The Last Acceptable Prejudice is ________.

I think those four tweets say it pretty clearly. I link to two higher ed pieces. Both pick an issue – rural and religion – that imply the following. Higher Education may still contain prejudiced people about all kinds of things (race, gender, sexuality, for example), but those “mainstream” prejudices are at least not broadly acceptable. MY CAUSE, whatever it is, remains under the radar – it’s the last acceptable prejudice we hav to deal with.

People, there are lots of prejudices. Some of them are more called out than others. Some of them in fact need to be rendered more visible. None of them are “last.” I wish it were otherwise.

I am by far NOT the first person to notice this. s.e. smith wrote a great post in 2013 that said (focused on the widespread use of “last acceptable” in regards to obesity):

The phrase keeps popping up, over and over and over again, in a wide variety of media, and it often remains unchallenged; I see it coming up in quotes, in titles, in lengthy essays, with minimal pushback. When Tasha Fierce confronted it at Bitch magazine a few years ago, people seemed genuinely surprised and offended when she said she didn’t agree that fat was bigotry’s last stand.

Later, smith adds [my emphasis]:

There’s a bigger issue at play here, which is the genuine belief that something is the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ in a world full of prejudicial attitudes. People use this phrasing because they think it’s true, and because they think it furthers their activism, and in the process, they do a lot of damage, in addition to making themselves look absolutely ridiculous…

More than just being wrong, it’s also a classic example of setting marginalised groups against each other, rather than helping them work in solidarity, and it explains why intersectionality and an understanding of intersocial prejudices is so important. Because when people hear that ‘x is the last acceptable prejudice’ and they’re members of group y, what they’re hearing is that they don’t experience prejudice—which is in direct opposition to their personal lived experience of the world, and to what members of their social group know to be true.

I am focused on issues related to disability and gender, where they intersect and where they don’t. I recognize all other kinds of intersocial prejudices exist. I am a little more concerned about the visibility of disability issues. I do think people in higher ed, and elsewhere, are more aware of sexism than ableism. So I try to raise the profile there.

But it’s not the last anything.

When you are an activist and you see your issue being ignored, it’s frustrating. Fat jokes, class jokes, rural jokes, religious jokes (just to take a few) permeate our culture, even our leftist intellectual academic culture, giving the sense that they might be “acceptable.” That’s a good conversation to have, the ways in which our ignorance of difference might lead us to perpetuate discrimination and prejudice.

When we privilege one category over the other, though, we say that it is only our issue that needs attention. That we are the most oppressed. That you (collectively) are the most ignorant in regards to our cause. It’s not true. It is easy rhetoric to use, but it’s actually not all that savvy for building alliances and trying to shift language, perception, or policy.

As s.e. smith says – the pathway out of these “last acceptable” woods remains: intersectionality.

Leave a Reply