This has nothing to do with Sarah Jeong. Don’t tell me what you think of her, or her twits. Don’t bother to mention her name. It’s not about her. It’s about the issue that bubbled to the top during the discussion about her. It’s about the issue. Not her. The issue. Focus instead on what Cathy Young had to say about it.
The recent blowup over New York Times editorial board hire Sarah Jeong and her racially charged Twitter trail turned into a brawl over a key question in today’s cultural polemics: Whether derogatory speech about whites should be considered racist and, more generally, whether there is such a thing as anti-white racism.
Most of Jeong’s defenders on the left not only argued that she shouldn’t lose her job but insisted that there was nothing particularly wrong with her white-bashing tweets, whether they were meant to mock racist trolls or criticize “white privilege.” “To equate ‘being mean to white people’ with the actual systemic oppression and marginalization of minority groups is a false equivalency,” wrote Vox reporter Aja Romano in a supposedly objective “explainer.”
Or to be more Vox-like, it’s fair to punch up, but not to punch down. How do you know whether your punches are acceptable at dinner parties?
The defense of “punching up” is a fundamental part of the left-identitarian ideology (also known as “social justice” or “intersectionality”) that has become the quasi-official progressive creed in the 2010s. In this creed, all human interaction is seen primarily through the lens of “power dynamics” and the “oppression/privilege” hierarchy; thus, hostile or demeaning speech is judged by whether the speaker and the target are “privileged” or “marginalized.”
It you’re unclear about what “intersectionality” is all about, this is an excellent ‘splainer. It is not by Vox. What makes social justice work is that it’s a self-fulfilling ideology. If you question or challenge it, it proves you’re privileged and, as the context dictates, racist, sexist, etc. Thus, the only reply deserved to anyone who doubts that all of human existence can only be considered through the lens of oppression is that the questioner is the oppressor. Boo, oppressor, whereupon ad hominems earned are delivered.
But as appealing as this ideology may be to one’s feelings and to gain membership to the tribe and an invitation to the gala awards banquet, it presents some practical problems.
There are many reasons, both moral and practical, to criticize this ideology. It inevitably undermines modern Western society’s hard-won taboo on racial insults and is likely to provoke a backlash. It relies on crude and often skewed definitions of power, privilege and oppression—so that, for instance, Jeong, a Harvard Law School graduate and successful journalist from a minority group with higher income and lower incarceration rates than white Americans, can outscore an unemployed white high school dropout in “oppression points.” (Or so that Jeong supporter Rani Molla, another journalist with an elite degree and from a thriving demographic, can deride “whiny” rural white workers at a chicken processing plant.)
oh shut the fuck up https://t.co/0cR4Ln5VKY
— Rani Molla (@ranimolla) August 1, 2018
It would unacceptable, perhaps even the target of castigation, to twit “oh shut the fuck up” to certain demographics, yet virtuous to say so to people who work in a rural chicken processing plant? Because they live the good life?
Well, these people may not have gone to Harvard and may spend hour after hour pulling gizzards from defeathered carcasses, but their skin is white. So they’re fair targets for your punch?
It’s not that I don’t get the concept of privilege, even if I find it to be fundamentally misguided, preferring instead the Bastardized Herzberg theory of discrimination. It’s that the distinction between who you’re allowed to punch and who you’re not is untenable.
To recognize that certain identitarian groups suffer from discrimination, and are denied the normalcy one gives one’s own “kind,” isn’t a matter of debate. It’s an indisputable fact. Not all discrimination is bad, and we all discriminate in perfectly fine ways all the time. Vegans discriminate against meat and that’s fine. Women discriminate against creepy guys (who may end up some other woman’s soul mate), and that’s fine too.
But rather than have a contextual reason to decide that someone is punch-worthy, it’s based on identity cum intersectionality. Does it occur to anyone that there are a great many white people in America who are disinclined to acquiesce to being a random punching bag for the likes of Rani Molla?
If your ideology relies on everyone else acknowledging your one true god, and that “everyone else” group is large, bigger than yours, and has its own self-interest such as feeding their children and not wallowing in a life of misery for your sake, your ideology isn’t going to work.
It’s not just that the social justice response to rejection of its tenets is that it proves the person is an X-ist, but that it produces a backlash. There’s no discussion, despite the trope to that effect, as there’s nothing to discuss. There’s no compromise with racism.
But for the rural white folks working at the chicken processing plant, telling them to shut up and acknowledge their privilege is begging for them to respond in kind. This is true for anyone who would inform them of their privilege, and doubly true for anyone with a Harvard law degree.
It’s not that most people will seize upon this harebrained ideology to allow their inner racist to come out. Your oppression issues aren’t their primary concern. They’re far more worried about keeping their jobs, shitty as they may be, so they can put gas in the pickup and feed the kids. And then they’ve got some Ivy League dilettante punching “up” at them for their privilege? What are the chances they’re going to punch back. Not first. Back.
Cathy’s post isn’t remotely in support of discrimination against anyone. Indeed, it’s in support of discrimination against no one, including white people. And yet the woke can’t seem to accept that nobody wants to be punched, and why things aren’t working out for them as well as they should given how they are on the side of righteousness. And so they continue to punch and believe with all their passionate soul that their punches are virtuous even if based on nothing more than race or gender.