“Isms in my opinion are not good, a person should not believe in an ism he should believe in himself.” – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986.
This week has been the week of casual ‘isms’ from Facebook posts to inappropriate tweets this week has, for me, been a week of reminders that casual sexism and casual racism are not going away. And so we must fight. Silence is not an option. Denigrating an entire portion of the population based on sex or colour is not casual, it is not funny and it is not acceptable.
The first thing, I saw on a friend’s Facebook wall and my immediate reaction was anger; although I was told repeatedly that I was overreacting. That someone I know and like would share such a demeaning image and claim it to be positive drove me batty. I’m all for embracing your curves, I have them myself, but I don’t understand why we have to hurt someone else to embrace our own bodies. Why is it OK to make skinny women feel terrible but if you dare to judge someone who’s even a tad overweight the interwebs jumps down your throat? If I had posted an image that said, “Skinny girls, because nobody likes cuddling an elephant.” The weight of the interwebs would have fallen upon me like a giant balloon of hate and rage.
So when I commented on my friend’s post, when I asked why he was trying to push up one group of the population but putting down another he said, “It’s a cute little picture that gets feminists worked up over absolutely nothing to make them feel better about themselves. You’re welcome.” Which felt like a pat on the head, “Good little feminist, you fell for my plan.” But isn’t that the problem? When we stand up for ourselves or others we are told that we are overreacting, just shut up and let people do what they want; but what if I’m not OK with that? I don’t want to accept the world at face value, I don’t want to let people get away with it and I certainly don’t want to just blame it on the trolls. The more we ignore the trolls of the world the more they win, our apathy is their victory.
Free speech is a gift, we can say what we wish without the fear of persecuted by the government; but free speech doesn’t mean that your words won’t have consequences. You don’t get to say terrible things, especially not online, and walk away without consequence just because you shout, “But, guys free speech and stuff.” Nope, that’s not how life works folks.
When Justine Sacco tweeted that she wouldn’t get AIDS because she’s white, a lot of people freaked out (rightfully so) but there were two other types of response the first was to decry free speech and the second was the claim that Miss. Sacco was simply joking. Because casual racism is funny, right? RIGHT? Except it’s not, not now, not tomorrow, not ever.
I’m the first person to say something off-the-cuff, I am frequently told by my friends, my mum and Boyfriend that I lack a mouth filter; but there’s a difference between accidentally saying the wrong thing and putting down an entire group of people to get a laugh. We’ve gotten to a point where we think that sexism and racism have disappeared, so much so that we allow people to brush off their behaviour as a joke instead of calling them out on it. You cannot casually put down an entire group of people and then go enjoy your breakfast as if you just read off the weather for the day.
The next time someone makes a ‘joke’ that marginalizes people for daring to be anything other than a white man, call them on it. Stop tolerating casual ‘isms’.
Write on! and also right on. We need more fighters for racism and sexism and ageism. Also I’m against AIDS too.
Great post and you’re right. It’s all function of privilege. The moment you say “It was a joke” you’re deflecting responsibility on to everyone who “doesn’t get the joke”. Then in turn, it somehow becomes the offended person’s (maybe they’re also apart of an oppressed group) responsibility to educate the offender turning the victimizer into the victim. It all can be avoided if we just abstain from jokes that focus on one part of a person’s physical being – sex, skin colour, body size, disability, etc.