So I fucked up the other day.
I talk about accountability. About being the object lesson. About owning your mistakes, and all the right words and I sound real smart. I’ve never been so tempted in my life to delete a comment.
What happened, precisely, isn’t the issue. I’ve apologized to the person, and while I’m genuinely sorry, I don’t expect that we’ll be friends again. Sometimes the price of your fuckup is that you lose friends, especially friends you weren’t super close to, who have no reason to keep you in their life if you make them more tired than happy. Some folks insist that victims have a duty to forgive, but I’m not a huge proponent of forgiveness. If you are, that’s cool, that can be your deal; I’m fine believing that you can fuck something up bad enough that you don’t deserve forgiveness for it, except to the extent it lets the other person move on with their life. Forgiveness should be the injured person’s option, not what the aggressor wants, and definitely not what some third-party “can’t we all just get along” wants.
What happened, precisely, isn’t the issue, but how it happened is.
See, I made the absolutely classic oppressor’s mistake. Several of them, really, including equating my axes of oppression to someone else’s to assume we were on “equal footing” when it’s still a game of chutes and ladders, not an arithmetic function with some overall calculus of oppression. That’s literally what intersectionality means. But the big mistake, the one you should be learning from, was this:
I assumed I had the benefit of the doubt.
We were workshopping an idea, and things got silly. Or at least, I thought they did – we had clearly veered into territory that was “things this person is not” rather than “stuff they would call something.” I’d worked with them before, edited another project, and I knew perfectly well that some of the ideas were not at all this individual’s public persona. I made “silly” suggestions anyway. Why? I assumed I’d be given the benefit of the doubt; something I had not in the slightest earned. I assumed they knew I knew that wasn’t something they’d say or do.
I forgot everydamnthing I knew. ‘Oh, someone else might be racist, but she‘s definitely just being silly.’ And when someone came by hours later to say “um, not ok” it was one of the suggestions that didn’t depend on the dissonance between this person and what they’d say; or rather, the dissonance was (I thought) between this person and the picture I had of someone who would say that. What I envisioned, what my upbringing had taught me this phrase would be attached to, is an old redneck, possibly with a prepper’s backyard bomb shelter. Yeah, but another thing I knew is that if you’re reading, rather than watching, those speech patterns are dangerously close to AAVE, minus a verb shift or two not evident in a soundbite-length quip. Which as your basic human who bleeds pumpkin spice and has a tendency to burn when someone says “sunshine” loudly in her vicinity, I should not under any* circumstances use.
So in summary: I thought about a “funny” thing. I understood what made it funny to me… and I said it anyway. And not only did I say it, I said it in a public forum, where it encouraged people who maybe did not know that it was not in any way a thing this person would be associated with to escalate their own behavior.
Even if the original person had been willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, even if we had that relationship, why should anyone else coming by assume anything? My “silliness” didn’t just reflect poorly on me; it actively harmed this person by putting forth an image that I knew was inaccurate when I wrote it, which was a negative, harmful stereotype.
Hi, I’ll be your object lesson for today: Don’t depend on the benefit of the doubt. That’s just another way of saying “you’d like him if you knew him” or “that wasn’t my intent.” Intent? Doesn’t matter.
*Except in fiction, and even then I am extremely cautious not to use AAVE as a shortcut to “this person is black” or to use it when someone who habitually uses AAVE at home would have codeswitched, and I have an actual black friend read it to make sure I didn’t fuck it up.