So, it’s been a good week for me, or at least for my guilty pleasures. One of the greatest joys of the week has been watching my usual qualms about lefty crit-speak vanish in a puff of “Oh yeah, that’s what that means!” See, I have to admit, I’m not always down with the use of ‘whitesplaining’, ‘privilege’, ‘objectification’ in critical commentary. Some might suggest my hesitation is just what you’d expect from a middle-class white guy, but I can’t help thinking these get a little overused at times.
But then Dan Snyder made a true believer out of me.
This miracle of clarity came on Tuesday a charity event in which he answered a few questions, …badly. According to the Associated Press, Snyder simply declared that the team name is “not an issue” and that people need to “focus on reality.” And lo! The matter was settled. If you are like me, you might be thinking that’s a neat trick. When people keep telling you they have a problem with something you’re doing, you just declare it isn’t an issue, and like magic, it simply isn’t. Teenagers everywhere should try that with their parents and teachers.
…or maybe not.
Of course Dan Snyder isn’t a teenager; he isn’t challenging authority. Given his wealth and his power, and that his primary critics here seem to be an underprivileged demographic, the man is speaking down the social scale in some sense, delivering a pronouncement from on-high, one that others will struggle to challenge. If Snyder’s ex cathedra pronouncement seems to work, it is precisely because he has the power to make the story stick, and that power does not come from the clarity of his personal insight or the cogency of his arguments.
This isn’t someone speaking truth to power; it’s someone speaking power in the face of truth.
But of course Snyder isn’t just playing privilege, he also has an argument. That argument has something to do with addressing real issues affecting the lives of Native Americans rather than the symbolic issues associated with mascot politics. As Snyder says; “The real issues are real-life issues, real-life needs, and I think it’s time that people focus on reality.”
Now this little gambit almost has promise. You could make a plausible argument out of prioritizing material needs over symbolic politics, at least some people could under some circumstances. So, this argument seems like it might have some legs. Of course those legs might take his cause further if Snyder weren’t busy laying down a hundred thousand dollars to help a high school team change their football field to field turf, this after bragging up some coats and part of a backhoe given to Native Americans. Those legs stop walking altogether when one considers that any effort to actually help people in their real lives does nothing at all to answer questions about the name of the team. As Keith Olberman pointed out, it is quite possible to do both. And those legs sit down and kick up their feet for a smoke break when one considers just how outrageous it is for a non-native to simply declare that he knows what the actual issues for Native Americans really are in direct opposition to the stated position of so many of them. Mind you, the man isn’t making a suggestion, fielding a question, or even respectfully submitting any thoughts for folks to consider. He simply declares his own command of the issues once and for all. …adding that he and his folks have done their homework, “unlike a lot of people.”
I wonder who Dan Snyder thinks those other people who haven’t done their homework would be? Could it possibly be the people whose lives he pretend to want to help? Could it be the very people he is talking about? So, yep. Dan Snyder thinks he can simply tell the world what the real problems are in Indian Country, all the while ignoring the input, comments, criticism, and vocal outrage from indigenous voices all over the country, not the least of them appearing on the pages of Indian Country Today.
If I had to give an example of whitesplaining, I think this might just be the first one that came to mind.
But of course Dan Snyder had competition this week from rural Nevada where rancher and Tea Party hero Cliven Bundy opted to tell us a thing or two about the ‘negro’. …yep. Of course some folks might not be surprised to find a man with odd thoughts about federal authority (and the lack thereof) also had odd thoughts about minorities, but I prefer to give folks the benefit of the doubt.
…at least while there is doubt.
Here’s the quick and dirty version:
Now some folks seem to feel this shortened version of Bundy’s remarks reflects an unfair edit, so they present a larger version of the clip showing a bit more of Bundy’s thoughts on different people. Here it is:
If you watch this longer version of Bundy’s remarks, you can see quite clearly that he is not trying to spread hatred of or prejudice against anybody. No, he just believes a lot of terrible things about African Americans, at least, and he doesn’t seam to see that those beliefs are offensive and harmful to the people he claims not to hate. Bundy’s comments reflect common stereotypes about African-Americans and somewhat less common musings about the potentially benign effects of slavery. They may not reflect the kind of strident racism one would expect of the KKK (though we might have our suspicions about a few of Bundy’s supporters), but Bundy’s remarks do reflect a casual racism that tends to show up in some circles a couple beers into a good BBQ.
What seems most striking about this to me is the role that minorities play here as an object of contemplation for Bundy and his many defenders. Minorities present to Bundy and casual racists everywhere a source of material, so to speak, one tailor-made for commentary about where this damned world is going and where it really oughtta be. It’s a tired litany in which the real problems of the world can be found in the privileges of those with the least and with whoever is responsible for creating those imaginary privileges. Black folk aren’t the real evil of Bundy’s remarks. No, they are simply dupes of the Fed, fellow victims of big government who must be saved from it’s diabolical schemes. All the problems of the African-American community are thus subsumed under the interests of Bundy’s states’ rights agenda. They are simply one more reason to oppose big government, all for their benefit as well as his own.
The notion that the modern welfare state is just another form of slavery has been a favorite talking point of right wingers in recent years. It’s just one of the many ways in which the critique of welfare has long since jumped the shark in the echo chambers of America’s pseudo-conservatives and free market fundamentalists. So, I suppose it shouldn’t come as any real surprise to find Bundy reproducing this little yarn. It is a little bit of a surprise, I think, to find that people could be so thoughtless and so clueless about the realities of either slavery or social programs. The problem here is not malice (I will give Bundy supporters that much anyway); it’s ignorance, but it’s ignorance taken to 11.
One of the manifestations of that ignorance is a complete inability to conceive of minorities as anything but an object of casual consideration. Bundy’s past experiences are simply grist for the mill, anecdotes in a narrative about big government. The concerns, thoughts, and ideas of any actual minorities are quite absent from that narrative. So yet again, the key to minority problems turns out to rest in the hands of a random white guy whose principle concerns have little to do with them, who isn’t listening to them, and who has no real concerns for their welfare.
Like I said it’s been a good week for whitesplaining.
…and for nausea.