Philosophy be damned; here is the part that bothers me.
But now Hypatia, a journal of feminist philosophy with explicitly activist goals, has seemingly disavowed a paper comparing claims about racial identity to claims about gender identity, and philosophers seem to have had enough.
Rebecca Tuvel is an assistant professor at Rhodes College; she received a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and a doctorate in 2014. Her essay “In Defense of Transracialism” (Hypatia 32.2 [Spring 2017], pp. 263-78) is, to be fair, not consistently scintillating, creative, or convincing. However, few philosophy papers have any of those qualities, and almost none have all three. What the paper does do is lay out relatively clearly the motivation for a fairly intuitive argument [favoring Transracialism]…
The article goes on to outline the philosophers who have called for the paper’s retraction.
Look, here’s my problem with “trans-racialism.”
It’s pretty clear that within current Progressive-Left circles we are seeing the creation of “victim classes”, whereby those who belong can then engage in virtue signaling by expressing the moral outrage at their supposed victimization.
You can see this in the alternate religion circles; if you ever go to a Wiccan gathering, for example, you will eventually be regaled at tails of the Salem witch trials and of “oppressive” Christianity, as if the members of that gathering themselves barely escaped a burning pyre and had a close personal friend who was drowned in water testing her faith.
You can see this in the writings of a number of authors who themselves come from an upper-middle class background who complain about the abuses by the police in poor neighborhoods against minorities, as if they themselves were exposed to this sort of poverty and police abuse.
You can even see this in various racial crime hoaxes, such as the three black females at the University at Albany (SUNY) who made a fall allegation of being harassed by “10 to 12 whites”, with the college professor who hung a noose on her own door at Columbia University, or with the black firefighter who hung a noose in a fire station to create the “perception that members within [the] department were acting in a discriminatory and unprofessional manner.” In each case (and there are plenty of other examples), the hoaxers were attempting to paint themselves as victims of a crime in order to give them the moral authority that victimization confers.
The basic problem is this: if being a member of a “victim class” grants you moral and ethical superiority, and you are not currently a member of a “victim class”, there is considerable pressure for you to become a member of a victim class. If you are a member, there is considerable pressure to “personalize” that victimization: it’s not good enough that you’re just black, you must also be a “survivor.”
And if you are not a member of a minority group which has victim status, then there is pressure for you to gain such status. One quick way for some non-minority women is to become Wiccan–which is why you often find many Wiccan circles filled with the daughters of the privileged upper-middle class.
I assert “transgenderism” is yet another way by which non-minority Progressives can gain such status. It is insufficient in our day and age to simply sympathize with those of minority status: progressive culture has made it clear such sympathy from non-minority members of the population is thinly disguised paternalism by the patriarchal class. Instead, you must claim membership in that minority class–even if you do not have the genetics to support such a claim.
It is clear there are significant differences between transgenderism and trans-racialism. Transgendered individuals often suffer a form of Gender Identity Disorder, a strong feeling that you are trapped in a body with the wrong gender. From those I know who are transgendered, the feeling is rather fundamental: a feeling that somehow you are in the wrong body–that you were assigned the wrong gender, and you have a basic need to change this regardless of the feelings of those around you. Some will undergo hormone therapy as well as sex reassignment surgery in order to overcome these feelings–at considerable financial, emotional and interpersonal cost.
To be transgendered in many parts of this country requires a degree of bravery which reflects a deep underlying conviction that you are in the wrong body, and it requires a considerable amount of effort to “fix” this problem.
Those who claim to be “trans-racial”, however, do not seem to have the same physical feeling of personal discomfort that would cause one to travel to a foreign country and spend tens of thousands of dollars and years of personal effort to undergo reassignment surgery. Instead, “trans-racialism”, from what I’ve seen, only requires public proclamation and wearing the clothing of the supposed “race” you believe you belong to. And notice those who are claiming the label of “trans-racialism”: in every case they benefit from the newly found “victim” status. In no cases I’m aware of we don’t see, for example, blacks trying to scrub the blackness off their skin to become white, or we see latinos demanding surgery to remove the eyelid fold in order to make their eyes look more Asian.
Indeed, the “cost” of claiming “trans-racialism” seem to entirely rest on the “cost” of being discovered that your supposed racial identity is a sham–and in fact, interest in “trans-racialism” only seemed to surface as a justification for folks like Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren.
Going beyond “trans-racialism”, I don’t believe there is any “there” there.
Meaning I believe the very hypothesis of moral superiority the Progressive Left seems to grant members of a “victim class” is wrong–and deeply destructive to our overall culture.
Take me, for example. I was born to a lower-middle class family to then rose to the upper-middle class in Fresno, a major metropolitan area in the San Joaquin Valley, an area dominated by large farming concerns and food processing plants.
As I got older my family moved into a succession of houses that moved farther and farther out from the center of the city–and I eventually went to high school at Clovis West High, a relatively new (and small) high school on the edges of Fresno, in an area that bordered the town of Clovis. The area where I lived, when I lived there, was largely “Reagan Democrats”: relatively conservative Democrats who believed as Reagan did that the Democratic Party left them, and were highly suspicious of those most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
This is my experience as I grew up.
Now, I also happen to be a member of the Salinan Tribe. And I don’t mean 1/32nd descendant of an Indian Princess–I mean I have my tribal membership card, I receive regular mailings of “T’epot’aha’l,” the tribal newsletter, and my grandfather was a “head” or leader within the local group of Indians, which (from what I understand) means he was trusted enough by the families to help settle disputes and knock some heads around if needed.
This aspect of my life was important to me, but it was not formative.
My point is this:
I was born Native American. But I did not experience the same thing that those born on a reservation experienced. My experiences did not include being insulted for having the wrong skin color (though even today I have people coming up to me concerned I have a sunburn), or finding my family under the thumb of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. (I have had my interactions with them, however. Dealing with the BIA is like dealing with a poorly run DMV.)
By and large, my most formative experiences were mine and mine alone. They came from my family, from my friends, from the city I grew up in and the high school I attended.
More importantly, the suggestion that there is a “victim class” for Native Americans is to assume the life experience of all Native Americans are the same.
This is important because it applies to everyone. It is to assume that the life experience of a black person born in an upper-middle class background in California shares the same experiences as a black person born in poverty in a place like Ferguson. It’s to assume that the life experience of a Latin-American born to a stable upper-middle class family in New York is the same as the life experience of a teenager who sneaks across the border from Mexico. It’s to assume that the life experience of an upper-middle class woman born to a German-Swedish family in Montana and home schooled with a Christian education is the same as a poor black girl living in Harlem.
Sure, there are certain experiences you won’t have if you are not born to a particular race. If you are not born into an Indian tribe you probably never had the joy of dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If you are not born black you probably have never had the experience of being pulled over for “driving while Black”.
But these experiences do not define you. What defines you is the family you were born into, the region of the country where you grew up, the socio-economic status (and opportunities) you had.
And those experiences vary so greatly that this notion of a common experience held by all members of a single victim class is demonstrably absurd.
In fact, the only thing that one can say about a victim class is that to many Progressive Leftists, it allows you to enjoy a moral superiority which you cannot claim.
I mean, look at Rodney King, who was savagely beaten by the LAPD back in 1992.
His beating did not confer to him the moral superiority all of his politically-motivated supporters wanted to convey to him. He was not the paragon of a human being who was savagely beaten for the crime of being black. He was an addict whose beating was in part because he was strung out on drugs and flying down the freeway, endangering others.
It’s not to suggest the beating was deserved. Far from it: the LAPD showed terrible judgement that evening in 1991 when they dragged him from his car and beat the crap out of him.
But Rodney King eventually would die at the bottom of his own swimming pool, a swimming pool bought from the settlement with the City of Los Angeles, strung out on a cocktail of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and PCP.
If we do away with this notion that your “victim class” allows you to enjoy a certain moral superiority by virtue of your membership in that class regardless of your own personal life experience,–then what point would there be for “trans-racialism”?
I mean, isn’t “trans-racialism” stripped of its supposed moral superiority just an extreme form of “cultural appropriation”?
Personally I choose to see the world in the way I once read that a Jewish Rabbi asserted:
God created the world in six days and created mankind in His image. And He created an imperfect world so that we, His children, could continue His work by striving to make the world more perfect.
Now you may not believe in God–but the principle applies: the world is imperfect, and part of our job in this life is to help make the world more perfect. Even if it is in the smallest conceivable ways possible: a kind word to your neighbor. A larger tip to your waitress. Picking up a piece of litter and carrying it to the trash can.
And instances of victimization by racial or cultural class do not show the moral superiority of the victims. Instead, it shows the imperfections of the world.
Those who are victims of actual problems may have more insight than those who are not victims. But, like Rodney King, simply being beaten by the police does not confer moral superiority or even personal insight. It just means you were beaten by the police.
It’s why I’m deeply offended by virtue signaling: by attempting to claim moral superiority through “empathy” or even by claiming membership in a class.
It means you are not trying to make the world a better place. You’re just trying to gain the love and accolades you believe is due to you due to your supposed membership in a “victim class.”
I do not mean to imply you should not tell the stories of your own actual experiences. If we’re ever in the same room sipping coffee and chatting, I have a whole bunch of stories about my dealings with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the dealings with my own tribe–many of which I think you’d find more funny than sad.
And it’s not to imply your own stories about your own events don’t give you further insight into a problem you’ve experienced.
But you are not your class. You are not a generic “black” person, or a generic “latin-american”. Your experience growing up did not come out of the “generic Native American” bucket list or the “generic White” bucket list. You are not a faceless cog in a hierarchy of victimization.
Virtue signaling of this kind denies your humanity, your own personal experiences, and the uniqueness that each of us brings to the table.
And worse: virtue signaling means you simply do not give a shit about fixing problems. Only that you wish to profit from membership in that class–even if you have never personally suffered the problems of your supposed generic victim class.