Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This Just In: It's Not Okay to Criticize White People Anymore!

First, sorry about the lack of updates. I left my last job and so the last month (and probably all of next month) are consumed by job-hunting craziness, and so a lot of my thinking has been directed toward getting myself a job. I'm not prepared to blog here about something that personal and frankly boring. It was beginning to look like the whole month would go by without an entry, but then I stumbled onto an article on the AVClub begging us to please stop talking about "white peoples' problems" because, I guess, it's just not funny anymore.

I forced myself to read through the article, and there are some half-formed points in there that I can get behind, but throughout most of it I just had this poor, poor white people feeling. Being white myself, I gotta say, we got it tough!

First, an acknowledgement: race issues are complex. I understand enough about intersectionality and social justice to know that the world is a very complex place, and it's difficult to condemn or support one position without undermining another. This is one of the reasons why the skeptic/atheist-y blogosphere keeps coming up against these debates on sexism or gender identities or people of colour in the sciences, because even the most well-meaning people can say one thing that on the surface seems liberal and progressive and open-minded, but looked at from a different angle is actually hurtful, privilege-laden, and/or just stupid. I'll probably do it in this post, because my experiences can't possibly have prepared me well-enough to understand what it's like to be non-white, just like I wouldn't expect a heterosexual to completely understand my experiences as a gay man.

I can certainly get behind the idea that "white peoples' problems" as a phrase is problematic, maybe even when used "smugly and reductively" as the AVClub writer Noel Murray describes. But when Murray tries to dig into the issue, he comes off as just another entitled white guy getting upset that now everyone wants to pick on the white guys! Oh Noes!

Basically, worrying about the use of the phrase "white peoples' problems" is, basically, a white person's problem. Last I checked, the numbers for unemployment, poverty, mental illness, violent crime, lack of representation in places of power, addiction, and education issues still show quite clearly that you have less to worry about (statistically speaking) if you're white. The ladder of success you have to climb to achieve your goals is still much, much shorter for white people than it is for people of colour.

The phrase is used, when I've heard it anyway, to illuminate that there is still a discrepancy in these and other issues. It's used to bring perspective to a conversation. Yeah, it's used dismissively, and I can definitely imagine someone using it hurtfully (I'm trying to think of an area where white people maybe don't have it so good right now, and my brain is blanking. All else considered equal, is it EVER bad to be white, statistically speaking?), but I feel that any tool that brings to light the horrible and criminal inconsistencies between groups of people based only on arbitrary features like skin colour or nation of origin is overall a good thing.

As I was reading, though, I wondered about my taking exception to people using "that's so gay." Because I DO take exception to it. Isn't this "white" thing a little bit like the "gay" thing?

Well, no. Not at all. And at it's most simple, I can be verbally and physically harrassed, lose a job or an apartment, or denied the right to, say, marry who I choose depending on where I live (okay, in Canada I personaly don't have it so bad, but ask a high school kid in the middle of nowhere how great and accepting his classmates are). The power and authority is completely in the hands of straight folks. Their using "gay" to mean something negative or lame is not only a direct attack at me and people like me, but it also helps to reinforce inequalities that are a part of the world I live in.

It's not the same for white folks. When someone says "that's so white" they aren't making the disparity between oppressor and oppressed wider. In many ways, they're helping to bring that disparity closer. White folks could stand to be taken down a notch or two, is what I'm saying.

I mean, when Murray writes:
people aren’t sniping about “whiteness” to be funny, or even defiant—at least not entirely. They’re using the term as a form of criticism, meant to be dismissive. “That movie looks very white,” or, “That sounds like music for white people,” is another way of saying, “That can’t be any good.” And I do have a problem with that.
 He's flat-out wrong: being dismissive of the people in power IS being defiant and, often, very funny. And it's too bad that THIS, and not the white-washing (and straight-washing, and cis-washing, and rich-washing) of mainstream media is what he has a problem with.

The article almost gets some traction with the idea that a failed internet connection being a "white persons problem" is dismissive of the fact that people of colour can and do use the internet, and cell-phones, and get cable. so, yeah, he stuff we dismiss as "white peoples' problems" bug people of colour, too: it's just that in addition to all that crap, they also have this whole other pile of stinking crap they have to wade through as well, because, y'know, they aren't white.

There's a last-minute attempt at the end of the article for readers to suggest media produced by people of colour so that all of us white folk can brush up on our diversity, so that's nice I guess. But basically, until we actually have equality between white folk and not-so-white folk, I encourage all of you to keep on using "white" as a perjorative.


On a completely different subject, and to bring in some zombie stuff, I saw Cabin in the Woods last week and overall enjoyed it, though I feel like it was a bit of a step backward for the folks who once worked on "Buffy" from a feminist angle. Not gonna go through it (for fear of being spoilery?), but I feel like the "last girl" was rescued one or two many times, and not really in a self-aware, parodying sort of way.

And that's all for now!