Life isn’t simple. Capitalism isn’t simple. And the ways we talk about oppression aren’t simple. Yet several times this week (this month, this year, this lifetime) I’ve seen concepts about identity and sexism and racism boiled down to practically nothing, by people who should know better.
Like trying to shut down a conversation about people of colour Anglicizing their names to succeed in white society – by co-opting trans activists’ arguments about name and identity. Forget the very real threat of violence or trauma which is posed by deadnaming trans people – it all boiled down to “it’s impolite”.
We don’t call trans people by their names because Miss Manners advised that it wasn’t proper. We do it because people’s lives are literally at stake.
Then there was this list presented as an exemplar of claims made by those of us on the left who stand for social justice issues.
Claims that doing yoga is impermissible cultural appropriation, arguments that we should drop phrases like “I see what you mean” because they’re ableist, the assumption that linking to Tweets constitutes violence but harassing and degrading people to the point of suicide is noble activism, filing Title IX claims against people for writing essays in major magazines, allowing your position to become synonymous with attacks on the right to free expression, claiming that you can fight capitalism and the state with hashtags — this is the behavior of a movement that cannot win. We cannot win that way.
Do some people say “all yoga is racist” or “all Twitter replies are abuse”? Probably. There are extremists, opportunists and downright silly people in every movement. And there are always people who don’t want to or can’t discuss these issues in a nuanced way.
But you know who else doesn’t get nuance? You on the left, who keep misrepresenting complex discussions about imperialism, commodification and global capitalism – when it applies to women or people of colour, at least – into “you’re ruining the left with your stupid over-sensitive demands.”
It’s bizarre to see otherwise intelligent/thoughtful/analytical people suddenly forgetting how to think. It’s like the spectre of “no white man can EVER criticise a black woman!” which gets raised every single time a white man is asked not to be horribly racist. There’s an absolute refusal to read past the headline and consider another perspective.
But let’s play that game. Let’s drop those trifling ~identity~ concerns like “is my labour undervalued because of my gender” or “am I at higher risk of physical violence because of how I look”. There’s a bigger failure here. Every time this “the left has lost its way because someone asked me not to be casually sexist at them” argument is raised, the lament is the same: we can’t win that way! We need to win!
And what’s missing, every time, is how you think we can win.
We hear a lot about finding out what people are comfortable with – meeting them where they are – but not what that actually entails in terms of strategy or tactics.
We hear that this approach won’t involve sacrificing our core principles – but never which principles you actually think are core.
I’m happy to talk about possible solutions, new strategies, different ways of doing things. I blog about Big Serious Sexy Material Politics all the time. But I don’t see new ideas coming from the complainers. I see a bunch of people in privileged positions whining that less-privileged people would like us to stop trampling them underfoot while we pursue The Great Leftwing Project.
I’m not stupid. I’m well aware that a lot of (but not all) political progress can only be made through electoral success. (Everyone is. Stop being a patronizing douche about it.) But the only suggestion I ever see from the centrists, from the white dudes, from the hand-wringing old guard, is: “shut up, you don’t understand that we just need to win, okay?” And then we keep chasing the centre and losing elections.
The way we’ve always done things isn’t working, chaps. So besides complaining about the fact it’s 2016 and the world has moved on from your comfort zone, what exactly do you propose doing?
You might want to talk about rebuilding the mass movement of the left. Let’s have a chat about that in tomorrow’s post.