Warm (Self Deprioritization Theory)

# BlackMenSmiling hurts my heart. No one should have to put on a show of their humanity to convince you they’re human.

It wasn’t until after I had this reaction, my nerves both flighted and recoiled at the tweets and headlines, that I remembered a former friend said this to me about Muslims presenting themselves as approachable in social media campaigns, a long time ago. It was the same rule, and applies and for black Muslims applies to the same people. I hadn’t felt it as immediately when he said it about this because I am Muslim, and thus more dismissive of my own pain.

It’s a very feminine thing to do, to ignore “your” own grief. I wrote about this in passing before when I coauthored “It’s Time to Stop Acting Like Women Are the Reason Islamophobia Exists,” which mentions that I used to assure non-white racists who were racist against me that their behavior was a result of white colonialism, so that they, victims too, weren’t dealt with harmfully. In order to realize how cruel this was to myself truly, I had to “imagine” it being done to someone else—which it was. No imagination necessary.

I need to feign the exclusion of myself as a victim of the injustice: if I identify with a demographic, I have to remove myself from it momentarily in order for me to see how truly atrocious the oppression they face is. Of course even before the conversation about the malice in Muslims showcasing their happiness, I’d felt the sentiment intuitively, for example, when others ridiculed women asking for change on the street for daring to have traces of the luxury of dyed hair—another demand for a performance. But the reason I knew it wrong was because it wasn’t toward me, so I could see the cruelty clearly.

When he said this, it wasn’t to me I imagined this happening in order to care about it. It was to him. My impulse has always been to ignore anything happening to me. This is an example of the feminine deprioritization of the self in fact negatively affecting others when we believe that we are only dismissing our own pain and that therefore it’s nothing/we can take it. How often had I told a friend halfheartedly performing to mitigate the otherness of her sexuality or gender, Darling, you don’t have to do that? Why couldn’t I extend this to myself when it applied? Why does it take some sick manipulation like your pain is representative so actually you are selfish not to speak against it just because you’re self-absorbed enough to think it’s only yours and no one else’s for me to find the words of outrage?

Months ago I realized I need to start caring when it’s about only myself, because now it’s hurting other people.

Yes, I see how that logic feeds itself, a snake eating its tail.

Had I always valued my “personal” oppression as significant enough to hold to a global implication, I would have had the same reaction I did to # BlackMenSmiling in the instances when men demanded I smile on the street, a suggestion for compliance with a violent undertone, and the connections among weaponry is faster. Of course, I need to make clear that for a lot of individuals this is an expression of joy for themselves to engage, not an attempt to prove anything. You can hear directly from black men. There are variations of this, and some of them originate from murderous police violence.

But the deprioritization of the feminine self explains why so many women of color are so anti-racist (because it also affects someone else [men]) but not anti-sexist (because it only affects ourselves).

We are this way because we(as a society) prioritize the intersection we share with the relatively privileged. The privileged axis in a makeshift revolution becomes the common denominator, forcing itself into every aspect of the equation.

I will explore the phenomenon properly at a later time, but I think everyone located at the axial of multiple oppressions does this, prioritizing the common, more privileged oppression, whose commonality solidifies its voice, while deprioritizing what they’re conditioned to view as only their (individual) own.

8 thoughts on “Warm (Self Deprioritization Theory)

  1. L.O.

    This is a really insightful post. The way feminine behaviors that make us complicit in our own oppression as “individuals” make us complicit in our own oppression as a group. Why are you using a space in the hashtag? Does that mean something?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To break it. I’m not black and I don’t belong in that hashtag. I suppose in wordpress it doesn’t matter, but I would definitely break it on twitter if I wanted to discuss it, to prevent interference on the global feed.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, they do it in other (unsystemic) contexts and unless they are oppressed at more than one axis, neither do men of color. This is a psychological phenomenon very specific to individuals whose oppressions are divided out the form of others who share only parts of them.


  2. Klara

    The psychological component to this is unique, since so much of deep psychological analysis is centered on whiteness and maleness, which has a completely different outcome, like the Milgram experiment. If you wrote a paper on this I would be interested.


    1. That’s a kind thought, though it is unlikely I would have the capacity anytime soon to have accumulated enough support to write a paper. It would require surveys and studies and evidence, and I have nothing but my intuition to inform me how widespread this phenomenon is.

      I also have reservations on how well it is linked to empathy; or rather, I would have to explore our acceptance of what qualifies as empathy. For example, women of color are absolute angels and will say things like, “It is unjust that the men of color who harass us face harsher sentences than white men who harass us.” Think about that. About what it means. About the strength in saying that. The world doesn’t deserve us. (That’s why I’ve stopped saying things like this.)

      However, like other individuals undergoing different revolving shades of oppression, we seem to extend this only to those with more privilege than us. It is frustrating when I have seen straight, able women of color fail to apply self deprioritization to lgbtq women of color or to disabled women of color or both. That’s why I’ve made a point to say it occurs most fully with those who experience oppression that others more privileged experience only in elements, because we then yield to the more privileged party.



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