Sunday, March 27, 2011

How To Wallow In Your Privilege

I think my activity on Tumblr is mainly going to consist of cutting up other Tumblr users when they write horribly oblivious things.

This is something that I wrote on Tumblr today, and I thought I'd share it...


On March 21 the Admins of Fuck Yeah English Major Armadillo replied to an ask from eatenplacenta that let them know that many of the submissions they post are ableist - that is, the ones where Armadillo responds to improper grammar/spelling with rage, violence, and death threats. Personally, I agree that such posts are ableist - and not only that I think they are classist, racist and nativist as well. Also, not very funny. Seriously, it feels like there have been dozens of iterations of the same joke, we get the picture.

The Admins replied in a kinda-accommodating, kinda-'splainy and justifying way. They could have done better, but they also could have done worse. So, yeah, take that as you will.

ANYWAYS, today they posted another ask, from bw9, that was written in response to the ask about ablism. The admins posted it without any response or commentary, so one can only assume that they agree with it's content. It's pretty horrible. There was no option to reblog the ask, so I'm just doing a post on it.

I want to make it clear, though, that I'm not writing this just to pick on some random internet person. I'm writing this because bw9's ask is like a Derailing for Dummies bingo card. This highlights many tendencies of privileged people that we can learn from and endeavour to avoid ourselves.

So, let's start.
This is not so much a question as a response to a question posed on March 21. The post I'm referring to asserted that this blog "reeks of ableism". This was not the first time I'd seen something along those lines brought into the forum, but from what I can recall it's the first time one of the admins has responded. I feel like that question should be addressed by someone without the responsibility to the blog as a whole.
I don't know why bw9 thinks the question "should be addressed by someone without responsibility to the blog as a whole". I guess they think that they're doing a service by sharing their opinion with the world. Whatever.
Admins, you're doing a great thing here. Every time I look at this blog I chuckle at least once or twice. To blindside you with such an assertion was totally unwarranted and, in my opinion, a bit mean-spirited.
Making bw9 chuckle is great work. Far more important than sparing a thought for marginalized groups and maybe trying not to perpetuate their marginalization. That would deprive bw9 of chuckles. And we can't have that.

And don't you think it's so mean when folks try to assert their humanity/the humanity of disabled people? Standing up for themselves is totally unwarranted. How are you supposed to deal with that?
Your response to the post I'm referring to was as much as one could expect from someone whose creation is being attacked.
So some people feel attacked when they see that others want to "get their shotgun ready" whenever they open their mouths/write something. When they point out to you that they feel like they're being attacked, that's an attack on you!
In my opinion, the diction of the question asked of you
made it nearly impossible to answer without condemning all of the Armadillo's followers who have posted as "ableists", and you managed to avoid that, so good for you.
Okay, sarcastic mode is now turned off.

First of all, "ablist", "racist", "sexist" etc. are not nouns - or at least, they should not be  used as nouns. eatenplacenta did not use "ablist" as a noun. It's an adjective that describes an action that marginalizes or oppresses a disabled person.

It would be ridiculous to argue that Armadillo's followers are all ableists, as that would imply some knowledge of how they feel about disabled people. Their feelings are not the point. What matters is how they treat disabled people. That is, their actions and activities.

Second, now it's clear what this is all about. bw9 is personally offended by the (non-existent) implication that they are an ableist. This is classic privileged-person behaviour. Someone says that you hurt them, so you recentre the conversation around your feelings and intentions. So the hurt experienced by the marginalized person is never actually addressed, and you get to maintain your privilege. It's like, "You're standing on my foot!"

"How dare you accuse me of hating feet!" while not actually stepping off the person's foot.

Third, what's with the scare-quotes?
Now, a response to eatenplacenta: What gives?
I think that was made pretty clear in the original ask.
Yes, there are a large number of posts that mock those whose English skills and knowledge are not expansive. The posts range from expressing annoyance to full on hate. They get a bit intense at times, but there is one common theme all the posts share: they're all made in good fun.
"I want to blow your head off! Ha ha, just kidding!"

For bw9 it might all be good fun. But they aren't the one the jokes are targeting. Again, centring the perspective of the privileged over the perspective of the people who are actually hurt.

Jokes can be used to threaten. They can be used to bully. They can be used to marginalize. If you have never experienced this, then count yourself lucky. Laughing at someone excludes and others them. This is a pretty easy concept. It's called making fun of someone. I think we can all agree that making fun of someone - laughing at their expense - is a mean thing to do. I shouldn't have to argue this point, and yet here I am.
No one on this blog really feels the urge to murder someone for a minor grammar infraction or an ignorance of classic literature, no matter what they may write.
But what they write still expresses hatred. That they stop short of physical violence doesn't make it all okay.
If anyone does, I think all can agree that this person is seriously deranged.
And I think such a person would feel that their behaviour is endorsed by such jokes. When you joke about doing harm to someone, it reduces the social restraints against actually harming that person.
One of the best parts of word and language, in my opinion, is the opportunity for humor, something that is consistent in all posts on this blog.
Again, bw9 isn't the one being laughed at. Again, classic privileged behaviour - setting oneself up as the arbiter of what is and isn't acceptable behaviour, when they will never experience the adverse effects of the behaviour in question. The privileged person assumes that their assessment of the situation is objectively true and accurate, because their perspective is normalized by society.
The way that you posted was accusatory, which totally defeats the point of your question, which was, let's be honest, an accusation.
Being accusatory defeats the point of an accusation? I don't get it.

And what's wrong with accusing someone of something if the substance of the accusation is important?
The concept of ableism, in my mind, is at its most basic one group of people grouping themselves as superior over others.
Again, the privileged person defining that which they do not experience. A definition, no less, that focuses on the intentions of the privileged, instead of the experience of the marginalized.

Moreover, making fun of people's language skills communicates a sense of superiority over the one being made fun of. Even by bw9's definition, some of the Armadillo jokes are ableist.
Whether it be intellectually, physically, or morally, I do agree that it is wrong and is best avoided.
Isn't that magnanimous.
When you put yourself on a pedestal above everyone who's posted on the blog, you put yourself into a morally ableist position.
What is this? I can't even... By pointing out that some of the Armadillo content was ableist, apparently eatenplacenta positioned themselves as morally superior (?) and hence was being "morally ableist"????


I guess this is kind of an awkward attempt at the "you brought up race, so you're the real racist!" type of thing?
An accusation of being ableist isn't the best way to try and disparage this particular blog.
This is the height of a privileged person centring their own perspective and erasing the marginalized person's concerns entirely. eatenplacenta's goal wasn't to assert the humanity and dignity of disabled people! No, it was to disparage a blog - a blog the bw9 follows. eatenplacenta didn't identify and address ableism! They were just looking for some way to attack Armadillo!
Granted, your assertion was that it is intellectually ableist, but personally, when I hear the term, physical disability is what comes to mind.
And... ?
The Admins and posters have made an effort to post everything in such a way so that everyone who comes across the website can enjoy its content. The descriptions below the posts, if you were unaware, is so that those who use screen readers can fully comprehend the image of the Armadillo. This does not seem like a group of ableists to me.
Again, making the conversation about what's in the privileged person's heart, their identity, instead of their actions. Entirely missing the point.

Analogy: There is an anti-racist white person. In conversation, this person refers to Asians as "Orientals". They are not aware, or have never thought about, the colonialist and exoticizing connotations of that word. They do not hate Asian people, but they still used racist language.

If someone tells them that it's racist to call Asian people Orientals, they hypothetical anti-racist white person could respond the way that bw9 has responded, and exclaim, "How dare you call me a racist! I make an effort to not be racist, therefore nothing I do is racist!"

Or, the hypothetical anti-racist white person could actually make an effort to not be racist, and respond, "Oh, I apologize. I will educate myself about racist language and make an effort to not use such language from now on."
I hope I don't come across too harsh in this response. I see the point in your question, I just don't see the point in how you worded it and the manner in which you posted it. It's important to consider how you word things--especially on a site dedicated to English majors--because I don't think you were looking for a fight.
bw9 sees eatenplacenta's point. After they have tried to contradict that point. And subsequently talks about tone instead, in the guise of offering helpful advice. Interestingly, bw9 assumes that eatenplacenta is not also an English major, thereby othering them.
We shouldn't mock people for mockery's sake, but as an outlet for stress and for humor, I'm sure people can agree with me that it's acceptable if it's done without a mean spirit.
It's okay to use certain people as verbal punching-bags, as long as it's not mean-spirited. It's the spirit of the thing that matters, not how it feels to be punched.
After all, the blog is filled with as many self-deprecating posts as there are of any other type.
Self-deprecating is different from mocking others.
Finally, the beauty of the internet and tumblr in particular is that there is an endless amount of sites to waste your time on. If these posts bother you so much, maybe it would be a good idea to see what some of the others have to offer.
Another beauty of the internet is that you can interact with people who call you out on your ableist bullshit.
I feel like this is a good discourse to have if both sides stay civil.
Who is this, Jon Stewart? Toneargumenttoneargumenttoneargument
In my opinion, you straddled the line, and I'm doing my best to stay on the right side of it. I hope I managed to do that. Now I know I'm an English major, this post has taken up 45 minutes and I have a paper due soon. Thanks again to the Admins for a great site.
Finally, bw9 takes the moral high ground over tone. No final words on how disabled people are actually affected by some of the Armadillo content. And then a nice little dismissive farewell.

Also, since bw9 is an English major I'm going to point out that "straddle" does not mean the same thing as "cross".

tl;dr: You can wallow in your privilege by refusing to acknowledge that marginalized groups even have a perspective, and by making every conversation about you and your feelings.

Or, you could decide not to do that.


  1. I agree with you! (I tend mostly to agree with people's critiques of ableism. Doesn't keep me from using the word 'crazy,' but then I AM crazy, so. Digression over.) But I think there is a distinction between mocking marginalized or possibly-marginalized people's use of English (which is not okay) and mocking people who should know better's use of English (i.e. the creators of the film Two Weeks Notice, with its mysteriously missing apostrophe).

    Basically: mocking Ebonics bad, mocking Bushisms funny as hell.

  2. I think that that's fair enough. Often, though, it's not clear which of those is going on.

  3. Right, and I think if it's ambiguous it's your responsibility as the joke-maker to clarify that you're talking about, I don't know, a Publix grocery sign (TEN ITEMS OR FEWER DAMMIT) instead of a non-native speaker that might not grasp subtle distinctions.

    It's also important to note the way that grammar conservativism has been used to hold up the kyriarchy: witness William Safire's uproar a few decades ago about the use of the term "Ms." and gender-neutral language in general. (Douglas Hofstadter, whose taxes I would do willingly for free for the rest of my life because he is THAT AWESOME, writes a really great parody about that, actually:


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