Thursday, November 10, 2016

Check your privilege at the door please

One of the themes that has started to emerge after Tuesday's horrible election is the idea of "It won't be so bad. The Pres doesn't have that much power. The world isn't going to end. Why are you all freaking out?"

These comments that I've seen are mostly being made by white men. I noted yesterday how difficult it was to explain to my husband about how I dread having a president who views me as "less than", and how difficult it is for white men to fully understand this concept, no matter how much they may sympathize.

And I'm well aware that there are so very many groups who have been far more marginalized than I, but that doesn't invalidate my own feelings. And while I will likely never fully feel the negativity that so many of these groups face on a daily basis, I can certainly understand it and call out behaviors that marginalize them even more - intentional or not.

It was in this spirit that I did something I rarely do. I engaged a friend on social media when he pulled the "It won't be so bad, the Pres doesn't have that much power, really" crap.

I won't quote his entire post, but it was quite lengthy and intellectually very accurate in listing all the reasons and things that generally hold a President in check. The post ended with this:

The bottom line: I am not happy with the result. But despite the focus on the election, the federal government is limited, the President can only do so much within that limited federal government, and Trump did not win the popular vote. There are all sorts of good reasons to think the real damage he could do is limited.

Caveat: I am not saying the result in this election is good (it is not) or that Trump cannot do harm (he can). I am simply saying that this is bad news, but the world is not coming to an end and there is plenty that we and others can do.

Again, factually accurate. Although the point about not winning the popular vote doesn't matter in the slightest. If you need a specific example, I present George W. Bush. Moving on.

No matter how accurate your assessment, it's very easy to look at this from the vantage point of a white man. Very few of the things that Trump advocated for during the election will affect a white middle class man. I countered with something along these lines.

From your position as a white man, your words are well said. The problem comes for the rest of America who don't have the same privilege. Because of a majority in the House & Senate, plus the WH, and likely the SCOTUS, so many of the freedoms we enjoy are threatened. It is hard for white men to fully grasp the concept of being viewed as "less than", and I'm not trying to be an asshole when I say that. But the fact is that aside from a few inconveniences, you may not be personally affected.

White men are rarely personally affected by Supreme Court cases that affect personal liberties and freedoms. This is not just about Trump, but everything that surrounds him, including Congress, his cabinet, & his future SCOTUS picks. We know at least 1 vacancy will be filled, and the potential for 1 or 2 more may arise. To so many marginalized people, that is terrifying, and very may well signal the end of life as they know it.
The response was again, very intellectual and ended with this:
I made a more general argument about the non-governmental aspects of our lives, federalism, the role of the President in domestic and foreign policy, internal checks on both his power and his stupidity, and the role of the American people in all this. .Agree, disagree, or ignore me. But it is not about white male privilege. I don't know why the argument has to be made subjective....

I admit I am selectively editing the response, because I want to highlight again that although his thoughts are intellectually correct and very spot on, they fail to take into account two major things.

First, yes it's true that there is not a lot, historically, that a limited federal government can do. However, our limited federal government over the last 8 years has held a rampantly bigoted, prejudice, classist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic set of red state governments in check. We're insulated to much of this in California. But so much of the country is already fighting these battles on a daily basis. And President Obama's federal government has held much of this in check through the Justice department. Trump has already threatened literally millions of Americans. A Trump Justice Department that sides with these red states will surely not hold them back from implementing so much of their agenda.

And secondly, on the subject of why the argument has to be made subjective:

It's subjective because human emotions aren't objective. They depend on the human experience.

And no offense, but a white man's human experience isn't the same as a child who has been told they have to leave their country or that their parents will be deported and they'll be parentless and too bad for you, or a child in school who is bullied by classmates that gleefully tell him he's going to be kicked out of the country, or a woman who has had her hijab pulled off and is spit upon and called a whore, or a black man who knows that the man who will be President embraced endorsements by the grand wizard of the KKK and by white supremacy groups, or millions of Muslims who fear for their lives and the outlaw of their religion, or a woman who now must understand that their president-elect believes men have the right to assault women whenever the mood strikes because he's rich and that if a woman doesn't like being sexually harassed she should just find another job, or an LGBTQ person who the VP and Congress have said should not have equal rights and will actively work to suppress and revoke those rights, or a journalist who has been threatened with jail because you publish something that the President doesn't like.

None of those things directly affect straight white men.

Yes, there are plenty of things that might or might not happen, and we'll have to wait and see. So much will depend upon the cases that come before a (likely, now) conservative leaning SCOTUS and how willing they are to balance law and ideology. Or how much of Trump's rhetoric he actually believes and how much was said to get elected. His choices for cabinet members suggest he truly believes his rhetoric.

But all of these issues beget emotions brought on by the human experience.

And the emotions brought on by human experience are valid.

And yes, they are subjective.

And the inability to acknowledge that is mired in the privilege of being a straight white man.

I'm not angry with white men, but I do wish they could see and acknowledge their privilege in not being personally individually affected by much of this, and understand why some people believe that yes, the world - their world - may indeed end.

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