Though it is already a few months old, this post by Rachael on socialjusticeleague.net offers brilliant commentary on yet another way the privileged silence and disarm the marginalized in American society – the demand for civility.
From the article:
Social justice is about destroying systematic marginalisation and privilege. Wishing to live in a more just, more equal world is simply not the same thing as wishing to live in a “nicer” world. I am not suggesting niceness is bad or that we should not behave in a nice way towards others if we want to! I also do not equate niceness with cooperation or collaboration with others. Here’s all I am saying: the conflation of ethical or just conduct (goodness), and polite conduct (niceness) is a big problem.
Plenty of oppressive bullshit goes down under the guise of nice. Every day, nice, caring, friendly people try to take our bodily autonomy away from us (women, queers, trans people, nonbinaries, fat people, POC…you name it, they just don’t think we know what’s good for us!). These people would hold a door for us if they saw us coming. Our enemies are not only the people holding “Fags Die God Laughs” signs, they are the nice people who just feel like marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense, it’s just how they feel!
It is vitally important to any form of social justice movement that a sharp distinction is drawn between polite conduct and ethical conduct. This is because the key ingredient of any protest movement is passion – which, as we all know, is not always (or even often) accompanied by politeness. What we as agents of social justice need to realize and internalize, however, is that this is okay. One cannot effectively speak truth to power and challenge an unjust system while walking on eggshells.
In this writer’s opinion, the Occupy movement (as well as progressives in general) are widely misunderstood in this regard. Yes, some of our signs are blunt. Yes, some of our chants are laced with “profane” language. And yes, we’ve all spoken with someone who agrees with our message but takes issue with how we’re choosing to say it. But here’s the thing. We’ve tried saying it nicely. Some of us have been trying for decades. It hasn’t worked.
That’s reason enough to change tactics, but the article linked above gives us an even better reason to forget about minding our manners: because they are almost always defined by the ruling class. By communicating on their terms, we’ve already given them yet another advantage.