It may be very hard to see that one’s remarks are sexist, racist, etc. This point was illustrated on the Piers Morgan show on feb. 5. Piers had interviewed Janet Mock, a famous trans woman and activist, some days before then. This first interview seemed to be one both found acceptable, but she expressed considerable reservations on Twitter and, as he said, dropped him in the sh-t. What was going on? There was a reinterview on the 5th, and one thing became clear: while cis folk might think the journey to become a trans person has got to be the most fascinating thing about trans people, many trans persons very strongly disagree. And the language to describe their lives is important to them. Duh! For example, Janet wants to say that she was born a baby, and not that she was born a boy.
This seemed to be news to Piers, and I’d expect, most people who are white and heterosexual. The result is that what he intended to be a supportive interview stressed seeing her from a cis point of view, and viewed her as pretty sensationally different. Not good.
There is also the constantly worrying fact that too many people in the white, hetero, etc class simply do not realize that what seems perfectly fine to them may not be at all for other people.
These sorts of thing worry me every time I hear that people in a department seek to change the department’s climate. Even without the problems Piers Morgan has, that can take a lot of specialized knowledge to do. And, with the Piers Morgan problem, one can unwittingly leave the climate hostile as, for example, one praises at every talk the remarkable female graduate student who, would you believe it, used to be a man!