Saturday, December 29, 2012

Phrases to Consider Retiring in 2013: 1. (White) Privilege

Nothing lasts forever. Gum loses its flavor. Welcomes are worn out. In the hopes of keeping critical edges honed, AintStudyingYou is sponsoring a discussion of which phrases, memes, habits, and tendencies to consider retiring for the 1-3. Please submit your suggestions (serious and humorous, personal and public) to the comments section and we'll see what kind of series we can come up with. 

My first nominee for forced retirement: (white) privilege...

This month, I have fallen down the rabbit-hole of privilege memes. Some (like this one on literacy) I found illuminating and forceful. Still, I find myself doubting that privilege is the most accurate or useful way of approaching social inequalities. In fact, I have lost faith in these exercises of cataloging privileged groups (whites, Christians, first-worlders, citizens, thin people, straights, cis-genders) and enumerating their ever-expanding privileges.

Therefore, be it hereby stated that I, AintStudyingYou, am perfectly willing to consider retiring  all variations on the term "privilege" (white, male, cis-gender, thin, etc), if certain stipulations are met.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White-on-White Crime: Domestic Terrorism Widens its Reach

Preface: I haven't had time to verify statistics on whether, in fact, white-on-white crime as a form of massacre is new in the US. In this case, I'm trying to think of what it would mean to add that to our repertoire of signs of social illness. 

In the days since Newtown, I have been looking for understanding about the apparent link between white males and mass violence in recent US history. Circa 1994, when Newt Gingrich helmed the Republican Revolution that gave the party control of Congress for the first time in decades, pundits described "angry white males" as the voting bloc responsible for the shift.  At the time, portraits of this constituency focused on their fire-breathing resentment.

At present, the mood seems elegiac. In the grips of this lament for the passing of what Fox News describes as "your father's America," a strange consensus is appearing across the political spectrum. (Follow this link to read David Brooks and Gail Collins of the New York Times in agreement that the "white working class" bears the brunt of economic inequality--an accord that emerges in spite of the fact that unemployment rates for blacks and Latinos are in many regions, including their own, as much as double that of whites).

If my previous post was about our practiced exercise of sympathy on behalf of white boys, this outpouring of feeling across lines of region, income, and region would seem to confirm my observations.

One comment in particular struck me while searching the internet. I find it a straightforward explanation of why gun sales spike when Democrats (not least President Obama) take the White House. I would prefer not to reduce a complex political and economic project to the emotion of "race hatred." After all, race hatred without voting power and firearms wouldn't concern me much. Besides, almost no one white admits to "hating" nonwhite Americans anymore. So, to get away from sanctimonious condemnations of hate-filled racists (always imagined in the South and the Midwest), let's call it the marriage of anti-federalism and white national masculinity. Said one commenter on Daily Kos (notable for his lack of inflammatory language):
"I think the extreme emotions worked up by the fear of gun restrictions plays into a sense of powerlessness felt by most working class guys I know. (I'm a blue collar gun owning hunter, and I even have a diesel pickup). Our wages have gone down our whole lives, a doctor's visit could mean losing our houses, ethnicities and languages we don't understand are mainstream." 
The writer's gesture toward "ethnicities and languages we don't understand" strongly suggests the "working class guys" he imagines are white Americans. If one really stretches, the group might include non-immigrant blacks and English-speaking Latinos. The way he makes "working class" identical to "white citizen" is something I've addressed elsewhere. In the process of this relatively mild and seemingly innocuous exercise in nativism, he makes two moves I find confounding. First, he insists that national and linguistic Others have become "mainstream." Outside of the most major cities, where can one use any language other than English to sell or obtain goods and services? For that matter, when was the last major film or weekly television program that featured a cast that wasn't predominantly white and that didn't speak in English? The writer's sense of loss is notably disproportionate to the actual loss.

Second, there are those amazing commas in the last sentence, linking economic issues of wages and health care to the aforementioned sense of lost dominance in the realm of culture and representation. It would seem as if, for this frustrated white male figure, the loss of cultural power is connected, in some inarticulable but deeply felt way, to depressed wages and soaring health care costs. From within this logic, two solutions present themselves: 1) oppose immigration, affirmative action, welfare and other expenditures allegedly earmarked for non-natives; 2) stock up on guns to prevent the federal government from extracting property for redistributive purposes.

It barely requires saying that the image of federal imposition in mind relates to those two great impositions on white property: emancipation and desegregation, both implemented with the conspicuous intervention of federal troops.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A New Age of Sympathy?

I had not intended to reintroduce Ain't Studying You with this post, but I've been doing so much writing and thinking on gun violence in the US that it seemed appropriate.

I nearly typed that I'd been doing thinking "in the wake of Newtown." I hesitate there because I am disturbed by the tendency to disconnect Newtown from Kansas City, Jacksonville, Sanford, not to mention the number of fatalities by guns or drones that remain untold and publicly unmourned.

It seems important to think about the injunction to feel worse about this loss of life than about others. (I'm drawing here on Fred Moten's crystalline explanation of the demand on the so-called Left for "more feeling" for the dead of 9/11 than those innocent dead of US strikes before or after it.) The distribution of sympathy--as much as that of wealth, rights, and guns--remains a life or death matter. What follows is, quite simply, a call to feel more often about more people.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I'll believe the Republicans want to return to a Christian nation...

when candidates tackle what I consider to be one of the most egregious lapses in faith, morals, and religious observance in contemporary America. If they are serious about re-establishing Christian parameters for conduct in this nation, they should insist that there be no professional sports -- or any other business, for that matter -- conducted on Sundays. It is the Sabbath, after all. The whole network of athletes and coaches, announcers and camera crew, stadium employees, bar owners, bookies, and more are, in fact, working on the day when we are not to toil but to give thanks to God.

When I was a child in the 1980s, many businesses were still closed on Sundays -- and not just Mom and Pop stores, either. As a Catholic schoolboy, I took the third commandment quite seriously: even when I did not attend Church, I knew that I was supposed to and felt appropriately guilty about it. The situation in 2011 could not be more different -- not just for me but across the nation. The NFL is its own Sunday ritual, one that requires almost no physical or moral effort but that does include continual solicitations. Call commercials the television version of passing the collection plate. The NFL-goer's duty, then, is not tithing to enable the work of the Church. Instead the imagined male viewer now has a moral duty to buy basic cable and the NFL channel--not to mention team paraphernalia and sponsors' products. What's most disturbing is that the collection plate is no mere analogy: Christianity has actually been hired to add its moral force to market culture.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Burying the Lead: Governor Christie's Plan to Use Diversity Against the Diverse

Today's New York Times gushes:
Gov. Chris Christie made a broad stroke for diversity on New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Monday, nominating one man who would be the first openly gay justice, and another who would be the first Asian and first immigrant to serve.
For the moment, I am going to skip over the fact that I'm pretty sure they meant a "bold strike for diversity." Perhaps the preposterousness of a statement linking Christie with progressivism (which will become clear soon enough) scrambled the language centers in their brains over at the NYT. Instead, I would like to focus on the odd structure of this article--an elaborated version of the story circulating at a variety of newspapers, blogs, and online magazines.

The official story (pre-packaged, it seems, by the identical language of the news outlets) is that Governor Christie is heroically leading the charge to diversify the New Jersey Supreme Court. The fact that he was, in fact, responsible for the whitening of the Court is buried and camouflaged in the currently unchallenged story of triumph. So, too, is the fact that his actions are a clever, subversive response to Democrats in the State Senate who implored (be careful what you ask for) that Christie "appoint a racially diverse court that looks like the state of New Jersey." The fact that this "diversity" will actually have terrible consequences for the diverse is drowned out by the imperative to celebrate.

While it is certainly possible Christie's "firsts" may pull their version of "Clarence Thomas's First Day" as envisioned by In Living Color, I don't intend to hold my breath.

Because the language of diversity and inclusion has taken over the language of justice, equality, and reparation in a weakened Democratic party, "liberals" have no response to Christie's move. It's diverse. It's inclusive. It's just that the gay/immigrant/multiracial symbolism covers a multitude of sins....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Ghost of Thatcher Past?

In a campaign season when Newt Gingrich experienced at least a brief resurgence by claiming that he is "unconventional," in the mode of Thatcher or Reagan, the type of analysis offered below, from Germaine Greer, is especially urgent. I was especially struck by Rupert Murdoch's integral role in the rise of Thatcher (a prehistory rarely told in the US) and by her explanation of the downfall of trade unions in Britain. Might some of the same be said of failings of unions in the US that predisposed sectors of the public to believe conservative rhetoric aimed at obliterating them?

The alliance between the Maggie machine and the Murdoch media made possible the ultimate defeat of the print unions and the modernisation of the newspaper industry. And another brick was added to the rising edifice of Thatcherism.

Thatcher's strength derived directly from her limitations. If she had been better read, if she had been afflicted with imagination, if she had had a sense of humour, if she had had anywhere near as much insight into the lives of ordinary people as she claimed to have, she would have been unable to pursue her headlong career, riding roughshod over the consensus towards the property-owning debtor economy in which we now struggle. If socialism had been in better shape, she would not have been able to turn it into a dirty word or confuse it with totalitarianism and state monopoly capitalism. If the trade unions had not betrayed their own class, if they had understood the importance of organising all workers, including women, including those in the service sector, if they had not institutionalised inequality, the people might have defended the cause of labour. 

Thatcher thought that she and Reagan overthrew the Soviet Union, but the fact is that, like old Labour, it simply fell apart. The Thatcher phenomenon was only made possible by the weakness and indecisiveness of the opposition. It is justice of the most poetic kind that Thatcher's is now the evil empire and Thatcherism a dirty word.