This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.
Many of you are familiar with him from Livejournal, as well
as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here.
Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from
One of the many many many not-very-coded speeches
privileged people like to give is the one on “low expectations”.
You know the one – the one that says that welfare, affirmative
action, any kind of accommodation, anti-discrimination rules or anything
else to try and help marginalised people is somehow patronising and
demeaning because it “expects too little” of marginalised people.
Because it expects marginalised people to need help (completely missing
the many ways marginalised people are hindered and the fact that society
is already geared to help the privileged). Like many of the arguments
of the oppressor, I’ve been dismissing it.
But I think I was wrong. I think that, yes,
there are people out there who are labouring under the soft tyranny
of low expectations. There are people who achieve so little because
so little is expected for them.
I’m talking, of course, about people who
are clinging to their comfortable blanket of privilege, those folks
who have taught us time and again to expect the least from them. And
the least is what we get.
Here are some expectations I wish we could
have of people the expectations I wish we could have, the expectations
I wish we could expect everyone to meet – as a bare minimum.
We will expect you to keep a civil tongue
in your mouth. You’ll find it helps to keep a civil brain in your
head – then you won’t say offensive shit “accidentally”.
When I was a child, my parents would have sharp words if I “accidentally”
swore – we expect you to meet the same standards I managed as
a small child. I have every confidence you will achieve this. Eventually.
We will expect you to recognise the limitations
of the word “sorry” and how it does not justify or excuse your
prejudiced or bigoted behaviour or language. Show some of the responsibility
you always prattle on about. Certainly not if you’re only “sorry”
that you’re caught
We will expect you to learn from your mistakes.
Children can learn not to repeat bad behaviour when corrected, we now
expect the same of you.
We will expect you to be responsible for your
own ignorance. We’re not your teachers or your parents. You are expected
to know what you have the means to learn without us spoon feeding you.
Especially if it can be learned with a little common sense and basic
We will expect you to stop making excuses
and we will stop making excuses for you, whatever they are.
We will expect you to recognise when we are
talking about something that doesn’t involve you. We will expect you
not to change the subject into something that puts you centre stage.
We will expect you not to talk over us. Again, small children learn
this, it’s basic good manners.
We will expect you to be honest and not to
lie about us to try and meet your ends or demonise us. This is the malicious
act of a naughty child who can’t make a reasoned argument. We will
expect you not to throw tantrums because not everything goes your way.
We will expect you not to see people not coddling you as “being mean”
or “persecuting you”
We will expect you to speak and act when you
see or hear bigotry. Or if you don’t speak, at least not patronise
us with pathetic, absolution-seeking please about why you didn’t or
why you couldn’t. We do not care, it isn’t helpful and we’re not
here to pat your hand and say “there there” when you have failed
We will expect you not to tell us about your
guilt, but actually act on it. Your guilt is useless to us. We have
enough emotional burdens of our own without playing agony aunt to yours
We will expect you to work against bigotry
or, at very least, stop perpetuating bigotry rather than publicly grieving
when you see its results.
We will expect you to be a
decent human being. This is the minimal expectation and we will not
praise you for it. We will expect you not to be a bigot, we will not
praise or reward you for it any more than you’d reward a 12 year old
for going a day without attacking their siblings or swearing at grandma.
This is expected behaviour, you don’t get sweeties for it.
We will expect you to treat us as full human
beings in all respects, no ifs, buts or maybes, no exceptions, no provisos.
We will expect you not to protect bigots,
not to support bigots and not to look away from bigotry. We will expect
you not to deny bigotry happens, deny a force is bigoted or defend bigotry.
We will expect you to accept that not everything
has to be about you. We will expect you not to whine when we have more
than a token presence, we will expect you not to complain when you aren’t
the overwhelming majority, we will expect you not to expect you and
yours to always come first.
We will expect you to be able to identify
with, root for and otherwise enjoy media that has protagonists that
are not entirely like you. We manage every day in a thousand ways; if
we can, you can.
We will expect you to look at your world and
see the privilege and recognise that is it injustice that made things
this way – not chance, not the natural order, not deity.
These are still low expectations –
though much higher than we often have. But so many of these are so basic
– these are the same expectations parents have of small children.
It speaks volumes of how little we expect of people that so many can
act like spoiled children and it have become normalised. It’s time
to grow up folks – we expect better.