August 10th, 2015


Open letter to self-proclaimed reasonable white dudes

icon: "strong (a photo of me in warm light with my hair down around my face, staring intensely into the camera in a defiant mood)"

Dear 'intellectually-minded' white men who just want to have a 'reasonable conversation':

You start out by asking me a question after I have pointed out something problematic. Even though I know that it's rare that people in general are willing to learn from a stranger, and that as a white dude you're far less likely than average to be willing to learn, I give you the benefit of the doubt. Just in case you're sincere (and for the sake of non-responsive readers who might actually seek knowledge), I offer you a starting point for you to self-educate. This is partly because it would take a minimum of several verbal hours or 20 written pages to explain even the basics, and partly to test your willingness to learn. You respond by explaining why that starting point is wrong (after a max of 20 minutes of web searching). You think this is a conversation between equals.

I know it's really fun for you to have a theoretical discussion where you get to feel all 'edgy' with your advocating for the devil. You feel mentally stimulated and awake for the first time in who-knows-how-long. It's a startling novelty to you for someone to bluntly disagree and it's refreshing to go down new neural pathways. You're excited to find yourself on a new intellectual jungle gym. Also, you feel really sure you can win because you think clever conversation is about playing tricks and laying traps and you think there is no objective answer, so you can claim to win no matter what. In fact, your rule for winning is "get the last word."

But then I don't want to play, and at first you just don't take my no seriously. Then, when you realize I mean it, you're deeply offended. You just offered me the greatest gift of all - your attention - and you expected me to respond with eager attempts to persuade you to join my side. You really feel I owe you my attention because you gave me yours. You handed me a one-in-a-million chance to affect your thinking and I just threw that treasure in the trash! You feel insulted that I didn't cradle and nurture that rare chance - after all, you rarely give it to someone who isn't of your class. It's like your opinion doesn't even matter! On top of all that offense, you feel cheated out of your fun, and worst of all there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Not that that stops you.

I tell you I don't want to talk to you, and like a bad telemarketer you respond by pulling out all the stops to try and force me to talk to you. You trot out a few carefully-aimed insults and explain to me all the wonders I'm missing out on by not talking to you more. You're super reasonable and if only I had tried a little harder you probably would have given me that carrot. Instead, my obstinence has removed the chance of you giving a shit about justice. I've ruined everything by not convincing you, the bastion of reason and kindness, that there is a problem you should notice and act on. Too bad for all those people suffering injustice (who were nonexistent before I stopped bothering with you).

Too bad for you, I've heard every single bit of this bullshit already.

I don't care about winning and I genuinely don't care what motive you ascribe to my disengagement. I know you will refuse to believe that it's because your ignorant regurgitation of societal norms bores me and talking to you wastes my time and effort. You, boring? Inconceivable! Literally! You can't imagine it! Instead, you decide (and you let me know) that I just don't care enough about my causes, because if I did I would put in the work to win you over (and you pretend that's a possibility; you may even fool yourself). Your ideas are unique and vital and of course I've never been in this situation before. Or perhaps you decide that I don't know enough to argue, that if I did I wouldn't be able to resist laying it all out to win. Maybe you decide I'm lazy, or that I was lying.

Guess what? I don't give a shit, because I know the difference between an argument and a conversation. I will not argue, especially with someone whose ratio of knowledge to me is kindergartner to PhD. You cannot contribute anything meaningful with such a knowledge imbalance, any more than a U.S. kindergartener could tell a Swedish history professor about the various aspects of Swedish government over time. When you act like your ideas have relevance it's just annoying. I know that if I try to explain that your ignorance makes your opinion useless, you will get excited by further argument without even considering the possibility that you might actually be ignorant.

I know damn well what an actually reasonable person does when they learn of an injustice they were previously unaware of. They do not try to 'disprove' it: that is not a reasonable reaction to learning something new. They self-educate. If it sounds ridiculous to them, they look up what experts on the subject who agree with this position say*. A reasonable person knows they cannot learn about a topic by looking up things that contradict it. If it is a faulty position, you can discover that by the lack of evidence (if you know enough about the subject to create a decent search). If it's true, you won't find that out by searching for how to argue against it.

When you reacted to my initial offer of resources with "those aren't legit because..." I knew that you weren't speaking from years of study. I knew you weren't actually interested in learning. You're just trying to win. You want to play with other people's lives like game pieces and wax on about your ludicrously fact-less theories instead of discussing practical methods of righting injustice. I will not give you pleasure at my expense.

[an example of reasonable effort to understand]* For example, when someone told me that men are oppressed by women, I responded by looking up articles in support of such a theory, even though as an expert on the subject I could safely assume that they were simply wrong. Their legitimate examples of oppression were misattributed to women when in reality they were caused by sexism and racism (unable to dress how they want, getting imprisoned more often, etc.) Most of their examples were illegitimate because they were factually wrong. For instance, white men tend to get custody when they ever make an effort and the apparent disparity in custody disputes is primarily due to lack of desire. There was nothing I hadn't heard before, and the whole concept displayed a ludicrous lack of understanding as to how oppression works. If I hadn't already known the statistics involved I would have needed to look them up. If I hadn't already done many hours of study on how oppression works, I would need to have done that in order to tell that what they were calling 'oppression by women' was not.

See also: The White Folks Who Need “Proof of Racism”: "The whole point of them asking me to convince them is so that could pretend and tout that they made a good-faith effort all while hiding the fact that the goal was always to never be convinced."