I would like to start this post by stating: Everyone is allowed to complain, anytime, anywhere, concerning any issue.
What does this sentence provoke in you? Do you agree? Do you disagree?
I myself have to say that I am not so sure about this, even though I am also not so sure who should be deciding over this. Complaining means expressing discontent or dissatisfaction about something, making an accusation, stating that something is (done) wrong. I want to specify here that I will focus on complaining when you are treated unfairly, such as for example by a person, a procedure, or an institution.
Who is allowed to complain? A complaint starts with the reason why you want to complain, and this reason starts with a feeling. A feeling of something being wrong: feeling hurt, suffocated, excluded, offended, hence unfairly treated. And this is where it already gets complicated. “Am I allowed to complain?” starts with a: “Am I allowed to feel wronged?”. The fact that it is so difficult to define right or wrong, especially when emotions are involved, makes the whole process somewhat subjective and easily determined in the end by whoever is in power (with this often being whoever you complain about). So, who decides over right or wrong? The complainer or the “being-complaint-to”?
Who is allowed to complain? The right to complain is also a matter of privilege. On this issue there is a conflict between the fact that some people are too privileged to complain and some not privileged enough to get through with a complaint. Are you the right person to complain? While going through with a complaint “we learn how only some ideas are heard if they are deemed to come from the right people; right can be white.”1 There is absurdity in the fact that if you are in the position to make a complaint, hence if you are suffering under certain power relations that put you in an unjust situation, you are most probably not being heard. “You might not feel confident that your complaint is being taken seriously when your complaint is about not being taken seriously.”2 Thus when you chose to complain you take a huge risk, which might lead to self-damage. More than often, you are already in a precarious situation and can’t afford to lose your job or hurt your image. If you find yourself in this situation, you might be reminded of your dependence on the one you want to complain to. Hence your issue is not being taken seriously by those in power to do something about it. In addition to this “complaints are more likely to be received well when they are made by those in power.”3 Those who are already more influential are more likely to get through with their complaint. This is widening the already existing inequality gab in hierarchies.
Who is allowed to complain? Those who are heard are those who are in the “right” place to complain: those in a stable state, those with enough power, those who have the right connections, those with the resources to do so. But isn’t it ironic that when you find yourself in a situation of suffering, without support, and hence file a complaint, you are not supported by the system? And if you are in the “right” place to complain you are actually not really in the right place to complain, meaning the reason why you complain might not be that severe, because you don’t find yourself in a precarious situation.
In conclusion when is complaining justified? When is your state alarming and legitime enough to be entitled to do so? When are you well enough positioned to complain? When are you allowed to take away people’s oh-so-precious time to criticize and tackle the system they are so desperately trying to uphold? To complain is to make yourself vulnerable. Be aware of the burden that comes your way, whether it is the burden of your privilege to be able to do so, or your struggle or even your inability to get through with it.
1 Ahmed, S. (2021): Complaint! 2021, p.6.
2 ebd., p.21.
3 ebd., p.24.