The value of shutting up and listening
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
It’s a point of contention that we live in a world where many people experience oppression: those living in poverty, people of colour, LGBT+ people, disabled people, women. Anyone who isn’t a straight cisgender white male (like myself) is to some degree discriminated against in our society today. The importance of speaking up for specific issues, along with standing up for the rights of the marginalized, cannot be emphasized enough. As a person with a large degree of privilege and, by extension, power, I have a duty to speak up for equality.
However, it is as important to let members of these groups speak up for themselves. Because I am not part of the group, I should not act as if my opinion is more valid than theirs, because I don’t have the same experiences as they do. ’ Certainly, members of privileged groups should be in agreement when defending equal rights, but not at the risk of undermining the ones who are specifically seeking the equality.
When men say what is best for women, they are actively undermining advocacy led by women themselves. They are contributing to a society in which men make all the decisions, including having control over what a woman does. When a straight person declares what a member of the LGBT+ community needs, it silences the voice of said community. When a person who has not experienced mental illness declares statements and opinions about mental health, it discourages those who actually do suffer from discussing their own experiences.
Members of marginalized groups are able to speak up for themselves just as much as outsiders are. In fact, they are much more able to properly speak up for themselves. Speaking up for someone, instead of with someone, is a habit that occurs much too frequently. Minorities are intelligent, rational, and capable of making their own decisions and knowing what is best for them.
Representing a group you are not a member of takes away power from these groups and gives it back to the factors that oppress these groups in the first place. Although many of us with said power have nothing but the best intentions in speaking up, it is very easy to dominate an idea and discourage viewpoints from first-hand perspectives. Being in solitude is great, and helping to fix the power imbalance is great. But often, the best thing we can do to give power back is to shut up and listen.