When a person of color, like Tara just did in her post at Fatshionista.com, goes through the trouble of telling me something I am doing – even, or perhaps especially, unthinkingly – does not make them feel welcome, my proper response is to find out what I can do to make them feel more welcome. The proper response is not to write the whole issue off as divisiveness and, while it might FEEL better, it isn’t to get defensive.

I was actually just talking about this with someone else – I know I tend to shy away from speaking about race issues because I assume everyone is on the same page with me. That’s not a good assumption to make because the world is made up of more than the people around me.

Just as there is no monolithic experience of race/feminism/sexuality/etc, there is no monolithic experience of fat. There are a huge multitude of factors that go into defining that experience and other issues of social justice are tops on that list.

I think we, as a fat blogging community, are just getting into the discussion about how different sizes of fat experience fat (and, obviously, this has been discussed in other spheres), but we do need to be making the time to talk about other things that influence the way a fat experience is shaped. That means race, sexuality (which comes up every now and then), class (which comes up a lot more often), and whatever else has informed people’s experiences.

Let me interject something else here: the idea that while I may not GET IT, if a person of color tells me they have experienced an oppression, they probably know better than I do what they are talking about. For example, appropriation. I don’t have strong feelings on this matter. I don’t have a culture to steal. But people who do have expressed their anger and frustration over this issue over and over and over again and it doesn’t hurt me to listen to them.

I mean, it does not have a seriously negative impact on my life to show some consideration when it comes to appropriation. If I have to give up a smidge of the comfort I enjoy as a member of the dominant culture (because mainstream culture is white), then I will gladly give it up to help even up the comfort scale.

And let’s also talk about the “last acceptable prejudice.” I think it can, occasionally, be useful to discuss the commonalities between oppressions but not as a shorthand – not because we are being lazy about defining oppression. But I don’t think creating a hierarchy of oppression is EVER useful and I don’t think trying to give fat hate a sort of rarified status as The Last is useful either.

You may not experience institutionalized racism and sexism where you live. That is awesome and I am jealous. But I live in a country where a black defendant is four times as likely to receive the death penalty as a white defendant. And while you can say that racism isn’t something of which anyone approves, but obviously they do or we wouldn’t still be dealing with statistics like that.

If you google “last acceptable prejudice” you get a lot of different results (thanks, Sheila, for mentioning this – I did it and you were SO right). Catholics, gays, people of color, short people, differently abled people, people of all sorts are being discriminated against and while we may be more comfortable believing that sort of thing isn’t approved of anymore, if that were the case, it wouldn’t exist.

And if you really think fat is the last acceptable prejudice, talk to some trans folks.

Fatties have it rough. But we aren’t the only ones. And if we want to build any sort of cohesive community that isn’t just about white people, listening and responding with respect to people of color when they tell us what we can do to include them is a pretty fundamental requirement.

This feels like such a DUH thing for me.


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40 Comments

  1. KarenElhyam
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    You articulated this exactly the way I wish I could (or had the means to.)

    Reading this recent little explosion made me so frustrated because I do understand where both sides are coming from, but I also understand that privilege is something that is really, really hard to acknowledge/give up. I am higher up. I can choose to look down, or look up or wherever. The lower person on the ladder of priviledge can only look up and see me and others like me, or look down and see dirt.

    So, yeah, it’s a tough situation. This post addresses it well.

  2. Robotitron
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m guilty of using the last acceptable prejudice wording myself, and luckily I had conversations like this one before I would have been rightfully slapped down.

    When I said it, I think I meant “last acceptable prejudice in the white, middle-class, liberal circles in which I run.” Which doesn’t make me right, of course, but I did learn my lesson.

    I’m lucky that, despite being very fat, I haven’t gotten a lot of fat-hating comments that many others have been on the receiving end of. The only time anyone has actually confronted me about my weight — not counting doctors, naturally — was at a moveon.org event, after which I made the comment.

  3. Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “And if you really think fat is the last acceptable prejudice, talk to some trans folks.”

    FOR REALS. I say this all the time. Just because you’re unaware of other “prejudices” or oppressions doesn’t mean they don’t exist and aren’t just as insidious and insulting and horrible and downright dangerous as the one you personally know.

  4. Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    APPLAUSE! Very nice. Thank you

  5. Posted March 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in Japan. I am not Japanese. If I wear something traditionally Japanese, am I appropriating? Even when Japan was part of my culture?

  6. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I am not going to get into an appropriation debate. I will just say that appropriation is not about your individual choice as a white person who wears the clothing of another culture; it is about the message that sends to people of color who view you as a random white person – your background is irrelevant when a stranger views you as a white person stealing from another culture. That is what I have grokked from listening to people of color talk about the issue and I respect their experiences of it enough to not steal from other cultures even though I might just regard it as a cool style.

  7. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    The cultural appropriation police will have to get back to you on that one. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were rules? Unfortunetly for people looking for a nice rule to follow and be “safe”, I think that’s a matter of opinion. And being so, its not the fault of the appropriator, per se, or the original culture- but of a history and culture that have colonized and marginalized. So that’s a valuable question that probably doesn’t have a right answer. But lots of people will claim to have it. And for those of us in the dominant group, with the privilege to appropriate, it seems the very least we can do is stand in the discomfort of perhaps fucking up and getting called out- and respecting what is said.

  8. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, not wanting to debate here either. Had enough for one day. Just saying that my being judged by my race when wearing traditional clothing of a culture not immediately identifiable as my own (even when it is part of my culture) is just as unfair as any other judging that goes on solely by the book’s cover.

  9. TR
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh, no! You might experience something as a white person that is UNFAIR? Well, of course we can’t let that happen!

    *snort*

    Of course it isn’t fair. But it’s a hell of a lot LESS fair to continue to ignore the stated experiences of people of color who have said, again and again, that cultural appropriation is a serious issue when talking about racial issues.

    Evening the playing field means we have to give up some of our comfort. It means we have to sometimes suck it up and say that it isn’t fair but that we understand because we do not get to be the default race that gets to claim fair.

  10. sso
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    This is such an excellent, well-thought out, and articulate post. It can be very uncomfortable when people are asked to examine their own privilege, particularly since the very nature of privilege is such that you may not realize it’s there until someone draws attention to it. And acknowledging that you have white privilege is not the same as admitting to being racist (not directed at you, but something I read on another blog). Privilege is not something you earn or ask for, it’s something that is granted to you by simply being what you are.

  11. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh, no! You might experience something as a white person that is UNFAIR? Well, of course we can’t let that happen!

    Marry me?

  12. TR
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Robotitron – I think a lot of people do mean it in that way. I think we need to not get lazy, though. If that is what we mean, let’s say that!

    sso – Exactly! And it can be almost overwhelmingly uncomfortable because people are saying you’ve done something wrong when you didn’t even realize. But if we really want to build the kinds of relationships and communities that we claim to want, we have to be open to acknowledging our privilege, whatever it might be. Thin, white, straight, “attractive”, whatever!

  13. Robotitron
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I think meaning it in the way I said it, though, is totally not okay. It’s a perfect example of unexamined privilege. I was really upset with myself after realizing that, because I like to think I pay attention to such things. It was a good lesson, is what I’m saying.

    Again, I am so, so glad that we in the fatosphere (hee, I can’t get used to that word!) are having conversations about privilege. All social justice movements go through these growing pains but I like to think we can learn from those who have walked the same paths before us. I don’t want to be a part of a movement that shies away from the really scary, tough topics.

  14. TR
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Heidi, set a date!

    Robotitron – I agree. I think it is really vital to have these discussions. I am sorry for the neccessity of them but I’d much rather we all be thinking about this stuff.

  15. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    TR I am seriously quoting you right now. This was very nice to read thanks.

  16. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I think we, as a fat blogging community, are just getting into the discussion about how different sizes of fat experience fat (and, obviously, this has been discussed in other spheres), but we do need to be making the time to talk about other things that influence the way a fat experience is shaped. That means race, sexuality (which comes up every now and then), class (which comes up a lot more often), and whatever else has informed people’s experiences.

    Yes yes yes!!!! We can add age in there too, age definitely affects the kinds of experiences we have in terms of fat and discrimination.

    This is so crazy that this conversation is going on today because after our discussion on your other post last night this issue stayed on my mind. There is so much I want to say about this issue but my thoughts are everywhere.

    Let me interject something else here: the idea that while I may not GET IT, if a person of color tells me they have experienced an oppression, they probably know better than I do what they are talking about.

    Another valid point. What I think is most telling is that people are having a hard time listening. If I’m telling you I face racial/sexual/religious discrimination why must you argue about it?! The discussion turns into this whole “you’re wrong, I’m right” argument and in the end nothing is accomplished.

    These discussions are really important, and hopefully as the days go by they will get less and less adversarial.

  17. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh and I totally screwed up and forgot to put ” ” around your quotes. Sorry, I’m not used to this style of commenting.

  18. Posted March 21, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Being Jewish and having had cousins in the “camps,” I can certainly draw parallels to the way anti-Semitism escalated in Europe in the early part of the 20th century until it reached its horrible zenith in the 1930s, as a way of warning people of what fat hate could become if we don’t respect history. That’s NOT the same thing as saying, “Fat is the new Jewish.” It just means there is potential overlap.

    Whichever form of prejudice is “worse” is ALWAYS the one that applies most to you, and if there’s more than one, you tend to scratch where it itches most. So if a fat black woman says racism impacts her more than either sexism or size prejudice, I believe her. But now I feel just a tremendous amount of shame and guilt for being so ignorant about other people’s reality. I no longer feel like I can just “let it rip” as a blogger the way I used to, knowing that I am probably offending people I would be absolutely mortified about offending, just by assuming that anyone actually cares about what my fat white ass thinks. It may be a while before I post anything again, because I don’t know how to resolve this.

  19. Posted March 21, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Meowser if you can acknowledge (and you just did) that yes someone elses experience might be different you have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for because I firmly believe that part of the process is figuring out that maybe you don’t get it and admitting it.

    I’m actually posting about this right now and should stop commenting so I can finish.

    I think that obsessing over what may or may offend is only useful up to a point, personally I think if you say at some point tell me if I’m being a dick, someone (I would) will probably tell you you’re being a dick and tell you why. Offensive anything doesn’t exist in a vacume and I don’t believe you can purge yourself so to speak of things that might possibly be offensive.

    Let it rip, and if you do say something offensive listen to what people say and decide how you feel about it.

    Just my 4.2 cents.

  20. Posted March 21, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    @ Meowser: This is what I was afraid of, I don’t want the bloggers to feel all weird and stop blogging or change the way they do things. I just want them to go “hey, I didn’t realize this was an issue, lets look at it and discuss it without becoming enemies”. The hard part is getting people talking about this stuff without it getting all ugly and personal.

    But I’m sure you will have no problem with this! Please don’t feel bad or guilty about anything!

  21. Posted March 21, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    No reason to be snotty, Rotund. It was an honest question.

    Who said I’m white?

  22. Posted March 21, 2008 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Hallelujiah! Finally–the racial dialogue is in the fatosphere (I’m sure it was there before but I’m still quasi-new to it all).

    Tara’s post was extremely articulate, truthful (I can really identify with the whole grocery store thing she mentioned) and to-the-point.

    And TR, I am SO glad (I’m Black) that you admitted you don’t “get it”; to me that takes infinitely more balls/ovums than just humouring people of colour and it also means that you’re open to learning about their experiences instead of just having this “pretext” in your mind. Bravo.

    I don’t think I need to say anything more cuz Tara totally rocked that shit. Amen, amen, AMEN!

  23. littlem
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    What I think is most telling is that people are having a hard time LISTENING. If I’m telling you I face racial/sexual/religious discrimination why must you argue about it?!

    Thsi is the essence of a comment I was going to put on someone else’s blog. Thanks, Des.

    I’m a bunch of colors, and a girl. But I’m not Jewish. And when I read that there wre a lot of Jewish-identified people upset with Tim Burton over his portrayal of the Penguin in “Batman Returns” (one of my favorite movies) and then they outlined the traits of the character that they thought were anti-Semitic caricatures, the first think I did was gasp with embarrassment and think “Why didn’t I see that?”

    The second thing I did was to ask the people I was with that were upset with the portrayal, “Is there more you want to tell me about that?”

    I didn’t tell them it wasn’t there because I didn’t see it.

    I didn’t tell them it was ridiculous because Joel Schumacher helped to finance the movie.

    The point is:

    I ASKED a lot of questions.

    I didn’t TELL them anything.

    I think it’s hard for progressive, opinionated people not to make definitive, opinionated statements. (As I watch myself write.:D) I think it’s even more difficult if you’re an activist blogger (after all, you wouldn’t be either of those things if you didn’t have a point to make).

    I believe, however, that active listening consists predominantly of asking questions.

    Now hang on with me through the paradigm shift.

    If you are a blogger whose primary method is persuasive, authoritative statement-making, you may be struggling with this concept.

    If, however, one of the reasons that you blog is to encourage dialogue — as many have said that they wish to on this issue — then perhaps for the time being, posts on the topic can consist primarily of questions for the readers whose opinions you say you want, as opposed to statements about what you think you already know.

    Meowser, I’m going to respond to you directly
    1) because you asked the concrete question “What can be done?” over on Tara’s post on this issue ,
    2) because you said here that you might not blog on this for a while absent some more clues to sort this out, and
    3) because I’ve read you for awhile, and your posts are frequently authoritative (and enlightening) declaratives.

    However, my larger response, as a WOC with a fish in this fight, is to the Universal You who has said that they wish to be inclusive but are not sure how to start.

    What can you do? It might seem like a really insignificant thing, but

    MAKE LESS STATEMENTS.

    ASK MORE QUESTIONS.

  24. Piffle
    Posted March 21, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m also an atheist, and lots of us like to make the same statement about atheism, that it’s the last acceptable prejudice. They point to the surveys that people are less likely to vote for or trust an atheist than a gay person. Like gay discrimination is some sort of litmus test for where you are on the hierarchy of discriminated against. So I always take these sorts of statements as a form of hyperbole, we are *swoon* having it so tough!

    It’s a form of tribalism. Of us vs. them. And the results are usually ugly.

    To see the universality of the us vs. them thing, to name it’s parts and its facets so that we can recognize them in new forms and new places–I think it’s one of the most useful things belonging to several groups on the net can do for us. One group is safe. Everyone can find one group that doesn’t challenge their perceptions or thoughts. Two is harder. Three moreso. Four and you’ve got yourself some serious chances for introspection.

  25. Posted March 21, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Heehee. Your welcome littlem. And OMG yes!:

    “MAKE LESS STATEMENTS.

    ASK MORE QUESTIONS.”

    Yes!! Thank you. That should be our mantra or something. People are making way too many statements and not asking questions. They immediately throw out what they think they know.

    Good point.

  26. Posted March 21, 2008 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, meant to say “you’re welcome”. I can’t spell today. *headdesk*

  27. Posted March 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    But even “questions” to readers assume a certain frame of reference. It’s the “what’s on your iPod?” thing. I don’t have an iPod. I really can’t afford one, to be honest with you. So I have to admit, I feel left out by all those “random 10 songs on your iPod” posts. The very question assumes a certain level of income and social status that I don’t have. (Note that I am NOT saying that not being able to afford an iPod equals institutionalized racism and sexism and homophobia, just that a “question” posed to readers can be just as “triggering” as a statement.)

    Does that mean I think the people who post those things should censor them so I don’t feel bad about being poor? Or turn them into “or what would you have on your iPod right now if you could afford one?” posts? No. I will simply not reply to those posts because they don’t apply to me, although I enjoy reading about what other people listen to. But that doesn’t mean there might not be other posts on that blog where that prohibition doesn’t exist.

    I think most political bloggers of any kind are a lot more declarative than questioning. It’s kind of the nature of the genre. But I dunno. I’ll see what I can do.

  28. Posted March 21, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not really referring to the blog post themselves when I want people to ask questions. It’s asking questions when we want to discuss the issues further, recognizing how people feel rather than censoring.

    I don’t think the problem centers on specific situations that apply to a person or not (like the ipod bit), I think its more about when people make generalizations about how you live your life. Does that make any sense?

    There are people that feel excluded by a post once in a while sure, it happens all the time, but when someone feels that there voice is not being heard on a blog that represents an issue they care about they should be able to speak out about it and produce positive dialogue. Both sides have an important part to play.

    I think the big problem that happened at the fatshionista post is that instead of discussing the why people feel excluded, people got caught up in the whether or not this was really happening.

  29. littlem
    Posted March 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m not really referring to the blog post themselves when I want people to ask questions. It’s asking questions when we want to discuss the issues further, recognizing how people feel rather than censoring.

    I don’t think the problem centers on specific situations that apply to a person or not (like the ipod bit), I think its more about when people make generalizations about how you live your life. Does that make any sense?

    YES.

  30. BILT4cmfrt
    Posted March 22, 2008 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    See, now this is the kind of thing that got me hooked on Blogs in the FIRST place. Intelligent, respectful, people having a DISCUSSION about an interesting subject. Saying things (NOT shouting) and offering perspectives (without fear of offense) that make you THINK.

    As for the ‘last acceptable prejudice’; When you really THINK about it, words are a pretty inefficient means of communication. Especially when dealing with an increasingly fast-paced medium like the internet and blogging in general where we’re often tempted to use the most dramatic examples of experience to try to get a point across quickly and comprehensively. Unfortunately the one-shot-deal nature of internet posted discourse means that you often only get one chance to get your point across before it’s being throughly analyzed and dissected down the grammatical meter. Sometimes in totally unexpected ways and with surprising interpretations. By it’s very nature this this blogging thing is GOING to lead to misunderstandings at the, very, least. And without SOME kind of etiquette it quickly degenerates to pointless shouting matches.

    What does all that blather mean? In the simplest form I can express, it means: THOUGHT, CONSIDERATION, RESPECT, PARTICIPATION, and just a little FORBEARANCE. If both sides, Author and Commenter, are capable of showing the first three. If the Commenter is willing to acknowledge the forth and participate by ASKING questions as littlem suggests and If an attempt at forbearance is made, the chances of misunderstanding is decreased. Upside? As is being perfectly exemplified here, we All learn something new. Win.

  31. Posted March 22, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you SO MUCH for this. As a POC who is also a fat rights activist, I often feel frustrated with my fellow fat rights activists when they so cavalierly engage in the “Oppression Olympics” games. Not only does that trivialize the oppression experienced by other minority groups, but it also undermines the ways in which ALL oppressions are intertwined in our society. Let’s all pull together here, people.

  32. Posted March 22, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    For the record, I’m white. I agree with what you post. I just have two minor comments.

    1. On the statement “I don’t have a culture to steal.” I consider the statement “I don’t have a culture” to be incorrect. Everybody has a culture. Sometimes white middle-class Americans think we don’t have a culture because our culture permeates most of our experience. But being part of a very mainstream culture that’s hard to get outside of is still having a culture. For me, realizing that helped me understand POC and people of non-white-middle-class-American cultures better, because I was less likely to make statements from my cultural point of view as if they were facts. (For example, “such-and-such just isn’t done.”)

    2. A very minor change would allow us to point out the pervasiveness of fat prejudice without making inappropriate comparisons to other prejudices and oppressions. Instead of “fat prejudice is THE LAST acceptable prejudice” we only have to say “fat prejudice is STILL AN acceptable prejudice.”

  33. Posted March 24, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    MAKE LESS STATEMENTS.

    ASK MORE QUESTIONS.

    Oh wow, littlem. Fucking perfect.

    I think I’m going to appropriate this in the future, if you don’t mind. :)

  34. littlem
    Posted March 24, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Y’all please ‘scuse me for a minute.

    I’ve had a phrase/concept appropriated by one of the sphere’s best writers, so I’ll have to go soak my head until it stops swelling.

    Hee. :D

  35. Posted March 24, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I love this post. But I gotta express concern about, “I don’t have strong feelings on this matter. I don’t have a culture to steal.”

    Please forgive me if I’m misreading, but “I don’t have a culture,” smacks to me of “My culture is the default setting and so I needn’t be aware of it.” I think it might be more accurate to say that, since your culture and mine are dominant in our respective countries, we don’t have to give a crap about them being stolen. We get to have an indulgent little chuckle when we come across warped versions of aspects of our culture(s). Aw look, they tried, bless ‘em. Not so for minority/oppressed cultures.

    I think that’s what you meant anyway. But…well.

  36. sally
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the general sentiment of “make fewer statements, ask more questions”; however, I’ve noticed that when whites ask POC questions (at least via the Internet medium), the reply is often “do your own homework,” “I can’t answer because I don’t speak for my entire race” (when no one explicitly or implicitly said s/he did–many people are asking for personal experiences, not universal ones), “I don’t have time for Racism 101,” etc. So I don’t know how well asking questions works overall.

  37. Posted March 26, 2008 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Sally, you make a good point, but remember that, just as in other arenas in life, people aren’t obligated to answer your questions. You can ask questions about what you genuinely want to know more about, and maybe your interlocutor will answer that day, and maybe they won’t — if not, that’s okay, you asked, and you’ll have other opportunities to ask someone else. Issues of intersectionality and oppression are fascinating, difficult, and time-consuming — that means not everyone will want to get into them with you at the time you happen to ask, but it doesn’t mean that asking questions is futile. Don’t take it personally if that happens; it’s not about you.

  38. Posted March 26, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi TR,

    I’ve been reading everything in the fatosphere (as usual!) and I’m definitely taking this issue seriously–so seriously, that I wrote a response to it all on my page entitled “Racism Bingo”. The article is lengthy, but I do touch on a lot of issues such as the harmfulness off being “colourblind”, the n-word and many other topics. If you have the time, I would be honoured if you visited my site and checked it out. Even if you don’t, I’m very inspired by the piece you wrote and found it to be very insightful.

    Thanks,
    ~D.C.

  39. TR
    Posted March 26, 2008 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    D.C., I have already been to your site to read it. *grin* I LOVED it and I have been thinking about it all day.

    And I think the way you define the n word is really, REALLY powerful. I’ve been thinking about THAT specifically all day.

  40. Posted March 26, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh wow! What an honour; I am totally on cloud 9 right now–this calls for an additional rice krispie square. This was the very first website I found talking about FA and it changed my mind on the perception of fat people and the media so it means A LOT to me that you read it. Thanks again, I appreciate it more than words can express; glad it got you thinking. ^_^
    ~D.C.

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  1. [...] On the same subject, I’d also highly recommend this post at The Rotund. [...]

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