Kennedy Horton is a sophomore at MU studying English. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life and social justice for The Maneater.
We hear this all the time. Person A will be discussing their disadvantages as a certain minority: woman, person of color, LGBTQ+, disabled, et cetera. Person B, a person in a privileged group will say the infamous, “But we’re not all like that!”
Whenever this happens in conversation, I just want to end it. I’m not an argumentative person. I tend to lose the energy to argue almost as fast as I get the spark. Often, I just sigh out of hopelessness for Person B and all the Person Bs of the world.
This argument is bothersome and irrelevant. It’s dismissive, it’s not empathetic, and it’s less of an argument and more of a tactic to absolve oneself of guilt.
We as humans want our hands to be clean. It’s impossible, but we try as hard as we can. We hate for anyone to point out shortcomings in ourselves or the shortcomings of a group we identify with. That’s just part of life though, and to use that tactic is to make the conversation and the issues about yourself instead.
A dialogue between a marginalized person and a person of privilege is not supposed to be an attack on the latter. It’s supposed to be a learning opportunity. Because we have a habit of being automatically defensive when someone says something we do not like, we typically do not see it this way.
But Person A is just telling the truth. It comes partially from their experience, which cannot be negated. Their story is not a condemnation or a personal assault. Person B just feels that way because they’re insecure or ashamed of the things their specific privileged group is responsible for. They’re projecting, and that isn’t fair.
Another reason this phrase is so dangerous is because it acts as a way to take ourselves out of the equation. For example, if someone says to me, “In my experience, black people have been very homophobic,” and I return with, “But we’re not all like that,” I’m counting myself in that “we’re.” By doing that, I’m falsely telling myself, “I don’t need to be doing as much to help, because I’m part of the group that isn’t doing anything wrong, so there’s nothing I need to change.” Not only does this result in a stagnation of progress, but it’s a defective mindset.
Even if you are not being problematic, if your friend or family member is doing so, you have a responsibility to try to correct them. Everyone has something they can be doing to make our shared space better.
Besides being an inappropriate statement, it’s just redundant. Obviously not every single person of a group is doing the same thing. And that’s never the point.
The job of the advantaged listener is not to debunk the truth of the disadvantaged. It’s to listen. Instead of, “We’re not all like that,” try, “What can I do to help?”