If you have so much as a passing interest in this blog, you will doubtless be aware that the kookiness of the far left functions as both a major irritant and a rich vein of content. And while there is no shortage of illiberal talking points for me to take issue with, there is perhaps none more egregious than the denuded concept of bigotry that has taken root within the cliff-hanging lefty community.
For those unsure of what I’m referring to, the idea that straight white males (SWMs) cannot be subjected to bigotry of any flavour is one often parroted by those on the far left. In much the same way conservatives have tried to limit the concept of marriage, these individuals wish to redefine bigotry in order to exclude a group of people. The irony of this should be rather obvious, and it only becomes more so as one delves into the details.
The supporting argument for their claim generally goes as follows:
- Bigotry (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) is prejudice plus power/privilege (power and privilege are interchangeable in this context).
- SWMs have power/privilege (socioeconomic, political, and institutional).
- Therefore, it is impossible for SWMs to be victims of bigotry/impossible for groups without power to perpetrate bigotry.
There are several problems with this argument, the most obvious of which is its faulty premise. What it describes is institutional bigotry, which is a specific form of bigotry that barely scratches the concept’s surface. This definition can be traced back to Patricia Bidol-Padva’s relatively obscure 1970 book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-Media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level, and it isn’t particularly well-subscribed outside of far left circles. That being said, let’s accept the premise for discussion’s sake.
I want to start by conceding something that should be self-evident. White privilege is a thing, as is straight privilege, and male privilege. All else being equal, being a SWM comes with more advantages. However, all else is rarely if ever equal. Privilege is far more than just race, gender, and sexuality. It encompasses everything that shapes the character of one’s existence. The preoccupation with specific groups reveals contradictions in the far left worldview. Subscribing to such a simplified, self-serving conception of privilege necessitates committing precisely those transgressions pseudo-liberals claim to abhor: treating certain groups as a monolith; reducing people to skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and on that basis making assumptions about character and lived experience.
As a dude who cares abt feminism sometimes I want to join all men arm-in-arm & then run off a cliff and drag the whole gender into the sea
— Arthur Chu (@arthur_affect) March 25, 2015
The far left should be exquisitely sensitive to the folly of making wild generalisations about certain categories of people, particularly in light of the fact that they perceive said categories entirely as social constructions. If asked, they would endorse the idea of individuality, yet the irony is that doing so would instantly reveal the flaws in their argument. Individual experience cannot be reduced to a handful of elements within a sea of variables. Let’s use an absurd example to illustrate the point.
Barack Obama is approached by a homeless SWM. He punches the homeless man, and then cites his hatred of white people as motive for doing so. Of the two people, who holds the power in this example? That the president’s actions were motivated by racism should be obvious, but let’s keep stacking the deck. In addition to being homeless, the man is in a wheelchair, was born with a slew of learning disabilities, and has suffered from severe clinical depression since the age of fourteen. In evaluating his quality of life, how much emphasis should we place on his race, gender, and sexuality? Is he in a more privileged position than the president simply because he’s white? It should be clear that other factors have had a more profound effect on the man’s quality of life. The example is deliberately absurd, but it needn’t be.
Let’s replace Obama with a gay black woman and the homeless man with a transgender woman. Is the gay black woman transphobic? Who is in a more powerful position? What if the example instead contains a white woman and a black man? Do we have a privilege mathematician on hand who can do the calculation for us? It should be abundantly clear that we don’t have nearly enough information to determine who is more privileged, and it wouldn’t matter even if we had comprehensive life histories. Racism is racism, sexism is sexism, transphobia is transphobia, and so on. We don’t require a hierarchy of privilege in order to recognise bigotry when we see it.
It’s difficult not to view such ideas with cynicism. The far left has a habit of inventing arguments and buzzwords that appear designed for the sole purpose of allowing them to get away with things they spend their lives railing against. It’s one giant exculpatory gymnastics routine, and I think we’re all a little tired of watching it.