Post the Eighty-First or On Risk and Good Will

So in this final semester of school before I graduate, I am taking a class called Feminist Perspectives. In a nutshell, it is a class that goes over the different types of feminist theories that have been developed since the first wave. The class also seeks to locate those different feminist theories and place them within their historical context so that we can fully understand where the authors are coming from.

And for the most part, I really enjoy it.

One aspect of the class that is particularly interesting is the execution of the feminist classroom as a style of teaching. This involves many different things, but the one aspect that I want to focus on here is the formation of agreements. Agreements are ground rules for the class that everyone agrees on and that help facilitate communication. One of the agreements that we all “agreed” to was that we would all enter the space assuming that everyone has good intentions.

This bothered me. It bothered me because for those in positions of privilege, there is no risk in assuming good intention. Straight white men don’t have to worry about being assaulted by microagressions or being subjected to language that is harmful. They can assume that everyone has good intentions because they are the least likely to be hurt in those situations. But for those in positions of less privilege, there is a lot of risk in assuming good intentions. I can’t assume that you are coming with good intentions because you, as well as I, have been socialized to act and think in ways that are oppressive and harmful.

People in positions of privilege will fuck up. It is inevitable. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that people in positions of privilege are inherently bad people. Its just that they don’t know any better. They’ve been given these scripts and there privilege allows them to take those scripts at face value even if they are really harmful. And they are harmful regardless of whether or not the person means it to be harmful. Intentions are not magical and if you say something oppressive, it is going to cause damage regardless of whether or not you didn’t mean it that way.

So there is a lot of risk if I assume that you are coming with good will because regardless of whether or not you are, what you say will affect me. Further, having good will doesn’t absolve you from the harm that your words cause. Because what matters is not whether you meant it to be hurtful or not. What matters is what happened and the consequences that result. If I run over you with a car, even if I didn’t mean too, you are still gonna be laid out. And I’m still held responsible for the action.

When discussing topics such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, cissexism and/or ablism, its super important that folks who are privileged in some or all of these areas check themselves. If you think it might be oppressive, think twice. And if you do say something oppressive and someone calls you out, listen. Listen and don’t do it again. These conversations need to be had, to be sure. But the needs of the oppressed must always be centered.


About witchymorgan

I'm a 22 year old womanist, sex positive, pansexual, polyamorous, queer, bruja, transwoman. Social justice activist by day, social justice activist by night. Fun! View all posts by witchymorgan

3 responses to “Post the Eighty-First or On Risk and Good Will

  • Kunda Wicce

    Intention: an aim, a plan, a purpose.

    As I sweep thru my multi-cultural neighborhood in my all-paid for, air-conditioned hybrid car, driving mostly past people of color who are walking in the heat and have no vehicle at all, I have the intention of harming none, and the value of that intention to those walking in the heat is dependent on our interaction. The value might be neutral or zero if no interactions occur. If my intention led me to drive more carefully and to look out for that harried Latina mother with her little boy in hand who stepped out from the front of a bus into a street with oncoming traffic, then my intention had positive value.

    But if I trip up and harm someone, I can only hope I am lucky enough to have hurt a person who also has good intention and not a weapon. I could leave the encounter better informed and less prone to assumptions about the experiences of other people.

    This discussion has brought to memory a tragedy worthy of Sophocles and Euripides. Here in Austin a couple of years ago during a holiday weekend, a Latino man jumped from a truck to render aid to a 10-yr old Afro-American boy who had run into the street and been hit by that same truck. Best of intentions. The boy’s partying relatives beat the man to death.

    Certainly good intention is not enough. It would be more useful for the course teacher to ask students to be aware of the large possibility of anger and sadness. She could call for an intention/commitment of making as much kind and patient space for their expression as possible. Notice for class: “Storm warning – strong winds, hail, rain and fire likely.”

  • Quinn

    I’m not advocating for this kind of set up, but in an attempt to find some wiggle room, lets say assuming “good intentions” can be an invitation for addressing the very issues you brought up. I totally agree that good intentions shouldn’t excuse someone from checking their shit. If a classmate says/does something wack and you’re assuming good intentions, you can *assume* they don’t really want to create an unsafe learning environment by perpetuating oppressive attitudes and behaviors. “Oopsies”. So there should be nothing wrong with informing them of how they are affecting you. Likewise, you should get the same courtesy and have it assumed that you am trying to maintain a safe-space and not just be the “politically correct police” or something.

    BTW, I just discovered this blog and I’m really enjoying it. Its great to see my queer, trans comrades of color making some noise and fighting for liberation. Love&Solidarity!

    • witchymorgan

      Totally. But like I said, just because they don’t mean to, or don’t think they are, doesn’t mean that they aren’t creating an unsafe space. Intentions are not magical.

      And I’m glad that you enjoy my writing! Come around and comment often, if you’d like 🙂 and share with your friends!

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