TWO CALLS TO ARMS: GRIEVANCE ACTIVISM AND THE RESISTANCE OF THE PRIVILEGED

There’s a lot of variation within white. I happen to be swarthily white, but I’m white nonetheless. 

I know that all us whites are privileged, but I’m especially privileged. And yet, though I probably should, I don’t seem to suffer from white fragility. I’m not proud to be white, but I’m not ashamed of it either. I’m not proud to be privileged, but I’m not ashamed of that either. I’m told this is because – and I’m sure it’s true – people who are privileged don’t reflect on their privilege. If I did reflect on it – and seeing what non-privileged people have to deal with – I’m guessing I’d just be relieved that I’m not one of them. I’m not sure exactly what white fragility amounts to, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that feeling of relief.

Being relieved that I’m privileged doesn’t mean I’m indifferent to those who are not. But neither does it mean I’m naive. I too play my J-card shamelessly whenever it’s to my advantage. In fact Christian guilt was precisely how I snagged my penultimate wife. 

But the resurgence of grievance culture that I seem to be mocking is, as just noted, a re-surgence. It’s the resurgence of the grievances we did not mock back in the Sixties. Rightly so then, and rightly so today. The murder of George Floyd was not a one-off. The rejection of trans women by their cis-gendered brothers and their feminist sisters leaves them nowhere to shower in safety. And so on. I get that. Or at least as much of it as I can get, given that the police have never treated me other than with respect, and I don’t have to think twice before using a shower room.

My complaint, then, is not with grievance culture itself, but with grievance activists, too many of whom have the rhetorical sophistication of a five year old. My wife, with whom I am well pleased, is my researcher, and she’s been collecting the EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) policy documents from hundreds of universities and colleges from all across North America, a like number of demand letters from their aggrieved students, and a like number of obsequious responses from invertebrate administrators. 

This insanity will play itself out, as it did in Spain under the Inquisition, in Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union, in China … Ultimately education is subject to the same forces that play out in any other market. But it’s the damage that’s being inflicted while they do.

Those of us who are pushing back to conserve what we can while this Inquisition rages in our hallways and in our classrooms are dubbed right-wing, reactionaries, enemies of the people, to be either removed or, failing that, marginalised. Some of us are more protected than others. That’s part of our privilege. But privilege has its burdens. Call it, if you will, our noblesse oblige. I think our privilege incurs a duty to use that privilege to resist, even if, as is inevitable, that resistance will be interpreted as to the dismantling of our privilege. We have broad enough shoulders to take it because, well, we’re privileged.



Categories: Editorials, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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6 replies

  1. I would reflect on my privilege if I knew what it got me that I would not have got anyway, either by luck or by effort.

    I would also reflect on it if I knew what it’s source was. Skin colour? Height? Baldness? Spinal stenosis? Cataracts and glaucoma? Atrial fibrillation? Maybe all of the above?

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    • Andrew, by conversational implicature you seem to be suggesting that youth – i.e. not suffering the physical indignities you and I do – is a privilege. But all that says is that some privilege is episodic. But episodic privilege is precisely what white privilege is not, at least according to our critics. Even so, I’ll play your game. I’ll match your baldness, your cataracts and your glaucoma and raise you my obesity. I had a very minor heart attack some years ago, so I think that outscores your atrial fib. But you might have me on the spinal stenosis, dammit!

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  2. I’m going to object again, Paul, to your glib use of the stock phrase, “the murder of George Floyd”. It’s not murder until a Minnesota jury says it is, after hearing the state’s arguments and the defence’s efforts to create reasonable doubt about what actually happened on that sidewalk. All you and I know is he died in police custody under circumstances that merited the investigation that did result. And some people got really really angry. The deeper social meaning of it all, and the “healing” that might result from a verdict of murder, is not relevant to the jury. Thankfully.

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    • On this point, Leslie, you’re uncharacteristically mistaken, though I emphasise the ‘uncharacteristically’. A finding of guilty – or of innocence, for that matter – is not a performative in law. If it were the crime couldn’t be completed until completion of the trial, which would be ridiculous. Most murders, including about 20 million of them in Europe between 1939 and 1945, are not followed by a trial. There’s a fact of the matter as to whether the killing of George Floyd was a murder, a fact about which I could be mistaken. But then so could a jury. As a non-lawyer and a non-jurisprude, I think you’ve taken the “innocent until proven guilty” as a jurisprudential principle rather than just the piece of pith it is.

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      • I’m glad you replied and pointed out my error, which I acknowledge. I do think that the accusation of murder, though, against a named individual whose liberty hangs on the verdict is a matter different from historical crimes, whether conceived and committed by individuals or by the state’s organs. After all, when we can name and locate living perpetrators of past crimes, we can still put them on trial, and must, before we can imprison them. This even if we — I use “we” in the impossibly vague sense to mean only someone in authority from “our side” — have already punished, through military defeat, the state that orchestrated the crimes and, in specific response to 1939-45, a process that began with the Nuremberg tribunals of assigning guilt as individuals to state actors.

        My reluctance as a non-expert to refer to the killing of Mr. Floyd as a murder is just that the State of Minnesota might not be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt all the elements of murder, especially if lesser charges are available to the jury to convict on if they have no doubts about them. Then what do we call it? Surely it still counts as a terrible wrong. And here I’m at the limits of my knowledge….which you have expanded by your comments.

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      • I agree. In fact I think it’s highly unlikely that the prosecution will think it can get a conviction on first degree, because it’s highly unlike there was intent to kill. Conviction on a lesser charge is far more likely. Acquittal, however, though also possible, will make the protests of 2020 look pretty tame. However it goes down, it’s going to be a pretty ugly second act to a pretty ugly opening act.

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