The Distress of the Privileged (or: “Where’s My Dinner?”)
In an earlier post titled Why Sam is Glad He’s Not Asian, and Why He’s Being Oppressed, I talked about something that blogger Doug Muder calls The Distress of the Privileged. In Muder’s post on the topic, from which I get the express “distress of the privileged”, he cites the scene from Pleasantville in which 1950s TV dad George Parker (played by William H. Macy) comes home to find that dinner isn’t waiting for him:
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.
Scott Terry, Disenfranchised White Southern Male
CPAC is short for Conservative Political Action Conference, and it took place this past weekend in Washington, D.C.. One of the sessions was led by two brothers who are black and call themselves Frederick Douglass Republicans (Frederick Douglass, after escaping from slavery, became a leader of the abolitionist movement and was renowned as a skilled orator) held a session with the name “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?”. Apparently the old conservative debating technique of yelling out “A racist is just a conservative who’s winning the argument against a liberal!” isn’t working as well as they’d like.
The brothers were there to talk about reaching out to groups recently alienated from the Republican Party, namely women and people of colour, when Scott Terry, one of the 23 members of Towson University’s White Students Union (their purpose is to fight “inherent anti-white bias in academia and mainstream society”) stood up and suggested that this outreach was being done at the expense of young white southern men like himself. The video below shows what happened next:
Terry said “My people are being systematically disenfranchised” and suggested that the Republican Party be more like “Booker T. Washington Republicans” and favour a “separate but equal approach”: “united like the hand, but separate like the fingers”.
In response, the discussion facilitator said that “Booker T. Washington was the second to Frederick Douglass” and that Douglass was the original. He went on to talk about how Douglass was quite conciliatory and even forgave his former slave master, to which Terry replied: “For giving him shelter, and food?”
ThinkProgress reports (any emphasis is mine):
After the exchange, Terry muttered under his breath, “why can’t we just have segregation?” noting the Constitution’s protections for freedom of association.
ThinkProgress spoke with Terry, who sported a Rick Santorum sticker and attended CPAC with a friend who wore a Confederate Flag-emblazoned t-shirt, about his views after the panel. Terry maintained that white people have been “systematically disenfranchised” by federal legislation.
When asked by ThinkProgress if he’d accept a society where African-Americans were permanently subservient to whites, he said “I’d be fine with that.”
He also claimed that African-Americans “should be allowed to vote in Africa,” and that “all the Tea Parties” were concerned with the same racial problems that he was.
At one point, a woman challenged him on the Republican Party’s roots, to which Terry responded, “I didn’t know the legacy of the Republican Party included women correcting men in public.”
He claimed to be a direct descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The panel continued to be racked in controversy, as an African-American audience member repeatedly challenged the racism on display at this event.
The Hard Part
It is difficult remember that when Scott Terry ignorantly spews such terrible things, he probably didn’t set out to be an asshole. All he wants is his dinner, and he sees that it’s being taken away from him, bit by bit. To him, respect is a loaf of bread, and giving some to people that historically didn’t get any means that he’s losing some of his share.
The challenge for 21st-century North America is going to be reaching out to people like Scott Terry and appealing to their sense of justice and fair play in order to get him to realize that he’s wearing the invisible knapsack.
It’s not going to be easy.