Hey. You. Shut the fuck up...and listen.
I know it doesn't sound very nice. And it's not. But it was exactly the slap upside the head that I needed not too long ago, and I am forever indebted to Renee of Womanist Musings for saying it. I came to the blogosphere naively full of completely-unexamined privilege, discovered WM, and when one of her characteristically blunt and no-nonsense posts on whiteness prodded me right in the privilege, I flipped and argued with her, telling her it "wasn't really racism" and that she was taking things way too personally. She turned right around and told me in no uncertain terms that, as a privileged young white woman, if I wanted to be at all taken seriously, I needed to shut the fuck up and listen, for a good long time, to those who had lived the experiences she was talking about.
I felt like a puppy who had just been scolded for getting into the garbage! My pride was stung, my privilege smarting from that solid whack on the nose. I nursed my privilege for a couple of weeks, not reading her blog at all. I don't remember what it was that prompted me to return to her space. Maybe it was just the nagging guilt of "She's probably right, you know..." that I felt more vividly the more I thought about it.
But I returned. And it was probably three or four months of reading, processing, shutting the fuck up and listening, before I began to comment again. I sought out Peggy McIntosh's Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack list, read Womanist Musings and TransGriot and The Angry Black Woman, began to note examples of what these bloggers talked about in my daily life, and, in short...educated myself. I learned how to behave as a privileged person in the space occupied and owned by the oppressed class. I learned how not to appropriate, and how to defer to the lived experiences of those with less privilege than I when talking about what is and isn't oppression. I learned, basically, how not to be a privileged asshole.*
And right now, after another dustup on Feministing Community, wherein a man came in and put up his first post basically saying "Hi feminists! Please prove to me that harmful sexism still exists in Western cultures by telling me how you experience it." and many of us took affront at this wielding of male privilege in a feminist space, I feel the need to pass on Renee's wisdom. Shut the fuck up, dude. Shut the fuck up and LISTEN, before you start spouting off. Educate yourself by shutting up and listening to us, by seeking out reading material on your own, by LISTENING to what has already been said. Not by demanding, no matter how politely, to have your hand held and information spoon-fed to you.
I know it's less fun this way. The STFU&L phase is not over in a day. It takes time, and effort, to educate yourself on the experiences of a life you've never lived. But this is how it's done. The first step is to learn...by shutting the fuck up and listening while other people talk.
*Not that I'm any less privileged now than I was before, but I am not generally an asshole about it these days, or if I slip and am called on it, I check my privilege and listen. So still privileged, but not a privileged asshole.