February 12, 2014

Intent Means Nothing

So many times, way too many times, I have called out people for being sexist, racist, ableist, misogynist etc etc and the response I get is, "well, I didn't mean any harm!"

Or, "you know I'm not racist/homophobic/sexist/etc, so I wasn't using the word to mean that. I was just having fun! Lighten up! It's just a joke!"

Right, because there are no other ways to have fun other than to make racist/sexist/homophobic comments!

The fact is, not intending to cause harm does not suddenly mean you did not cause harm. Saying you didn't intent to hurt someone is not an apology. You can't murder someone and then say, "well, I didn't mean to kill anyone" and get away with it. It does not absolve you of the crime.
It's also amazingly dismissive.

Another one people like to pull is the, "it's not about you" or "why do you care, you're not Black/gay/female/disabled?"

Saying, "it's not about you" in particular is again, very dismissive and doesn't really make any sense. Does it suddenly make it right to say, "I was being homophobic, but not about your kind of gay because you're my friend"?

Also, I don't have to be a certain kind of person in order to speak out against the oppression of others. All I require is a voice and a desire to be a decent person and speak out. I don't need to be gay to see that homophobia hurts people. I don't need to be Muslim to see that intolerance can hurt people. All you need is a tiny shred of empathy.

Another complaint I hear is, "people are always going to be offended by something. Now I can't say anything anymore."

Really? There are millions of words out there to use and now you're hurt because you can't use ONE? Buy a dictionary if you run out of ideas. And why do you feel the need to hang on to words you know hurt people? You want to keep expressing yourself with those words? Go home and buy a special notebook where you write it out millions of times. Or stand alone in front of the mirror and say it thousands of times to yourself. Knock yourself out, but stop harming others for no reason.

Let me give you an example: I recently read a blog post about adoption. In it, the writer used the term "birth mother" to speak of her family situation. A person commented and asked her to use the term, "first mother" because "birth mother" was dismissive and insulting to her and her role in the adoption process. Someone commented with the whole, "this post is not about you!" which really didn't help and I felt the need to mediate between the two.

For one, I was glad to learn a new term and to realize that "birth mother" could cause harm. I had never thought of it before, so this was helpful for me to know.

Two, it is quite possible I can start using the term "first mother" over "birth mother" and still offend someone, but now knowing what I know (that one can cause harm) I will try to use the term that causes the least amount of harm and defer to those who know best to let me know which term I should use around them.

Guess what? This does not censor me, ruin my fun in life or take a whole lot of effort. I can still talk about adoption with people. It's no big deal for me to use the word people prefer.

And you know what else? I may very well make a mistake at some point in life again and that's ok, too. That won't stop me from trying to take the path of least harm. If I do mess up, I hope someone will call me out and I can explain and apologize.

Until then, please #WatchYourLanguage

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