Monday, December 17, 2012

Privilege Midden

Tom Midlane:

Privilege-checking plays into the dangerous postmodern fallacy that we can only understand things we have direct experience of. In place of concepts like empathy and imagination, which help us recognise our shared humanity, it atomises us into a series of ever-smaller taxonomical groups: working class transsexual, disabled black woman, heteronormative male.

...Privilege becomes an inescapable feedback loop: any attempt to critique privilege-checking is met with the retort: “You’re privileged enough to have the luxury not to think about privilege.” But that’s not it. I’ve always been aware that as a child of a white, middle-class family, I have life easier than some people – but that’s precisely what drives me on to seek social justice for those less fortunate than myself. Prejudice exists. We live in a radically unjust world. But turning our personal circumstances into some sort of pissing contest achieves precisely nothing.

In theory, it can be a useful analytic framework. Prejudice can be more subtle than outright discrimination; many core assumptions can be taken for granted until someone else calls them to your attention. But in everyday practice, as evidenced all over the blogosphere, it barely amounts to more than an acceptable version of ad hominem argumentation (possibly even the genetic fallacy). Accusing someone of unchecked privilege is a way to avoid answering any of their arguments on the merits. It's a way of keeping conversations on a short leash and choke chain, ready to be quickly yanked back into line. I have yet to see an accusation that allowed for any response other than a groveling apology — attempting to argue one's innocence is dismissed as "doubling down," the equivalent of Freudian "denial". All it does is further confirm one's guilt (especially in the zealous eyes of the newly-converted; I mean, all I could think of here was a Calvinist preacher delivering a pulpit-pounding, fire-and-brimstone sermon on original sin).

But again, it's not that the analysis is completely invalid, it's just that, ironically, privilege is often most clearly demonstrated by those so quick to appoint themselves the arbiters of correct thought and behavior.

...adding, Freddie continues insightfully addressing the topic:

...The essentialism rises from the absurdity of speaking about nonwhite people as some sort of unified bloc.

I brought up the fact that, if I'm going to abandon any particular perspective on race myself and merely adopt the positions of nonwhite people, I might choice nonwhite people whose views are deplorable. I brought up Allen West in our conversation. My point about Allen West is simple: when people say "you should give up your racial arguments and simply listen to what nonwhite people say," they are suggesting that all nonwhite people have the same views. Allen West is black, and he is an Islamophobe. So when he says vile things about nonwhite Muslims, am I obliged to keep quiet, because of his greater understanding of race and racism?

Q dug deeper: "I explicitly specified the kind of people that would be valuable to link and implicitly excluded people who've internalized white supremacy to anti-black, racist ends."

Which is to say (explicitly) that no nonwhite person could arrive at opinions on race that Q finds objectionable unless that person had internalized white supremacy. This is the height of liberal essentialism, the need to look on nonwhite people not as people, with individual agency and fully developed consciousness, but as symbols of purity, which dehumanizes and infantilizes them. I will admit to not always knowing exactly what is right or wrong when we talk about race. But I am damn sure that saying that nonwhite people can only disagree with me because they've internalized white supremacy is a terribly ugly idea.

Yes, precisely. And thus you encounter the spectacle of progressives like DougJ and TBogg, who will snark about those racist Tea Partiers all day long, brazenly calling a black conservative a "lawn jockey" and "Fox's house liberal" with no hint of shame. Boy, we've already decided what's best for you; now shut your mouth and get back where you belong. You owe us. Or that of PZ Myers, who uncharitably interprets remarks by a prominent feminist as being "sexist" before proceeding to instruct her on proper feminist concerns. (Performed by a member of the out-group, this would be dismissed as what the cool kids call "mansplaining".) It's taken for granted that the diversity of racial/gender viewpoints they claim to want to solicit will be in agreement with their own; the FTBers, I'm sure, have no interest in hearing about concerns from the communities of conservative Latino Catholics, homophobic black Baptists, or women opposed to abortion unless they deign to patronize them with explanations of how they are simply the victims of white supremacy-induced false consciousness.

A more cynical person than me might say that to certain white male social justice warriors, women and racial minorities are merely exotic vessels for holding and transporting beliefs and opinions which have already received the SJW seal of approval. A more knowledgeable person might even be able to reference which branch of critical theory would describe this itself as inherently racist/sexist.

3 comments:

noel said...

Hey, if I were an "exotic vessel", I'd be one of those Greek amphora with gay erotica all over it.

The Vile Scribbler said...

Shhh. Rhetorical props don't have opinions!

noel said...

No, it's okay if I stay on script: "I wanna get married"... to Gerard Butler, on the slippery slope to poligamy (I mean, why leave Randy out?), and (what the heck) bestiality. Whoops, went off script. And scratch that last one. That's apparently a Republican thing.