Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"(Temporarily) Passing The Baton"

I went into the trash to retrieve this article so I could bring it to your attention – just so you know the sacrifices I make on your behalf.  (Full Disclosure:  It was only the “Recycling “ bin, so there was no wallowing in “schmutz”{detritus} involved.  But still.  And I thought you should know.  And as they say in “Moana”, “You’re welcome.”)

There are a handful of things I would like to but am prevented from writing about, their substantive subject matter conflicting with the less substantive tonal expectations of this blog… determined entirely by me and therefore open to (at least temporary) alteration. Still, I am unable to pull the stylistical trigger. 

It is on such occasions that I select someone else to be the surrogate standard bearer to deliver the ideological mail.  (Though not always.  More often, I just toss these ideas on an unwieldy pile (of likeminded rejectees) on my desk and never write about them at all.  Leaving the impression by their absence from the oeuvre that I do not care about those ideas when I, in fact, actually care about them the most.  I just have not an appropriate avenue of communicational expression.  (And possibly never will.)

The following then are thoughtfully edited excerpts from a column written by New York Times “Opinion Writer” Frank Bruni on August 13, 2017, entitled, “I’m a White Man, Can I Continue?”

Bruni’s perspective – a not particularly popular one judging by my random perusal of the critical comments his column subsequently received – is in the direction of what I might have written if I were him and not me.  Although marginally envious, I am highly appreciative there’s a “him.”  (And that the Times provides him a platform.)

I now yield Just Thinking floor to Mr. Frank Bruni.

(Note:  Mr. Bruni is my guest.  I am hoping you will accord him a hearing as gracious and respectful as you have regularly accorded me.  Thank you.)

“I’m a White Man, Can I Continue?  (The Thoughtfully Excerpted Version)”

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice.  I have no standing.  No way to relate.  My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse.  I grew up in the suburbs.  Dad made six figures.  We have a backyard pool.  From the 10th through the 12th grades, I attended private school.  So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait.  I’m gay… So where does that leave me?  Who does that make me?  Oppressor or oppressed?  Villain or victim?  And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer? 

To listen to some guardians of purity on the left, yes.

Not long ago I wrote about Evergreen State College, which was roiled by protests after a white biology professor, Bret Weinstein, disparaged a particular tack of a day of racial healing… (Weinstein) raised valid points, only to be branded a bigot and threatened with violence. 

Mark Lilia, a Columbia University professor… maintained (about the 2016 presidential election) that too intense a focus on each minority group’s discrete persecution comes at the expense of a larger, unifying vision. 

Many people disagreed.  Good.  But what too many took issue with was, well, his identity.  “White men; stop telling me about my experiences!” someone later scrawled on a poster that was put up to advertise a talk, “Identity is Not Politics” that he gave at Wellesley College.

In a new book (Lilia) asserts that “classroom conversations that once might have begun, ‘I think A, and here is my argument’, now take the form, ‘Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B’.  This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything… White men have one ‘epistemology’, black women have another.  So what remains to be said?”  

And where are the bridges?

Across a range of American institutions, we need more diversity… because it’s indeed a portal to broader knowledge and greater enlightenment.

But I question the wisdom of turning categories into credentials when it comes to politics and public debate.  I reject the assumptions – otherwise known as prejudices – that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them.  That appraises the packaging more than it does the content.  It ignores the complexity of people.  It’s reductive.

At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those American who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits.  My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me.  And neither, I hope, defines me.

After reading this commentary, I wrote a e-mail response to Frank Bruni, but I was foiled in my attempts to figure out how to successfully get it to him.  As a result, so it will not go entirely to waste, I am appending that e-mail (with minor improvements) to this post.

Mr. Bruni,

The problem with eradicating the boundarying identity categories that establish “Us” and “Them” is that getting rid of the diminishing category of “Them” requires the elimination of the exalting category of “Us”, by which I am not talking about privilege and opportunity but about the bolstering comfort of “belonging.”  (“The West Wing” had an illuminating line about that.  They said, “You get jackets.”)

Until we can convince people to corral their personal pride issues in favor of a greater and overarching universal purpose – framing the thorny issue of “self-interest” as an all-inclusive upgrading benefit – I do not see us making much headway in the area of open and helpful communication.

Thank you, however, for initiating efforts in that direction.

Earl Pomerantz

Santa Monica, California. 

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I have it on good authority that the link to your blog post and notice of your reply to the column has been delivered to Frank Bruni.