Matt Barber and Peter LaBarbera got together once again and I guess it just wasn’t quite enough to carry on with their usual fear and loathing of all people and things queer. Matt Barber, a white man, has decided to go the noble savage route with black people. Yep. Barber had to condescendingly whitesplain the problem with those people of colour who are accepting and tolerant.
Last Tuesday on the “Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show,” Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality told guest host and fellow anti-gay activist Matt Barber that the gay rights movement is “a liberal cult,” “an anti-God movement” and a “sin movement.”
Barber argued that with African-American leaders’ acceptance of gay rights, “secular socialism” has “infested the black community.”
“The blacks are a noble people, certainly, and there are many … Bible-believing Christians who are offended and disgusted by these illegitimate comparisons between mutable, changeable, deviant behaviors, homosexual behavior, and immutable, neutral characteristics such as skin color,” Barber said. He claimed that “black leaders have completely sold out to the radical LGBT lobby and are complicit in making these illegitimate comparisons.”
I’m sure that black people everywhere will sigh in relief at having a white bigot explain to them that they are so very wrong, and that it’s downright sinful to employ empathy, love, and compassion. Surely, the shocking news that black people, while noble, are also sellouts will make every single person change their views, immediately.
I have a lot of problems with the use of Noble and the concept of nobility. It’s a long shadow cast from the days of Ancien Régime (and much earlier, actually), this idea that a certain class of people are better, simply by virtue of being in said class. Nobility is nothing more than power and privilege, writ large, all across history, and still plaguing us today. The concept and history of Noble Savage is a long and demeaning one. Most people are familiar with it being applied to Indians, but it was also liberally applied to other people of colour, when they were free, and when they were slaves. There was a sort of grudging admiration, of the type one would aim at a clever animal. We like to think all that has really changed, a lot. It hasn’t, though. A lot of people still subscribe to the noble savage concept, like Mr. Barber. Other people have tossed the ‘noble’ part straight out of the window, settling on straight ‘savage’ when busy justifying why it’s perfectly okay for cops to murder people of colour.
And yes, throughout history, white people were tromped on by the noble classes, too. Before anyone gets seriously into a whine about that though, think very hard on the amount of privilege you get to walk around with, and how that privilege acts and works, every single day of your life, easing interactions and keeping you much safer than people of colour. Think about how you are not subject to respectability politics. Think about how many people would rush to your defense and make one excuse after another if you did something unthinkable, like pick up a gun and started shooting people. Think about how if you are white, you’d most likely still have your life in such a case. No, cops killing a few armed white people over the years does not redress the awful imbalance. Consider: You read two news stories on the same day. One story is about a cop shooting and killing a black man. The other story is about a cop shooting and killing a person’s pet dog. Which one of those stories elicits immediate empathy and outrage? Be brutally honest with yourself here.
Consider how you think of people of colour, and have the spine to stop yourself thinking “well, hey, I have ____ friends!” You can have a non-white friend or friends, and still not get it. You can have those friends, and still be biased as hell. Consider whether or not you give space to the noble concept in your head some where. That will take a bit of work, and it will definitely take honesty. Work for a better understanding of how white people come to have certain viewpoints, and why they can be so defensive of them:
Whites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality (McIntosh, 1988). The belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of culture (and thus the norm for humanity), allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience. This is evidenced through an unracialized identity or location, which functions as a kind of blindness; an inability to think about Whiteness as an identity or as a “state” of being that would or could have an impact on one’s life. In this position, Whiteness is not recognized or named by white people, and a universal reference point is assumed. White people are just people. Within this construction, whites can represent humanity, while people of color, who are never just people but always most particularly black people, Asian people, etc., can only represent their own racialized experiences (Dyer, 1992).
The discourse of universalism functions similarly to the discourse of individualism but instead of declaring that we all need to see each other as individuals (everyone is different), the person declares that we all need to see each other as human beings (everyone is the same). Of course we are all humans, and I do not critique universalism in general, but when applied to racism, universalism functions to deny the significance of race and the advantages of being white. Further, universalism assumes that whites and people of color have the same realities, the same experiences in the same contexts (i.e. I feel comfortable in this majority white classroom, so you must too), the same responses from others, and assumes that the same doors are open to all. Acknowledging racism as a system of privilege conferred on whites challenges claims to universalism.
At the same time that whites are taught to see their interests and perspectives as universal, they are also taught to value the individual and to see themselves as individuals rather than as part of a racially socialized group. Individualism erases history and hides the ways in which wealth has been distributed and accumulated over generations to benefit whites today. It allows whites to view themselves as unique and original, outside of socialization and unaffected by the relentless racial messages in the culture. Individualism also allows whites to distance themselves from the actions of their racial group and demand to be granted the benefit of the doubt, as individuals, in all cases. A corollary to this unracialized identity is the ability to recognize Whiteness as something that is significant and that operates in society, but to not see how it relates to one’s own life. In this form, a white person recognizes Whiteness as real, but as the individual problem of other “bad” white people (DiAngelo, 2010a).
You can read White Fragility in its entirety here.