I care a lot about bigotry, but only bring it up when someone else cares about bigotry too much
Today, I respond to this article complaining about Skepchick. First off, I suspect Ezekiel is being disingenuous. Here’s what he says:
I might have signed up to Skepchick very first day it existed. Thanks to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe (a wonderful podcast for the science and skeptic minded) and Rebecca Watson’s participation in the podcast, I got in on the ground floor. It approached skepticism from the perspectives of women in the movement. And this is wonderful. I am as much a feminist as a man can be and I like reading the posts that challenge my current position and make me uncomfortable.
However, a quick search of the blog shows that he never mentions feminism, Rebecca Watson or Skepchick except to complain about them. It sounds suspiciously like he’s just giving himself rhetorical cover, like those people who are deeply concerned about racism, but never mention it unless they are complaining about affirmative action or how they don’t like something Al Sharpton did.
Read through the comments on Skepchick. Especially comments under posts regarding feminism or anything to do with White Male Privilege. The people in these comments sections – these are not my people. These are not rational discussion.
Here, he neatly combines complaining about feminism with common tropes used to dismiss people who get upset about anything. This isn’t helping his case. As a general rule, you shouldn’t follow a claim that you are a feminist with a broad dismissal of feminist issues and people who care about them. It lacks credibility. The specifics hardly help him more. Look at his response to Skepchick’s Reddit article. Quick version of the story: a fifteen-year-old girl posted a picture of herself holding a copy of The Demon-Haunted World (an excellent book, btw) and the thread seemed to turn into a contest to make the “wittiest” comment about how they’d like to do her, including a good helping of rape jokes.
Hey, people. If people in a reddit sub-reddit mock a 15 year-old girl and threaten her with rape jokes, those that threaten and the underlying culture that did not stop it are irredeemable assholes. Noted. What are you going to do about it? The answer is move the fuck on and establish your own goddamn community and police it. If humans are involved, at some point there is a critical mass of differing thought patterns and personalities and you will NEVER RID YOURSELF OF ASSHOLES OR THEIR THOUGHT PROCESSES. Police yourselves and ostracize them. Do not ostracize those that offer relevant, alternative positions.
At first glance, this sounds reasonable, but he is subtly straw-manning the original article. This isn’t just whining about the inevitable existence of assholes (though that’s a good description of what Ezekiel seems to think he’s doing here). It’s about calling attention to Redditt’s function in giving said assholes a platform, which is not inevitable. What is Skepchick if not its own goddamn policed community? If he doesn’t like the way they police their goddamn community, he has his own blog. Who is being unfairly ostracized? What exactly is he complaining about? It sounds like sexism being called out makes him uncomfortable, and he dislikes that.
The next part is why I’m writing this piece, though. This guy thinks my friend Heina is a whiner for writing about being presumed to not be American because she isn’t white.
Check out this one about asking someone about their ancestry. You will notice it is couched in the word “privilege.” You may be unfamiliar with the concept of privilege. Basically, straight white men, being the dominant cultural power (at least in the US) treat themselves as the default, have particular expectations of women and non-white ethnicities, and other stuff to do with opportunity and money. And while there is validity in a lot of this (look at the glass ceiling for instance), people like to pull it out as their trump card.
Fun Game! Again, read through the comments and count how many times someone’s argument is discounted entirely not because of the content of their argument, but because “it comes from privilege.” Bonus: See if you can find the comment from a regular poster that straight out says that another commenter’s opinion is meaningless because they are a straight white male.
Back to the post, you may be wondering what being asked about ethnicity has to do with privilege. And the answer is nothing. Literally absolutely nothing. At all. Whatsoever. Amazing Super Fun Fact: White people ask other white people what their ancestry is too!
I recommend checking it out, as he says. There are several things wrong here. His explanation of privilege is fine and if people really were waving it around as something akin to faith, which you can’t understand without being part of the in-group, it would be problematic. This is not actually the case. Go ahead and read the comments. People do question her because white people are also asked about ethnicity, but the standard response isn’t “You don’t understand, because privilege,” but “White people aren’t asked follow-up questions until they give the name of another country.” It sounds more like he doesn’t like thinking about privilege and doesn’t appreciate it when people make him do so.
Also, there’s the issue of frequency. Do black and white Americans get asked about their ancestry? Sure. But it doesn’t happen often unless you share an unusual last name with a famous person, have an “ethnic” last name or are perceived as having an accent.
About five and a half years ago, I was in a movie called The Final Season. At least, I was paid to be in it. I may show up in one or two panning shots. At some point I need check frame by frame to see if I’m really there. You may have heard of it, but probably not unless you live in Eastern Iowa. It wasn’t really shown widely.
At any rate, it starred Sean Astin, a bona fide movie star who was supposed to make the picture bankable, though that didn’t really work out. It also featured his brother, Mackenzie Astin. For those of you who haven’t worked on a movie set, unless you are the director or on the lighting, sound or camera crew, you do a lot of sitting around waiting for it to be your turn to do something. I worked three twelve-hour plus days and did about six hours work to be in the movie a couple of seconds at best. Now you know why movies are so expensive. I spent my downtime in the dugout with Mackenzie and we and the other bit actors playing the “bad guy” baseball team had plenty of time to chat. Sean Astin had the duty of keeping the unpaid extras entertained over the long shooting day. This mostly consisted of answering questions like “will you marry me” and playing off bad jokes about The Lord of the Rings. Sean was doing his duty with good humor, but Mackenzie, who doesn’t constantly have to fend off the press and think of some new, interesting thing to say on talk shows, loved telling us about obscure movies he was in and how he caused continuity problems while shooting Midnight Star by losing part of his ear in a car accident halfway through the shoot.
In the same way, somebody like me, who has mostly Scottish and German ancestry may relish a chance to play up that I’m one-sixteenth Cherokee so I can pretend that my family isn’t ordinary white people who do ordinary white things when the question comes up every few years. For instance, from the one photo I’ve seen of her, my great-great grandmother, Silver Cloud, looks like a real hardass. Also, I was born in Germany, but this is because my dad was in the army and is unrelated to having ancestors from there. The only German I speak is the stuff I learned from Wolfenstein 3D. I also may be descended from Rudolph the First of Germany and Pocahontas. It’s certainly more satisfying to repeat these stories uncritically than to check them. My family may not have colorful “ethnic” traditions like wearing kilts at wedding or singing and wearing traditional hats while drinking beer from steins, but I can make myself sound interesting when this question comes up every few years. On the other hand, if it came up a few times a week and my answer would define how the person I was talking to saw me, it would get old really fast, as Heina relates. The situations are not really comparable.
Besides, Heina provided links and plenty of other people backed up her subjective experiences. The point of the anecdotes wasn’t to prove anything, but to explain how this affects people on a personal level. Ezekiel is massively missing the point when he claims that his own subjective experience is different. That’s evidence for privilege, not against it. Heina isn’t the first person to talk about this. She was just giving her own personal take on the issue. I’m guessing Ezekiel is not a fan of Margaret Cho, either.