Why Sam is Glad He’s Not Asian
The young gentleman pictured above is Sam Hendrickson from Culver, Indiana. He recently catapulted to internet infamy thanks to his video titled Why I’d Hate to be Asian (Totally Not Racist). Originally posted onto his Facebook page, it found its way into the greater public when, after refusing to listen to his Facebook friends telling him that his post was racist trash, someone reposted it onto YouTube.
I saw the video before it got taken down and it’s pretty lame, with references to “chink eyes” and being short. It’s the kind of stuff a third-grader would come up with, and coming from a guy who looks to be either at the end of adolescence or the start of adulthood, and who doesn’t have an apparent head injury, I can’t help but feel sorry for him.
For more, check out this piece from the online news show The Young Turks, a regular online destination of mine:
As his video got more exposure, the story followed the usual arc. His tone on his Facebook page was defiant, but as word got out and the heat came on, he shifted gears on Twitter, from edgy comedian to misunderstood victim of one-third of the human population…
…and finally to full apology with a side of martyr:
Don’t bother looking up his Twitter account; it’s since been taken down. That’s standard operating procedure when one succumbs to foot-in-mouth disease on social media: take down the offending account, wait some time, and perhaps start a new one under a different handle once the heat’s died down.
Privilege and Distress (or: “Where’s My Dinner?”)
I’m so glad we have freedom of speech. As long as we don’t say ANYTHING that might offend ANYONE or could be misconstrued in ANY way. Beam me up, Scottie. Let’s go look for intelligent life. somewhere out in space. There isn’t any here on earth.
It’s a classic case of confusing freedom of speech with freedom from the consequences of your actions, but it’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about the worldview that led to that comment, as well as Sam Hendrickson’s ill-advised video.
While I don’t possess a mythical magic mirror that can look into people’s souls and see their true intentions, I’d be willing to bet that Sam (and “tinman” too) didn’t get out of bed on the day he recorded that video and ask himself “What minority group can I trample on today?”
All he probably wanted to do was share an opinion, and quite probably scratch a creative itch. He probably wondered, at least at the beginning, why he was being punished for the mere act of “putting himself out there”. Dude, people can be so SENSITIVE these days!
Poor Sam (and “tinman” as well) probably feels like William H. Macy’s character, George Parker, did in this scene from the film Pleasantville:
If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about what happens when two people from the present day end get transported to the world of Pleasantville, a Leave It to Beaver-esque black-and-white television sitcom set in 1958. In this scene, George comes home, expecting dinner to be prepared by his wife. The house is dark and deserted, and after a futile search, he walks out the front door of the house, looks at the street and asks to no one in particular, “Where’s my dinner?”
I’m not bringing this up just to discuss old movies. As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change.
The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.
…I think it’s worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at the world from George Parker’s point of view: He’s a good 1950s TV father. He never set out to be the bad guy. He never meant to stifle his wife’s humanity or enforce a dull conformity on his kids. Nobody ever asked him whether the world should be black-and-white; it just was.
George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.
It seems so unfair. He doesn’t want anybody to be unhappy. He just wants dinner.
The Distress of the Privileged was posted in September, which wasn’t too long after last summer’s controversy over the remarks and actions of the president of the fast food chain restaurant Chick-Fil-A. It became known that his family donates millions of dollars to organizations that oppose LGBT rights, and the usual boycotts, condemnation and comics ensued:
People who sided with Chick-Fil-A’s president’s views responded in the classic “distress of the privileged” style: you’ve got it all wrong — we’re the oppressed minority here! A response that Muder cites goes like this:
In other words, I specifically feel BASHED by the general media and liberal establishment and gay activists for simply being a Bible-believing Christian. From TV shows, movies, mainstream news and music, so much is Intolerance of my conservative beliefs. I am labeled a HOMOPHOBIC and a HATER. Jumping to extreme language and extreme conclusions…serves only to stir up more irrationality around our disagreements.
I neither fear nor hate homosexuals. I am trying to understand what it is to see life from your perspective. America is (was) a great place for liberty to speak our beliefs. It’s the dialogue that balances us and keeps one group from becoming a tyrant.
I do not support the gay activist agenda which seeks to silence people like me.
This guy isn’t going out trying to make people’s lives miserable, and I’m quite sure his personal mantra isn’t “Whose rights can I take away today?” He’s just wondering why liberals, gays and the media have to go up and ruin something that’s been working pretty well so far.
All the while, that person forgets:
- It is not political suicide to say that the Founding Fathers were Christian or that the United States is a Christian nation. Try suggesting that a Founding Father might have been gay or remind someone of the Thomas Jefferson quote “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.”
- It is not illegal to engage in Christian activity in the U.S., but it took until 2003 for “sodomy laws” to be struck down across the United States.
- You can’t be fired for being Christian because it’s enshrined in law: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids it. However, in more than half of the states in the U.S., you can legally be fired for being gay.
- Christian bashing is largely figurative, gay bashing is often quite literal.
- Christians may feel like people are trying to silence them, but the Tennessee legislature debated a bill making it illegal to say the word gay in public schools. (The senate passed it.)
There are all sorts privileged distress, including:
- White people seeing themselves as the real victims of racism
- Employers whose religious freedom is threatened because they can’t deny contraception to their employees
- When Americans freak out about bilingualism (particularly amusing to me: I was born in a country with two official languages, and now live in a country with two official languages)
- The whiny fedora-sporters on Reddit’s Men’s Rights subreddit
Let’s talk about what’s recently distressed that last group.
Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games
Around the time of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, many gamer dudebros got their dander up over a Kickstarter campaign started by Anita Sarkeesian. She was trying to raise $6,000 to do a better version of her DIY video series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, an analysis of the portrayal of women in video games. Much gnashing of teeth ensued, followed by comics of Anita being raped, the defacement of her Wikipedia page, attempts to hack her website and death threats. A really distressed guy by the name of Ben Spurr created a game in which you beat Anita up; he insisted that it wasn’t about punching women, but punching one particular selfish person.
In the end, justice won out in spades. Anita raised nearly $160,000 — nearly 26 times her goal — and the first video in her series, Damsel in Distress, came out of Friday. The video, shown above, is great work, and I’m looking forward to future installments.
Still, many gamer dudebros still don’t like it. Some say that she “fleeced” people simply because she presented her case well and raised a lot of money. Some didn’t like her “tone” in the video. Some say that it’s part of the eventual plot to put women on top and men on the bottom. And on it goes.
All are familiar variations on the old battle cry:
“But I Was Okay With It!”
David Wong (a.k.a. Jason Pargin) summed it up quite nicely in the final way listed in his Cracked article 5 Ways You’re Accidentally Making Everyone Hate You (and while you’re at it, check out another article of his, 5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women, and the very huffy responses in the comments).
In the end, all five ways are just different expressions of the same thing — power dynamics between people — but I’m quite sure that several times in your life, you’ve either been on the giving or receiving end of “But I Was Okay With It!”:
This will happen to you. You will be on one side of a conflict that does not feel like a conflict to you, because that is the conflict. Trust me, there’s a great chance you’ll be oblivious to it until it’s too late. Entire governments have fallen this way.
…check the headlines — any controversy having to do with gay marriage, or school prayer, or any social hot-button issue involves the group who’s in control acting just like I did — baffled that any other groups are dissatisfied with the “normal” way of doing things (“Oh, so now we can’t keep the TEN COMMANDMENTS monument in the COURTHOUSE? But it’s ALWAYS BEEN THERE!”). And in many cases, the baffled people don’t feel any more malice than the guy did when he left the toilet seat up. My favorite blog in the world gives some great examples where opponents of desegregation or gay marriage have always insisted that they don’t hate the group whose rights they’re opposing.
In many cases, they mean it honestly — “I’m not angry at anyone, I just want to leave things the way they are. Which incidentally involves me having all of the power.“
What to Do?
I’m going to leave you with the final bits of Doug Muder’s The Distress of the Privileged:
Confronting this distress is tricky, because neither acceptance nor rejection is quite right. The distress is usually very real, so rejecting it outright just marks you as closed-minded and unsympathetic. It never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them.
At the same time, my straight-white-male sunburn can’t be allowed to compete on equal terms with your heart attack. To me, it may seem fair to flip a coin for the first available ambulance, but it really isn’t. Don’t try to tell me my burn doesn’t hurt, but don’t consent to the coin-flip.
…acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale — is as good as I’ve seen. Ultimately, the privileged need to be won over. Their sense of justice needs to be engaged rather than beaten down. The ones who still want to be good people need to be offered hope that such an outcome is possible in this new world.