How many people have heard “You have a responsibility to educate?” Or prompted a defensive response when saying “It is not my responsibility to educate you?”
It is my duty to constantly deconstruct other people’s privilege, to explain to them what they’re doing wrong, that I am required to either give a full 101 course right there on the spot or just walk away. I’m not allowed to say “You know, I found that offensive” and leave it at that. If I don’t do the education, how will anyone learn? Right?
Except what this means is that my energy and effort are available on demand. I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to provide an exhaustive and exhausting rundown on all of the reasons why something someone said or did is oppressive and offensive. Occasionally, they may even demand scientific research to back this up.
And what do they most often do when you give them this education? When you have allowed yourself to be at their beck and call for however long it took? Most often, they reject it (you’re just being oversensitive), or they try to argue it down to a lesser offense (I didn’t intend to offend anyone) or just make it about them entirely and ignore the fact that they just engaged in the verbal equivalent of punching you in the face.
So we talk about people making an effort to not engage in the verbal equivalent of not punching you in the face. What happens? Oh, we come full circle: “We can’t do that if you don’t educate us.” Apparently, privilege means you’re completely helpless and unable to use google. And if you bring google into the discussion? They’ll talk about other people who aren’t in the conversation, and possibly cannot even be in the conversation, to prove that google doesn’t work. Or they’ll use silly examples (like googling “cis” without adding “transgender”) to prove that google doesn’t work. What they will avoid doing, is directly address their unwillingness to take the effort to learn how not to punch you in the face.
So, this is why it is never any marginalized person’s responsibility to educate you: Because no one owes you free labor, least of all when you’ve just made it abundantly clear that you hold institutional privilege over that marginalized person by fucking up.
And this is why no marginalized person owes it to you to be polite when you fuck up: Because you fucked up. Because you said something rude and offensive. Because you said something bigoted. Because when you do this and claim that you are owed politeness, you are once again laying a claim to a marginalized person’s energies from a position of privilege. Because when you claim that the marginalized person has escalated the situation with hir anger for your careless words? You are wrong, because you escalated the situation already and ze is responding to that escalation.
And also, this, since I love Brinstar in that comment thread:
As you pointed out, you’re still hurt regardless of whether the other person intended a slight or not. You can choose your response, obviously, but what you may not understand is the lived experience of the marginalised person. Since we’re talking about race, let’s talk about race. Krogans probably deal with racist situations multiple times a day, every single day, every single week, every single month. How a Krogan chooses to respond to a problematic situation is always negotiated. People in marginalised groups choose their battles. On one day, they might have encountered racism only once, and so they might be in a better mood to respond to racism. On another day, they might have just been in one of the most draining, emotional, and angering racist situations in their life, and the next incident would be the last straw. You don’t know. You’re operating from a position of privilege because you assume that everyone entering debates like this is entering it on equal terms, when it simply is not the case. A member of a privileged group, they can only talk about racism in theoretical terms, whereas the member of the marginalised group deals with it in their daily lives. It is not theory to them.