On “It’s Probably Just a Misunderstanding”
By Derek Newman-Stille
I can’t describe the number of time I have heard from straight, able-bodied, white people in situations of privilege “It was probably not homophobia/ablism/racism. I’ve never known that person to discriminate. It was probably just a misunderstanding” or variations of that statement.
This sort of statement does a few things. First, it assumes that someone in privilege would encounter the same barriers as someone from a group that is regularly discriminated against. This is the epitome of privilege – pretending that someone who treats those from groups of privilege well could not discriminate against marginalized groups. It turns out that this happens quite regularly. It is actually the basis of discrimination and privilege.
Secondly, it assumes that people who are discriminated against are less reliable in their narratives than people from groups of privilege. It puts the onus on us to prove ourselves instead of bigots to be held accountable for their actions.
This power dynamic doubles down on the discrimination already experienced by the person from a stigmatized group, turning an already damaging encounter with violence into a reminder of systemic violence and that our narratives don’t matter… even to people who should be our allies.
Calling an act of violence “probably a misunderstanding” doesn’t address systemic issues of discrimination. Instead, it reinforces them. It creates a paradigm where people reinforce systemic violence and put the onus on people who are discriminated against to struggle further in a society that already enacts violence against them.