So the wife and I are getting groceries at Whole Foods (yeah, yeah, fuck off). I’m wearing my brand-ass new Persol shades (seriously, fuck off). We’re set on getting some post-shopping vegan, chocolate sorbet (if you don’t fuck off, I swear…). The checker makes a light-hearted comment on my shades. Something like, “Too bright in here?” Or, “Going to the beach?” You know, something humorous, chatty, polite.
See, what he was doing was making a judgment on my wearing sunglasses indoors. He was operating from a place of able-bodied privilege where people like him don’t have to wear shades inside because they have no fear of getting skull-cracking headaches if they don’t. I answered, “Awfully presumptive of you. Here I am shopping, giving you guys my money, and you feel you have the right to mock my disability?”
Oh, shit. Wait. I didn’t say that. Know why I didn’t say that? Because, the site name notwithstanding, I’m not a fucking blowhard, self-righteous, offended-for-its-own-sake asshole. What I actually did was make some equally polite, humorous, smile-filled comment about the beach or something. Why? While I stand by the points I made in the third paragraph, it comes down to priorities. Was he operating out of ignorance? Yes. Was he making a bit of a judgment based on that ignorance? Yes. Does he arguably operate out of a place of privilege (I know you love that word)? Yes. But what do I gain by making a huge, public scene over a very trivial matter? Sure, it’s an opportunity to educate him on a social irritant he’d most likely otherwise never be aware of, but the process by which I’d most likely have to have done that would’ve cost more time, energy, and social awkwardness than I felt it was worth. Essentially, he meant no harm. Pick your battles. Move on.
I’ve spent a good amount of time on the webtubes chatting with those who consider themselves marginalized in some way or another. In many of those cases, I agree with their sentiment, but not with how they’re choosing to express it or how they’re choosing to, what they consider, affect change. If you’re one of those kinds of people, you feel your blood boil when someone accidentally, usually out of ignorance, uses a less-than-flattering phrase, makes an assumption, or some other crime against humanity, consider the following reasons why I’m a better person than you are.
- I hope for a lot, I expect little. We’d all like to be in a world where we’re all treated well and when we’re not, people apologize, change their behavior, and puppies and rainbows. But with competing ideas come competing freedoms, values, agendas, and so on. The hoped-for reality is often opposite to the actual reality. And while actual usually becomes hoped-for, it often takes a long time, with lots of struggle. As such, I try not to act on or pronounce too many absolutes. There simply aren’t that many. And when people act as if there are and pronounce things as such, conflicts arise.
- I’m patient. I have to be. Most people arrive to the conversation with loads of assumptions, not the least of which is that they’re right. About everything. Then, they tend to operate out of their assumptions, often treating me as if I’m wrong, even in a subject I’m a lifelong expert on. But I don’t hate them for that. Near as I can tell, we all do it. I see each of those occasions as an opportunity for discussion, learning, and so on.
- I don’t mind repeating myself. Over and over again. And I do this a lot. I can’t tell you how often I get the same questions. Usually verbatim. All the time. There was one week where I had to give the same spiel to three different people. What keeps me sane? I know that for each person, it’s the first time they’re asking and it’s not their problem it’s my 1000th time answering.
- I have a sense of humor. Ask anyone. I’m happy to be mocked. Usually, the only offense I take is if I just don’t think the mocking is that creative. But I don’t mind it. Not one bit. In fact, I often join in.
- I don’t expect you to read my mind. I know what I look like. It’s very often been pointed out. I’m a tall, thin, white guy. Since I’m usually socially seen with my wife, it’s obvious I’m hetero. Given those attributes, most people assume that there’s nothing “wrong” with me. And depending on definitions, they’re right. But along with that nothing-“wrong” assumption comes the expectation that I fit in with their image of what a straight, white guy is. As in no challenges, no sense of social oppression, and no willingness to learn about it. Thus, when we engage, I don’t expect others to just “get it.”
- I’m always willing to discuss, even when it becomes uncomfortable. Unlike many people I’ve observed, I don’t fly off the handle the second someone makes an assumption or asks a question. I don’t pull “trigger warning” cards (which I do have). I don’t take most things for granted. So if someone asks what I think of ableism and we seem to have a disagreement, I don’t just tell them to shut up and listen. Even if it is warranted.
- -99. I lied.
With this manifesto, I’m committing to calming the fuck down myself. I’ll do my best to not seek out controversy over these issues (or others) in my on-line presence. I can’t promise I won’t ever slip–some things really, really piss me off–but I’m gonna give it a go.
Maybe you should too.