Closely related to denial is the minimization of the trouble by acknowledging that it exists but then claiming that it doesn’t amount to much. When women and people of color are accused of ‘whining,’ for example, they’re essentially being told that whatever they have to deal with isn’t that bad and they should ‘just get on with it.’ When you deny the reality of oppression, you also deny the reality of the privilege that underlies it, which is just what it takes to get off the book.
When people in dominant groups practice this kind of denial, it rarely seems to occur to them that they’re in a poor position to know what they’re talking about. For them to act as thought they know better than others do about what they are up against is just the sort of presumption that privilege encourages. Privilege invites them to define other people’s experiences for them, to tell them what it’s like to be with them regardless of what they say it’s like.
Adults do this all the time with children. A child falls down and cries and an adult might say, ‘Now, now, stop crying, it doesn’t hurt that much,’ when in fact the adult doesn’t know how much it hurts. Or the child wakes up with a nightmare and adults might tell them, ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of,’ when that might not be true at all for the child. In similar ways, members of privileged groups are culturally authorized to interpret other people’s experience for them, to deny the validity of their own reports, and to impose their views of reality.
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