Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A straight person or a white person or an able-bodied person or a cisgender person or a man says that gay people or people of color or disabled people or trans* people or women are the true oppressors, because somehow
- a gay person reacting angrily to homophobia
- or a person of color reacting angrily to racism
- or a disabled person reacting angrily to ableism
- or a trans* person reacting angrily to transphobia
- or a woman reacting angrily to sexism
is, first of all, a problem, and second of all, a problem that is equal to or greater than homophobia, racism, ableism, transphobia or sexism.
The main complaint of these privileged persons seems to be some variation of “We can’t criticize them without getting in trouble!” or “They’re taking away our freedom of speech.”
The latest iteration I’ve seen is a quote attributed to Voltaire currently circulating on Facebook in the form of meme-style text on a sketch of a giant hand crushing a tiny crowd of tiny people. The quote says, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
I agree with this sentiment, but I was disappointed by the comments on one of these Voltaire quotes. Apparently, some of my fellow PHC family members believe that, according to this standard, women, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ people “rule over” them.
I sincerely hope that these comments were not meant seriously, though even as a “joke,” they are not funny.
If these commenters are correct, then black lesbians with disabilities should hold more clout in this country, proportionally, than any other demographic.
Of course, that isn’t true. And neither is the implied statement that men or white people or able-bodied people or straight people are not allowed to criticize women, black people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people.
These commenters think that an angry response to oppression counts as actual oppression.
If you make a negative comment about gay people, and someone tells you that you are being hateful or inaccurate or ignorant or oppressive, you aren’t being oppressed. You aren’t being deprived of your freedom of speech. The other party is merely using their freedom of speech to respond to you.
If you are a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender man, you possess immense privilege. There’s nothing wrong with being straight or white or able-bodied or cisgender or a man, and the vast majority of the world will happily affirm you in your identity as all of these things. But there is something wrong with feeling entitled to your privilege, as if you deserve special treatment because you are any or all of these identities. And when someone who is not straight or not white or not able-bodied or not cisgender or not a man complains about the inequality in society, you are a jerk if you claim that that person complaining about inequality is the one perpetuating it.
You have the right to squander your freedom of speech on hateful, inaccurate, ignorant, oppressive statements. And we have the right to call you on your bullshit. It’s how free speech works.
Welcome to America.