osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Of Prop 8 and RaceFail09

More below the cut.

"Never did I understand 'white privilege' until Ben Zoma explained it to me . . . "

I'd like all those of you who posted heartfelt reactions of outrage, bitterness, or other strong emotion to undergo the following exercise.

Imagine me explaining to you that you are:
(a) overreacting;
(b) 'Too angry' for me to listen to;
(c) That it's not my fault;
(d) That because I'm Jewish and we were oppressed I'm the authority on all oppressed people and can tell you what you should be feeling;
(e) That it is really the fault of gay people for pushing for too much, and besides, what can you expect from people really;
(f) and that, if you really want to do something constructive, you won't be so angry or say such radical things that offend all the straight people.

Now imagine that when you try to respond, I and a bunch of my friends tell you:

(a) wow, some gay people are never satisfied;
(b) I know lots of gay people who don't want to get married and who don't care about this issue;
(c) You just resent all straight people and religious people for things that aren't our fault;
(d) The fact that you continue to argue with me shows what an unreasonable persoon you are, and how unreasonable people like you are.

If you do it right, you will have a better understanding of what it was like to be on the receiving end of RaceFail09. Because there is nothing like being told what to feel by others about crap you experience every day, nothing like being told to be honest and then getting told that your feeling is "to angry," "too radical," "too whatever" to even be heard and considered, to utterly deprive you of any dignity as an individual. When even your cry of pain from the heart is stripped from you and used as a weapon to rob you of words and prove that you deserve to be spoken of and treated this way.

Bonus points: Now imagine all your friends staying silent. Because it's awkward, and they don't really know what to say, and they don't like conflict, and they really don't think they have a right to say anything, and they just wish the whole unpleasantness would go away and we could get back to pretending that everything is just hunky dory peachy keen fine.

Mind you, the overflowing of outrage, grief, shock at unbridled bigotry blah blah blah just REEKS of white privilege. It is the outraged howl of a community of people who suddenly discover that the freedoms and privileges they and their friends like them enjoy are not a natural law. That like people of middle eastern descent after 9/11, or people of color stopped for "DWB," or even like everyone in the United States who didn't want the NSA listening in on their private conversations, your rights can indeed vanish like a soap bubble unless you persuade a majority of the people to grant them to you. Because in the end, all rights are fabrications, possible only because the majority of people prefer to protect those rights for their own benefit. Because whenever the majority of people do not see a benefit in preserving those rights, the majority has, indeed, treated those rights as privileges to be discarded at will when inconvenient. We had religious freedom enshrined in our constitution because we had what passed for a pluralistic society back then (Catholics and many flavors of Protestant all living together with no predominant religion) and so they wrote freedom of religion to protect THEMSELVES. But had not the least trouble classing slaves and the "savage indian tribes" as 3/5 a person.

Those who live in the shadow of oppression never forget that. It does not mean meekly accepting indignities and insults. But it also does not mean getting all weepy and teary and resentful and shocked that perfectly nice, reasonable people turn out to think your fundamental rights are meaningless and tell you that they shouldn't matter to you.

RaceFail09 again. Here I am, a straight married guy lecturing y'all in your hour of grief. My marriage is secure, but I'm gonna tell you how you should be feeling and what you should do better.

How's that feeling?

"For you yourselves were strangers in a strange land . . ."

The object of my little exercise here isn't just to vent my spleen and ride my hobby horse, although Lord knows it does that as well. Because yes, I am thoroughly sick of hearing people tell me they shouldn't have to justify their rights, they should just get them handed to them. To which my usual reaction is "I guess you haven't suffered enough yet, because you still think your own precious feelings are more important than your cause." No, I have, I hope, another reason for pissing off most of my f'list.

What do you do with the experience?

Feel not just the outrage, but the bitterness that comes from being told it's your fault, the helpless frustration and betrayal when your dear friends get all defensive and make it about them not you. Embrace it. Savor it. Delight in it on the tip of your tongue and down into your marrow. Capture it for a moment of anguish and vibrant despair, and let it change you.

No, it isn't a one shot to wisdom. No single experience, particularly by proxy, gives you more than an echo. but an echo is enough, perhaps.

Empathy begins with understanding of self, then expanding it for others. That is the real perniciousness of the cluelessness some call "white privilege." It is when you utterly lack any basis for personal understanding that empathy is impossible, although sympathy is still attainable. If you found this post unpleasant. If the intellectual exercise made you feel angry and helpless. Then use that as a first step in the echo that creates empathy and understanding.

Yeah yeah, pretentious ending. *shrug* It's my blog.

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