This month at the School of Visibility we’re talking all about controversy. Namely what might be stopping you from speaking up about controversial topics.
Last week we covered some of the things to keep in mind when you’re contemplating speaking up about a controversial topic.
Today I’ve a specific question for you to ask yourself before you decide not to speak up about something controversial (or potentially controversial).
Before we dive into that question, I want to remind you of something. (Something that we explore for a whole day of the Visibility Challenge. A free challenge that we run a few times a year.)
In a world that prioritises one perspective – that of the white, ably bodied, heterosexual, economically secure males – all other voices are controversial. By virtue of there being one dominant perspective, all people who don’t fit within these parameters are sidelined as ‘other’.
Which means that all women are ‘other’. Women of colour are ‘other’. Disabled people are ‘other’. The LGBTIA community is ‘other’. The economically insecure are ‘other’. Together we form what I’ve termed ‘the diverse majority’. We’ve been deemed as separate ‘minority groups’ for many years and that has served the dominant perspective very well.
Because when we’re only a ‘minority group’ it’s not such a problem if our perspective isn’t taken into account in national debates, or if a state or country’s resources are not allocated toward the things that matter to us, or if we’re not well represented in positions of power. It doesn’t matter because we’re only a ‘minority’ after all. Hence my preference for the term ‘diverse majority’.
Anyone of the diverse majority who presumes to take up space, except in accordance with the pre-determined norms about what is and isn’t acceptable for that group of people, is an aberration. They challenge the dominant narrative. A narrative that’s sexist, racist, ableist, and heteronormative.
- A woman who doesn’t want children subverts the narrative about ‘expected behaviour’ for women
- A person of colour speaking up about their civil rights subverts the narrative that people of colour are less worthy and/or should be subservient to white people
- A woman expressing her right to choose subverts the narrative that a woman’s body is the property of men and serves two purposes; his pleasure and the perpetuation of the human race
- An Indigenous person seeking reparations for the theft of their land and children, subverts the narrative that the expansion of Western culture and ideas has been beneficial to people the world over
- Descendants of slaves arguing for reparations for their ancestor’s unpaid labour, subverts the narrative that African people are less valuable than white people
- A disabled person naming their own preferences about what they should be called and how they should be perceived, subverts the narrative of infantilisation that’s so often associated with disability
- Falling in love with and/or having sex with people of your same sex subverts the Judeo-Christian narrative that sex is valuable insofar as it relates to reproduction.
When you’re ‘the other’ in society, it’s very difficult to speak truths about yourself and your life without it being controversial.
Invariably, your experience, your assertion of yourself as a fully fledged sovereign being is going to challenge the status quo in some way.
So instead of trying to manipulate your opinion into the least offensive version possible, stop. Understand that such an approach isn’t serving you and will never serve you.
Then try this;
- Identify the story you’re telling yourself. It may be ‘I don’t know enough, I’m not smart enough, I need to learn more, I need to know more, I can only say this to some people, I’d never say this publicly, people will be upset if I speak about this, people won’t like me if I share this perspective.’
- Now consider, ‘Who benefits from this story I’m telling myself?’ Ableism always wins when a disabled person doesn’t speak up and share their perspective. Racism always wins when a refugee decides to stay quiet about the horrors they faced while escaping persecution and/or travelling to safety and/or waiting to have their asylum application processed. Sexism attitudes go unexamined when a woman dresses in a ‘feminine way’, fights against ‘the signs of ageing’, removes all the hair from her body, spends copious amounts of money on self grooming, and ensures she looks perfect in every photo she shares on social media.
Systems of oppression win when we quietly allow the status quo to perpetuate itself.
When we refuse to speak up, when we don’t have the courage to share our stories, when we place a greater priority on keeping the peace than we do on telling our truth, the dominant perspective wins and everyone else loses.
It’s time to disrupt the dominant narrative.