Short Take: Frank Bruni Plays His One Victim Point

Frank Bruni does the unthinkable at the New York Times.

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

What are the chances that Bruni would get a job with a broom, no less a column, with the New York Times today? But he’s got one card to play, and he plays it.

But wait. I’m gay.

Red lights go off. Sirens. Whistles. 

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes.

Being gay means you get to take one step forward. But the rest means you take ten steps back. It’s an easy calculus in the minds of the unduly passionate.

In a new book coming out this week, “The Once and Future Liberal,” [Mark Lilla] asserts that “classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. White men have one ‘epistemology,’ black women have another. So what remains to be said?”

One side is speaking one language while the other plays the identity trump card that negates all reason. There is no reasoning, no arguing, no discussion to be had. But having played the gay card, which is the only way Bruni could have written his column without being burned at the stake, he chooses not to rely on it.

My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

The closest I come to being allowed in the oppression Olympic is that I’m Jewish, though unobservant. And frankly, I’ve never felt oppressed for it, so I’m like one of those Olympians from a country nobody’s ever heard of who never makes it out of the preliminaries and usually comes in dead last. And I don’t even have a story like Eddie the Eagle, so there’s no hope for me on Lifetime, or even Oprah Network.

So why are you reading this? Why do you even care what this old cis white guy has to say? There are oppressed people out there, and if counting victim points is all that matters, they are the ones you need to listen to because what would I know about injustice?

Bruni’s got guts for going out on a limb at the mothership. I hope he knows how to push a broom.

8 comments on “Short Take: Frank Bruni Plays His One Victim Point

  1. Ross

    Why do I read SJ? Well, the writing is excellent. I prefer to read sites that I disagree with that are well written over sites I agree with that are crappily written (I seldom disagree with the points made here, so it’s the best of both worlds). The posts are balanced and nuanced, and based on principle, rather than a strident “my way is right and yours is wrong” approach that makes any discussion impossible. Some of us are still adults who understand that neither side of the polarized screaming that passes for discussion these days can be completely right, and that the best decisions occur when we reach a shared understanding of the situation. Shared understanding doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, it just means understanding, hopefully followed by a “how can we deal with your concerns and reach a mutually acceptable solution” discussion.

      1. Ross

        Woohoo, I am finally a member of a group subject to microaggression! Time to start demanding what is rightfully mine, rather than trying to minimize the impact my fat ass might have on the comfort of others. I can stop trying to find seats on empty rows, and just plop down right in the middle of everyone.

  2. Bitch R Us

    Well good to know you are a Homophobe as a well as Misogynist. Or just an asshole and that covers it.

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