No sooner do I snarkily offer to go down to Georgia and work tirelessly for white guy rights then I am confronted with evidence that, occasionally, white guy rights do need defending.
Curse you, blind fate!
Anyway, apparently folks have been insinuating that Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields, a cute little band that Elias introduced me to, is a racist because he doesn’t like hip hop music. You can get caught up on the whole sordid affair in this excellent article by John Cook over at Slate.com.
I’m not interested in whether Merritt is racist per se. No, what interests me is how the arbiters of what’s racist feel free to act like enormous assholes because they are on the side of right. Racism is wrong, boys and girls, but let me explain to you something complex.
You can indeed be racist against white people. White people who have power would rather you not believe this because when you get angry at white people, as if all white people are the source of your problems, instead of white people with power, the white people in power get to hide behind the white people who don’t have power.
Do you see what I’m saying? There are two groups of white people in the U.S. White people who have power and white people who don’t. White people who have power are well-entrenched and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon and it’s in their best interest to keep the people out of power squabbling over the scraps they throw us instead of us demanding an actual seat at the table.
They do this by continually promising white people who don’t have power that, if only they try hard enough and are not forced to give up their jobs to non-whites, they, too, can have some power AND continually encouraging this idea that non-powerful white people are racist and so if non-white people can’t get ahead, it must be because of the white guy immediately over them and not the white guys at the way top of the corporate ladder who are fucking us all over.
John Cook, bless his heart, seems almost to get this when he says, "Stephin Merritt is an unlikely cracker. The creative force behind the Magnetic Fields, Merritt is diminutive, gay, and painfully intellectual." You can see him hovering on the edge of this realization that "cracker" is not just a pejorative term for white people, but that it’s class-based. Why else would Merritt be an "unlikely" cracker except that Merritt doesn’t seem like poor white trash?
But Cook has other bones to pick and doesn’t dwell on this. I will.
If you think that Merritt is a racist and that racism is wrong and that it’s not okay to articulate even hidden supremacist attitudes, why is it okay for you to use race and class based slurs against white people? Especially since those race and class based slurs against white people only work against white people who don’t have power or to insinuate that a white person who should have power, such as an intellectual, is, ha ha, no better than those brutes who make up the white lower class.
With all that in mind, let’s pick at the bullshit.
Sasha Frere-Jones, you’re up first.
–"Cracker." What a great way to fight racism by using race and class based insults.
–"You could go back to the New York interview and note how eager Merritt is to dismiss Beyoncé, OutKast, Britney and Justin, not just as singers and songwriters but as bearers of meaning. That’s a bias. Two women, three people of color and one white artist openly in love with black American music. That’s who he’s biased against." [Emphasis mine.] Frere-Jones, why does Justin Timberlake get to be an "artist" where Brittney is a "woman"? Why are Beyoncé and OutKast "people of color" and Justin Timberlake gets to be an "artist"? Are you sure your own writing is as free from bias as you demand of Merritt? Because from here, it’s looking to me like artist just automatically equals "man" and you find it necessary to assert the personhood of everyone else in your paragraph. Why is that? Do you not believe that Beyoncé, Brittney, and OutKast are inherently people?
Jessica Hopper, you’re next.
–"White" equals "retarded." Nice.
–"[W]hite as in the most soulless and icky. White in it’s most unpassive and unfeckless."–Again, "white" as brute and who are the brutes? Poor white men.
But then, Jessica, you say something interesting–"Catering to continually affirming that convenience and blinders-on is our privilege right."–and it’s got me wondering, do you really believe that the retarded brutish whites have lives of convenience and privilege? Because right there, that’s why I think that, at the same time that you inherently get that the nastiest way you can politely attack Merritt is to insinuate that he’s low-class (note the Walmart reference), you never seem to question this absurd notion that even low-class white people wield great power. I mean, please, you think most folks shop at Walmart because it’s convenient and we don’t care to know how "bad" it is? Maybe you should spend some real time at Walmart and take a look at who’s shopping there. Few folks strive to shop at Walmart. God, being able to shop at Walmart as some kind of white privilege…
Anyway, let’s not dwell on Walmart.
Though, if we don’t dwell on Walmart, I’m not sure how to end this thing.
Um. Okay, let’s dwell on the R-word. No, Hopper, not "retarded."
I was sitting in a meeting with a friend of mine and his co-worker and I wasn’t really listening to what they were talking about until they started going on about the "r-word" and about how that word was forbidden in their place of employment. I wracked my brain trying to think of what word that began with r could not be spoken in their building. Finally, I asked.
I don’t know if that’s a standard rule across the country music industry, but god, it made me laugh. That, my friends, is what real privilege looks like–when they need your money so desperately that you can dictate how you’re addressed and, even when you aren’t present, it sticks.
Just to say that this owes some debt to Jim Goad’s Redneck Manifesto which is also not free of bullshitty racism and classism and sexism, but what can you do?