June 15, 2007

When I Have More Strength, and Patience...

I'll explain in further detail where Larry Hamelin goes badly astray in this essay, which he wrote in response to this.

The critical passage from Larry is this one:
However, there is an element in Moore's essay—which Silber quotes approvingly—that is both simply false and ethically indefensible:
This situation will never, never improve until whites can admit to themselves that they are by definition and innately racist. ... If you are born white, you are born racist.
Presumably by extension, if you are born male, you are born sexist; born straight, born homophobic. But, just like it is the case that "Blacks like me become racist in defense," women become sexist (only) in defense and gay people become anti-straight only in defense.

This position is arrant bullshit.

First of all it's obviously racist in itself. It's trivially hypocritical for Moore to condemn racism itself out of one side of her mouth and assert it out of the other side. If Moore wishes to directly condemn the exploitation, oppression and social marginalization of black people—which do deserve condemnation—without condemning the underlying racism, that's one thing. But to condemn racism per se in whites while justifying it in blacks is indefensible.

If racism were really an ineluctable, innate characteristics of white people, then it would by definition be excluded from normative ethics and render irrelevant all the normative psychological apparatus, notably guilt and shame. I categorically refuse to feel the slightest bit of guilt and shame about who I am; I will in principle feel guilt and shame only about the choices I make. If I were actually innately racist, then there it is, no more deserving of shame or pride than the fact that my penis affords me the ability to write my name in the snow.
I acknowledge that, viewed in isolation, Moore uses the term "racist" imprecisely and inaccurately in the excerpt above; without grasping the entire context in which Moore makes the statements that elicit Larry's anger, those statements are wrong -- even obviously wrong, as Larry says repeatedly.

But the surrounding context ought to be painfully obvious: Moore is discussing a society and a culture which are founded on, organized around and which embody white, straight male privilege across the board, and in virtually every aspect and particular. That critical, broader context must inform how one interprets Moore's narrower statements. Instead, Larry takes a great deal of time and attention to make a very delimited philosophic point which is (as he himself argues) painfully obvious to anyone with half a brain, while the much more complex and infinitely more significant cultural realities entirely elude him. As a result, Larry's argument is, to use his own word, "trivial" given his avoidance of the overriding political, social and cultural dynamics in play. (Some of those social and cultural dynamics are discussed in an essay from a couple of years ago: "Living on the Inside...and Living on the Outside.")

There is much more I could say about this, and maybe I will at some point. I knew that post, and the particular excerpt from Moore that I highlighted, would upset a lot of people. In large part, that was why I wrote that entry in the way I did.

Larry's argument -- and please note the point that appears to be most critical to him: "I categorically refuse to feel the slightest bit of guilt and shame about who I am," and this as a criticism of people who have been made and are still made to feel guilty and ashamed about who they are from their very earliest memories, up to this very second -- falls on a spectrum which has provided me two other related examples. I wrote "We Are Not Freaks" in response to a post from Tom Schaller that I had previously discussed here and here. I received quite a lot of correspondence about those three posts. One of my correspondents vociferously defended Schaller -- and he insisted that it was people "like me" who made it so impossible for "good liberals" to fight the good fight. If only we didn't raise such a stink when our "friends" tried to help us! If only we didn't make a federal case out of everything! If only we would lighten up, and give "good liberals" like Schaller a break! So, you see, that entire controversy, along with much else, was actually my fault.

To which I replied, in essence, if not in these exact words: When you and the society you inhabit stop fucking with my life, I'll consider your wonderfully kind suggestions, buddy, and not one goddamned second before.

I received quite a lot of email about the "Faggots, Freaks and Niggers" post as well, most of it exceedingly unfriendly. One of those messages is representative of a certain response. Here it is in its entirety:
How amusing that you draw a parallel between Ms Moore's experience and your own, since your "faggotry" would not protect you from her hurling the "racist" epithet at YOU, as well.

You know what? Get over it, Dear. I have been listening to hate-filled rants like Ms. Moore's for 40 years and somehow this resentment and animosity has never helped anyone. For God's sakes----here is a woman who is still bloviating about being offered the part of the maid in her high school play fifty years ago? Is she kidding?! And pray tell, if the school was overwhelmingly white, and the class was putting on a play about a white family (which "Junior Miss" decidedly is), what part did Ms. Moore expect to be offered? The white Dad, maybe?

Now gays have decided that it will serve them politically to mimic the same petulant slapdowns of the heterosexual Caucasian majority that some blacks have indulged in. But they have some mighty uncomfortable bedfellows on that score. (I direct you to Louis Farrakhan's and Al Sharpton's pronouncements on gays.)

Just as Moore blames white racism for her mother electing to work as a maid (even after passing a Civil Service exam and being offered better positions), gays blame heterosexuals for not accepting them----even as they go out of their way to indulge in behavior that is alienating and obnoxious. Let's face it: you can't parade around in pink hair and nipple rings, frenchkiss your lover on Main Street and expect a group hug with the VFW and the Rotary Club.

On balance, I would say that the kind of vitriol and malice exhibited by you and Ms. Moore ends up hurting the folks you claim you're helping. It's practically a petri dish for the kind of reactionary backlash that has given us the "gifts" of decades of GOP rule and all manner of regressive socioeconomic policy.
You see? Once again, it's all my fault.

Given this reader's willingness to blame me, gays and lesbians, and blacks for the state of this country for the last several "decades," I suppose I could respond, in the infinitely tragic event that she had been regularly raped for a period of ten or fifteen years:
Get over it, Dear. There's no point in complaining about it endlessly. You just upset people, and that doesn't do anyone any good. And after all, you did like to wear awfully short skirts and very tight sweaters. And remember the way you used to walk? You were practically begging to be raped!
I include that last point because, of course, we all know that every single gay man "parade[s] around in pink hair and nipple rings," and we all "frenchkiss [our] lover on Main Street." If only we didn't "go out of [our] way to indulge in behavior that is alienating and obnoxious." We should be much more polite, considerate and obedient faggots. And nobody likes uppity niggers.

But this reader is, as she would undoubtedly be the first to tell me, really on my side.

Most of you make me very, very tired. See you next week -- at which time, I will do my best to continue to upset you.

Some of you desperately need to be upset -- a lot.