“You take it too far”

It’s not uncommon for people who have never experienced systemic, institutionalized oppression of a certain type to accuse those who have, and identify it, as being “too sensitive” or “taking it too far.”

For people who have never been on the receiving end of systematic discrimination, or for people who are, but for some reason, prefer it that way, it may not be that obvious. If it’s not something overt, like hanging a human being from a tree, or bombing their home or place of worship, or physically assaulting someone while yelling racial slurs, then clearly it’s not systemic racism, it’s because of something else.

Studies have shown that those who are on the receiving end of racism are the best able to identify it. And why wouldn’t they? While I understand that there are all kinds of discrimination that take place against people based on religion, race, size, ability, gender identity, I certainly can’t pick out anti-Semitism as easily as a Jewish person can, or transphobia as easily as a trans person can. I’m going to defer to the people who are on the receiving end of it to tell me.

Microaggressions, which are all too familiar to people with subaltern identities, are difficult to prove. It is possible for people to behave in a way that’s racist, even if it’s not a conscious decision for them to behave that way, thanks to several hundred years of white supremacy conditioning some people to be seen as smarter, more capable, or more attractive or more “refined” than others based on nothing but an arbitrarily defined set of physical characteristics.

It’s when a white Canadian says that of course white men in China go after local women in a way they don’t in Ghana because “That’s different, because they’re Asian, and they’re hot!”

It’s a “friend” telling saying that it’s not good not to cook because you’re “a girl.” (Two in one-infantilizing and gender policing simultaneously!)

It’s describing East Africans (any people of color with physical characteristics usually associated with whiteness) has having “more refined” features than the rest of Africa.

It’s your cousins and their friends laughing at you and saying “I hope I’m not being sexism” when you point out real, problematic, misogynistic behavior.

It’s me saying something in Japanese (to a table of people who don’t understand Japanese), explaining what it means, and then having them argue with absolute certainty about it- because by definition, as a black woman, it’s impossible that I could possibly know what I’m talking about, right?

It’s having all these types of incidences dismissed with a “You’re taking it too far” by someone who does not understand what it is to live life on the receiving end of this.

The thing is, it’s impossible to prove that (some of) these incidents came from a place of maliciousness, or even prejudice. I can’t prove when a white person sticks their hands into my hair without my permission that they have done it because of my race, because it’s not like I have a recording of them admitting to it. But I know that that’s what they are doing, because I have grown up on the receiving end of racism and sexism my entire life.

So no, it’s not me that’s taking it too far. It’s not the countless other people who are far more educated than I am on issues of discrimination and power dynamics who are taking it too far.

Thoughts?

Further reading:

How to Tell if a White Person is Racist

“People are Nicer to Daddy Because He’s White”

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