Check My Privilege, X-Men

Drinking crappy sangria today.

And, angry.

Over on Newsarama, Shane has gotten himself in a friendly and helpful discussion about white privilege, based on this post by Ragnell. And naturally I didn’t want to butt in, because I didn’t want to disrupt the pleasing flow of understanding and open-mindedness over there. There was something that was on my mind about the place where it all started, you see…but the conversation has moved on a little, and I thought I’d feel like I was being provocative if I yanked it all the way back to what I wanted to say.

So, I’ll say it here.

I am a white guy. If you asked me whether or not I felt “white guy” was a pretty fair rough description of me, I might hem and haw a bit, but in the end I would say “sure; that’s fair enough.” I accept that I enjoy the thing they call “white privilege”, with all that enjoyment entails: including (but not limited to) the feeling that I am entitled to speak authoritatively on any matter I choose, the ability to casually overlook systemic (and systematic) bias in favour of white people in my society, and the ability to presume that it is all about me, all the time, every time: to think that “fair” or “natural” automatically equals “things that favour my unhindered pursuit of whatever I choose to pursue”.

But.

I’m not “ethnically white”.

Because there’s no ethnicity like that.

That’s not ethnicity.

That’s not what ethnicity means.

Little angry, yes: feminism is supposed to be a thing that exercises great precision in language as well as great accuracy, all in the name of being politically aware, but this…this really, truly pisses me off. All respect to the original opinion-giver, and I don’t want to be an asshole, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth…but given that there is DEMONSTRABLY NO SUCH FUCKING THING as “ethnically white”, I can only assume you meant, instead, “racially white”.

Which is a problem, for two reasons.

First problem being: if a white guy came up to me and told me he and I were “racially white”, he wouldn’t do it again through the same set of teeth. I’m a white guy: and that means part of what the definition of “white guy” is, is in my hands, and I’ll be damned if I let an easy, casual, “oh, all whites love the racism, it’s so natural” definition sit in my hands for very long without doing something about it. Am I “of the white race”? Ask me that question again, motherfucker: tell you what, I admit all the facts about me. Or, I try to. But there is no fact that says I’m racially, or ethnically, white. And I’ll tellya, I’ve got a hundred dollar bill here for the first person who can tell me otherwise. “Whiteness Studies”…I’m down with it. Privilege…I admit it. But “ethnically white”…

Frankly, that sounds like something Mugabe would say.

Problem number two ties into problem number one: in that the concept of ethnicity, as a sociological category based on historical and geographical fact…and I don’t know if anyone knows this anymore… was intended to replace the outmoded concept of race which very roughly joined different geographical origins or skin colours or tribal belongings to moral worthiness, and then dishonestly made the morals the dividing lines between these things after the fact. But even if ethnicity didn’t replace race successfully, god DAMN it it was not supposed to become an allied concept of it! “Brown or yellow ethnicity”, the speaker says…ha, well, say whatever you want, it’s not my business if you do. Even say or imply, as many people said or implied in the comment thread to Shane’s post, that “demographics”, “culture”, and “race” are equivalent concepts somehow…but for Christ’s sake keep it away from me. As a matter of historical record, by the way, for anyone who’s listening, “whiteness” though indeed a powerful pre-concept in the construction of racialist ideas throughout Europe, was not considered by those antediluvian white people to be shared out equally. “White race”? The only time any of these pink-skinned twerps ever used that term was when they were trying to scam other “white race” people into giving them money. In actual fact, the “English race” considered themselves the superior superior of all superiors, as did the “French race”, the “German race”, the “Belgian race”, and the “Russian race”. But from the point of view of people living in 2007, all their so-called “racial” pretensions are revealed as fundamentally…well, let’s be clinical and call it superstitious. Or, let’s not be clinical, and let’s say these people were fucking idiots. So why are we back here?

Shane was right to feel disquiet about what was being said about “ethnically white” blogs. His blog is white. My blog is white. But this is just “white”, the whiteness of “Whiteness Studies”. By itself it is NOT ethnicity – it fails to rise to that level of categorical distinction! And, it is not the hateful race – because that is not the way people use the category “race” in these days! Shane’s blog may be white, but he has every reason to kick about it being identified as “ethnically white” — with respect: FUCK THAT.

And I am shocked that so many well-intentioned, well-educated people could be fooled into telling him that wasn’t a genuine, legitimate recoiling of his.

Because, hey, did you read the stuff at that link, that Ed Cunard provided?

I am as WHITE as you would ever want to see a white person: I am SOAKED in privilege. But privilege is not the same thing as ethnicity. And ethnicity is not the same thing as race.

And I can motherfucking prove it.

Sorry, I got a little mad, there. But as I said: a white person saying this to me would have walked away needing to have his jaw wired shut. Is not my specific ethnicity and my specific privilege enough to damn me, enough for me to be responsible for? Must I be lumped in with any old asshole anyone else decides is “ethnically”, “racially”, or (perhaps) even “spiritually” white? I am not talking about my privilege when I say that what “white” is is partly up to me…I am talking about my purview. I have my faults; and I am a political actor, even arguably a political object, a piece of political furniture, in many ways I don’t care for but can’t wish away. In many ways that I don’t like or enjoy, in many ways that I would like to protest or deny, in many ways that make my guts squirm, I AM an example of something which isn’t very nice, and when smacked in the face by the truth of this I must either admit it or be a liar. I am indeed that dubious quantity, an open-minded white guy; without doubt, though, I am not open-minded ENOUGH. I still see what I want to see. I still ignore what is easy for me to ignore. I still go with my white flow. I have lots of problems which are not anyone’s fault but my own, and in a way I exemplify injustice – which is a thing that I am against – and I must learn to live with that, and try to do better, even if the one thing that is not my privilege, is the privilege to shake off the past and say I had nothing to do with that, so it’s nothing to do with me. But, oh, woe is me, eh? I can always go to the fucking yacht club…

And so that’s fair.

But “ethnically white” is not fair. And as a matter of fact, it’s bullshit.

I would not have, would never have, commented on this if it were just one person having a bit of a rant on their own blog. I wouldn’t have commented on it just because it was on Ragnell’s blog, either. I wouldn’t even have commented on it just because it was on Shane’s blog. But you knowledgeable people who replied to Shane…twenty-five comments worth of you…I think you should have called a bit of bullshit on this for him. You gave him some pretty crap information, when all was said and done, because you let him believe that race and ethnicity were the same thing when they’re not. Maybe, as I’ve heard, there is no responsibility to educate someone about their complicity in a bad system. Okay. But, that doesn’t apply here: you spoke to him in reasoned syllables; you engaged with his rephrasings, questions, and curiosity; you opened yourself to him as he opened himself to you on this.

But you also let him believe something which is truly awful, so how much good did you really do?

I’m afraid I can’t give you a credit for this, my X-Men. Your heart may have been in the right place, but you didn’t do any good. Even Shane, who did the good of being an open-minded guy, only did as much good as was available, which wasn’t much. But wait, actually I perceive I have been too harsh, here: Ed did some good by supplying that link, and I know for a fact that Shane read it, and may have been the only one to take what it was saying onboard. So Angel and Cyclops, you receive no credit but you also receive no demerits: you may go to the refectory and stuff yourself with lemon meringue pie. Iceman, Beast, and Marvel Girl: you must clean Cerebro out in preparation for the next time I use it. And make sure to do a good job.

That includes fingernail clippings, by the way.

One more thing, my blog-brethren: I think I’m right about this — I really think I’m right about this — but I don’t say anyone in the comment thread did something nasty. I am not saying that you did something nasty.

I am saying that you lamed out. And that you shouldn’t have. There’s no duty to educate, but there is an obligation not to mislead: if you weren’t going to just walk away, you should’ve brought the full arsenal, and let the chips all fall.

Shane, you learned something, and that’s good. But learn what I’m saying too: white privilege makes our self-identification problematic, not just for us, but for everybody else too. However, the difference there is: other people can ignore the problem if they want to, and we can’t. So you gotta be alert, in these types of discussion: when others simplify your identity for the sake of the argument, they won’t always be automatically justified in doing so. In fact (in my opinion) they usually will not be.

That doesn’t mean it’s time to stop listening, of course. It means it’s time to start listening harder.

Okay, X-Men, I’m done. You’re on your own. Hope you survive the experience.

White or not.

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8 responses to “Check My Privilege, X-Men

  1. Awww, man! Do I have to pick up the fingernail clippings, too? (And do I get to be Beast or Iceman? Is Madrox an option?) :-P

    Seriously, though, I pretty much agree with you on this. The main reason I didn’t take it where you’d have liked to see it go — and I think the right place for that was Ragnell’s post, not Shane’s — is I’ve had that conversation a million times in the past and I totally “lamed out” via the “no responsibility to educate someone about their complicity in a bad system” rationale.

    I like Shane, though, and made the one comment I did because I felt like his “silly” comment was misunderstood. Ragnell’s post was silly, and I mulled over a response for a couple of days before deciding not to bother since I’m not a regular reader of her blog and it would have felt like I was stirring things up for the sake of controversy. Not that I’m against that, per se, but I choose my battles a bit more wisely these days. :-)

    I am curious to see what kind of response you get to this, though, and you’re definitely on my “Say What?” list for the week!

  2. I just edited this slightly, to remove some all-caps swearing that came from a place of sangria. So just in case anyone read it, took offense at the tone, but had to go to dinner and has just now come back ready to ream me out…every bit of the argument is still there, but I did remove the more objectionable shouting, so that’s why you’re not seeing it. You’re not crazy. I just thought better of being a dick.

    Erin, I think it must have, because I’m not seeing any evidence of it lying around anyplace…

    Guy, I hope I try to pick better battles these days too, and I’m usually quite unbothered by flaps going on in other places. But it does bother me to see somebody like Shane, who I also like, get the treatment on his own blog. I guess because there are so many places where a polite person has no choice but to swallow STFU as a legitimate counterargument, it irks me to see what I take to be a perfectly reasonable dissatisfaction with a bad argument, expressed in a perfectly appropriate space, recast solely in terms of white privilege. Sometimes when a person speaks, their privilege actually isn’t what’s writing the script for them, but it’s so easy to overlook that…that people really ought to be a little more vigilant about it than it seems they usually are. Well, I think, obviously.

  3. Okay, now I guess it’s time for me to head over and read the source material. I’ve done a lot of reading about literary and racial identity in North America. I’m no expert in the least but one thing we all need to accomodate is the fact that south of the border questions of race are now and forever will be a dichotomy of black and white with all the trappings, confusions and muddling of the subject that entails.

    We’re lucky to come from a slightly less defined starting position. The moment an entire nation starts making simple assumptions and cutting all complex questions down to a simply black white debate it gets easier and easier to muddle things further.

    Any “question of race or ethnicity” is inherently more complex than the question being asked or the answer given. I mean, heck look at the simple yet complex electoral system. You’re either Democrat or Republican whether or not you agree whole bore with their fundamental ideals. You want trickle down economics but think a woman has the right to choose, well you can’t have both in a political party – a politician maybe, but not a party. It’s organized on a basis of simple division for complex questions disguised as easy ones. Ah, cultura zeitgeist, you’re and exciting temptress to try and have fun with.

  4. I’ll go along with that! Especially the “inherently more complex” thing. My ex-sister-in-law used to live in the States for a while, and she had a lot of trouble when people would ask her if she was Democrat or Republican. They thought she was ducking the question. Then she’d bring up “liberal” and “conservative”, and it’d all just degenerate totally. Strangely incommensurable ideas.

    To any Americans reading, by the way: this isn’t Canadian chauvinism talking. We’re not “better” — we have race/ethnicity problems too, they’re just not the same ones, so the lens we view ‘em through is accordingly a bit different.

  5. Pingback: Blog@Newsarama » I ain’t saying I’m innocent of all this.·

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