"Nice Guy" List Updates [October 21, 2006]

Filed Under [Adopt a Language of Respect and Equality]:

  1. Intent Doesn’t Matter

To Do List:

  1. Tokenism Sucks
  2. Integrating Privileged Spaces
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2 Responses to "Nice Guy" List Updates [October 21, 2006]

  1. Donna says:

    Those with privilege do seem to get stuck on intent, they want to be sure you know they aren’t racist/sexist/homophobic etc. So if you are the minority person and want to move the conversation along, it’s best to acknowledge that you know they didn’t mean any harm and then explain your position…especially for those who haven’t read your nice guys list! LOL

  2. Mecha says:

    I think there is both truth and falseness in the idea of ‘intent doesn’t matter’. Intent _does_ matter. Now, to backpedal before I break the rule too badly, if the excuse is used as a way to stop discussion, is clearly bad (which seems to be more of the point of it being brought up: be careful when you use it, it seems to be similar to the ‘don’t be angry’ excuse/trigger as a possible deflection tactic.) But words matter too, very much so. Intent can be a mitigating factor, however, and an aid to keeping discussion going.

    I’ve seen the usage of intent as a silencer cut both ways in feminism discussions (haven’t been involved in quite as many general minority/majority discussions.) There have been posts whose intent was positive, but the words were very negative, beyond the point of belief in a good intent (which is usually where this rule comes into play: The offended person believes that the phrasing is stronger in meaning than any possible previous belief in positive intent, because it is _offensive_.) The discussions in the Nice Guy list about ‘Give Minorities the Benefit of the Doubt’ and ‘Communicate, Communicate, Communicate’ require that intent matters in some degree. By the list, one is also to believe in the positive intent of the minority at all times (Criticism is Not Hatred) and can only deviate from that by a careful analysis.

    One could argue that it comes down to ‘earning trust’ (ie: in a minority space, majority groups’ intent doesn’t matter much, minority groups’ intent matters quite a bit), but I feel that to blanket say that intent doesn’t matter is anti-communication. To say that one person is the arbiter of intent (and therefore can say what the other person really means, without them being allowed to do anything about it) whether it be minority or majority, basically takes ‘communication’ out of the picture (and comes dangerously close to mischaracterizing your ‘opponent’.) Much like saying that intent matters exclusively can be used to heavily derail a discussion by forcing it off into a side track (and implying that the offended party is too uptight.)

    Perhaps a better phrasing, in my mind, is ‘Intent is not a complete defense’ or, as someone else I know puts it, ‘Own up to what you say/write.’ Listen to what is said in response, realize your words did not match intent, apologize, and re-explain (if necessary) to rejoin the track of conversation. I personally think the body of the rule matches this idea much more than the shorter ‘Intent doesn’t matter.’

    -Mecha

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