The Sad, Sad Story of A Really Nice Guy.

The Sad, Sad Story of A Really Nice Guy.

Gath­er round, gath­er round. Today’s sto­ry is very impor­tant, and you’ll want to be able to hear me.

It’s not THAT sto­ry, you guys.

Once upon a time, there was A Real­ly Nice Guy. And all he want­ed to do was help peo­ple.

This Real­ly Nice Guy spent a lot of his time talk­ing about the evils of dis­crim­i­na­to­ry soci­etal infra­struc­tures (that usu­al­ly didn’t direct­ly affect him). But after all, he want­ed to help peo­ple, and he saw that these sys­temic inequal­i­ties hurt peo­ple, so he had to speak up.

And speak up he did.

He soon built a rep­u­ta­tion for speak­ing up about inequal­i­ty and injus­tice, and it just so hap­pened that peo­ple who expe­ri­enced the dis­crim­i­na­tion he reg­u­lar­ly denounced (but from which he was shield­ed) began to trust him. They even start­ed look­ing to him for advice, which he was only too hap­py to give. After all, he want­ed to help! And peo­ple want­ed him to help them!

And so all was well.

But then dark days fell upon the Real­ly Nice Guy.

Dark days, indeed.

Peo­ple who expe­ri­enced inequal­i­ty (that he didn’t expe­ri­ence) began to sug­gest that the things the Real­ly Nice Guy said and did some­times per­pet­u­at­ed the dis­crim­i­na­tion they expe­ri­enced rather than alle­vi­ate it as he intend­ed.

He grew quite con­fused. Of course, they had mis­un­der­stood him. He would nev­er par­tic­i­pate in dis­crim­i­na­tion against the peo­ple he want­ed to help! He said as much, and was con­tent that his expla­na­tion would cer­tain­ly set­tle their unhap­pi­ness.

And yet they per­sist­ed! They shared their thoughts, the sto­ries of oth­ers with sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, even elab­o­rat­ing on the his­to­ry of inequal­i­ty aimed at their com­mu­ni­ty. He began to grow impa­tient and explained to them that he had always only ever been their friend and ally. He was A Real­ly Nice Guy! Sure­ly noth­ing he said could ever be used to dis­crim­i­nate against the peo­ple he was try­ing to help. Sure­ly noth­ing he said had ever been used that way! He would have known about it!

To his relief, oth­er peo­ple who expe­ri­enced the inequal­i­ties he didn’t deal with stood up for him against the dis­con­tent­ed, ver­i­fy­ing his sta­tus as their ally. These allies to the ally told any­one who spoke up that they were not the spokesper­son of the dis­crim­i­nat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. After all, they were dis­crim­i­nat­ed against, too! And they liked the Real­ly Nice Guy! Just because some­one in the com­mu­ni­ty thought he was wrong didn’t mean every­one in the com­mu­ni­ty had to think that way! Why were they being so divi­sive? Clear­ly, the prob­lem was with those who didn’t accept the Real­ly Nice Guy’s help, not with the Real­ly Nice Guy’s help itself.

The dis­con­tent sim­ply refused to be sat­is­fied, grow­ing ever more shrill and bit­ter and angry. “You’ve been A Real­ly Nice Guy about this in the past, but right now you’re ele­vat­ing your priv­i­leged opin­ion and those who agree with you above actu­al peo­ple you’re try­ing to help that are being mar­gin­al­ized by your words!” they cried. “That’s not a nice thing to do, and makes the things you’re say­ing and doing that are dis­crim­i­na­to­ry even worse because you’re silenc­ing us when we bring it up, just like the unjust sys­tem does! How are you being any dif­fer­ent right now? Why won’t you lis­ten to us? Isn’t that what being A Real­ly Nice Guy is all about?”

The Real­ly Nice Guy was tak­en aback, deeply wound­ed by their cal­lous sug­ges­tion that he wasn’t actu­al­ly help­ing them. “I knew this day would come,” he said, heav­ing a sigh. “With­out me, no one would be on your side. And this is how you treat me? You just won’t accept my help. You’re not grate­ful for all the hard work I’ve done for you, and it’s obvi­ous that noth­ing can ever make you hap­py. You just want to be offend­ed. It’s peo­ple like you that give your com­mu­ni­ty a bad name. You’re not allowed to talk to me any­more.”

And so, with a heavy but jus­ti­fied heart, the Real­ly Nice Guy silenced his detrac­tors.

After all, he was A Real­ly Nice Guy. He couldn’t pos­si­bly unknow­ing­ly sup­port dis­crim­i­na­tion or ben­e­fit from it.

Could he?


Relat­ed read­ing:

Of priv­i­lege in pro­gres­sive cir­cles.
Things I need from allies.
Ally-ship for begin­ners, or: how not to be a dick.
The Gift of Fear.

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