If racist sentiments like this count as “progress”, count me out
If anyone were still in doubt that much of the social justice movement is often little more than a thin veneer of moral respectability plastered over a movement built on the hatred and resentment of “cisgender, straight white males”, they need only read this article by writer/performer Taylor Steele in online publication The Body Is Not An Apology.
In the piece, Steele reacts to the creeping gentrification of her Brooklyn neighbourhood with a racist tirade that would see her roundly condemned and excommunicated from polite society were she white and the target of her ranting black:
Gentrification happened to me in steps.
At first I was confused.
Were the non-POC in this predominantly Black/Brown neighborhood lost? Did they miss their stop on this Queens-bound train? Are they simply taking a tour of the best Caribbean spots in Brooklyn? When I let it sink in that they were here to stay, noticeable implants to a previously self-contained body, there was anger and frustration. I could feel my rent rising every time a white family, Air BnB-ing in my neighborhood, asked which way to the nearest organic market. And yes, that really happened on a Bed Stuy corner outside of the Crown Fried Chicken and family-run bodega.
(For the uninitiated, “POC” means “people of colour”, and “Black/Brown” are capitalised while “white” is not for reasons that will soon become all too evident.)
Okay, so we have what appears to be a fairly standard diatribe against urban gentrification. So far, so typical. But Steele then continues:
It is traumatic finding strangers in your house, not understanding completely how they got there, not being able to ask them to leave, them rearranging the furniture, and you not being able to move any of it back — nothing will ever be the same; change is trauma.
I can logically/intellectually understand that the white people who move into predominantly Black and brown spaces do not do so with mal-intent; perhaps, these are the places they can afford to live. Perhaps, they can’t see that their presence in these spaces can serve as a kind of terrorism. I also understand they are not responsible for my mental health. However, this is how white supremacy works. It makes it impossible to point the finger at any one thing because the problem is a systemic, political, institutional one. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy proclaims that I am supposed to feel an inherent inadequacy and replaceability.
Author’s emphasis in bold.
A kind of terrorism. Go back and read that passage again, lingering over each sentence. Just read it, and then tell me with a straight face that the world is somehow better off for the presence of this toxic, self-obsessive, cancerous movement in our society.
Imagine that the situation were reversed, and a white author was complaining about black or other ethnic minority residents moving into the neighbourhood, explicitly complaining about the way that they are “rearranging the furniture” through their presence and fretting that the unwelcome newcomers cannot simply be asked to leave. Imagine that the white author described the mere arrival and presence of these newcomers as a form of terrorism being perpetrated on the white inhabitants. Just imagine the reaction. Imagine the outrage and social ostracisation which would rightly follow the expression such heinous, prejudiced sentiments. Now answer this: how does this new form of racism toward the often white beneficiaries of urban gentrification in any way expunge or heal historic racism aimed at black people?
While stubborn racist holdouts and the vestiges of real privilege and discrimination clearly do still exist in places, they are a shadow of what they once were, and thankfully in terminal decline. While full equality under the law should always be the only acceptable goal, those who fought for civil rights in the 1960s and preceding decades would often be astonished by the landscape faced by their successors in 2017. In fact, the only ones now openly using racist language and seeking to resurrect the “separate but equal” days of Jim Crow and segregation are the Social Justice Warriors, in their perverse fight against perceived “oppression”.
And this leads us to the perverse spectacle of a black writer, seemingly oblivious to the historical parallels she is invoking, talking resentfully about white people moving into “her home”, “terrorising” her with their somehow-illegitimate, organic food-purchasing presence (as though no wealthy black people shop at Whole Foods).
Here is someone who would no doubt be the first to join an anti-Trump protest as it marched through Brooklyn, and yet describes her resentment and fear of change in exactly the same language – social loss, fear of change, the undermining of local institutions – that she would castigate a white person or Trump apologist for using to articulate their own feelings about uncontrolled immigration and social change. There is simply no self-awareness at all – just rage, entitlement and self-inflicted fragility.
Have we really come this far as a society only to revert back to fearful, paranoid tribalism of this kind?
For some of us, yes, apparently so.
Bottom Image: Amanda Farrer
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