And now for something completely different.
For this piece, let’s speak entirely hypothetically. I would like, for a moment, to discuss a flaw in the liberal ideology of “identity politics”. I know there are many, but I want to speak to a specific gap in the armor, a missing scale in the dragon’s hide if you will.
We have already spent some time discussing the subject of privilege (https://www.blindowlblogs.com/post/check-your-privilege), and how it serves, in many ways, more to divide us than to unite us. I have argued that in reality privilege is much more about circumstance than race, gender, national origin, etc.
We are going to now discuss a hypothetical person, let’s call him Anthony. Anthony was raised in a lower (financial) class family. His father worked full-time, his mother part time; but with four, and eventually five kids, money was always short. By all appearances they were “normal”. His parents were reasonably established people in the community… Even accounting for their lack of finances they were active members of the local goings on, they even organized and hosted several community events.
Anthony is their oldest son, their second child, the 2nd of 4 before the 5th was adopted. His father is the first generation born in the United States, his mother the fourth generation, his father predominantly of Italian and Puerto Rican descent, the two nationalities having mixed about 300 years ago. His mother is of predominantly Irish and French Canadian descent.
His older and younger sister, as well as his youngest natural brother both favor the look of his father; olive skin, dark brown hair, dark brown eyes… and all the appearances of being a combination of Italian, and Hispanic/Puerto Rican. Most people who look at them would assume that they are from some minority group or other, most likely Hispanic. (incidentally it is pretty ignorant to group all Hispanic people together, they comprise about 20% of the world's population… it’s a little absurd that we classify them all together, but I digress)
It happens that Anthony favors his mother, fair skinned, medium brown hair, green eyes… And no appearance at all of any minority background.
Then 2020 hits, the horrific events in Minnesota unfold as they do, and this mixed race Caucasian gentleman is now being accused of being completely privileged because he is part of not one, but two oppression groups… He is white, and he is male. Anthony is confused by this, because both of his sisters and his brother…and his father for that matter, are all being accepted amongst the “marginalized” community… They are all outspoken, contributing members of the community, But for some reason Anthony is not included among that group. Even though his ethnic background is exactly the same as all of those people… He feels ostracized because his physical appearance does not match that of those who are an accepted part of the group.
All of that would be enough to break most people’s spirit but, there is a secondary underlying situation. Anthony is now and has always been bisexual. While generally he favors women there is no question that he participates in and enjoys encounters with both sexes. He of course has never been particularly public about this, he never felt speaking the thoughts to words was safe, in school he played on the football team, and was a serious candidate for class president… at a time when being gay was not viewed as a virtue, (not all millennials are as progressive as they might seem).
Now let’s consider the condition of this person in May of 2021. Anthony is called an oppressor because he is white, even though he has an immigrant and Hispanic background. He is called an oppressor because he is a cis gender straight male, (even though the reality is he is cis gender but not straight). Because he doesn’t state his sexuality out loud people feel completely comfortable assuming what it is. It’s an odd hypocritical condition, but I think everyone is guilty of it… If someone happens to be the B in LGBTQ...I’m not sure everyone has a clear picture of what that person looks like, or how they should be treated if they are not “living out loud”.
Anthony happens to be a member of two marginalized communities, in truth a third because he very much is diagnosed with autism. So adding to his bisexuality and ethnic background is a social disability. But because this person’s outward appearance is that of a cis gender heterosexual male (who by the way happens to be white), He is told that his masculinity is toxic, his privilege is apparent everywhere, and that he is part of a machine of systemic oppression. Even though he himself feels like he can’t be vocal about who he is without drawing the ire of others.
When I shared this parable with someone they said, “why doesn’t he just come out of the closet? If he acknowledged himself as being bisexual he would be accepted into the LGBTQIA+ community with open arms”. There is a very real possibility that this is the case, and in some ways I would strongly encourage Anthony to do just that. But that raises a secondary question, is it acceptable to treat someone badly because they are not public about their status as being part of a marginalized community? Is there some degree of acceptability to mistreating someone just because you don’t know that they are in some ways less privileged than you? That’s a hard question for some of us to answer, most of us just ignore the possibility and shout “fake news” or some analog thereof.
I want to believe that the majority of people if made aware of someone’s status would be compassionate… That they would respond to this news with consideration, and act with grace when interacting with them. But that pushes an unfair burden onto the individual, if Anthony is not ready to live out loud… Is it then fair to treat him like an oppressor of some kind because you just don’t know what communities he belongs to? Does someone have to live out loud publicly and shout their gender, racial, ethnic, or personal identity from the rooftops for you to take it seriously?
It’s a question that may never be answered, there are those among you that might be more conservative leaning that would suggest that this is of course a strawman, and that I am discussing a hypothetical person that doesn’t actually exist. And then there are those of you that are counting yourselves as insightful and despite what Quantum Week Chris might say, plot twists like that at the end of SAW sometimes do have value, even if sometimes you see them coming.
Am I talking about myself? Interesting notion, the background of my parents is more or less the same. I was raised in a very poor family, we used to joke that we were fancy poor because we had a toaster oven. I’ve seen the power shut off on multiple occasions, I often did not have sufficient supplies or equipment to compete in sporting events or scholastic activities that required you to provide your own…and on more than one occasion I remember we had something very obscure for dinner because that was the only food that was available to us. So I don’t see myself as particularly privileged. I see why you would draw that conclusion, but would not discussing one's self in long form in the third person be the pinnacle of narcissism? I’ll ask my friend when next I see him.
He’s not looking for pity, and certainly does not particularly care if you believe what I am saying or not. I would only ask this of you, do not assume based on someone’s outward appearance, or the image that they, or their family project to the community that you understand them. Many people have a lot of things going on below the surface, and while initial impressions may give you the idea that you know exactly what is going on… The simple reality is that there might be a lot more to it than simple casual observation could perceive.
Just remember that when you only go by surface level information, you stand a very real risk of alienating members of your own marginalized community. Be good to yourselves and each other my friends.