Safe Spaces: A Wilted Rose by Another Name

0. Introduction

A fascinating blog post was uploaded to the Huffington Post the other day that seems to be making a few little waves. You read about it by searching for the title, “Ethnic Minorities Deserve Safe Spaces without White People.” I think the blogger makes some good points, but I have to wonder a little bit about the overall message.

1. Safety First

It’s irritating to go to the chess club and get asked to play go. Or rather, I’d guess it is—I’m a go player myself, but more people who speak English know about chess than go. You can say that a chess club is a “safe space” for chess. You don’t have to worry about someone bothering you to talk about Magic the Gathering builds, discuss intricacies of Vampire: the Masquerade and whether the card game was or wasn’t faithful to the tabletop RPG, prove your AI bot for tic tac toe plays optimally, or any number of other problems that can plague you in everyday conversation. In a specific sense, when a group wants to meet to discuss racism by whites, it’s a bit ridiculous to be expected to allow whites in—it’s not their experience, and you’re not there to help whites feel better if they think they’re not racist or whatever.

I get that. You want to start or join a baking group and you don’t want to have to spend time telling the pastry chefs that their treats are fine, too. There’s not ‘but’ coming. If you can’t understand the need for like people to get together and share their interests or experiences without having to legitimize everything else that might interest or concern people you’ve probably never been interested in anything or had anything happen to you, ever. Frankly, it’s an extension of staying on topic in a conversation—perhaps a lost art in the internet-induced ADD age, but a select few still practice it.

2. Words Matter

The problem here isn’t that a group of people want to separate themselves for some ends. That’s a perfectly normal life experience. The problem is when you say things like this to justify it:

Segregation was imposed on people of colour by people of privilege, not the other way around. The very fact that individuals organizing to help each other get through social barriers and injustices are being attacked and questioned for their peaceful assembly is proof that they were right to exclude those students.

I’m sorry segregation doesn’t work that way. It really, really doesn’t matter who is doing the segregating. Segregation is always one party trying to exclude others, and the party insisting on the segregation will always view it as a normal response to legitimate concerns. You may think their concerns are nonsense, or racist, or unreasonable, but that’s the thing—segregation isn’t about the feelings of the people being segregated, it’s about the feelings of the people doing the segregating. I’m sure people offered all sorts of reasons for institutionalized segregation which, to them, sounded perfectly reasonable. Who are you to say otherwise?

But there’s a reason why I brought up pastry chefs and the blog author brought up segregation. I’m not sure what it is, and I don’t want to speculate. I’m not a psychologist and even if I were I still couldn’t internet diagnose. But I do speak English and I do know that when people say things, they choose the words they say—moreso when they have the time to edit what they “say” because they’re writing it. And choosing to discuss segregation and not sewing circles or book clubs says something. So I don’t know what she intends, but I know what she said. She said, simply, “It’s ok when we do it to white people.”

3. Not all Racism is Racism

Probably the blog post came about like this. The group wanted to gather to discuss racism by whites. To that end, they didn’t want whites there. But some whites came, and were asked to leave. This left the whites feeling hurt or confused (I’m confused why they attended, were they discriminated against by whites for being white?) and someone made some kind of comment about double standards. Then in response to the double standards claim, someone had to talk about why this kind of double standard was ok. And… they’re already trapped. Racism is just this terrible catch 22 if you fail to reject the form of the argument in the first place.

Racism really is a catch 22 in a lot of ways. For instance, in one shill article you’re told that race doesn’t exist (note, it isn’t reported this way, you’re told this—like a citation); in the next blog post you’re told that minorities need safe spaces to discuss racism. It’s really hard to justify this in a few words, because you’ve got to unravel all the doublethink necessary to assert that something which doesn’t exist nevertheless is of major importance to discuss and understand. And it is doublethink of the highest order.

Race doesn’t exist in the naive sense that “asians are like X.” First, there’s a lot of different Asians. Second, divisions based on genetics pretty much fail (spectacularly) to align with our political discussions of race. Third, the emotional baggage of racism is a lot like the emotional baggage of all kinds of discrimination, like religious persecution, nationality, clothing choice, and so on. (Some other time I’ll have to dedicate myself to the task of addressing the “but it isn’t a choice” red herring on these matters.) People are fucking assholes for pretty much no reason at all—I mean they give you reasons but there’s as many “reasons” as there are “races” and they have the same existential claims, namely, highly contextual use of words.

So when a group wants to gather to discuss racism, in the abstract, when you read about it on twitter or something, you’re forced to try to reconcile this with all the other trash floating around popular discourse on race and you can’t because popular discourse on race is a massive pile of shit. And the easy way to handle a massive pile of shit-founded discourse is to point out hypocrisy. It’s really that easy. And in the case of this particular pile of shit, that is, race, finding hypocrisy means finding racism. And then you get the delicious irony of “oh they want to solve racism by more racism, brilliant.” (Don’t forget to think hard about the use of ‘they’ in that sentence. Did the speaker mean ‘this group’ or ‘black people’? Did you hear one or the other? Could you have heard ‘this group’ but the speaker meant ‘black people’?)

4. Racism as a Conversation is Broken

The problem is that there’s still no socially-accepted way to discuss race or racism. And this stems largely from my fair-weather friends of the left who seem mostly ok except for this relentless struggle to victimize absolutely everyone but white males. White male victims are always individual victims who happened to be white, while other victims are more data for the stat pool. But if you read any of my previous posts you know what it means when this kind of double standard is applied to data: it means there’s a narrative running counter to the status quo. So you can actually forget the data—it doesn’t mean anything. It’s part of the story, it’s not a bare fact to be explained. A basic understanding of statistics would tell you to be 100% astonished if no crimes were committed against whites because they were white just like you’d be 100% mad to say that no crimes were committed against any race because of race.

But they have a narrative, and that narrative is systematic oppression, and narratives find facts inconvenient unless they’re woven, carefully, into the narrative so that all facts speak for the narrative and none against it, because anything against the narrative is the status quo, and the status quo is rejected a priori. And therefore anyone who doesn’t think we need to burn it all down is already out of the conversation. Hence, the conversation is broken.

When MLK dreamed a little dream, he didn’t think the conversation was broken. He thought that there were specific problems to be fixed. The status quo had a few bugs but otherwise good features. Features like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and so on, which were leveraged to attempt to effect real but nevertheless incremental change; it seemed radical, in terms of the resistance given by the status quo defenders, but the requests were really quite innocuous (I’ll sum it up: a nation of laws and not men; a nation of laws and not race). Today’s college campus leftists promoting the “privilege” talk are not operating on remotely the same level. To them, institutions are fundamentally broken and need radical change. Urban centers with poor graduation rates aren’t in need of anything but more understanding of the troubles minorities face, more money, more teachers, better educational tools, different books, different standards—really, take an hour one Saturday and just write down a list of demands and tell me this is anything but wholesale replacement of one standard with another. At no point is it ever explained why the standards embody racism, you must assume this to make any headway. Probably one of the oldest rhetorical tricks, you know, when did you stop beating your wife?

When did you stop being a racist? Oh, you never were? But look at your voting record, look at your friends, look at the schools you attended, look…

When someone says that we need a real conversation about race there’s zero chance of anything productive happening, because you can’t talk about race—it doesn’t mean anything except a vague social idea of who is “black” or “white” or whatever. I mean ask yourself: could reasonable people disagree on whether Greeks are “white”? What if they were fifth generation Greco-Americans? Obviously Italians are white, except the Sicilians, right? What about Nigerians, are they “black”? I know a Hatian who was told in no uncertain terms that she isn’t black because she emigrated to the US. Well that’s just great. The conversation can’t go anywhere when you can’t legitimately define your terms. And if race just amounts to “what group I associate with” then it might as well be religion, or politics, or a sewing circle. And this isn’t a crushingly major social ill at all.

5. Conclusion

So some group of people wants to get together to talk about something and some other people aren’t invited. Big fucking deal. The only thing worse than criticizing this is trying to justify it in terms of the criticism itself.

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