Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 1: Whose Ignorance/Who’s Ignorant?
February 5, 2010
This is the first in a
three four part series. The second is here and the third here. When the fourth is posted and written, I’ll link it here.
But what does it mean that this–“ending ‘ignorance'”–is our battle cry?
“Ignorance” calls up two images. The first image is of homophobia and transphobia, hate, bigotry, etc.–the one intentionally referenced by HRC, NGLTF, GLAAD, et al. OK. But what about the other image, or other part of the image, raised by the word–of the uneducated, elderly, rural or working class, poor, people of color or (to use the busted, racist and classist logic of the image) “white trash,” Fox-News watching Red-staters or people from the “third world” who need to be “civilized” (to, again, use the logic of the image).
Huh. What about that?
These are, of course, the people hegemonic liberal discourse teaches us to assume are homophobic, transphobic, racist, etc.–not health insurance executives, doctors, therapists, the police, Women’s Studies PhD’s, queer theorists, anthropologists, biologists, journalists, cis LGB folks, or (to be US-centric) policy wonks writing the REAL ID act, the FDA, the Social Security Administration, the State Department (in charge of passports), etc. Not the people with a lot of knowledge, education, and power. That is to say, not the people in charge, not the “good people,” not, oh say, you.
I’ll be honest–the people who transphobically harass me on the street are, by an overwhelming margin, young cis black men culturally pre-defined as “ignorant”. I’m not making that up, I can give you numbers if I have to. But the people who’ve harassed me at work, the people who’ve trans bashed me, and the people who’ve groped me (because I’m trans and female, not those who presume I’m cis) are all white (and cis) to a person–not all male, not all straight, of varied educational, class, and regional backgrounds, but all white (and that’s not representative of the demographics where I’ve worked). Any number of people from my educational institution have said highly transphobic shit to me or in my hearing–that is, all highly educated, socially pre-defined as knowledgeable, generally middle/upper class–and who does that is not strongly distributed by race, age, or whether they’re prof or student.** But the people who make the decisions and form the arguments that fuck with my life the most have a disproportionate amount of privilege, education, and power.
Targeting the ones that get culturally pre-defined as “ignorant” might be tempting, because their offenses are frequently the most highly visible, and (relatedly) least culturally sanctioned, but it’s those culturally pre-defined as “knowledgeable” that do me the most damage, and thus, through a privilege+power rubric, are most transphobic. Who’s worse, the most “ignorant” “redneck” (supposedly) embodying every awful anti-rural stereotype, or J Michael Bailey, who has a PhD and sits in the halls of knowledge?
So when we construe transphobia as about “ignorance,” not only have we engaged with classism, racism, and colonialism, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and let the worst offenders off the hook.
Part 2: How Could You Have Known? –You Already Did.
Part 3: Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology
Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims
*Interestingly, NCTE seems to mostly eschew the use of this word–a google site search turned up only 5 results, compared to 94 for HRC, 96 for NGLTF, and 46 from GLAAD. Good for them.
**My program is so overwhelmingly female that an accounting by gender is impossible; the majority of the comments come from (cis) women, but that’s who’s in the program.
EDIT 2-24-10 to account for addition of a fourth part to series.