Deweaponizing the Language of Privilege

One of the many problems with white supremacy and privileged is that it is impossible to adequately convey the ramifications of actions and words back to those with privilege. In fact, supremacy and privilege rely on the fact that those who benefit from it are sheltered from the consequences that others would face in the same situation. It is why true solidarity requires listening, knowing you won’t fully know other’s experiences, and allowing yourself to understand the disproportionate threats people face. One aspect of this work is the deweaponization of weaponized language.

Photo by Ali Choubin on Unsplash

For example: As an outspoken trans woman, I get called a groomer a lot. Even though protecting children is very important to me, some find the fact that I’m trans as a reason to claim I am a sexual threat to children. Unfortunately, if a cis/het, white man calls me a groomer, there is literally nothing I can say back to him that is as dehumanizing as the words he has just said.

He lives in a world that, even though white, cis/het men are far more likely to groom children than a trans person, even if I said the same thing back to him, it will not cause others to view him differently. He is protected from rhetoric simply because of who he is.

However, that comment towards me is one of violence with a very real threat. The fact that I have never groomed a child would not matter in the eyes of someone that sees me as a threat to children simply because I exist. Our culture is set up in a way where I am not afforded the same benefit of the doubt that others might.

The simple truth is, he would be safe simply because of his position in society.

As such, there is no way to respond to that person in a way that conveys the harm he is doing to others, because he truly has never been on the receiving end of violent rhetoric in the same way.

Thus, he is able to weaponize words in a way that cannot be weaponized back.

Sometimes people will try to say that they receive the same threat of violence for stating their opinion or declaring their faith. However, the stark difference (if we assume there was any real threat of violence) is that they received that response from something they chose to say or do, not because they simply exist in the world. It is not the same experience and often the violence (if it exists) is still disproportionate.

“Thus, he is able to weaponize words in a way that cannot be weaponized back.”

Privileged means that one has to go out of their way to receive the same treatment that others may receive for simply existing. This is why listening and learning from others is so important. In my case, I may be a trans woman, but I still do not know what it is like to be a Black, non-binary, femme person in our world.

We could look at others and say “I’ve never experienced that, so you must be exaggerating” (or, as we were taught in white Evangelical circles, “the Bible doesn’t have that experience, so it must not be true”), which is a form of gaslighting someone’s experience.

Privilege allows us to gaslight other’s experience, because it does not line up with our own experience, but we can also take it as an opportunity to learn from and join with that person in validating the existence of others.

This is one of the biggest reasons recognizing privilege is so important to social justice. We cannot begin to dismantle the systems of oppression in our world without recognizing the power dynamics some people have to define other’s experiences and weaponize language in a way that cannot be weaponized back at them.

Inequality is not just in our systems, it exists in our interpersonal relationships and interaction and solidarity requires us to work to remove those inequalities as well. One of the ways that people can help is by creating counter narratives and refusing to repeat the weaponized words and phrases.

For example, often when a cis male is arrested for sexual abuse, people will sometimes point out that it wasn’t a drag queen or trans person that committed the violence. However, by keeping word “trans” or “drag queen” in the conversation at all reinforces the mental connection between trans people and drag queens with sexual abuse. It is far better to not say anything than keep that connection in people’s minds.

It works the same way as dog whistles. Just because you aren’t saying the harmful ideology that originated it, does not mean that harm isn’t still spread.

Another way is to call out the harmful narratives that people are trying to push. If we are in a place of privilege, we are also afforded the opportunity to speak out against hate without facing real threats from backlash in the same way that marginalized people face.

Ending harmful narratives takes effort and intentional words to counter the harm. However, it takes intentionality to stand in solidarity. The weaponization of words will always affect the marginalized for more than others and we need people to intentionally work to deweaponize our language.

Kalie May Hargrove