There are a great many things that are subject to disbelief. Racial hatred, abuse and harassment, sexual hatred abuse and harassment, the practical and social difficulties grinding down the disabled, and the relentless misery of being poor. If I’m online any day, the odds are I’ll see someone questioning that these things happen, disbelieving victims and sufferers and offering alternative explanations.
The option to disbelieve comes from not being affected personally. So many people are so easily persuaded that if they haven’t seen it, it doesn’t happen. This means that when others try and tell them what happens, they ignore they evidence in favour of their belief, and so they still don’t see it happening.
Disbelief is most often followed by shaming and blaming. The feckless poor with their cigarettes and alcohol. The women who bring it upon themselves by having bodies and clothes and going outside. The disabled people who aren’t trying hard enough to magic themselves well. I think the worst of this is what comes up over race to try and explain away brutality, oppression and a rigged game designed to be unwinnable if you’re from the ‘wrong’ group. Often this is the worst of it because poverty is usually in there too, and the other things on the list can and do feature.
Disbelief means taking no responsibility. It means there’s no pressure to look either at your own behaviour or about the way you participate in a culture that allows this. Disbelief affirms the feeling that all your good things come from your hard work and virtue. You’re too clever to be raped, to get sick, to become poor. The illusion of safety and of being in control are comforting things.
Disbelief is also another form of misery to heap onto those already in trouble. Not only are you dealing with some vile thing, but you’re doing it surrounded by people who tell you it does not exist, is not happening, does not happen. You’ve made it up to get attention (because there’s so much glory, wealth and power to be obtained by admitting you were abused, right?). You’re lying. You’re trying to get out of something or get something for nothing or get special treatment. You’re a snowflake. You’re to blame. And when you’ve already been knocked down by something, dealing with people who refuse to believe it even exists it ghastly.
If people around you deny your reality, say your experience doesn’t exist or is your fault, that way lies madness. Being told you are the cause of the abuse you have suffered crushes your sense of self, takes away your self esteem, may make you question your own experience and your right to feel about it as you do. And of course if all you ever see is people denying that your problem is a real problem, you’ll be less likely to call it out in the first place.
If you’ve been there, it isn’t a belief issue. If you’ve seen it, you know it happens. You don’t have to question why someone would say something like that. You don’t try to figure out how it was their fault, because you know what happens. Disbelief is a luxury available only to those who do not know.