I recently made a post on social media that garnered a good amount of discussion, some acrimony, and, ultimately, got me unfriended by one person. This post, which was not entirely without intent, was certainly not meant to upset anyone. Here’s the full story: I saw a reposted article which mentioned that signs reading “It’s ok to be White” had been popping up on college campuses across North America (USA and Canada). The person who had shared this story, who is a hard-left activist, claimed that it was a racist meme, but refused to provide an explanation, either in regard to the meme itself, or their reasoning for calling it racist. When I challenged them on it and asked if they could possibly be mistaken about the intent of the signs (as posted on campuses, not as they originated), I got shot down, my comments were censored, and I was told that “no, it’s racist”. Once again, no explanation was offered.
My thought, and feel free to think me naïve, was that even though the signs smacked strongly of the alt-right, men’s-rights, white-power movement(s), they could also be reactions to the anti-white hatred which is increasing in liberal academia and within postmodern circles. It occurred to me that maybe some white people, most likely dudes, are feeling a little cowed, and in need of reassurance that they haven’t harmed anyone, or that they aren’t inherently bad merely for the fact of being white.
I’m a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied male, and in the eyes of the liberal, postmodern crowd, I fall within the most hated demographic group. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement by this point, and if you have doubts about its authenticity, then perhaps you have not been paying attention to identity politics in the last few years. Good for you. Here’s where I need to make a disclaimer before I proceed, and I likely won’t say this too many more times, while hoping that it is clear to everyone and that my honesty is not impugned: even though I’m white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, and male, I’ve actually never intentionally harmed anyone based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or sex. I hope I’ve never done so unintentionally either, at least not at a disproportionate rate compared to the harm I may have unintentionally done to other white, cishet, able-bodied men. Apart from implicit-association-type biases, which we all share regardless of ethnicity, blah blah blah, I’m an equal-opportunity abuser, if anything. I will openly admit that I am not fully informed on identity politics and related topics, and that I can at times be pretty naïve and clueless. Also, I still don’t get what the hell intersectionality is all about.
So, with that out of the way, I’m going to talk a little bit about what I did and why. I created a post which read “What are everyone’s thoughts on ‘It’s ok to be White’?”. I did this in order to gauge the responses. Was this meme truly an alt-right troll move, as averred by the Left, or was the truth a little more nuanced? I also wanted to hear some of the opinions that people have on the topic. Ok, full disclosure: I wanted to know if anyone agreed with my theory that maybe the meme wasn’t a hateful one but rather a scared one. In the meantime, I found out the origin of the meme (4chan), and its intended purpose (a “proof of concept” to demonstrate that signs with the phrase posted in public places would be accused of promoting racism and white supremacy). So far so interesting (it was totally working!!!). The response I got to my post surprised me not only by how much take-up it got, but by how upset it made some people.
Ultimately, the individual responses are not nearly as important as the implications, I think, of a dumb white guy asking dumb white-guy questions in an atmosphere that fosters white guilt and “shut-up-and-listen-to-anyone-who-isn’t-white, thou vile spawn of oppressors and colonizers” moralizing. Ok, so I don’t think I’m dumb, but as I mentioned above, I can certainly be naïve sometimes. Maybe my theory was a naïve one, and my continued line of questioning similarly so, but as far as I can tell, the most offensive statement I made within that entire discussion was “I think white people are being persecuted by some vocal activists”.
What are the implications of this type of atmosphere, then? In a broad sense, the feeling I get is that as a white [insert all other detested categories here] male, due to the historical injustices that we as a unified demographic - if it makes sense to think of white […] males as one unified demographic category - have wrought upon people of colour, women, queers, etc., I, or we, are no longer permitted to disagree with, contradict, or in any way explain (this word is nowadays more specifically expressed as “mansplain”, “whitesplain”, etc.) anything to any group/individual considered to be a minority, or non-normative. On a personal level, I think the inevitable outcome will be that I will eventually be left with only white […] male friends on social media, and they will either be individuals who, like me, buck the current ideological trends, or those who hew more closely to the right of the political spectrum and whom I can’t shake off unless I directly attack them (those guys are definitely a thick-skinned bunch!).
Why would that last be the case? Well, because I’m curious and I ask questions. Not only do I ask questions, I ask controversial, unpopular, and sometimes emotionally-charged questions. I challenge orthodoxies, whether formal or informal, and I don’t care if they are left-wing, right-wing, or what have you. I also don’t really care (well, to be honest I do care, but I ask anyway) that I’m mostly centre-left myself and that by asking certain questions, it may seem that I sometimes undermine values which are near and dear to individuals who are on “my side” of the political game. I’ve challenged progressive views on indigenous issues (and lost indigenous friends over it), on queer topics (some gay friends gone), on women’s rights (women have unfriended me), and now, apparently, on anti-racism (another non-normative friend gone). I suppose I should ask myself this important question: Am I losing friends because I lack insight into anti-oppression issues, I ignore traumas which my questions may rekindle, and in an effort to learn (no really, I mostly only care about finding the truth), I not only stick my foot in my mouth, but also use it to trample upon those who have suffered enough trampling already? Am I an asshole for doing this? Or alternatively…am I losing friends because, despite everything I just said, and despite the fact that people on the left are really well-intentioned individuals trying to right historical injustices and combat right-wing bigotry (I honestly believe this to be true), Left-wing, postmodern liberalism (sorry for the redundancies) has become a caricature of the fascist beast it purports to fight, an ideologically puritan, inflexible, dogmatic edifice that brooks no opposition, no disagreement, not even any questioning?
To close, I want to make one more thing clear. On an intellectual level, I understand oppression, suffering, injustice, and all manner of hurt. I get that white men have done much harm throughout history. We have oppressed and abused people of colour, women, queer folk, and to some degree these abuses continue to the present. I get that. I don’t really know how it feels to be oppressed or abused though. I can feel compassion and sympathy, and I can do my best to support victims and push back against victimizers, but I can’t really empathize – not in an emotional manner, at least - because I haven’t experienced any of that. I’ve lived an extremely privileged life, even compared to most white people alive today (that might be my own bias speaking, but whatever, you get the point). I fully acknowledge all of that. I think I (cognitively) understand white privilege too, and as such, I acknowledge it. Still, the most important thing for me is to discover the truth and to lead the way to liberation with the light of truth (not in a spiritual way, either). I don’t believe in countering one form of oppressive dogma with another. I don’t believe in tipping the scales, but rather in balancing them. I think leading with the truth is the way to do that. I’m not sure why I think that, but I do. I need to ponder it some more, I guess. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I feel discouraged by the fact that my non-white, non-male friends find me and my views unpalatable, and unworthy of friendship. I want to be an ally to everyone who is in need of one, but does that mean I need to sit down, shut up, and listen to the ideology-of-liberation du jour?
P.S. I do think that mansplaining and whitesplaining, under the right (wrong?) circumstances are a genuine problem, and as such, they are equally deplorable as more overt forms of sexism and racism.