Adichie was pretty quick to clarify her thoughts on Facebook, and I commend her for that. She owned up to not having fully conceptualized the experiences of a diverse and nuanced community — and honestly, I think that’s kind of understandable for a cis person.
It’s tough to admit that a belief you hold is problematic — and it’s even tougher to be able to divorce your recently recognized biases from your character as a person. We should all strive to keep learning and hold one another accountable if we fall complacent in pursuing progress.
But publicly shaming those who misstep or are uninformed isn’t a goal for a movement. A goal is to eradicate the sexism, racism, heterosexism, transphobia, ableism and other ingrained biases and oppressions that have shaped us all in various ways.
I’m concerned about this pattern that arises in popular progressivism — in part because I find myself falling into it often. A well-intentioned person will say something that trips my mental alarms, and I instinctively jump to condemn them as a bad person, or screenshot it to my friend, or roll my eyes and scoff.
And, like someone jeering at their younger sibling for not knowing a big word yet, I come away from those interactions with a degree of feigned superiority — charading this feeling of self-righteousness as the ideals of tolerance and equality.
When I do this, I’m not entirely thinking about combating racism and protecting trans kids and making the world better. I’m losing track of why I call myself queer, and a feminist and an ally. And I’m just kind of being a dick.
When I talked in high school about “toning down” queerness to gain acceptance, I was speaking as someone who’d just come out and had never even heard of queer politics or women’s studies.
When I quietly shame others for what they say, I’m brushing away the fact that I only have those mental alarm bells in place because of the personal experiences and academic opportunities I’ve had in my life.
I ignore that I’m falling into the narrative that there’s only one appropriate school of progressivism to follow — as if inclusive terminology isn’t constantly evolving or learning isn’t a process.
And, most importantly: When I scoff at the missteps of others, I'm disregarding the fact I'm still problematic in a lot of ways, too.