FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Weapons of the Weak

As I navigate life as a queer disabled woman, I frequently think of Yale political scientist James C. Scott’s concept of the “weapons of the weak.”

Scott poses that while we usually think of resistance as overt, organized protests or rebellions, marginalized people often resist in more hidden ways: “foot-dragging, evasion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, and sabotage.”

Americans are plenty used to hearing arguments about identity. But one of the most common coping mechanisms of impacted people is simply to remain silent.

These methods of non-cooperation with the dominant group in society are effective when more obvious and organized forms of fighting back won’t work, particularly when they would be met with violence.

The first time I thought of the weapons of the weak in relation to my own life was about a year ago. I was reading a sociology book to prepare for a major exam for my PhD program.

A man at my table saw the book and decided to chat me up about it. He confessed he never studied sociology, and then proceeded to attempt to teach me something about it, saying something inaccurate and racist about Asians in the process.

I’m not a race scholar, but between me and this guy, I was the expert. I have a bachelor’s in East Asian Studies and I spent a few years teaching sociology courses on race. I tried to push back, gently telling him he was incorrect, without calling him racist.

I tried twice. He doubled down. I could see I wasn’t going to be heard. He kept going on and on, since he thought I clearly needed some instruction on the matter (the technical term for this is “mansplaining”). I thought of James C. Scott, and I put my nose in my book, and I pretended to read until the man ran out of steam.

Since then I’ve used this tactic a few times. I think it’s time to use it again, in another way.

I just met a man who seems nice and well-meaning, but he talks about women and LGBTQ people in a way that makes my skin crawl. He’s not overtly hateful, but he’s far too comfortable making jokes queer women might find unsettling.

I don’t know how to set him straight. Instead, I think when I see him at social gatherings, I’ll politely say hi and then avoid him.

In addition to being queer, disabled, and a woman, I also belong to several dominant groups in America: I am white, middle class, and educated.

I am certain that in my life, at various times, I have made people of color, working class people, and others feel uncomfortable the same way those straight men did to me. I absolutely did not mean to, and yet I can name incidents when I did.

I am sure that, at times, the people I offended felt it was safer and more effective to avoid me than to correct me. Speaking up is risky, since I could have hurt them worse instead of listening.

When you belong to a dominant group, it’s hard to know what a marginalized group is thinking or feeling, or how you can become an effective ally to them. A major roadblock to change is thinking that your experience as a straight, white, middle class, etc. person informs you about the experiences of marginalized peoples. It doesn’t.

Understanding that and opening yourself up to being educated by people with less privilege than you is a first step to change. Even better, instead of waiting for them to educate you, seek out resources to educate yourself as best you can.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail