Unless you're living under a rock you've probably seen about 15-20 iterations of lists detailing "Things not to say to <moms/teachers/pregnant women/etc>."
You may have also seen many hilarious videos featuring "Shit <White People/Girls> say to <Black People/Latinx/Asians/Gay guys>"
Essentially these lists and parodies boil to the well-intentioned but actually quite ignorant and harmful microagressions faced by groups of people who are discriminated against, or otherwise put upon by society in one way or another. Those in the privileged majority can take advantage of the fact that they don't have to question or even consider that they are being treated a certain way because of a characteristic they may possess that is completely beyond their control to change. Such a privileged person, free from the scourge of constant self-analysis, may indeed be genuinely curious about someone's "otherness" and in an attempt to satisfy said curiosity, can often cause harm to that someone. Let's return to this thought shortly.
I eagerly consume these blog lists and videos in an attempt to both assuage my white/middle-class/privileged guilt, but also to make sure I'm not unknowingly saying any stupid crap to anyone. Surely, in my 31 years on the planet I surely have said things to offend others purely due to my own ignorance. I don't pretend to be an expert on every culture, religion, sexual preference, mental illness, disability, you name it. I have a lot to learn and imagine I always will. In fact, some of my most eye-opening experiences have resulted from being made painfully aware of my own ignorance. As one of my grad school professors assured me, however, there is no need to beat myself up about this - nobody is perfect. Yet, it is important to learn from these experiences and simply do better next time.
I have recently become especially sensitized to this concept as I am now part of a group that you can say is, in some ways, put upon by society: Pregnant Women. Yes, it's a beautiful, joyful time, but it is also a time to be questioned, judged, and have reasonably sane and nice people force feed you unsolicited advice about extremely personal life choices, including but not limited to what you eat and drink ("Should you be having coffee!?" they squeal as you hold a delicious medium iced french vanilla coffee in your hand) to whether or not you'll breastfeed (a question best asked in front of your boss of course), whether or not you've developed hemorrhoids yet, or if you'll give birth with or without drugs. These choices, actions, and bodily functions are NONE of anyone's business. It's not like you're freebasing cocaine while riding helmet-less on a Harley in your delicate state. However, chances are you are probably making the best decisions you can to support your own healthy pregnancy and childbirth because you are not a monster, as far as these well-intentioned folks can imagine. Yet you and your way of life become public property, subject to intense judgment and scrutiny by both people you know and complete and total strangers.
I read the list "10 things Never to say a Pregnant woman" onScaryMommy.com and nodded in solidarity. Yes! Yes, that happened to me. The nerve! I thought while I read along.
I then began to think, did I ever say or do this to a poor pregnant woman? Oh, how ignorant I may have been.
The other day I ran into a colleague who recently gave birth and brought her baby in to visit. And it didn't occur to me until after our conversation to wonder if I had violated the "Things not to say to New Moms" list. And I realize, I barely asked her any questions. All I really said was how cute her baby was, how great she looked and how happy I was for her and then let her talk. In my own "pregnancy brain" state it didn't at all occur to me to grill her on the finer points of breast pumping, how much she was sleeping or not sleeping, or how her stitches were healing. I imagine though, SOMEONE is going to ask her some if not all of those questions and many more.
I realized, that overall it was a pleasant, relaxing conversation and the kind I hope to have when I return to the real world after the sleep-deprived breast milk soaked cocoon of the first few weeks of my child's life. And then I had an "aha moment" and decided to write this post. The epiphany was this: YOU DON'T HAVE TO ASK OR SAY ANYTHING TO ANYONE. JUST LISTEN!
Just listen. I don't want to be grilled about my extremely personal lifestyle choices or experiences with my body or my family. Some things are just private and none of your business.
Let's bring it back around shall we? The next time you feel tempted to grill someone about their race, culture, sexuality, religion, health, pregnancy or parenting, ask yourself: "Why do I want to know?" Are you asking to have a real conversation with this person in order to foster a connection and true understanding of this individual? Are you asking because you know that asking people to talk about themselves helps build rapport and shows that you care? Or, are you simply asking to satisfy your own shameless curiosity? Are you genuinely ignorant about something and feel like the easiest route is to ask a random person to explain it to you based on their own private and precious experience?
Take yourself out of it for a second. If the only reason you are asking is because you are curious, then don't ask. Let them tell you if they feel so inclined. But no one is under any obligation to explain themselves to you simply to alleviate your ignorance.
Things you can do instead of staying stupid shit or asking inappropriate personal questions:
Listen and wait. If the person trusts you or needs to unburden his or herself, they will share it with you. If not, it's none of your business. Access to a person's secrets, preferences, lifestyle choices, etc is a privilege, not a right.
Genuinely want to learn something about others different from yourself? Do some research on your own if you have to know so badly. Go to the library and find a book on it (or Kindle or Nook it for you Millennials). Google it (but obviously make sure it's a reputable resource aka NOT Wikipedia). Attend a lecture or cultural event in your community. Do anything but grill some poor person. It's not a single Black/gay/Latinx/Asian/pregnant person's job to speak on behalf of all people just like them and teach you something new. If they offer, great, but don't walk around expecting it or demanding it.
Just be nice. It's really quite simple. Instead of trying to solicit information, offer a kind word or compliment. Don't add any qualifiers such as in the horrifying phrase one of my students was verbally assaulted by: "You're pretty...for a black girl". Just say "You look great! I love your outfit! That was a great speech!"
All in all, these lists and videos are simply a lighthearted way of reminding all of us to think before we speak, to consider our audience, and to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. How would you feel if someone said that to you? Think first, be considerate, and most importantly, be kind.
Nice to meet you!
I am a tech pro, blogger, DIY'er, reader, TV binger, music lover, nerd and semi-crunchy mom. I write about professional development, being crafty, motherhood and politics. Thanks for joining me and letting me share my thoughts with you!