Anjuli on racism

Someone pointed me to a post by Anjuli Pandavar, right here on FTB, in which she discusses people of color being racist towards White people. I am deeply unsympathetic to this post. So this is a critique.

The case of Linda Sarsour

Anjuli’s comments were prompted by Linda Sarsour. In 2011, Sarsour made a tweet towards two pro-Israel activists, saying, “I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” This is problematic in two ways: a) it’s identifying women with their vaginas, and b) it wrongly treats womanhood as something that must be earned.

But wait, back up. Who the heck is Linda Sarsour? Why are we talking about a tweet she made in 2011?

Linda Sarsour is best known as a co-chair of the Women’s March. We are hearing about her because the right has recently become interested in sliming her (e.g.). Some apparently think discrediting this one person will discredit the Women’s March. This is a bit silly because the Women’s March had 440-500k people and was clearly not the work of any single person. But anyways.

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Random Charlottesville stuff

I am not a news reporter, and I am assuming readers are already familiar with the general course of events.

You may have heard that Donald Trump failed to condemn Nazis in his speech on Saturday. I saw on Last Week Tonight that it was worse than that.

Reporters were actively shouting at him to make a statement condemning White supremacists. He goes to the podium as if to respond, but then says something unrelated.

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Call-out culture: a meta-meta-commentary

A couple years ago, I made this linkspam on call-out culture. “Call-out culture” refers to a pattern in social justice activist spaces of jumping on, and piling upon other activists who are perceived to have made a mistake. It’s an issue when it turns into bullying, or when it just scares people away from communities that they need.

This is a really difficult problem to address, and to be honest, I think I am uniquely unsuited to address it. I don’t have personal experience calling people out, or being called out, or at least not in any way that meaningfully impacted me. I am not a very anxious person, and it is very difficult to scare me or burn me out. My interest in this topic is purely based on compassion, and an interest in the meta. So for several years, I’ve wanted to say something, but couldn’t figure out what to say.

After thinking about it a lot, here’s what I want to say: Most articles on call-out culture are bad. That’s right, I collected a bunch of links in a linkspam, and I think most of those links are bad. I mean, they’re good. But they’re also bad, especially after reading several of them. They often fail to say anything novel or meaningful. And the bottom line is that they’re not having the impact they need to have.

The coopter threat

Just the other day, I read a new article that seemed to epitomize the “call-out culture article”: Righteous Callings: Being a Good Leftist, Orthodoxy, and the Social Justice Crisis of Faith. It’s by Kai Cheng, a former writer at Everyday Feminism. And it follows a particular structure. First, the author establishes “insider status”, making it clear that she is a certified social justice activist critiquing her own culture. Then a list of grievances. And in the conclusion, a rebuke of those who would coopt this criticism to reject social justice entirely.

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The “privilege” framework is weak

1. Allosexual privilege

I can give a lot of reasons why “privilege” is a weak theoretical framework for social justice activism. But as it is for many things, I didn’t come to this conclusion by just working through all the reasons, I came to it via an experience. So I’ll start by sharing that experience.

In fact, it’s an experience shared by most asexuality activists of a certain generation. There was a time, around 2011, that activists tried talking about allosexual privilege. This was widely regarded as a failure, and now we don’t talk about it anymore, except to tell newer activists that it’s a bad idea.

The whole debacle is well-documented. This was around the time that the asexual tumblr community was formed, and asexuality discussion that used to be held internally was for the first time exposed to a much broader audience. A lot of ideas were refined during that time, often by way of flame wars with TERFs.1

One of the biggest flame wars was over the concept of “sexual privilege”. As with many flame wars it was a lot of nonsense, but there were a few substantial critiques that came up.

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Music that is not for you

Renowned YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano recently talked about whether White people can enjoy Jay-Z. This was in response to a viewer question who asked what he thought about people who said that Jay-Z’s recent single, “The Story of O.J.” wasn’t for White people.

I mostly agree with Fantano’s answer: yes, White people can certainly enjoy Jay-Z’s music, yes they can enjoy rap, and yes rap is already ingrained in our musical culture. However, I observe that Fantano changed the question from “Is Jay-Z’s music for White people?” to “Can White people enjoy Jay-Z’s music?”

When someone says, “This music is not for you,” they are not trying to say “Stop enjoying this music.” Or, at least I don’t think they are. The question referred to arguments in the YouTube comments on Jay-Z’s video, but I couldn’t actually find these arguments. Instead what I found was a bunch of White people rather defensively asserting that they did enjoy the music.

What are they even reacting to? Did they read some YouTube comments that I can’t find? Or is it a matter of misinterpretation, in the same way that Anthony Fantano himself subtly changed the original question?

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But is it really capitalism?

A few years ago at a conference about queer video games, I said to an acquaintance, “It seems like there are some financial barriers to creating good queer video games.” My acquaintance says, “Yeah, well that’s capitalism.”

But is it? Is it really???

Sure, capitalism makes it hard to make well-funded games catering to a minority group. But it’s pretty hard to imagine an alternative economic system where we decide to invest a disproportionate amount of resources for the cultural benefit of a minority. Of all the problems created by capitalism, I’m not sure this is one of them. If anything, I would blame… eh… utilitarianism.

Capitalism vs utilitarianism

You may have heard that, in the simple case, a “free” market maximizes the good for the greatest number of people–that is, it’s the most utilitarian economic system. It chooses the optimal pricing and product allocation, eliminating “deadweight loss”, which is an angry red triangle that inhabits the supply/demand curves. There are of course, a lot of issues with this claim, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. The currently relevant issue is that hardly any markets qualify as simple.

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Critiques of call-out culture: a linkspam

This is a repost of an linkspam I created in 2015.  So naturally, all the links come from 2015 or earlier.  I’ve removed a few broken links, and added some contextualizing commentary at the bottom.

One of the most common complaints by social justice activists about social justice activism is that there’s a lot of toxicity. Whenever an activist makes a misstep, other activists will “call out” that person, sometimes directing a disproportionate amount of anger and abuse at them. This pattern is often (but not always) referred to as “call-out culture”.

For a while, I’ve been collecting a lot of articles and blog posts which critique call-out culture from an internal view point. My main motivation is that I would like to write about the topic myself, and I’d like my ideas to be responsive to what has already been said.

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