Trigger Warnings Are Not About Victimising

The point of acknowledging oppression is to empower the oppressed.

Photo by Kasturi Laxmi Mohit on Unsplash

Ironically, the very notion of trigger warnings triggers a lot of people.

“You can’t say anything any more,” they say.

“Bunch of crybabies,” they sob.

These people badly miss the point: the fact that putting trigger warnings allows us to read and write about more things, things that couldn’t be said or read before.

Trauma has always existed. Trauma created by the violence of an unequal society has always existed. It doesn’t always have to though. To change things, we need to fight systemic inequalities. We need to empower those that are oppressed. The way to do that, clearly, is not to leave them to deal with their trauma, whilst reinforcing it every way that we can.

The purpose of trigger warnings is not to coddle those that might need forewarning about difficult topics because of their own life experience. Nor is to suggest that they are weak. The point is to not add violence on top of violence. It is to acknowledge that things are harder for those that suffer from oppression, and thereby recognise their strength and the challenges that they are dealing with, have to deal with and have dealt with.

Trigger warnings are not about treating people as though they were weak, they are about doing what we can to make them strong in a world that does not want them to be.

This is not limited to trigger warnings — there are many times when the fight against oppression is countered by people saying that the movement itself is victimising the oppressed by suggesting they need uplifting. There is a valid concern behind this — the oppressed have long been infantilised. In the case of women, the damsel in distress trope dies hard.

But when we don’t recognise the challenges the oppressed face, they blame themselves for issues that are far larger than them. And guilt is not an efficient emotion. It doesn’t lift people up. It does not empower. It promotes self-loathing and lethargy.

It’s a cliché-d saying: You need to know the rules to break them, but it is certainly true when it comes to oppression. Once you have understood the mechanisms leading to your own behaviours and the way people interact with you, only then can you start acting to make a change. Only then can you stop blaming yourself, or feeling that such outcomes are inevitable.

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