy Bristol, a camp set up on College Green as part of the wider occupation movement that has spread across the globe. I don't think that this camp will change the world, but what I did find to be an extremely positive part of the occupation was that many people from different strands of the left were able to get together and discuss thoughts, issues and ideas, and to share their knowledge. I became part of a group comprised of myself, an old-guard radical feminist and two male socialists who talked about everything under the sun for about six hours. It was wonderful, people would join and leave the discussion, contributing their own experiences and opinions and it was a very nice place to be.
A Story on Occupations
But something else happened that night. The occupiers had discussed whether or not it would be appropriate to have a fire. Obviously, people wanted to be warm, and people wanted to have a nice atmosphere, but the land we were camped on is owned by the cathedral. They had told us they were happy to have us, and supported the movement - asking only that we not make a mess, ruin the grass or play music on the sound-system during services. So, the majority voted against a fire.
At this point, a group of people who I can only describe as being the protest equivalent of "up the punx" decided that, fuck us, they were going to have a fire and a party and that was that. So the group split (I know, I know), with them taking it upon themselves to move about twenty feet away from the main group and start a fire.
I got very pissed off at this show, and went over to tell them that their refusal to listen in consensus-based discussions (they had been heckling people telling their personal stories earlier in the day too) was risking jeopardising the whole camp, and that I thought they were being very selfish. They responded by calling me a "bitch" and a "cunt" and shouting me down.
Later that night, I regaled this tale to two men I was talking to, using it to illustrate my point about intersectionality in left movements, and how men will use gendered slurs to silence women. They asked me if I had possibly been over-aggressive with them (gaslighting, much?) and to consider that they were probably just on the defensive. I pointed out that telling everyone in the camp to go fuck themselves, declaring themselves more 'radical' than any of us and then starting a fire was a teeny bit aggressive in itself. I also said that even if they were on the defensive, it does not excuse insulting me as a woman to shut me up. The chaps then told me that they "don't believe" in politically-correct language, and that if a minority group is offended by an insult based on their disadvantaged position in society, that is "their choice to be offended".
This is my 'are you fucking serious?!' face. I have to use it a lot.
I was a bit gobsmacked at this, and it was left to one of the other blokes I'd been talking to to try and explain to this white, cis, straight, well-educated, healthy young man why what he'd said was so daft that my head was about to explode and cover him in chunks of brain which would then remember what he had said and explode into smaller chunks, which would then continue to explode into smaller and smaller chunks until they were just atoms and that could potentially cause the end of the universe.
I left at that point.
It is not the first time I have seen attitudes like this, and sadly, I doubt it will be the last. Now, I expect privilege-denying rubbish like this from the right wing because, well, they're the right wing. But I like to think that the left is a bit nicer. So I ask you now: If we have a movement that excludes and alienates certain minority groups that are also being fucked over because we cannot acknowledge our privileges, then what is the fucking point of having a movement at all?
IF A MOVEMENT IS NOT A SAFE SPACE, YOU ARE FUCKING PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT AS WELL OFF AS YOU AND THAT IS NOT BLOODY ON.
So, let me count the ways in which I am privileged. I am a white, western, cisgendered, healthy person. I pass as straight, and I have an education to university level. This makes me lucky. However, I am also working-class, unable to continue my studies above undergraduate level, unemployed and a woman with mild mental health issues. This is what is known as relative privilege, and we all experience it to some degree.
Being privileged does not make you a bad person. No one can help how they were born, their upbringing or their opportunities. Refusing to acknowledge your privilege is the problem. Let's talk about some privileges, and how the privilege-denyers on the left have been busy alienating the groups without those privileges.
So, You're White: Recently, the Slutwalk movement has been shrouded by infighting after a white woman turned up at the NYC Slutwalk holding a placard saying "Woman is the nigger of the world". Now, instead of listening to the women of colour who were rightly very offended by this, some slutwalkers have been excusing it and telling them that they shouldn't be offended. Which, in itself is VERY BLOODY OFFENSIVE, as Flavia Dzodan points out very well in "MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT".
So, You're A Man: This weekend, Occupy LSX invited Julian Assange to speak. You know, the man who's own lawyers admit is a rapist. This has made women who want to be part of the occupations very uncomfortable, and has led them to question whether there is a place for us in the movement.
So, You're Cisgendered: What better way to celebrate LGBT Pride than by abusing trans* people? Or, if you're cisgendered alleged super-feminist Caitlin Moran, why not make jokes about 'trannies' on Twitter then block anyone who tries to tell you it's an offensive term? As Ray Filar points out, You Can't Smash Patriarchy With Transphobia. (By the way, white trans* people, you have some privileges too, and don't forget it.)
So, You're Straight: If I hear you describing something you don't like as 'gay' one more time, I will set you on fire. Consider that a warning.
So, You're Relatively Wealthy: The fastest way to alienate less economically privileged people from your group is by staging demonstrations that only people with certain amounts of disposable income will be able to attend, or feel wanted at. I am looking at you, Fawcett Society. Sady Doyle has written about the left and the class issue here.
So, You've Had A Good Education (aka So You Read Some Books): If someone does not know about Montesquieu's theory of Separation Of Powers, this does not mean that they oppose it, or that I am any better than them because I do know about it. Likewise, sneering at people who have not read the obscure Hungarian anarcho-syndicalist philosopher who wrote about macro-economic models in prehistoric Somalia that you have achieves the precise sum of fuck all. They might believe the exact same things as you, but just not know the academic terms for their beliefs. Try explaining, instead of patronising.
So, You're Able-Bodied: How many of you ever think to make sure the place you want to hold your demo is accessible to those using wheelchairs before someone asks you to? Just saying on your press release that the venue has two stairs or that a ramp can be made available can make the world of difference and let people know that they are wanted at your event.
So, You Have No Mental Health Issues: You know what's hilarious? Calling Melanie Philips 'Mad Mel'! It's funny because she doesn't believe the same things as us and she tortures logic to make a point, so she must be fucking crazy! Yes, bloody hilarious to those of us who actually are crazy. See also: nutter, mentalist, headcase, etc.
So, You Don't Have Learning Difficulties: My late Aunt, Maureen, had Down's Syndrome. She was not 'Down's'. She did not 'suffer from', nor was she a 'victim of' Down's Syndrome. She most absolutely emphatically was not a mong, a mongol, a retard, a spastic, a spacker, a window-licker or any other horrible word like that. She was a person. Here is a guide to language specifically relating to Down's Syndrome. Making jokes using words like that is in such incredibly poor taste that it makes me want to punch a hamster in the face, because even that would be better.
So, You're Thin: While I can offer no links to back this up, I have been told by more than one person that several fat-phobic jokes were made by the comedians at UKUncut's 'Block The Bridge' action. So you can guess how welcome some people felt.
This is obviously just a list of some privileges and some ways I have witnessed people with those privileges alienating those who do not have them.
I Am Not Asking For The Moon On A Stick
All I ask is that people are aware of their privilege and try to make sure that their actions do not harm others. Consider other people. Think before you open your mouth. And seriously, if someone from a minority group tells you that your actions have personally harmed or offended them because they are a member of that group, do not tell them that they should not be offended and that you know better.
COMMENTS POLICY: In exploring this issue, I hope to raise awareness of some sections of the left alienating others. If you do not do these things, then great! I'm not addressing my points to you! So don't leave me comments saying "Oh Ehm Gee! I can't believe you said all anarchists hate blind people!", because I didn't, and your comment will be deleted. Do not derail, for your comment will be deleted. Do not use triggering language without warning, or your comment will be deleted. Do not use insulting language, or your comment will be deleted. And I swear to Mary Wollstonecraft, if you dare to try and deny that any of these issues exist, not only will your comment be deleted, but I will also come to your house and wee on your carpets.