I've Never Seen It

by Shaker hallelujah_hippo

[Content Note: Emotional auditing and policing of personal experience and expertise.]

One of the most frustrating and unhelpful responses I get when trying to discuss nuances of social justice, often from people who argue vehemently that they are "on my side" and supporting me, is "I've never seen it." It is frequently coupled with "I mean, I believe you, but I just haven't ever seen it." There are a whole lot of things that bother me about this response, but here are the ones that really get to me.

First of all, it serves to equate casual observation (by folks who are probably not sensitive enough) with lived experience, prolonged study, or specific investigation. It serves to undermine the words and experiences of marginalized people and their allies as "just a matter of opinion."

Secondly, it very much gaslights people who are affected by the marginalization and bigotry being discussed. It implies that it's interesting that they've brought it up, but it's really more of a hypothetical discussion or a game than something real and tangible—which is another manifestation of the Validity Prism that Liss has written about so well before.

Thirdly it serves to entrench the "real bigotry" vs. "casual bigotry" dichotomy (another aspect of the Validity Prism) so often invoked by privileged folks to justify, mitigate, or distance harmful actions by other privileged people. "If there were 'real' bigotry I would have noticed it; I haven't noticed anything, therefore there isn't any 'real' bigotry (or at least not as much as you say)," the argument goes.

Finally, responding to a discussion about marginalization and bigotry with "I haven't seen it" serves to re-center the conversation around privileged voices and treat those experiences as universal or more valid. It serves to imply that marginalized people are imagining things, that they are unreliable observers getting the details wrong, that they are being dishonest or purposefully exaggerating the situation for ulterior motives.

If someone is discussing an aspect of bigotry that you haven't seen or noticed before, it might be helpful to sit with that and think about why this is new for you rather than piping up to tell them you have a different point of view about that bigotry.

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