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This is getting a lot of attention on the fat acceptance blogs: "Why Intersectionality Matters" by Tara

Here's an excerpt from something I wrote about it in response to a post on a mailing list.

When I encounter people with points of view that deeply misunderstand me and my desires and goals, I can intellectually grok that they are only working with what they know. But I can get pretty emotionally exhausted and frustrated trying to correct their misunderstandings of me. If people who misunderstand me try to get me to join their movement, and I spend all my energy correcting their misunderstandings, I don't have much energy left over for working on their movement.

I'm talking mainly about trying to get people to understand my experience as a fat person. People who are generally in favor of civil rights and greater access for oppressed people often have never really considered fat people as a group who need civil rights and greater access.

I wonder if any of this might be similar for people of color trying to get white people to understand their needs. If so I can understand reluctance to join.

As a white person, I think that saying "fat is THE last socially acceptable prejudice" draws a big boundary between fat prejudice and other prejudices that affect people profoundly. It's true that there are laws on the books against some racist behaviors (but not against racist beliefs - you can't make beliefs illegal). And it's true that there are mostly not laws on the books about fat prejudice. So in terms of law, yes, people of color have advantages that fat people don't.

But there are so many forms of prejudice that the law does not and cannot touch. It seems narrow to use only the existence of laws to determine whether a prejudice is socially acceptable or not. There are other racist behaviors, both covert and open, that can't be legislated against and are still pretty common. There are also racist attitudes, both conscious and subconscious, that are really common. I would say subconscious racist attitudes are probably universal.

As a person who is reasonably comfortable with the gender I was assigned by society, and who knows a little bit about trans issues, I will assert that the legal and social position of trans people is worse than the legal and social position of fat people. I mean, if a fat person goes into a public bathroom they might find it difficult to fit into the stalls but they probably won't be attacked or arrested for going in there in the first place.

How about, instead of saying "Fat is THE last socially acceptable prejudice," saying "Fat is A socially acceptable prejudice" or "Fat is ONE OF the last socially acceptable prejudices."

If you want to compare and contrast the types of oppression that come with being fat and come with being a person of color or a trans person or a queer person or a person who isn't Christian or other common types of people who are discriminated against, then why not just talk about the similarities and differences without trying to rank them? (I think the pressure to rank everything is a really unhelpful feature of my culture.)



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 25th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)
(nod) I resonate with what you are saying. One of the challenges that I have found is that it seems impossible to draw a parallel (e.g., "I have also experienced prejudice and oppression, so it gives me a tool to begin understand your experience") without it immediately being interpreted as an equation or ranking (e.g., "my oppression as a white [fill in another oppressed group] is as bad as yours as a POC" or even "ha! you think that's bad, let me tell you about what MY life was like..."). Even if *I* am not ranking, but simply offering my view of what similarities and differences might be (as you mentioned above), it gets heard as comparison and ranking. I start to wonder why it is important to the other person/people that I NOT be able to understand. It seems to me to be a tack destined to create more distance, and less likely to engender partnerships in dismantling the multiple oppressions that we are each experiencing to one degree or another. I am puzzled.
Mar. 25th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, as I said: I think the pressure to rank everything is a really unhelpful feature of my culture. I think that's going on in some of these conversations.

I'm also wondering whether sometimes comparing experiences is not the correct way to dialogue. For example, I learned from my relationship counselors that sometimes a person wants to just have their feelings heard and not to have to share the conversation space for a while....and if that can happen, there might be space for conversation afterward.

And sometimes it can be hard for another person not to jump in and say "Yes, but here's MY experience of it" - but doing so is sometimes counterproductive.

I suspect this sort of thing might go on in conversations about political movements, too.
Mar. 25th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
(nod) What I find particularly puzzling is when I've been attentively listening without responding, and someone asks me what I think, and I offer it, and then get this same response. I'll agree, I think it's an unhelpful feature of this culture, this tendency to cast everything in a hierarchical frame. And I agree that there are reflections of personal issues and dynamics in political conversations as well--sort of an "as above, so below" effect, from personal to political and back again.
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Mar. 26th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
Mar. 26th, 2008 12:26 am (UTC)
If the half thoughts marinate into a written form I would be interested to see.
Mar. 26th, 2008 01:17 am (UTC)
Re: Some pocket change (race, fat acceptance, socially acceptable prejudices)
*nod*nod*. nothing to add because tired. but definitely: I think the pressure to rank everything is a really unhelpful feature of my culture.

also about not joining movements where i might in one way be a natural fit, but where i feel people don't understand me at all (and throw their energy into things that i don't find particularly compelling because they don't understand my experience).

i've not liked that slogan since i first heard it because as a transgendered person i know it's just not true.
Mar. 26th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
Re: Some pocket change (race, fat acceptance, socially acceptable prejudices)
I don't think there will ever be any "THE last socially acceptable prejudice," sadly.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit behind here. I'm completely with you on the "stop ranking stuff, already". Even as a child I hated being asked "What's your favourite X?"

I'm neither fat nor a POC, but I'm trying to be tuned into the social conversation around these issues. And I certainly can't rank their relative "oppressivenesses", but they do look different to me. While officially, racism is not approved, it's definitely there on a very deep structural level, and I can believe POC when they say their skin colour affects every moment of their lives. A lot of the anti-fat stuff is, in some sense, much closer to the surface. The assumption that of course fat is bad is much more blatant. I think I understand what it is fat people are trying to point to when they say "Fat is the last acceptable prejudice", but it's not an accurate description of what they're pointing to.

And of course, transgender prejudice is even more blatant, so blatant I think it hasn't occurred to many fat people that it is prejudice, and not "perfectly normal and healthy".
Apr. 2nd, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)
Well said.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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