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Why center-left ‘concern’ concerns me, from a tactical standpoint
This week Tina Fey made headlines for an appearance on SNL’s “Weekend Update: Summer Edition” that aired on Thursday night. In the oft-circulated clip, Fey, a University of Virginia alum, commented on the deadly violence that broke out as a consequence of her alma mater hosting a white nationalist rally last weekend. The bit contained some useful commentary on white supremacy, but ultimately became a joke about retreating into privilege as Fey, a wealthy white woman, took out her frustration on an American flag sheet cake instead of doing something useful.
The bit elicited a predictable response. Newsweek called Fey’s cake dive the “perfect coping mechanism” and many people—mostly white liberals and self-proclaimed centrists—agreed. And then many frustrated people—a lot of them *not* white—took to Twitter to say things like, “hey, can we talk about the white privilege inherent in the joke, though?”
Finally, outlets like the Washington Post closed the loop, reporting on the “outrage,” drawing outrage toward the perceived outrage.
(Oh, internet. I can always count on you to internet.)
I’m writing this because this morning a post popped into my Facebook feed that concerned me. The post was written by a well-meaning person concerned with how we keep losing political control because of how the left keeps eating itself like so much sheet cake. “Their side galvanizes, our side squabbles,” was the gist of the post. Which is true, but then this person identified the source of the problem—and where a change in behavior therefore ought to be prescribed—as the people complaining about the cake.
Were there unnecessary, performative cake-complaints that didn’t need to happen? I don’t doubt it, but the thing is, many of the people ‘complaining’ about the bit were simply thinking critically about media. Furthermore, many of these people are actually *impacted* by the complacency the joke is about. Which to me begs the question—what exactly do we stand to lose by allowing space for valid critique?
What we lose, of course, is one facet of white supremacy that many of us hold all too dear—the right to never ever have to think critically about anything that might be reinforcing our right to never ever have to think critically about anything.
This morning’s conversation reminds me of recent experiences I had in a Twin Peaks meme group. I’m a fan of Twin Peaks, and I’m also aware that as older white guys, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s sprawling, cinematic mirror held up to white patriarchal violence suffers, at the end of the day, from its own lack of distance from that older-white-maleness. It’s not that Lynch isn’t a brilliant auteur, or even that the show’s heart isn’t often in the right place, it’s just that the experience it reflects isn’t universal, and as a result, valid critiques can be made about its handling of things like race and gender.
As Caroline Siede put it, “if you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism.” Thinking critically about how race and gender are presented in Twin Peaks doesn’t make me like it any less. (I always try to think critically about the things I enjoy.) But as I quickly realized through my involvement in this meme group, there’s a huge contingent of Twin Peaks fans who not only don’t want any critical analysis about the show to be brought up, they will very quickly resort to name-calling and flameouts to assert the meme group as a safe space away from things like intersectional critique.
Some of these people—who cannot tolerate the slightest whiff of feminist or anti-racist criticism of their favorite show, even if it’s coming from someone who loves the show as much as they do—identify as “leftists.”
(Do you see where I’m going with this?)
Out here on the left, we love to complain about how the left eats itself. Here’s how it happens: Because of how both white supremacy and patriarchy survive by constantly centering themselves as the status quo, challenges to white supremacy and patriarchy are constantly met with resistance.
“Getting pissed off over cake is not fighting white supremacy!” some well-meaning white guy insisted. Okay, that’s one person’s opinion. But what do you call getting pissed off about someone else getting pissed off about a cake?
I call it being a Status Quo Warrior, and I’m going to go out on a limb right now and identify Status Quo Warrioring as the single most damaging weapon in the left’s ongoing fight against itself.
Why do I say that? Because intersectional critique is here to stay. Telling Black Twitter to stop thinking critically about media is like telling water to stop being wet. It’s simply not productive.
The outrage that ensues whenever someone else is outraged is a vicious circle; a feedback loop that threatens to devour us like some fractalling dragon.
But the thing is, the more privilege we have, the more power we have to let the cycle stop with us. One of the many, uh, privileges about being privileged is that no one is forcing you to get angry at someone else’s observation rooted in their own lived experience of oppression.
The only thing stopping us from saying, “Oh, I hadn’t seen it that way, maybe you have a point!”—even if someone is saying something that doesn’t jibe with our experience at all—is our knee-jerk tendency to reinforce the status quo.
I’m writing this because I’d love to encourage all of us—myself included—to unpack that tendency. Try to dismantle it. Please. I’m saying this not simply because I believe it’s philosophically and morally right, I’m also saying this from a pragmatic, tactical standpoint.
The only way to build the “consensus” and “unity” that so frustratingly eludes the left involves us learning to be ok with other people’s critiques of things that don’t actually need to concern us. Because critical thinking isn’t going anywhere, and also, why would we want it to?
What if the next time you found yourself getting worked up about some feminist’s online rant, you thought to yourself, “Maybe she has a point, maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe a little of Column A, a little of Column B, but you know what? I could be fighting literal Nazis instead of worrying about this person’s opinion right now.”
And then go about your life! Because we both know that whatever she’s concerned about never needed to concern you in the first place, you lucky devil. 😉