Now that we know who we’re talking to when it comes to the practice of feminist friendship, let’s touch on some foundational issues that are at stake. Like what happens when someone recognizes their privilege and thinks, “Okay, maybe there’s room for me to learn something here. Maybe I can do better,” and then proceeds to ask the people of color, the queer folks, or anyone who embodies some type of difference and happens to be around to educate them about what it’s like to be “different.”
First, it’s good to recognize that there are a lot of things about someone else’s experiences which you probably don’t know, especially if you don’t find yourself confronting things like racism, sexism, or homophobia (and thus having to understand and think about them) in your everyday life.
But a very real problem arises when well-meaning, privileged people turn to those with marginalized identities as the go-to-resources for their own education about what it’s like to live with oppression. On the surface, it might seem like this is great way to respond to the recognition of one’s own privilege, because it supposedly reflects a desire to learn more about the experiences of others that one realizes they simply won’t and can’t understand first-hand, like if a man looks to a woman and says, “So, please explain this whole male privilege thing to me. I’m curious about how that changes the way I move through the world in a way that’s different from you.”
What curious folks with privilege don’t often recognize, however, is that this places an additional burden on those who are already burdened with the daily realities of oppression by asking them to be the explainers, the educators, the informers. (It also falsely assumes – or hopes – that the intricate complexities and cumulative significance of such experiences could be readily summed up in a convenient, little, easy-to-swallow “pill” of a few sentences.) Continue reading