Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Broad Brushstroke

"Don't paint us all with the same brush."
"You're over-generalizing. We're not all like that."
"Don't judge the individual for what the group does."
"Well, I make sure not to do X so this doesn't apply to me and I resent your implication that it does."

You've seen this sentiment before, right? Right? It doesn't matter what it's about - when feminists are talking about men's participation within patriarchal systems. When PoC are talking about white collusion in oppressive institutions. When LGBTQ folks point out that het folks often practise het privilege in ignorance.

Certainly, there's a problem with over-generalization. It's not very nuanced. It's not very forgiving of people who belong to the one group that's being criticized.

But hell's bells, ya'll - why do you need the disclaimer of "this doesn't apply to all people within the group"? What possible benefit could you get from seeing that little clause which lets you know you've got a Get Out of Jail Free card?

Whenever I see someone with the sentiment of, "you're painting with a very broad brushstroke and accusing people who aren't guilty of the same thing," the sequence of thoughts appears in my mind:

- Are you part of this group?
- If not, why are you mad? This is not about you.
- If so, do you participate in the activities that other members of the group perform that hurt other groups?
- If not, why are you mad? This is not about you.
- Are you mad because you feel you're being personally accused? This is not about you.
- Why are you so mad at being accused? You are part of this group which perpetuates these harmful actions. Again, this is not about you, but the group that you just so happen to belong to.

In the end, it all boils down to the feeling that not being painted with the damning brushstroke is more important than acknowledging the pain that is being doled out. Because, I don't know, you want to keep that squeaky clean image you have of yourself, more than you care about other people's pain?

The sentiment that comes across is this: it's more important that people keep in mind that you are not one of those people who hurt others, or else the discussion is missing something utterly important - when in fact, the discussion is not about you, yours, your special circumstances or what makes you different, and insisting that we acknowldge this from the first-off is disingenuous at best, arrogant at worst.

Because when you ask for the Exception Card, you may mean well but what you're doing is insisting that you are acknowldged first before you acknowledge the issue at hand, and if you come into a space where the issue at hand is Not About You, you're just derailing.

As Renee of Womanist Musings says so eloquently, "If it ain't about you, don't make it about you."

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