So I’ve been thinking and speaking regarding this matter that, in our society, we seem to have created a hierarchy of –isms and –phobias. There seems to be an idea of comparison. For example, we seem to mostly agree that racism is worse than sexism, sexism is worse than homophobia, homophobia is worse than transphobia… etc. The list goes on. If anyone is surprised by this, I urge you to listen more closely to how we perceive the struggles of others.
For example, we seem to mostly agree that racism is worse than sexism, sexism is worse than homophobia, homophobia is worse than transphobia… etc.
Well, perhaps amongst minorities, there appears to be a one-up-man-ship that plagues our conversations. This doesn’t just keep minorities in any discipline or location from creating safer spaces overall, it also invalidates the experiences and feelings of others. And more than that, it tends to put us in a place where we measure suffering on an objective scale which tells us that, we can’t possibly feel marginalized when there are people much worse off. Thus. It’s so simple to divide ourselves by our suffering and never move beyond pitying those who seem to endure the most hardship.
Harmless, indeed. But what I think is that we don’t consciously realize that, by creating this sense of hierarchy, we aren’t actually helping anyone. Nope, we’re not helping those who “suffer the most”, given that we place them into a group apart from ourselves and never actually learn about how to work as their allies. And nope, we’re not helping “the least marginalized” either, because we have this notion that their trauma is somehow less because we have compared it to people who should be struggling so much more. We are actually widening the gap, instead of bridging it. Of course, I don’t know a valid reason why we do this but, can our suffering really be measured objectively?
For sure, I could never fully understand the struggles of someone who isn’t well off. I may be able to relay my experiences being a minority in a variety of spaces, but could never begin to imagine what it would be like to suffer from an institutionalized racism on a daily basis. As an individual, I would feel uncomfortable in assuming that I somehow understand or know what life is like for an indigenous. Afro-American, or Hispanic person. But does this make anyone’s struggles any less real or legitimate? Does this mean that life is perfect and that some people’s experiences of discrimination can be brushed off due to their privilege in a number of areas? Heck no.
I used to think being an ally meant to step into the struggle someone else was facing and, once I felt what they felt, use it to relate to others why discrimination, -isms and -phobias in that one area are wrong. But I can’t step into and truly feel the struggle of anyone else, which is precisely why this hierarchy is... meaningless. This hierarchy separates me from the stories and experiences that would help me best understand my peers and their struggles. Because I can’t step into their shoes, listening to their stories is the only way I could possibly begin to learn what it means to be an ally for a community I’m not a part of.
So, how can this hierarchy be broken down? A question that I’m struggling to find concrete answers to. When will I find the answers, I’ll never know.