'OMG I Didn't Mean It Like That!': Intent vs. Impact, Which Matters?
“You know you look just like Queen Latifah”
*Me, looking nothing like Queen Latifah*
So, I look like the only fat black woman you could think of?
“OMG Nooooo, I didn’t mean it like that…”
Everyone has had some sort of conversation like this, whether it be about race or another topic. These types of exchanges that have backhanded compliments and microaggressions that are rooted in deep ignorance. This is one of the more light-hearted ones I hear regularly. However pretty much everyone hears vast more problematic comments like this every day and there is always a defense about “well they didn’t “intend” to be racist. Most recently, rapper Offset from the group ‘Migos” has been under fire for one of his lyrics where he states “Pinky ring crystal clear, 40K spent on a private Lear / 60K solitaire / I cannot vibe with queers.” after facing backlash from the LGBTQ community, he issued a real half-hearted apology saying he didn’t “mean it that way” and that he didn’t know queer was a slur
This has sparked a large internet debate between sensible people and homophobic people defending his “intent”. There are endless more examples of these types of comments and they happen just about everyday from common people like you and me and from those people of the highest profiles. The fact that they are so common and the same debate happens every time, I think this just goes to show that we need to have a conversation about impact vs intent and why your intent really doesn’t matter.
If I Accidentally Punch You In the Face Did You Still Get Punched?
Look, just because you didn’t “mean” to offend, doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. Just because your actions don’t carry any consequences for you, doesn’t mean they don’t to anyone else. You may not understand why touching black people’s hair is racist and offensive, but guess what it is. We’re not zoo animals. Your actions and words still hurt people no matter your intent. If I punch you in the face on accident—you still got punched in the face and your face is going to hurt. But because I didn’t “mean” to punch you, I’m freed of all responsibility and have no need to apologize, right? I think your black eye would say otherwise.
Ignorance Isn’t An Excuse Anymore
Y’all it’s 2018, there is zero excuse for being ignorant other than you just don’t want to learn. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be aware of why things are offensive. There is no way a grown ass adult, (from Atlanta at that) is going to convince me that he didn’t know queer was a word used to bash gay people. Google is still free y’all. Look shit up before you say it. Now does that mean you should know everything about everything on the planet? No, but you should stay in your lane and should you be called out, you shouldn’t be a dick and try and defend your “intent”. A while ago, I wrote about how you can do something racist without “being” racist, this is the same idea. You fucked up, fine but acknowledge that and improve don’t make excuses.
It’s Dismissive of People’s Experience
Trying to argue that something should be excused because of intent is completely dismissive and undermining the experiences targeted communities live on a daily basis. Especially in terms of adoptees (since I am an adoptee blog) when parents constantly dismiss our experiences with racism or other forms as discrimination as it being in our heads (i.e. overreacting) or other people just didn’t realize they’re being racists, you do two things.
Making sure we never trust you. Why would we come to you and tell you what is going on in our lives, when you’ve made it perfectly clear the problem is us?
Ensure that we think something is wrong with us. If the racism we are experiencing is all in our heads and everyone on the planet just didn’t “mean” it then what option does that leave us? I’ll tell you—to think that the problem is then, us.
Now that you’ve shown us you don’t care about our experiences as people of color, we’re certainly not going to talk to you about them and thus why so many adoptees turn to substance abuse and suicide because parents didn’t want to listen and told us it was our fault. Same goes for non-adoptees, it’s just dismissive. As stated before just because you don’t see the problem, doesn’t mean it’s not there and we have most likely been the target of that same comment 300,000 times before you.
Just stop and think before you speak guys. It’s really not that difficult. Google is free, y’all can look up microaggression and why they’re problematic. You can look up why what you were called out on is offensive, and better yet, just educate yourself on these issues in general and you wouldn’t end up with your foot in your mouth. You can have the best intentions and still say something fucked up.
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