Normalising The Marginalised
Remember this Mikki Kendall tweet. We’ll be returning to it in a few minutes.
Kylie Jenner is not cultural appropriation’s worst offender. She’s just the most recent. While the litany of acts that reinforce structural oppression, year-on-year, are extensive, they’re not commonplace. And it’s the shelter afforded to details like the ones proffered by Amandla Stenberg that allows such casual bigotry to continue unabated.
Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this, you’re unlike most people. At the very least, you’ll have a basic notion that the world is asymmetrical in its composition. Rotten ideologies are buttressed by the fact that most people know very little about them. Yes, terms like racism, misogyny, and homophobia are quotidian, but then so is the “stock market”. This doesn’t stop the specifics of its elements being alien to many.
Those who decry Rihanna’s work can do so while exercising cognitive dissonance about the racist rings at the heart of the feminist tree, they can lionise the British Empire (and the Royal Family) without acknowledging the blood on its hands, or talk about about Stonewall being a touchstone for gay people, while ignoring that those epochal riots were instigated by transgender women of colour.
And they usually get away with it. There’s online pushback, but few people who espouse such ahistorical rhetoric ever face substantive consequences. There’s a common idiom in boxing: “A good big’un will always beat a good little’un”. Right now, you could be reading the greatest piece ever written about social inequity but its effects on the wider world will be negligible. At our very best, marginalised groups are good little’uns, stuck on the fringes of influential discourse.
I read a lot of work on kyriarchy, and I confess, sometimes I wonder how much tangible use it has. Indeed, do my own contributions do any good, or do they add unintelligible noise to an already crowded echo chamber? But I remind myself that intersectional thought comes a lot easier to me than it once did, and that only happened through accepting things I used to take at face value may be wrong, and being open to changing my mindset.
You can’t understand oppressive structures unless you know history. In a recent piece on Wimbledon, journalist Brian Phillips penned the following; “Gentlemen, having been schooled in fair play on the playing fields of Eton, were honest, forthright, and chivalrous, and the money just kind of accumulated, who even knows how, maybe something to do with Nepal.” For clarity’s sake, Phillips is a favourite writer of mine, and his tongue was firmly in his cheek with that passage. I reference it because there’s an unspoken agreement in Britain that this description of colonialism is one to be taken seriously.
Until our society accepts that a lot of what they were taught are lies and half-truths, the cycle of committing bigotry, refusing to accept critique, saying “haters gonna hate”, before ending with a non-apology, will be here to stay.
In terms of facing one’s abhorrent past, Chile are a nation that has set a laudable example. Their national stadium, Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos was once used as a prison camp by General Pinochet. Today, in that same stadium, the following words have been inscribed, “A people without a memory is a people without a future.”
Long-term, such problems could be addressed with an overhaul of our education system. Max Hardy recently opined; “Would our heedless foray into Afghanistan have occurred if every school child learnt in intimate details the shambles of the First Anglo-Afghan War rather than our heroic stand against Hitler?”, but short-term, those who control our channels of communication would have to be willing to accept the things they don’t know, and pass the proverbial microphone to those that do.
It’s harmful when our conversations are led by those who don’t allow the full truth of the past to influence their thinking. As Melissa McEwan judiciously wrote, “Privilege gives us bad instincts.” It allows narrow, straight-line thinking to be the norm, leaving subalterns having to expend energy explaining the most basic aspects of their lived experience.
Remember the tweet at the top of the page? It superbly illustrates society’s defective understanding of the world, yet it hasn’t altered the legacy of those aforementioned women. There appears an implicit acceptance that these “pioneers” were oppressive by accident. That they tripped and fell into bigotry. They get lauded as legends, while the likes of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Jovita Idar, or Nwanyeruwa are anonymous when human greatness is discussed.
An honest sea change in the dissemination of the information we receive is possibly the most fundamental tool in truly making the world a fairer place. It would allow everyone to understand why injustices happen, and subsequently formulate beneficial solutions.
It’s not the lie that’s most alarming. It’s those who believe the lie. The reason so many of society’s gatekeepers get it wrong is because they’re communicating in a lexicon they don’t properly understand. They don’t have the right figurative clubs in the bag, yet they’re allowed on the course anyway.
The thing is, I’m not endowed with a towering intellect. The topics I’ve mentioned here aren’t particularly esoteric. It’s the basic A-B-C’s. Yet it’s where the majority of people need to start, because talking with authority on a subject without clear historical context is like writing a novel using only seven letters of the alphabet.
There can be no shared humanity until we’re all accepted as human. I’m not suggesting we try to ease the burden on marginalised people. I’m demanding we get rid of the margins altogether.
 – Although adjectives like ableism, misogynoir, and transphobia are less known.
 – You’re not.
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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. “Pop culture to sport, and back again“
A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).
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