why everyone is afraid

okay why I am afraid.

but some golden nuggets, not of chicken, but of insight. sorry the copy/pasting is so extensive:

This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that “is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ … ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.” Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change.

Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to actionRebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which “particular experiences can never legitimately speak for any one other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity.” Personal experience and feelings aren’t just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses.

MAN, I want to have legitimate thoughts and experiences along with the wisdom to use them as touchstones with which to add depth and color to actual and solid bases of knowledge and opinions on Issues and Things.

The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world’s problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say. All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

I live in a world of uncertainties and “well, I see what she means…” — treading carefully and unable to grow in any analytic capacity for fear of being outcast as an outcaster. Because having actual opinions means having opponents to those actual opinions.

If we wish to remove this fear, and to adopt a politics that can lead to more substantial change, we need to adjust our discourse.  Ideally, we can have a conversation that is conscious of the role of identity issues andconfident of the ideas that emanate from the people who embody those identities. It would call out and criticize unfair, arbitrary, or otherwise stifling discursive boundaries, but avoid falling into pettiness or nihilism. It wouldn’t be moderate, necessarily, but it would be deliberate. It would require effort.

And that is the thing! About anything worth the effort. Is that it requires effort to have and to hold.

In the start of his piece, Chait hypothetically asks if “the offensiveness of an idea [can] be determined objectively, or only by recourse to the identity of the person taking offense.” Here, he’s getting at the concerns addressed by Reed and Reilly-Cooper, the worry that we’ve turned our analysis so completely inward that our judgment of a person’s speech hinges more upon their identity signifiers than on their ideas.

A sensible response to Chait’s question would be that this is a false binary, and that ideas can and should be judged both by the strength of their logic and by the cultural weight afforded to their speaker’s identity. Chait appears to believe only the former, and that’s kind of ridiculous. Of course someone’s social standing affects whether their ideas are considered offensive, or righteous, or even worth listening to. How can you think otherwise?

and all this reading and copying and pasting and mmhmm-ing-even-though-my-feelings-are-tangentially-related-to-the-main-topic… to come to the bottom of the page to this related link:

haha. internet, making me feel validated and then silly once more, in two quick clicks. blehg.


One thought on “THIS IS MY PROBLEM, YES

  1. I think discussions about how academia handles discussions of identity are often overly simplified, as in the case of the first article. Often times people in power require people to prove that institutions are working against them and it’s not their personal responsibility that they’re x, y, or z. And we know that institutions have been consistently used to deny the realities of people’s experiences and blame them for their struggles. Thus personal testimony can have a lot power uplifting people, providing a way to speak your truth and a means to connect with others who also hold your truth. On the other hand, speaking more broadly than just college campuses, I have seen a silencing effect in activist communities in which people try to prove they’re the most intersectional person in the room and everyone else is problematic (intersectional and problematic being the in vogue social justice buzzwords). (I’m also going to disregard that a lot of silencing comes not from “liberals”, but highly conservative individuals, who are disproportionately cis, hetero, white, wealthy men and who disproportionately have access to the most power and would prefer to keep it that way.) I think the question always has to go back to safety. Do individuals who are personally survivors of violence or have a history of violence and marginalization targeted at their collective groups feel safe in a space? And is what they need to feel safe a reasonable request?
    With this, feel comfortable is irrelevant. Whether or not you like or agree with the topic doesn’t matter. I don’t get to feel comfortable during discussions of racism because my discomfort is marginal compared to the legacy of violence by white Europeans towards people of color around the globe. And my discomfort is a tool to deride real conversations and change–to keep my power.
    For those who actually feel unsafe, there are sometimes requests that are not valid. For instance, some sexual assault advocates buy in to the mythology that trans people are super perpetrators of sexual assault and specifically that letting trans women into women’s bathrooms is unsafe for SA survivors. However, we know that trans people are much more likely than cis people to experience sexual assault and denying them access to restrooms is making them that much more unsafe (and at risk for various health conditions, like UTIs). So there are certain times where it’s okay to acknowledge a person may feel unsafe, but that education is the solution, not shutting down conversations.
    For colleges specifically, as the article you shared pointed out, it’s actually a failure of universities and our legislative bodies to create systems that promote education. It’s a fault of our schools’ administrations and our legislators. I actually reported a professor my senior year for being racist and ableist in class, but all I asked was that he be spoken to so other students wouldn’t go through the emotional turmoil I did and drop out of his upper-level identity politics class because he was creating an unsafe class environment for students of specific identities. (I obviously didn’t feel unsafe because of the racism as a white person, but I was troubled by it and I did feel unsafe challenging the class on ableism issues due to me already being seen as a “radical.” I also felt that I wasn’t going to learn anything in class and it would just make me highly emotional, so I dropped it.) The department had no idea how to respond to my concerns, which was in direct contrast to the women, gender, and sexuality department who validated my concerns and helped me develop a positive way to respond to it. Unsurprisingly, there have been significant protests at KU this past school year surrounding racism as well as at other schools because by defaulting to “non-controversial” material like that “liberal” professor claimed, he’s really defaulting to information that promotes the worldview of those most privileged and he’s re-marginalizing other students.
    Sorry this was kind of rambling, but I have so many thoughts on this ongoing debate about the role of universities in the movement towards social justice.

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