If you step on my toe and I scream, would you blame me for the reaction or would you expect the culprit to apologize because they, intentional or not, have caused me pain?
I was once given this analogy about racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism,
ableism, etc. When we react to these oftentimes unintentional ills (I say
unintentional because many people do not see their privilege and do not
actually intend on harming you with their words) it is YOU who is made to feel
like you did something wrong.
I go through this a lot. This past week was a prime example. I found myself with a group of people and my reaction to their microaggressions (which felt like macroaggressions to me) could have significant repercussions on my life. Proper responses and proper manners are always brought up to police POC, but never really apply when someone says awful things to you. There I was, listening and hurting but trying to manage my reactions because I never want to let them see that they have managed to hurt me.
Finally, like a teapot that is left to boil for too long, I snapped. I responded with an aggressive threat, along the lines of: If I decided to film this and send it to your employer, I could have you fired. I made a very real threat about their inappropriate behavior toward me and the fact that their racist and ethnocentric remarks would NOT be tolerated anywhere. I knew it and they knew it. It is the very reason the KKK wears hoods, because their cruelty is intolerable.
No matter, after delivering this factual threat very calmly the room stood still. For about 30 seconds nobody knew what to say. Then I left the room. Nobody seemed to mind when my entire personhood was at stake but when I defended myself EVERYONE felt threatened. My small, brown, 5’3”, 123 lb. body suddenly became visible in a way that they were not accustomed to or comfortable with.Related From Vivala: Why the Term "Coconut" Is So Problematic
The conversations that followed this moment surrounded only my reaction and not the comments that instigated it. The people who were supposedly on my side (though they stayed silent during the attacks) even agreed that I needed to measure my responses better. I was the problem. Me. For defending myself and responding appropriately to a shitty situation. Me. Who had been attacked for over 24 hours at this point. Me. Who wanted to cry after some of the things that were said. Me. Who felt all those words aimed directly at my person, my mami, my papi, my siblings, and La Raza.
So back to the original question: If you step on my toe and I scream, would you blame me for the reaction or would you expect the culprit to apologize because they, intentional or not, have caused me pain?