Saying Something Doesn’t Make It So

Recently I mentioned an LGBTQ+ issue to a neighbour and was immediately met with the words “But that’s not really a problem any more.”

This happens to me a lot.

I can understand the (false) reasoning behind the sentiment. There is a pervasive feeling amongst people with privilege in our society that, in this modern day and age, things have improved and people are now tolerant and accepting. Like we’ve reached and crossed a finish line and there is nothing else to be done. It’s 2016 you know? That stuff just doesn’t happen any more! I can also understand how the ‘I don’t see it, so it mustn’t happen’ way of thinking an take hold. For example if you are white, and your life doesn’t intersect with any/many BME people, then you wouldn’t see any violence, prejudice or discrimination against them taking place. So you could reach a false conclusion that it barely occurs. (I sadly, wrongly used to be that person.)

I think the British media also exacerbates this, as issues such as racism in the police force or the fight for equal marriage in America often get more coverage than UK issues. Or the UK issues barely get mentioned at all. So people think it’s not much of a problem here. E.g. many people have heard of how all the Oscar nominees are all white this year, but they might not think about the lack of diversity in British film and television. And BME people are more likely to die in police custody in the UK too. In terms of general knowledge, a lot of people will know who Caitlyn Jenner is, but could they name a British trans person?

A lot of people don’t want to think about these things because it makes them feel uncomfortable. So it’s easier for them just to say it’s not an issue, and suppress other people speaking up about it. “Just live your life and be happy.” they say. “Stop making everything into a big deal!” Or they do things like make you hide your (perfectly reasonable) posters for a protest in case you upset other people, who aren’t even affected by the issue you’re protesting against!

And yes things definitely have improved a lot over time. But saying that things are still bad isn’t disagreeing with that, it’s acknowledging that something is still happening that people shouldn’t have to deal with. That something, like violence against trans people, or LGBTQ+ homelessness, or the fact that women are more likely to be raped if they’re bisexual needs to stop NOW. ASAP. We can’t improve anything if people won’t even accept it’s happening. It’s a powerful tool of oppression.

It’s really frustrating when people who are not affected by an issue, or are not a member of a minority group disproportionately affected by something, insist that it’s not really a problem. Putting salt instead of sugar into your tea by accident is an example of something that is not really a problem. Saying something doesn’t make it so, and I wish people would at least listen for a few minutes before opening their mouths in these situations. If they meant well and honestly didn’t know it was an issue in society, then why can’t they take a step back and think, “Well by Jove, I’m so lucky. I was so unaffected by that awful thing I didn’t even know about it! I should learn about it, and see if there is anything I can do to help stop it.”

On this occasion I didn’t know the exact figures, so I just mumbled quietly that it is still a problem before the conversation moved on. I have just looked it up for next time. We shouldn’t have to be walking encyclopaedias of depressing statistics, but other people often force us into that position by insisting things aren’t important or that they aren’t happening. Then they get into arguments with us when we have the audacity to point out their false beliefs.

Life makes me tired, and I am tired of banging my head repeatedly against brick walls.

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3 thoughts on “Saying Something Doesn’t Make It So

  1. Kellie Maloney, Lauren Harries, Jenny Randles. Sadly, tons and tons of people, esp the privileged just don’t care, and that’s because they don’t want to care. I don’t think people can change people like that sadly; the carers are rare gems.

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  2. I think the problem you discuss (of “mainstream” people significantly underestimating the oppression faced by minorities) stems from what cognitive psychology calls the “availability heuristic” (search for that term on Google or Wikipedia for details). This suggests that the problem is not intrinsically related to a particular form of prejudice (e.g., sexism, homophobia, racism, transphobia), but rather is ubiquitous in human nature. I don’t mention that to trivialise the problem in the sense of “everyone suffers from that, so you should stop claiming you are being unfairly targeted”, but rather in the hope that awareness of the availability heuristic might help you to understand the problem better and develop tactics for combatting it.

    For example, if you could (somehow) make your colleagues aware of the concept of the availability heuristic, then the next time a colleague says, “But that’s not really a problem any more”, you can respond with, “I think your comment is an example of the availability heuristic” rather than feeling frustrated that you don’t have a bunch of statistics to hand to refute your colleague’s comment.

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