1. Getting A Free Pass

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    When I hear people defending themselves against charges of racism, homophobia or other bigotry, the place the conversation ends up is usually a very problematic one to me. For starters, the question “Are you a bigot” should usually be replaced by “Should you have said those things?”, but furthermore the defences people typically make strike me as really false and nonsensical.

    When someone makes a comment like “I didn’t mean any offense to gays, my uncle Jerry is gay” they do a really weird manoeuvre. They take their relationship with a group of people and treat it very differently from how they would treat a personal relationship in their life.

    This idea of a ‘relationship’ with a big group may seem weird to some, but I can think of no other way to really conceptualize it. I have a relationship with specific female friends and family members, but I also have a relationship with women at large. How I generally think about women, how I feel women should be treated and how my interactions with women will differ from other interactions I have are all part of that relationship.

    As a test, I’m going to apply the kinds of arguments I often hear when defending a relationship with a group to different personal relationships I have and see if these same arguments hold up.

    My previous relationship with X group makes it impossible for me to be truly offensive to them.

    I have a 22 year relationship with my older sister. If I say something hurtful to her, and a mutual acquaintance calls me out – they would likely not be satisfied to simply hear me recount how long I’ve been her brother. This wouldn’t cut it for this personal relationship.

    Being a previous victim of X, I wouldn’t or can’t treat others the same way.

    I have been hurt or let down in past relationships by romantic partners. This makes me less likely to treat consecutive partners poorly, but it certainly doesn’t make me incapable of it. I know for a fact that I’ve hurt my current partner on more than one occasion, and I know exactly how it feels to be treated that way. Perpetuating a cycle may sometimes be inevitable, but that doesn’t make it defensible. This one doesn’t pass either.

    Some of my best friends are X, so I don’t mean it offensively.

    I have called amazing, long-standing friends jerks and assholes behind their backs and completely meant it. I am fully confident I am not alone in doing this. Nothing about being friends with someone prevents you from being intentionally offensive to them, right or wrong. No on this one too.

    I’ve defended X group in the past, so why would I insult them now?

    I have been a supportive son to my mother for many years, but if I say something intended to be funny that falls flat and she is offended, my past supportive cred. is not helpful. I still said something that was taken hurtfully. I don’t have to apologize and take it back if I think it’s valid, but I certainly don’t get to claim she has no right to be offended since “haven’t I been nice to you in the past?”

    By my count none of these work for other kinds of relationships, so I propose this as a test for considerate people everywhere. The next time you find yourself feeling bulletproof to say anything without regard and why shouldn’t I say this the world is too PC anyways – stop and think:

    Would this get a free pass if I said it to my mother?

    *Speaking of free passes, this one is just over 600 words. Crap.*

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