We do not like to be told we are being jerks. We do not like to be told we are being demeaning, or belittling, or discriminatory, or bigoted, even if by accident. Particularly we skepto-atheists, who so pride ourselves on our rationality, our grip on reality, our ability to coolly evaluate information on its merits.
But, inevitably — and especially if you are a white male — you will be called out. You will say something, you will write something, you will assess an idea or a cause or a feeling expressed. It will contain, in this assessment, this comment, or what have you, a word, a sentence, a supposition, a slant that causes offense. Someone, likely not a white male, will point out how this comment is hurtful, how it exacerbates a stereotype, how it reveals one’s unacknowledged social privilege, how it seems to minimize the grievances of another group.
You know what happens next. The blood boils, the eyes widen, the hackles rise, the jaw tightens. You argue back. How could you think this of me? How could you accuse me of such a thing? I am enlightened, I am sensitive, I am progressive, I am rational. I am not one of those white males. What I said was devoid of bigotry, it was not demeaning, it was not belittling, it was not in any way tainted by privilege.
This fits in with both my experiences as a white, able-bodied male and as a systems thinking student. My worldview is shaped by experiences, so it is difficult to understand the worldviews of those from different backgrounds. I’ve often said something that seems innocuous to me but could be construed as upsetting or insulting to others. It’s often impossible to discuss some subjects without upsetting someone, but I do think that it’s important to at least try to understand the arguments of people from different backgrounds.
Being aware that you might be wrong, or might have some gaps in your knowledge, is part of being epistemologically aware. We are part of our environment and we can only see bits of it – there are huge portions of our world that we are unaware of, but which is in closer focus of those around us. We should listen to these people when they air their grievances rather than just discount them as being unreasonable or part of the “political correctness gone mad” brigade.
We might learn something.