I’m a white, middle-class, straight cis man, and I’m sick to death of having to apologise for it.
Obviously no-one ever raises any issues of race, class, sexuality or gender identity with any aim other than making me feel personally guilty. It’s not as if marginalised groups face issues like being shot by the police, and/or murdered at a rate of one per week, and/or being brushed off by the state when they try to come forward about domestic violence. Even if those things happened in some bizarre dystopia, why would anyone be trying to fix these things when they could be chipping away at my self-esteem? It can’t be about them; it must be about me.
I know this because most of the media I consume is about me. I don’t call it that, though, and I get angry when others do. Although I think of Selma as a film made by a black woman and slate her for being ungenerous to white men like me, I can expatiate all day about white man Stephen Spielberg’s ability to direct a tribute to white man Abraham Lincoln and ‘his’ battle to end slavery without once being burdened to dwell on any narrative distortions ensuing from their identities.
And should anyone else highlight those identities, or – God forbid – mine, it makes me angry. My neutrality is being impugned. Suddenly, I am lowered to the level of people who are not white and/or not middle-class and/or not male and/or not straight and/or not cisgender: my life experiences are ‘brought into’ what I do, whether I like it or not.
Let’s put it like this: those not-me groups have textured subjectivities. They are interesting, abstruse. But I am a blank canvas. None of my identity has shaped me or put blinkers on me. So you can tell me to take the blinkers off all day. Each time, I’ll answer: ‘What blinkers? I can’t see any blinkers.’
You might then tell me that the whole nature of blinkers is that you can’t see you’re wearing them. In this case, I’ll probably reply that it’s a shame we have to bring identity politics into everything, and why can’t we just have an empirical discussion, and isn’t the whole point of the arts and academia that we should learn to see past our own experiences and come to understand each other?
Here’s an interesting little side effect of everything being about you: things that aren’t about you stick out. You overestimate how much space they’re actually taking up. You think someone’s hogging the screentime in a film where you’re the protagonist.
So in the name of rationality and academic rigour, please proceed to give my voice preponderate weighting on forms of discrimination I will never face and wouldn’t recognise if they punched me in the face. There is no such expectation in any scientific field; people who don’t know what an atom is are happy to defer to chemists on the matter. But then, those people have parchment qualifications, the kind that count. Direct personal experience is far flimsier a sign of insight into a given issue. Try being an oppressed person under a microscope for a bit, then detail your findings in a peer-reviewed journal, and then, perhaps, I’ll listen to you.
In fact, I don’t think it’s enough to give me an equal platform to real stakeholders in matters of oppression. That won’t satisfy. Here’s an interesting little side effect of everything being about you: things that aren’t about you stick out. You overestimate how much space they’re actually taking up. You think someone’s hogging the screentime in a film where you’re the protagonist.
Look, this isn’t my fault. I didn’t ask to have a heinously overinflated perception of my discursive importance. You can’t expect me to work on this. Rather, the world should change to accommodate me. I don’t care if, for instance, a necessary corollary of the contention that women are underrepresented in a given field is that men are overrepresented. Please find a way to make that point without implying that there are too many of me hanging around. Otherwise, it begins to sound a bit like I haven’t earned my achievements.
Feel free to point out instances of undeserved privilege. But please don’t ever say it in a way that makes me feel my privilege is undeserved. Please don’t, while you’re at it, ever point out that the sky is blue; it might make me feel as though the sky is blue.
You might be wondering why you should care about my feelings. When you’re trying to further your own liberation and a minor byproduct of this is that I become troubled by my association with a class of people who have done you systemic harm, it mightn’t be immediately obvious to you why you should halt everything and apologise for giving me one moment of disquiet. Well, let me explain (men like me are good at that).
My feelings are not feelings; they are fact. And your oppression is not oppression; it’s feelings. I am unable to distinguish between personal hurt and structural violence. I mean, I’ve never come into contact with the latter. It’s like asking me to distinguish between personal hurt and unicorn stardust.
So you’re making a big furore about nothing. Making me feel bad is a) deliberate and b) your sole aim. In summary, a whimf’s lot is not a happy one.