Friday, March 21, 2014

Alliance, from a European-Descended Male Buddhist Perspective...

First, I'd put other qualifiers in if I could...but I can't, because I don't think I can abide those other qualifiers frankly, whatever they are.  I really can't.  And that's a subject for a whole other post dealing with leftist moral panics. And I'll use the term "European-descended" here because I think it's  a) more accurate, and b) is not based on outward appearances leading to a dualism.  I haven't even started writing this and I'm digressing.  I'm like that.

In the course of recent social media discussions on gender and ethnicity,  and what seems to be to me to be characteristic of what has been called a moral panic,  I came across this article by Rachel Safeek, which I found rather helpful to engage in a conversation.  I am grateful to her for a reasoned view of the situation.  I have stated earlier that I am ready, willing and able to ally with those who are ready to empower themselves, and will offer help if needed based on what I've learned.  I have also said to her that I would have more comments, so here goes.

Rachel writes:

When members of minority/oppressed groups call out allies for being insensitive, overshadowing minority groups, or overlooking certain things because of their privilege, allies can oftentimes become offended and get defensive...

It happens - it has happened in my case - that despite my background, and my immersion into Asian society and culture (maybe more than some of my critics; I can point out sexism in the structure of  East Asian languages some of them can't read, and I've probably lived in Asia longer than they have ), and other things (see my reservations about other qualifiers), that I've been reduced to a category.  In fact, I was reduced to a category into which I can't rightly put myself, in fact.

Sorry, but that is offensive.   

I note with understanding that of course I have been the recipient of privilege.  But I also note that I have been marginalized, as have people in my family.

Rachel tweeted:

I agree with the profound importance of listening.  Listening is hard work. Let me repeat that: Listening is hard work.  Whether you read what someone is saying or listen to what someone is speaking you should listen in the same sense that you might "listen" to fine incense.  It's the only way peace and harmony can be approached. I'm being serious as a heart attack here.

Now let me say something else: Nobody, but nobody, is exempt from listening.

If you, as  a relatively privileged group are not listening, of course you will offend the less privileged group, hurt them, hurt yourself, propagate division, give fodder to rightists who want to continue the game and thus be extremely counterproductive.   But if you as a rightly perceived less privileged group are not listening to someone you believe is from a more privileged group, and you respond with a mapping of that person to the "Other," you're no better than those to whom you're trying to ... to what? To get them to convince you to join them in a fight for equality? OK, let's say that. just might be that your supposition is wrong.  There are so, so many variables that might demolish one's preconceptions about things.

I was aghast at some of the things I was reading on Twitter recently; a complete ignorance of how, for example,  at least one of the (IIRC)  #notyourasiansidekick tweets might be seen by Asians who were adopted or have step-parentage of European-descended folks.   This is not theoretical; being in my position in society I know some of them well.  That was disgusting, and there's no sugar coating or justifying it.  They are part of the oppressed too.

I was also aghast at how some of the situations I've dealt with first hand were dismissed as irrelevant, which I've had to respond to facts on the ground first hand,  were minimized; these were situations involving my wife and son and mother in - law.  I don't need to be given a primer or lecture on how "insensitive" I am to certain groups frankly, when I have fought for them (with at least one success)  against the strongest political force on earth, and they're doing... what, "hashtag activism?"

On the other hand, there are ethnic groups, for whom I have not had nearly enough interaction and sensitivity...until recently.  But with regard to that, let me put it this way: I think some of those hashtag activists would have a real epiphany  practicing a sparring-centered martial art with an African American or Latino.  I have, and when I did I realized how profoundly deep my own inclinations to  racism are, and how profoundly important it is to overcome it, and how grateful I was to have a space where I could practice overcoming it.

I have spoken before as well that I have been "in-between" in some way or another, excluded some way or another, all my life.   Yeah, I've been privileged,  but marginalization is ubiquitous.  Reification of people who are perceived as privileged to ethnic classes categories, and using denigrating language to describe such people is harmful; it's harmful to all, and it's harmful to overcoming oppression.   If someone wants to overcome oppression I can help, but if someone's engaging in (especially unwarranted)  personal attacks they're not achieving their objective.  To put it politely, they're wasting their lives.  We should be working towards overcome oppression, rather than reifying others.

Like I said, I will gladly ally myself with anyone willing to consider and study themselves, to cultivate themselves to develop the power and skill to help themselves and others. And I will help if asked, and I won't provide help if not asked.  If one wants to ignore people because of perception, or disconfirm or mystify people because of their perception as being in a category, they are hurting us all, and (preview of future post) engaging in a leftist moral panic about it only plays into the hands of the real problem.   It is foolish and disempowering to think that listening is a one way street.  It sure as hell is not.


Mike Carter said...

There's an expression that's trending "Check your privilege". I just don't get it and find the whole thing to be neurotic. It's like finding ways to feel bad about yourself.

I will never be a footballer or a rock star or a lingerie model. I will never be a concert pianist. I will never be President of the USA. So if I meet a Lingerie model should I say "Check your status bitch!"'or "how about a coffee" in the hope she'll ignore my physique.

My hair colour suggests Viking ancestry in the distant past. If I built a boat should I say "I just cannot help myself, it's the Viking blood".

There is a nice song about this kind of thing in Avenue Q -

Or five minutes on Blendr/Tinder/Grindr will tell you all you need to know about your personal preferences. It's humbling.

Humans are hard-wired with certain traits. We can recognise them but then what? Should I make a law that says Lingerie models have to date me? Should I hate Lingerie models? Should I hate myself for not being one?

How many more ways do I need to feel bad about being me?

yeti said...

It is possible to verify social privilege along certain quantifiable/objective categories such as comparative income, educational access, incarceration rates, access to credit, public health indicators, and so on. So I don't think we can deny social exclusion along certain demographic lines. Though there have been enormous social changes over the last 50 years or so to correct these problems, I observe those changes in light of human history which has been predominately one of exploitation of the weak by the strong throughout recorded history. This occurs in dimensions great and small. Just because we don't personally feel responsible for racism, sexism, classism, etc., we should look at the inertia of history to better gauge our own privilege and our role in perpetuating social exclusion by denying that it exists.

Mumon K said...

Mike & Yeti,

I agree that we should indeed acknowledge that privilege exists, and as yeti said, there's an inertia of history behind it.

That said, what I think some of these people (deliberately?) don't get is that they're also obligated as well in this regard; they have an obligation to - dare I say it? - maintain harmony and benevolence in the face of privilege, even to those they think are privileged a) because they might be wrong, b) it's the only practical way to subvert it, and c) it's good practice for other areas of life.

Mike Carter said...

I don't think anyone has any obligation to anyone else. Privilege exists when we define one thing as good.

So, in my Lingerie Model example she was born privileged due to genetics. My genetics are more suited for radio!

Given her luck/curse what obligation does that put her under?

If it's something else such as money then sure philanthropy is a healthy thing to do but there is no obligation as The City shows.

The issue I have with this stuff is the idea that basically we can choose what other people should be doing based on some traits or other criteria that we choose.

Either there are things "out there" that HAVE to change or we can realign our "in here" things or both. Is there not a place where humans can meet without the need to trade labels and badges of rank/privilege? What about The Governor of Kyoto?

Mumon K said...


As a living human being in a society, I think I have a moral obligation to others; this moral obligation arises out of my own perception that "I" can't be defined by attributes, including those of privilege, and there fundamentally is not a difference between those with privilege and those without.

We're all going to die. That makes us fundamentally the same.

But besides that, the acts and practices of compassion and generosity in the appropriate time and place are an effective form of getting past my own suffering and obstacles, and generally works better.

But I think I missed responding to your main point so here goes: privilege is not simply something some group of people has that another wants.

Privilege here is a very specific thing most people have to varying degrees or another depending on context. The real issue with privilege is that it essentially conforms to "social power." The power to decide what millions of people see, the power to decide which Ivy League school your kids will go to, the power to exploit legacy and social ties for one's own end at the expense of others, the ability to not even be convicted of a crime if you defraud millions of people - these are manifestations of privilege.

That's the real problem. And you're coming close to illustrating a point I've been making. When you (or Suey Park: ) conflate privilege with looks, it is a distraction from the real problem.

Mumon K said...


And to get to Suey Park again, ( ) in her conflation of some of the Asian American subcultural issues onto the rest of these social issues, she hinders the attenuation of privilege *because* she is injecting extraneous issues into it.

There are, for example HUGE HUGE HUGE pressures on Asian American families' children to succeed. I know this personally because though I'm a European descended American, dammit, I'm in one of those families. (And nobody ought to question my credentials, but I've mentioned that already.)

But so much more of that is an issue internal to Asian American culture, and is the responsibility of Asian American cultures themselves to address!!!!! I have expended no little effort in trying to make sure that my son has room to breathe, despite his absurdly demanding schedule for a 12 year old, and it has taken some learning on his parents' part on how not to convey the expectation perfection in everything.

yeti said...

At times such as these I like to refer to Karl Marx, who quite accurately pointed to the benefit that status quo social constructs bring to those who are in power. It was not long ago that signs popped up in America saying "no Irish or Dogs" and so on, and though those signs have for the most part been torn down (and you can substitute Irish for whatever you wish) the tendency for people to enjoy their privilege and defend it is staggering.

For example, I recently read a commentary about wage disparity between men and women, which said basically, the 70% wage gap was actually a 95% wage gap if you account for training, time employed, education etc. Ergo, there is no wage gap.

However I wonder if the person arguing this wage gap away would be willing to take a 5% pay cut simply for being a white male. Suggest it and see how quickly the fangs come out among the privileged when their privileges are threatened.