No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. — John Donne
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Have you heard of Blaire White? She’s a famously trans woman who talks, frequently, about gender on YouTube. Now, I’m not trans; I’m cis. But a lot of my trans friends really hate her. Even some of my anti-SJW trans friends. And when I watch her, a lot of the stuff she says seems kinda…off.
I’m not really well-equipped to talk about being trans, because I’m not trans. But I do know something about what it means to be marginalized in this country, as I am a black man living in the South. And I have had quite a bit of time to think about what, exactly, it means to be marginalized, and why other people should care. Because, as a black man who blogs about race, I spend a lot of time convincing white people to care about racism.
What I’m about to say is a bit risky. It may sound a bit offensive. But it needs to be said.
Recently, Blaire White made a video saying that she used to be a social justice warrior who blamed other people for her problems, who was confused about her gender identity, and who was fairly poor. Being in social justice groups gave her support. People would validate her concerns, blame society for their problems along with her, say that those who opposed her morality were evil, and so on. Then, she continues, eventually she found out that she was a trans woman, and her transition eased many of her concerns about her gender identity. She knew who she was. She was able to take responsibility for herself instead of depending on the dependent ideology of SJW groups. And in addition to that, she got a job. She wasn’t poor anymore. This gave her a greater degree of independence and sense of self-responsibility, and she separated herself from SJW people who were often blaming themselves for their problems.
These changes, she claims, were only possible because she bucked against the gospel of dependence and the “it’s society’s fault” narrative, and took ownership of herself and her own destiny. Today, she continues, she’s upset that people are trapped in SJW groups that keep preaching powerlessness, insulating themselves with a morality that blames society and the sense of an exclusive, almost cult-like community. Her message now is self-empowerment, as opposed to dependence, powerlessness, and helpless entitlement. Don’t sit back and cry and expect people to give something to you, she says. Take it.
That realization, she said, was part of growing up. In order to mature, she had to move out of her “victim complex.”
So, first, I think Blaire White is failing to realize the extent to which social justice is social. I’ll admit that yes, there are some people who don’t really care about the groups they claim to support and use social justice concepts to further marginalize groups through pitying them, and to insulate marginalized groups by determinedly demonizing anyone who interferes with their attempts to control communities. I’ve seen it happen, to the detriment of many of my friends. So I’ll admit that yes, this is a thing, and I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that.
Ideally, social justice isn’t just about seeing individuals as victims. It’s about realizing that there’s a capacity in individuals to realize their potential. I think even most of the coldest-blooded anti-SJWs will generally agree (with some exceptions) that we shouldn’t kill every member of a marginalized or underserved group. If we can’t do that, we’re stuck with them, and we should figure out how to take away any barriers to helping them reach their full potential in society. Racism, sexism, classism, cissexim, and all those other prejudices are not bad just because they hurt marginalized “victims” — they are also bad for us all because they fail to empower people to reach their potential in society. To the extent that we don’t see the value in a group of people, that group carries untapped value in our culture. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
I think that Blaire White, like many of us, used her social justice group at a time when she was trying to figure out how to navigate life in spite of marginalization and uncertainty. And it’s good that people were there to validate her concerns. We have a short life, and it doesn’t necessarily get better for everyone; we need to nurture people where they are. And sometimes you are where you are due to circumstances beyond your control, especially if you are in a marginalized group. But realizing the truth of the forces holding you back is not an excuse to be trapped in a victimhood mentality; it’s a way to draw a map so that you can cope with the reality of the situation. When you are marginalized, you have to be aware of the way other people perceive you when you want to get ahead.
However, when people like Blaire White start getting ahead they may forget what realizations got them there. My concern is that Blaire White, in fighting against social justice, is protecting a status quo that disproportionately benefits her and ignores the valid experiences of those that social justice concepts are meant to protect. Every member of society got to where they are because someone gave us a step up, in one way or another, and if we want people to be as successful as we are (if you are successful in some way), then it will help to give other people a step up, as well — not out of a sense of obligation, but simply because you want to live in a better society. That means being on their side, being their cheerleader, and fighting against ways they are marginalized instead of insisting that they be satisfied with the status quo.
Here’s a more controversial bit:
In the book Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl states that in the Nazi concentration camps the Jews who survived were crueller, often, than the German guards. These were Jews who became “Capos” thatwere put in charge of groups of men or women and expected to keep them in line. They looked out for themselves and for the Germans who they worked with. They could eat the guards’ food and had better quarters. They had superiority over the rest of the Jews, and that superiority gave them pride and a sense of specialness. They hated the image of themselves that they saw in the Jews they oversaw, and that hate came out in their cruelty and their haughty superiority.
Malcolm X talked about the House Negro and the Field Negro in a way that illuminates this dynamic. It’s worth quoting at length:
There were two kinds of slaves, the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes – they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good because they ate his food – what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved the master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master’s house – quicker than the master would. If the master said, “We got a good house here,” the house Negro would say, “Yeah, we got a good house here.” Whenever the master said “we,” he said “we.” That’s how you can tell a house Negro.
If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s run away, let’s escape, let’s separate,” the house Negro would look at you and say, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house nigger.” And that’s what we call them today, because we’ve still got some house niggers running around here.
This modern house Negro loves his master. He wants to live near him. He’ll pay three times as much as the house is worth just to live near his master, and then brag about “I’m the only Negro out here.” “I’m the only one on my job.” “I’m the only one in this school.” You’re nothing but a house Negro. And if someone comes to you right now and says, “Let’s separate,” you say the same thing that the house Negro said on the plantation. “What you mean, separate? From America, this good white man? Where you going to get a better job than you get here?” I mean, this is what you say. “I ain’t left nothing in Africa,” that’s what you say. Why, you left your mind in Africa.
On that same plantation, there was the field Negro. The field Negroes – those were the masses. There were always more Negroes in the field than there were Negroes in the house. The Negro in the field caught hell. He ate leftovers. In the house they ate high up on the hog. The Negro in the field didn’t get anything but what was left of the insides of the hog.
The field Negro was beaten from morning to night; he lived in a shack, in a hut; he wore old, castoff clothes. He hated his master. I say he hated his master. He was intelligent. That house Negro loved his master, but that field Negro – remember, they were in the majority, and they hated the master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try to put it out; that field Negro prayed for a wind, for a breeze. When the master got sick, the field Negro prayed that he’d die. If someone came to the field Negro and said, “Let’s separate, let’s run,” he didn’t say, “Where we going?” He’d say, “Any place is better than here.”
Here is the dynamic:
For the most part, trans people, black people, poor people, etc. … we are marginalized. The majority of these marginalize groups are marginalized; they’re at a tremendous disadvantage, and in many cases abuse. That’s untapped potential.
Now, when you’re experiencing this disadvantage as a member of a marginalized group, you want the situation to change. If you are empathetic or simply care about good economics and want to make sure that untapped potential is realized, you want the situation to change. You are not satisfied with the status quo; you want to transform it. You’re the starving Jew in the concentration camp, the sunburned slave in the field.
But if you have risen above to be the darling of the dominant group, to be “special” — you don’t want things to change. You will berate the marginalized groups even more than the dominant class does. You will rub in your superiority and preach that things don’t need to change. Things are fine the way they are. And in some ways, possibly, that beration may be a reflection of your resentment at having ever been in that position yourself (which is important to keep in mind — if you are part of a marginalized group and your fortunes change, realize that you will likely forget the difficulty and needs many of those marginalized groups experienced, very quickly).
I think this is important for those in and outside the marginalized groups to realize. We want people to be in atmospheres that will fuel their success — not just for their good, but for the sake of society’s full potential. What this means is that we have to make sure that we are hearing from marginalized people who are truly marginalized — not to merely have pity on them, but to figure out the landscape of their situation and thus strive to construct a society that will nurture them. And we have to realize when there’s an House Negro or a Capo who is keeping that marginalized group in its place for the sake of its own benefit and glorification.
This distinction is difficult to make, especially if you are not part of the marginalized group you are discoursing with. But if you notice a voice that seems to be a minority in the marginalized group saying things that confirm all your biases and preaching the gospel of the status quo, that’s a good sign that they are not the right voice to hear.
At the same, this dichotomy condemns the dominant class. There is nothing proprietary about their position. There is nothing about them that the people they marginalized, if given the right opportunity, could not also do, and do even more cruelly, possibly. What keeps the dominant group dominant is prejudice, not real inferiority among the marginalized.
A sobering thought, but a necessary one that shows the ridiculousness of systems of prejudice, and sheds some light, possibly, on how we should view Blaire White.
Thank you for reading.
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