As I’m sure many of you are aware, a popular fat acceptance blogger is involved in a spat with No Lose and certain bloggers over the issue of racism. Maybe he could have handled the situation with more sensitivity. Maybe he could have taken more time to educate himself. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe not. The issue has been beaten to death elsewhere, so I won’t comment specifically on that here. However, I am noticing some larger patterns in fat discourse and that is what I want to discuss.
I was not blogging at the time, but I was reading when the fracas happened with Junkfood Science. I remember what happened to two bloggers over a post on privilege. Racism is a major topic of discourse, and I keep seeing the same patterns. A small, but extremely vocal group of bloggers consistently takes it upon themselves to be the thought and language police, even when the people they are talking to are the very people they claim to be helping.
We fat activists love talking about diversity as long as it’s the cute kind. We love to talk about diversity of color, diversity of ability, and diversity of sex partner. We love the shiny and the obvious.
I hate to call it “shiny and obvious” because the identities of many of our bloggers are far from shiny and obvious, and the issues we have have dimensions and solutions that are also far from shiny and obvious. When I use that phrase, I mean that we are quick to support those types of diversity and call people out when they fail to do everything they could do. Yet diversity does not just include those differences. It includes more elusive differences like ethnicity, culture, and political ideology. It includes religion. It includes individual human differences from people within the same class.
Because not all black people have the same experiences or the same ideas about society, race, and prejudice. Not all poor people are Democrat. Not all disabled people like “people-first” language or “politically correct” (hate that term!) terminology. The moment we fail to listen to the people themselves, and instead opt to speak for them, we have ceased to be diverse and a movement of the people.
Even issues of disability or class, while “cute,” popular diversity topics, are more complicated than they appear and most people don’t appreciate this. People with mental impairments-autism, schizophrenia, speech/language impairments, etc.-are very disprivileged and deserve to be part of social justice movements. However, they might not be initiated into white, upper-middle class, liberal blogging culture. They might not be capable of being initiated. People who are lower-middle class and below also will not be initiated into this culture. These people might also not WANT to be initiated because they don’t relate to it. The fact that there IS such a culture as liberal, social justice blogging culture runs counter to my notion of diversity.
Something that I have noticed about some liberals is that they tend to assume that the whole world operates according to the power dynamics of wealthy, white nations. The acronym of choice is WASP men-white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. If you are one of these WASP men, you are very privileged in the United States and most other white, wealthy nations. However, these aren’t necessarily privileges everywhere. Being Protestant, for example, is very privileged here but not at all in other parts of the world. Fat and social justice activism doesn’t just happen in these countries. It happens in countries where the masculine ideal is very different from ours. It happens in countries where being a Christian is a serious risk to your life. It happens in countries that are mostly white, but where being white and a member of the wrong ethnic group forces you to live in a ghetto. It happens in countries where most people are working class and even in countries with values more conservative than ours. It also happens in white, wealthy nations with ethnic minorities and immigrants.
Another thing I notice is the tendency to throw around the terms “white,” “Caucasian,” and “Anglo-Saxon” around without really knowing what they mean. The term “Caucasian” does not mean “white” and lots of people who we consider people are color are considered “Caucasian” by the census and population researchers. The term “white” refers to a rainbow of skins. Meanwhile, the term “Anglo-Saxon” refers, or should refer, to those of who actually…well…Anglo-Saxon. Not all Caucasians or whites are Anglo-Saxon and to just toss it around in that fashion glosses over huge differences in ethnicity and culture.
you might say I’m splitting hairs here, that what matters is perception. You might not actually be white or Anglo-Saxon, but if you look that way, you are privileged over those that don’t. I would agree with that. Our society prizes certain qualities and if you can “pass,” you have a lot of advantages. I’m saying that it’s more complex than that. What if you are Anglo-Saxon and DON’T look it? What if you have other factors that work against that privilege, like class? What if you come from a different country or culture in which the power dynamics are different from those in the US? If I was Serbian, I might look Anglo-Saxon in the US and benefit from that, but people in certain parts of Eastern Europe might know that I’m Serbian and treat me accordingly. Being “Anglo-Saxon” carries no privilege in that case.
In any case, if we want to pride ourselves on our cultural awareness, it is hugely hypocritical to gloss over ethnic and cultural differences in this way, even if on the surface, it doesn’t seem to matter much.
I’m of a lower class than many prominent fat acceptance bloggers. My political ideology is a lot farther to the right (I’m a moderate with a mixture of liberal and conservative ideas), and my religion isn’t popular in this population either. I have carved out my own safe space on my blog for my religion and politics, but when it comes to class and gender, forget about it. I’m a men’s rights activist as well as a feminist, I don’t identify with modern mainstream feminism, and I’m viewed in the same way as one might view a cockroach in some circles. Despite having known poverty and public assistance, my views of these issues are often not welcome.
Again, I have carved out a safe space for myself and I like a lot of blogs that our community has to offer. If we don’t agree, then we don’t agree. That’s not the issue. The issue is that certain prominent people have taken it upon themselves to be advocates for the disprivileged, to label themselves as culturally aware, and proceed to tell us how we should do social justice. I don’t do it your way. I don’t think like you. I don’t need your approval. When you insist that I fit into your blogging culture and your perception of my own life, then I’M being silenced. In the name of giving me a voice. When you do this to others, you are doing the same thing.
You don’t have to agree with me or change your views. You can choose not to read me. I hope you will still read me, as I still read many of you and enjoy much of your work. All I ask is that you do a better job of seeing us as human beings, not members of monolithic tribes you happen to dislike.
I used to think the same way. I was a teenager, a Socialist, upper-middle class, and a perfect fit for the current blogging culture of fat acceptance. When I grew up and I much lost my cultural and economic privilege, I was confronted with my own prejudices and I eventually left that culture behind. It does not match my life or my identity as I know it, and it’s really racist, classist, and all around prejudiced to insist that we all think the same way, or that we should. And I don’t mean the “all white people benefit from racism and are thus implicitly racist” type of racism. I mean genuinely prejudiced. It’s a denial of the agency of oppressed people and I’m done with it. It took me years to see people that didn’t think like me were actual, fully fleshed out people instead of caricatures. Now I can hardly believe that I used to see anyone that way.
And you know what else happened? I have earned the respect of people MUCH farther to the right than me politically. They see ME as a person. They like me and want to work with me on stuff we have in common. Best of all, we actually have a lot in common.
Fat acceptance should be a safe space for fat people and from fat-related healthism/ableism. It should respect and embrace intersectionality in all its forms. In order to really do that, we need to reconsider what intersectionality is and it’s time that we abandoned our raging liberal bias.