Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Case of the Eloquent Bigot

Someone can come up with a beautiful, elegant, well-thought rationale for their bigotry that insists that all the moving parts are actually adjacent to the prejudice itself and that there is no camouflaged intolerance behind the pulsing heart of their impetus, but at the end of the day the same people who are hurt by outright, overt, naked bigotry will be the ones crying that "this hurts us," and the bigot-writer's ardent supporters will be ones slipping up and saying aloud the part they're actually probably just DYING to say. 

I'm a professional writer, and though there's a book around here somewhere that I'm going to get back to, I pay the bills blogging. I make money trying to convince people of things. I know how to make a case for something. How to emphasize this point and avoid that one. I know how to imagine how something is going to land and how to work around the rhetorical points that make me look bad. I know how to lean in on the spin and give something a coat of paint and a polish. 

We've all laughed (bitterly) when Trump said, "I don't have a racist bone in my body." We've all seen the person who claims their racism is about states' rights or that anti-choice legislation is somehow actually about 35th week pregnancy even though it targets everything after the six. We've all seen the argument that makes some case about child molestation when they really are just being transphobic bigots or claiming that sexual assault is the issue when it's not trans people sexually assaulting folks. We know that study after study after study says that people understand that anti-sex-work laws can be crafted to be harder on trafficking and exploitation, but what people really want is a reason that plays a little better at parties than for them to just come out as openly anti-sex worker.

Believe me when I tell you that a professional writer with time to revise can obfuscate their bigotry quite well. I say this as a writer. I say this as a reader. I say this as a lifetime activist who has read more elevated and genteel versions of "I'm not racist, but…" than I want to remember. These writers are the ambassadors for the version of the arguments that most people know JUUUUUUUST enough not to utter in mixed company.

So when you read some writer's manifesto, just keep that in mind. One of literally the best and brightest writing minds on the planet might using their host of skills to make sure that you don't see what's going on behind the curtain. They want you to focus on the sleight of language that will never come out and say it. But you can watch the people reacting—the people in the groups that are affected. (The ones they are assuring you they would never stand against.) You can just ask these people, you know. You don't have to assume they're okay with something just because you read something with formal diction. You can just look and see that they are hurt. (Though this may require actually doing so and not just assuming.) And while most people know that it's better to check with BIPOC rather than Trump to find out if Trump is a racist, all those big vocabulary words sometimes mean people forget that the same rules apply to everyone. White people don't get to decide who's racist—no matter how good at writing they are. 

You can also watch the allies—the people who have the writer's back. The people crowding in, in throngs and mobs and hordes. The ones who aren't quite so good at the misdirection and who slip up (often) and say the quiet part out loud. The comment sections and the conversations they think are just "their people" that begin to fill with the real sentiments. Glance at who is on the writer's side and it's piss easy to tell if maybe their diplomacy is covering up the truth.

Suddenly it will be crystal clear that all the fifty-cent words in the world won't change the fact that a marginalized group is being harmed, and the writer is doing it. 

They just used more paragraphs.

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