Short Take: The White Woman’s Burden

It’s hardly controversial for a woman to respond to a man’s disagreement with an assertion that he’s mansplaining, sexist or literally Hitler. But in the victim hierarchy, the social justice rules by which someone is allowed to “punch up” but not down, it’s hard to know where the oppressed win over the marginalized. Just when you think you’re entitled to express your opinion on a highly controversial subject, you get spanked for not being of the correct identity.

Cathy Young found this out the hard way when she wrote about that great humanitarian, Angela Davis. Maybe you love Davis. Maybe not. You’re allowed either way, because this is America and everyone is entitled to be wrong. But the problem wasn’t that Cathy Young was wrong about Davis, that she wasn’t pals with murderous communist dictators and a faming anti-semite, but that Cathy Young was, well, here’s the reaction she received.

And lest you miss the point because it wasn’t spelled out clearly enough, there’s this:

Whi[t]e supremacist? Sure. Who else but a white supremacist would feel entitled to criticize a black woman? Well, pretty much anybody and everybody who thinks she deserves criticism, and the notion that the only way to be trusted white “ally” is to be silent about a person one thinks is bad is what’s fundamentally wrong with identity politics.

This isn’t about Angela Davis, but about a person who, aside from her politics, happens to be black and female. White people can be wrong. So too can black people. Men can be wrong. So too can women, and every gender in between if that’s your concern. And when someone is in a position of prominence with a controversial, if not radical, stance on issues of some importance and relevance to society (“public figures,” if you will), then they are subject to criticism.

By anyone and everyone. If there is anything that harms the cause of equality, it’s these substanceless ad hominem attacks based on race and gender, where someone like Cathy Young can’t write about Angela Davis because Young is white and Davis is black.

Unlike the vapid poseurs on twitter, Cathy Young is a strong person. She doesn’t need to twit that she’s “fierce.” She just is. She writes what she thinks. She writes about whomever she thinks warrants commentary. She doesn’t check under their knickers or their melanin level, but instead looks to the “content of their character.” If that’s reason enough to attack her, her skin color, her gender, then you’re right, she’s no ally.

That progressive politics demands that oppressors sublimate their views to those of the oppressed may fly with the useful idiots who can’t see beyond the victim hierarchy, but it won’t win equality. As Elie Mystal has argued with me over and over, black people don’t need to curry favor with white people to create consensus that it’s acceptable to be angry with racism, but at the same time they aren’t scoring points by accusing any white person of supremacy for not bending to their feelz, as a good “ally’ must.

This has got to end. We can criticize each other all day long, if that’s what needs to be done, but for reasons, not for our race or gender. And if you have no reasons, then you’re the problem you want to project onto the “other.”

Cathy Young is more tolerant than I would have been when she got skewered for her bad allydom. She made some jokes, sloughed it off, even showed that her views are anything but racist or sexist. Why it’s necessary to be tolerant in response to intolerance is unclear to me; these assholes don’t deserve the kindness they were shown.

And that’s the point. They were assholes. Black, white, male and female, all are capable of being assholes. It’s one of the many things that unify humanity, that we can all be assholes regardless of our identity. Your race or gender doesn’t immunize you from being an asshole. That’s equality.

9 thoughts on “Short Take: The White Woman’s Burden

      1. Patrick Maupin

        C’mon, she writes in Reason. I suppose you could do that once by mistake (if you weren’t a cis-hetero patriarchal shitlord, you might be afforded one mistake) but she keeps doing it over and over.

        Obviously, she likes it, and as for the abuse, anybody can see she was just asking for it.

  1. Julia

    Arrogance of those tweets weirdly resonates with the article itself.

    It’s ok for Angela Davis to be friends with communist regimes and not to care about people suffering there, however, those people were required to be “allies” with Angela Davis. If not, they would be shamed as white supremacists. Aren’t those stupid Eastern Europeans all white anyway?

    1. Terry Keith

      You’re not mad about Trump being friends with Russians. I’m not either. Russia never stole anyone’s land then called them savages to justify the genocide of the same nor did Russia kidnap Africans and called them animals to justify holding them in captivity and working them for no pay at all. Why should anyone be mad at Russia?

  2. B. McLeod

    If these people understood things like words or history, they would know “allies” typically aren’t people who do and believe exactly what we do.

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