The answer is everyone.
I have seen often enough recently a comment that has started to grate against my brain. It’s this:
“[They] have no right to an opinion about [this thing that intimately effects me].”
They is usually a person or groups of persons with some kind of power over the speaker.
Men over women. White people verses any person of color. Rich over the poor. Old verses the young. Young verses the old. Hetro vs anything else.
The list is endless.
I’ll be honest and admit I have thought this sentence before, usually in regards to reproductive rights or socio-economic issues. But I knew when those words went through my mind, they were wrong.
The trouble with opinions is that everyone, and I mean everyone, is entitled to have them. By taking away someone’s right to have an opinion you are doing to them the very thing that is making you so angry. You are taking away their right to be. To be a thinking, breathing, valuable person in the world.
Even a misogynist, a racist, a classist, or a straight-up hateful person is allowed to have all those bad opinions. They are, in fact, entitled to them.
What they are not entitled to do is share them in a way that incites violence. I would argue that harmful opinions can always be used to fan the flames of violence from either side of a topic but that is a soapbox for a different day.
But here is where I think this “X has no right to an opinion” argument becomes truly harmful. When that phrase is followed by a “because they are [from that other group that is not what I am].”
There are two dangerous things about this.
First, you are putting the other person into the Other category. If we want to erase some of the problems the creation of The Other has created in our culture, we have to stop participating in it. If you want to stop being an Other, we need to start seeing people as people and not as Others. Changing the culture starts with you. It starts with me and it starts with us making different choices about how we use our words and how we act.
Secondly, and here is the one that has made me so angry. If I said the following as a woman:
“He has no right to an opinion about that because he is a man.”
I have just taken away the right of every man to speak up who also agrees with my point of view. If I say all men have no opinion about lady things simply because they are not ladies, what about all the men who want to stand by my side and fight? Do they also not matter? Am I going to take out a large portion of the people who are fighting for the same things I am simply because they have a penis?
Isn’t that the same thing people do when they place you and I in The Other category? They marginalize us because we are not like them. I don’t like being marginalized and I sure don’t want to do it to anyone else in my efforts to shut them up before they have a chance to come stand beside me.
I want to shut them up by having better facts. I want to shut them up with well-crafted words. I want to change their mind by having compassion for others. I want change their mind by choosing mercy and justice.
I do not want to shut them up by telling them they do not matter as a person.
But what do you care? These are all just my opinions, anyway.