I recently came across a question at Quora that went something like this: Why do LGBTQ people often reply to questions about their identity with “It’s not my job to educate you”? This kind of response is often interpreted as an unwillingness on the part of the marginalized individual to talk about their experiences and help people understand who they are.
This is actually pretty far from the truth. A lot of us — and I’m including not only LGBTQ groups but also those affected by racism, sexism, classism, etc. — want to share who we are and increase understanding, but there is a wide gulf between marginalized individuals sharing their stories freely in an atmosphere of good will and having the responsibility to speak as educators and spokespeople for marginalized groups as a whole forced upon us. Identity tied to a larger marginalized group does not mean an individual necessarily wants to be an educator, spokesperson, or activist, and asking questions that demand or assume that responsibility based on identity alone will not be met with open arms.
Here are 21 specific and important reasons why people in marginalized groups might reply with “It’s not my job,” and it’s not because we don’t want to talk about it.
It is not my responsibility as a marginalized individual to educate you about my experience, because:
- if you are, for example, a member of the dominant heterosexual, cisgendered, white culture, no one makes it your job to educate them about what it is like to be heterosexual or cisgendered or white whenever the particulars of your relationship or gender or racial status are revealed.
- we all have the ability and resources to educate ourselves if our curiosity is genuine.
- a marginalized individual has the right to choose when and how to use their voice, and the circumstances and questions might present an inappropriate or even disrespectful use of the individual’s valuable time and resources.
- it is not rude for a person to refuse an education in the deeply personal and vulnerable nature of their experience as a marginalized individual to someone who is often a relative stranger.
- the expectation that a marginalized individual must answer questions about what are, by nature, deeply personal experiences represents a false sense of entitlement to a marginalized individual’s time and personal history.
- it is not a marginalized individual’s responsibility to be an on-demand helper or resource to those from dominant groups.
- a marginalized individual’s experience cannot be considered as an education on all of the individuals of their apparent kind.
- being a marginalized individual does not make a person an expert in all aspects of the larger group, just as all members of a dominant group do not have PhDs in the particulars of their dominant group.
- a marginalized individual does not speak for “their people”.
- marginalized individuals do not have to prove the validity of their larger group’s claims about their existence or experiences.
- the marginalized individual’s existence and experiences are not actually up for your reasoned feedback or debate.
- if a marginalized individual does not have a handy elevator pitch that encapsulates their deeply personal human experience, it does not mean that their experiences are any less valid or understood.
- it is not an easy or simple thing to explain the nature of their existence as a marginalized individual to someone who does not and cannot experience it for themselves.
- a marginalized individual is not necessarily out or public about every key aspect of their life that your questions may involve.
- your curiosity does not give you the right to dig into aspects of a marginalized person’s life that they may not have already revealed to you.
- sometimes marginalized individuals just don’t want to.
- a marginalized individual has the right to say no.
- depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation, your questioning may jeopardize a marginalized individual’s safety.
- a marginalized individual’s equality should not rest on their willingness to cater to your unnecessary demands.
- a marginalized individual is not denying justice for themselves or for others when they choose not to engage with your demands for their story.
- if you place the responsibility for your ignorance and resulting behaviour on the marginalized individual, you are choosing to continue to evade responsibility for your actions.
In the words of Audre Lorde from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches:
Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.