Up Front by Emma Hart


A Word in Your Ear

Alright people, time to be serious. I want to have a word with you about your unconscious privilege. And that's not 'the privilege I have when I don't have to help clean up after the party because I'm still passed out'.

Let me illustrate this privilege in action, using an example from my own undoubtedly fascinating life. Back in the early nineties, I had a five minute car journey with one of my ex-boyfriends. Lovely chap. We came from basically the same background: poor, white, solo parent, history of violence. But by the time he got out of the car, not only did he vote for the first time in his life, but he voted exactly the way I wanted him to. Why? Because I exercised my privilege over him: articulacy.

Now, being able to put a persuasive argument doesn't necessarily make me wrong. I was, in that instance, right*. What being born articulate allows me to do, however, is to win arguments even if I'm wrong. Just ask my ex-husband**.

Gradually, I did start to become conscious of this power. There'd be a little tingly feeling in the back of my brain that would say, "You know what? That actually might have been a very good point. Unfortunately, he used this particular phrasing which makes it sound really badly flawed, and if I say 'this', he won't be able to articulate his way out of it before I can raise my eyebrows and say 'hmm, well?'. So even though I might be wrong, I can still win from here."

It's a trait, let's be honest, that most of us at Public Address share. We're really good with words, written or spoken. The internet does level the playing field a little bit, in that it doesn't require you to think on your feet as quickly as a face to face conversation does. It gives you the time to consider your response, find the right words, or go and look up 'esprit d'escalier' so you know what the over-educated poncy fucker is talking about. But it doesn't stop people who are fluent and entertaining in their writing being more persuasive than perhaps they should be.
Consider this:

"Thanks TVNZ for making a show that is the equivalent of offering some chips and a litre of orange juice at someone's 50th anniversary on the job," said one contributor on the web forum Public Address, adding: "Running the long history of public broadcasting through a gameshow format hosted by Jason Gunn - says it all."
Descriptions of the show on Kiwiblog included "crap" and "a pile of dog turds"

As Russell says, "Our respective sites do have quite distinct styles, don't they?" But if we'd been disagreeing, would our different styles of expression make us more likely to be right, and them wrong? Perhaps it's the other way about.*** Perhaps their refreshing bluntness is more honest, more down to earth, more realistic than our ivory-tower verbosity.

Complete and utter rubbish, the problem is the substance. But didn't the argument sound, just for a little minute, persuasive?
I was allowed a taste of the ghetto treatment of the inarticulate while working for and with particular Americans, who found it impossible to actually listen to anything I said because I swore too much. Alright, this may also have been because it was the boss's new pet brainchild I was calling a "fucking idiotic thing to do", but it was the swearing I was pulled up for, and was the reason, I'm sure, my opinions were side-lined. And all because I chose to retain my own cultural practices in the workplace.

The other problem with being inarticulate is that other people keep trying to tell you what you're saying. They don't even pretend they're not, they'll actually say, "So what you're saying is...". Next they'll be asking your friends if you take sugar. And I mean, what are you going to do, complain? Like anyone's going to listen. And then it's all, "Darren, no, please, that's not a constructive way to resolve disputes. Put the manager down and use your words."

Now of course, it's impossible for us to stop being gifted and articulate****. But we can try to be more aware of the problems of the inarticulate, more aware of our privilege, and more patient with their pathetic witterings.

*I mean, let's be honest, "duh".
**Actually, you know what? Don't.
*** For those of you wondering, um, no, I couldn't write that with a straight face.
**** Unless someone gives us a column deadline, when all our words will dry up and we'll be reduced to obsessively cleaning the bathroom.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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