Recently my husband mentioned how he feels some sympathy with modern centrists. He’s expressing how unhelpful he thinks polarizing comments are, both blatantly polarizing (like “that politician is a garbage human”) and also sassy communication of facts (like Republicans working to thwart liberals at every opportunity being described as “repeatedly slamming their dicks in a door“). We’ve had some heated debate about it, as I’m definitely on the polarizing side of things.
I know it’s really difficult to come fresh into some kind of topic and immediately encounter very extreme, polarizing ideas. Like a white person looking for information on how to deal with a single racist incident their friend did runs into the idea that all white people are inherently racist, or a smaller-bodied person looking into body positivity discovers that thin shaming is not considered to be a problem equal to fat shaming, or someone Googles “what does SWERF mean” and discovers a complicated discussion on an emotional topic.
It is an easy and common response to just shut down – to be offended, upset, uncomfortable, and walk away. It’s a common thing for activists to hear someone make the argument that being “extreme” is hurtful to their cause. People say, “why not speak to people in ways they can hear (“be nicer”)? People will shut down to education if you offend them with extreme ideas they’re not ready for.”
“Extreme” ideas and activism in the form of boundaries are necessary to protect people.
It’s definitely important to try and ease people into an idea, sometimes. It’s important to make a personal connection with folks you are discussing uncomfortable topics with and to talk about your own struggles with that topic so it’s not preaching from on high, sometimes.
But, when I think about conversations with people who simple can’t wrap their head around a concept that I’ve experienced – I can’t really connect with them by sharing a personal anecdote about how something has affected me. If I suggest they think about how they would feel in that situation, they can’t comprehend it because they are so far removed from experiencing it. The closer you are to a straight white male, the farther away you are from being able to grasp the everyday realities of a black woman, a fat disabled white woman, a nonbinary gendered person. And, your own rough times in life can blind you to others’ oppression; pull yourself up from your bootstraps, why can’t others?
Sometimes it’s going to be best to set a hard boundary. White people are so upset when it comes to race issues that they can immediately shut down when confronted with even something relatively small that they’ve done, like a microaggression. Instead of trying to breach the walls put up against learning about the vast undercurrent of racism in our society, it’s easier to say, “Don’t tell a black person they are articulate. Period.”
This can go for any kind of abuse – whether you’re talking about systemic issues of oppression or personal relationships. You can’t only abuse/harass/oppress someone a little bit and it’s okay. It’s all wrong. Once you recognize that, it becomes harder to say, “well, this is okay because it only hurts someone a little bit.”
Oppression is essentially abuse writ large. Hard boundaries – “extreme positions” – are required to protect the people who are facing abuse.