As a queer, trans person of color, when I think of someone aiming abusive language at me, I immediately think of deeply hateful racist, homophobic, transphobic language. Words of sexual violence, people telling me that the world would be better off if I were dead, being told that I am less than human. I have not personally experienced that, but I know that others like me have, and so the potential for that is always in the back of my mind.
As irrational as it is, when I was told that I’ll just have to deal with abusive language at work, that’s what I thought of. Being called an idiot, or being yelled at because the person is frustrated with the company is one thing — something that will probably upset me, but something that I can deal with. But emotionally, it felt as though I were being told that I must deal with the rest, and that was unacceptable.
I also have a really strong knee-jerk reaction about the words “abuse” and “abusive.” Abuse is never okay; it is never something to just get used to. If the phrasing had been “irate” or “profane,” I don’t think I would’ve had such a visceral reaction to being told that dealing with abusive language is just part of the job.
After my initial post, someone I respect called me out on it, reminding me of my privilege regarding how I view this job — that I intend for it to be temporary (and assumed that my next job will not entail similar responsibilities) and that I am almost offended by the fact that we are expected to deal with angry people. I don’t know if that’s how they meant it, but it was a bit of a wakeup call for me. I do actually think that all people deserve better than to be put in a situation where accepting abusive language is a requirement, but I failed to acknowledge that for many people, there aren’t other options. They can’t afford to lose their jobs, and so they put up with it — or they have more pressing concerns, and so they do not complain about it the way that I do.
My expectation of being treated civilly (or at least for people to care if we are treated otherwise) is completely a matter of class privilege, and I am working to balance the awareness of that privilege with my belief that everyone should be treated decently (and the knowledge that that isn’t always the case).