Tribalism isn’t about feelings, it’s about the zero-sum outlook

Change can be unpleasant.

Unless you’re down and out. If you’re down and out, then change is probably good news. When you’re down and out, then any change is likely to be progress.

But if you’re neither down nor out, then progress may be unwelcome. You’re on top. You’re in. Why mess with that?

The last 60 years has seen a lot of change. The trajectory of that change has been good news for many people who used to be intractably down and  out. For them, the trajectory of this change is clearly progress. But such progress has been unsettling for many people who used to enjoy an exclusive birthright to being up and in.

What I’m trying to talk about here is privilege, hegemony, implicit hierarchy. And about the lingering resentment and anxiety over every slight erosion of them.

This shows up a lot in pronouns — particularly in the ambiguous use of undifferentiated first-person plural pronouns. “We need to take our country back.” But what do you mean “We,” kemosabe?

Those pronouns are funny things. They seem to be inclusive and comprehensive. On its face, “we” means us — all of us. But we don’t always use “we” in that way. Who is the “we” in “we need to take our country back”? Who is the “our”?

It’s inclusive, but not comprehensive. Or, in other words, it’s tribal — inclusive of those within the tribe, but exclusive of those without it.

The tribal boundaries are implicit and unstated, but they are known. These boundaries are ethnic and religious and sexual, yet they do not necessarily entail any ethnic or religious or sexual animus.

There may be such animus, but it’s not necessary. No actual dislike or contempt needs to be felt. Personal sentiment and emotional antipathy are wholly optional when it comes to defending the interests of the tribe.

This can lead to some confusion and muddy things up. We can end up arguing about racism, misogyny, homophobia or religious hatred with folks who insist, sincerely, that they do not have any such feelings.

And for many people, that’s largely true. They don’t feel such dislike, and some of their best friends are, etc. Because this isn’t about feelings, it’s about tribes. Plenty of people who are driven by the desire to defend the interests of their tribe don’t feel any visceral dislike for those they regard as outsiders — as not “we,” not “us,” not “ours.” Those folks just happen to be on the other team.

And if our team is going to win, they imagine, then their team can’t.

I think that’s the key. That, right there, is the idea that makes personal feelings of dislike or hatred superfluous. Once you accept the framework of a zero-sum struggle between competing tribes then it no longer matters whether or not you feel any such feelings — you’re still bound to regard any advance for them as a loss for us. You’ll still imagine that “we” cannot be up and in unless “they” are kept down and out.

In that zero-sum tribal framework, it doesn’t matter whether or not you dislike the other tribe or view them an inferior. If you think of yourself as part of the straight, white, male, Christian tribe, then you’ll defend the interests of that tribe against anyone who is not straight, white, male and Christian. Whether or not personal sentiments of antipathy are involved, the effect is the same.

It’s very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to separate out the various threads of tribal identity as distinct factors. The tribal anxiety that comes from the idea of a zero-sum world is all of a piece. Antitribalism struggles to be “intersectional,” but tribalism has always been intersectional. Tribalism was intersectional before intersectionality was cool.

Look again at that amorphous and undifferentiated use of the tribal “we.” We need to take back our country. The anxiety there — the sense that we are losing, somehow, due to the advances made by others — cannot easily be separated into discrete elements of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexuality. The loss that “we” feel for “our” tribe arises from a host of changes that combine to form a single anxiety. The anxiety that perceives the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a tribal defeat is bound up with the anxiety that festers behind fear of the so-called “War on Christmas.” The tribal anxiety felt over every advance of feminism is intermixed with the anxiety felt over every advance in civil rights for ethnic minorities. The sense of tribal besiegement that perceives a same-sex wedding as some kind of setback is intermingled with the anxiety over the new neighborhood mosque, the ending of prayers at high school football games and “Press 2 para Español.”

This is part of what I was trying to convey with the Venn diagram I posted last night. State-mandated sectarian prayer in public schools is a theocratic idea, yet “school prayer” isn’t primarily a rallying cry for theocrats, but for tribalists. The 1962 decision forbidding mandatory sectarian prayers was perceived as a loss for the tribe, just as the desegregation decisions of the previous decade were. “We” were losing control of “our” schools.

Racial animus may play a role in that tribal anxiety, for some. And I suspect that for many who harbor such feelings of racial animus, “school prayer” is considered a safer, more acceptable-seeming way of expressing their objection to desegregation. But explicit, visceral racial animus is not necessary for such an objection any more than state Sen. Dennis Kruse needed to be a raging anti-Semite to introduce legislation allowing Indiana schools to mandate the recitation of the Christian Lord’s prayer. It doesn’t really matter whether or not Kruse feels any such feelings of bigotry — the effect is the same either way.

 

  • Ben English

     It probably doesn’t help that many were introduced to the word used in this context through Tumblr social justice warriors who appropriate civil rights issues for bullshit and use ‘check your privilege’ as an attempt to shut down any criticism of their batshit beliefs. Many of them fail to comprehend intentionality so hard that they try and rank how oppressed they are, and some outright make up oppressions (Hi, Otherkin!)

  • arcseconds

    Yes, but the decision on who is Enemy Number One is never based on dogma, but rather on political convenience.

    In the scenario Magic_Cracker describes came about, and the Evangelical theocrats thought they had a clear power advantage over the Catholics, the Catholics could well be the first target, because they”d be the greatest threat to Evangelical hegemony.   

    Of course, it might work out that Unitarians would be the first to be scapegoated, if for example it was important to preserve the Evangelical-Catholic grand coalition.

  • P J Evans

    I was reading a newspaper story about Obama this morning, and there was a guy who kept complaining about how white males are oppressed and can’t talk about it because racism. (He wasn’t getting much sympathy, for some reason.)

  • vsm

    I don’t think the unironic use of comedic stereotypes are necessarily a bad thing, really, especially when used by someone to whom they apply. They can even be a cherished part of national culture. That’s certainly how they work in my neck of the woods, where they’re a popular genre of jokes. I think this is how the three series mentioned work, as do many works of American Jewish comedy. I don’t really see Woody Allen as trying to subvert common ideas of Jews. Rather, he seems to be celebrating many of them. If Allen’s too high-brow, how about Seinfeld, which used to be the most popular sitcom in America? There’s plenty of neuroses, overbearing mothers, people in show business and kvetching going on, with little subversion going on.

    That’s how I see Father Ted and Black Books (I’ve never seen the IT Crowd). The Irish drunk isn’t just a hateful stereotype held by the English, but also a figure from Irish culture, as can be heard on any Dubliners record. If Irish artists stopped using that character type, wouldn’t they be letting the English control their self-expression? The drunk isn’t necessarily just a negative figure. He (it usually is a he) can be funny, wise and independent, someone who doesn’t care about what polite society thinks. As far as I know, Irish people did not reject these series and their portrayals of themselves. On the contrary, there’s two islands competing over which of them gets to be the official Father Ted’s island.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The problem I have with the phrase ‘privilege’ is that it implies the same zero-sum ideology we’re talking about here.  A Priviledge is, as any teacher will tell you, not a right, and speaking of things like ‘earning a living wage’ or ‘not being pulled over for no good reason’ as a priviledge implies that they can (and should) be taken away for bad behavior.  People do not want these things taken away (understandably), and believe, therefore, that The Minorities Are Coming To Take Their Stuff.

    As for what to use instead, though, I don’t have any ideas other than… I dunno, ‘Systemic Inequality’?

    It probably doesn’t help that many were introduced to the word used in this context through Tumblr social justice warriors who appropriate civil rights issues for bullshit and use ‘check your privilege’ as an attempt to shut down any criticism of their batshit beliefs. Many of them fail to comprehend intentionality so hard that they try and rank how oppressed they are, and some outright make up oppressions (Hi, Otherkin!)

    You might want to watch that last bit.  Me, I think anyone who wants to believe they are actually a fox can help themselves… just so long as they don’t try to force everybody to play along.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There’s two broad categories of privilege. Things everyone ought to have but not everyone does, and things no one ought to have but some people do. Your examples are both in the first category, the things that are rights (or ought to be–depends on the exact definition of ‘right’ in play), the things that will stop being privileges when everyone has them. The other category is things like the ability to make rape jokes without being hurt by them, caring about the people who will, or getting called on it by the listeners. That is, things that will stop being privileges when no one has them anymore.

    Maybe the two categories should be called different things. I don’t know. But they’re similar on the crucial point that the people who benefit are the people with the power structures tilted in their favor, and it’s that tilt to the power structure that we’re trying to undo, so I’m inclined to go on using a single term that covers both categoriesl.

  • Katie

     http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/
    This is my favorite explanation of what privilege is and how it works.

    As a side note, the discussion of race brings up one of the most interesting things about how race worked in the twentieth century-the way that ‘whiteness’ was redefined and expanded as the children and grandchildren of immigrants became more Americanized.  I’m sort of curious to see how this will play out with the latest wave of non-European immigrants-will whiteness be abandoned in favor of a new word for ‘us’, or will whiteness get modified, in the same way that ‘Judeo’ got added to ‘Christian’ and ‘Christian’ has come to include Catholics.  Or y’know, maybe we’ll quit being so hung up on race, but I’m not that much of an optimist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    John Kerry is actually not (to a great degree, at least) of Irish descent: his paternal grandparents were Austrian Jews, who changed their names to “Kerry” and converted to Catholicism a few years before they emigrated to the US. His great-uncle and great-aunt died in the Holocaust. So he’s actually of a different often-oppressed ethnicity.

    Interestingly, he didn’t know about his Jewish background until 2003, when he was running for president and it came up in the Boston Globe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    “Circular firing squad”? I dimly remember that there was an explicitly ethnic-slur version of this phrase, but I haven’t heard it used in a long time, unless there’s an ethnic slur buried in this version that I’m missing.

    But, yeah, the Polish-joke fad of the 1970s US was really bizarre. Actual prejudice against Eastern European immigrants was alive and well, and that was part of it, but there seemed to be something particularly arbitrary about it. Why specifically Poles, and why specifically then? It seems like the sort of thing that ought to be traceable back to a specific source.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    …Hmm, a bit of Googling reveals lots of explanations for the Polish-joke phenomenon, which are not 100% consistent.

    The Polish-American Journal claims that they originated with Nazi propaganda which was subsequently taken up by the Soviets, in both cases as justification for keeping Poland down, and consciously pushed on Americans as pro-Soviet propaganda through Communist sympathizers in Hollywood! But this is by no means universally agreed on. There’s also the theory that German displaced persons carried Nazi-era or older jokes with them to the US.

    Most of these jokes, though, were just generic dumb-person jokes with an ethnic identity pasted in. The more I read about it, the more I think the ascendancy of Poles as the target was essentially random.

    I do remember what killed it, though: I remember them going away really quickly when the Solidarity movement turned the fate of the Polish people into an anticommunist cause celebre. Some sources say it was John Paul II becoming Pope, but I remember a bunch of Polish jokes just getting attached to the Pope for a few years before Solidarity.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    They should.

    It’s the same problem with the word “theory”. Any person who’s got a science background will recite the definition as it pertains to science until they’re blue in the face, but the fact remains that the popular usage of the word is “an idea not (yet) supported by fact”, rather than “a description of physical phenomena within an overarching framework”, i.e. the theory of gravity, which explains all sorts of things from planetary orbits to why your coffee cup always falls when you drop it.

    The thing I find particularly troublesome is when people in social-justice circles seem to almost purposely use words like “privilege” and “racism” with their implied SJ meanings* in discussion with people who won’t know those meanings, because when the people who don’t know the meanings start seeing what they feel are absolutely prima facie absurd statements like “black people cannot be racist”, they pretty much stare like O_O and the SJ folks pat themselves on the back that the ignorant unwashed they just argued with are uneducable in the subject.


    * “privilege” as commonly understood refers to advantages explicitly conferred upon someone (usually in the purely monetary sense), but in social-justice dialog often takes on the added meaning of “an unseen benefit implicitly conferred by society”.

    “racism” as commonly understood carries the connotation of “prejudice on the basis of skin color”. In social-justice dialog this is usually redefined to mean “prejudice plus power yielding socially unequal outcomes on the basis of skin color”.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Personally, I’d prefer a word that puts the emphasis on “rights unfairly denied to others” rather than “special things which are not human rights which are gifted unfairly to the powerful.”

    These things are not special privileges I get for being white and male and straight and etc. They are the rights due all human beings. If they were just special priviliges above and beyond what’s due all humanity, I think it’d be a lot less problematic for some people to get them and some not. And I don’t think it’s good for the language to implicitly concede the point that “Hey, it’s not like there’s a  right to healthcare/food/clothing/shelter/marrying someone you love!”

  • arcseconds

    On my first reading, it almost sounded as if you were suggesting that bagging the Irish is a cherished part of English national culture :]

    OK, so firstly, again nothing you’ve said here is relevant to whether or not portraying the Irish as drunkards on English television helps to entrench a stereotypical view of the Irish amongst the English. 

    The context of my example was talking about how the Irish are perceived by the English, remember.   I think it’s safe to say the Irish have a more nuanced view of themselves than the English do of the Irish, and are less likely to take an Irish drunk as typifying the Irish ethnicity. 

    Note that these shows weren’t created primarily for Irish domestic consumption,
    and two of them are set in England with predominantly English cast.  I’m sure the people who made these shows did not think of themselves as innocently taking a charming figure from Irish culture and sharing it with the world: they know full well what the kind of reputation the Irish have in England, and decided to play to it anyway.  But this is of most of secondary importance: even if they were created for the Irish domestic market and were read as sophisticated ironical send-ups of the Irish drunk there, that doesn’t stop the English from missing the nuance and interpreting it as yet another hilarious Irish drunk.  And we’d have to ask why were these shows shown (and popular)  in England, rather than shows displaying the Irish as great musicians and poets, or doggedly surviving under oppression and famine, or as clever tricksters, or any one of a long list of other Irish stories.

    I think you’re underestimating the level of racism towards the Irish that existed in the recent past in England.   I think it’s changed somewhat and continues to change, as the time during which the English feared Irish terrorism recedes and more positive views come through (and the English relinquish the final bits of their Empire, i.e. those in their ‘own’ islands) , but these things don’t die out overnight.    You may be thinking that it’s kind of like Due South or Crocodile Dundee, where American audiences are presented with extravagant stereotypes of Canadians and Australians respectively, but ho ho it’s all in good fun and we fought on the same side in the war (doesn’t matter much which war, no-one remembers 1812 these days).     It’s been much more like a combination of the Black – White interaction in the USA with the Palestinian – Israeli interaction, down to ‘scientific’ categorisation of the Irish as a kind of subhuman, occupation, cultural repression, and an attempt to breed them out.   You can’t do this to people without dehumanising them, hence the stereotypes of the Irish being lazy, dumb, and drunk (and the racial categorisation), which have a long history.  Check out some of the old Punch cartoons about the Irish sometime.

    (The Irish of course responded with continual political agitation and terrorism.   )

    Under those circumstances, you’ve got to be pretty suspicious of negative stereotypical portrayals of Irish on English television. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I remember very distinctly one girl my sophomore year of high school who was sort of lacking in intellectual focus suddenly putting two and two together, and asking me, with a wide-eyed disbelieving sort of awe, “Wait a minute, so you’re a Pollock?” as she tried to reconcile her certain knowledge that Polish ingenuity was largely based around things like putting screen doors on submarines, and me, with my name ending in “-ski”, who by this point had a pretty considerable reputation as “the smarted kid in school since the semi-legendary kid who studied differential equasions in eleventh grade and did his senior paper on Les Miz in the original french”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    When I was in elementary school (Alaska, 1970 or so) the go-to ethnicity
    for mean ethnic jokes was Poles.  This was really odd as there weren’t
    any around (as far as I know) and I believe many of the kids had no idea
    what they were talking about.

    When I was in elementary school (SoCal, 1960-1969), we had NO black students in our school.  Almost all white, some Mexican (what’s now called Latino) and Asian, a typical mix for that city at that time.  No black students at all (which was also typical for the time).  So guess who was the butt of all the race jokes?

    It’s always the tribe that isn’t there.  The tribe that’s not one of you.

  • Trixie_Belden

    You know, it’s kind of interesting – I’m not exactly quibbling with your point about who would  get kicked out of Christopia first (or even allowed in there in the first place) .  Certainly in the present day,  Unitarians would get the boot tout suite, but historically, it was much more tolerated than Catholicism.  We had Unitarian presidents (definitely John Quincy Adams; probably his dad) at a time when many states wouldn’t have wanted to even elect a Catholic official.  A hundred and fifty-odd years later, Al Smith’s Catholicism was considered to be one of the factors that hampered his run for the presidency and John Kennedy’s Catholicism was a BIG issue in his campaign.

    Off the top of my head, I guess the reason why was because as Unitarianism developed in this country, it seemed to emerge out of a mix of New England Puritans, Quakers, and Congregationalists, therefore  mainstream Protestants seemed to regard Unitarianism as a sadly(?) attenuated version of Protestantism, and therefore basically harmless and more socially acceptable than the  heathenish rituals of the papists.  

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    Many of them fail to comprehend intentionality so hard that they try and
    rank how oppressed they are, and some outright make up oppressions (Hi,
    Otherkin!)

    Until you even get one-upmanship games of “I’m More Oppressed Than Thou!”

    As for Otherkin…  I remember cruising Otherkin websites.  The majority of Otherkin I saw online were more often female than male, 30-something, and grossly overweight.  And all their “recovered past-life memories” could have been cribbed off each other:  “Once we were all elves, fairies, dragons, and unicorns and everything was perfect; then those EVIL hyoomans came with their Crucified Sky God and the Burning Times began…”

    In Furry Fandom, we’ve got a sort-of crossover with Otherkin called “Therianthropes”, those Furries who think they’re really critters trapped in the body of one of those bad hyoomans.  But they don’t get as elaborate in their backstories as Otherkin.  And I have never seen Furries weave such elaborate Conspiracy Theories as the mundane world.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    In the scenario Magic_Cracker describes came about, and the Evangelical
    theocrats thought they had a clear power advantage over the Catholics,
    the Catholics could well be the first target, because they”d be the
    greatest threat to Evangelical hegemony.  

    What do predators eat after they’ve killed off all the prey?

  • arcseconds

     As far as being embraced or rejected by the people who are the subject of the stereotypes,  again firstly that has little bearing on the effect this has on viewers outside that culture.   The main question surely has to be “do these portrayals help entrench a stereotypical view of the Irish/Jews amongst the English/Americans?”. 

    And the answer surely has to be “yes”, doesn’t it?  There are a vast number of comedies that portray Jews as kvetching, neurotic people with overbearing mothers beyond the ones that you mention (we could add “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Will and Grace” to your list, the last also includes mammoth stereotypes of gay people to boot).     There aren’t an even greater number of shows that focus on Jewish characters that show Jews in any other light.  How could this fail to enshrine stereotypes about Jews?  Do you not think people are informed by what they watch? Or are there troves of shows about Jews showing them in a nuanced light that I’ve somehow missed?

    While we’re on this topic, don’t you think it’s at least a little suspicious that movies and TV shows that focus on Jewish characters are usually comedies trading on these stereotypes? Where are the Jewish action heroes?  The Jewish teenage heart-throbs?  (you may be able to find the odd examples, and by all means tell me, I’d be interested.  But it won’t alter my point unless there are significant numbers of them).  A similar point could be made about Black Americans, although they do get action movies too.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    and grossly overweight.

    Hey.

    Shut the fuck up.

  • P J Evans

     Poles tell Russian jokes. Really.
    (The best ‘Polish joke’ I know is actually an engineering joke.)

  • arcseconds

     My comment about the Jutes was a joke, of course.   But just for the record, I doubt this is true.  I hadn’t actually heard of an extermination before now, I always understood they were assimilated. 

    I did a quick google, though, and found that there are historians who think they were exterminated, possibly based on something Bede said.  However,  it’s either a minority view, or at least a disputed one.

    I doubt the story of the extermination.  Actual examples of ancient genocides are rarer than people think.  The usual pattern seems to be intermarriage and assimilation, even if this is accompanied by a bit of conquest, killing, and violent ethnic strife.   It’s commonly assumed that the Angles and the Saxons (and the Jutes!) wiped out the ancient Britons, but there are examples of DNA showing e.g. that someone buried in a barrow has a descendent just down the road.  And as far as I understand it, there’s practically no physical evidence of this happening (there aren’t heaps of mass graves, for example).

    It may well be that someone set out to destroy the Jutes, but this is  just as likely to mean ‘take them over, destroy their aristocracy, rule them, and thoroughly Saxonify them’ , or maybe ‘displace them so they’re not next door any more’ as ‘kill them off down to the last child’.  Even if they did attempt the later, how successful would they have been?  People can always run away, and back in the days of the Heptarchy (or earlier), no-one was in a position to enact a policy across all of southern Britain.

    Anyway, even if they did manage to conduct a successful genocides of the Jutes in such a way, you’d still have descendents of Jutes who had intermarried with Saxons or whomever and assimilated with the Saxons,  decades or centuries before anyone had thought to wipe them out.

  • The_L1985

     As many warm-fuzzies as that would give, I honestly think she could do more good for the country in the Senate.

  • The_L1985

     I think I’m in love.

    More Fun With Racists! :D

    Point out that study from 2002 or thereabouts, in which it was demonstrated that white students in some big-name university had more mitochondrial DNA in common with their black classmates than with their white classmates.  Watch heads explode.

  • The_L1985

    I think it’s a combination of both.  You have the zero-sum people, and the Just World people, and it’s in the interest of the zero-sum people to keep the Just World people in the dark about how unjust the world actually is, because the Just World people help them keep Winning.  And to the zero-sum people, everything is about Winning.

    I was a Just World person, which is why it was so easy for me to leave that whole poisonous mindset once I saw the injustice inherent in the system.  Dr. McGrew, if you’re reading this, thank you.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    The explanation for  Polish jokes that I learned in college was that it related to how egregiously culturally specific “intelligence tests” used to be (as opposed to the somewhat milder form of cultural specificity they have nowadays).  The “intelligence test” was in its ascendancy as the immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe were just arriving and so, of course, they all did poorly.  Even the brightest only barely passed. 

    So Poles (and others from the region) were dubbed I believe the term used at the time was “morons.”  It might have been one of the other derogatory terms, but I believe that was the one that was used.

  • The_L1985

     It wasn’t until sociology and Education 101 that I ever stopped to think about the lower echelons of society beyond “wow, some people really have to work more than 40 hr/wk to support their families?  That’s really sad.”

    I honestly thought that one of the main reasons people got into credit-card debt in the 90′s was because they were like my uncle and tried to enjoy more luxuries than they could afford.*  The idea that health insurance couldn’t cover everything (and was THAT expensive, to boot), or that people had to take out loans sometimes just to make ends meet, or that unemployment actually wasn’t enough to feed you sometimes, was completely foreign to me.

    * My uncle earned enough to live comfortably.  He did not, however, earn enough for all the awesome family vacations, home-remodeling, and stuff he got for his kids.  We thought of him as the “cool uncle,” but really, he wasn’t too financially savvy and spent a good 15 years getting out of the hole he’d dug for himself.  Other relatives had to send him money at one point.  I don’t know how much money, because I was a teenager at the time and my parents clammed up as soon as they noticed I was in the room, but it was enough to get my dad grumbling about My Brother The Moocher for a couple years.

    The end result was that I became terrified of spending money on myself for a good while.

  • christopher_y

    I was under the impression that the Jutes in England were exterminated by the Saxons.

    Be careful saying that to a Kentish man. In the former kingdom of Kent, those born east of the river Medway are Kentish men and women, who claim descent from the Jutes, while those born east of the Medway are men and women of Kent, dismissed by the Kentish folk as mere Saxons. (Obviously this no longer really applies, since most people in Kent these days are under-employed Londoners looking for cheaper housing.)

  • The_L1985

     Which, one would think, is exactly the, er, point.  The reason people are all talking about privilege in the first place is because some of us have advantages that others don’t.  The weird part is when people seem to think that somehow we’re accusing them of being bad people for having privilege.

    I do like the version John Scalzi wrote once, that points out that if you treat all the sociological variables and circumstances of birth as options and sliders on a video game, then basically “Straight White Cismale” is “Easy Mode.”

    There are still challenges, and money is still an issue, but by virtue of being Mr. Straight White Cismale, you still have an easier time than any other race, gender identity, or sexual orientation.  NPC’s (read: everybody else) treat you differently because you are Mr. Straight White Cismale, and not one of the other playable characters.  There are places different types of player characters can and can’t go, and achievements they can and can’t earn, based on whether or not they’re Mr. Straight White Cismale.

    This seems to be a bit less guilt-inducing.  Who among us hasn’t tried a game on the easiest setting?  There’s no shame in doing that.  And for gamers, at least, it can help things to sink in that, “For me, life is like playing easier difficulty levels of the game, all the time, but for that person over there, it’s like Legendary Mode, over and over, every day.”  Suddenly, the anger and frustration you see from disadvantaged persons makes sense–when you can’t access Easy Mode, and other people can, why shouldn’t you swear and throw the controller?

  • The_L1985

     I remember as a teenager, my Italian aunt breaking out the Polish jokes.  I felt very uncomfortable.

    Generally, if I want to tell those sorts of jokes, I use the imaginary country of Pifflestan.  That way, there’s nobody to be offended.

    This is also a reminder to me to generally not tell those sorts of jokes.

  • The_L1985

     But I really AM a table!  Stop oppressing us table-kin, CIS-SCUM!!  Check your privilege!  Check your privilege!!!

    Wow, that was fun.

  • The_L1985

     I don’t agree with that SJ definition of racism.  Racism is, essentially, any form of treating people differently based on skin color, be it on a personal level or an institutional one.

  • The_L1985

     She may have thought you were Russian.

  • The_L1985

     Er…they’re both Kentish, and they’re both from east of the Medway, then?

  • christopher_y

    Sorry, men of Kent are from west of the Medway – overspill south Saxons.

  • Carstonio

     Although I lean toward the SJ definition, my true preference would be separate words for the two phenomena – differential treatment in and of itself, and differential treatment plus systemic power. A black supervisor who abuses hir power at the expense of non-blacks is not in the same position as a white supervisor who does the same to non-whites, unless most of the leadership positions in the company are also filled by blacks and the company’s workplace culture treated blackness as normative.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Now I know! I just assumed that being Catholic and with a name like Kerry and being from Mass. that the dude was Irish! Thanks for pointing to a pretty serious, prejudicial blind spot of mine.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Learning all kinds of Jutish history. SWEET.

  • trogon

     I suspect that the difference between “Unitarian” and “UU” may be at issue here; Unitarianism and Universalism were separate faiths until they merged in the 1960s.  The origins of Unitarianism were explicitly Christian; they considered themselves to be Christians who believed in a single god rather than in the Trinity.   Given that the US had a Unitarian (by this definition) president (John Quincy Adams, who founded the now-UU church I am a member of) long before it had a Catholic president (JFK), I do think Magic_Cracker has a point.  Unitarians weren’t kicked out of Christopia so much as that they left, however.

  • BrokenBell

    And you’re saying this despite the commentary in this exact thread about examples of racism and racial discrimination in other times and cultures that are not based in skin colour at all?

  • Magic_Cracker

    I do think Magic_Cracker has a point.

    I do?!?! :-)
    I just used Unitarians (specifically avoiding mention the Universalists) as a hypothetical example. EllieMurasaki’s point was well-taken; odds are, they’d never have participated in the Christian-takeover in the first place, and therefore, would have been out with the non-Christians. Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, and United C of C  (and other such liberal denominations) would probably never participate in such shenanigans and in fact actively oppose them, much as they did in Handmaid’s Tale.

  • BrokenBell

    Also, I’m just going to say, even if you doubt the validity of someone’s stated beliefs about themselves and find their use of social justice language to be appropriative and harmful, dismissively mocking them as a bunch of fat, crazy women is still disgusting and bullying behaviour. 

  • The_L1985

    Considering that skin color is the easiest way to differentiate between “races” (themselves entirely a social construct), and that all other such differences essentially trace back to either ethnic differences (also a social construct) or differences in skin color, how would you have me word it?

  • Nicanthiel

    I’m a Jute. And a Angle, but not a Saxon as far as I know. (Kent, Northumbria and East Anglia being the major origins of my English ancestry)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    This is meant as a reply to EllieMurasaki, but Disqus is being weird:

    >>Judging by the way evangelical Christians flocked to a Mormon presidential candidate, yes, it does help<<

    A Mormon presidential candidate that made money off abortions (Stericycle was owned by Bain Capital IIRC and they disposed of aborted fetuses as biohazardous material), signed an assault-weapons ban into law when he was governor and who gave a more liberal template for Obamacare (Romneycare covered abortions; Obamacare didn't). Literally the only thing he had going for him to appeal to the cracker Taliban was his white skin.

  • picklefactory

    Well, that escalated quickly.

  • BrokenBell

    I don’t actually care how you word it, because I think difference in power is a significant aspect and that any definition of racism would be incomplete without it. You’ve already stated your disagreement with any phrasing I’m likely to suggest.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     Now that Romney was defeated in the 2012 elections, does this mean the Mormons go back to being a CULT CULT CULT?

  • The_L1985

    But here’s the thing: where, exactly are you saying that the power differential comes from?  Is it required in order for there to be racism?  Because from where I’m standing, there would be a much more equal playing field in the US today WRT race (the way there pretty much is in western Europe) if institutional racism had been gotten rid of during Reconstruction instead of sticking around for another whole century the way it did.  (Here, I’m referring to laws that were explicitly, obviously, you-can’t-really-weasel-out-of-this-one racist in their very wording, like Jim Crow laws.  The various laws involved in the War On Drugs are racist in effect, because they’re not really enforced if you’re white or wealthy–but the laws themselves don’t say anything about doing this.  Obviously racism is involved, but it’s at the individual level of crooked cops and the like, and is thus more insidious.)

    The power differential can be a CAUSE of racism, or a RESULT thereof.  It’s a dark, twisted feedback loop.

    There’s also the fact that racism can, and does, go both ways.  To say that only the privileged race in a given society is capable of such prejudice is dangerous, and ignores the natural and justifiable resentment that results when you keep kicking the same people down, over and over, for decades.

    There are people out there who have never met me, but who would hate me on sight because I have white skin.  I’ve never done anything to directly harm these people; I want to make society better for them and more equal for everybody; I don’t even know the individuals in question.  But it doesn’t matter, because I’m white, and am thus a symbol in their minds of every racist joke, every KKK member, every sundown town, every NRA member, every person who refused to take money from their hands because it involved touching “one of those people.”*  I can’t change their minds, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still fight for them, because they’re people and I can’t stand the thought of doing people wrong.**

    * This actually happened at my first job at a drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant.  The cashier that day was the nicest young lady I knew at the time.  She was also black, and the disgusting racist POS who came through the window that day didn’t want to receive her change or food from the cashier, because it meant physical contact with a black person.  I was so angry I couldn’t think of anything horrible enough to say to that woman as she sat there, gloating, in her car.  Maybe if I’d told her to have a nice day in Spanish she’d have removed her head from a lower orifice, but I doubt it.  The cashier was crying in the back room, and I didn’t know what to say to her either.

    ** Really, it’s a selfish reason.  It’s not that I feel it’s the right thing.  It’s that I don’t want anybody to have a good reason to be angry anymore, because then maybe fewer of them will be angry.  That, and I’m more sensitive to human suffering than is probably healthy.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The power differential is an inherent part of racism. The other inherent part of racism is prejudice and/or discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity. It’s possible for one to be prejudiced against people of a certain skin tone without being racist against them; all that means is that one does not have societal power structures supporting the prejudice.

    I really can’t blame people of color for hating me for my whiteness. But they’re not being racist, just prejudiced, because societal power is on my side, not theirs.


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