There is a deeply ingrained idea coming from what passes for the Left, and distracting the younger and more naive members of the Left, to their own detriment, according to which we can each only speak for our own group, and in relation to other groups the most we can hope to be is ‘allies’.
A good example of this was in the reaction to the phrase that sprang up spontaneously as a call to rally against the verdict: I am Trayvon Martin. This was of course not new, but a recycling of a common reaction to galvanizing events, e.g., the banners around Paris that declared Nous sommes tous américains on September 12, 2001. (I say, with Whitman: I am everyone, I am each of you, at every moment.) By the next morning some bold white internauts had posted video clips of themselves declaring emphatically that they are not Trayvon Martin, that they could not possibly be Trayvon Martin, in view of the many privileges they have that keep them safe from Martin’s fate. By nightfall of the same day white people were abuzz in social media about how other white people needed to stop trying to get attention by announcing how not-Trayvon Martin they were, that this was not about what they either were or were not.
Clearly, the white kids just don’t know what to do with themselves.
The infamous Ward Churchill, in his essay “Another Dry White Season”, an attack on Jerry Mander’s Luddite/Noble Savage romanticism, started off with this paragraph:
They just can’t help it. I swear, they really can’t. It’s too deeply ingrained in the subconscious, a matter of subliminal presumption. No matter how well-intentioned or insightful, regardless of how critical of the dominant conceptual paradigm and “sensitive” to non-Western perspectives, the theoretical writing of Euroamerican men — and most white women, as well — seems destined with a sort of sad inevitability to become yet another enterprise in intellectual appropriation, a reinforcement of the very hegemony they purport to oppose. To expect otherwise, one supposes, would be to expect that a leopard will (or can) change its spots. This remains true despite the authors’ most genuinely held desires that things be otherwise, not to mention their oft and fervently expressed assertions that, in their own cases at least, such wishes have already been fulfilled.
I first read that almost twenty years ago; ploosa shawnje. If one were to observe, like a naturalist, the interpersonal dynamics on display throughout the social web, one might find oneself hard-pressed to resist the conclusion that white people are very, very good at setting themselves up in charge of diagnosing and fixing the problems that other white people have supposedly created. If one were further possessed of a cynical disposition, one might even suspect that this is all just a clever power grab, a way to make sure privileged people still retain their perks. After all, as we learned in school studying the Salem witch trials and reading The Crucible, what better way to shield yourself from damning accusations than to accuse someone else first? I can’t help but notice, when I go online, that it’s often other white men who are pointing angry fingers in my face, shouting how this and that about me needs to change, because they’ve analyzed the problem and they have the plan.
Ideas certainly should stand or fall on their own merits, of course, regardless of who champions them. I just find it amusing to see, when “whiteness” is accepted as valid shorthand for a plethora of problematic ideas and attitudes, how many white people apparently exempt themselves from that judgment and carry on just as before, bringing their enlightenment to the benighted masses, even to the point of attacking and insulting members of those oppressed groups who have the temerity to disagree with their betters. They just can’t help it.