Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
On the Question of Tears (2021-07-05)
As the ongoing shitshow of "wokeness" continues, in which people glom onto identity claims and beating each other up in secularized versions of christian confessionalism rather than facing the real issues of structural oppression continues, one thing that has gradually redeveloped is a type of acceptable open woman-hating. For awhile there, calling women vicious names was something nobody could get away with doing. The first workaround for this is of course semantic derogation of other terms for women until they are just as vicious in connotation as their now unacceptable predecessors, a phenomenon studied and documented by Julia Penelope nearly forty years ago now. The new terms get thrown around with abandon, and at first many of us may be fooled into thinking nothing has happened to them. Supposedly "Karen" is just a generic term for a "white woman" and so forth. Except it doesn't take much to notice that the contempt and hatred expressed towards women labelled with these terms, however abstractly directed gets very obvious very quickly. I have read commenters who previously seemed potentially unlikely to overtly despise women engaging using this terminology, using these new labels for women who are supposedly ensuring that the socialists and communists lose the class war because they are being "racist" or whatever version of "[label]phobia" is hot at the moment. Orders to "die in a fire" or "get raped" don't have to be anywhere around for this effect, and it is anything but subtle.
I have long distrusted claims about "white women" in mainstream discourse, especially the mythical abstract "middle class or richer white woman." Despite how "woke" everyone is supposed to be now, how hyperaware everyone is supposed to be of how white male privilege guides those men into complicity with upholding and enforcing structural oppression, somehow they have vanished from the picture and the conversation. Suddenly, they are completely gone, and in their place is this mythical "white woman" who is inevitably never poor, never oppressed in her own right, always busy with her dainty, hyperfeminine foot on the neck of someone else, apparently including rich white men. It is a not so extraordinary example of what Mary Daly, that remarkable lower class boston irish lesbian thealogian identified long ago as a form of patriarchal reversal that is used to strategically fool us into attacking a specific subset of victims. The underlying deal being held out to us, should we be so foolish as to take the bait, is a claim that if we do that, we'll be safe. Or as Andrea Dworkin paraphrased the tempting trade off, "take her, not me." It doesn't work, it's a fake deal. Those who have the mixed experience of watching the original Star Wars trilogy might think immediately of the scene between Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian where Vader tells Lando that he is unilaterally changing the terms of their agreement. He can do this because Lando is so compromised he has no allies to help him resist the immediate threat. George Lucas is a lousy writer, but he captured how that dynamic works very well, and even he has admitted that "Darth Vader" is a couched version of "Dark Father."
Which brings me to a new reversal trope that began making the high flying meme rounds late last year, this one an appropriation of Black Feminist critiques of "white women's tears." Never mind that those Black Feminists were not denying that white women suffered oppression, saying that anytime a white woman cries she must be attempting to re-access what little white privilege she has, or trying to claim that white women only talk about the sexual and physical abuse they suffer as a way to manipulate others. After all, they were and are Feminists. The point they were and are making, is that white women are encouraged to think they can use their tears and suffering in this way and that this will benefit them, and that they are especially encouraged to use this against Black women whom they might otherwise resist patriarchy and racism in solidarity together, and therefore more successfully. They were making the point that as Black women, they couldn't ignore how racism affects them, and one of the terrible parts of structural racism is the behavioural modes that white women, especially those who aspire to or are middle class and higher, to take up. In other words, they were pointing out the ways in which white women were and are fooled and tempted into upholding and enforcing structural racism, and how that was yes wrong and yes undermining the Feminist movement. The point was not somehow to claim that "white women" are inherently awful people or something, but to analyse how structural racism in particular is upheld, and therefore how to break that source of its strength.
I understand that Robin DiAngelo has recently caught another updraft of fame and controversy, because those who wish to perform "wokeness" but not actually change anything about systemic oppression have just what they want in her. A middle class woman who has made it as an academic and corporate consultant whom they can virtually beat for not passing their purity tests on any of those grounds, whose work can be willfully misread and misconstrued, also on those same grounds, and yes who is not beyond criticism in any more than the rest of us. But best of all, she is part of the class of women that it is apparently totally okay to openly threaten in public, a class of women who are also not racialized, so attacking her doesn't endanger woke points for being antiracist. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so hideous. She is right to point out that many white people especially have been persuaded that racism is about bad individuals, not bad structures, and that nothing they ever do individually has anything to do with those structures, so they can counter having those structures or their specific racist behaviour pointed out to them with insistence that their feelings have been hurt and they have been personally attacked. That's the very evasion tactic that was exemplified in the "white women's tears" trope. I do think it was a mistake to label this "white fragility" even though DiAngelo's reasons for choosing this label are understandable. The trouble is the fragility is not in white men or women, but in their faith that their complicity with structural oppression will never backfire on them, because once aware of their complicity, they can only keep supporting the structural oppression by keeping bad faith that can't stand testing.
Instead of getting fooled into taking the bait presented by the patriarchal and racist reversals of these real critiques, or missing the forest of good analysis for the trees of an unfortunate label, we need to refuse the bait. Then we need to spend less time isolated on or off line, and work with others to undermine and challenge structural oppression: undermine when we can't do it safely in as open a way as we like, challenge when we can do so safely or when ethical necessity demands nothing less, both whenever that works. There are people in my town right now who are stubbornly and patiently leafletting against structural oppression, including pasting up again and again informative posters that get torn down and removed, again and again. They don't give up, and it is not just one person alone. They don't get fooled into giving up on change just because playing for "woke points" doesn't work. They just get on with the real work.