Jeff Goldstein is a paste-eating ‘tard. Ann Coulter is an anorexic cunt with an Adam’s apple. Hey Michelle Malkin, me love you long time!
Is this ok on left-wing blogs?
I don’t think so, and neither does Scott. First, I’ll give it to the feminist blogs — I think that most of us (or at least the ones that I read) have been pretty good about avoiding racist, sexist, able-ist, homophobic language when we go after ideas we don’t like, and the people who generate them. When we do slip up, people call us out, and most of the time we apologize and are more careful next time.
But as much as I wish we were, feminist blogs are not representative of the mainstream American left. And there’s some ugly stuff going on out there.
Part of hesitates to write this at all, because I think that it’ll just be more fuel for a racist, sexist, homophobic right to say, “See? It’s really the left that’s racist, sexist and homophobic!” But the point is that it’s not a gotcha game of who the real bigots are — there are apparently enough individual bigots to go around. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that the right wants their personal bigotry to be national policy, and they feed off of prejudice and fear in order to maintain power. The GOP has essentially established itself as a party of hate, and they routinely scapegoat various disempowered groups to give their followers someone to blame for their problems. People of color, women, gays — they’re all easy targets. It’s easier to vilify the black welfare queen in a society that already has serious race issues than it is to have a more complex conversation about the division of wealth in a society which clings so strongly to the idea of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps American Dream.
Securing human rights and equality demands that some people give up their privilege, or at least be prepared to share it. It demands that people who previously never had to think twice about their positions in the world now have to. It means that we must recognize the fact that inequality cannot be justified by saying, “Well that’s the way that it’s always been.” For a lot of people, this is scary — and it’s certainly threatening. Neither political party has been very good at saying any of this, but the Republicans have surely been better at playing off of these fears.
But that doesn’t mean that the Democratic party doesn’t have its racists, able-ists, sexists and homophobes. Are left-wing blogs usually the toilets that, say, Freeperland is? Not even close (I’m not linking to them because they’re so incredibly vile — I’ll leave it to Pam to bravely wade into that mess). But left-blogs have been known to have their racist, sexist, able-ist and homophobic moments. Case in point: The DKos drama of last year. A recap for those who weren’t around: Kos, the biggest left-wing blog, had a ridiculously sexist ad up on his site. I don’t remember the exact content of it, but it was something like hot young girls in bikinis fighting in whipped cream and then making out. He received some criticism for it, and instead of having a lightbulb moment and saying, “I’m sorry, I honestly hadn’t realized that the ad was sexist, because as a guy I don’t usually have to think about these things. But now that so many of my fellow liberals have pointed it out and taken issue with it, I’ll take it down,” Kos responded with a defensive rant in which he called feminist bloggers “the sanctimonious women’s studies set.” Which reminds me a little of what Scott notes here:
The problem with the political blogosphere parallels one I see everywhere in academia. Those who speak have done so to the choir for so long that they are unable to acclimate themselves to criticism. They equate it with hostility and respond with hypocritical stupidity. Why else would someone who fights for gay rights call someone else a “faggot”? (I’m not interested in subterranean homophobia here. That’s too obvious. I’m more interested in the clueless things self-identified progressives say.)
He’s right. But he goes on to say something that I have to take issue with:
My fellow leftists who read political blogs have never actually had to befriend someone with whom they “shared” damn near tangible differences. They have never had to interact daily with people whose politics they found repulsive. They have never been close to someone they would have given a kidney to and spent whisky-soaked nights debating the fundaments. They live in an echo-chamber which demands ideological conformity at the gate. And you know what? The “intellectual” environment in which they live breeds the stupidity they so regularly evince.
I don’t think that’s true at all. I’m about as insulated as American lefists come: I was raised in one of the most liberal cities in the country (Seattle) by liberal parents, and then moved across the country to another one of the most liberal cities in the country (New York) to study at one of the most liberal universities in the country (NYU), where I stayed for law school. I’ve been told by many of my liberal classmates at a liberal university that I’m the most liberal person they know (although I don’t think this can possibly be true, given that NYU has an active Socialist club). I’ve spent semesters and summers traveling and living in various places around Europe, which is generally more liberal than most of the United States. After finishing law school, I plan on insulating myself further in my liberalism by either staying in New York or moving to Paris or San Francisco.
But you know what? I still manage to interact daily with people whose political and personal views I cannot reconcile with my own. I have managed to still love people who referred to my then-boyfriend as a “red dot” and an “A-rab,” who use the word “black” like they’re spitting it, who sincerely argue that women are intellectually inferior to men, and for whom homosexuality is so foreign and strange and it can hardly even be discussed. Us coast-dwelling, New-York-Times-read, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving liberals are, if election results are any indication, not the majority in this country. Those of us who are sincerely and deeply dedicated to fighting injustice and oppression every day are an even smaller minority — if there’s one thing that’s clear from reading all the racist, sexist bullshit on left-leaning blogs, it’s that the right doesn’t have a monopoly on hate. And so every day we encounter these things. That’s what happens when you study feminism or critical race theory or simply take the time to check the little oppressions of daily life — you stop being able to ignore it. You stop being able to caricature racists, sexists and homophobes as snaggle-toothed red-state yokels, since you see that racists, sexists and homophobes are all around you. You realize that you’ve internalized a lot of that racism, sexism and homophobia. Some days you feel like it’s so overwhelming that you wish you could have kept your eyes shut.
Echo chamber? I don’t think so.
Now, I’m approaching this from a leftist-feminist perspective, and to be fair, the mainstream American left isn’t exactly feminist. Perhaps the mainstream left is an echo chamber that demands conformity at the gate. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve been told to “wait my turn” by the mainstream left (that would be the Democratic party) for so long that I’ve essentially given up on them, even if I still turn out at the polls and vote for their candidates, and even if I’m still willing to travel hours during election years to go door to door and to phonebank on their behalf. But I am not the mainstream left.
The problem, I think, isn’t a left-wing echo chamber. It’s an entire society that privileges certain groups of people over others by deeming their experiences normative, and separating out everyone else as “others.” The right might play on it more than the left, but these ideas are as American as apple pie. And they’re deeply entrenched in American politics. Sometimes the racism, misogyny and homophobia are obvious (examples: the Freepers, anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, Minute Men, etc) and sometimes they’re slightly more veiled (welfare policy, public school funding, reproductive rights). But they’re all based on the same premise: That some people in society are simply entitled to the power that they have, that such power must be maintained, and that any challenge to that entitlement is a serious threat. And so when people of color, women, the LGBT community, or any other disenfranchised group begins to demand access to the power structure so firmly set in place, we get two responses. The right demonizes us and manages to blame all of society’s problems on our simple attempts to even the playing field. And the left tells us, “We hear you, and we’re behind you. Just wait.” As The White Bear writes,
Yes, many liberals are misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic. They are grossed out by the poor and by those who lack education. They try to cover up these feelings in themselves by theoretically supporting a party that claims to be interested in human rights, just as many right-wingers try to cover up those feelings by theoretically embracing a religion that claims to be interested in human rights. But at any opportunity, they are as eager as the Right to smother “minority” issues in the name of gaining power. And they will attack their enemies with the most powerful language they know: hate speech.
Liberals are occassionally racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic because people in this society are generally racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic. This should not be surprising. But we should, as Scott does, push each other to be better.
However, I wonder what the answer is, and I’m a little confused as to where Scott ends up. In a follow-up post he writes:
My critique of identitarian politics has never involved critiquing the identities of those who espouse them. Nor has it ever involved critiquing their goals, the desired ends of their impassioned activism. All I’ve critiqued is the effectiveness of their tactics, the insistence that, contra to the vocal declamations, that their attitude and actions have helped further the cause to which they are committed. I would argue that, given recent developments, they have not. More to the point, I believe they have actually had the opposite effect, that the mobilization of these racially and sexually essentialist accounts of identity has alienated them from the kind of majoritarian political action which would allow them to achieve their stated goals.
I know this a terrible thing to say. I know that, in important respects, I’m asking people to table their concerns, and that my insistence that they’d be doing so for their own good sounds terribly paternalistic. You know what? I’m as unhappy I came to this conclusion as you. I’m as upset that I live in a country in which the “quality” of political discourse and the realities of the political environs compel me to say something I find intellectually dissatisfying and outright condescending.
But I don’t see the alternative working. I look around me and see the dismantling of affirmative action by an increasingly conservative judicial system; I see a President who would deny homosexuals the legal recognition of a fundamental human institution on the basis of it being a fundamental human institution and be completely oblivious to the irony such a statement entails. I deny the validity of no one’s experience, I only question the effectiveness of its mobolization as a political tactic. As my previous post makes clear, I wish I could distance myself from the hypocrites whose misogyny and homophobia disgust me and still somehow remain a viable political force. But I don’t see that happening. Does this make me a conservative? Certainly not. A proceduralist, maybe, and certainly complicit in a system which is far from perfect. But to my mind, it is better to be complicit in a system which is flawed but improving, if only incrementally.
Now I might be seriously misinterpreting this, and someone tell me if I am. But this idea has been put forth by political “pragmatists” for forever and a day. And usually it works, if your primary goal is to smooth over problems, get your people in power and win elections. At the Constitutional convention for this country, slavery was a major issue. Had compromises not been made — compromises which kept human beings further enslaved — the Constitution probably would not have been ratified. The progressive pragmatists assured themselves that slavery would eventually be a non-issue, as society would progress and eventually find it reprehensible, and as slavery wasn’t an economically sustainable institution. What they didn’t count on were technological advances that did make slavery economically sustainable, and the fact that we would eventually fight a civil war over this issue. Regardless, without this pragmatism, the Constitution may not have been ratified, and our country’s history would have been entirely different. And thousands of people were enslaved and treated worse than animals, leaving a legacy that continues to effect people today. Was it worth it?
I’m not asking that question facetiously. There are very compelling arguments on both sides. But I think that as progressives, we have to decide where we draw our pragmatic lines. And it’s a lot easier for people whose rights aren’t at stake to tell other people to just wait.
We haven’t alienated ourselves from majoritarian political action. We’ve always been alienated. And saying, “Hey, what about us?” is, to me, always preferable than sitting back and waiting for a paternalistic hand that is unlikely to ever come.
Of course progressive ideas about race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, etc make for terrible politics in practice. It would have been a hell of a lot easier and caused far fewer social divides in the established power system if we had just left injustice alone: Let slavery work itself out, have school desegregate themselves, allow universities to let in Jews, people of color and women whenever they were darn well ready, let states make their own laws about women’s reproductive systems, be something other than heterosexual as long as you do it silently and don’t ask for any of the things that the heteros ask for.
I think that progressive politics have to work on a variety of levels. There have to be people working inside of the system to change it slowly and incrementally, as Scott suggests. But at the same time, there have to be people outside of that system demanding that we all take injustice seriously and that we do what we can do end it, now. They have to push those inside the system to go further and to never fall into complacency.
I don’t like the current incarnation of the Democratic party, but I have a much stronger dislike for the Republican party. While the Democrats do harm through a lot of their policies, and while they ignore the needs and demands of many progressives, they do far less harm than the Republicans do. And I see a potential for the Democratic party to be much better. Does that mean, though, that I’m going to put aside my own interests for the greater good of a party that does almost nothing to represent me? Not a chance.
And that’s what the pragmatists are missing: They assume that the Democrats can ignore or backpedal on certain issues that have to do with “identity politics” — abortion, affirmative action, welfare, marriage equality, etc — and that they’ll still have other things to offer people whose very identities they just sold down the river. But when you tell me that my right to my own body is a political issue up for exchange, you haven’t just insulted me. You’ve denied me the right to exist as you do. You’ve treated me as less than human. These aren’t the same kinds of political issues as, say, opposing the death tax.
And how effective is identity-based mobilization? Well, I’d point to the civil rights movement, interracial marriage, school desegregation, access to birth control, legalized abortion, civil unions and marriage equality in some states as evidence that it is effective. It’s also highly polarizing, and unfortunately relatively few major victories for social justice have happened because society came together and said “enough.” They’ve happened because of so-called “activist judges,” and because people raised up their voices so loudly that they could no longer be ignored. Does that cause all kinds of problems? Sure. Are we still fighting about whether Roe was a good decision or not? You bet. Would allowing states to decide, or people to vote, have yielded a less contentious result? Maybe. But how many women would have had their lives caught in the crossfire? How many women would have been treated as less than human, less than fully deserving of human rights, in order to save the political establishment some contentious discussion? How many is too many? And one of the results of Roe is that the American public is now accostumed to legalized abortion. They may express dislike of the practice, and they may want to limit it, but far fewer people today would like to see it completely illegalized than in 1973. Same with desegregation and interracial marriage: A lot of people weren’t thrilled with Brown and Loving, and indeed if you read Brown you’ll see that it’s more of a sociological evaluation than a Constitutional one. But people adjusted. They certainly retained many vestiges of racism, and racism continues to thrive in this country — but those cases made things better for the people on the front lines. To me, that matters.
To be clear, Scott doesn’t seem to be arguing that we should sell everyone’s rights down the river in order to win a few votes for the Democratic party. His argument is more nuanced than that, but it got me thinking about the more general “Wait your turn” reasoning proferred by progressives all the time, and what that means for the political discourse. Aren’t we, in fact, simply justifying hatred and bigotry when we tell disenfranchised groups to wait, in a way that we wouldn’t justify such bigotry if it was in our faces — say, when it shows up on progressive blogs?
Read both his posts, and White Bear’s. Thoughts?
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