Fezzik? You mean Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride?
I recently replaced my copy of The Princess Bride DVD, and for some reason when I watched it, I really identified with Fezzik. I even looked up some tropes to figure out what made Fezzik so compelling. It wasn't until I reflected on a few recent interactions that I made the connections.
At one point in time (until fairly recently, if you follow this blog fairly regularly), one of the things that consistently irritated and saddened me when it came to That Conversation was when people would accuse me of a hostility that I didn't feel. Vehement, yes. Passionate, yes. Intense, definitely. But never hostile. There was nothing malevolent about anything I said, yet I kept being treated as though I was pretty much telling people to go die in a fire, even though I feel I exercise great restraint compared to what I've witnessed in other people. It's pretty confusing and frustrating to deal with, especially when you see other people say far worse without getting called on it.
For the longest time, I thought it was simply derailing or projecting the Angry Black Woman stereotype onto me because I spoke my mind without going my way to express myself in a conciliatory or equivocating way so as not to offend people more privileged than me (ie, not all White people, not all men, I don't mean you, etc.).
But now I believe there is more going on than that.
Back to Fezzik
Here you have this character, a giant, with immense physical power, who has to be careful with how he navigates the world around him lest he cause harm to others. I am like this when it comes to words. Whether I intend it or not, the words I use carry tremendous power. You would think that'd be obvious, but it really isn't. Unlike Fezzik, a good chunk of the time, I literally don't know my own strength. I never thought of myself or the way I expressed myself as particularly powerful. Truth be told, I'm very introverted (almost withdrawn) and rather shy (especially around people I don't know well). Nevertheless, a love tap from Natalie Portman wouldn't feel the same as a love tap from George Foreman. So I've resolved to be a bit more careful in my approach, or at the very least give fair warning.
I honestly don't know what to feel about this. On the one hand, it's always good to affirm something empowering about yourself. As someone who faces marginalization due to race, gender, sexuality, and class, it's hard not to internalize the barrage of messages telling me how powerless I am (and how good it is that I remain so). It's difficult to describe what kind of effort that takes, but it's very similar to what survivors of abuse go through.
On the other hand, it sucks that something that should be positive - in this case, a power with words - becomes a liability because of those same forces that seek to undermine my sense of my own power, even as embodied in the same people who endeavor to oppose those forces.
Power versus privilege
It's quite a paradox. But that's how it goes for pretty much any empowering trait coming from marginalized people. Any attempt to claim your own power without paying your dues (so to speak) is always met with resistance. Speaking intelligently, and with passion and clarity, without apology, is not praiseworthy in anyone except well-off straightwhitedudes.
Don't believe me? Go to any social justice blog or website (like this one) where a marginalized person states an opinion without coddling the privileged. You won't have to dig very deep to find somebody acting like that person just said, "FUCK OFF AND DIE MOTHERFUCKER!!!" Even if the "meanie" is responding to something fucked up that someone else said. Even if that person does not use all caps or any exclamation points. Even if that person does not make a direct accusation against anyone.
If you're feeling up to it, try prodding a bit. Say something like, "Really? Where did s/he say that?" If you don't get a bunch of projections and assumptions and conjecture, you'll get them saying something about the tone*. Note who it comes from. I'm willing to bet money that a good chunk of the time, when someone objects to "tone"**, it's coming from a place of privilege.
* That's not to say anybody from a marginalized identity has a carte blache to be an asshole. But they don't have to be polite to you when you reinforce ugly shit. When it comes to the deliberately obtuse or willfully ignorant, my personal preference is to say something sarcastic then disengage.
** If the bulk of your objection can be, "Watch your tone," please don't say it. It's what you say to disobedient children, not adults who you presume to treat with respect. Even if you think they're being immature, don't say it. If the issue you're talking about is important to you, and the person you're talking to is someone whom you otherwise respect, it's not worth destroying that to take a few pot shots at them.
So what now?
Speaking for myself, it would help a great deal to ask rather than assume. It's pretty hard to read intent on the internet at the best of times, so it would probably not be remiss to clarify before proceeding. Even - scratch that - especially if you think you know what's going on. There are tons of conversations that could have saved a lot of turmoil had myself or other participants simply asked about where everyone was coming from before rushing to attack or defense. And when it comes to discussing power and privilege and oppression and the myriad forms they take, it comes at a great cost to the people on the shit end of that stick.