Imagine you’re a scientist. You work in a lab with some dangerous chemical shit. Shit that will eat your face. It’s generally a safe environment, though. Protocols are followed, the people who work there know what they’re dealing with and how to contain it safely. They know what will react badly with it and what won’t. Chemical A is dangerous to mix with Chemical B, to expose to ultraviolet light, whatever.
One day, walking through the lab, you see a fellow lab worker deliberately mixing Chemicals A and B right under an ultraviolet light.
You sound an alarm, get everyone out of the room, and turn to them.
“Why the fuck are you trying to get us all killed?”
“I wasn’t trying to get anyone killed, I was running an experiment!”
“You never mix those! Ever! ALL OF OUR FACES COULD HAVE BEEN EATEN!”
“Dude, calm down. Just tell me why I shouldn’t mix them. I’m sure I’ll get it. Won’t happen again.”
“No. If you don’t know that stuff already, you’re a danger to yourself and to everyone in this lab. You’re fired. Get out.”
Labmate didn’t mean to put everyone’s faces at risk, but if a situation like that happened, I still wouldn’t let them back in the lab. It wouldn’t matter if the cause of the mistake was malice or ignorance, because no matter which one it was, there would be no reason to think something similar wouldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t matter if Labmate’s feelings were hurt. It wouldn’t matter if all of their friends worked there. It wouldn’t matter if they thought I was overreacting. What would matter is that if they stayed, people’s safety would be at risk.
Kicking this person out isn’t about punishing them, it’s about pragmatism. It’s about harm reduction. Functionally, when the concern is safety, it doesn’t matter whether that safety is put at risk because of malice or ignorance. Whether a person meant to hurt people or just didn’t know how to act in a way that wouldn’t hurt people, the end result is the same: that person’s presence put others at risk. Labmate intentionally mixed dangerous chemicals: people get hurt. Labmate mixed the chemicals because he didn’t know any better: people get hurt.
Functionally, the impact of sufficiently advanced ignorance is indistinguishable from malice (in this example, horrible chemical face-eating), and as such, functionally, it should be treated the same way. Functionally, in many cases, both malice and ignorance are signs that you cannot be relied on not to hurt people. Sometimes the end result is so similar that it’s difficult to tell which one it is in the first place. It doesn’t matter, though, because the outcome is just as destructive in either case.
This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone who sexually assaulted someone else meant to or not, I still want them kicked out of the scene.
This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone has poor social skills or not, if they regularly sexually harass people, unknowingly or not, I don’t want them at my conferences.
This is an analogy for why I don’t give a fuck if someone is really a good person and doesn’t mean to be racist, sexist, classist, etc, I still want them kicked out of safe spaces.
If you lack the knowledge or skills to recognize when you’re crossing a line, you have my sympathy and empathy. That lack of perception can be difficult to deal with. If you think the fact that it’s not intentional makes the harm you do irrelevant, though, reread the beginning of this post, and tell me you think Labmate should be allowed to continue handling dangerous substances. Tell me the fact that their feelings are hurt is more important than the safety of the people around them.
If someone doesn’t realize that they are making other people uncomfortable, acting inappropriately, insulting, minimizing, degrading others, violating boundaries, etc—that doesn’t mean they aren’t still doing real damage. It may not be intentional, it may be that they’re a product of an environment that failed to prepare them for the environment they find themselves in. That sucks. Be that as it may, the damage done is no less real on account of it. It is no less real and it is no less destructive.
Sexual assault hurts people and it hurts communities. Sexual harassment hurts people and it hurts communities. Discrimination and unchecked privilege hurt people and hurt communities. That damage matters. Full stop.
If people tell you to leave a public space, online or offline, because your presence is causing harm, and you don’t understand why, the correct move is to leave, educate yourself, and come back when you understand what happened well enough to reliably not cause harm in the future. If your presence presents a danger to your community, and they tell you to leave, and you make the conversation about how they shouldn’t kick you out because of your hurt feelings, then you are using emotional blackmail to justify putting people in your community at risk. You are demonstrating how right they are to kick you out in the first place. Full stop.
This post dedicated to everyone who has ever knowingly or unknowingly abused, harassed, discriminated against, minimized the problems of, or otherwise done damage to the communities they participate in and then, when called on it, tried to make the resulting conversation about them and their hurt feelings.