The Effects of Epistemic Injustices
Drawing: “…, I would like to tell you…” © Guendouz Bensidhoum, ATD Fourth World
This article is adapted from a talk given by Marie-Joe Le Breton at a regional seminar in France. In this talk Le Breton highlights her personal experience with epistemic injustice and how it has affected her.
Injustices linked to knowledge (i.e. epistemic injustice) is important to me because of how harmful it is. If everyone always tells you when you’re a child that you don’t know anything and that you’re not intelligent, you will never believe that you are able to learn.
During my childhood I was different because I grew up in care and I realized that the other children avoided me. I didn’t talk and was very reserved, afraid that no one would take me seriously. I’ll have to admit that what I lived through on a daily basis was so hard that it was impossible to understand. I was hurt from the isolation and not being taken seriously1.
[Epistemic injustice] creates shame: you don’t dare speak, you think you’re inferior. Shame stops you from moving on, from approaching others. Shame affects how others see you. When I see important people, who I feel are more intelligent than me, people always take them seriously. They are used to being considered competent, used to being listened to and acknowledged. People never question them. They are never interrupted or told they’re wrong. They have a lot of confidence in their approach to learning.
Facing them, you feel discouraged from expressing your ideas. You feel like they won’t hear you, like the social worker who came into my foster family and read her newspaper in front of me to show that she didn’t want to listen to me. It’s a type of violence!
Shame generates fear, fear of approaching others. Of talking with them, exposing yourself to their judgement, fear of not being good enough. That’s why this fear can silence a person.
Shame stops you from speaking up, it stops you from being yourself, from accepting yourself as you are. You can be afraid of the reactions of the people in front of you. You’re thinking all the time but you’re afraid of expressing yourself and after a while it really messes with you.
In the beginning of this seminar (see Social Philosophy Conference), I felt ashamed, compared to the philosophers, of not knowing how to express myself. I thought they would use words I wouldn’t know. They seemed superior to me.
Because people listened to me, it helped me realize what I lived through as a child and see how far I have come. I feel very proud of having overcome my fear, of having left behind my shyness and of having succeeded in taking part in the group and in the research.