Saturday, June 16, 2007

White heterosexual privilege and victim blame

Some interesting grafs from Arthur Silber's blog:
But the surrounding context ought to be painfully obvious: Moore is discussing a society and a culture which are founded on, organized around and which embody white, straight male privilege across the board, and in virtually every aspect and particular. That critical, broader context must inform how one interprets Moore's narrower statements. Instead, Larry takes a great deal of time and attention to make a very delimited philosophic point which is (as he himself argues) painfully obvious to anyone with half a brain, while the much more complex and infinitely more significant cultural realities entirely elude him.


Larry's argument -- and please note the point that appears to be most critical to him: "I categorically refuse to feel the slightest bit of guilt and shame about who I am," and this as a criticism of people who have been made and are still made to feel guilty and ashamed about who they are from their very earliest memories, up to this very second -- falls on a spectrum which has provided me two other related examples. I wrote "We Are Not Freaks" in response to a post from Tom Schaller that I had previously discussed here and here. I received quite a lot of correspondence about those three posts. One of my correspondents vociferously defended Schaller -- and he insisted that it was people "like me" who made it so impossible for "good liberals" to fight the good fight. If only we didn't raise such a stink when our "friends" tried to help us! If only we didn't make a federal case out of everything! If only we would lighten up, and give "good liberals" like Schaller a break! So, you see, that entire controversy, along with much else, was actually my fault.

To which I replied, in essence, if not in these exact words: When you and the society you inhabit stop fucking with my life, I'll consider your wonderfully kind suggestions, buddy, and not one goddamned second before.
When I read the recent post on Silber's blog in question, it struck me that was pretty much the point: it isn't that being white makes one inherently racist. Rather, it is the case that whiteness (as a set of assumptions, beliefs, practices, etc.) is so embedded into the culture itself that it is practically impossible not to be affected by it. Our perceptions of those "like us" and those "Others" are profoundly affected by that cultural context. As a white, heterosexual male, It is "I" who assume a position of privilege - to a large degree educational opportunities, careers, the trappings of middle-class success, and so on are assumed as a given. "My" values, my appearance, "my" likes and dislikes are the norm and everything else is an aberration. "I" am the standard by which all else is judged. That is the phenomenological field with which we are dealing when discussing issues such as race or sexual orientation. From that phenomenological field, a number of assumptions follow, including the assumption among our more progressive and liberal bretheren that it is "I" who sets the parameters for "liberating" oppressed "Others." If those "Others" assert themselves beyond the parameters that "I" have deemed acceptable, "I" will respond with indignation at "their" ingratitude.

Protestations about being made to "feel guilt and shame" about one's heritage as well as the alleged difficulty that uppity "fags" and "negros" create for one's efforts as a good progressive to liberate them merely betray a sense of cognitive dissonance at having the assumptions of one's background held up to them as a mirror. When faced with such dissonance one may react in at least a couple ways. One, they could begin the long and painful journey of examining assumptions that had previously been hidden from consciousness (expect that one to take years if not decades - I know that journey intimately). Two, they can choose to psychologically distance themselves by denigrating these ungrateful "Others" (e.g., engage in behaviors analogous to victim blame).

Left out of the picture of course is the reactions of the "Others" to the same cultural assumptions that whites (including liberals and progressives) are likely to take for granted. It's not for lack of trying to get the word out, of course. Trying to get the point across regrettably gets perceived of as an attack on the white liberal sense of self.

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