"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Mar 4, 2011

White Privilege

I wonder if this language is more off-putting, self-referential and divisive than it intends to be. I had a larger, rambling autoblogographical post struggling to give thought shape on the matter, but it needs more work and maybe I'll never post it.

For now, I wonder if self-reflective privilege sniffing isn't ultimately more a badge of conscious, clumsy revolutionism than it is actually revolutionary.

I understand the point of not using inherited or unjust advantage. I walked away from Omelas because it was no longer possible for me to reconcile how I fed myself with how I actually felt about the world.

I'm certainly sympathetic to the argument, but that's perhaps easier for me than others. My non-whiteness falls within acceptable parameters. Indians are noble, Italians are lovers and no longer even consigned to the "southern races," Jews have done a whole lot worse for many centuries before.

But, to turn it into a testing scheme for determining value and membership in a movement, or the Movement?*

Down that path I can only see recrimination, schism and the unintended reinforcement of race, gender and privilege.

Attacking a dude who's on the cusp of making the right connections because he hasn't yet reached the point where he understands privilege or the social construction of gender? Seems like a really good recipe for strengthening his biases, not eliminating them.

It's also lazy. It assumes that a personal familiarity with a tool, tradition or critique is also a universal one.**

But (and this is not a developed position for me, more of a series of sensibilities) I think using existing and culturally valid opinions about racism and patriarchy as a litmus test for proper or acceptable attitudes is dumb.

We're just at the tools to make the tools stage, really. Perhaps, more time and effort needs to be expended on disseminating the skills for fashioning these tools, and a broader awareness of them, than in setting up judgment schemes which begin with an attack.

In my experience, going for the jugular gets you enemies, not allies.***

Far be it for me to say or imply something like "put yourself in the place of the white guy," but if you really are interested in getting him to understand his privilege, his protected status and his own socialized internalization of gender, attacking him for not understanding and mocking him for lacking an expansive and reasoned critique seems like a good way to get him to abandon resistance, harden his attitudes and generally spend his time on the defensive.

Which is, I think, a really good method for developing intransigent reactionaries who are easy prey for fascists who clothe themselves in anti-power rhetoric.

* - this is how I read it, consequentially. I don't know if the author intends it, literally.

** - Both of my children play the violin/fiddle. I do not. I know that violins exist, because I can see them, hold them and name them. I know that it's possible to play the violin, because I can watch my children do it, and I have watched them learn to do so. But the knowledge of a technique is not the same as practice in it; knowing that the violin is playable doesn't magically provide me with the ability to play it.

*** - yes, you, Michael Dawson...

9 comments:

Coldtype said...

I like this very much.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you, Coldtype.

Anonymous said...

I wish dudes like the guy you've linked here, who is a white dude, would apply themselves to actual feminist and racial issues with the same zeal they apply to taking other white males to the woodshed for being unenlightened.

Anarchists and some Marxists might be as racist and sexist as he claims, but he should nevertheless apply himself to refuting their arguments.

Read through the guy's blog. He's just a scold. I don't find anything genuine to his politics apart from that.

Anonymous said...

Also, I don't know anything about this particular guy, but in political life, the guys I met who were like him, never relinquished privilege in any meaningful way. In political organizations, they seek out positions of influence before they took the cudgel to the other white males in the group. For as much as they espoused diversity, they seemed to prefer to live in neighborhoods and hang out in places full of white folks.

Perhaps I take a too anthropological view of these things, but they have always struck me as status seekers in a realm where status is determined differently than in the culture at large.

JRB said...

Jack:

I thought this was an eminently useful contribution to discussions of this kind.

And I agree with Anonymous that the real test of these things is what we are doing about them; not what everyone else isn't doing about them combined with our "diligence" in pointing this out.

I respect that we all need our space to vent, it just needs to be distinguished from more serious efforts.

Jack Crow said...

Anon,

I was game to posting something similar, originally. But I dialed it back, because I don't honestly know his reasons, motives or intentions.

He's since rolled up his blog, which makes me sad, because I cannot seem to write even a mild critique without giving mortal offense (I'm perhaps wrongly assuming I played a part, because traffic linked from his blog to mine, and has never done so before, and because he went out with a cartoon labeled "divisive.")

Anyway, I don't want to give the impression that scolding is necessarily wrong. I have children, scolding works. But, when the vast majority of people don't see things our way, yelling at them about it is perhaps not going to get them to agree. Then again, if the goal is a small cadre of purists, well...

JRB,

That means more than a lot, coming from you.

JRB said...

Maknho and his circle, however they want to identify or align themselves (the Anarcho-Feminist blog went through a similar renunciation of anarchism after BroadSnark posted a critical piece about feminism) are very capable.

There's truth on every side of these kinds of questions. We need self-criticism, but if it's of the variety that "either I get my way or the movement is a fraud" -- it's easy to see why this won't work.

We need at least a minimal commitment to other people. It can't be "don't piss me off or I'll leave." You can't build anything on that.

There are reasons to be pissed off, and reasons to let that fly, but you can't give up on other people who are basically struggling through the same shit, even if on a micro-level it is different shit. That's not proof that we aren't bound to the same larger problem, in fact, whether we like it or not. These aren't really things you "choose" but things you discover.

Anyway, I hope Maknho and the like will continue putting their talents toward something they can believe in, whatever it is.

Joe said...

To echo Anon's comment above, I tend to get suspicious when I hear white males playing the more sensitive to the plight of minorities and women than thou card. Hypocrisy never seems to be too far behind self-righteous displays like that. And even if the sentiment is genuine, it's still offputting as hell, as you point out.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Not unsurprising to anyone who ever took the parsec to read any of my dribblings, I have no patience for the "I'm more oppressed than you, more minority than you, and White Guys have all the privilege" arguments. As a White Guy Hetero who has had shit luck with XXs his whole life and has been mistaken for gay more than for hetero, and who has undergone some pretty rancid abuses as a wee lad, I can tally the hurts like the most rarified of minorities, hurts on the personal level that is, while enjoying the privileges (whatever they may be) of White Maledom.

That's such a tired road to walk, IMO.

Anarchism isn't about reinforcing Rape Culture or White Guy Privilege, and it takes a serious distortion of things to argue that it is. It's about the opposite. It's about running far away, quickly, from victimhood.

As to scolding... well... I guess that depends. Is the writer venting splenoid toxins, or trying to generate a following? That's the pivotal Q there. I don't blog or comment to create a movement, which I guess makes me none but a scold. Such is the road I'm on.

Refuting people like Makhno wisely and with sound rhetoric seems to me like playing a contact sport as a Prime Power (what, mid-20s) athlete, against a 6-year-old. Like playing tee-ball after you've learned how to hit a curving fast pitch. It's a weird kind of "win" that really lacks all winning character.

Which isn't to insult you, Jack. It's actually meant in agreement with you.