“What I do is this,” writes David Iscoe: “I let myself fail, and I forget it and eat dinner and relax and shut down for part of the day.” More importantly, he adds this: “This is not something we grant to everyone, but it should be.”
J. E. LaCaze has some curious musings on privilege in the context of the social distancing measures enacted during the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that challenge my notions of privilege; perhaps “complicate” is a better word.
Before the order for social distancing, I saw routine as a necessity. But now I see that in some ways routine is a privilege. After all, to establish a routine is to assume that catastrophe will not come along and disrupt said routine. It is to assume at least a semblance of stability, something we now see none of us can take for granted.
I can’t speak for LaCaze or anyone else but my routines generally are a necessity; my brain needs them in order to remain properly functional. In fact, my routines do not “assume that catastrophe will not come along” they assume the very opposite — and that’s before we ever gert to the fact that some events which others might view as (excuse me) routine everyday crises could strike my autistic brain in fact as a catastrophe.
That “semblance of stability” to which LaCaze refers is a quasi-fiction required in order for me to be able to function on a day-to-day basis. To think that routine somehow stands revealed as a dispoable thing, that’s the real privilege.
The “hilarious” thing about performative nihilism is not just that it almost always comes from a position of privilege but that its performer always seems to think they somehow are unique in their display.
The only thing more fungible than cold, hard cash is privilege. The prodigal tech bro doesn’t so much take an off-ramp from the relatively high status and well-paid job he left when the scales fell from his eyes, as zoom up an on-ramp into a new sector that accepts the reputational currency he has accumulated. He’s not joining the resistance. He’s launching a new kind of start-up using his industry contacts for seed-funding in return for some reputation-laundering.
I’m not sure I’m capable of judging the degree to which this John Stoehr piece approaches being, in a sense, appropriative, but I take his point: in both a very real and a rhetorical sense, the truly American politics is black politics.
What I personally was most struck by, however, were just five words which come in the upper half.
Nihilism is a white luxury.
I’m going to be mulling and musing on these five words for awhile, I think, because if I step back and look at arm’s length, many of the most nihilistic remarks about like under Trumpism come from me and other white people—the people at least risk.
Last October, however, I received a letter from CFI suggesting that “we part ways” and dismissing me from my role as co-host of Point of Inquiry. I believe the dismissal was a response to my outspoken views on CFI’s negligence toward matters of race and diversity — issues that the organization has often sidestepped in the past. If that is indeed the case, it sends a discouraging message. At a moment when racist pseudoscience is making a disturbing comeback, skeptics shouldn’t shy away from talking about race — and we can’t afford to overlook the white privilege among our own ranks.
Heidi Klum, white woman, whose response to Gabrielle Union’s complaints of racism at America’s Got Talent was to explain that “she didn’t experience the same thing” and that “everyone treats you with the utmost respect” says those facts have “nothing to do with what color I am”, and I can’t even with this.
Given that knowledge gap, some psychologists have been sounding alarms for years. In the late 1990s, the psychologist Stanley Sue expressed concern that his field paid too little attention to the experiences of non-white ethnic groups. A 2008 study, which found that the research in six major psychology journals only rarely examined people outside the West, wryly proposed that a top journal rename itself the “Journal of the Personality and Social Psychology of American Undergraduate Introductory Psychology Students.”
From Psychology Still Skews Western and Affluent. Can It Be Fixed? by Michael Schulson (via Riah Person)
Three of the four most-nominated movies—The Irishman, Joker, and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood—are stories about white men who feel culturally imperiled. The fourth, 1917, is about white men who are literally imperiled. It is no accident that those movies have arrived at this particular cultural moment, and while Academy voters don’t necessarily have to eat whatever the industry is feeding them, they usually don’t look too far afield for alternatives, and this year, what the industry was not feeding them was Black Panther or BlacKkKlansman.
From Oscar Nominations 2020: What Went Wrong—And Did Anything Go Right? by Mark Harris
I guess I’d forgotten that Terry Gilliam already had been cancelled due to comments about women standing up for themselves being “mob rule” but the thing about cancelled people is they always renew their cancellation at some point.
“I hated ‘Black Panther.’ It makes me crazy. It gives young black kids the idea that this is something to believe in. Bullshit. It’s utter bullshit. I think the people who made it have never been to Africa,” he said. “They went and got some stylist for some African pattern fabrics and things. But I just I hated that movie, partly because the media were going on about the importance of bullshit.”
It’s not my place, of course, but on behalf of people like Hannah Beachler (see here) and Ruth E. Carter (see here) I would sort of like to punch Terry Gilliam in the teeth. The best part is where he bemoans other people’s victimhood and then immediately, well, plays the victim.
Gilliam, however, stopped himself there. “I’m just very frustrated of the world we’re living in,” he said. “I do things to prod people, to make them think or make them laugh. And I always get myself in trouble.”
Yes, it’s just the frustrating world keeping the rich old white man down. It couldn’t possibly be that you’re just a privileged asshole whose thoughts on pretty much anything simply don’t mean anything anymore.
Robert Henderson seems to think that cancel culture is a tool of successful “social strivers […] to move up by taking others down”. That is not my understanding of cancel culture, even if you account for the fact that Henderson appears to be describing calling-out not, specifically, the canceling variant.
Let alone, as described by Osita Nwanevu, that “‘cancel culture’ seems to be the name mediocrities and legends on their way to mediocrity have given their own waning relevance”. In other words, while canceling is a real thing, cancel culture is akin to political correctness or virtue signaling in that it’s a term generally used to denigrate and discredit the idea of having to “suffer” consequence or responsibility when it comes to your words and deeds.
Nowhere does Henderson even consider, let alone actually explore, the idea that callings-out and cancels might possibly have a moral component of the punching-up sort. He does a lot of work to make it instead seem merely a cynical jockeying for social position.
(Literally even the very New York Times piece Henderson cites as evidence for his take is…almost entirely about teenagers punching-up against privilege and misuse of its power, not jockeying for social position.)
It turns out—he links to this himself—he’s previously described concerned students at Yale as a “mob” for daring to wonder why Erika Christakis felt the need to push back on a university letter urging students to not engage in racist or otherwise offensive Halloween costumes. Henderson is fond is linking to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a rightwing group.
When someone pushes this hard against so-called “cancel culture”, you need to ask yourself why. It’s not hard to imagine Henderson himself being afraid of being, at some point, called-out or canceled. The next question, then, is why didn’t Psychology Today ask that question?
Somehow I missed Om Malik’s subtle funk: “This is mostly because, like most men in their early 50s, I have been struggling to reconcile the past, the present, and the future.” It was Colin Walker’s angsty anomie that resurfaced it. While I know, intellectually, that it’s bad form to engage in competitive funk, I can’t help but read about Malik’s in particular and want to shout, “Try adding a midlife autism diagnosis which retconned your entire life.” Malik, at least, is self-sufficient and supporting himself, not to mention engaging in therapeutic photography of far-off places like Iceland. Not only do I have to suffer whatever it is we suffer in midlife, but the autism’s recton of my past, as well as not just a lack of self-sufficiency but a lack of any belief that my prospects for it will change. Walker I somewhat can identify with more, yet I can’t simply let go of the fact that, well, he’s employed and at least relative to me, thriving—whatever his experience from the inside where it actually counts to any individual human being. Even with how far lost my life is, I recognize that even I’ve got privilege to burn, but clearly I’m not a sufficiently advanced person to be at the point where I can read posts like Malik’s and Walker’s and not scream, “Yeah, but at least you’re not me!”
I spend a lot of time in the book trying to hone in on exactly what I mean when I talk about generosity. It’s a fraught subject. As I argue at some length, the requirement to be generous is not evenly distributed in our culture — whether by that I mean to point to the academy or to the contemporary US more broadly — and so where I exhort us toward greater generosity, the primary object of my “us” is people like me: centered rather than marginalized, over-represented rather than under-served, comfortably secure rather than precarious. Empowered.
From Generosity, Humility, Vulnerability by Kathleen Fitzpatrick
I should note that my use of “autism Twitter” in this post about privilege itself reflects the narrow, less-diverse-than-I’d-like nature of the Twitter list I use, a limitation which I’m trying to rectify.
Of all the personal taglines I’ve used online over the past twenty-six years, the current I think basically sums it up: “Mediocre white guy.” I feel compelled, then, to share a bit from Michael Harriot’s write-up of a phone call with Pete Buttigieg.
“A mediocre white kid with mediocre intelligence and mediocre parents can easily make it in America,” I explained, blackly. “A smart black kid with smart parents and a supportive community still has to fight every day to hope to reach the levels of what a mediocre white man accomplishes. And, odds are, they still might not make it.”
When I actively refer to myself as a mediocre white guy, I don’t mean it to suggest an ignorance of the above; the world is full of mediocre white guys lavishing upon themselves successful lives, if not also inflicting the downsides of that success upon the people around them.
It’s true that generally I consider myself a failure and a fuckup, up to and including as an actually-autistic person who feels more or less constantly barraged by the existence of successful autistic people. It’s also true that there are many backgrounds from which I could have come that would not have afforded me to fail and fuckup so regularly at life, across four decades, and yet still be housed, fed, and yet nonetheless remain, for now, essentially comfortable.
All of which I’d wanted to sit down and mention for the past few days anyway, but today felt like the day to do it because I got so (autistically?) rankled over a Twitter thread about criticism of a book by an autistic teen in which the reviewer focuses on questions of privilege.
(This included pushback against the reviewer calling out Greta Thunberg’s privilege and while they definitely pushed the line here they also aren’t wrong. Does anyone think a black African teenager skipping school or sailing across the ocean would generate the same sorts of coverage as Thunberg? That doesn’t take away from Thunberg’s passion and commitment, but denying her privilege seems weird to me. The author is right that privilege is relative—it’s certainly different to be a white man versus a white woman—but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. To suggest “privilege” is a “dangerous” term, though, is very problematic and convenient; “privilege” does not mean “never had any problems”.)
Much of the support given to the author seems to suggest that the review says more about the reviewer than it does about the author, but that seems to me almost exactly the very point the reviewer was making: the book effectively is about the author but presented as universally applicable.
It’s not, after all, The White Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic or even just One Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How I Grew Up Awesome and Autistic but The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic.
No one appears to have suggested that book not be written at all, per se, including the reviewer’s wish that the book had addressed “our patriarchal, racist, sexist, capitalist society”, but the author’s response that “these topics would have involved writing a very different book aimed at a very different audience” and that she “wasn’t qualified to write about racism” very much reads as a white-as-default perspective.
That’s what “these topics would have involved writing a very different book aimed at a very different audience” means, in the end, regardless of intention or self-awareness. The author wrote a book about her own of-course-valid experiences but the book is presented as for the “spectrum girl”.
I’ve talked before about how exhausting I find autism Twitter, which is why I unfollowed most of it, and while the Twitter thread isn’t necessarily representative, I only learned of it because a prominent actually-autistic account retweeted the author’s original post. This is a community that sometimes talks up intersectionality, and yet doesn’t seem to see the fail here.
Who and what is the “the” in “The Spectrum Girl”, if not the author representing what’s viewed as the default experience, with considerations of things like race being for “a very different audience”?
Being white and privileged doesn’t mean you never get to speak, but in 2019 it does mean you’ve a responsibility to be more self-aware about the position from which you get to do that speaking. You don’t get a pass because you’re white, privileged, and autistic. Or young.
Is there a The Black Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide? Not according to this Amazon search. Even publishing a book is a position of privilege, and it shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that should be acknowledged by those who get to do it.