Intuition and Oppression

When you think about it, a good portion of internalized -isms are linked to some sense of intuition, a kind of “know it when I see it” comfort or discomfort with a particular group of people.  This is why knowing a person who is queer, or trans*, or a different race than us makes a big difference in the assumptions we make and the prejudices we have.  It’s also why it can be hard to argue with someone who has a prejudice–it’s difficult to fight an innate feeling of rightness with logic.

It’s natural to prefer things we’re familiar with, people that are like ourselves or our surrounding community.  When a white queer college student, for example, peruses a course catalogue, her eye might be more likely to jump to a queer or gender studies course than to a course about US racial relations.  Intuition also plays a part in values and political or religious beliefs, leading children to reflect their parents’ beliefs–at least for a while.

Of course, intuition isn’t all bad.  The reason we trust it, and feel okay following it, is that intuition can lead us to good things.  We make often positive moral choices based on intuition that was instilled when we were little by family and teachers.  Life experience provides positive reinforcement for acting on our intuition.  The problem is that it’s not always easy to distinguish between kneejerk reactions that are good and moral and those that are steeped in family prejudices.

Many of the oppressions we try to fight as feminists and social justice activists are rooted in deep structural problems.  These systematic issues are hard to fight because they’re entrenched in institutions–the media, education, religion, the family–and many of us have an intuitive preference for the status quo.  What we have to do is get people to move past intuitive preferences and deeply question long-held beliefs and preferences.

We can do this through education and exposure to different ideas.  I also believe that it is crucial for social justice activists to look at our own preferences and make an effort to focus on issues that are not our projects or oppressions we personally experience.  This might mean adding blogs to our reader that focus on communities with which we’re unfamiliar, or reading books by authors of color when our reading list tends to be white-centric.  It might simply mean listening harder when someone brings up an issue that’s being ignored by the feminist community, instead of getting defensive.  Either way, this is important work that we need to do both internally and externally.

One thought on “Intuition and Oppression

  1. The key with intuition is that while it’s not consciously rational, it can be changed over time through experience. At one time my intuitions re queer people and re feminism were much more predjudiced than they are now.

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