Tina Fey tells a story of Amy Poehler doing something vulgar and Jimmy Fallon squealing
“Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
I like this story.
Now, I heard this after having read Ta-Nehisi Coates for some years and imbibing his ethic of I’m not going to let you question my humanity; of Hannah Arendt stating it was no good to say she was human in spite of being Jewish, that she had to choose one or the other; of Steven Biko and Malcolm X emphasizing that their blackness made them in no way lesser.
You would not define them; they would define themselves, as they pleased—and not to please you.
To name, to define, to determine the worth of something or someone, is so basic a power that we often only see it when someone says No.
And then we see how much it matters to those who would define: How dare you think you’re pretty? How dare you think you’re funny? How dare you think you’re equal? How dare you think for yourself? How dare you think you don’t have to think of me, in thinking of yourself?
It’s not just that the default-definers don’t like the words you choose to define yourself, but that you chose them for yourself. You took a power away from them, a right to decide who others are and how they should live.
This is elemental to any supremacist (sexual, racial, ethnic, religious) system: the power to define.
That power is a power to abuse, of course, but it’s also a power of mercy: Look how good I am, deciding you’re worthy; how can I be a supremacist when I recognize that you’re not inferior? How can I be bad when I let you live?
Avid supremacists may hate your declaration of independence, but those in the majority who think of themselves as egalitarians, who act without malice, may also decry your claims: why are you rejecting me?
And sure, some of the liberationists may reject that person, personally, or may offer their own counter-supremacism, but mostly, at the center of someone saying I don’t fucking care if you like it, is the asserted-I, not the you.
Really, nothing personal, but you are no longer at the center of the world.
And this displacement can be profoundly confounding. This is, of course, a psychological as well as a philosophical disorientation, but not only that: it is also a political one. It is not always recognized as a loss of power, but that’s precisely what it is—and there should be no surprise that people fight to hang on to it.