“But I’m Nice!” The Unreasonable Expectation of Auto Trust

08Oct09

As a note, this is a general statement for folks with privilege in a given area. Which means it probably applies to you even if the specific examples given below don’t because you lack those privileges. Don’t get hung up on the details, think of the message. I consider this a For The Uninformed post, even without it in the title because it is very 101.

Possible trigger warning, an analogy in here uses flamethrower attack imagery as a means to describe continuous high incidence marginalization and violence. This may be triggering if you have been attacked in this way (and some have), so please avoid reading the section marked off with “start/end triggery part”.

There are a good number of nice people out there.

Really awesome folks that go out of their way to help people, pet kittens, water the neighbor’s plants and will totally help you with physics homework with absolutely no expectation of return for it. Those people are pretty cool. You may in fact be one of those people, nebulous default reader persona I speak to. You may in fact be so nice that you hold open the door for everyone (even big burly macho guys that’ll get pissed at you for it), let people borrow your stuff and volunteer at shelters to give food to the poor on a regular basis.

So, to you, the idea of treating someone differently or as lesser for being oh I dunno, a polyamorous, queer (sexuality wise), neo pagan, trans woman possibly even with disabilities (if ADD counts there), is totally against your view of the world. Because you’re nice. And doing that would be completely asinine and bigoted, and you wouldn’t do that. I mean sure, you make mistakes (everyone does), but you do your best to make amends. Hell, let’s say, dear nebulous phantasmal reader persona that I am speaking to, that you’ve even taken the initiative to educate yourself on the needs of marginalized folk (which is less nice and more just required). You’ve read about a bunch of blog posts on privilege, avoiding silencing and being a good ally, avoiding appropriation as an oppressor, how to avoid hurting others with humor and you even know how to avoid co opting people’s bodies and lives to boost your own views.

Pretty spiffy, right? You’re some kind of amazing. Slightly uncommon, perhaps even rare among the privileged folk and you’re nice to boot! You’re abundantly aware of all this hard work you’ve done and how nice you are, aren’t you? To you, it seems almost guaranteed that you’re a trustworthy type person, someone a person can really vent to, or share secrets with or even date without fear because you’re totally open and accepting. In fact, it’s surprising and dismaying to you when you aren’t automatically trusted when you meet someone. The woman who flinches away from you when you try to speak to her on the bus in what you think is a perfectly friendly fashion. The gay person who doesn’t immediately trust you with the information of their sexual orientation and the woman who hides her trans history from you and is dismayed and worried about you outing her if you ever find out. The girl that finds you too forward and worrisome on the first date and decides she’d rather end it there. You feel like they’re being unreasonable, that you really are a nice guy/girl/androgyne and why can’t people trust you? Is it so hard to just reach out a little and give a nice person a chance?

Reality check.

Step back for a second and operate outside of the realm of your narrow perspective. You see all those people walking around? You find them, at the very least, reasonably trustworthy right? You don’t immediately go into threat assessment mode when you see someone make eye contact with you right? How many times have you been assaulted? Verbally attacked? Mocked for inherent characteristics? Raped? Sexually assaulted? Threatened with these things? What are the statistics for sexual violence, standard violence, hate crimes and etc for folk like yourself? (White people, cis guys, cis folk in general, upper middle class folk, monogamous folk, heterosexual folk?) How high is the probability that you’ll face something like that? Not terribly high. So for you, it’s fairly simple. Your chances of being royally harmed by someone you just met is reasonably low. Chances are, you haven’t been intensely betrayed on the basis of something you can’t change (or even intensely betrayed at all) and that betrayal of trust hasn’t included violence, rape, verbal attacks, silencing, denial of rights (like access to medical care) or murder. So for you, there isn’t a whole lot of history that would put that fear of such a thing happening again into you.

So to you, those people walking around are at least trustworthy up to the point that you wouldn’t give them your bank info. But you might go to dinner with them, say hi on the bus, talk about politics and interact without worry.

————————————–Start Triggery part——————————————————————

Imagine if you will, nebulous reader with privilege, that you were suddenly denied the privilege of not being lit on fire by flamethrower carriers. Imagine if you will that around 80% of the population carried flamethrowers with them (flamethrower carriers) and imagine if you will that 99% of flamethrower attacks are made by flamethrower carriers. And they’re made to people like you. Let’s say, people with your pattern of freckles. Or your hair color. Or your last name. Or who like the same songs as you. And let’s say that the number of people just like you who are subjected to flamethrower based burn trauma is a 3 in 4 statistic for people like you. That means that if 4 people like you stood in a room, 1 of you had been lit ablaze by a liquid or gas fuel flame projecting device at least once. You’ve likely been lit aflame a few times (because well, there isn’t a lot of people like you out there). It hurt, it was awful, it even put you in the hospital each time and it has made you a mite worried about your safety.

Well 80% of the population walks around with a flamethrower in their hands. That would make you rather nervous wouldn’t it? You might flinch when you see that flamethrower, or see them swinging it back and forth, hear the pilot light spark and see it flicker. You might have a hard time trusting those flamethrower carriers, worried that because so many of them do it, the chances of getting cooked is fairly high.

Well gee, didn’t you know that a good number of those flamethrower carriers are really nice people? They’re awfully hurt by the fact that you flinch away from them. That going out on a date with them makes you skittish and worried. That when one speaks to you on the bus, you’re hesitant or don’t want to talk to them at all. After all, the police aren’t doing a lot about this flamethrower business. In fact, many of them are flamethrower carriers and some have even gave you a bit of a toasting too. So it’s very possible a conversation in a bus could end in a firestorm and you are painfully aware of this.


————————–End Triggery Part———————————————————-

Imagining is getting a bit painful, right? It isn’t a terribly pleasant idea, a world like that. Well that’s quite similar to the world we live in. A world where certain majority represented groups engage in very large amounts of unpleasant things to very large amounts of us (a much smaller, much less powerful group). Of course, in the end you come back to saying, “but I’m nice! I won’t do that to you! I get not trusting other people with all that, but what about me?!”

Well, what about you, nebulous and deeply nice reader? How do I know it’s you? Wait, don’t be silly and say, “but it’s me, you know it’s me” because when I say “you”, I actually mean “the nice person”.

How do I know you’re nice? How do I know you will honor my rights, respect my gender and sexuality, respect my bodily domain and my personal space, as well as respecting my wishes and right not to be harmed by you? Last I checked, you and every other person out there doesn’t wear a little digital, brightly colored, glowing sign over their head (plugged into their spinal cord, and it checks their intentions) that says, “trustworthy” or “threat”. To my recollection, dear reader, I am not quite psychic (although I am intensely observant and can pick up on many social cues. Not all other marginalized folks people watch though) and most of the marginalized folk out there are even less able to glean who is a threat and who is trustworthy.

You’re already aware of the numbers game. Trusting the wrong person can get many of us killed, raped, harmed, attacked, outed, denied things we need and a host of other stuff. There is also a whole lot of “wrong person” out there. It is simply not affordable from a risk analysis viewpoint to trust everyone we meet in the hope that they’ll actually be nice when the chances of being subjected to truly awful things (like being killed or raped) are so high. So let’s go over the facts: Bad shit happens if we trust the wrong person. A whole lot of people are the wrong person. You don’t wear signs. Most of us aren’t psychic or social engineering people watchers who appear psychic cuz we know how people operate.

Can you put that logic together, my very nice but very hard to spot reader? It comes together to say that it is completely unreasonable, ignorant of the danger posed to us, inherently self elevating one’s feelings over our safety and largely just plain silly to expect a given person of a given marginalized group (that your group harms and oppresses) to auto trust you. Really, it is even unreasonable to expect us to trust you without a large portion of evidence (not just your word, which requires trusting you to begin with)

So when you complain about how nice you are and how bad it is that we don’t trust you in the face of all this, you are doing all those bad things listed above. That doesn’t make you all that nice after all, does it?

And really, who’s POV are you proving right in the end with that? Think about it.

Further reading here.



16 Responses to ““But I’m Nice!” The Unreasonable Expectation of Auto Trust”

  1. This post and the Shrodinger’s Rapist post need to be required reading for, like, everyone, everywhere.

    That’s all.

  2. A very good post.

  3. Excellent post. I second calixti’s required reading recommendation.

    Off-topic, but:

    “possibly even with disabilities (if ADD counts there)”

    Yes, ADD counts. (Pardon my bluntness). amandaw wrote a post for Feministe that does a kick-ass job taking apart ideas about what disability means/is.

  4. Awesome. Thank you for this. *saves for future reference*

  5. Well then that makes me PWD. Huh.

    That’s gonna take some getting used to.

  6. Bookmarking for the future. A really great and informative post, thank you.

  7. 7 javier

    hmmm,wierd, i came here after 2 online bloggers who i usually talk to pulled snark bullshit with me for no reason(one an “ally”, one in the community)
    …i always try to do the politness thing because i’d like to expect
    it in return…

    (so-*rant*…)
    i also always feel like saying “fuck-you-sideways” when these fucking people feel they can take out a mood on you,but i don’t.
    but i AM so fucking SICK of the online mood bullshit.
    (not that that is your point exactly)
    but i do think we eat our own, sometimes, as a “commmunity”(so called)
    and sometimes the WHOLE ‘leftist’ community is one fucked up giant train-wreck.

    (re/ eating our own,i DON’T mean people who can’t “re-think” their privilege and that stuff, tho. just GENERAL decency.i’m starting to feel like a door-mat for all of the mood fuckers. and, i’m ftm,i’ve got my own problems, and not that completly happy a camper at times already, thanks- shitheads)

    …nice polite friendly responses you have, by the way,lol.
    like the posts too…
    take care….
    (grumbles off)

  8. Whoa whoa whoa. You’re only a PWD if you want to claim the identity.

  9. Okay. I’m gonna forgo that identity, honestly. At least until my feet start really falling apart…

  10. Chally is absolutely right. Sorry if I made you feel like you *had* to identify as a PWD. That was not my intention at all.

    A lot of people might think: “I’d like to identify as a PWD, but I’m afraid of co-opting the movement, because I have ___ and not [what I think is] a Real Disability.” The message that there are Real Disabilities and everyone else is whining/a faker, etc., is part of systematic ableism. It’s a nice “divide-and-conquer” tool and silencing technique, for one thing. Because in discussions where PWD disagree with currently abled relatives or professionals (say, on the necessity of group homes or ABA or taking medication) the currently abled people often say: “You are not like the people I’m taking about. You don’t get to speak for the people who have Real Disabilities. Shut up.” When the currently abled people’s rhetoric is actually harmful to the PWD who are disagreeing.

    So, like Chally said, you don’t need to identify as a PWD if you don’t want to. But if you did, in the kind of disability advocacy I support you’d be welcomed with open arms. If you weren’t, that would be ableist.

  11. I read this twice, first time applied it to me as the person with various privilege. And what an excellent and important article. Thank you for writing it.

    Second time I read it, I couldn’t help but think of children, and the way we as adults treat them. We expect them to trust us (and when they hide behind their parent/s they’re “being shy”), to allow us to pat them on the head and invade their personal space… all without making any effort to prove to them we are “nice” and to earn their respect. People often forget that “adult privilege” exists, too.

  12. Yeah definitely. The fact that society seems to think it’s okay to do nonconsensual surgeries on children and not adults is a pretty obvious indicator of that.


  1. 1 You don’t know me, and vice versa… « Zoe Whitten’s Blog
  2. 2 Help!: A Thorny Question « Gender Agenda
  3. 3 my salesmanship suck: let me show you it. also, rape culture. « Love | Peace | Ohana
  4. 4 You don’t know me, and vice versa… » Zoe E. Whitten's blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 218 other followers

%d bloggers like this: