Blissful ignorance?


I spent some of my life as somewhat of a closeted leftist. Not because I didn’t think my values were worth discussing, but more because, as a middle class Brazilian girl in private school, I didn’t exactly grow up in an environment that was very conducive to racial awareness, class consciousness, and feminism. My parents were militants of left-wing parties and certainly gave me an infinite wealth of amazing values that I got to pick up from an early age about social justice, equality, and critical thinking. And yet, I didn’t truly begin to develop the vocabulary to eloquently express these ideas until push really came to shove. Tightening immigration policies, the solidification of fort Europe, blunt racism being broadcasted on mainstream Dutch media, and the hate dripping out of politicians’ mouths in the early 2000s in the Netherlands pushed me out of my closet. More than ever before, I felt I truly needed to take a position. It mattered on a personal level now. As an immigrant, I had to position myself. I had to.

This inquiry into finding the right language and discovering sources of information that I could use to make my ideas intelligible, even to myself, drove me to study sociology. I threw myself into a world of meaning, where words were acts of bravery, violence, and description at once. And I loved every second of it. I continued to feel as somewhat of an outsider due to the severe whiteness and Eurocentrism of my particular university and academic field, but I was also learning the language to express that. The critical thinking I learned turned right back at the oppressive institutional practices of the University of Amsterdam. It was an important realization. It helped me understand years of discomfort and I’m grateful for it.

Taking position after position has been liberating. I may be learning to be less radical in the way I express my utter disgust at cultural insensitivity, institutionalized racism, sexism and the like, but I am no less eager to, as much as possible politely, express how I feel. It would be torturous not to. I have to position myself. I have to.

And increasingly, this has become a filtering mechanism for deciding who to spend my time with. As I get older, I find myself being less accepting of what I perceive as other people’s fundamental shortcomings. It is no longer just a question of people being good, kind, and ethical – although these are certainly the first filtering round. I now also find myself losing the patience I once had for uncritical people. People who never stop to problematize their surroundings or very own existence bore me. Finding deep, moral dilemmas or political issues inappropriate or uninteresting topics of conversation is, lately, perhaps the biggest personality crime that someone could commit in my presence. And yet sometimes, when I let it show, when I can no longer hold my sheer irritation for someone’s lack of depth, I can’t help but feel like a total asshole.

Even if I’m offended on a very personal level by every bullshit word that flies off someone’s lips, there’s something of a social convention that as good, kind, and ethical people, we should have mountains of patience for just about anyone. Tolerate their chosen ignorance while nodding and smiling or else you’re somehow, defying all logic, also in the wrong. After all, it would be impolite to show any sign of judgment of human moral failure.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have many shortcomings myself. I am an immigrant from the Global South and yet I am dowsed in privilege. I know that. I’m white-passing, I’m straight, I’m highly educated, I have never known true economic hardship, etc. I am often perplexed at my own ignorance regarding issues that don’t personally affect me. I’ve used very problematic language in the past and have been called out on it by some of the wonderful people I’ve managed to surround myself with. It’s not that I never have some questionable thoughts or never say things I immediately regret, but the point is that I do. I do regret them. I am self-critical. I see the quest for advocating ethical behavior and social justice as a process of life-long learning because if history has taught us anything, it’s that ideas that are acceptable in this era may not age very well.

In knowing my own shortcomings, I do often ask myself whether I shouldn’t make more of an effort to be tolerant to other people’s lack of politicization. But you know what? No, sorry. Maybe fifteen years ago claiming lack of access to information was a valid excuse for bad behavior. But in 2015, for fuck’s sake: educate yourself.

Because, honestly, your goddamned ignorance is only really blissful to you.

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