William Lloyd Garrison on privilege-checking

The white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was also a strong proponent of women’s rights. In 1853, he was at a women’s rights convention where a man complained that the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments unfairly impugned men’s character, and a woman conceded that both sexes were to blame for the situation. Garrison responded forcefully, in a way that I think is relevant to contemporary discussions relating to “privilege checking”:

Those who do wrong ignorantly, do not willingly continue in it, when they find they are in the wrong. Ignorance is not an evidence of guilt certainly. It is only an evidence of a want of light. They who are only ignorant, will never rage, and rave, and threaten, and foam, when the light comes; but being interested and walking in the light, will always present a manly front, and be willing to be taught and be willing to be told they are in the wrong.

Take the case of slavery: How has the anti-slavery cause been received? Not argumentatively, not by reason, not by entering the free arena of fair discussion and comparing notes; the arguments have been rotten eggs, and brickbats and calumny, and in the southern portion of the country, a spirit of murder, and threats to cut out the tongues of those who spoke against them. What has this indicated on the part of the nation? What but conscious guilt? Not ignorance, not that they had not the light. They had the light and rejected it.

How has this Woman’s Rights movement been treated in this country, on the right hand and on the left? This nation ridicules and derides this movement, and spits upon it, as fit only to be cast out and trampled underfoot. This is not ignorance. They all know the truth. It is the natural outbreak of tyrrany. It is because the tyrants and usurpers are alarmed. They have been and are called to judgment, and they dread the examination and exposure of their position and character.

Quoted from Schneir, Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, pp. 88-89.

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