Derailing for Dummies is a failed attempt at a clever how-to guide that makes fun of and tries shedding some light on how privileged people tend to trample on conversations with marginalized people by “derailing the conversation, dismissing their opinion as false and ridiculing their experience [so that] you can be sure that they continue to be marginalised and unheard and you can continue to look like the expert you know you really are, deep down inside!“
At first read, Derailing for Dummies may read as funny and may make some sense, but in thinking through some of its ‘steps’, some big holes begin to appear (not to mention an ignorance and arrogance woven throughout), such as:
Debunk #1: “If You Don’t Educate Me, How Can I Learn?”
Many allegedly oppressed people pull the whole “it’s not my job to educate you” card. The problem with this sentiment is that education is a CRITICAL part of activism. The two go hand in hand. This doesn’t mean that marginalized people should devote 100% of their activism to educating privileged people by spending countless hours and energy conversing with people who have zero desire to open their minds and hearts to consider a different perspective. But it does mean that it’s counter-intuitive to talk about a problem and then chase or chastise people away if they ask questions or come into a discussion knowing less about an issue than others (assuming they are otherwise being respectful in their approach).
Shooing people away to go and read up on “Issue X 101” is dismissive, exclusionary, downright rude and hostile and ignorant, and will not win any allies, assuming people want allies and don’t just want to ‘preach to the choir’. Otherwise, different levels of ignorance are inevitable, and should be approached with some basic human decency if we want to be decent human beings. Some truly anti-oppressive resources are not that easy to come by among the sea of mainstream (and not so mainstream), lamestream mis-information and dis-information out there, especially for people who have no clue where to start. Of course, everyone has different degrees of patience when it comes to engaging with curious people, and some people are so wounded by their oppression and pain that they can’t handle clear, coherent discussion, which is the TRUE derailment — it’s an understandable human thing, but the result is pretty much the death of a critical conversation (let alone clear, coherent, effective ACTION), and probably should be taken to a therapy room or support group of some sort. Which brings me to:
Debunk #2: “You’re Being Hostile / Over-emotional!”
These are definitely conversation de-railers and can be quite maddening to hear. But they are also sometimes true, which wounded people need to acknowledge because marginalized and oppressed people don’t get a free pass to be an abusive asshole. Nobody does. Oppressors are assholes, or rather, behave in asshole-ish ways; do oppressed people really want become or behave like oppressors, or do they want true liberation from asshole-ism? Some people’s perspectives are so distorted by the cloud of their oppression(s) OR privilege(s) that they can’t get past these raw emotions and step into clear, coherent thinking. This doesn’t mean their experiences are invalid, but it does mean that the conversation will fail and turn into one of managing emotions, which the average internet converser may be ill-equipped to handle.
Emotions are a wonderful and very important part of being human and should never be negated, but they can also be unhealthy if not processed and managed. We must strike a balance between being rational and emotional; too much of one and not enough of the other limits our perspectives. The invalidation, pain, shame and judgment that comes with oppression is like the flip side of the arrogance, entitlement, hostility and ignorance that comes with privilege — overwhelming amounts of either side cloud or kill clear and coherent thinking ACTION borne from this kind of thinking.
Debunk #3: “You Just Enjoy Being Offended!”
Definitely offensive to activists who put their heart and soul into their work. BUT, some people DO wear their oppressions as badges. We need to stop looking for reasons to be offended and start looking for reasons to work things out and BE the change we want, to the extent that we’re emotionally/mentally/physically/spiritually able. Limitations are okay, we all have them, but there are also limitations to limitations — we all have varying degrees of ability to be a Good Person, but we can all try being one. Otherwise, what’s the point of conversation, trying to figure things out, and righting wrongs?
Co-Written by a severely oppressed person and a moderately privileged & oppressed person.
Check out Sebastian’s comment below, in the comments section; he articulates the problem with Derailing for Dummies much better than I have here, leaving no room for doubt in any clear-thinking minds, hearts and spirits.