I have seen many comment threads in many forums devolve into statements of privilege and entitlement being flung about, often with little provocation¹. In some cases, there is history between the people commenting, and so there’s some, if often shaky, justification for these exchanges–however uncomfortable they make the innocent bystanders trying to have a rational discussion on difficult and/or uncomfortable topics.
The problem arises when people who have long been part of the community of commenters in one particular venue feel their points of view are more valid and/or important than everyone else’s, and that they have the right to not only dominate the conversation but to express themselves in any way they see fit–and if their host is uncomfortable with their behaviour, or their tone, or with the fact that often their comments cross the line between disagreement with a person’s beliefs and statements into humiliation, shaming or dehumanization of that person²…
Well, more’s the pity.
For their host, that is.
Because they are just calling out racist, or homophobic, or misogynistic, or (fill in the blank) statements–which to be sure they often are.
Because they are on the right side, the side of the good guys.
But there have been more than one case–and this thread is but one example–where participation by a relative stranger/newcomer to the blog has, within two comments, devolved from “that’s a racist/privileged statement” to “you are a racist/privileged.”
When called on making such a leap, they are the ones offended and hurt–with said hurt coming across as more vitriol hurled out not only at the original ‘offender’ but also at anyone who dares point out that they have, in fact, crossed the line from pointing out a racist/misogynist/homophobic attitude into attacking a person.
They call those who intervene “tone trolls” and claim that their speech is being stifled.
And yet they refuse to see how an environment in which saying anything, no matter how bland or carefully couched, that disagrees with these few vociferous, vitriolic, acerbic and entitled commenters, chills conversation.
Or perhaps they don’t care that, pretty soon, is only those few who are comfortable/able to cope with/thick-skinned enough not to give a damn about personal attacks on both sides–or indeed, trolling for the joy of derailing conversation–who participate in the thread.
They refuse see their own privilege, even when it’s pointed out to them: that they have been allowed to run free for so long–and not only can’t tolerate limits imposed on their behaviour, on the host’s own space, mind you, but feel free to repay said host’s long suffering tolerance of their shenanigans by being abusive towards him/her.
How dare the owner set limits and impose guidelines in his/her own space! After all this time! The cheek, I tell you.
And now, wrapping their dignity–and entitlement–about themselves, they flounce with sad, commiserating comments of “you’ve killed what made this place so special.”
Perhaps whatever made the space so special to those leaving will leave with them–and perhaps that’s a good thing for those who remain, and for those who used to visit, and read, and comment, but who left precisely because such behaviour went unchecked for so long.
Because another form of privilege is demanding that all others interested in the same issues as you are is as thick skinned as you, comfortable using the same language as you, as capable of ignoring personal attacks and dehumanizing language directed at them as you are.
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¹ Please note that this does not excuse open racism/misogyny/homophobia/fill in the blank–I’m talking about relatively innocuous statements. Sometimes the people making those statements are not aware of their own bias/bigotry/privilege and not only don’t meant to be offensive, but may very well prove educable through conversation and debate.
² When a commenter only has to post once in a thread to have someone else immediately show up, not to comment on the topic at hand, but simply to call the first one a troll, before that person has even had a chance to make any sort of trollish/unacceptable/racist/homophobic/misogynist/fill in the blank statement. Never mind insulting the intelligence of every other reader/commenter who, apparently, need to be told who is to be trusted and who is not, because they lack the intelligence/maturity/savvy to discern it by themselves. And let’s not even mention insulting, in the same manner, the owner of the venue, who has every right to let that “troll” post until s/he decides…not to.