Imagine you’re standing there, minding your own business, and all of a sudden someone steps on your foot. You don’t know if they’re doing it on accident or on purpose–all you know is, it hurts.
So, you tell the person standing on your foot, “Oww! Get off my foot!”
The person standing on your foot responds by stomping down even harder, saying, “I didn’t mean to stand on your foot. Why do you have to yell at me?” As they dig their heel further into your foot, they say, “I’d stop, but you were being so snarky about the fact that I’m standing on your foot that you’re pushing me to keep doing it.”
Eventually, you have had enough, and so you forcefully shove that person off your foot. “Why’d you do that?” you ask. They respond, “Well, you shoved me! You can’t complain because you’re just as bad!”
If this sounds like a ridiculous scenario, that’s because it is. But it happens to oppressed groups all the time.
Today, I was on Twitter and saw a Christian blogger talking about how Christian feminists are driving him to complementarianism, because of “how they come off.” He admitted that he knows patriarchy is awful and hurts women. But he asserted that feminists are “hurting their own cause” because they can’t respond with “civility” when others are uncivil to them.
He recognizes that systems of oppression hurt women, yet, because feminists aren’t being “nice” enough, he feels driven back to those systems of oppression. He knows he’s stepping on women’s feet, but they sound so angry when they ask him to get off that he thinks, hell, maybe I’ll dig in deeper.
I see this everywhere. I experience it often.
I’ll be hurting from oppression, or I’ll see others hurting from it, and we’ll speak out through frustration and pain, and someone will tell us that if we don’t “play nice” we’ll never get what we want.
How sadistically evil does that sound when you really stop and think about it? What are these people really saying?
“I’m perfectly capable of treating you as a human being, and I fully recognize how much you’re hurting, but I’m going to hurt you even more because I don’t like your tone.”
“You want power in this system. But before I give it to you, you’ve got to bow to my standards of tone, so I can remind you who’s really in charge.”
“If I’m oppressing you, it’s actually YOUR fault.”
You can give a person the benefit of the doubt, assume that their hurtful actions were unintentional. But once you’ve asked them to stop and their response is, “I hear you, but I’m going to keep doing this until you ask according to my standards,” the illusion dissolves.
You know this person truly wants to control people like you.
When privileged people tell oppressed groups “I would listen to you, but you aren’t being very nice” they are asserting their power in a subtle, but dangerous way. They are victim blaming. They are trying to hide the fact that when others have “asked nicely,” they just ignored them. When they tell you it is up to you to convince them to treat you like a human being, they are revealing that they never thought of you as human to begin with.
Remember, the privileged also set the standard for what “nice” is. People who fundamentally challenge their worldview in ways that they can’t just ignore will never meet it no matter how “nice” we are.