Following some of the outrages of the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate, I came across a discussion at Micole's of the infuriating things this one novelist has said about class trumping race in the Oppression Pinochle Tournament. I was struck by a couple of insights:
First, the novelist is totally cribbing from The Trouble with Diversity. I'd suggest that this insight means his position is worth contesting, because Michaels has a pretty substantial following.
Second, if there wasn't a gay black aristocrat with a 130K salary in the SF world, we'd have to invent him. Evidently this novelist has used the old "But . . . But . . . Chip is more privileged than I am! Hah!" argument to derail the conversation. While I like the idea of, say, calling Chip out on his class snobbery (Marilyn Hacker's been doing that since 1960), I gotta say: a gay American born in 1942 has had to fear for his life, health, and sanity in ways that this novelist and I would have to work hard to imagine. It's not Merely Cultural: it's not even the equivalent of being, say, a wealthy but politically disenfranchised Jew in the U.K. of a couple centuries ago.
As to being obtuse about the reality of race relations, we've seen that in recent days as tv, radio, and internet commentators say "Obama owes the world an apology, because Joseph Lowery's benediction was part of a longstanding tradition of oppressing white people!" I can see a reasonable argument being made that Lowery's witty conclusion to that benediction sounded anachronistic for the occasion: black, at this event, is not being told to get back, whatever may be the case for African-Americans in other settings. But who can fail to be charmed by the heroic old man? My atheist immigrant white mother called my even whiter wife on inauguration day and said "I theenk he was referring to eh song by Beeg Beel Broonzy!" declaring it her favorite part of the inauguration.
Is there a connection between the two instances of White Rage? There's a certain ressentiment, a certain trauma envy, a certain Kerouacian worry that the black guy is having a good time, and Heaven help us, a certain "identity politics" in both cases: there's an implicit "As a white man . . . " at the start of the provocative novelist's claim of underprivilege, and an explicit use of that phrase in many denunciations of Lowery (not Michelle Malkin's, but perhaps most others). I'm reminded of Baldwin's "As long as you think of yourself as white . . . " i.e. as long as you depend for your sense of self, of pride, of integrity on defining yourself as the oppressed other's other, your potential for the depth of love and understanding that the human race needs to survive is going to be limited. "My social identity is not being recognized" can be a legitimate gripe, but to claim "whiteness" as that wounded or traumatized social identity, as the Rev. Lowery's detractors do, is to take leave of social reality in some pretty scary ways.
Emended to clarify that I'm not making an argument for "color-blindness" or against self-awareness of white privilege.