As we transition into fall, I’ve reflected on the numerous shocking events of the summer. The past few months have been rife with tension as movements toward inclusivity have been met with increasing backlash – some examples include the violence against Ferguson protesters blocking I-70, the utter irrelevance of Miley critiquing Nicki Minaj’s reaction to a VMA snub, and Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant comments and the support those comments have found. Most recently, the Internet found a true gem in Nicole Arbour, who slammed fat people (and body positivity) in her video. But what do all of these things have in common?
At first, it probably seems like nothing. These all seem to be random incidents, but they have one important commonality. None of these “critiques” came from people within these movements; each and every example I mentioned comes from someone who has no ties to the movements to which they are reacting. The people who are creating such backlash against movements toward inclusivity had absolutely no reason to add in their two cents, and I’d argue that their opinions are irrelevant.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “But it’s my opinion! I’m entitled to my opinion and it’s important!” Having an opinion is certainly not the problem: assuming that it is important, necessary, or wanted in every space is the problem.
A lot of people enjoy talking about different movements toward inclusivity, even if – and sometimes especially if – what they’re saying is uninformed, derisive, and fails to open up a dialogue in which people learn something. Additionally, social media’s constant query of “What’s on your mind?” makes it easier than ever to spout off about anything people happen to read or watch, especially if they don’t understand the context or history behind what they see. It often seems that’s what we ought to do. Hear me out, though: just because you think you can criticize a movement doesn’t mean you should.
Why shouldn’t we criticize these movements and tell these groups to change what they are doing? Two reasons jump out at me: first, these movements are likely not to make you happy or comfortable. Second, these are responses to inequalities that many of us won’t ever experience.
For a moment, let’s think back to civil rights in the 1960s. The civil rights movement was certainly not about making the people in power (namely white people) comfortable and happy; it was about the opposite. It was about creating a disturbance that forced people in power (again: white people) essentially had no choice but to alter their institutions enough to quell that disturbance.
Obviously, the social movements of today are vastly different from the civil rights movement, but the fundamental purpose of creating a disturbance is the same even today; we have to recognize that a lot of us are walking around with lots of privilege. When we understand that being white or wealthy or well-educated can have a seriously positive impact on our lives, it becomes obvious that not being those things can have a negative impact. Not only can those things have a strong and negative impact, but they have an impact that can’t be completely understood by those of us who don’t experience it.
The point here is this: Nicki Minaj didn’t talk about the racism she felt as a musician to make white musicians comfortable. She did it to create a disturbance that would hopefully produce a change in the music industry. The weight acceptance movement is not specifically designed to make women like Nicole Arbour comfortable; it is designed to create inclusion and representation for people who don’t often see themselves being considered beautiful or worthy of respect. To complain about these movements is to misunderstand the point of these movements. It’s not to make privileged groups happy but is instead quite the opposite.
Additionally, these movements are responses to things that many of us who backlash will never understand. Miley Cyrus will never know what it’s like to be a black woman in the music industry, so for her to say that Nicki shared her experience badly is to tell her how to respond to something that Miley will never experience or fully understand.
How can we tell people they are reacting to oppression improperly if we’ll never face that oppression? The next time we feel compelled to tell people we don’t even know that they should change the way they fight for equality, we should instead be reading articles from members of that community. We should try to learn about the experiences those people have that we lack. Only then can we learn to work toward an inclusive society for all.
Miranda Huber is a recent graduate from Elmhurst College working to save money for even more school. In her free time, she enjoys reading books and talking to animals. Her interests include politics, pizza, and feminism.
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