I continue to be fascinated by the phenomenon of concern over microaggression, and the related phenomenon of “trigger warnings.” It strikes me as turning SWPL neurosis into cultural politics. I think it has almost nothing to do with actual minorities, but is actually, as has been observed by others, a form of status competition among progressive whites. A liberal reader sent this entry from the blog of a gay progressive who is starting to wonder about this microaggression thing. Excerpt:
I’ll confess: I have done some Social Justice Bullying in my day. And the meanest I have ever been — the most personally insulting, rude, mocking, trollish, and unsympathetic — has been as a white person towards other white people who I thought were being “bad allies.” It was an artifact of my own white guilt. I was afraid that I wasn’t the “perfect ally” and I vented that fear by yelling at other white people, so that I could feel like the “good white person” in the face of their more “obviously problematic” racism.
I didn’t realize what I doing until the night that my (white) partner came home from a queer conference, all bubbly and excited to tell me about the Racial Justice Symposium they’d attended and the cool new things they’d learned about being an ally, and within the first five minutes I’d jumped down their throat about how some offhand remark they’d made in their excitement was “pretty problematic” and derailed the whole conversation into picking apart this one statement on the basis of my superior expertise about white allyship, instead of being excited with them about the new things they were learning — and the conversation got super tense, and after that they pretty much just shut down, and didn’t talk to me about racial politics anymore.
At first I was all pissed off, like, “Well, if they’re not opening to examining their privilege, I just don’t know what else I can do for them.” But then I thought about it and realized…shit. This was not about them. It was about me. Let’s be honest. I was feeling jealous and insecure about the fact that they’d gotten to go to this conference, meet all kinds of cool radical queers, and talk about intersectional politics all day and I hadn’t. What shut them down wasn’t my encouragement to examine their privilege. They’d just been in the middle of *telling* me how excited they were about examining their privilege. What shut them down was the strident tone with which I expressed that they were examining their privilege WRONG.
This is how a lot of movements end up: turning on each other, policing for ideological purity, destroying themselves from within. I’m happy for it to happen to these people, who are generally humorless hysterics. Still, it’s fascinating to watch. The progressive white pastor from Portland whose idea of facing down Bull Connor’s firehoses was admonishing fellow white people to use a different hashtag to tweet about police brutality is a perfect example of this.
A black activist has a word of advice for white allies who think they’ve done their part by chastising insufficiently sensitive white people online:
But you, don’t do me any further injustice by claiming to stand in solidarity with me while really (really) excusing yourself of the hard work that is engaging with fellow white people on this issue. Don’t hide behind “being a good ally” without actually doing any work beyond merely echoing my cries of pain, anger, and soul wrenching disappointment.
You’re a socially conscious white person? You don’t share *their* views? It’s disappointing to hear your friends say racist things? You don’t wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do. But if you don’t speak to “them” who will?
(Hint: Not me.)
So before you squander the opportunity before you in an attempt to demonstrate your solidarity, ask yourself which choice would be easier: unfriending the guy who attended your birthday party last year because he posted support of the non-indictment OR responding to his post with an open ended question to begin a (likely long and strenuous) conversation?
What would a good… actually, forget good… What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?
The activist makes the mistake of thinking that these white “allies” truly want to help. What they really want to do is manage their own anxiety over their (real or perceived) cultural privilege. Like I said: white educated bourgeois neurosis as cultural politics. The black activist is absolutely right: no white person who is not already predisposed to sharing the cultural politics of these shrill, self-righteous “allies” will give them the time of day. One Russell Moore does more real and practical good than 100,000 SWPL masochists.