I criticize racist people who’d insist they aren’t racist on the internet, so I guess that makes me part of the “victimhood culture” described in Conor Friedersdorf’s article at The Atlantic, Microaggressions and the Rise of Victimhood Culture.
Conor’s beat is writing sophistry for sophisticated people about racism (see here). The idea is to take racist cliches and obfuscate them enough that the reader feels comfortable. In this case, he uses a Telling Anecdote and mumbo-jumbo conveniently invented by a couple of sociologists. To understand what he’s commenting on, it’s best to just read it yourself. It’s here. We’re talking about this important event in internetz history because it “may be a portent of a new moral culture rising in America.”
This is how he introduces the incident:
Last fall at Oberlin College, a talk held as part of Latino Heritage Month was scheduled on the same evening that intramural soccer games were held. As a result, soccer players communicated by email about their respective plans. “Hey, that talk looks pretty great,” a white student wrote to a Hispanic student, “but on the off chance you aren’t going or would rather play futbol instead the club team wants to go!!”
Unbeknownst to the white student, the Hispanic student was offended by the email.
Using basic Google skills (“oberlin arlene davila”), we can learn that the subject of the talk was “What Arizona’s battle against Mexican-American Studies can teach Academics.” Yes, the subject of the talk was a conservative effort to ban the teaching of classes that might teach students about microaggressions. Friedersdorf doesn’t see the big deal in saying “this is boring, let’s play futbol” to a Latino person, when the subject of the talk is government efforts to prevent children from learning unpleasant truths about racism.
Friedersdorf must have felt clever when writing this:
To return to Oberlin, it is instructive to imagine how an exchange-student from Spain might react to the Hispanic student’s post on the Oberlin Microaggressions blog. Were he operating in an honor culture, he might find the student and punch him in the face. In a dignity culture, he might ignore the post, or write the student a private note that says, “Hey, just to let you know, in my native country, there are millions of people who are both white and native Spanish speakers. And we all say fútbol.”
Whereas in a victimhood culture, the Spaniard might write his own post at Oberlin Microaggressions, constructed to heighten the perceived insult. “Hey you American supremacist,” he might tell the Hispanic student, “your HEGEMONIC ignorance of MY PEOPLE effectively ERASES US. Before you engage in RHETORICAL GENOCIDE against me in the future, consider that by calling it YOUR LANGUAGE you’ve EXCLUDED millions of people in a country smaller and poorer than yours.” Then someone else could take offense and call the Spaniard a white-male colonialist. There is no end to conflict in a victimhood culture.
Let’s grant that the aggrieved student took the case against cultural appropriation too far. Why are we even talking about an email exchange from 2013 between two members of an intramural soccer team in Ohio called Pussy Whipped? To emasculate black people, of course. Friedersdorf didn’t think this part of the conversation was interesting, I guess because it shows the offending party is actually sort of racist. The all-caps in parentheses are from the Hispanic soccer player:
Your anger with the white male patriarchy is justified, (THANKS!) and the social system of America perpetuates injustice by giving unfair advantages to white people, to wealthy people, and to men. Now i realize I’m getting into your area of study, and not mine (OR MY LIFE), but these systems are perpetuated because of human tendencies to favor people like themselves (ABSOLOUTELY WRONG AND RACIST, WHAT IS COLIANLISM AND WHAT IS CAPITALISM) – and because positions of power in this country are generally held by white males, white males receive huge advantages.
No, sir. Nothing racist about “people favor their own kind as a Natural Law.” It’s not important that the original accusation of racism was essentially correct. It’s important than Spain is smaller than Mexico, and Spanish white people were excluded from this conversation. Parenthetical comments like that were also removed when Friedersdorf quoted things, so he wasn’t just copy-pasting. For example:
You do not get to define who I am. Fuck off. Clearly you only see me at face value and yes I’m white and male, what do you want me to do about that? I have a second family that I have spent a good portion of my life with.
You do not get to define who I am. Fuck off. Clearly you only see me at face value and yes I’m white and male, what do you want me to do about that? (LEAVE THE SOCCER TEAM)
I think it’s actually a geat point: “You do not get to define who I am.” How quickly white people understand the importance of that! The other purpose of Friedersdorf’s article is to define the “culture of victimhood” I supposedly belong to, and oppose it to everything good and manly.
The second major part of Friedersdorf’s article is about a paper called “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” heavily excerpted here. That’s where Fridersdorf is getting the stuff. It’s the pet theory of one guy who got his education in sociology in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia, and another guy who teaches at West Virginia University. I mention their Southernness because the a macho “culture of honor” thing indeed exists in the South. Bear in mind that these are Southern white men complaining about minorities complaining.
This is the Big Idea:
The sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, cited the Oberlin incident as one of many examples of a new, increasingly common approach to handling conflict.
It isn’t honor culture.
“Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response,” they write. “But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor.”
But neither is it dignity culture:
“Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”
The culture on display on many college and university campuses, by way of contrast, is “characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.”
It is, they say, “a victimhood culture.”
Victimhood cultures emerge in settings, like today’s college campuses, “that increasingly lack the intimacy and cultural homogeneity that once characterized towns and suburbs, but in which organized authority and public opinion remain as powerful sanctions,” they argue. “Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood … the moral status of the victim, at its nadir in honor cultures, has risen to new heights.”
Notice how they start off with “Honorable people are sensitive to insult.” In contrast, “members of a dignity culture,” which is not our culture, “would see no shame in appealing to third parties” (incredibly!). Niggers and spics are pussies that exaggerate everything, is what he means.
It’s absurd on its face that members of a “dignity culture” worthy of the name would advocate ignoring affronts to our dignity. They’re confusing “dignity” with “decorum (defined by white men)”.
It’s important to fantasize that we “like” victimization, the same way it’s important to fantasize that chicks totally get into it once you start raping them.
Some of the other language in the original paper is also revealing:
Small children often bring their complaints to adults, for example, while adults might bring their complaints to the legal system (e.g., Baumgartner 1992). Explaining the rise of microaggression complaints, then, requires that we explain the conditions that lead individuals to bring their problems before third parties.
The authors of the paper come from the part of the country that calls niggers “boy.” Just saying.
Behavior perfectly normal to a representative democracy is treated as bizarre, bizarrely:
Indeed, the core of much modern activism, from protest rallies to leaflet campaigns to publicizing offenses on websites, appears to be concerned with rallying enough public support to convince authorities to act.
How do we explain this curious behavior of the savages?
These sites hope to mobilize and sustain support for a moral crusade against such injustice by showing that the injustices are more severe than observers might realize.
Yes, it’s generally difficult to solve problems that aren’t acknowledged.
But note that these campaigns for support do not necessarily emanate from the lowest reaches of society – that they are not primarily stocked or led by those who are completely lacking in property, respectability, education, or other forms of social status. Rather, such forms as microaggression complaints and protest demonstrations appear to flourish among the relatively educated and affluent populations of American colleges and universities. The socially down and out are so inferior to third parties that they are unlikely to campaign for their support, just as they are unlikely to receive it.
You see what happens when you start letting ’em go to school, buy respectable clothes, live in their own houses, etc? Poor people have never tried to do anything about their situation and nobody cares about them. Obviously. We have PhDs.
The parts in brackets are Jonathan Haidt’s comments:
Overstratification offenses occur whenever anyone rises above or falls below others in status. [Therefore…] a morality that privileges equality and condemns oppression is most likely to arise precisely in settings that already have relatively high degrees of equality… In modern Western societies, egalitarian ethics have developed alongside actual political and economic equality. As women moved into the workforce in large numbers, became increasingly educated, made inroads into highly paid professions such as law and medicine, and became increasingly prominent in local, state, and national politics, sexism became increasingly deviant. The taboo has grown so strong that making racist statements, even in private, might jeopardize the careers of celebrities or the assets of businessmen (e.g., Fenno, Christensen, and Rainey 2014; Lynch 2013). [p.706-707] [In other words, as progress is made toward a more equal and humane society, it takes a smaller and smaller offense to trigger a high level of outrage. The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimization.]
In other words, they’re just shocked that anyone important was ever held accountable for their racism. In other words, as blatant racism and sexism become socially unacceptable, and women and minorities enter the community of human beings, it’s a pain in the ass to start taking their concerns seriously. They’re basically criticizing people for having addressed some problems before turning to other problems. That’s not the same thing as “moving the goalposts.” It’s just that some people were so thoroughly dehumanized before that it was futile to even complain about the casual everyday racism they experience. The sociologists already acknowledged that and said it’s because dehumanized people are “inferior.”
It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor (Leung and Cohen 2011:509). People are to avoid insulting others, too, whether intentionally or not, and in general an ethic of self-restraint prevails.
Except we know that bullying has lifelong adverse consequences for mental and physical health.
A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.
“Black people are dependent on authorities, unlike self-sufficient frontier manly types” isn’t new. It’s a racist assumption that the only reason I’d write this blog is to “make the authorities do something” about Conor Friedersdorf and some racist sociology professors. It’s inconceivable that someone might draw attention to condescending racist white people just because they suck, and it would be undignified to let it slide without saying something. It would be to acknowledge one’s “inferiority.” It’s an appeal to people of conscience, which is why it’s so baffling to Friedersdorf.
Of course, you can find examples of college students being ridiculous and college administrators being spineless for fear of lawsuits. I could point out that the white guy on Team Pussy Whipped wrote “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes.” Why should that be what the conversation is focused on, when Friedersdorf started by omitting the relevant fact that the talk in question was about racist people successfully using the government to ban ethnic studies from schools?
HONOR!!! I AM A CHAMPION!!! NO ONE WILL DEFINE ME!!!
You could just as easily call it the culture of barbarity and the culture of civilization, but that would put them on the wrong side of history, and history is usually written by winners instead of ethnic studies departments.