There was quite a kerfuffle (“kerfuffle” is my new favorite word because I’m 80.) on Twitter the other day and it reminds me of TONS of kerfuffles lately with people dressing in black face and people using the word “gay” as derogatory and people using Geisha costuming in concert performances. These are all things that someone did that angered a group of people and we (should?) find ourselves thinking a lot about our words and actions and how they effect other people.
And here’s the thing – if you’ve ever been offended by something (for example, when people compare Liberal to Nazis or Apartheid supporters, I get very offended) – you know it’s not a choice. It’s a physical/emotional reaction that is very involuntary. When I hear people use “homosexuality” and “beastiality” in the same sentence like they’re comparable action…I feel sick.
So, first and foremost: Let us not lose sight of the fact that when people are offended it is not by choice.
However, we can choose how to handle that information. If there’s a guy at the gas station who is truly offended by the affection show between two gay men? Then those gay men can choose to not care about that guy and his feelings. And in my opinion? They are very right to do so. Because they feel like the positivity in their action of kissing someone they love is more important than the negative feelings it stirs up in this person getting gas at the same gas station.
There are a lot of offensive comedians who choose simply to not care because the laughs they get are more important to them on whatever level when compared to people they might offend. And that is their prerogative.
And if you have some sort of platform where your actions can offend many people at one time, then your decisions in those moments have more weight to them. More impact. And again – you have a choice to either A) Care about those people and respond accordingly or B) NOT Care about those people and continue the same path.
You can NOT blame an involuntary reaction. They can not control how they feel as they hear your words or see your actions. As much as I disagree with the ignorant man at the gas station who gets offended by the two men kissing, he can not control that response. As much as I agree with the black people across the world who are mad at that woman’s racist tweet, their reaction is just as involuntary.
Asking people NOT to be offended is not going to do one lick of good. Demanding that people stop being offended is not going to do any good. You either A) Care or B) Not care. And there are very valid times to do both.
But if you truly care – you have to look at the bigger picture. What caused you to say or do the thing you did that might have been offensive? Did you know it was offensive? I’m going to be completely honest with something, I was surprised by the backlash of Katy Perry donning Geisha attire in her performance. When I read several wonderful articles about why it was offensive, I did everything I could to read up on cultural appropriation and how/when it is offensive. I admit I was ignorant to all of it before. And I’m adequately embarrassed about that.
However, I’m not in the public spotlight, so chances are slim that I offend a huge group of people with any of my actions. Yet, I still took Katy Perry’s error to my advantage and learned what I could to prevent my own personal ignorance from causing anyone pain.
If I had fallen in love with a woman, or a black man, and my relationship had offended someone? They would have had to suck it up because my actions to me would be important enough to hold on to that I would not care about the offended parties.
But my desire to dress in Geisha costuming at a performance would NOT be that important of an action to hold on to at the insult to others.
Does this make sense?
Here’s a lengthy article on Jezebel about this in regards to the Lily Allen kerfuffle awhile back. The article deals with a lot of the specifics of that situation but has some great quotes about offending people in general. About how the person DOING THE OFFENSIVE THING does not get to decided if it was offensive.
If I push a person down the stairs and say it’s satire, bones still break. If I drive my car off a cliff and say that what I was intending to do was drive it successfully around a corner, the car is still wrecked. If I compliment someone but it’s perceived as an insult, then it’s an insult. If a video an artist “intended” to be anti-sexist critique utilizes tropes the audience finds racist, then it’s not satire on sexism, it’s reinforcement of racism.
You have no control over how people respond to your words or actions. But you control how you respond if they are hurt of offended. By asking yourself: Do you care? And if you care? Then the ONLY choice is to make amends and educate yourself so that you can avoid doing it again. It is not to apologize that someone got offended. It is to apologize for the lack awareness that caused you to do the offensive thing. And then reassurance that you will educate yourself to learn why it was offensive.
Anyway…the kerfuffles just had me thinking. And since I have 14 more posts to write in 10 days, I figured I might as well blog about it. 🙂