Be­ing po­lite in shitty com­pany

Si­mon Wil­liamson lives with his hus­band in het­eronor­ma­tively-as­sim­ila­tive fash­ion in Athens, af­ter a year of sur­viv­ing ru­ral Ge­or­gia.

GA Voice - - Out in the Wind - By Si­mon Wil­liamson

South Africa, whence I hail, and whence I write this, is a fairly bizarre place. It largely par­al­lels the Amer­i­can South in many key ways, but the re­pair job is much newer, the anger more raw, and the wounds less cau­ter­ized.

I use the word bizarre be­cause in white South African cir­cles, it is im­po­lite to at­tack racism, be­cause its ideas are so com­mon­place. In any given group of white South Africans in 2015, most mem­bers will have spent their for­ma­tive years un­der apartheid, or be­fore the con­sti­tu­tion took ef­fect in 1997. And those years were some of the most com­pli­cated in the lives of white South Africans, where en­trenched racial priv­i­lege was dis­man­tled (jus­ti­fi­ably: less than 9 per­cent of the South African pop­u­la­tion is white), and a group of peo­ple who thought their way of liv­ing was nor­mal clung to the idea that any func­tion­ing so­ci­ety must re­sem­ble what they were used to.

Nat­u­rally, priv­i­leged peo­ple be­gan to find tar­gets for ap­par­ent so­ci­etal fail­ings, which, over time, made it per­fectly ac­cept­able in white South African cir­cles, in­clud­ing lib­eral ones, to es­pouse out­wardly racist sen­ti­ments. This was dif­fer­ent from apartheid, dur­ing which lib­er­als could ab­hor the sys­tem while reap­ing its ben­e­fits. Racism is so­cially ac­cept­able in many white cir­cles (#NotAl­lWhitePeo­ple), so long as you don’t use slurs.

So why the lengthy in­tro­duc­tion to this col­umn?

Be­cause it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant we don’t be­come th­ese peo­ple.

We have en­tered an age where my de­mo­graphic, white gay men in ur­ban envi- ron­ments, hold more priv­i­lege than in days past, and it means we have more con­ver­sa­tions about LGBT things in non-LGBT com­pany, from “why do you guys have to get mar­ried?” to “which one is the girl?” to “why do you have to be so gay in pub­lic,” to “when did you get your gay voice?” None of this non­sense should ever be given a free pass—when we stop pick­ing away at it, we make th­ese ideas ac­cept­able in po­lite com­pany, which in turn means that we’re be­ing rude for stand­ing up for our­selves.

And it ap­plies too when we spend time with our own peo­ple. From “no fats, no femmes” to “I just don’t find black peo­ple at­trac­tive” to trans­pho­bia, we should re­ject this sort of talk at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. The less we fight back against in­tol­er­ance in our own com­mu­nity, the harder it will be­come to do so one day in the fu­ture. It is about time we stop al­low­ing ridicu­lous ideas about mas­culin­ity to per­vade our way of liv­ing, or let oth­ers’ re­li­gious qualms over­ride our own ideas about re­la­tion­ships and par­ent­ing with­out push­ing back, whether it be rude to do so in com­pany or not.

It is much eas­ier to write pissy col­umns about strangers say­ing stupid things, which re­sults in very lit­tle push­back. But we shouldn’t re­nounce the right to point out spe­cific in­stances of anti-LGBT stereo­types, or push back against ho­mo­pho­bia be­cause of some “good man­ners” dik­tat.

I have seen with my own eyes how po­lite com­pany has de­clared some pretty aw­ful things to be so­cially ac­cept­able.

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